Laurence B. Alexander, chancellor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, reflected on the purpose of the gathering as he welcomed guests to the 2014 black history program held Thursday in the campus’ Hathaway-Howard Fine Arts Building.
“It’s imperative that we recognize our past and become knowledgeable about where we’ve been to understand the path we’re on to making a better future,” Alexander said.
In recognition of the past, Alexander gave honorable mentions to the late Joseph Carter Corbin, the first principal of Branch Normal College, the name in which the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff was first established in 1873; the late Wiley A. Branton Sr., distinguished alumnus and civil rights leader who contributed to the integration of the University of Arkansas School of Law at Fayetteville and worked diligently to end legal segregation in Arkansas and the nation; slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and the first African-American president of the United States, Barack Obama.
The keynote speaker, Maj. Gen. Aundre F. Piggee, a UAPB alumnus, was introduced as one of the military’s most senior leaders. Piggee, director of logistics and engineering for the U.S. Central Command, has ascended the ranks with a noble list of assignments that include — to name a few — commanding general in Germany; assistant chief of staff in South Korea; and executive officer to the vice chief of staff at the Pentagon.
Despite an illustrious career, Piggee candidly disclosed that his success has not been attained through any great intelligence. With the exception of the support of his wife, Kassi, his family and God’s grace, Piggee attributed his accomplishments to his persistent disregard of what others thought of him.
By doing so, Piggee proclaiming himself “an ordinary person,” said he was able to overcome being turned down by numerous universities because of his ACT score, or having his potential as a military officer questioned because of substandard performance records, and being denied for three years an assignment he worked hard to earn.
“I could have given up,” Piggee said, “but I was determined to get over those perceptions. … I decided I would determine my destiny.”
Using other examples from his personal struggles, Piggee said he wanted to “debunk the myth” that those who achieve greatness walk a golden path laid out for them and that the normal person can’t achieve greatness.
Piggee admonished the audience to “get over who you are to become who you can be.”
“Our forefathers,” Piggee said, “left us an example of how to get over persecution, to get over being treated as a second-class citizen, to get over no right to vote and get over unfair treatment.”
Piggee said Black History Month is a worthwhile endeavor because no one can appreciate American history without understanding the historical experience of blacks in this country and the significant accomplishments and challenges they had to endure.
Noting that King and others raised the level of consciousness, Piggee said we must continue to refine and reaffirm our commitment to their dream.
“Their dream was to influence our destiny; our dream should be to pay it forward to make America better,” he said.
Piggee told the audience to remember that what one thinks of himself is the only thing that can derail his destiny.
“Don’t be pitiful, when you can be powerful,” he said.
Providing entertainment for the program, Yard Voices of Praise offered uplifting selections accompanied by piano. Phyllissa Dunk, a senior at UAPB, offered her melodious rendition of Summer Time from the all-black-cast opera, Porgy and Bess, and the symphonic sounds of the UAPB Jazz ensemble met with contented applause.
The event, free and open to the public, was a collaboration between UAPB and the Pine Bluff Arsenal.
Col. David L. Musgrave, commander of the Arsenal, said the idea was to “work together for the good of the community.”
UAPB organizer Tisha Arnold said she was glad to have the opportunity to work with the arsenal organizers.
“I am glad they reached out to us because we both had something to offer,” she said. “This collaboration was mutually beneficial.”