Still influenced by Rev. King

Published 8:33 pm Saturday, February 12, 2011

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of stories profiling black Suffolk natives or residents in honor of Black History Month.

Emanuel Chestnut Jr. readily admits that he could have easily been a statistic, were it not for the positive influence of people in his life.

“I would have probably been in jail, dead or on drugs,” the Suffolk resident said. “But at every point in my life, there was always someone there. Not many people have that opportunity where I’m from.”


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Because he was able to avoid the negative influences, Chestnut had a chance at life. He served in the U.S. Navy for 23 years and now works as a veterans affairs counselor at Tidewater Community College’s Virginia Beach campus.

For his service to the college, he recently was honored with the TCC Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Distinguished Service Award.

After his Navy career, where he retired as a senior chief information systems technician, Chestnut settled in Hampton Roads and went to work for the community college. He was the interim dean at the Virginia Beach campus for some time before moving to the veterans affairs job.

He now helps veterans who are attending TCC navigate their GI Bill benefits, address academic issues and more.

“A lot of people I actually served with during my tenure in the military, I see coming through the doors and pursuing their educational goals,” Chestnut said. “Watching a student come in afraid of what can be a very daunting process, and seeing them progress and walk across that stage and receive their diploma, there is no amount of money that can replace.”

Chestnut was nominated for the award by a friend, Randy Shannon, who also works for the college. Although Shannon usually talks football, Chestnut said, Shannon called him one day and began asking questions “I thought he already would have known.”

A few days later, Shannon called again to inform Chestnut he had nominated him for the award.

“It’s so, so humbling,” Chestnut said. Having lived through the civil rights movement, “I understand what all this means,” he added. “I try to live by the messages of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even though he’s no longer here physically, he’s always been someone I’m in awe of.”

Chestnut added he believes in education because it is “that great equalizer.”

“Not too many words can describe the true impact that it’s had on me and my family,” Chestnut said. “I can truly say I’m blessed, and I love coming in to work every single day.”

Chestnut holds associate and bachelor’s degrees from Saint Leo University and a master’s degree from Norfolk State University. He works with organizations including Two Hundred Plus Men of Hampton Roads, Tied to Greatness, the Student African American Brotherhood, the Urban League of Hampton Roads and the National Association of Veteran Program Administrators.

Two other people also received Martin Luther King awards from TCC.

Edith White, president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Hampton Roads, received the Community Distinguished Service Award. Portsmouth resident Wendy Sullivan, a TCC student, received a scholarship.

The awards were given on Feb. 4.