Black History Month - VIA Metropolitan Transit

VIA celebrates Black History Month

Black History Month is a time to recognize the achievements of Black Americans and reflect on their central role in our shared history. VIA values diversity, equity, and inclusion. Fostering equitable environments and inclusive practices that celebrate diversity keeps us moving forward, together.


Since the invention of the wheel, man has sought ways to streamline transportation. VIA has long been at the forefront of transit, but the path was made easier by innovations of many African-American inventors. We spotlight four of these pioneers, whose contributions have had a long-lasting impact on transit in the United States and across the globe.

Garrett Morgan - Black History Month


In 1923, Morgan received a patent for one of his most influential inventions — the improved traffic light. Morgan’s invention was one of the first three-light systems invented, a T-shaped pole unit that featured three positions: Stop, Go, and an all-directional stop position. The third position halted traffic in all directions, allowing pedestrians to cross more safely, resulting in the widespread adoption of the traffic lights we use today.

SOURCE: Federal Highway Administration

Granville Woods - Black History Month


In 1887, Granville T. Woods patented the induction telegraph system which became the basis of the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph. This invention revolutionized telecommunications in the railway industry through a device that sent messages to and from moving trains and rail stations, resulting in improved safety on trains.

SOURCE: New York Transit Museum

Andrew Jackson Beard - Black History Month


Inventor Andrew Jackson Beard transformed train car safety features through his patented improvements to railroad car couplers in 1897. Prior to his invention, railroad cars required workers to manually slide a pin through a link to connect two cars. Beard’s improvement to the Janney coupler used horizontal jaws that automatically locked together when train cars bumped into each other. It was the first automatic coupler widely used in the U.S. and that same year Congress passed a federal act, which required automatic couplers on all railroad cars.

SOURCE: National Geographic

Elijah McCoy


Elijah J. McCoy also known as “the real McCoy” who received more than 50 patents for his inventions during his lifetime, a system that automatically lubicratrf steam engines in locomotives, ships, and factory equipment. After studying the inefficiencies inherent in the existing system of oiling axles, McCoy invented a lubricating cup that distributed oil evenly over the engine’s moving parts allowing engines to run continuously for long periods of time without pausing for maintenance.

SOURCE: Biography

VIA In the Community

We celebrate the contributions of all Black Americans who have made an impact in the community and in our organization. Today, and every day, we thank the VIA team members whose dedication to our mission—to connect our community—goes well beyond their role at VIA. Get to know four inspiring VIA employees and learn about their commitment to serve.

Image: Black History Month Spotlight


VIA Vice President of Safety, Training and System Security
Member of the San Antonio Zulu Association

Tremell Brown began his career at VIA as a bus operator in 1990 and worked to become Vice President of Safety, Training and System Security, a position he’s held for the past six years.

Brown is proud to champion causes that support people of color, both professionally and through his volunteer efforts with community organizations like the San Antonio Zulu Association. The SAZU is a nonprofit founded with the mission to assist the greater San Antonio community. It raises money for youth programs and scholarships with its signature “Taste of New Orleans” event held each year during Fiesta. The all-volunteer organization also provides for numerous philanthropic outreach programs that advocate community service.

Organizations like the SAZU exemplify VIA’s mission to connect the community. Brown points out a direct correlation between the two.

“At VIA we serve the community each and every day,” he said. “Being blessed with the opportunity to also serve the community in my personal life through various organizations galvanizes the importance of servant leadership.”

In his role as Marketing Chairman for the San Antonio Zulu Association, Brown is charged with being the megaphone in achieving its goals, which include providing college scholarships and development opportunities for emerging leaders in the San Antonio area.

Brown says it is vital to stay connected and attentive to the challenges and experiences that exist, as well as being available to listen closely for opportunities to better understand and help others.

“I view community service and involvement as a civic responsibility,” Brown said. “As a member of multiple philanthropic organizations, working hard to continuously create and elevate the opportunities that motivate others to reach greater potential and achievement is vital.”

He adds that while Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate, achievements and milestones should be recognized every month of the year.

“Encouraging and reminding members of the community to not only continue to dream bigger more often, but to also set bigger goals and then execute them well, will result in greater expectations to regularly reach greater accomplishments.” .


VIA Bus Operator
Youth Boxing Coach

To be a VIA bus operator, one has to be focused and strong. And they have to care about the community we serve. Louis Howard’s life before signing on to be a VIA driver in 2011, prepared him well for the job.

Howard, an operator for 11 years, was a champion boxer who won the gold medal in the welterweight division at the 1983 Pan-American Games. He also is a former Golden Gloves champion who was an alternate on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. The St. Louis, Mo., native says his time in the boxing ring facilitated the transition to his new career and his dedication to mentoring young athletes.

“Boxing prepares you for a lot of what life throws at you. First off it builds confidence to believe you can do anything. It teaches you the mental toughness to fend off challenges and the discipline to attack them in the right frame of mind,” Howard said.

When he’s not behind the wheel of a VIA bus, he’s busy training youth and young adults in the ring, not because he wants them to be boxers, but because he believes the sport helps build strong character. Howard believes it’s important to teach youth, particularly young people in poor and minority communities, that they can have limitless opportunities.

“The confidence we build in the ring leads to better grades in the classroom,” he said. “And better grades lead to better opportunities. We don’t have anything stopping us but ourselves.”


VIA Senior Vice President Legal/General Counsel
2019 San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame Inductee

Bonnie Prosser Elder has been a leader in transportation and community service in San Antonio for more than 25 years, serving numerous organizations and multiple boards with a focus on issues of interest to persons of color and other minorities.

The list of organization’s that count her as an esteemed member or patron is long and reflects her deep ties to the community and legal profession. They include the San Antonio Bar Association, San Antonio Black Lawyer’s Association, Texas Young Lawyers Association, San Antonio Young Lawyers Association, San Antonio Young Lawyers Association Bill of Rights Teaching Program, Leadership San Antonio, Governor’s Commission for Women, San Antonio Sports Foundation and Jack and Jill of America, Inc. She is an active member of San Antonio Chapter-LINKS, Inc., Junior League of San Antonio, Texas Women’s Forum, and the American Public Transit Association Legal Affairs Committee.

She is a role model and mentor to women and young girls, has been recognized by Who’s Who in San Antonio, awarded the 2014 Friend of Sam Houston High School Community Award, identified by the National Diversity Council as one of the “Most Powerful and Influential Women of Texas,” selected as a Blackbook San Antonio awardee, and inducted into the San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame in 2019.

Each association represents countless hours and resources invested in the community. And though she can claim many accolades for her work, Prosser Elder remains an example of a servant-leader.

“Giving back to the community is the rent you pay for the opportunity to live and participate in society,” Prosser Elder, VIA’s Senior Vice President of Legal and General Counsel, said. “But community service is not a Black History Month issue, it is an American issue we should all embrace 24/7, 365 days a year.”

Black History Month is an opportunity to focus on the experiences and contributions of Black and African American people as part of our shared American history.

“It is so much more than slavery, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King,” Prosser Elder said. “We should know and learn about the many other important figures in American history such as Katherine Johnson, Thurgood Marshall, Carole Anderson, Barbara Jordan, Claudette Colvin, Emmett Till and so many more.”


VIA Bus Operator
President of Amalgamated Transit Union Black Caucus

Tammy Sims says she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t serving. The retired airline attendant, who is originally from Ohio, started driving a bus at VIA 10 years ago and has used it as a platform to give back to the community.

“Driving the bus, you meet people and really get to know them,” Sims said. “I just want to bridge the gap between those riders and how they view our operators. I want them to know that we care and that we’re more than just a person that gets them from here to there.”

With that in mind, Sims, formed the Black Caucus Chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union nearly four years ago. Its primary goal is to empower and advance people in the Black community by developing leaders, informing policy and promoting education. The Black Caucus raises scholarship money and serves underprivileged youth by providing clothing, school supplies and meals throughout the year.

“I love my job as an operator,” Sims said. “I see the importance of treating everyone fairly on a daily basis. There’s so much we can do to make that happen and for us in the Black Caucus there is a sense of pride knowing that we can accomplish little things like providing breakfast and snacks for school children who might not have something to eat that day.”

Honoring Rosa Parks

On February 17, 2022, VIA partnered with the with the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAAACAM) to celebrate Black History Month with an event to commemorate Rosa Parks, who would have been 109 this year.

The event was designed to educate, inspire, and engage the community in a conversation about diversity, inclusion, and service.
VIA began the tradition of celebrating Mrs. Parks’ birthday in 2019 and is excited to return to an in-person celebration with a new partner in honoring Parks.

The event was marked by a special performance by actress/storyteller Jean Donatto as Rosa Parks and the Reverend Dr. Lemelle Taylor, Pastor of Butler African Methodist Episcopal Church of San Antonio.



Image: VIA cares - Connecting our Community

VIA Cares Service Day 

VIA Cares, VIA’s employee volunteer program, will complete beautification projects to enhance our customers’ experience at selected transit centers and shelters/stops, including Ellis Alley in the city’s historic East Side.

About Ellis Alley

The Ellis Alley enclave represents the remnants of the first African American “freedom colony” in post-Civil War San Antonio and was a hub for the city’s African American community through the first decades of the 20th Century. The 0.7-acre enclave comprises six buildings that were part the settlement in San Antonio after Emancipation. In the late 1860s, its owners, Dr. Anthony Dignowity and Sam Maverick, began to develop the land and by 1879 subdivided it into 25-foot-wide lots that were sold exclusively to African Americans.

The buildings were purchased by VIA Metropolitan Transit in the late 1990s and in partnership with the San Antonio Conservation Society, were refurbished to house small businesses, non-profit organizations, and city-service buildings. Today, one of the buildings houses a VIA Customer Information Center, and the lot across Chestnutt Street, serves as a Park & Ride location for commuters.


When the buildings were purchased the buildings, the area was in disrepair and at risk of demolition, but preservation-minded individuals and organizations, including VIA, championed preserving and rehabilitating three of the buildings.

As a result of these efforts, it was determined in 2009 that demolition of three structures built between circa 1895 and 1910 would be a significant loss to the city’s heritage. The comprehensive restoration project helped reinvigorate this site to become a treasured landmark with renewed purpose for the historic East Side and the Greater San Antonio Region.


Preservation Texas, Inc., recognized VIA Metropolitan Transit for its role in the restoration of the historic Ellis Alley buildings with a 2016 Honor Award, presented in a special ceremony on February 18, 2016, at the Preservation Texas Summit in Austin.

The award honors the work done to preserve the heritage that the area represents.

Project Team

Architectural Team: Ford, Powell & Carson Architects and Planners, and Mainstreet Architects Inc.
Investment Partners: City of San Antonio: Inner City TIRZ #11.
Assistance Support: San Antonio Conservation Society.
Contractor: Baron-Long Construction, LLC.