Brooklyn’s first Bedford-Stuyvesant Memorial Day Parade began with a ceremony under the tent at Restoration Plaza and then proceeded up Marcy and culminated with an unveiling of the Veteran’s Memorial in front of the Black Veterans for Social Justice building on Willoughby Street.
In the preceding ceremony, Herbert Sweat, Chairman of the Board of the BVSJ, spoke of the special situation of the Black vet and of his experiences of being “accused, misused and abused, as a Black man, as a soldier and when I came home as a vet.” Army veteran Sweat served in Vietnam during the infamous Tet Offensive. The Franklin K. Lane High School graduate was in the 25th Infantry Division where his biography states he served as a Platoon Leader, Executive Officer and Company Commander during which time he was awarded the Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, Vietnam Gallantry Cross w/palm and commendations. Sweat spoke of none of this, but instead he honored the brotherhood of Black vets and how Job Mashariki, founder and past-president of BVSJ, “came and got me from a place where my soul was gone. Homeless. Here I am a decorated war soldier. And I’m homeless?”
Fulfilling his own life mission of helping fellow veterans, Mashariki brought him into a holistically supportive environment which caused Sweat to say of the organization, “This is a place where souls are resurrected,” and it was certainly true in his life, bringing him from being a client to being a provider, a community leader and one who gives back to the generations that follow. He invites young people to “come into this building 5 days a week and speak with us. Come and understand what we can do for each other.”
Grand Marshal Job Mashariki said, “You talk about empowerment, this is a model for it,” and it’s also the way to honor those who have fallen by doing the work to rebuild lives. In recognition of his efforts, state Senator Velmanette Montgomery announced that Mr. Mashariki’s name will appear in the Veterans Hall of Fame of New York.
Attending the ceremony were opposing congressional candidates in the June 26 Democratic Primary, City Councilman Charles Barron and state Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. Sitting with only one chair of separation, they each appeared not to notice the other until Jeffries got up to speak, bringing him unavoidably into the councilman’s line of sight as he also spoke of the special sacrifices Black veterans have made.
The United War Veterans Council made a presentation to Mashariki but it was more than the veterans who were honored at this Memorial Day ceremony. As Chairman Sweat said “We are here on this day in recognition of those who have made a way out of no way. The mothers, the fathers, the sisters, the teachers, the lawyers and everyone that has come to this community.”