Martin Luther King Jr. Day

By Jennifer Boykin, president, Newport News Shipbuilding (as prepared); speeches delivered Jan. 12 and Jan. 16
Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Newport News Shipbuilding

I am so happy we are together this morning celebrating Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.—the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement. He was a lifelong learner, an accomplished pastor and an award-winning author.  

Jennifer Boykin Speaks at MLK Day Celebration
Photo by John Whalen/HII

But when I think of Dr. King, what stands out most to me is his passion. His passion was—and continues to be—contagious. It is impossible to read anything Martin Luther King Jr. wrote or said and NOT be inspired.

I defy anyone to try.

As you may know, I am a strengths-based leader, and one of my top five strengths is Individualization. According to the book Strengthsfinder 2.0, “people who are especially talented with the Individualization theme are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively.”

When I listen to the words of Dr. King…I become even more confident that our focus on shipbuilders and leveraging our diverse backgrounds and viewpoints to become a better organization is the ONLY right thing to do. 

Think about this: Where would we be today if it weren’t for the many nationalities, cultures and ethnicities that make us the United States? The success we enjoy doesn’t happen in places where people are isolated from one another based on their differences. Everything great and iconic about our country results from the understanding of and the respect for our differences.

If we do not foster a work environment in which everyone feels they have equal opportunity to be heard, to contribute, and to develop, our company will lose out. We must embrace and leverage our diverse backgrounds and ideas. When we do this, we build a future we can all believe in and feel part of. 

I believe we are on a promising path to a new culture and a different shipyard. I know there are issues that need to be addressed. I am listening to you and I do hear you – I hear both the excitement and the disappointments.  

I also want everyone to know that change is in the works. 

We have brought together diverse groups of shipbuilders to tackle quality of life issues such as parking and creating spaces across the shipyard for employees to meet and eat. But just as important as WHO participates is HOW we find the solutions. We are finding them by flexing new muscles and practicing new skills. Skills of agility. 

We can probably all agree that studying something for a long time doesn’t necessarily mean that it is completely right from day one. I want us to become agile. Let’s try a new solution quickly, learn from it, and make it better. And then do it again. And then again so that our shipyard is always getting better because we are asking for, and listening to, new and different ideas.

Dr. King said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”  In a moment, fellow shipbuilders will tell you a story about our future plans, but I want to emphasize that this is just the beginning. Participation by each and every one of you will ensure that Newport News Shipbuilding stays strong for the next generation of shipbuilders. Together, we will continue to build on our 132 years of success. 

We are the heart of Hampton Roads and a bedrock for our community. When you think about the ships we build and repair, we are a rock for our nation and a rock for the world. But we need to make sure that our rock is secure.  It won’t be if we do not continue to evolve. We all have a role to play and each of us does make a difference.

As we remember Dr. King's fight for justice and inclusion, please consider what else you can do to ensure that all of your co-workers are participating…and that everyone feels like they have been heard. Because this is what will make us a better, stronger shipyard.

In December, our senior leadership team spent an afternoon together talking about our vision of the future and what is important to us. We wanted to describe that vision with more than just typed words. We wanted to communicate what it looked like and what if felt like…And even to communicate our soundtrack of tomorrow. We knew this would require skills we do not possess.

So, back to my strength of Individualization. Two of the many shipbuilders who are taking an active role in our shipyard’s future are Renae Myles and Rochelle Robbins. I have worked with Renae and Rochelle over the years and have learned of their unique qualities and strengths. So I invited them to join us for that afternoon…to listen to our descriptions of what we wanted to become, and of what we wanted to change. 

I knew that having them as part of this team would help us work together, productively. At this time, I’d like to ask Renae to come up and talk about her interpretation of our vision for the future. And after Renae speaks, Rochelle will share her interpretation via video. Thank you.

About HII

HII is an all-domain defense and technologies partner, recognized worldwide as America’s largest shipbuilder. With a 135-year history of trusted partnerships in advancing U.S. national security, HII delivers critical capabilities ranging from the most powerful and survivable naval ships ever built, to unmanned systems, ISR and AI/ML analytics. HII leads the industry in mission-driven solutions that support and enable an all-domain force. Headquartered in Virginia, HII’s skilled workforce is 44,000 strong. For more information, visit: