NORFOLK (NNS) -- Military Sealift Command's Special Emphasis Observance Committee hosted a Black History Month celebration on board Naval Station Norfolk, Feb. 24.
"Today we will celebrate African American, Black History Month," said Clarence White of MSC Executive Office and the master of ceremonies for the event. "Black History Month, also known as National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their accomplishments throughout the history of the United States."
"When February approaches, there seems to be a collective shift in the atmosphere," said MSC's chaplain, Lt. Vito Crecca. "This observance is very germane to who we are as a people. When we pause to remember black history, we also pause to remember American history.
"When one travels around this country from one locale to another, one would be hard pressed to not encounter the experience of a black patriarch," said Crecca. "Their sacrifices, their passion, their hope, their victories are undeniably laced through the very soil of our country."
The keynote speaker for MSC's Black History Month celebration was U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Phillip M. Brashear, the son of Master Chief Navy Diver Carl Brashear. The late master diver was the first African American Navy diver and the first amputee to remain on active duty as a deep-sea diver in the United States Navy.
"My father passed away 10 years ago this July," according to Brashear. "He was a great American hero and now he is at legend status. I never want my dad to become a myth. I always want my dad to be remembered as a legend and American hero. He did not believe he was 'all that.' He was just doing his job.
"My father was black in a time when being black in this country, and at a time in the Navy, was not a real popular thing," said Brashear. "At the age of 17 he joined the military with an 8th grade education."
"My father grew up poor, he grew up on a share-croppers farm," added Brashear. "He also had a physical disability."
Carl Brashear lost his leg during an attempted recovery of a hydrogen bomb when two military aircraft collided, losing the bomb in the ocean off the coast of Spain. During the recovery, Brashear was severely injured when a pipe broke loose.
"I got all the Sailors out of the way, but I didn't get myself out of the way," Carl Brashear reported after the incident.
The pipe flew across the deck and hit Carl Brashear below the knee.
"The fifth challenge my father had to deal with was alcoholism towards the end of his Navy career," said Brashear. "Think about it, he dealt with racism, lack of education, economic challenge, physical disability, drug and alcohol abuse. Five issues which are still affecting our country today.
"With all of these challenges, my father proved that anything is achievable," added Brashear. "We have no excuses for never making it in this world. Because you know what, if he can do it, anyone can do it.
"You have no right to give up," said Brashear. "My father never gave up when things got hard. When things are hard and life gives you lemons, make lemonade that is what my father did."
After Brashear addressed the audience, MSC's Commander, Rear Adm. T.K. Shannon, presented Brashear with command challenge coins and remarked on the significance of the event.
"Events such as this are incredibly important," said Shannon. "We take time out of our day to look back at the very impressive contributions of those who have gone before us.
"It is our turn to 'put the shoulder to the wheel' and carry on the hard work of those who came before us," added Shannon. "Slavery was wrong. Segregation was wrong. Denying people the right to vote was wrong. Thank goodness for the courageous folks who took a stand to have those policies ended.
"We have a problem though," continued Shannon. "For all of those who worked to correct these wrongs, there were those who saw the injustices and didn't do anything about it. They turned a blind eye."
"Let's go forward, be proactive and take a stand," charged Shannon. "Anybody who sees an injustice, whether it is equal opportunity, sexual assault, sexual harassment, wherever we see wrong, and let's not turn a blind eye. Let's take a stand and do the right thing."
The celebration included the singing of the national anthem by Delanya Hoskins and the reading of the 2016 Black History Month presidential proclamation by Terry Blair.
"The origins of Black History Month date back to 1926 and the establishment of Negro History Week," according to White. "The original celebration fell on the second week of February, between the birthdays of the famous orator and abolitionist Fredrick Douglas and President Abraham Lincoln.
"In 1976 the celebration expanded to include the entire month of February," said White. "Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month."
"America's greatness is a testament to generations of courageous individuals who, in the face of uncomfortable truths, accepted that the work of perfecting our nation is unending and strived to expand the reach of freedom to all," according to President Barack Obama's 2016 Black History Month Proclamation. "During National African American History Month, we recognize these champions of justice and the sacrifices they made to bring us to this point, we honor the contributions of African Americans since our country's beginning, and we recommit to reaching for a day when no person is judged by anything but the content of their character."
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