Let’s Rethink This(LRT) is known for its ability to catch people’s attention. Founder Jerry Ashton had these credentials safely in hand by the time he retired from the day-to-day work involved in co-founding the national charity RIP Medical Debt(RIP) with the intention to perform similar feats for organizations poised to bring about profound social and economic change – but not having a platform from which to attract all-important public notice.
As Jerry can attest to from personal experience in his struggles to raise awareness (and funds) for his charity, “If they don’t know about you, they can’t do anything about you.” Based on RIP’s success to date – abolishing over $8 billion in medical debt for over 5.5 million Americans – he and his team at RIP solved that problem, and then some.
Jerry and the team of co-creators he gathered together at LRT set about to use his hard-earned tools to remedy similar problems for industry “Solution Providers” who had the goods – but not the audience. LRT, through its Searchlight/Spotlight/Ignite process steps in to fill that void. Here’s what LRT had to do to develop that magic since its founding in early 2021.
Step One – print/online journalism
LRT’s first step was to install Our Newspaper at our website to ensure that worthwhile articles about our partners and members would always find a home. That done, and as a former Navy Journalist (JO2), Jerry’s next step was to approach Russell Midori, co-founder of the 700-member Military Veterans in Journalism(MVJ) organization to partner with us to ensure our members and advocates would have access to seasoned reporters.
Step Two – Video interviews and podcasts
Cary Harrison brought the goods and his credentials to his task of experimenting with doing one-off videos and podcasts. It was fledgling, but brought us to where we are in our ability to produce an entire one-hour program on public radio.
Step Three – graphic novel/cartoon capabilities
Cary introduced RIP to veteran artist Victor Guiza which brought about another novel fit – cartoons and colorful strips that do a better and more compelling job of explaining a complex story than any news article. Using a Harlem entrepreneur and a woman physician patient advocate as proof-of-concept, his renderings drew rave reviews and proved that his subjects could attract new audiences. Check that need off as filled.
Step Four – branding and marketing
Phaedra Poliquin was among the earliest additions to the LRT staff of co-creators, and a find she was. Even while launching LRT, she filled the role of CMO for the Anmol Network and was instrumental in helping raise $1M in investment for them.
Step Five – technology infrastructure and mentoring capability
That would be me, Joel Stevens – the earliest to join the LRT team to make sure that the organization had well-structured and eye-catching websites that its partners could depend on as well as serve as referent examples of our abilities in branding, marketing and community-creating.
Step Six – an evolutionary leap – Rethinking Heroes
For the first time we are aware of, a drive-time public radio hour is devoted to veteran issues and the Solution Providers dedicated to reducing veteran suicide, abolishing their medical debt and in so many other ways making their lives easier. Cary Harrison hosts Rethinking Heroes(RH) on famed LA public radio KPFK 90.7 FM every Friday morning from 9-10 a.m PST/noon EST.
With the help and encouragement of KPFK, we have used the month of February to test the concept and are getting rave reviews – and an uptick in donations to the station. No need anymore to be silent about this important work.
Want to listen to it in streaming audio at those times? Simply click this link. What makes it so special? No woe-is-me and platitudes and stereotypes. These are real veterans and their advocates telling stories and providing solutions you will never hear on MSM.
The other thing that sets RH apart? At the end of every month, with just a bit of assistance from our listeners and co-producers, we will officially abolish $1 million in medical debt across the USA on behalf of our veterans. Having served, and still serving.
The Golden Fourteen were largely forgotten—but a few veterans and descendants could change that.
When Jerri Bell first wrote about the Golden Fourteen, their story only took up a sentence. These 14 Black women were the first to serve in the U.S. Navy, and Bell, a former naval officer and historian with the Veteran’s Writing Project, included them in a book about women’s contributions in every American war, co-written with a former Marine. But even after the book was published, Bell couldn’t get their story out of her head.
“It made me kind of mad,” Bell says. “Here are these women, and they were the first! But I think there was also a general attitude at the time that the accomplishments of women were not a big deal. Women were not going to brag.”
Bell was one of a few researchers who have been able to track down documents that acknowledge the lives and work of these Black women. She knew that during World War I, the Fourteen had somehow found employment in the muster roll unit of the U.S. Navy in Washington, D.C., under officer John T. Risher. One was Risher’s sister-in-law and distant cousin, Armelda Hattie Greene.
The Golden Fourteen worked as yeomen and were tasked with handling administrative and clerical work. They had access to official military records, including the work assignments and locations of sailors. At the time, Black men who enlisted in the Navy could only work as messmen, stewards, or in the engine room, shoveling coal into the furnace. They performed menial labor and weren’t given opportunities to rise in rank.
Bell wasn’t surprised to learn about the barriers faced by service members of color. She knew that Josephus Daniels, the Secretary of the Navy at the time, was a documented white supremacist with ties to the Wilmington Massacre, in which a white mob overthrew a local Reconstruction-era government and murdered Black residents. During the First World War, the U.S. Navy maintained the status quo of racism that continued long after. Many Black service members were also targeted by white mobs after the war.
What was surprising was that a legal technicality had paved the way for Black women to work for the Navy more than a century ago. A shortage of clerical workers led then-president Woodrow Wilson to pass the Naval Reserve Act of 1916, which asked for “all persons who may be capable of performing special useful services for coastal defense.” The Golden Fourteen were part of a larger group of over 11,000 women, almost all of them white, who were able to join the navy as yeomanettes, the title given to female yeomen.
Of the few archival records that exist of the Golden Fourteen, one thing is clear: In a period when stepping out of line could have violent repercussions for Black women, they worked without drawing attention to themselves.
“This is quite a novel experiment,” wrote the sociologist Kelly Miller in The History of the World War for Human Rights, published in 1919. “As it is the first time in the history of the navy of the United States that colored women have been employed in any clerical capacity … It was reserved to young colored women to invade successfully the yeoman branch, hereby establishing a precedent.”
Bell’s fascination with the Golden Fourteen only deepened. She is now writing a book about them, and has spent more than four and a half years, as well as thousands of dollars, collecting archival materials. She’s waited patiently to get military and civilian personnel records from the National Archives, which can often take years, and has combed through historical accounts that have not been digitized. She’s looked at photos and spoken with the last living descendant of the Risher family, who says that his aunt, Greene, never spoke of her naval service.
The memory keepers who tell the story of the Golden Fourteen are almost all veterans. Researchers like Bell have the personal connection and the professional knowledge to recover what fragments remain. She feels a powerful responsibility, to the point that she missed the first deadline for her manuscript nine months ago. Because she is telling a story that has been so thoroughly forgotten—and arguably erased—she wants her research to be truly comprehensive. “I just discovered some documents that I need to physically go to another state to get access to,” Bell says. “I couldn’t turn in the manuscript before. I know I owe these women more than that.”
There is one other place where stories of the Golden Fourteen have been passed down: in family histories. When Tracey L. Brown was 10 years old, she looked through her family photo album and saw a light-skinned woman she didn’t recognize. Her grandmother, Nan, told her that the woman with the blonde hair and hazel eyes was Brown’s great-grandmother, Ruth Ann Welborn. Welborn was one of the Golden Fourteen. Though she seemed to pass as white, she, like Brown, was African-American.
“I had known that she was one of very few Black women there,” Brown says. “But I didn’t know that there had been 14—I wasn’t expecting that many. I remember hearing about that, as a child, that there was some sort of scheme in how they were even able to enlist. I know it wasn’t simple.”
Although Brown grew up understanding who her great-grandmother had been, she didn’t grasp the magnitude of what Welborn and the other women had done until she was much older. Now a practicing attorney in a New York law firm, Brown started to dig deeper after her father, Ronald H. Brown, who had served as Secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton, died in 1996. In her grief, she decided to write a memoir about him. “It was sort of the perfect storm,” Brown says. “I had just lost him, so I was really committed to telling his story.”
Brown talked to friends, family, and even President Clinton himself. After interviews with her grandmother, she finally began to unearth more about Ruth Welborn. “It was so exciting to even begin pursuing these stories,” Brown says. “There have been so many stories that have been lost in our community, and it was nice to be able to have a little slice.”
Ruth was the daughter of Walter Welborn, the son of a white merchant, Johnson W. Welborn, and a woman he enslaved at his house in Clinton, Mississippi, whose name and date of birth remain unknown. In 1863, during the chaos of conscription riots that followed the Emancipation Proclamation, Walter and his brother Eugene escaped from the biological father who had enslaved them. According to Brown’s memoir, their mother dressed them in Confederate uniforms, and perhaps thanks to the fair skin they had inherited, they were able to escape onto a train to Washington.
In Washington, Walter Welborn was a free man, and he married Elexine Beckley, who came from a well-educated and affluent Black family. Their five daughters inherited Walter’s fair skin, blonde hair, and hazel eyes. Like their mother, the five daughters graduated from the best schools available to Black children at the time.
In 1918, after graduating from Dunbar High School, Ruth decided to join the Naval Reserve, becoming one of the Golden Fourteen. “Ruth seemed very stern,” Brown says. “She was a stoic person: In every picture, her posture is perfect. She looks very commanding, and I can’t imagine playing with her like I had with my great-grandmother on my mother’s side.” She and Brown’s father were both buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Although Brown is one of the few to write about the Golden Fourteen, she is not alone. The Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy wrote about Sara Davis Taylor, another yeomanette, in 1992. Taylor reportedly tried to join the Navy even before 1917. She and other Black women were turned away by military doctors, Milloy writes, because “they all allegedly had flat feet.” Only after President Wilson’s 1916 law were they assigned to Risher’s muster roll unit.
Relatively few of these stories have been passed on. Brown’s memoir is now out of print, and, according to Milloy’s column, Taylor and her husband did not have children. Richard E. Miller, a naval veteran and historian, laments in an article that many details may remain a mystery. “It is believed that all of the Black Navy women from the First World War have now passed away,” Miller writes. “Regrettably, the ‘golden’ place they deserved as pioneers in the annals of Afro-American, as well as naval and women’s history, was never accorded them during their lifetimes; except perhaps within their immediate family circles.”
No one is quite sure how the Golden Fourteen convinced a segregated military to hire them, years before women could vote and half a century before the end of Jim Crow. Some historians theorize that all 14 worked in the same office, where white supervisors could monitor and protect them. Others suggest that most of the Golden Fourteen had light enough complexions to pass for white—though photographs suggest that this was not the case for all of them.
These questions have bothered Regina Akers, a historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command, for years. Akers, who is Black, has made a name for herself by centering Black women in military history. “To learn of these women was exciting, and also frustrating,” Akers says. “There are some sources out there that mention them, but it’s always done in such a tangential way.”
The historical backdrop makes the achievements of the Golden Fourteen all the more surprising. “Lynchings were a popular occurrence; they were carried out with little threat of reprisal,” Akers says. “ If a black person approached a white person, they either moved aside, or they understood that you didn’t look them in the face, and just called them ma’am or sir.”
The U.S. military remains a site of systemic racism. This summer, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force released a video describing the racism he’s experienced during his career. When the Military Times surveyed hundreds of its readers in 2018, more than half of respondents of color said that they had witnessed white nationalism or racism from their peers.
Such stories have led Bell, who is white, to reflect on her own career as a naval officer. “I would ask Black colleagues, some working under me, about their experience as Black sailors in the Navy,” she says. “I realize that whatever my intentions may have been, they did not trust me to tell me what was really going on. People say that once you’re in uniform, no one looks at the color of your skin—but that’s crap.”
For Akers, the Golden Fourteen are compelling not because they are unique, but because they shared the struggles of so many Black Americans who have fought for equality. “I think it’s important to remember that the efforts to bring about equal opportunity are part of the larger civil rights movement of that time period,” Akers says. “There has always been a civil rights movement in the U.S., because there have always been people advocating for change and fighting for their rights.”
Have you ever noticed (I have) that journalists and media folk seem to be stories in themselves…oftentimes having lives and having a personal history more interesting than the stories about others that they are busy getting “out there?”
Proving my observation is Caron LeNoir whose own adventures include (to list only a few) a 14 year military history of service (1994-2008) in both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army, being confirmed as being a fully disabled veteran only after suing the VA to attain that deserved status, being a self-taught computer programmer, performing a public service announcement for the FTC warning about veteran charity scams, surviving five years of homelessness to create a successful path towards entrepreneurial journalism including owning her own radio station, etc., etc.
But her present efforts, built on this foundation which includes her membership in the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and more recently in Military Veterans in Journalism (MVJ) deserve a look.
Caron attracted LRT’s notice when she and several other veteran journalist members of MVJ participated in the launch of LRT’s new Rethinking Heroes (RH) public radio broadcast series on famed KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles, CA which hits the air every Friday morning drivetime from 9-10 a.m. PST (noon EST). (Want to listen in at those times? Here’s the direct internet link: https://www.kpfk.org/player/)
VMJ is placing its members at the top of the hour to read the news – this time items about and for the veteran audience while; a unique way to provide broadcast exposure for their members while supporting a national campaign called Veteran Mission Possible and its mission to bring greater awareness to suicide and medical debt in that community and celebrating the “Solution Providers” that come up with remedies.
Naturally, Ms. LeNoir was among those selected.
“It was a rush,” Caron said of this opportunity to deliver veteran-centric news to KPFK’s listeners locally and nationally through public radio affiliates. “It reconfirmed my own determination to see that veterans like myself get greater experience and exposure within the media world. I personally felt revitalized.”
In bygone days, journalism and entrepreneur would never be included in the same sentence. Entrepreneurs “did” it, and journo’s “reported” it. No longer. The days of a secure position in any sector of media, whether print, broadcast or otherwise, is no longer assured or even possible.
U.S. newsroom employment has fallen 26% since 2008. Major media outlets are announcing major layoffs, print cuts and hiring freezes. That’s a strong hit against veterans attempting to work in those industries, considering only 2% of media employees are veteran in spite of vets being 8% of the U.S. population. This requires a new breed of creatives. Many organizations such as NABJ and MVJ are training its members to be more business-minded as they become guns-for-hire. (We at Let’s Rethink This took note of this new environment and created Our Newspaper to ensure that its writers and contributors would have an assured outlet for their stories.)
This where Caron steps up. By way of podcasts, speaking engagements and cultivating a clientele of businesses clamoring to be noticed but unaware of how to present themselves as a news story, she serves as savant and consultant…and reaps the rewards.
“Profit is great for my complexion,” she cooes. “That I help my clients bring in more work and have greater success for themselves make it glow all the more.”
Impact Journalism and ROI is the today’s journo’s new-new thing! Pay attention.
The Air Force Veteran Visited His Favourite Pharmacist on the First of Every Month — To Help Strangers
When he resumed his life as a civilian, Childress was known as a farmer in his small town of Geraldine, Alabama.
He worked at Lockheed Martin as a Product Manager to provide for his family, but farming was always his first love and priority. After his retirement, he spent even more time tending to his farm. When he had time off, he ran errands in town, frequently stopping in at his local pharmacy, Geraldine Drugs.
“Being on his tractor was his therapy, and he spent a lot of time helping neighbors get their gardens planted. Every time he went to the post office, he’d take the postmaster an apple, or some sweet potatoes, squash or okra he’d grown on his farm.”
– Tania Nix
One day, he walked into the store and asked the owner, Brooke Walker, if there were any families in town who were having trouble paying their pharmacy bills.
Brooke told him that it happened quite often. That was when Hody handed her a $100 bill and told her to use it to cover the bills of anyone who wasn’t able to pay their bill. He made Brooke promise to keep it a secret; he wanted to stay anonymous.
“He said, ‘Don’t tell a soul where the money came from — if they ask, just tell them it’s a blessing from the Lord,’”
– Brooke Walker
The following month, and every month afterwards for 10 years, Hody Childress returned to the pharmacy with $100.
How the Veteran’s Legacy Transended Him After Death
Hody passed away on New Year’s Day at the age of 80, so Brooke was finally free to tell his family about all the good their father had done in the community. Despite his modest means, Childress had helped countless families afford their medication.
His monthly $100 added up to thousands of dollars over the years, covering costs like epipens and children’s medications.
Childress’ daughter, Tania Nix, was flooded with information about how generous and kind her father was as she prepared her father’s funeral. He had confided in her about the pharmacy donations shortly before his death.
“He told me he’d been carrying a $100 bill to the pharmacist in Geraldine on the first of each month, and he didn’t want to know who she’d helped with it — he just wanted to bless people with it.”
– Tania Nix
The Veteran Was Always Generous With His Loved Ones
His daughter remembers her father as always leading with love and generosity despite any hardships he suffered along the way. In one devastating blow, his father and son were killed by a tornado. Then, his wife developed multiple sclerosis and passed away. Luckily, he always had faith that something good was around the corner, and he kept his chin up and his attitude positive. After his death, his inspirational story motivated the town to follow in his footsteps.
“He didn’t spend a lot of money in life, but he always gave what he could. If he took you out to eat, you had to be quick to grab the ticket, or he was paying for it.”
– Tania Nix
How the People of the Small Town Opted to Pay it Forward In Honour of the Late Vet
When the news came out about what Childress had been doing all those years, people began dropping by the pharmacy in droves with donations of their own. As pharmacist Brooke Walker put it, Hody had established a “legacy of kindness”. She has created a fund with the money the community is donating.
“We’re calling it the Hody Childress Fund, and we’re going to keep it going as long as the community and Hody’s family wants to keep it alive.”
– Brooke Walker
While the thousands of dollars Hody donated over the years have certainly had an impact on the people whose medications it helped pay for, his generosity has an even more lasting legacy. His optimism and kindness have inspired a new generation of people striving to do good in Geraldine, and that is priceless.
Let’s Rethink This Chooses Meta J Mereday as January’s “Impact Journalist”
Meta J Mereday is a Civilian First Responder, better known as a Domestic Warrior, with a family background rooted in the military with even deeper and even deeper roots in community, social and economic justice by way of advocating for veterans and other under-served constituencies. How best to bring attention to these diverse areas – and so much more – than to write about them to bring awareness and, ideally, positive change?
That predilection dates to grade school, where teachers were able to channel her creative talents and energy through writing and leading initiatives. They found they could keep her busy by supplying her with sufficient quantities of pencils and paper in addition to artistic and collaborative projects. She tutored students in her class and younger students and served as Office Assistant. This multifaceted formula continued during her years at Roosevelt Jr - Sr High School (Roosevelt, NY) where she mastered numerous activities including All County in Music, playing three musical instruments for Orchestra, Concert and Marching Bands and served as Sports Broadcaster and Editor for the Yearbook. She was named Class Speaker and Most Artistic.
While pursuing her degree at San Jose State University’s (San Jose, CA) School of Journalism and Mass Communications, she continued to freelance and incorporate her creative talents to design photo layouts and promotional pieces for aspiring publishers and local business owners. There, she refined her writing and editing and graduated with a BA in Advertising and Speech Communication. Years later the school honored her in a blog profiling her work and community service. (Editor’s Note: SJSU is my Alma Mater)
“I am cause-activated,” she says. “Injustices motivate me.” Derogatory remarks by some NFL officials while she was attending a sports event motivated her to become a member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and to be Co-Founder of the National Black Public Relations Society, Inc. Upon her return she returned to New York, she attended Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY) to add an MBA to her profile to add to her credentials and focus on economic empowerment to “raise all boats” to potentially equally levels.
Fast-forward to 2013
We have to get here quickly to get to today’s accomplishments, saving me from having to catalog past numerous heroic efforts (For example, she became known as a 9-11 Civilian First Responder and Front Line Media Correspondent during her volunteer service at Ground Zero immediately following the attacks on September 11, 2001 and reporting onsite to various media outlets including live for a television station in in Columbia, SC.). While advocating for diverse business inclusion for the rebuild of lower Manhattan and seeing the need to build up veteran-owned businesses to create jobs for unemployed veterans; she launched VEDI, Inc (Veteran Entrepreneurial Development Initiatives) as a New York State not-for-profit to address a growing need within the Veteran Owned Business and Service Disabled Veteran Owned Business (VOB/SDVOBs) for growth and development training. VEDI, Inc has become a national resource for veteran business development and veteran community advocacy.
VEDI, Inc is a task force member of the National Veterans Business Development Council whose mission is to increase the certifications for veteran-owned businesses and to help grow their operations and create jobs to reduce veteran unemployment.
Now, let’s get back to her journalism chops. Meta was recognized by the nonprofit Military Veterans in Journalism (MVJ) recently when they selected her to be included in their Expert Directory in recognition of her longstanding involvement in reporting on veterans issues and her advocacy for veterans and their families.
Lastly, Meta’s participation with the collaboration Veteran Mission Possible (VMP) is a story in itself. Like several other “Solution Providers” that found their way to our site, she made submisstions to an initiative launched by the VA entitled Mission Possible to see if she could secure a share of the $25M in grant funding. There were 1,370 competitors (VMP was one of them). She (and we) were not among the 40 chosen. However, when she discovered that VMP had started a community to give people “a second chance to make a first impression,” she came right to our doorstep. And, discovered that we were/are a key affiliate of MVJ. Having yet another opportunity to showcase her talents to uplift proactive solutions to combat the issues impacting our veterans and their families – and our nation as a whole – was right where she needed to be.