African American-ERG Hosts Annual MLK Celebration

Story Number: NNS190204-20Release Date: 2/4/2019 3:11:00 PM
A  A  A   Email this story to a friend   Print this story
By Kristi Britt, Norfolk Naval Shipyard Public Affairs Specialist

PORTSMOUTH, VA (NNS) -- The Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) African American Employment Resource Group (AA-ERG) hosted the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Jan. 18 to honor the life and accomplishments of the late civil rights leader.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, celebrated on the third Monday of January, coincides with King’s birthday. Known widely as a day of service, the theme observed each year is, “Remember. Celebrate. Act. A day on, not a day off.” The day provides those with an opportunity to not only remember the impact Dr. King had on the world but also an opportunity to service the community. 

“When we began crafting the Command Philosophy of the shipyard, we talked about inspiration,” said Shipyard Commander, Capt. Kai Torkelson. “Dr. King was very inspirational and it’s why many joined him in the civil rights movement. In the summer of 1963, 250,000 people showed up to hear Dr. King speak. There were no invitations, no websites. It was a message spreading to the people and those that wanted to hear the message all listened as he shared that famous speech, ‘I Have a Dream.’ He wasn’t the only great orator. He wasn’t the only one with these ideas for change. But what stood out to others was his ability to go around and talk about what he believed in. He shared his message no matter what stood in his way. The message spread far and wide and people showed up. They didn’t show up for him. They showed up for themselves because they were inspired and wanted to show that they had a dream as well.” 

He added, “Dr. King once said that life’s most important question is what you are doing for others. Against what seemed like impossible odds, Dr. King and others who believed fought against injustice. And in his memory, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday observed as a day of service, a day on, not a day off. Service is a powerful tool for strengthening our communities, but it is only a part of it. Through your C.O.R.E. Values of Care, Ownership, and Respect, you can see why we do what we do every day and the inspiration to work hard for America’s Shipyard. Our workforce sees the challenges they face every day taking it head-on. They are showing up for themselves, they are inspired, they want to improve, and they have a dream.” 

Ashley Smith, WVEC 13 News NOW daybreak anchor,  was the guest speaker for the event, sharing five important lessons that can be attributed to Dr. King’s life and applied to our lives today. 

The first lesson is to never stop learning and growing. 

“We’ve all come to a point in our lives where we believe we are the subject matter experts. However, the only way to truly get an answer is to ask a question and the only way to truly be an expert is to know that you will never stop learning and growing,” said Smith. “There is always something you can learn. When we look back at Dr. King in photographs, it’s hard to think of him as someone who doesn’t have all the answers. We see him giving speeches and sharing his ideas but it took time for him to reach that point in his life. Born and raised in the south, Dr. King had just graduated high school when he went off to work away from home. Outside the south for the first time, he went out to dinner and found himself in a restaurant where people of every color were able to eat together. He was inspired to write to his mother and tell her that he never thought he would be able to eat anywhere because of the color of his skin. His dream began in that restaurant at the age of 15 after he left his comfort zone for the first time and saw that the world was not as he had originally thought. It may seem like such a small moment compared to those iconic moments in history, but without that moment there is no telling if we would ever have seen this man step forward and share his dream with the world. In our lives, we are subject matter experts but that is only inside our own boxes. We don’t see what other people are doing or their own viewpoints unless we step out of our boxes and open our minds to knowledge and possibility.” 

The second lesson is how to react. 

“Dr. King was the leader of so many social groups and within those groups came a lot of discord and arguments. He found that just because they shared similar beliefs did not mean that there wasn’t conflict,” said Smith. “Did you know that Dr. King originally did not want to be part of the march in 1963 because it was originally meant to be a more aggressive rally, and he did not want to be part of violence? However, he wanted to be in front of people who wanted change and needed to hear his words. Despite their different viewpoints on the conflict, he wanted to share his dream with the world. We are all going to have to do things in our lives that we don’t necessarily agree with. However, the best way to get your point across is to not get an attitude or get angry. Don’t have a negative attitude. Instead, share your ideas and work together to find a compromise. We all have the same goal and can work together to find the path that works for all.” 

The third lesson is that sometimes being indirect is best. 

“Sometimes the indirect approach is the best one to really impact a situation and see long-lasting change,” said Smith. “Dr. King was a big person when it came to strategy and patience. So were those who followed him, including Rosa Parks. When the Montgomery Bus Boycott happened, it lasted 385 days and took small changes here and there to truly see a long-lasting impact. Dr. King and his organization arranged carpools and cab drives discounted fares to match the bus fare so more and more people stopped using the buses. This eventually led to the Federal Court desegregating the Alabama bus system. This moment had such an impact on history yet it took small changes here and there to make a difference. Dr. King kept the end goal in mind and formed a strategy. Patience led to this huge win for the Civil Rights Movement. So remember that time is a value. What plan you have, remember that patience and strategy is key.”

The fourth lesson is that a setback is a setup for a comeback. 

“Throughout his life, Dr. King had many issues he had to face. He was arrested nearly 30 times, his home was bombed, and he and his family were constantly harassed for his actions and words,” said Smith. “Instead of quitting, he moved forward. There was a bombing in Birmingham where four girls died and many others were injured. This scared a lot of people who began to pull away from his message in fear. However, Dr. King did not quit. He held a press conference the next day in Birmingham, shifted his focus there and did the eulogy for three of the girls who died. In addition, he also led non-violent protests which resulted in police brutality and sent him to prison for nine days. Even after all of that, Dr. King wrote the Letter from Birmingham Jail, 20 pages responding to the injustice he and the people were facing. This letter became a battle cry for the movement: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ He had many setbacks and opportunities to throw in the towel, but he persevered. He didn’t let it take him out of the race, instead he used those setbacks as fuel to push forward. Don’t let anybody take away your job or mess up the goal you have in mind. Take that negativity you face, rechannel it, and use it as fuel to continue forward.” 

The final lesson Smith shared is that you are not alone. 

“When we think about the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King, we often times think about those iconic images of him giving a speech at a podium or by himself,” said Smith. “However, Dr. King was never alone. He had so many people rallying and standing beside him. Even in the hardest of times, he had those by his side that were there from the beginning. It’s the same with all of us. A lot of times we put a lot of stock in those who we will never meet, or those who don’t care about our journey and are only there to reap the benefits of our success. Reassess the relationships in your life and take those with you who have been with you from day one. The people that have shown they care about you, and are there for you in the best and worst of times are those who really support your journey for success.”

The NNSY AA-ERG’s goal is promoting economic opportunities, providing mechanisms for inclusion, and facilitating growth and advocacy by increasing knowledge and appreciation for the historical and cultural heritage of black people throughout NNSY and the surrounding communities. The NNSY AA-ERG is part of the CARE team and meets the third Thursday of every month in Bldg. M-1 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. All shipyard employees, Sailors, and tenants are invited to attend. For more information, please contact Mike Taylor at 967-3286 or email


Get more information about the Navy from US Navy facebook or twitter.

For more news from Norfolk Naval Shipyard, visit

Navy Social Media
Sign up for email updates To sign up for updates or to access your subscriber preferences, please click on the envelope icon in the page header above or click Subscribe to Navy News Service.