By Ellen M. Kozel
“An enemy’s bullet does not distinguish between Race, Ethnicity, Color, Religious Belief, Gay or Straight, it kills American Service Men and Women indiscriminately.” – quote Ellen Kozel, Founder, Veterans For Diversity, Inc.
I was raised in the Boston area back in the 50’s and 60’s in a Heinz 57 neighborhood. Growing up we didn’t see differences in any of the above. We only knew each other by name and were all great friends. We played together, ate together, shared cultures together and didn’t have any other names for each other outside of our birth names. Our parents treated us all the same.
My first exposure to racism came when I was stationed in Navy Memphis in the 60’s. Up until then I had no idea of what it meant. I saw shanty houses alongside roads, I heard slur words that were unfamiliar to me. I couldn’t understand how people could hate each other just because of the way they looked or talked.
I have many stories to tell, but will limit it to this important one. I lived off base a few blocks from the Larraine Motel in Memphis. I was there when Dr. King was killed. What pursued afterward was not as projected by the news media as they covered only the side they wanted the public to see.
What I saw in the riots that followed was the two different races burning and looting their own sides of town. The White population was destroying the extremely white side of the city and the Black population was destroying their side of the city. This didn’t make any sense to me.
First of all, if you’re angry at someone why are you taking it out on your own people. Not that I condone riots. Secondly, what did all this violence end up doing. A 15 year old boy was shot and killed robbing a store by a National Guardsman. Thousands of dollars of property damage was done forcing some businesses essential to the community to close for good. Plus, the fear and terror you placed in the population who didn’t want to participate in your anger.
In the end it accomplished nothing but tarnished everything Dr. King stood for diversity and desegregation through non-violent means.
By changing our name from Vets Do Ask Do Tell to Veterans For Diversity, I felt that we could expand our role within the community to be more all-inclusive. The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a start in the right direction. Now we have to continue the work of healing the damage that was done for many years prior. With our new name we can expand that focus and we hope you will join us in this effort.