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The Lifetime Achievement Award was the first to be presented at the 2023 Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) gala on Saturday, Feb. 11. The award went to Captain Melvin Ronald Smith. He has dedicated his life’s work to serving his country and shaping future leaders in the U.S. Navy’s submarine force.

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Only seven Black men, known as The Centennial Seven, rose to command a navy submarine in the twentieth century. Since the year 2000, only two more have joined their ranks. Captain Smith, the executive assistant to the commander U. S. Indo Pacific Command, is the third African American man in the 21st century to join this elite group. One might draw a few conclusions from the word lifetime, Capt. Smith said in his acceptance speech at the BEYA gala.

“All of them connect to a theme that validates the gray hairs on my head,” he joked. “I am honored, humbled, and touched to stand here receiving recognition for what I have done. Each was accomplished to make things better than I found them. It’s been said that a well-lived life is one in which the things you contribute outlast you. The measure of that will be judged in the future, but the opportunity to do that came from the village that gave me the steps, the guidance, and the movement to get here.”

“I was introduced to BEYA years ago by admirals Watson, Haney, Grooms, Williams, captains Peterson, Bundy, and Tzomes. They are the Centennial Seven. And they did inspire a generation of submarine officers. They pulled us into the fold of that which BEYA represents. I was just reminded how important it is to let people know that you see them, and BEYA does that in many ways. Exposure to BEYA gave me a window into what can and, more importantly, what should be.”

During the 2009 BEYA STEM Conference, members of the Navy’s Centennial Seven met for a historic reunion with Naval Academy midshipmen. The group included Capt. Pete Tzomes, Rear Adm. Tony Watson, Capt. Will Bundy, Vice Adm. Mel Williams, Capt. Bill Peterson, Rear Adm. Cecil Haney, Rear Adm. Bruce Grooms, Cmdr. Rich Bryant, and Cmdr. Roger Isom.

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