The Central Pennsylvania African-American Chamber of Commerce has announced the winner of its Black History Hero Award.

The group selected Kerry L. Kirkland, assistant secretary for diversity, inclusion, and small business opportunities at the Pennsylvania Department of General Services, to receive the award this year. The awards ceremony will take place on the Temple University Harrisburg campus at 1 p.m. on February 25. The event will be by invitation only due to COVID-19.

In a press release from the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Pennsylvania, the group explained that Kirkland’s award was for its work “helping diverse small and small businesses, as well as the general public, during the COVID-19 pandemic”.

In particular, it was Kirkland’s creation of the COVID-19 Small Diverse Business and Community Task Force that drew accolades from the AACCCP. Among other initiatives, the task force helped organize the sterilization of the capital city of Harrisburg during the coronavirus pandemic. This has helped protect the public from transmission as well as creating or preserving 54 jobs in 16 small businesses, particularly those owned by minority business owners.

“We honor Under Secretary Kirkland with this award and are excited about the future of his initiatives and his impact on small businesses as his vision spreads across regions and the country,” the press release reads. “As Government Liaison and leader of this task force, Under Secretary Kirkland has demonstrated his exemplary ability to effectively direct federal emergency funds to diverse small and small businesses by breaking down the barriers that exist between federal, state and local agencies.”

“I’m very humbled and very grateful to be recognized by the African American Chamber,” Kirkland said. “I am truly grateful for all the support and assistance they provide to the African American business community and the diverse small business community in the region. [The AACCCP] continuously advocate for more equitable policies and programs to increase participation in such businesses, both in the public arena and in the private sector.

Kirkland, a graduate of the University of Lincoln with a master’s degree in human services and an Air Force veteran, also won the WEB Dubois Award for Excellence, the Parren J. Mitchell Award for Outstanding Developmental Service minority businesses, the Arthur A. Fletcher Vanguard Award, and the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus Civil Rights Award.

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