Compiled and Edited by Media Relations Staff
The Port Authority’s history is rich with the accomplishments of African American leaders and professionals, who’ve contributed greatly over the years to the agency’s mission of keeping the region moving.
Their names occupy a special place in the Port Authority archives. Ernesto Butcher, the universally admired Chief Operating Officer who calmly helped steered the Port Authority through the chaotic aftermath of 9/11. Henry DeGeneste, the first African American to serve as Port Authority Police Department superintendent. Aviation Director Huntley Lawrence and PATH Director/General Manager Clarelle DeGraffe are among today’s leaders making a difference at the agency.
Portfolio asked representatives from various Port Authority facilities, and with differing levels of PA experience, to reflect on their own histories, their personal and professional influences, and on what Black History Month means to them. Here are some of their responses:
Audrey Dagnachew – Senior Engineer of Projects, Engineering Department
I am reminded, especially during Black History Month, that many pioneers forged the path so that I can be here today. I’ve had the privilege to serve the PA almost 26 years, leading projects and in my current role supporting TB&T’s multi-billion-dollar capital plan with a diverse team of talented people. One challenge I face periodically and especially when meeting new people: some folks don’t know how to look past my physical attributes and focus on the value that I bring to the table. On the flip side, almost everyone I’ve had a connection with has inspired me in some way. So in essence I’ve had hundreds of mentors inside and outside the PA and I have mentored many others.
Anthony Miller– Senior Compliance Analyst, Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Black History is the backbone of American History which can be celebrated every day. In my four-year tenure, I have embedded myself within the Port Authority as a member and Vice-President of the Network of Black Employees (NBE) to advocate for diversity and inclusion at all levels of the organization. As a Senior Compliance Analyst in the Office of Diversity & Inclusion, I advocate on behalf of the diverse small business community to have access to opportunities provided by PANYNJ. The ability to represent the highest levels of talent both internally and externally brings me the greatest sense.
Stacey Gilbert — Senior External Relations Client Manager, Government & Community Relations (New York)
My tenure with the Port Authority began in late 2013, under the tutelage of Brian W. Simon, one of if not the youngest director in the agency at the time and an African American heading the New York side of the Government & Community Relations department. He often reminded me to not be afraid to “take up space,” that my voice, perspective, and experiences as a professional African American woman were valuable and should be heard. Though Black History Month is a time when the contributions of African Americans are formally acknowledged, both my ancestors before me, contemporaries, and upcoming generations continue to blaze trails in a variety of disciplines 365 days a year. During this time in particular, not only do I celebrate the myriad achievements of so many African American greats but reflect on my desire to continue the legacy of strength, perseverance, excellence, and evolution, both in my own life and among my fellow African Americans.
Russell Jordan– Social Media Strategist, Marketing Department
Black history is happening all the time and should not be celebrated one month a year. The contribution of black and brown people to both the Port Authority and the world should be documented and made easily accessible so that future leaders can
honor, celebrate, and be empowered by the achievements made by those who look like them. Representation is important. I am thankful to present and past PA leaders, including but not limited to Ernesto Butcher, Clarelle DeGraffe, Huntley Lawrence, Jerome Roberson, Willie Mae Williams, and Deloris Scott, for being examples of black excellence. My advice to the next generation is to stay true to yourself. Call out bigotry and intolerance and demand that all treat you with the same level of respect they’ve earned from you.
Alexis Hargrove–Assistant Director, Passenger Communications & Customer Experience, PATH
Black History Month is more than just a celebration of black achievements and stories; it was a part of my childhood. When I grew up, Saturday morning was a personal development day at my house. My parents were always candid with me. I understood early on there was tremendous racial progress had occurred throughout the nation’s history, but oppression was still a reality. Now that I am an adult, I value my childhood more because I understand now what those lessons did for me. I realized at an early age life is not always fair, but without struggle, there would be progress. As an adult, I still carry the momentum of my ancestors.
Raymond Bryan – Deputy Chief, Port Authority Police Department
One reflection which resonates with me as we celebrate Black History Month is to recognize and honor the sacrifices, contributions, and accomplishments of African Americans to our country and moreover the world. There is a large challenge one is faced with, remaining confident and persistent to maintain strides and gains to achieve success. Not only once you’ve achieved the success but continuing to maintain the perseverance of success as many are so often challenged to do. I include keeping my spiritual faith and belief to cope with doors closed in front of you and ceilings constructed over one’s head.
Portia Henry—Program Manager, Major Capital Projects
Women reaching the upper echelon of leadership in the transportation industry—more specifically black women — is still a relatively recent occurrence. Black History Month is a time to reflect that for over 240 years, African Americans were commodified. Another 90 years were marred by overt segregation practices leading up to the Civil Rights movement, and roughly the last 66 years have been a time period of recognizing ‘firsts.’ We collectively celebrate such pioneers in transportation and ask: how do we transform their brave pathways of success into blueprints? We all have a role to play to ensure that the firsts are not the last and that authentic leadership, mentorship, sponsorship, career coaching, holistic self-care, and overall technical preparedness are all baked into the framework for black women to be equally equipped and poised for growth when opportunities arise.
Kadeem Short—Special Assistant to the Director of the Office of Emergency Management
Black History Month to me is a time to reflect on those who have faced adversity and struggle, so that someone like myself can be successful in life and given a fair chance to prove what I am capable of. Two people in the agency have inspired me to overcome every struggle and to be my best self: Jerry McCarty (Director of OEM) and Huntley Lawrence (Director of Aviation). I started at the Port Authority September 2018 and decided to join the PA because of the great veterans’ internship program. In my career here, I would like to make an impact, not only on the agency but with my co-workers.