Africatown will honor hundreds of local US Navy Sailors during a special event at Africatown’s Mobile County Training School Jan. 31.
Since March 2018, these Sailors, mostly from the local recruiting stations and the recruiting school, have been volunteering in the Greater Mobile Area, especially doing community clean-ups in Africatown.
The Commanding Officers for the NTAG (Navy Talent Acquisition Group) and Navy Recruiting Orientations Unit (NORU) permitted the sailors and naval assets to go into the local communities to mentor and conduct community rehabilitations projects, with the end goal of building sustained communities and building positive relationships.
The projects have been especially meaningful for Chief Petty Officer Jason Lewis, a Mobile native who grew up in the Josephine Allen Homes public housing community in Africatown's Happy Hills neighborhood. He personally led many of the volunteer efforts, with the support of Senior Chief Petty Officer Jessie Quarterman Jr., First Class Petty Officer Jason Ellis and sailors with the NTAG in New Orleans and NORU on Naval Air Station Pensacola. They have been instrumental in organizing the work and the crews for these efforts at the local level.
"Going back to the neighborhood where I grew up, and seeing it in the condition that it was in really moved me to come in and give back in some way," said Lewis. “My mother always told me to take care of what I have until I can get better.”
The naval volunteers worked with a number of Mobile organizers and community leaders, including: Anderson Flen of MCTSAA (Mobile County Training School Alumni Association); Cleon Jones of ACDC (Africatown Community Development Corporation); Joe Womack of Africatown~C.H.E.S.S. (Clean, Healthy, Educated, Safe, Sustainable); Liz Smith-Incer of the National Park Service's Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program; Pastor Chris Williams of Yorktown Missionary Baptist Church; Pastor Derrick Tucker of Union Baptist Church; Phyllis Wingard of Keep Mobile Beautiful; and Chad Chappell of Mobile Baykeepers. These partnerships have produced a cleaner city. Plus, the sailors' working has encouraged teens and other residents to pitch in.
The combination of Naval Leadership united with community leaders has help galvanize the community as a whole. "The execution of community clean-ups and mentoring by these young sailors has been excellent; the US Navy can be proud," said Joe Womack, a retired US Marine, and other Africatown leaders.
The amount of work done over the past year alone has produced: the completion of a mapping project with C.H.E.S.S.; youth kite-making day with MCTSAA; painting and carpentry at five homes with Africatown CDC; and the disposal of 300 bags of debris with these and other organizations. In 2019, the sailors also marched in the City of Saraland’s 200 Year Bicentennial Inaugural Parade, a testament to the community pride in the US Navy's service across the area.
The sailors' work ethic and the expertise of the engineers, nuclear power technicians, aviation support teams, and the many Future Recruits from the Talent Acquisition team were on full display during classroom STEM presentations in Mobile area local schools.
The Navy volunteers have also shown that their commitment to community is a family affair. In addition to the sailors volunteering, they also brought their family members to help out.
On one occasion, Lewis’ wife Karen presented Africatown youth and sailors’ children with volunteer certificates after a cleanup in Spring 2019. “We are a Navy Family and our community is where we do our best work,” said Karen.
With the May 2019 confirmation that the Clotilda slave ship, which launched the Africatown story, had been discovered in the Mobile River Delta also connects the US Navy to the community, through water. The US Navy's new branding tagline, “Forged by the Sea," fits right into the story of achievement and overcoming difficulties, though nothing as difficult as the African survivors of the Clotilda, who formed their own community right after their emancipation from slavery.
Navy volunteers have also been involved in preservation work like rehabilitating many of Africatown's blighted homes and dilapidated surfaces throughout the community. “It’s only fitting for us to not only serve our country, but give back to the community” said Navy Counselor Jason Ellis, who echoed the sentiments of Lewis, Quarterman and many volunteer sailors.
The Navy technical field jobs, maritime history, and highly educated service members have set the mark for how serving our country looks. As the Mobile communities expand on their ties to the water, the Navy will be there to help “Forge” stronger relationships with Mobile area residents well into the future.