To provide insights from the Intact community, we’re featuring Black History Month employee profiles this month. Today, get to know Leslie Willis-Mazes from our Technology business. We invite you to learn how Black history has influenced her life through her insights below.

Tell us about a moment in black history that influenced or shaped your career?
I think it was the first time I saw Diahann Carrol as “Julia,” an African American nurse on prime-time TV.  I realized later that my TV experiences had been solely white actors, no one that looked like me.  When that TV show came on, it made me realize I could become a nurse or maybe a doctor or lawyer.  I didn’t pursue those careers but seeing her on the screen for the first time is something that I will always remember, and it was encouraging as a little Black girl growing up in the South.

Favorite Quote or Mantra?
I have a couple of favorite quotes-
“You must never be Fearful about what you are doing when it is Right.” — Rosa Parks
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

My personal mantra is “Live a Great Story”

Why do you think celebrating Black History Month is important?
Black Americans have contributed so much to the history of this country, but in schools and other places we get a watered-down version.  If you based your knowledge off what is taught in schools, you would only know about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and maybe Malcolm X.  Our history is full of inventors, creators, scholars, doctors and writers.  For example:

  • Lewis Latimer invented the carbon light bulb filament.
  • Frederick McKinley Jones invented refrigeration equipment that provided automatic refrigerated air-cooling units for trucks, trains, ships and planes.
  • Garrett Morgan patented the traffic signal and was responsible for adding the third signal which is the yellow light. He is also responsible for the earlier versions of the gas mask.
  • Percy Lavon Julian synthesized a drug called physostigmine which is used to treat glaucoma.
  • Marie Van Brittan Brown filed a patent for the first-ever home security system. Her original design contained a camera, a two-way microphone, peepholes and monitors, all serving as the foundations for today’s modern systems.
  • For you golfers, George Grant invented the golf tee.

Our people are so often portrayed in negative ways and unless you get the full history, people tend to form stereotypes.  When you think about the conditions under which Africans were brought to this country, and then lived under constant prejudice and feverish attempts to keep them down, we as a people are still rising above that, in spite of all that adversity.  If nothing else, I would encourage everyone to just dig a little deeper this month to learn something new about the people and the culture.

Who inspires you?
Anyone who is trying to rise above their circumstances and those who are working to help people rise above those conditions and circumstances.

If you could have a conversation with a civil rights activist, who would it be and why?
Wow, that is tough one because there are a few.  I would love to talk to Malcom X, John Lewis, James Baldwin and Martin Luther King, but I think I would enjoy getting a woman’s perspective on that time period from Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King.