Chatsworth : The Gas Co. Goes to Bat for Diversity

Like any office party, there was food, music and pleasant conversation. But for employees at the Southern California Gas Co.'s Chatsworth office Thursday, it was also a history lesson.

Part of a monthlong focus on cultural diversity, the company devoted Thursday to celebrating different races via games, food and displays of artifacts from a variety of nations in the employee canteen. Guests included two brothers who played in the Negro Baseball Leagues during the 1930s and '40s.

As Regional Manager Steve Bennett explained, an appreciation of diversity is critical for a company that serves 4.5 million people.

"We like to represent our customer base," he said.

Customer service representative Tonga Hill said she was glad to see the various displays, noting that the presentations were educational for everyone.

"Even in your own race, you can learn something," she said.

Hill collected the baseball players' autographs for her sons, Brandon and Curtis, and said she was hopeful that they would grow up with a better understanding of African Americans' contributions to sports--and to history.

"The only thing I ever knew about was Jackie Robinson," she said.

Robert L. Dotson, president of the African American Athletic Assn. and a guest at Thursday's event, said it's important for people to realize that some of the first civil rights victories were won on a baseball diamond.

"This is where the racial barriers were broken," he said.

Merle Porter, who played first base with the Kansas City Monarchs starting in 1946, said that while he pays attention only to all-star and playoff games nowadays, he still enjoys meeting baseball fans and passing along the stories of players history has neglected.

"It's not going to fade away," said Porter, who attended the session with his brother Andy. "People are not going to let it fade away."

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