Joonko Celebrates Black History with Valerie Thomas

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To honor the heroes, the doers, and the inspirers of the Black and African American communities, we’re doing something a little different to celebrate Black History Month. Throughout the month of February, we’re sharing the stories and perspectives of this amazing community as they see it at work and at home.

If you’re a member of this powerful community and want to share a bit about yourself, or your pains, or experience, we want to paint an accurate depiction of today’s Black workforce.

We’re so excited to share these stories and wish you all a Happy Black History Month!

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Introducing Valerie Thomas ✨

Valerie is a pivotal character here in Birmingham and the Black and African American communities. Scaling a career from development to Healthcare to eventually founding and operating as the President of The Val Group, Valerie is a woman anyone in our community would aspire to be. Valerie’s personality is wildly contagious, she is uniquely stylish and an avid supporter of local businesses and Birmingham’s thriving economy. To know her is to love her. Check out our Q&A with Valerie on all things work and Black History.

How many years have you been in America’s Workforce?⁣

How old were you when you first started working?⁣

What was your first job?⁣
Summer Camp Day Care Councilor. ⁣
After college, Systems Engineer for IBM⁣

Where do you work now? What’s your job title?⁣
My corporation, The VAL Group, President and Executive Visit Curator⁣

What industry or field do you work in?⁣
Recruiting Support primarily for Healthcare⁣

What is your favorite thing about the work you do?⁣
Solving problems for these smart, going places young physicians and hearing them say how amazed they are by what they experienced during their visit to Birmingham, makes it all worthwhile!!⁣

What motivates you to get up in the morning?⁣
I just LOVE life! Plus I have an awesome husband!!⁣

Where do you see yourself in your career in the next 5 years?⁣
Not Applicable! I am at the end of my career path…I love the services that I provide through the VAL Group, when I don’t want to do it anymore, I’m sure it will be time to just chill!⁣

Who are the most influential black leaders or allies in your life?⁣
May sound trite, but my Mother…..Her work ethic and the corporate journey was my inspiration, even when I didn’t know it! She set the example that I saw every day at a time when there were very few black women corporate executives in the American workforce. She went from a secretary to a Director of Administration in the General Systems Division of IBM…It was an amazing journey.⁣

Can you name a moment in history that made you most proud of your background?⁣
When Barack Hussein Obama was elected president of the United States. Unfortunately, we are living with the “blowback” from that inspiring moment, but I’m glad I was a part of making it happen and feeling the power and joy of it!!!!⁣

Which black icon(s) do you respect the most and why?⁣
There are so many, most of whom are obvious, but I’m going to say right now I am so grateful for the work and commitment of Bryan Stephens to criminal justice in America. When you think of the suffering in the past and more to come for black and brown people being arrested, charged, imprisoned and even executed who are innocent and without his voice and courage no one would even be talking about it. We have a LONG way to go, but his commitment and work have put this country in the best position ever of facing this dark history and doing what’s right.⁣

How do you feel America represents the black community in today’s workforce?⁣
I’m 61 years old and the problem is the same, where there is not enough black representation in the management, corporate leadership, and even healthcare.⁣

Do you see progress or change being made for black representation in today’s workforce?⁣
In general, the workforce is more integrated, but as I said in the previous question, the Executive Suites are not represented by Black and Brown people in any significant way.⁣

Have you ever felt singled out or discriminated against on the basis of your background while at work?⁣
Fortunately, I started my career after college in 1980 as a Systems Engineer with IBM and the company culture from the top down was all about equality. So, my experiences with my peers, managers, was stellar. But, I started my career in Atlanta and I certainly had customer experiences that were race-based, but my company supported me 100%!⁣

Care to tell the story?⁣
Yes, I had a customer in Flowery Branch, Ga. that was assigned to me. I’d gone out there and the CEO met me on my first visit to install the software on their System 36. They needed some additional support call and requested System Engineering, which came to me since it was my account. I called the company Systems manager and told her when I’d be there. The CEO of the company called the Branch manager and asked IBM not to send that “colored” girl back out there. My manager called me into his office and told me exactly what the owner said and also told me that he told the owner that IBM did not conduct biz that way and that I was the most qualified SE for the project. But, he also told me to go in the morning and leave way before dark and call me when you arrive and call before you leave. This, of course, was way before cell phones!⁣

What’s one thing you wish you could change for younger generations as they enter the workforce?⁣
More opportunities for employment. When I graduated college in 1980 I had multiple job offers…CIA, FBI, IBM, Local TV Station (I graduated with a BA in Economics and Journalism) and others….It was an amazing time to start your life off as a young adult!!⁣

What advice would you give them?⁣

The corporate world is quite a bit different from when I started my career. There is no longer an expectation of starting with a company or firm, staying for 30 years and then retiring. So, my advice is to try some things to see what really inspires you to get up and work every day and be sure that’s the path you pursue. It’s best when what you love is your work!⁣

How are you celebrating Black History Month this year?⁣
I started early with a “You Belong Here” retreat over MLK Weekend in Negril with black and brown women from across the US…It was fabulous! The rest of the month, I wear Afro Positive Shirts to remind me and those around me of who We are and what we’ve done!

Celebrating Black History Month is something we should all take pride in. Sharing these stories and opening up about the perspectives of this community creates the opportunity to break barriers. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this story and stay tuned for more on the way!

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