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Home : Media : News
NEWS | March 6, 2017

‘The Navy Saved Me’: African American and Black History Month Keynote Speaker

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications

DAHLGREN, Va. – Dr. Jeremiah Williams recounted a conversation with his high school’s guidance counselor about the prospect of attending college.

Williams – keynote speaker at the 2017 Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) African American and Black History Month celebration – told the audience that he had friends who were planning to attend college so he wanted to explore that possibility.

The counselor, however, advised that he should join the Army rather than apply for admittance to a university.

“I was devastated,” said Williams, reflecting on the response before a military and civilian audience packing the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren Theater, Feb. 28.

Eventually, he decided to enlist in the Navy.

“I didn’t realize how smart I was until I joined the Navy,” said Williams. “The recruiter told me I qualified for every program the Navy offers. When I went to nuke (Nuclear Power) school, and among the last ones standing, I felt I could conquer the world. The Navy saved me and I appreciated that.”

Williams – who was a Machinist’s Mate First Class – went on to earn his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

“You don’t have to accept racism, sexism or discrimination due to gender identification or religion from anyone,” he said. “You have the right to be who you are and stand up for that right.”

Throughout his career, the retired clinical social worker advised and counseled students, parents, teachers, and school administrators in elementary, middle, and high schools to help students succeed.

As President of the 100 Black Men of America Inc., Virginia Peninsula Chapter, Williams strives to improve the quality of life within communities while enhancing educational and economic opportunities for all African Americans.

The former college professor faced challenges that are rare today in the United States. He grew up without electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing. In high school, he did not take a college preparatory exam to get into college, did not study or do homework and was considered a mediocre student.

“No one seemed to care,” he said, until he enlisted. At that point, his life changed and he started to feel special in the Navy.

Williams has since been working to influence and change the lives of others, especially families.

“It’s important to give children positive accolades,” said Williams. “We need to tell them ‘you’re wonderful, you’re marvelous, rub their heads, and say you’re okay.”

As the audience listened, he told stories related to his topic: "Factors Influencing the Academic Achievement of African Americans".

“Why are our children having such a difficult time in school?” asked Williams, who worked with a team to study the social dynamics of African American families. “What we found is that we had a whole bunch of bright and intelligent kids with behavioral problems.”

Williams discussed reasons for the behavioral issues and the mentoring his organization provides to youth, families, community leaders, and institutions in their efforts to help African American youth and their families maximize their potential.

“We do this by providing mentoring, parenting education, and programs that focus on health and wellness, economic empowerment, education, and leadership development,” Williams explains in his welcome message on the 100 Black Men of America of Virginia Peninsula’s website:

“Let his remarks be a data point for how you interact with young males and females at schools that are underrepresented,” NSWCDD Commanding Officer Capt. Godfrey “Gus” Weekes suggested to the audience that included Navy scientists and engineers who mentor students in local school systems and various science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outreach programs.

In his welcoming remarks, Weekes referred to NSWCDD efforts related to this year’s African American and Black History Month theme – “The Crisis in Black Education”.

“We are aggressive in partnering with area middle and high schools to spark and develop interest in STEM careers,” said Weekes, adding that the command routinely hosts STEM events, sponsors internships, and judges STEM competitions.

Moreover, Weekes recalled the “giants of history” from civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to World War II hero Dorie Miller, “who have done more in a day than we have in all our lives”.

Doris "Dorie" Miller – who enlisted as a Mess Attendant 3rd Class in 1939 – distinguished himself by courageous conduct and devotion to duty during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, while serving aboard USS West Virginia (BB-48).  He was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on this occasion. He was lost with the escort carrier Liscome Bay (CVE-56) when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine on Nov. 24, 1943, during the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. Miller was presumed dead by the Secretary of the Navy a year and a day after being listed as missing in action.

African American and Black Sailors and civilians are an integral part of the One Navy Team. Nineteen percent of Navy's enlisted force identifies as African American or Black, to include 17 percent of all senior and master chiefs, while seven percent of the officer force and four percent of all admirals identify as the same.

In the Navy's civilian workforce, 15 percent are African American or Black and 20 are Senior Executive Service members.