CHARLOTTE, N.C. --
The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Tournament week kicked off on February 28 in Charlotte, N.C., giving the Marine Corps the opportunity to reach out to local communities during what has become the third most attended basketball event of any division in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
For the last ten years, the CIAA, made up of 13 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and the Marine Corps have partnered together during the tournament week giving Marines unprecedented access to community schools, civic leaders and local influencers in an effort to explain the benefits of serving in the Marine Corps while also making strides in building a more diverse organization.
The tournament brings in over 170,000 fans to the Charlotte area throughout the week making it an important event to be present. The whole week is more than the basketball tournament. It is an opportunity for Marines to play an active role in the local communities.
Throughout the week, several Marines volunteered their time for high school and college visits to explain the importance of service to our Nation while also relating the history of African-Americans and their impact on Marines serving today.
One of those Marines was Lt. Col. Christian Ghee, currently a reservist and a graduate of a historically black college himself. Ghee volunteered his time to participate in the event because of a passion he feels about the importance of a diverse Marine Corps.
“I’m very passionate about diversity. Corporate America has seen that it can be a force multiplier. I think diversity is important because it allows the Marine Corps to take advantage of the unique backgrounds the force provides,” Ghee said.
“The Commandant of the Marine Corps believes diversity is a priority so we should strive to build a diverse Marine Corps without lowering our standards.”
During the week he gave several presentations focusing on Corps values and how they relate to the civilian community. Being from a similar background as many of the students he was talking to, he hoped his experience as a Marine and a fighter pilot opened a few eyes to what the Corps has to offer.
“I gave them my background and how I got here. My goal was to let them see that I came from humble beginnings, from a historically black college myself,” said Ghee, from Dallas, Texas.
Participating in events like the CIAA tournament will pay dividends for the Marine Corps explained Ghee. The leadership talent the tournament attracts combined with the networking the Corps was able to do will only help the Marines reach out to the diverse community it is looking for he said.
It’s the strong ties built with the communities that makes participating in an awareness event like that a success he explained.
“The Marine Corps’ diversity campaign is on the right track by talking to these schools and colleges. But it’s a success for the networks we’re building in the community that will pay big dividends. For example, we’ve had people throughout the week asking questions about how they could show why the Marine Corps is an option for their students,” Ghee explained.
Another Marine who volunteered his time throughout the week was Capt. Gavin Henry, officer-in-charge Field Training Company, Weapons and Field Training Battalion at Marine Corps Recruit Depot/Eastern Recruiting Region Parris Island, S.C.
Henry’s week has been much like Ghee’s, conducting high school visits and presenting awards to scholar athletes. Henry volunteered his time to help boost awareness about how the Marine Corps can benefit young men and women who are looking for opportunities after high school and college.
Spending much of the week talking to young students in their classrooms, Henry hoped to showcase Marine Corps in a positive light to the students he stood in front of.
“I wanted to show them a professional and positive ‘can-do’ attitude. That if you look and act a certain way that becomes your reality, because people want to be surrounded by people with positive attitudes and those who can make things happen,” said Henry, from Miami, Florida.
“I also wanted them to see that not having a plan is still a plan but it’s a plan to fail. They need to be thinking about tomorrow before tomorrow gets here.”
According to Henry, the visits have had a positive impact on the students and the communities they are from, but one of the largest impacts of the visits has been on Henry himself. Being in the community has allowed him to meet valuable members of the community who have the greatest influence over the type of individual who may want to go on to enlist in the Marines or become a Marine officer.
“I would say that we have a lot of really good role models in the African American community. They’re very positive and really like what we do. They understand our job and the impact we’re having here,” Henry said.
Reaching out to the community to help make the Marine Corps a more diverse working environment is important to Henry, who would like to see more diversity in the Marine Corps. Having such a diverse force is one more way to ensure a stronger Marine Corps.
“Every culture brings something that is important and when we have something like that it makes us a better Corps,” explained Henry.