Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD) hosted a joint Warfare Centers special observance for Black History Month with keynote speaker Capt. Sheila A. Jenkins, U.S. Navy Reserve (retired), on Feb. 23, 2022.
“For 2022, the Black History Month theme is Black Health and Wellness. What a fitting theme for this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a widespread disparity of access to quality healthcare which has negatively affected Blacks and other minority communities,” NSWCPD Commanding Officer Capt. Dana Simon said, thanking all of the Warfare Centers participating in the event and those gathered virtually.
“For the Black community in particular, the problem has deep-seeded roots, which can be traced back to the Jim Crow-era where ‘whites only’ hospitals were common throughout the South,” Simon continued. “The phrase, ‘When white folks catch colds, Black folks catch pneumonia’ wasn’t just lip service, but an appalling reminder of the inequalities levied against the Black community. Interestingly, the Black community turned to Black folk remedies using rituals, incantations, and plant-based medicines.”
Simon explained that the disparity in healthcare access would persist until 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which forced desegregation of hospitals.
Continuing the Black History Month celebration, Simon introduced Jenkins as the guest speaker, noting that her “30-year career spans both civilian and military ranks as a defense industry technical leader, program manager, and Navy Reserve Officer serving across the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).”
“This year’s Black History Month is focused around the theme of Black Health and Wellness, which celebrates the rich history of Black scholars and medical practitioners, as well as the longstanding wellness practices that are unique to the Black community,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins found the topic particularly fitting since she was stationed in Redzikowo, Poland during the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Health and wellness was a challenge to me and my staff in many aspects. I think it would be fitting to look at those heroes as we focus on the theme of Black Health and Wellness,” she said.
Jenkins talked about growing up in New Orleans, saying: “ …At an early age, some of my teachers recognized that I had a passion and aptitude for mathematics and science. They encouraged me to follow my heart and the passion for learning and for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). I am proud to say today that I am a Sailor, retired Navy captain, and an engineering duty officer.”
“My success is a true indication that diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential components to our success and extremely important to the Naval Warfare Centers,” said Jenkins. “In addition to those that helped me along in my career, I must also emphasize the importance of perseverance, dedication, and finding your own solutions. Those qualities are evident throughout the history that we celebrate today.”
“Black History is American History!” Jenkins said, as she began to highlight contributions of Black Americans, including those past and present who served and continue to serve in the U.S. Navy in various ways including those scientists and engineers who contributed to solving the most complex problems of the Naval Warfare centers.
“You may have heard about NASA scientists and engineers who were depicted in the movie, ‘Hidden Figures’. I discovered through my research that the Navy also had some hidden figures,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins pointed out that Dr. Gladys West, NSWC Dahlgren Division, made invaluable contributions to the development of the global positioning system. She was the second African American woman hired at the facility, in 1956.
She detailed the story of Raye Jean Montague, credited with the rough-draft of the first U.S. naval ship design using a computer, which revolutionized ship design. She was given two months to complete the project; she finished her draft in 19 hours. She later became the first female program manager of ships in the U.S. Navy. “She was discovered by the authors of ‘Hidden Figures,’” Jenkins added.
Jenkins pointed out the “Trailblazers” to include Mess Attendant 2nd Class Doris Miller who was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism at Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941 by Adm. Chester Nimitz on May 27, 1942. She noted that Miller was the fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier’s namesake.
She also mentioned Vice Adm. Samuel Lee Gravely, Jr. had a distinguished naval career as a surface warfare officer and manager. There are several notable achievements to his credit including being the first African American to command a combatant ship, to be promoted to flag rank, and to command a naval fleet.
Jenkins highlighted the integration of the WAVES and the Navy’s first female African-American officers: Ensign Jesse Leroy Brown, first African American to complete U.S. Navy flight training and the first African American naval aviator in combat and to be killed in combat; Carl Maxie Brasher, the first African American U.S. Navy Diver; and Janie Mines, the first African American woman to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy.
Jenkins concluded her presentation with the following quote by the first Black female brigade commander at the U.S. Naval Academy – Sydney Barber:
"My job is to build a team. The team has to trust you and respect you and know their voices are heard. They must feel critical to the mission, and you must touch the hearts of the people you lead."
“On behalf of the Philadelphia Division and across the Warfare Centers Enterprise, we would like to thank Captain Jenkins for sharing her insights of her extraordinary career and highlighting the lesser known, but not ‘lesser,’ African American contributors and trailblazers that shaped our Navy and Nation,” NSWCPD Technical Director (acting) Nigel Thijs said in the command closing remarks.
“The Warfare Centers are truly One Team. We are a team comprised of a multitude of backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual and gender identities, religions, political views, physical, mental or sensory disabilities and life experiences,” he continued. “That diversity makes us good. Embracing each other’s differences, mutual respect, and inclusiveness that comes from listening and seeking to understand each other is what make us great!”
“We may not always agree, but we must always respect each other and endeavor to see situations through someone else’s perspectives. I trust we will keep the conversation going and further foster an inclusive environment as we strive to build an ever-more diverse team to compete and win,” Thijs said. “I hope we all will continue sharing what we have learned from these events and keep the conversation moving forward."
NSWCPD employs approximately 2,800 civilian engineers, scientists, technicians, and support personnel. The NSWCPD team does the research and development, test and evaluation, acquisition support, and in-service and logistics engineering for the non-nuclear machinery, ship machinery systems, and related equipment and material for Navy surface ships and submarines. NSWCPD is also the lead organization providing cybersecurity for all ship systems.