Spelman Students Bring Awareness to Homeless Veterans During Appreciation Week
By Ko A. Bragg, C’2015
There is an undervalued privilege that Americans have -- the protection provided by the armed forces. There are men and women who risk their lives on American soil and overseas for the betterment of this nation, but sometimes it is easy to overlook their sacrifices, and neglect the importance of taking the time to thank them for their service.
To reverse this trend, a group of Spelman students founded Saluting our Armed Services, a student-led organization geared towards serving those who serve in the military.
Students such as Alexis Jones, C’2016, the current president and founding member of S.A.S., wanted to challenge the student body to pay more attention to the armed forces, especially on Veterans Day.
A Passion to Honor Veterans
“Veterans Day has always been my thing,” Jones said.
Jones grew up on or around military bases her entire life. Her father, Terrell Jones, is a Lt. Col. Chaplain in the United States Army. For her, celebrating with Christmas-like fanfare for Veterans Day was normal. The lack of celebration at Spelman confounded her, especially because Marcelite J. Harris, C’64, the first African-American female general officer of the United States Air Force, is a Spelman alumna.
“Veterans, of course, are people who dedicated their lives to serving us,” Jones said. “So if we can’t just say, 'thank you,' to them one day out of the year -- that’s unfortunate.”
Thanks to Jones and S.A.S, the campus can honor the legacy of veterans. This comes not only by acknowledging their service, but through understanding the hardships they face, can when they come back home, such as homelessness.
“If you would just Google 'homeless veterans,' the numbers would shock you,” said Jasmine Welch, C’2017, current S.A.S. treasurer and president elect for the 2016-2017 school year.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that as many as 49,933 veterans are homeless “on any given night.” Homeless veterans represent 12 percent of the nation’s homeless population, and roughly 40 percent of them are African American or Hispanic.
A Spelman Appreciation Week for Those Who Serve
For its third annual Veterans Appreciation Week, November 8 -- November 13, S.A.S. will host two programs about homelessness in the veteran community.
The week of celebration will begin with a high tea ceremony featuring Julianne Green, lead transitional case manager of Veterans Empowerment Organization. The VEO empowers the lives of military veterans through comprehensive social reintegration programs including housing and supportive service.
On Veterans Day, Thursday, Nov. 11, Alicia Watkins, a retired Air Force sergeant wounded after being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, will deliver an address to the Spelman community. Watkins, who became homeless after retiring from the military, was asked to share her story, "A Day in the Life of a Homeless Female Veteran," on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2010. However, in a change of fate, Watkins enrolled in Harvard University in 2012 with the intentions of becoming an advocate for veterans.
A Vital Conversation and a Celebration Worth Having
Welch believes it is a pivotal time for the student body to talk about homeless veterans. The current Miss Spelman College, Ariana Brazier, C’2016, has a platform called Project H.O.M.E. (Helping Others Maintain an Existence) rooted in homelessness advocacy. Brazier will be at the high tea ceremony, one of the many opportunities for student advocates to come together around the issue of aiding homeless veterans.
The rest of Veterans Week affords students even more opportunities to serve the military community. Some of the events include writing letters to deployed soldiers and collecting stuffed animals that will be given to children of deployed soldiers this Christmas. The members of S.A.S. are eager to host Veterans Appreciation Week on campus.
“I’m very excited about SAS week,” said Aja Ellis, C’2016, founding member and vice president of the organization. “It’s our biggest activity each year. Seeing how SAS has grown, I’m eager to see the great impact the events will have.”
Military Circle Evolves Into S.A.S.
S.A.S. became a registered student organization when it was chartered by members of the Military Circle, a support group hosted by Spelman’s Office of Counseling and Disability Services. The founding members of S.A.S. met in that circle and were able to extend their vision to the campus-at-large.
“I first joined Military Circle because [at the time] I was dating someone in the army,” said Ellis. “Even though I don’t have a personal affiliation, I want to show support for my friends who are in the military.”
Ellis and Jones agree that while the mission of S.A.S. is military based, its members and supporters don’t necessarily have to be. Jones says there is a common misconception that in order to join, members have to have some proven tie to the military. When in actuality, the purpose of S.A.S. is to encourage the campus to focus on how the armed forces serve all of us, and how we can show our gratitude for them and our commitment to service to the community, nation and the world in return.
“Without the sacrifices of those who are in the military, we would not be here,” Jones said. They’re almost like teachers -- they’re a group who is often undervalued. In fact, People don’t express their appreciation enough, and that’s my motivation behind SAS. It is one of the efforts I have participated in during my time at Spelman of which I am most proud."