DAHLGREN, Va. – Sandwiched between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021 and the start of Black History Month in February, Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren Division and Dam Neck Activity held a virtual event to honor the late great civil rights activist.
The event, which was held virtually through Microsoft Teams, was headlined by keynote speaker Capt. Cedric McNeal, program manager for the Amphibious Warfare Program Office at PEO Ships. More than 400 attendees participated in the event, which included McNeal’s keynote speech and a question-and-answer session afterward.
McNeal began his speech with an excerpt of King’s address about reconciliation delivered at the First Annual Institute: “The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of non-violence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”
Born and raised in the Deep South, McNeal spoke of King’s mission on a personal level.
“Dr. King’s work and his legacy run deep through my blood,” said McNeal. “I actually believe I am a beneficiary of Dr. King’s work. I think I may be a small example of what Dr. King may have been dreaming about.”
McNeal’s keynote address outlined King’s life and legacy, including where the Baptist minister encountered integrated communities. According to McNeal, the activist’s experiences during seminary in New England provided a basis for his vision for the country.
During the question and answer portion of the event, McNeal was quizzed on a variety of questions, ranging from what documentaries follow King’s life to how McNeal was making the civil rights leader’s dream a reality.
“It’s a challenge to balance the professionalism of wearing the uniform with the social action agendas going on outside. I think we have to establish ourselves as leaders, not just for one community but for all communities,” said McNeal. “I think we could easily get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of being in uniform and positions of leadership. We need to stop for a second and just be personable and see where we can establish happy mediums to make our work environment more viable and amendable for all.”
The Navy captain was also asked about the transition from “Black History Month” to a future as “American History Month.”
“We should take a look at the purpose and intent,” McNeal responded. “I think we should understand what drove us to the point of acknowledgement and the recognition of a special emphasis month throughout the calendar year. We should celebrate the accomplishments of all that have contributed to our nation for where we are today.”