Advocating for Veterans – ep.107

 Authentically Growing Your Purpose – ep.106
September 15, 2023
 Authentic Transformation – ep.108
September 28, 2023

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs and the NAACP announced an agreement to work together to advance and improve the quality of life for all veterans, including minority veterans. As a part of the partnership, the VA and the NAACP will seek to increase the number of Black veterans enrolled in VA health care, increase awareness of VA benefits and services among Black veterans, and increase recruitment of culturally competent providers. The VA and the NAACP will also meet regularly, share expertise and knowledge, and coordinate outreach to minority veteran communities. 

Chair of Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Dr. Antwanisha Willamson-Berlus, Executive Pastor of BayNorth Church of Christ Sam Morris, and Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Kathy Gallowitz discusses the importance of providing accessible services and outreach that supports the veteran community, shares how organizations such as the NAACP and CAN offer their support to veterans, and how you can take action and embrace this community by getting involved in veteran outreach at both the local and national levels. 


Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to The Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around equity, diversity and inclusion. Each week I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in the space. Let’s get started. Hi, everyone, it’s Melyssa Barrett, and this week, we have a panel of three people, very powerful individuals that have joined me for a conversation to talk about veterans and military service members. I just want to give you a snippet of information about each of them. I have had the pleasure of talking to Kathy Gallowitz several times. I think this is maybe her third episode. She is a retired lieutenant colonel. She’s a distinguished veteran with nearly 30 years of service in the Air Force. She’s also the founder and CEO of Vanguard Veteran, LLC, and the author of Beyond, “Thank You for Your Service:” The Veteran Champion Handbook for Civilians. Kathy holds a master’s degree in nursing and political science, and as an award-winning business woman, Kathy specializes in coaching employers on how to effectively hire and retain veteran talent to strengthen their workforce.

She’s established the Veteran Talent Academy to equip employers in this regard. Additionally, Kathy plays a crucial role in training faith community leaders to build military ministries, fostering mutual support, a sense of belonging and a spiritual resiliency for military connected individuals. We also have Pastor Sam Morris, Jr. He’s a dedicated man of faith and community service, and after selling his successful media company, he answered the call to become ordained in 2008 under Evangelist Jack Wooling. Since then, his journey as a pastor has been remarkable leading the church to grow from humble beginnings to a 36,000 square foot campus that caters to the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of the BayNorth community. Pastor Morris offers specialized Bible study classes for various groups, including young adults, married and single individuals, youth and financial literacy training. He’s known for his commitment to unity, healing and restoration, not only within his congregation, but also in charitable endeavors and community service roles in the City of Fairfield. Pastor Morris is a dynamic speaker and teacher known for his warm and engaging disposition, spreading the timeless message of God’s word.

Dr. Antwanisha Williamson-Berlus, she is a community advocate, author and mentor with a remarkable journey. Born and raised in Stockton, California, she is an Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom Combat Veteran. Having served in the United States Navy. Antwanisha’s dedication to equity, inclusion and education has been evident throughout her military and civilian life. She holds multiple degrees, including a doctorate in transformative action and education. Her dissertation, A Qualitative Study of Understanding Female Navy Veterans’ Experiences with Representation and Inclusion in the United States Military showcases her commitment to positive change. Antwanisha is a devoted mother of three and an active community volunteer, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, she sits on the National NAACP Armed Services Committee. She is a California-Hawaii NAACP State Conference executive board member, and she is the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committee Chair.

Her work extends to supporting veterans, youth and the homeless population, making her a vital community leader. Can I just say these are three amazing individuals, so I am so pleased to have been able to coordinate having all three of them at the same time have a conversation on The Jali Podcast. Today we have just a panel of powerhouses here, and we are here to talk about veterans and how we can not only support our veterans, but also understand what we can do as a community for all of the service that they have provided to us. So I have the pleasure of having Dr. Antwanisha Williamson-Berlus with us, Brother Sam Morris, who is an executive pastor at BayNorth Church of Christ and retired Lieutenant Colonel Kathy Gallowitz from Vanguard Veteran, who’s the CEO of Vanguard Veteran, also an author. All of you are well-written, well authored, well-managed for sure, so thank you all for being here.

Dr. Antwanisha Willamson-Berlus:  Thank you for having us. We’re excited. You’re a veteran champion extraordinaire.

Melyssa Barrett:  I try. I try.

Sam Morris:  And excited to be here, I’m honored. Thank you so much for having me.

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely. Absolutely. So I figured we would start just with maybe Antwanisha, you could kick us off and talk a little bit about, just set the stage for us when it comes to Veterans, Armed Services, all of the things that I know that NAACP is involved in, and maybe you could just shed some light on why there is a focus there.

Dr. Antwanisha Willamson-Berlus:  Absolutely. So as many of you know, I serve on the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committee and some of the things that we look at are our veterans being served at the capacity of where they need to be served? Let’s meet them where they are. Historically, especially in the Black community, there are many veterans who are underserved. So that is our focus to advocate for them specifically. So just recently, we had a national convention in Boston back in July, and we signed an MOU, which is the memorandum of understanding with the Department of Veteran Affairs. What this MOU actually did was create a partnership to overall improve the lives of Black veterans as well as minority veterans. So what does that look like? Those are a lot of words, but what that is it’s creating a conversation directly with the Center for Minority Veterans that fall under the VA. That conversation is going to lead to action outreach and hopefully, improve the overall quality of lives for our veteran community.

Melyssa Barrett:  Fantastic, ’cause we know when we address African Americans, typically all boats rise, right? So it’s fantastic that we have this MOU in place. So then with respect to the Department of Veterans Affairs, why is it so important for us to focus on veterans?

Dr. Antwanisha Willamson-Berlus:  Well, the importance is we served our country. So I’m a veteran myself, and we served our country. We fought for everyone to have the level of freedom that we have currently. So if you can imagine there’s a large group of veterans who came back from war and did not receive those benefits that should have been awarded to them. So just in historically knowing that and being able to acknowledge and address that currently, that’s what we need to do now moving forward. Veterans are in their rights and it’s our job to make sure that they receive the benefits.

Kathy Gallowitz:  Hallelujah. I would agree. If I may also echo-

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Kathy Gallowitz:  … it’s wonderful that the VA, it’s becoming more customized, if you will, for lack of a better word, because there’s many subgroups of veterans that have served. So my first profession was nursing, so I happened to know within the Black community, there tends to be a little bit more diabetes and probably other kinds of health conditions, just like women are a subgroup that heretofore in Veterans Affairs have not really had the level of service that we need. So I know that there is a Women’s Advisory Commission, if that’s the right words to advocate for the needs of women veterans.

So I think it’s very exciting this day and age to really have that conversation so that by golly, those actions hit the mark instead of doing it in a dilute fashion with the male needs center stage, and I’ll just say Caucasian males to boot. We are so darn lucky to serve in a very diverse force. It’s fabulous to serve alongside people from all ethnicities, all backgrounds, and so we need to just do our level best to make sure they’re taken care of when they get home. So I’m excited to see what happens, Anastasia. I said it wrong, didn’t I?

Melyssa Barrett:  Antwanisha.

Kathy Gallowitz:  Antwanisha.

Melyssa Barrett:  There you go. I’m sure that’s not the first time she’s heard her name said wrong.

Kathy Gallowitz:  I apologize.

Sam Morris:  It is fine. I would just say in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, he says, “A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards, or, and that no man is entitled less than that no man shall have.” So in that context what is important that we don’t forget the sacrifices that our men and women who serve our country have made and continue to make because they don’t realize when they come back, that’s when the true battle begins. There’s a lot of things that happen, a lot of trauma that happens. There’s a lot of things that they have to deal with. Loss of family, of being isolated. Yes, you’re around your comrades, but you’re still away from your family. Like, I’m sure you had to go, Antwanisha, sometimes without your husband and sometimes it was difficult for you and all of the moving. I’ve been around plenty of my family members who served our country and have seen them come in the city and go and come back and go again, and I’ve seen the struggles with that.

So just speaking from a local level, we have formulated this group called CAN, it’s the Clergy Action Network. What we do here in Solano County is we basically deal with families that come into our city. Of course, Travis Air Force Base is the largest employer of our city, and I immediately locked in with the chaplain there. We’ve had several meetings and several panel discussions on how to stimulate inclusion with the new families that come into our city. What are they doing? Are they connected? ‘Cause when you move to a new city, you don’t have friends. We just take for granted and we believe that these families and the military has got it all together when they relocate, but they don’t. There is support that is needed within that community. There’s services that the chaplain can’t provide all the time on base. So sometimes we have maybe 20 families here on our campus that are at Travis Air Force Base, and when we find out there’s a military family here, we already understand how to engage them.

We’ve had training on that, so that makes us much more efficient at making them comfortable doing things for the children. There’s a lot of things that we sometimes overlook. Even though we want to focus on the monetary benefits, the survivor’s benefits, the medical benefits, the educational benefits, but we also have to deal with the social benefits because everybody and that family is contributing. It’s not just the person who’s at war, it’s the family as well should be celebrated and supported. So what we’ve tried to do is we’ve opened up a dialogue to hear from them about some of the things that they need, some of the things that would help the wife while he’s deployed for six months, what can we do to support her? What can we do to support them by being away?

What support groups that we could bring all of the women whose husbands are deployed together and do activities and things of that nature. So I don’t want to take up a whole lot of time, but we’ve been trying to put those things in. Then the other aspect of it is setting up programs that deal with some of the other things that result to being isolated, like alcoholism and all of these different things, and maybe even just administration for helping them get acclimated to where things are within the city and also employment and other resources we try to make readily available to them and also just personal counseling from a pastoral perspective. But these are some of the things that we have been able to implement.

What I will say is we’ve seen already, even though we’re still in the genesis of it has made such a tremendous difference because they begin to see how we care. So when we came on to the base, instead of them coming to us, about 20 of our pastors went on to the base. We went to the chaplain service, we participated, and we had this huge round table with every pastor in their booth to talk a little bit about our worship services, programs we had to offer. I believe this could be an open door or maybe a stepping platform for other cities to embrace, so it goes a long way. So when these families start to see how much the community cared upon their arrivals like we’re celebrating and said, “Thank you for being here. Thank you for your sacrifice,” it’s good to say it after they leave, but it’s also better to hear it on your arrival.

Kathy Gallowitz:  Wow, you are bringing tears to my eyes, Pastor Morris, because you have an amazing military ministry and are indeed an incredible role model for what could be replicated across the nation. You may or may not know this, but over a decade ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs started educating clergy through a program called the Community Clergy Training Program. I don’t know, maybe that’s what you took. Did you take that?

Sam Morris:  So, I didn’t. What we ended up doing is trial and error. We have such a heavy presence in our city and we started dealing with… I got involved, to be honest with you, with our emergency shelter on our campus. We took in about 50 homeless during COVID and we took another 100 homeless during COVID and placed them in a hotel. We fed them three meals a day plus a snack for a year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our ministry solely catered to that 150 guests that we had here on our campus. But what it did do for us, it opened up our eyes to some of the systemic issues that we were unaware of, that we were uninformed about.

I said, “Hey, you’ve been a veteran on the street how long?” It shocked me. “You’ve been a veteran without care and you have all this access?” They weren’t being case managed. They weren’t getting the services they needed. They didn’t even have IDs, some of them, and it was atrocious. Then once we’re able to get them out of that chronic comfortability being in that environment, we were able to now their behavior, which changed their outlook on life. All it took was just a little bit of love and care and concern, which they were neglected of.

Kathy Gallowitz:  Homelessness is certainly a difficult, challenging, chronic issue, and so I want to congratulate you for even rolling up your sleeves and dig it into that. But I would like to back up a minute and say that about 55% of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans feel disconnected for mainstream America. That doesn’t even include Vietnam Veterans, World War II Veterans who may continue to struggle with unresolved issues from their military service. I think the more interesting piece is that 40% of the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have a difficult time finding meaning or purpose and regaining touch with their spirituality more often than not because of combat, but also there’s other stressors that are related to military service that can be traumatic and so makes it challenging. For anyone who’s listening out there, if you’re a person of faith, I invite you, I invite you, I implore you to consider starting a military ministry.

You don’t have to have a building of 36,000 square feet. You don’t have to have 20 clergy in your backyard working with you. You as a person of faith, as a servant leader, as a worshiper of God can step out and start this on your own. I equip people to do that as volunteers. I have a monthly coaching call and my husband and I, a combat veteran have started ours in a small town in Phoenix, Arizona, and the impact is great. The impact is connection, friendship, promoting spiritual resiliency, offering practical support. Some of the stories really are very, very moving, supporting people through substance abuse. We’re not there to fix people. We’re layman.

We are just good people who want to do the good work of the Lord and we love people, and so this is not rocket science. You can do it through trial and error. You have to have a little bit of leadership skills, some communication skills, and it’s ideal to know a little bit about what’s going on in the veteran community around you so that you can refer people if needed. But your role is encouragement because if so many of our veterans feel disconnected and tend to isolate, you being in that congregation can really make a big difference. Congregations are very well suited to reach out to this particular population and help bring them all the way home. So I’d love to hear from you if you have interest, Pastor Morris, he’s a great resource. The best way you learn oftentimes is through trial and error. So hallelujah. Praise God. Thanks for what you’re doing.

Sam Morris:  Absolutely. I do agree with you. You don’t have to have 20 other pastors partner with you, but you can’t start by just reaching out and saying, “Hey, many hands make light work.” One of the things we did was Operation Cookie Drop. We partnered with our city, so our city council, Vice Mayor, I should say, Pam Bertani, along with our Mayor, Catherine Moy is one of the most involved in our Clergy Action Network. So we’re not just operating as pastors, we’re involved with our city, our chief of police, our fire chief, our first responders. We embrace everyone who puts their life on the line, but the mission is focused on our veterans and our families, connecting them to community and helping them reengage before and after deployment.

So each year with the Operation Cookie Drop we did in 2022, we were sending out hot cocoa, candies, gifts, cookies, a card, and it was just an effort to just say, “We appreciate you airman, servicemen, we want you to know that we love you. This is nothing huge, but it’s just to say we appreciate what you do for us and the sacrifices you make.” So it doesn’t have to be something all out, it’s just the little small things we can do that makes a huge difference. So the reason why I brought in partnering with the City or your local city government, because it opens up avenues and it creates greater dialogue and the partnerships grows. Then before you know it, you have this nucleus of support.

Then the chaplain gets there and he has an army of passes he can talk to at one time. The information gets dispersed, he can send out an email to us now, “Hey, we’re expecting 25 new families, who’s able to help?” We get some goody bags together to welcome them there. We send it to the base. It’s just a collaborative effort that really goes a long way, and you can do it as a pastor, if you’re listening to us and you want to get connected in your city, it’s a simple phone call you can make. I’m not sure what cities homeless shelters are in operation, but there are veteran-dedicated facilities and should be in every city, I would say, and we start there as well. So we try not to leave any stone overturned. So if you have some kind of avenue or to get connected, it’s not difficult. You just have to have a willing heart to do so.

Kathy Gallowitz:  You just have to start, have to be willing to take action and bring people along with you. That coalition that you have, I think probably the best part is you’re a force multiplier and that’s how you really reach the service members or the veterans because everybody knows about it. That’s really when you can dramatically change lives. Antwanisha, what do you think about all this?

Dr. Antwanisha Willamson-Berlus:  I just want to say I just love and appreciate both of you. Thank you so much again for your service. But I was thinking, because I’m not a minister, but I am in just awe to be in this space with you. There is something that I do and that I started on my own, let me start there, but more into something much larger. So there’s something that we call Hot Chocolate for Those Facing Homelessness because I realized, I was told that naming and creating that name of homeless, it could be traumatizing. So we have to identify it differently. So it’s called Hot Chocolate for Those Facing Homelessness. What I do every year is in December, every single year, this will be my ninth annual now in Stockton, California, I go to the areas where there are more people around and who are displaced and we serve hot chocolate, food.

At first, it was just a few little goodies and then it worked into blessing bags. Once I contacted the City and let them know happening and other faith-based organizations, [inaudible 00:23:43] Veteran Service Organizations, I was able to just bring in so many more resources. Not just tangible items, but also a list of resources that they can call, of the shelters that are available who houses strictly veterans and people or women with children only. So that was just something that I started that, like I said, became something a lot larger. So I’m happy that you guys are encouraging people just to start really where they are and then watch it grow from there. It’s just planting that seed. So thank you for just talking about your different programs and organizations because I’m inspired to just go out and do more. Thank you.

Kathy Gallowitz:  There is so much more that we can do, and I fundamentally believe that it all starts with building trusting relationships and should be the foundation of everything that we do because military-connected people really do feel disconnected. My personal firsthand experience before the age of 35, I’d lived in at least 20 different communities having grown up as a military brat in the Navy and then have 29 years in the Air Force. So my whole life has been one transition after another, after another, after another, after another, after another after… and it gets really old and it’s frankly, pretty lonely. So if citizens will reach out and take active, sincere interest in your military or veteran neighbors, their spouses, but where is it better than in your faith community to be hospitable and do what it is that God asks us to do and love our neighbor? It’s just so important and impactful.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, absolutely. Well, it is so wonderful to hear about all of the things that you all are doing just in terms of where you are. So that’s why I’m so encouraged when I hear things about the MOU. Antwanisha, you’ve done a lot of things when it comes to Veterans Affairs and the Committee under the NAACP. Do you want to just talk a little bit about them? Because honestly, going to some of the conventions has really allowed me to connect with a lot of resources that I didn’t even know existed. Of course, I’m not in the military, but to be able to just help people and let them know where they can go and where they can get information has been amazing.

Dr. Antwanisha Willamson-Berlus:  Right. So we have local resources available, but then we also have statewide and national resources available. But like I said, the main thing that we can do is create partnerships and not just with the Department of Veteran Affairs, but also with your local veteran service officers. Every single county has one. I would highly suggest that if you are a veteran or if you’re a caregiver of a veteran, go and reach out to your local county Veteran Service Office. They have a list of resources available for you. They have benefits that are available that you didn’t even know existed. I just think that if you don’t have that partnership or connection with them, that would be the first step to begin to receive those benefits. Something that I did at the local level, I used to go to one of the senior citizen homes in Stockton and go work with them. I couldn’t believe about 30% of the residents in this one particular building were veterans.

None of them had any type of benefits. None of them were aware that they qualify. Most of them were women. Most of them thought, “Oh, I only served two years, I don’t qualify.” So people, veterans reach out to them and ask, “Hey, do you know that there’s resources and benefits that are available to you?” Then just going back to ministry though, I will say I served at one point in my life because I wore several hats. I served as an ombudsman in Tracy at DLA, the Defense Logistics Agency. Our goal was to serve as a liaison for families with their deployed spouses and then you answered to the chain of command, most likely the commanding officer. So I would definitely recommend reaching out to the liaison or to the ombudsmans on base because they have a direct connection if you haven’t already. But this is going back to start where you’re at and you can start from anywhere. Also, with the Family Resource Office, that is another great place to start and just say, “Hey, how can I do more within the veteran community?” And get that.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, that’s great. Brother Morris, when we talk about the church being perfectly or uniquely positioned to create these ministries to champion veterans and all of the transitions that they go through, are there unique opportunities? You have certainly talked about a lot of programs that you all have put together in seemingly a fairly short period of time. How does that all happen aside from you being a phenomenal leader, ’cause I know you are. What does it take to actually put something together like that and have it take off in such a way that you can see those benefits really so quickly?

Sam Morris:  One of the things you have to do is you have to want to serve. It’s a call to action. I think for a very long time, the church has been a hotel for saints instead of a hospital for the needy. So to understand the importance of opening up the walls, knocking down those walls to bring in individuals who are hurting, and sometimes we just believe that the people who serve our country are not hurting. We say, “Oh, the government has them, they’re doing everything that they need.” But let me tell you something. When we had the fires here about five years ago that were burning from Napa, and I did not have this 36,000 square foot campus, I was in a 7,000 square foot campus, which is a lot smaller, 30,000 square foot, smaller.

Dawn La Bar who was the liaison for the city manager at the time, they were trying to put together some meals for all of the service members who were coming in from the National Guard that were going to be working on the front lines. They would be eating these horrible, I believe it’s called MREs or something. They were like, “Oh, no.” So I said, “Let me help. Let me talk to my church. We don’t have a real big building, but if they were willing to let us go to the National Guard to where the servicemen are, we’ll use that kitchen and cook every single morning. We’ll make a lunch for them and we’ll bring dinner.” Well, once we started with that, the entire city pool together. Before you know it, Subway Sandwiches called me, say, “Oh, you don’t have to make the sandwiches. We’ll do it.”

Napa Deli called me, “Oh, we’ll do dinner.” Red Lobster kicked in, “We’ll supply dinner for Tuesday. We’ll supply this Thursday. This was all for our servicemen and first responders. That began so impactful that the community got involved. We have people driving from other cities bringing water and all of the different things that we needed, and it just took a simple step to move forward. So when you take that into consideration, if we begin to take the time to hear and listen for those who are in need, you won’t have to turn the microphone up. It’s there, but we’re just so busy doing us, sometimes us drowns out the cries for help. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy ’cause we’re assumed that that responsibility belongs to someone else. But the Bible that I read teaches us that when we do it unto the least of these, we’re doing it unto Christ, and so that’s our mission.

Kathy Gallowitz:  Absolutely, and Pastor Morrison and his team are doing big things, so I don’t want individual citizens out there to be intimidated and think, “Oh, I can’t do that.” Well, first of all, you can do that if you have a desire to serve and you’re listening. But if you’re an individual like me who has a heart for military people and wants to serve your Lord, really, it’s as simple as identifying the people in your congregation who are military connected, service members, veterans, caregivers, spouses, people who love the military are also welcome, bringing your people together and listening, “What’s going on? How are you doing? What are your needs?” We can’t be all things to all people, but we can create fellowship, a sense of belonging, connection, and concern. There are so many different ways that you can have a military ministry. You could only do care packages.

I wouldn’t suggest that, but that’s what you could. You could sew and give out gifts. You could pay attention to burial tributes. You have World War II or Vietnam Veterans who are getting on in age. You could partner with the local National Guard unit or the local Active Duty unit. We live removed from both of those. So we are fundamentally a social group and a spiritual group who runs on each other. You could study, Crew Military has some tremendous resources. One’s called the Combat Training Healing Manual. There’s also one for spouses. There’s a videotape called We Are Stronger for families who suffer with PTSD and what that looks like to recover and the difficult journey. You could be a Bible study group and talk about the sermons that you heard recently. So there is no cookie cutter approach, and it’s based on the interests and abilities of the facilitator, the partnership with your pastor and the needs of your congregation. So it’s just a wonderful way to serve people and really, it’s very meaningful because you make a difference in other people’s lives who feel disconnected and oftentimes are hurting.

Sam Morris:  Yeah, absolutely. I will just say this, and I know we feel that those things are large, but these pale in comparison to what sacrifices are made. When you begin to see some of the things and some of the disabilities that come with serving our… some of the things that we have witnessed hands-on that they’re still suffering with, we can’t put a price on what they have had to sacrifice for us. So when we think about those things and how some of the environments that in stories that I’ve heard by just sitting down listening to some of our veterans, it hit me to the core of my heart. Then I sit here and say, “Wow, and now you’re still suffering because no one wants to advocate for you. No one wants to be your voice for the voiceless. No one wants to be that person to speak up for the defenseless,” and so it’s our job.

God is a God of justice. Whenever we see injustice, it’s on our parts as ministers, it’s on our part as parishioners, it’s on our parts, even as being a good citizen in your community to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. So this is bigger than just saying, “I want to be a good person.” This is actually speaking up, doing the right thing when you see injustice in any form, it’s injustice for all injustice. Injustice for one, it’s injustice for all. So we must be mindful of that and conscious of that because sometimes I can’t depend on my government, sometimes I can’t even depend on others, but if it hit you in the heart, and this is for any pastor to do something, step out on faith and do it. If you don’t have anything else but prayer, do that, because prayer also will change things. I’ll land the plane there.

Kathy Gallowitz:  100%, that’s awesome. I want to foot stomp that our citizenry really has quite an opportunity if maybe not even an obligation to go beyond, “Thank you for your service,” in your actions. Okay? Your sincere verbal appreciation is great, but when only three out of 10 Americans are really even eligible to serve, we for the foreseeable future, we as this nation are going to have to feel the fighting force ’cause there are so many bad actors around the world who want to hurt us.

So it’s incumbent on us to treat these warriors, these service members and veterans when they come home, it’s incumbent upon us to treat them well so that those who go behind them will really want to serve and we will be really good at continuing to field this fighting force. I will land the plane by saying, no action is too small. Okay? Every citizen can get involved in this. If you’re not sure what maybe your role is, I encourage you to buy my book Beyond “Thank You for Your Service:” The Veteran Champion Handbook for Civilians. It’s on Amazon. There’s something in there for everyone, and one particular chapter is dedicated to clergy and how you can get involved in helping build military ministry.

Melyssa Barrett:  Awesome. I knew I wasn’t going to have to say much, but I’m going to toss it back over to Antwanisha for your thoughts.

Dr. Antwanisha Willamson-Berlus:  Well, again, like I said, I appreciate being in this space and when it comes to advocacy, being in the NAACP, that is what we are about. We go into different organizations and institutions and we stand up and we speak out for those who are unable to do that for themselves. So I just encourage you all to, and this is a ploy on trying to build our membership within the NAACP. We are rolling out very soon, 75 For 75. This is the 75th anniversary of the desegregation of the military, so Executive order 9982, as well as the signing of the Women in Service Act. So you celebrate 75 years of women serving in the military as well as Black people serving in the military, so in honor that we are driving our membership base. We are asking that if you know a veteran or a veteran family, your community to please, please, please join your local NAACP.

What this does is it exposes us to the issues that are happening with boots on the ground. You do not have to be a veteran to sign up. I personally went through many, many, many different types of challenges and adversity during my tenure serving in the military. Had I known then that I could reach out to organizations like the NAACP or clergy outside of base, I think I would’ve been more compelled to one, serve longer because I served 18 years, there’s a story behind that, and two, I would’ve probably felt like I had the support and resources that I needed to be whole and to serve my country at my highest level. So with that said, I just again, thank you for being here, and I hope to see you all again.

Melyssa Barrett:  That was an amazing conversation. I just want to sit and just be in the space with you all ’cause you all are doing amazing work. One of the things about The Jali Podcast is all about celebrating the people that are doing the work. So I just appreciate you all for coming on and having this conversation. I hope it won’t be the last. I know Kathy has been on a couple of times already talking about females in the military, and I’ve been trying to get Brother Morris on for a long time. So this is his first appearance, but I hope it won’t be his last. So I just thank you Dr. Williamson-Berlus for joining us as well and talking a little bit about the NAACP, and I’m just so grateful for you all for being here.

Dr. Antwanisha Willamson-Berlus:  Thank you for what you’re doing and honestly, for being that veteran champion, we need more and more people like you. Great job.

Sam Morris:  Appreciate you taking the time to include little old me, and I’m so excited about what you’re doing. I can’t wait to see the next episode of what you’re going to have on the show. I think that talking about advocacy, and I would love to have a conversation with Antwanisha about some of the struggles within the framework of the NAACP and some of those things that we’re doing even in our county to advocate for those who sometimes don’t have proper representation, especially when they really need it the most. Far as our veterans, that fight as real, it will continue. As long as we have people who care, we’re going to be all right.

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely. So thank you so much and just thank you for your service. Thanks for joining me on The Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.