Observance coincides with Black History Month; similar gatherings are planned through the year to recognize other groups

John Williams grew up in Hillsboro, but when he got the chance, he left to join the Air Force.

More than two decades later, after service that took him to Great Britain and Dayton, Ohio, Williams made his way to Portland, where he lives today.

But Williams did end up back in Hillsboro, where he is a superintendent of support services/facilities.

"I love working out here every day," Williams said at a Feb. 6 gathering of county employees to observe Black History Month.

Williams was among half a dozen black employees to participate. They make up 2.3 percent of the Washington County government workforce of about 2,000 — slightly higher than the county's black population of 1.9 percent.

"They are part of what makes Washington County such an outstanding place as a public service organization. We all have much to be proud of in that regard," Board Chairman Andy Duyck said.

"You have all contributed immensely to what we are as an organization and as a nation."

This year's focus was on blacks in the U.S. armed forces.

Based on 2015 statistics, they constitute 17 percent of active-duty enlisted men and 31 percent of enlisted women. But not until the Civil War were they allowed to serve in the Union Army and Navy, and not until 1948 were they in racially integrated units.

Other speakers were Sonja Rietman, a lawyer with the Metropolitan Public Defender's Office; Geoffrey Kavulya, capital improvement manager with support services/facilities, and Vanessa Savage, occupancy specialist in the Housing Services Department.

Komi Kalevor, assistant director of housing services, was the emcee. Kari Herinckx, program coordinator with community engagement, led the singing of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the song by James Weldon Johnson often referred to as the black national anthem.

The county board adopted a Black History Month proclamation at its business meeting beforehand, preceded by a presentation from Djimet Dogo, executive director of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization based in Portland.

County spokesman Philip Bransford said similar observances in honor of Washington County government's workforce are planned through the year.

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For a link to the board proclamation:

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