Black History Month spotlight: WDFW’s Lonnie Spikes on breaking down the barriers
“For me, Black History Month is a way of catching up and gives me an opportunity to see myself in the tapestry of American history”
Since 1976, every U.S. president has designated February as Black History Month to celebrate and learn about the history, contributions, and accomplishments of Black Americans. Learn more in our recent blog post.
At the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), we’re committed to fostering an inclusive environment and believe science and conservation are best advanced by the leadership and contributions of people with widely diverse backgrounds, experiences, and identities, who reflect the communities they serve. We’re proud to highlight Washingtonians working to connect more People of Color with the outdoors and to share their stories of building community while enjoying nature.
Lonnie Spikes joined WDFW as the Director of Human Resources in July of 2019 with a combined leadership role of 30+ years both with state government and the military. Lonnie established the Washington State Blacks United in Leadership and Diversity (BUILD) to improve the experiences of current and future Black employees and to increase the representation of Black people in leadership positions. In his free time, Lonnie enjoys creating art as well as camping, hiking, and fishing for salmon and trout.
We chatted with Lonnie to discuss what the outdoors means to him, and connecting more Black Americans with fishing, hunting, and conservation.
What is your professional background and what led you to work at WDFW?
I served in the Army for 22 years and worked in communications and informational technology as I rose through the ranks to a senior leader. During that time, I also earned a Master of Science Degree in Human Resource Management (and a Graduate Certificate in Organizational Change Management). As a senior leader, I was less of a hands-on person and more of a trainer for people to be successful in their positions. I enjoy helping people and seeing people succeed.
What is your ethnic background? Where did you grow up?
I am Black/African American. My family roots are from the south, including Louisiana and Florida. I grew up and spent most of my time in the Detroit area and I still have family there as well as in Chicago and New York.
What brought you to live in Washington?
I was stationed in Washington for part of my military career (1999 to 2002) and was then deployed to the Middle East for combat duty. When I returned from duty, I asked my wife where she wanted to live. We really liked our time in Washington and decided to come back and raise our family here. There is so much to do in the outdoors, and all the natural beauty of the state with a variety of ecosystems ranging from the coast to forests and desert lands to mountains, and all kinds of lakes and rivers.
What has been your biggest inspiration? What motivates you?
During my days in combat, I really started to realize we have just a short time here on this Earth. That being said, I am really motivated to do as much as possible to make this world a better place than where I left it.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
As a person from Generation X, I am the first generation born with full civil rights in the United States. I was always cognizant of that fact and appreciate Black History Month as an opportunity to acknowledge the sacrifices and contributions of past generations. Black History Month is a time for us to “catch up.”
I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, and my role models were either athletes, musicians, entertainers, or civil rights leaders. We weren’t taught in school about notable hidden figures like the Tuskegee Airmen and I lived literally 20 minutes from where they trained! I also didn’t know the first open-heart surgery was done by a Black surgeon (Dr. Daniel Hale Williams in 1893) and that there were actually Black cowboys. What I saw portrayed as cowboys were actors like John Wayne or Gary Cooper.
For me, Black History Month is a way of catching up and gives me an opportunity to see myself in the tapestry of American history. It is exciting to hear the stories of how Black people helped shape the country and contributed so much that for so long went unrecognized. It’s important to remember that it took the contributions of many, not just one group, to make this a great nation. Today we can hear stories from other perspectives and catch up on what many of us didn’t learn about growing up.
This year’s theme for Black History Month is Black Health and Wellness. What types of activities do you enjoy to keep healthy and well?
I like to bike and hike with the family, and I go to the gym. I find things to do to not let the stressful times dictate my health and routine. We all need to try and maintain some normalcy during this difficult time, and it is affecting us all, whether you know it or not.
I enjoy expressing myself through artwork as well, primarily watercolor and oil paintings ranging from landscapes to abstracts. What I put on a canvas all depends on what kind of mood I’m in. Art is the human’s first language. Before spoken words there was art. It is a great conductor and full of emotions.
What is BUILD? How are/were you involved?
BUILD is a Washington State employee resource group called Blacks United in Leadership Diversity. I personally founded the group a couple years ago. It occurred to me that at that point, the state had a disability network, veterans’ network, women’s network, LGTBTQ+ network, and immigration network, but there wasn’t a group to represent Black people and People of Color. There is an underrepresentation of Black people and People of Color in leadership positions at state agencies.
Through BUILD, I learned about the different stories of barriers facing Black people in advancing their careers. This group is a way where we can come as we are, exhale, and talk with each other about the “elephant” in the room. To this day, we have challenges with representing Black people within the state. We’re catching up to years of historical disregard.
Why is it important that state governments like WDFW be engaged in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts?
This is the business of state government. We serve all of Washington state regardless of race, gender, and economic class, and we take in revenue from all parts of the state. For that reason alone, people should be offered opportunities. Not just through employment, but with services as well.
We’ve done a lot. But we do have a ways to go. And, we’re not going anywhere if we don’t address or face some of the hard issues from the past. We’ve changed the laws from the past, we even changed a lot of hearts and minds. Now, we need to work on the institutions that were left behind us. Black History is a way of catching up to all the facts that were left out.