THE SIX LOCAL BLACK VETERANS whom were recently awarded BMe Vanguard Fellowships. From left: Timothy Jones, Anette Nance, Aryanna Berringer, LaShaundra Hammonds, Gail Manker, Derrick Clark.
by Leonard J. Hammonds II, For New Pittsburgh Courier
Patriotism. Veteran. Service. What comes to mind when you hear these words?
With a quick Google search of the word “veteran,” the image that seems to become redundant and often engrained in the minds of most is not that of a Black veteran.
Black men and women have always been at the forefront of service to our country; from Crispus Attucks, a free Black man who was the first to give his life in the American Revolution, to Harriet Tubman, who served as a nurse, cook, and spy for the Union Army during the Civil War.
BMe Community (BMe) launched the “Next Narrative for Black America” campaign and awarded the associated BMe Vanguard Fellowship for Black Veterans to six Pittsburgh community leaders. The “Next Narrative for Black America” campaign aspires to shift the discussion of racial equity from one based on denigrating distortions to one centered on the Black community’s assets and contributions to society. This is called “Asset-Framing.”
For instance, common narratives characterize Black veterans as “broken” due to post-service struggles like PTSD or addiction. Instead, one should more accurately recognize the level of patriotism displayed by Black veterans, such as the rate of enlistment among Black people to serve their country, which is dramatically higher than that of other races. You may also perhaps illuminate veterans as heroes on the homefront due to their employing over five million people.
The following 2019 BMe Vanguard Fellows will work to present a fuller and more accurate narrative of Black veterans in American life following their military service: Aryanna Berringer (Army), Director of Veteran Services, University of Pittsburgh; Derrick Clark (Navy), Community Outreach, The Mission Continues; LaShaundra Hammonds (Marine Corps), Co-Founder & Assistant Director, Hammonds Initiative; Timothy Jones (Navy), Service Navigator, Veterans Leadership Program; Gail Manker (Army), Photographer; Anette Nance (Marine Corps), Director, Saving Others Under Love.
“Pittsburgh’s highly skilled veteran population is an incredible resource for our region, but their experience and leadership potential is sometimes overshadowed by inaccurate public perceptions,” said Megan Andros, The Heinz Endowments’ Senior Program Officer for Veterans. “We believe the unique perspectives and experiences of Black veterans are not always leveraged to the benefit of the broader community, and we are especially excited to see the BMe Vanguard Fellowship program amplify their voice and impact.”
BMe Community, an award-winning network of social innovators, leaders, and champions, invests in aspiring communities. This BMe Vanguard Fellowship elevates leaders through an elite leadership enrichment program, capitalizing on their knowledge, influence, and network to change narratives about Black veterans.
This BMe Vanguard is unlike anything in Pittsburgh. There are places that Black veterans are welcomed, but this is a place Black veterans can call home. This BMe Vanguard speaks to the unique experiences of Black veterans while investing in them to create the Next Narrative for Black America.
“BMe has given us context that is essential to our purpose as Black leaders,” said Hammonds. “Also, when I think of BMe, I think of family. That’s what we are when we come together. There is a spiritual and intellectual power and a strong sense of love when you put us all into one room. That’s how you know you’re in the right place.”
Nance said it’s “refreshing to be surrounded by individuals who are leaders of color leading the way to make a difference. It’s awesome to also see the leaders are within arm’s reach so we can collaborate within our local community.”
“Connecting with and building relationships with other Black veterans in Pittsburgh has helped me to recognize our purpose and service to the community as a whole and the assets we bring individually and collectively to building a better Pittsburgh,” noted Berringer.
Clark said that “the best thing about the BMe experience so far has been the renewed sense of self and culture it has provided me. BMe has helped me to remember how strong and important we are. We can move mountains together if only we stick together and highlight our principles and values that distinguish us.”
“BMe has been the community that I didn’t know I needed. Having risen from the ashes as a surviving male of sexual assault and homelessness. Reconnecting with my community was a major factor in applying for the BMe Vanguard. I am humbled at the knowledge and love that BMe provides. BMe is a fellowship that every Pittsburgh Black veteran should be a part of,” said Jones.
Manker is thankful to have been selected as a BMe Vanguard Fellow “and look forward to all the opportunities it can bring. Being around my fellow vets has been awesome; we have our very own dialogue and camaraderie that others just won’t understand.”
The Next Narrative for Black America promotes the advantage of using Asset-Framing to achieve greater gains for the Black community. In doing this, BMe Community has been able to invest over $3 million in Black leadership enrichment through BMe Community Fellowships since 2013. This Pittsburgh Black Veterans Vanguard is backed by The Heinz Endowments.
(Learn more about the Next Narrative for Black America and the BMe Vanguard Fellows at www.nextnarrative.net.)
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