Marine Corps makes impact at 2005 NAACP Convention
By Staff Sgt. Marc Ayalin
| Marine Corps Recruiting Command | July 15, 2005
The “City of Festivals” was host to the 96th Annual NAACP Convention, July 9-14, and the U.S. Marines were there to spread their message of leadership, employment opportunities and diversity achievements within its ranks.
More than 8,000 visitors, NAACP members and exhibitors from across the country filled Milwaukee’s Midwest Airlines Center to participate in a weeklong schedule of information sharing, education and celebration with the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. For the fifth consecutive year, representatives from Headquarters, United States Marine Corps (HQMC), Manpower Plans and Policies, and Marine Corps Recruiting Command (MCRC), took the opportunity to build upon relationships with NAACP members, delegates, influencers and youth advisors from dozens of African-American communities across the nation.
“The Marine Corps commends the NAACP and its efforts to create role models, mentor youth and support higher education,” said Brigadier General Walter Gaskin, commanding general, MCRC. “When African Americans have opportunities to continue their education and reach their fullest potential, all Americans benefit.”
Marines participated in several events throughout the convention to include the sponsorship of an NAACP Youth and College Division, Youth Advisor’s Luncheon, they manned an interactive booth in the convention’s Commerce and Industry Show, and provided an historical information kiosk that highlighted the achievements of African American Marines. Marine representatives were also invited by NAACP leaders to attend various awards dinners and receptions.
The Marines’ recruiting booth attracted a lot of attention as convention participants stopped to gaze at a 20-foot inflatable drill instructor that drew people’s initial attention from a distance. The Team Marines show car, a replica of the actual #25 Team Marines Busch Series racecar, was also featured along with two pull-up challenge games where visitors competed to win a Marine T-shirt or a keychain lanyard. One participant felt encouraged to learn more about what Marines had to offer.
“I was curious to see if I could do the pull-ups but mostly I wanted to see if the Marine Corps has opportunities for me to excel as a person and with a career,” said Alvin Hopkins, a Milwaukee native.
The NAACP Youth and College Division, Youth Advisor’s Luncheon, was an important event for the Marine Corps as it attracted more than 300 NAACP Youth and College members from across the country. The luncheon brought exposure to the Marine Corps as Colonel Ron Bailey, commanding officer of Expeditionary Warfare School, Quantico, Va., addressed the audience with opening remarks. Using a bootlace as a means of grabbing the audience’s attention, Bailey used the acronym L.A.C.E. as the foundation of his speech, which focused on individual Leadership, Attitude, Character and Education.
“I want America’s youth to strive in becoming strong leaders and to act as the conscience of this nation,” Bailey said. “In reference to character, our youth should understand that it is important not to blemish their name – protect it, for it is theirs to keep.”
During Bailey’s speech, his emphasis on being successful and enriching one’s life through effective leadership and character seemed to echo among the audience.
“It is important for today’s youth to become future leaders and Colonel Bailey’s message seems to mirror what we try to instill and model in our kids every day,” said Rosemary Harris, president of NAACP chapter in Colorado Springs, Colo., and a Journalism Advisor at the University of Colorado. “He made it real for our kids to understand and his message can translate or be applied to any profession a young person aspires to do in life.”
Another highlight for the Marine Corps’ occurred when Captain Keystella Mitchell, commanding officer, Headquarters Company, 7th Communications Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force, was honored with the 2005 Roy Wilkins Renown Service Award during the NAACP’s 30th Annual Armed Forces and Veteran Affairs Dinner. She was honored for her achievements in leadership, commitment to community service and contributions to military equal opportunity policies and programs.
“I was very surprised when I found out I had been selected because I didn’t know someone had submitted me for the award,” said Mitchell.
As a mentor for Choices, a program designed for women Marines and sailors, Mitchell provides counseling on a variety of specific women’s issues and concerns and is active in the Japanese community with weekly visits and volunteer work at nursing homes and elementary schools.
“I just genuinely like to help people regardless if they are destitute or privileged – that’s my nature,” said Mitchell, a native of Columbus, Georgia.
As Mitchell returned to her duty station in Japan the day after receiving her award, Marine Corps recruiters were busy explaining to participants the benefits of serving as a Marine. For some, the Marine Corps seemed like a viable career path.
“I want to do something different in life,” said Alvin Hopson, a Milwaukee native. “I think the Marine Corps has opportunities for me to excel as a person and of course provide financial stability.”
The convention participants interested in the Marines also took time to visit the historical information kiosk set up at another section of the convention center. The display featured photos and biographies of past and present African-American Marines who have made great achievements and paved the way for thousands of African-Americans.
“The biggest thing we have done here is brought the face of the Marine Corps to the public,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Russell Whitney, senior equal opportunity advisor for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Manpower Equal Opportunity Branch (MPE). “It’s good because we are also showing people that the Marine Corps offers viable career opportunities.”
The Corps’ presence at the convention made an impact on several visitors. One young lady expressed her gratitude towards military service members.
“It’s great to see that there are people willing to protect our country,” said 14-year-old Kennesha Smith, a Milwaukee native. “Maybe some day I will be one of those people too.”
According to BGen. Gaskin, the Marine Corps participates in the NAACP conventions because they help mold and shape the social and political conscience of our country. In addition, the NAACP offers exposure to Marine recruiting efforts while allowing the Marine Corps the opportunity to keep the African-American community informed of black achievements. NAACP officials look forward to next year’s convention and hope to maintain and build upon their relationship with the armed services.
“This relationship is strategic in that both the Marine Corps and the NAACP are organizations that fight for the freedoms of our country while working to ensure that our constitution is upheld,” said Dennis Courtland Hayes, interim president of the NAACP. “We look forward to having Marine Corps representatives at next year’s convention.”