BALTIMORE – It is at best an unfortunate salutation to wish someone a ‘Happy Memorial Day’. The solemn observance – which was instituted shortly after the end of The American Civil War – is meant to honor and mourn U.S. military personnel who have died in the service of their country. But one can understand the joy local veterans and their families felt this morning at the Baltimore War Memorial Building, as U.S. Congressman Kweisi Mfume (MD-07) presented $3,000,000 in Congressional Funding to the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training (MCVET).
Mfume also used the occasion to report that there will be, “No cuts to veterans services in the forthcoming Debt Ceiling Bill.
“In fact, there’s a slight increase,” Mfume added, to the sound of extended applause.
Mfume’s remarks and funding presentation were part of a Memorial Day Ceremony for Fallen Soldiers convened at the War Memorial Building. The ceremony was hosted by the Maryland Veterans Commission, the Women’s Auxiliary of VFW, and the Maryland Gold Star Mothers.
Joining Mfume on the dais were Misty Bruce, Executive Director, MCVET; Retired Colonel Walter J. Mitchell, Jr., Member of MCVET Board of Directors; Former State Delegate Clarence “Tiger” Davis; and Retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Perlisa Wilson, Women’s Auxiliary of VFW.
Rev. Mark-Anthony Montgomery, of the historic Union Baptist Church on Druid Hill Ave., offered the invocation and the closing prayer.
MCVET is a nonprofit designed to provide otherwise unhoused veterans and other veterans in need with comprehensive services that will enable them to rejoin their communities as productive citizens. The organization offers vocational training to veterans and residents of the community who have been unable to further their education due to mental illness, housing insecurity, and poverty.
MCVET’s Community Expansion Project (CEP) program is designed to produce skilled residents who will receive industry recognized certifications in targeted careers that would raise their opportunities and give them a true chance at increasing their earning power. Graduation from these programs will allow Marylanders to step into “living wage” jobs with skills that will last a lifetime and help tackle the housing insecurity that veterans and the residents of the community face.
Misty Bruce – Executive Director of MCVET – explained how MCVET’s Community Expansion Project (CEP) program produces skilled residents who can receive industry recognized certifications in targeted careers.
“Right now, residents can become certified in various areas of IT (information technology), CNA/GNA (Certified Nursing Assistant / Geriatric Nursing Assistant), culinary arts, as auto technicians and in community organizing. But we’re looking to expand IT to include business administration and are working with outside partners on CDL (commercial driver’s license), GED (general education development) and digital literacy.
“You don’t have to have wielded a bayonet, sought cover in a bomb shelter, or trekked through Afghanistan to have served your country.”
Bruce’s “service” observation would certainly apply to Rep. Mfume, who though repeatedly passed over in the Vietnam draft lottery, has nonetheless championed veterans issues in and out of Congress.
Mfume secured the $3,000,000 funding check for MCVET.
“Kweisi may not have served in the military, but he has always served us,” said Former State Delegate and Air Force veteran Clarence “Tiger” Davis.
Kalem Umrani – another Air Force veteran – is currently a resident at MCVET. Umrani told us he was directed to MCVET after a stay in a local VA hospital.
“I was down with Covid for a while, and after I was feeling better, the VA people recommended me to MCVET.
“I’m a community organizer, so the programs are helping me in the areas of education and outreach. They are enhancing my training to reach out to others in need of heath care and job opportunities.”
Umrani shyly allowed that he is honing additional skills at MCVET – snapping pictures and asking thoughtful interview questions for the facility in-house newsletter.
Umrani’s ‘new lease’ might be likened to a story Retired Colonel Walter J. Mitchell, Jr. shared about his college experience during the early years of Vietnam War. Mitchel told how he was relentlessly teased by a fraternity brother at Morgan State, when he decided to advance with his ROTC training.
The frat brother would later find himself in ‘Nam pulling enlisted man’s duties.
“I arrived in Vietnam as a Lieutenant, where my frat brother was serving as a Private,” recalled Mitchell. “I had a Lieutenant’s bar on my shoulder, and he had a single stripe on his sleeve. So I arranged to have a picture taken with him saluting me, and whenever we get together for fraternity reunions, I always pull that picture out.
“That just shows the value of continuing on when you have the opportunity.”
Mitchell also recalled the early days of MCVET’s predecessor – the MHV– and how the organization evolved to what it is today.
“We started with 20 dedicated individuals who made it their mission to get homeless, panhandling veterans off of the streets of Baltimore. After we got them off the street, they were no longer homeless. So the question was, ‘What are you going to do for us now?’ After tackling addiction, they moved to connecting vets to skill sets. So, when people ask about the shelter, we told them, ‘We ain’t no shelter. We are a program.’
“Our goal has always been to return the veterans to productive members of the community.”
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Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony’s poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, “Thou shalt not steal.”