Gregory Reeves Biography
Remembered Racism and Unsung Heroes, Discovered Technology and Career Path, Joined BIG
Non-profit executive, advocate
Gregory Reeves is the national president of Blacks in Government (BIG), a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to preserving and enhancing government employment for blacks. The organization was founded in 1975 by black federal employees of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in Rockville, Maryland, in order to respond to concerns regarding their employment, health, housing, and education. BIG now has 225 chapters in 11 regions throughout the United States. The organization advocates on behalf of 3 million blacks working for federal, state, county, and municipal agencies. Working with the combined strength of its members to confront issues, BIG has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives and met with White House officials on matters regarding employment opportunity, employee rights, and affirmative action. BIG operates by its founding principles: to promote equity in all aspects of American life, excellence in public service, and opportunity for all Americans.
Reeves has established himself as an important supporter for BIG's initiatives in education and training. In addition to developing leadership and training programs, Reeves has been instrumental in efforts to increase the number of local chapters and provide direction and support in technology and policy development.
Remembered Racism and
Reeves was born on November 21, 1952, in Marianna, Florida, to William and Eloise Reeves. Because William Reeves was in the air force, Reeves and his four siblings lived in many cities around the world. When Reeves was young his father was sent to Panama; he remembers well their ringside seat during the U.S.-led invasion of Cuba in 1961, the Bay of Pigs invasion. The Reeves family watched as Central America and the world reacted to events of the Cold War and, in 1963, to the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. "The events were very traumatic; they gave me a sense of my own history," Reeves told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB).
Reeves believes that life in the military gave his family access to opportunities and a perspective on the world that most African Americans never see. "Although discrimination and racism were alive and well in the military, the beauty of it was if you could stay focused on the fact that through everything, on the other side, with an education, you could win," he told CBB.
Reeves enjoyed life in Panama, but eventually the family left for Albuquerque, New Mexico, and in 1966 relocated to Marianna, Florida, where they stayed while his father completed a tour of service in Alaska. After living outside the country and in the American southwest, the level of racial intolerance Reeves experienced in the deep south surprised him.
By the time Reeves reached his teen years he had developed a comfort level meeting people from various backgrounds. Many young people raised in the military learn to negotiate the unknown world with ease and diplomacy. "It makes you more open-minded," said Reeves. Certain personality traits smoothed the transition: Reeves inherited an easygoing, affable nature from his parents. "When friends came to our home they were always welcome and my parents had an open-door policy. They taught us to be fair, to treat others as we wanted to be treated, and they taught us to believe in God. They are wonderful people," he told CBB. "My father is my hero."
Reeves observed other heroes at work in the Marianna area as tensions continued to rise during the years of forced integration of public schools. "The untold story" of this time, he told CBB, "is what happened to all the teachers and administrators who helped to prepare African-American children for integration as schools were closing. These are the people who lost their jobs after many years of making a difference, particularly for those who needed that extra help. These were the people who developed the best and brightest."
There were white heroes as well, as Reeves found when his family relocated to Edwards Air Force Base, California. "I remember a tap dance instructor at a recreation center near my home," Reeves recalled. "All her students were white. I used to watch as she taught her class, and one day she invited me to join. I did for a while. She reached out to make a difference."
Discovered Technology and
In 1971 Reeves graduated from high school, joined the army, and entered Hampton Institute in Hampton, VA. Reeves graduated from college in 1974 and moved to Fort Hood, near Austin, Texas, to begin doing layout work for Brown & Root, a large construction company. His plan was to become an architect, but realizing a lackluster economy and little creative experience would inhibit his career, Reeves left there and started work for Alcoa Aluminum installing a voice activated monitoring system in 1974. There his career focus began to settle on information technology. Reeves left there in 1975 to work for the General Services Administration of the federal government, moving from there to the Internal Revenue Service in 1978, and the Veterans Administration in 1980, where he currently holds the position of chief of information systems at the Austin Automation Center.
Reeves has been employed in technological fields with the federal government for over 30 years, and says his career has benefited greatly due to ever-changing applications and the opportunity to learn and stay on the cutting edge of the industry.
Reeves joined Blacks in Government (BIG) in 1982 and although he doesn't remember what his first elected position was, he is sure about one thing: he had found the right organization to voice his concerns. Since 1982 Reeves has held many elected positions within BIG, from the chapter level in Austin, to regional positions, to two terms as national executive vice president, and—after 2002—to national president.
"Our focus at BIG comes from our founders, who in 1975 determined they would form an organization with the vision of working in behalf of African Americans working for the federal government," Reeves related to CBB. "We speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, or assist in some way. What we do best is we advocate, often through our chapters."
BIG advocates for issues that face African Americans employees, such as the kind of legislation that will determine health benefits and measures that affects how agencies report on their hiring practices. BIG monitors various areas of achievement by federal agencies and addresses issues that relate to affirmative action goals as part of their compliance and review program. "I meet with agency and department heads to talk about their mission and goals and to find out what they are trying to achieve in terms of equal opportunity within the workplace and career development. We discuss where the government is going and what the agency is doing in terms of structure from a legislative perspective," Reeves told CBB.
"BIG helps eliminate the isolation an African American outside of Washington, D.C., can feel while pursuing senior management positions with the federal government," Reeves explained, citing his chance meeting of a senior executive at a federal agency. "I met him in 1989. He mentored me for the next ten years and would check on me from time to time. You need to develop those kinds of relationships to be successful."
Reeves described the variety of programs offered by BIG. "We do professional development and offer educational programs." Through the years Reeves has established partnerships with organizations like the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Urban League to achieve mutual goals on behalf of blacks. The Training in Communication Program (TIC), a component of BIG's youth program, partners with corporate sponsors to train young people for oratorical and technology competitions. The goal is to enhance communications skills and increase interest in information technology.
BIG is a major player in "Operation Big Vote," a national effort to inform citizens about the electoral process and their rights as voters, while stressing the importance of registering. To assist its members BIG offers Winning Ways, an employee development kit created to help members protect themselves against discrimination on the job. The kit offers audio tapes and fact sheets focused on increasing knowledge of rules affecting the workplace and stressing the value of individual achievement. BIG offers an Attorney Assistance program that makes referrals and gives grants to members seeking legal counsel on matters relating to their employment. BIG keeps its membership informed with three publications: BIG Bulletin, BIG Reporter, and Daily Updates. Reeves' office often responds to current issues of the day by press release.
Reeves sees major challenges on the horizon for BIG as it works on behalf of displaced workers. "With jobs being contracted out to private firms and the overall reform taking place in the government, the merging of departments now under Homeland Security and the reforming of the personnel system within the Department of Defense will affect a lot of people, pushing more authority to the supervisors in promotions and hiring practice," Reeves told CBB. "It's a huge issue."
Reeves' skill, diplomacy, and hard work are essential ingredients in his advocating for African-American workers' rights. Sharing insights he feels will aid the young people who will be the workers of tomorrow, Reeves told CBB, "Know who you are as a person and know your family roots. I see a lot of young people who are confused about these things. It's not related to race. Ask what contribution you can make on this earth, stay focused spiritually, define early what you want to do, and set goals." The formula has certainly worked for Reeves.
"Mr. Gregory Reeves," Blacks in Government, www.bignet.org/national/Gregg2003.htm (October 11, 2004).
Blacks in Government, www.bignet.org (October 15, 2004).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Gregory Reeves on October 6, 2004.
—Sharon Melson Fletcher
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