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OneRouge Friday Community Check-In (Week 94)








Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in EBR, The Walls Project has been hosting weekly video calls with leaders of nonprofits, foundations, city government, and local businesses from a

cross the parish. The intention of these weekly community check-ins is to share information and resources to help the Baton Rouge community respond and recover from the pandemic. Weekly topics range from access to basic needs such as food, medical care, and safety to thought-leaders' insights on equitable opportunities for youth enrichment, nonprofit financial solvency, surge in unemployment, and the disproportionate impact on impoverished neighborhoods in regards to accessing fresh food.


 

Veterans in the Community

Meeting Notes Prepared by Samantha Morgan (Walls Project)


Dylan Tête (Executive Director, Bastion Community of Resilience)

  • It’s been a 10 year journey for me since I created Bastion. It’s an intentional community for returning warriors in families. This model for community as intervention is working. People can transform and heal optimally in a community. Going through this journey I’ve learned a lot about trauma. I’ve learned about our innate ability to self-heal. The keys and the answers to unlock a lot of our own problems lie within ourselves. That is a lesson I take from Toni and the Center for Mind Body medicine. It’s interesting in my space to see how much we’ve learned about trauma and post traumatic growth. We’re in a space now to share what we’ve learned.

  • Everything is trending in the right direction. I’m talking specifically about our residents. 99% of our residents are reporting positive growth. It’s amazing to see folks who have encountered significant trauma, when you add hope, the growth that happens. The big takeaway for me is that we don’t think in terms of community so often. It’s not in our frontal lobe. When we think about interventions it’s more on the one on one. When you’re able to heal in community you’re doing so much more. I think there’s a way moving forward in this country that we can begin to restructure our neighborhoods around health and healing. That’s going to be the next experiment for me. There is such a sense of repetitive loss over the last 15 years. We have to stick together now more than ever.

  • I have been healing in community, too. Part of why I created Bastion was to heal myself. Having returned to Iraq three months before Katrina, I struggled. I felt completely alone, isolated and cut off from even my closest family. I struggled with suicidiation, major bouts of depression. I tried everything. I went to the VA and got the help I needed and it did help for a while, but it eventually came back. It wasn’t until I learned about the Mind body connection that I became whole. Since I have been practicing this lifestyle of intentional living, everything I do has a purpose and an intention that brings another intention into my life. This practice of intentional living, I feel like a new person.

Delores Hurst (Director of Community Impact/Income Stability, Capital Area United Way)

  • I’m not a veteran but we have a program called United 4 Vets. Our program was structured so that we can meet a need for active military personnel. We, along with DOW and BASF, collaborated a few years ago on how we can bridge that gap. We wanted to create employee readiness workshops. We finally had a face to face event last year. We had mock interviews. We collaborated with our industry partners.

  • For 2022, in our programming we want to provide wrap-around services. What is the barrier, what is the issue of getting to full employment? They get resume building skills. They get those little things they need to get from those skills they learned in the military to an industry. They never know what they are coming home to. They need strong employment, strong resources, so they will not fall behind. A lot of the barriers we’ve seen is that these veterans do not see that their skills are transferable. For 2022 we want to figure out how we can pay for TWIC cards, opportunities, housing, anything that would keep them from getting to that next level of success.

  • My dad is a navy veteran. He was dishonorably discharged his last year so he got no benefits. He was discharged because he wanted to come home to help my mom with my brother. We want to bridge that gap. We want to put dollars towards getting those services.

David Beach (President/CEO, Huey & Angelina Wilson Foundation)

  • I am a veteran and my experience has been largely positive. I want young people in our community to consider this as a possible career. I do feel the armed services is a way to change your circumstances to a large extent. I strongly believe that the armed services is a way for an 8 year old to completely change their path. These are very large organizations and they don’t always get things right, but largely it is a place where you are being promoted and evaluated regardless of color or sex. There are many educational opportunities that come with it. The GI bill is really lucrative to paying for your education. I was gladly willing to serve after I finished college. After I returned home after serving, when I left the army there was a void of service and that’s why I started getting involved with nonprofits and community service. That’s how I got involved with the Wilson Foundation.

QUESTIONS/COMMENTS


When people have bad paper, meaning they don’t qualify for benefits, how receptive has the business community been to working with people who have that circumstance?


Delores Hurst - They’ve been receptive and very open. When you have that stamp of veteran or service, they look at it as if you still served. They are open to working with any veteran we bring to the table. I can’t speak to companies we haven’t worked with or those out of state. DOW and BASF have veteran services and veteran coalitions within their companies.


Dylan Tete - Delores mentioned Ben Armstrong at NextOp and they are doing a fantastic job. I don’t think bad paper would prevent anyone from moving forward if they want to. There is another Combined Arms - coming to Louisiana from Texas. There’s a no wrong door, multipronged approach, and that’s getting started in Louisiana and it’s a game changer. It will make Louisiana a much more friendly state. Soldiers with bad paper often have good reasons. There are ways now of amending that, so it’s a little more friendly with employers.


How do we look at this as far as being veterans and how does that affect the next generation?


Dylan Tete - my son is 18 and just got his selective service letter in the mail. The world is a lot different than the world was when I was 18. I went to Ukraine before the pandemic with a battle buddy of mine who is a photojournalist and we did some reporting. We taped a lot of interviews, mostly from the right sector movement, which came out of the


These are citizen soldiers, mostly young, who took up arms, hitchhiked their way to the frontline, raised money online, and stopped Russian aggression in their homeland. Standing in the frontline I recall looking across the battlefield and seeing the Russian positions on the front line. I could smell the gunpowder. Across the globe, there’s a commonality among soldiers. I felt connected to them. It was probably my most Zen state I’ve ever experienced. I attribute that to knowing the rules in that world. I did not expect when I came home from war, to applying those same skills in my hometown that had experienced loss in hurricane Katrina. I’m using that sense of connection now with all of humanity. Bastion is predominantly African-American. I work at the intersection of the veteran and black experience, and I never expected to see the corner so often. What I’m sensing now is the historical effect of exclusion, of negligence, of discrimination. 5 of the 7 people who have died at Bastion are African-American. What am I to do with that? How am I supposed to balance what is going on with the world and what is happening in my community? I feel as though I’m living day by day right now. I think if we can figure out how to work together, how to heal together and how to grow together, that might be our best shot. That might be the best way out of what we’re in. I am lucky. I really believe we are all connected in some way and I’m only doing my best as a citizen of the world to help my friends who share in these common values like liberation. There are folks here who want another kind of liberation and I support them and I will fight with them, too.


Toni Bankston - I wanted to say that I am so moved with Dylan. I’ve heard your experience before and I’ve seen your authenticity before, but it’s like I’m hearing it for the first time. I’m so grateful I made it here to hear you again. I want to thank you for the work you’ve done in Baton Rouge. Dylan brings his experience as a veteran and his entry to a population of veterans that are often hard to capture. That is often those that are hard to diagnose. There are many veterans out there who are hurting but do not get the attention they need. Dylan, you embody the courage to take off the armor and really own what has happened to you. How can we take that to another level? And not wait until suicidation to work with our first responders and do more with that population that is almost undercover.


Can you speak a little bit about one of the main drivers of poverty, food insecurity?


Dylan Tete - This is another revelation for me thanks to the pandemic. I did not know how many veterans were food insecure. The number is like 1 in 4 veterans is food insecure. We were lucky to pilot the food revolution. We are walking in this understanding that food is medicine. Getting nutritious food in bellies. Folks who don’t know where their next meal is coming from are not making these next level gains. 17 tons of food in 6 months in partnership with Culture Aid NOLA. It’s a combination of the food pantry and then using our own assets, our own people, to impart and teach and coach with their friends and neighbors things we couldn’t do as a professional staff. This system is resident driven. That was a consideration from the beginning. We are taking our chef to New York God's Love We Deliver. They are going to live in the kitchen and absorb as much as they can. It has been proven that it’s cheaper to feed someone the right nutritious food than have them come back again and again. It’s an economically sound argument. In our next iteration we’re going to build out a bigger pantry. We’re going to continue to train our chefs in creative ways. We are only 9 months into this program but it has enormous legs. When food is readily available they’re engaging more.


How do you resolve blind allegiance and how does that work when you’re done with service?

Dylan Tete - Talking about blind allegiance, armies around the world recruit young people who are idealistic and naïve. I joined the infantry because that’s what it is, young people. They are taking very young people to be the fodder for their wars. That hasn’t changed over the arc of our history. We depend on young people to fight. When you do experience combat, things drastically change. You are no longer naïve. The blinders are off and you are operating in a very different space. I think we live in a very aggressive country. It’s in our culture. I’ll bet if I look into the eyes of a Russian solider, I’ll see someone who has been misinformed. Someone who has been lied to. They excel at that in Russia. I remember a story my buddy told me regarding Russian POWs. Russia was telling them outrageous things, that mothers were eating their children. This Russian soldier is telling this as he is dying and he’s begging my buddy to write a letter to his mother. That’s just the reality of war.


David Beach - they equip us to make moral convictions, but at the crux of it all, we all raise our right hand to support and defend our constitution. Young people can be naïve and there is an indoctrination process to retrain brains in your earliest days to do what you’re told. It’s complicated. There’s no easy answer to these situations. There’s misinformation. I’m altruistic as anybody and I believe we make the best decisions as possible.


Flitcher Bell - I too was part of the Louisiana Army National Guard and I want to agree with what David said, it’s a great opportunity. Even though I was on a path to Southern with a scholarship in Engineering at the time, the extra money was great. But it taught me more than that. Growing up without a father, it taught me discipline, it taught me teamwork, it taught me to see more outside Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My first time on a flight was for basic training. The group I went with, we all came back with a sense of leadership and a sense of community. There’s no room for prejudice and bias when you’re in a team. The only thing that matters is to complete the mission. The good thing about being in units like that is it’s no man left behind. You did what you could to make sure the entire unit got through. Until we as a city, a country get to that mentality, we will not change our situation.


Rinaldi Jacobs Sr. - I have two brothers that both served in the United States Navy. I did not serve. My father served. My grandfather served. And I have a bit of a conscience problem with that. My older brother really straightened me up with that really quick. He said look, you are serving in the community and your service is equally as important as ours. That helped me lift that off my shoulders. All service is important, whether you’re serving in the military or back home. I had a family member who as a young man, we didn’t know if he had mental illness or not, but he was really military bent. He was going to go, but he didn’t go, and thank god he didn’t because he was later diagnosed with being bipolar and manic. I can only imagine what would have happened had he gone and what he would have come back as. I think the definition of soldier can be many different things.


David Beach - I feel like everyone should serve but you don't have to carry a rifle to serve our country. For everyone to volunteer a portion of their life it would help us get out of ourselves as we walk through the world.

 

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