ANNAPOLIS, Md. (NNS) -- The Naval Academy kicked off Black History Month Feb. 1 with a step dance performance by members of the University of Maryland's Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.
Famous members of this international fraternity include actor Morgan Freeman and former South African President Nelson Mandela.
In step dancing, or stepping, the dancer's entire body is used as an instrument to produce complex rhythms and sounds through a mixture of footsteps, spoken word, and hand claps. Influenced by traditional African foot dances and mid-20th century R&B groups, the dance was introduced in the mid 1900s as competitive schoolyard song and dance ritual by the African-American fraternities and sororities that still perform them today.
Retired Rear Adm. Arthur Johnson spoke on the importance of such events in raising cultural awareness.
"Celebrations like this help us gain a better understanding of other cultures, which is important in our mission," said Johnson, who spoke at the event. "The more you know, the better you are able to interact and the more successful you can be. Hopefully at events like these, young people can be inspired and motivated to commit themselves to excellence and pursue their destiny."
The event also highlighted the many contributions of African American men and women to the history of the Navy. African American Sailors have a legacy of honorable service in every major armed conflict since the Revolutionary War and continue to serve with distinction, now comprising more than 17 percent of the active duty Navy total force end-strength.
Striving for equality at home and blazing a trail for future African-American Sailors, Wesley A. Brown became the first African American graduate of the Naval Academy in 1949, joining the Navy's Civil Engineer Corps and retiring at the rank of lieutenant commander.
Edna Young was a World War II veteran who joined the Navy after the passage of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948. She was the first African-American woman to enlist in the Navy and later the first to achieve the rank of chief petty officer
In 2012, Vice Adm. Michelle Janine Howard became the first African-American woman to receive a third star in flag rank within the Defense Department when she was promoted Aug. 24. Howard is currently serving as deputy commander for U.S. Fleet Forces Command. In 1999, she became the first African American woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy when she took command of USS Rushmore (LSD 47).
The Naval Academy will celebrate the entire month with special events. The Midshipman Black Studies Group will host a mentoring session for school-age students, and the Midshipman Action Group will host Big Brothers, Big Sisters students on the academy yard to learn more about African-American history.
Additionally, the Naval Academy History Department will host a discussion by historian Gene Smith on African-American slaves and the War of 1812.
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