Black History Month is important at Port Houston because it honors the legacy and influence of Black people in our country, our region, and our own workforce. We recognize that Black history is American history, and it includes innumerable contributions of Black inventors, authors, artists, politicians, doctors, activists, workers, mothers, fathers and more.
What is Black History Month?
Black History Month is annual time to honor the achievements and history of Black people while acknowledging the progress toward equality. As a result, this is the perfect time to demonstrate Port Houston’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion while allowing teams to connect and learn from one another.
Black History Month has been officially recognized by the governments of the United States and Canada for the month of February each year. Additionally, Black History Month has been observed and recognized in October for people in Netherlands, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.¹
How Did Black History Month Get Started?
Before there was ever a Black History Month, there was “Negro History Week” which started in 1926, and held during the second week of February. This week was declared by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Celebrating Negro History Week in February was a nod to both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, both born during the same week and great contributors to African American History. Negro History Week became more popular during the following decades sparking the push for Black History Month.²
In 1968, members of the Black United Students at Kent State University participated in sit-ins and protested disorderly conduct charges during Negro History Week. The following year students demanded Kent State University to extend the week into a month-long celebration. This act transformed Black History Month at the university and had ripple effects across the nation.³
In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”³
Celebrating Black Leaders at Port Houston
Curtis Duncan serves as Controller at Port Houston, and he does an excellent job of leading our teams in Payroll, Accounts Payable, Credit, Customer Billing Services and Financial Accounting.
Curtis was born in Detroit, Michigan and graduated from Northwestern University. Before entering the thrilling world of Finance, Curtis was drafted by the Houston Oilers as a wide receiver in 1987. We are thankful that Curtis’s journey brought him to Port Houston in 2013.
“Diversity in the workforce, and especially diversity in leadership, is important because excellent companies should reflect and appreciate people from the wide variety of ethnicities, races, religions, and experiences that make our country great. As a Black man in leadership, I always strive for excellence because I am mindful of the path that I am paving for others who will follow or join me in similar positions of leadership,” states Curtis Duncan, Port Houston Controller.
Jennifer Aksoy is our Customer Service Manager for Bayport and Barbours Cut Container Terminals. She supervises a team of Logistics and Customer Service Coordinators making sure trucks are efficiently moving through our gates. She is in a key position to lead and support a team working in a high-pressure, fast-paced environment.
Originally from Portland, Oregon, Jennifer journeyed from California to join our Vessel Services team in 2012. She took on the position of Gate Manager in 2013, and in September 2022 she was promoted to her current position.
“Diverse representation in leadership allows for a wide range of important perspectives. Having a leadership role not only empowers my peers but also empowers other black professionals to be seen, valued, and heard at their organization,” states Jennifer Aksoy, Customer Service Manager of Port Houston Container Terminals.
Kerrick Henny is our Chief Government & Public Relations Officer. He is proud to carry on a family legacy of hard work instilled by his father, who worked two full-time jobs connected to the Houston Ship Channel (at ARMCO Steel and ILA Local 1351) for over 36 years.
A true port native, Kerrick grew up just two miles from the Houston Ship Channel in Galena Park. Before he found his way back to the port, his career would include joining the executive team at AT&T, working as a key player in early policy decisions around “big data,” and meeting five U.S. presidents!
“I’m so glad that the state and many companies are recognizing the importance of a diverse workforce. As a Black man in leadership, I’m very committed to being a servant leader, focused on the growth and well-being of our people and the communities to which we operate in. My focus as a leader is to always keep my team informed and help in their development so they can perform as highly as possible,” states Kerrick Henny, Port Houston Chief Government & Public Relations Officer.
Johnnie Gillyard serves as a Sergeant in our Police Department. She oversees the day shift personnel, which consists of nine officers between three terminals. She has taken on multiple roles for the department, including being a Certified Rape Aggression Defense (R.A.D) Instructor, a Centurion Control Stick Instructor, a BolaWrap Instructor, and a member of the departmental TCOLE Training Advisory Board Committee.
Sergeant Gillyard is a native of Houston Texas with three decades of law enforcement experience. She joined Port Houston in November of 1992, and in September of 1994, she became the first Black woman to be promoted to Sergeant within Port Houston PD.
“I’m always working on gaining the trust of the community (tenants, ILA workers, visitors, etc.). Your ability to communicate clearly can help you earn the trust of the community in which you serve as a law enforcement officer. Interpersonal communication skills are important because they allow officers to develop a good rapport with the community, with fellow officers and those from diverse cultures, ” states Johnnie Gillyard, Port Houston Police Sergeant.
¹ Grant, Ph.D., B., & McGee, M.Ed., V. (2023, February 2). 10 facts about Black History Month: BestColleges. BestColleges.com. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from https://www.bestcolleges.com/blog/black-history-month-facts/
² History.com Editors, (2009, October 27). Black history facts – black history month & little known facts – history. History.com. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-facts
³ History.com Editors (2010, January 14). Black history Month 2023: Facts, origins & more | history – history. History.com. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-month