Black History Month 2022 | Kenny Gray

January 28, 2022

February is Black History Month, and at SSC, we are celebrating by having conversations with our team members about the experiences, historical figures, and memories that influence them most. We will share a new interview each week, highlighting an impactful team member and their unique story. First up is Regional Director of Operations Kenny Gray. Read on to learn about the significance of Black History Month in Kenny’s life.

What does Black History Month mean to you, and why is it important that we celebrate?

Black History Month is a time where we get to celebrate and remember those who made sacrifices for our freedom. It is also a month to highlight the different aspects in our culture.

I think this is an important month to celebrate in general, but especially for our youth. It’s very important to me to take a lot of time to preach messages related to black history and culture to younger generations. Our youth are able to see the footprints of black leaders and individuals who helped us through difficult times in the past, and better understand what it means to live in equality and freedom. I enjoy visiting the African American museum in DC and seeing my daughters’ eyes light up as they follow me through the timeline of black culture that is on display there.

Who are some of the notable figures in black history that inspire you?

I am most inspired by my mother, Jackqueline, and other relatives, and the impact they had on me as a child as I grew up in Richmond, VA. Parents do their best to protect their children, and while my mom protected me, she also exposed me to different topics related to black history and culture. I wouldn’t have experienced a lot of the things that I have without the exposure that my mother, who loves black history, provided me at a young age.

My mother had a love of black history and culture and she chose to share that with me. Looking back, there are a lot of things I didn’t understand at the time, but now I really cherish those moments that we had together.

A historic figure I admire is Fredrick Douglas. Fredrick Douglas fought for equality for all people and had a knack for women’s rights, which is important for me as a father to two girls, ages 9 and 12.

Can you talk about leaders within SSC who have inspired you?

Two people at SSC who inspire me are Derrick Parker and Vallen Emery. I have had the ultimate experience, as a young black man, to see and learn from Derrick, who has been here for 25+ years, and Val, who has been here for 18+ years. They are two different versions of black leaders in my life: Derrick took the time and patience to guide me through a lot of things, especially things that I didn’t understand about myself as a young black man. Val has taught me the corporate side of things. SSC is the type of company where we are allowed to be ourselves, so it never really feels like I am working for a black leader- I am working for two leaders who have recognized who they are and given back. How they have invested in me is a prime example of that.

How do you strive to instill inspiring ideas within your local community and SSC team?

I enjoy speaking life into things and encouraging the next generation. One of my biggest goals as a leader is to teach my team to always think outside of the box. If we aren’t thinking outside of the box, we will miss a whole broad of people. With that, I also don’t just talk about black culture. I talk about all cultures. I believe in living out diversity, equity and inclusion by using 100% of our talent, no matter what background each person comes from.

I also make a point of traveling the country and world, collecting stories, pictures, and artifacts, and bringing that back to share with my team. Many of these individuals don’t encounter these types of things, or even know that they could. This allows them to see different cultures they may never have experienced before.

How are you encouraging the next generation to create a more diverse and inclusive world?

I encourage the next generation by encouraging action. I remember being a young guy and experiencing leaders who talked at us, rather than with us. I think the action of actually talking with the younger generation and answering questions, giving them avenues to act, and providing them with all the information they need is effective. Another unique thing about this current younger generation is that they aren’t waiting for information- it’s available at their fingertips. My hope is that I give them the guidance to make the right decisions rather than just jumping in headfirst.

What is one thing that makes you most proud to work at SSC?

I’ve been here for 13 years, and I have had the privilege of being a part of the changing of SSC. What makes me proud is to be a part of that effort- I don’t think we have even scratched the surface of our full potential yet and I am excited to be a part of the DIAC Group that is paving the way. I hope to be around to see when we reach our full potential, and I truly believe that will set us apart from any other company.

The diversity initiative I have enjoyed most during my time at SSC is DIAC. Being a part of the Diversity & Inclusion Action Council has allowed me to experience other people, some like-minded and some not. To hear us have both a conversation and directives to get us on one accord is an overwhelming feeling.

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