By Cpl. Shaehmus Sawyer, United States Marine Band
District of Columbia– Approximately 21 presidents, chancellors and commissioners from historically black colleges, universities (HBCUs), and conferences travelled from around the country to build and sustain meaningful relationships between their organizations and the Marine Corps from June 16-17, 2017.
The event began at the Washington Hilton, where several Marines spoke to the HBCU and conference leaders about the overall purpose and intent of the engagement.
Major Gen. Paul Kennedy, the commanding general of Marine Corps Recruiting Command, explained that since he gets invited to athletic conferences’ events, he thought it would be fitting to return the favor, and also invite HBCU leaders.
“Tonight is about a continuing association and relationship, kind of like a family atmosphere, where when we show up at each other’s events, we’re not strangers,” Kennedy said. “I have that relationship with a handful of individuals here tonight, but I want to extend that to the entirety of the HBCU polity.”
Throughout his speech, Kennedy hinted towards a special night, where later the guests would meet members of the National Montford Point Marine Association, to include the president, and Lt. Gen. Ronald Bailey, the most senior African American Marine, during an Evening Parade at Marine Barracks Washington, District of Columbia.
Bailey thanked the HBCU guests for their services to their communities and for attending the parade. He also introduced the NMPMA president, Forest Spencer Jr., who also spoke to the guests.
He said the Montford Point story allowed the nation to take a look at the segregation within Camp Montford Point, which ultimately led to the tolerance of citizens’ differences concerning race and discrimination.
“We fought our enemies on foreign soils to come back home to face discrimination,” Spencer said. “But yet the Marines wanted to serve their country and serve it with honor and distinction. Do not look at this as an African American story, look at it as a Marine Corps story.”
Many took photos with and spoke to the NMPMA members and Bailey, but were then surprised by another event; the commanding officer of The Barracks said the parade was rained out, and the performance would be done inside the reception room.
The routines of the “Commandant’s Own” Drum & Bugle Corps and the Silent Drill Platoon were shorter than if it were executed outside, however the guests were closer in proximity to the show and were able to see the discipline required for such performances.
The audiences’ captivation echoed off the walls of the ballroom, as Marines tossed spiraling rifles to one another, and the applause was deafening after the band concluded.
Dennis Thomas, commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, explained that he was exceptionally happy to attend this event, but also to further strengthen the bond between his conference, HBCUs and the Marines.
“This relationship is not a superficial one,” he said. “I think everyone should take advantage of any organization that is willing to improve the people within your association. I encourage all other commissioners and presidents to rethink their partnerships with the Corps, because they have proven their value to my conference.”
He also said the Marines Corps is where a person should be if the said individual wants to forge positive characteristics, test mental and physical limits and to see what the American military has to offer.
The next day consisted of speaking engagements from Marines and guests, and social time to reinforce current professional relationships and establish new ones.
“What I would like to accomplish is to have the Marine Corps look like the rest of the country, and it’s drawn from the places where the most challenge exists,” Kennedy said of the challenges related to recruiting diverse individuals in particular areas of the country. “In my mind, what better group of accomplished professionals could help me get in contact with the mainstream of America than the current partners and HBCU leaders here tonight?”