After decades of injustice, 75 hearing-impaired black students finally got their high school diplomas – thanks to Sharon White of the state Office of Vocational Rehabilitation in Frankfort.
White was one of several state employees honored at the third-annual Governor’s Ambassador Awards ceremony, established in 2008 to recognize the service of state workers.
“It’s inspiring; it’s exciting,” said White of receiving the Leadership Award after the ceremony in the Frankfort Convention Center Thursday. She’s an administrative assistant to the deaf and hard of hearing with the vocational rehabilitation agency.
After learning that hearing-impaired black students who graduated from the Kentucky School for the Deaf from 1930 to 1955 were denied diplomas because of their race, White worked with the state Commission of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet to get those students their diplomas.
“I wanted to help the former students there who should’ve graduated from the Kentucky School for the Deaf years ago, and I wanted to motivate them to make a difference,” said White, also the first black president of the Kentucky Association of the Deaf and secretary of the National Black Deaf Advocates.
“I just contacted different people and asked questions, and then we went from there and accomplished our goal.”
During an August ceremony in Danville, 75 former students – some still living – were officially recognized as graduates and received diplomas.
“(White) has exceeded all the expectations of her service to the deaf and hard of hearing communities in the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Personnel Cabinet Secretary Tim Longmeyer said while announcing White’s award.
Hundreds of state employees, some with family and friends, converged on the convention center for the one-hour ceremony.
Winners received a framed certificate and a brick with their name and award placed outside the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History.
First lady Jane Beshear, speaking on behalf of Gov. Steve Beshear and citizens across the state, repeatedly thanked employees for their service.
“Our state and all its people have endured many hardships during these last several years,” Jane Beshear said, noting 10 federally-declared disasters and the recession.
“… Kentuckians look more and more to the jobs you do to help them in their lives, and we do understand that besides the jobs that you do day in and day out, your own families and your own lives have not been easy during this period of time.”
State employees were furloughed six days this fiscal year to save some $24 million and help balance the state budget. Gov. Steve Beshear announced in June that furloughs wouldn’t be necessary in 2012 because of higher revenues.
More than 230 employees were nominated for awards this year, the highest in the ceremony’s three years, Jane Beshear said.
Others recognized Thursday include:
>Professional Achievement Award, Robert Gates, folklife program administrator, Kentucky Historical Society. Gates was honored for his work building the Kentucky Folklife Program.
>Community Service and Volunteerism Award, Stacie Jones, social service clinician, Cabinet for Health & Family Services. Jones was honored for cleaning, painting and getting donations to improve the cabinet’s Louisville office’s waiting room; helping families load their cars with donated items; and coordinating a program so children don’t go without during Christmas, among other things.
>Customer Service Award, Sandra Lovett, social service clinician, Cabinet for Health & Family Services. Lovett was recognized for her service to the elderly, often taking on 125 to 150 additional cases each year as an adult protection worker.
>Courage Award, Ronnie Day, Kentucky Fire Commission/Volunteer Fire Fighters. Day, who has risked his life as a firefighter, was honored on behalf of all of the state’s volunteer firefighters.
>Teamwork Award, Personnel Cabinet’s Division of Technology Services. The office designed and implemented the Kentucky Human Resource Information System, a multi-year statewide effort between the cabinet and other state agencies.