Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

May 2, 2013

Marathon team takes to classroom to get diversity message across

Mike James
The Independent

ASHLAND — A typical work day will find Aaron Barnett loading barges with gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from Marathon Inc.’s tank farm in Kenova.

Monday, however, was not a typical day for Barnett, a former barge hand accustomed to hard, dangerous outdoor work and long hours.

Barnett was wearing the same khaki Marathon uniform shirt and red company ballcap he wears while on duty. However, he was standing in a first-grade classroom with a book in his hands.

He was fulfilling what he sees as a higher duty, one he carries out in his free time and without pay as a member of Marathon’s diversity and inclusion team.

Members of the team, all volunteers, are charged with promulgating the company’s workplace inclusion guidelines in their communities. For Barnett, the task is personal. His wife, Misty, is African-American and his children, 5 and 16 months, are biracial, which makes it doubly important for him to spread the message that differences in race, creed, gender and sexual orientation shouldn’t matter.

The two books Barnett read at Poage Elementary were short and to the point: “It’s OK to be Different” and “The Skin You Live In” were their titles and their messages were similar. “It shouldn’t make a difference if people are different,” he said.

“This is the age when kids are still learning values. We need to catch them early before they are set in their habits,” he said.

The visit was particularly apropos for Poage, first-grade teacher Jane Ann Goodwin said, because it is an inclusion school for the district, mainly in its mainstreaming of special-needs children. “We talk a lot about diversity in school. It’s something we do every day,” she said.

Committed only to one school visit, Barnett arranged with the district to read at all five elementaries. Once he completes his visits he will donate the books to one of the school libraries.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.