VIRGINIA BEACH (NNS) -- Combat Direction Systems Activity (CDSA) Dam Neck employees celebrated African American History Month on Feb. 14, with first-person dramatic readings featuring crucial moments in the lives of nine major African American heroes and some little-known facts about them.
The sponsor, CDSA's Diversity Committee, normally engages a guest speaker for each month's historical observance. Marcus Matthews, chair of the Diversity Committee at CDSA, said, "For this year's African-American/Black History Month Observance, CDSA Dam Neck took a different direction for their celebration. Rather than having a guest speaker, we took on the roles of famous African-American figures." Volunteers, some dressed in character, became these famous people to give new life to the facts that compose their rich and complex stories, which together tell of struggle, triumph and a collective spirit that reaches out to touch the present and, thereby, our future.
Kenneth "KJ" Jones led off as Master Diver Carl Brashear, who was the first African American diver in the United States Navy and was the subject of the 2002 movie "Men of Honor." Jones actually lived in the same neighborhood as Brashear and got to be friends with him. "I first met Carl 'Maxie' Brashear when I was the command master chief of the Naval Dental Center Mid-Atlantic. Carl was the guest speaker for our final Dental Technician Ball, even though he told me he had retired from the speaking tour. Carl and I became good friends, and we lived in the same townhouse community in Virginia Beach. His Navy career ended in 1979 and mine started that year. We both retired as master chiefs."
After that, Gloria Ridley portrayed Mary McLeod Bethune, who was an educator, stateswoman, and civil rights activist and started Bethune-Cookman University. She also was appointed as a national adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of what was known as his Black Cabinet. She was known as "The First Lady of The Struggle" because of her commitment to gain better lives for African Americans.
Bren Andrew spoke about Zora Neale Hurston, a writer known for her contributions to African-American literature and her portrayal of racial struggles in the South, including her 1937 novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God," which became a movie starring Halle Berry in 2005. Set in Florida in the early 20th century, the novel is regarded as a critical work in both African-American literature and women's literature.
Junior Johnson donned his tracksuit to show how German judges tried to deny Jesse Owens a long jump gold medal in the 1936 Olympics by raising red flags and disqualifying his first two jumps. Only when a German opponent advised Owens to leap from behind the starting point did his jumps count, setting a world record in the process. Owens won four gold medals for the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint races, the four 100-meter relay race, and the long jump.
Lakisha Treasure portrayed former First Lady Michelle Obama, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, who met her husband, then future President Barack Obama while they worked at a law firm. As First Lady, she advocated for poverty awareness, education, nutrition, physical activity and healthy eating.
Angel Quezada broke out a judicial robe to talk about Thurgood Marshall, who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1967 to 1991. Marshall was the Court's first African-American justice. Prior to his judicial service, he successfully argued several cases before the Supreme Court.
Bathsheba Nelson portrayed Daisy Bates, a civil rights activist who was able to turn the trauma she felt after learning, at age eight, how her mother was murdered, into the drive that impelled her to become a fierce civil rights advocate. She published a local black newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, which publicized violations of the Supreme Court's desegregation rulings and became the leading advocate for desegregating the schools of Little Rock, Ark. She also later served in the administration of U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, working on anti-poverty programs.
Marcus Matthews gave a rousing talk as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., concluding with part of his famous "I Have a Dream" speech: "I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'"
"This was one of the most dynamic programs we've had since I've been at CDSA," said Commanding Officer Cmdr. Andrew J. Hoffman. "To personalize these heroes the way they did brought them to life and we all benefitted from learning more about the history of African Americans in our national fabric. The applause after each reading and at the end was heartfelt."
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