African American History Month: OS2 Kenneth Griffith

Petty Officer 2nd Class Kenneth Griffith

Petty Officer 2nd Class Kenneth Griffith

For U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kenneth Griffith, an operations specialist with the Navy Liaison Office at Coast Guard 17th District in Juneau, Alaska, African American History Month can be summed up in one word: legacy.

Not simply the legacy of those who have gone before him, but his, and that of his sons.

The month is also something not confined to a mere four weeks for Griffith.

“I think it’s good for education,” said Griffith, but he takes things a little further. “Every day in the morning or at night after work I go online and look up a random black person and learn about them. And I send it to my sons, because all they hear are the big names.”

He’s right, you know. There are a lot of names out there that you’ve probably never heard, that you’ll probably be surprised to hear were African Americans making big moves in America when it was still hindered by segregation.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, try scooping your ice cream with a spoon next time you partake. Once you ruin a few pieces of silverware, thank Alfred Cralle for his ingenuity and move on to your ice cream scoop.

If you’re reading this in Alaska, it’s likely you’re not freezing to death in your home. For that, we owe our sincere gratitude to Alice Parker, who came up with a prototype for the first central heating system. Yes, before her contribution to comfortable, modern living we were all huddled around our crackling fireplaces.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or George Washington Carver and his relentless public relations campaign for the lowly peanut. We all know Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman. But a few isolated heroes do not make up African American history. There’s a constant trend of the ethnicity making a mark on America, on world culture.

“Those people have been gone for at least 60 years, but they’ll live on through word of mouth,” Griffith said.

That’s why he looks at the unmentioned, because, African American History Month or not, it’s a reminder that he’s as much a part of our world as anyone else. Just like his sons will be.

It’s that thought of making a mark and leaving a legacy that drives him onward, including his enlistment into the military.

“My decision to join the Navy was affected by my son,” he said. “Here I am 12 years later, in the Navy.”

His sons are proud, he says. On deployments, they send him care packages to help him stock up on essentials. Those boys are where Griffith’s legacy comes into play, and it doesn’t stop with his own family.

You won’t hear him brag about it, but he’s involved in the community. As an avid basketball player, he volunteers with Juneau’s branch of the Special Olympics, and also mentors youth at the gym where he plays ball.

“Education is very important; set yourself up for success,” he said. “I mentor a bunch of kids and give them all the knowledge I have.”

As someone only passing through Juneau, Griffith has an outsider’s point of view he shares with the kids who play basketball, many of whom have never left the Alaskan capital.

At the end of the day, he just wants to share some wisdom, with his sons or anyone who will listen – to leave behind something worth passing down to the next generation.

“It’s all about a legacy,” Griffith said of life. “You either leave a legacy or you’re left behind.”

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