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Inspiring Change – Danne Smith Mathis

March 13, 2023

Last month, I was asked to serve as the guest speaker at the Commander Naval Information Warfare Training Group (Joint Expeditionary Base, Little Creek). for to celebrate Black History Month. I was honored to have served along side Officer Desmond Walker, Executive Officer, DDG96, Surface Nuclear Officer. We were asked to speak on “Inspiring Change!

This was the first time I was on a military base in an educational capacity since I taught as an adjunct faculty instructor at a US Naval Station in Bayonne, NJ more than 30 years ago. The reception was warm, and the majority of the attendees were enlisted women and men. Additionally, it was truly an honor and a challenge as I continued to recover from having had rotator cuff surgery just three (3) weeks earlier; so, I was thankful the command sent a Government vehicle for me since I was still under physician orders not to drive.

I believe “Black History” is simply a part of history…all history. So, whenever I speak on it, I speak about it within that context. It is something that deserves year-round attention!

Inspiring change.” We keep talking about change, how much this world needs it. True change is not brought about by the formation of new laws, but rather by the transformation of each one’s life. So, I invited the audience to imagine “change.”

Imagine if Derrick Chauvin had let George Floyd breathe or if the police went to the right house and Breonna Taylor simply had gotten a good night sleep that night. Or imagine James Earl Ray, or Sirhan Sirhan or Lee Harvey Oswald being denied firearms or Emmitt Till never leaving his home in the north to visit down south one summer, or if Colin Powell had been the 1st Black President.

Imagine how different things would be around Little Creek if during World War II, the African American military presence in the US had never reached its highest point ever, with 16.6% of all military members being African American in 2016, according to official data and that in addition to its diverse ranks, the US Navy never became one of the most diverse branches of the military.

Then, I asked the participants to take a ride with me for a moment to the other side of the peninsula, over to Newport News where 100 years ago a baby boy was born at 1444 Ivy Avenue while his father was back in Newark, NJ preparing for his family to return to Africa with Marcus Garvey as soon as his wife returned home with their six (6)-week old child.

Imagine the lives this young boy would never have impacted had never been elected as the first Black captain of his high school baseball team in Newark NJ or if he had never become the first Black captain of his college debate team at his 3x alma mater, Seton Hall University.

Imagine the lives this young collegian would never have impacted had he not become the first Black student at the Georgetown University School of Law where they would not allow him to eat, live, or sleep with his fellow white law school colleagues.

Imagine how different lives would have been if this same young solider would have never gotten tired of drinking out of that “colored only “ water fountain while serving in the NJ National Guard and what life would have continued to be like for him and so many fellow Black soldiers had he never written that law brief and sued a NJ governor, a law brief that after its successful day in court, set precedence to became the legal basis for the official desegregation of the NJ National Guard.

Imagine the lives this man would never have inspired had he not taken the time to learn what it took to become a college president only to become the first Black American to be president of any college or university in the state of NJ, in a city where that same college became the educational hope of residents in 1968 who had been ravished by the heat of hatred during the Newark riots of 1967. Imagine the lives this man would never have inspired had he never become a member of the Tuskegee Airmen 477th Bombardment Group while serving in the US Army Air Force or if he had never been appointed as Head of Vocational and Technical Education in the 1970s by then President Richard Nixon. And imagine the impact he would never have made if he and his wife had never gotten on that bus to the March on Washington in 1963.

I cannot imagine. Because this same man inspired me to be who I am today at this very moment. His life of inspirational change inspired me to co-author four books… to tell the truth about domestic violence, workplace violence and the heartbreak a mother endures while she watches her daughter enlist into the US Army to serve her country only to be discriminated against for eight (8) years without a promotion. I cannot imagine because this man was my father, a man who inspired change because he needed it not only for himself but for so many other lives he touched.

We cannot bring back George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, MLK, JFK, or Trayvon Martin. But we can inspire change if we do not fear the need for change.

In closing, I asked my audience to think about one change each of them could make right now- a change that if made, whether on the job or at home, how it would change the trajectory of not only their lives but more importantly, the lives of others.

That is the kind of power we all have within us. Take that across the seas to the ends of the Earth! Sail on and do the work and allow change to inspire you so you can inspire change!