Who doesn’t like a happy ending? Especially one that involves a community effort like the campaign to save Montford Point Marines Veteran Center.
On Saturday, February 2 the America’s Heroes Group radio talk show host Cliff Kelley began the show talking about African Americans Veterans and their contribution to Black History for Black History Month. He was initially joined by the show’s Creative Director Manuel Corazzari and Executive Producer Glenda Smith, as well as the roundtable panelists Attorney Ernesto Borges, Rochelle Crump, founder and president of The National Veteran Women’s United and Sean Claiborne.
The second segment of the show was dedicated to a special thanks for Susana Mendoza by Sharon Stokes-Parry and the Montford Point Marines Association.
Mendoza was the first woman to be elected Chicago City Clerk. She is also known for several other notable “firsts.” Mendoza was the first Latino or Hispanic to be elected to a statewide office when she became the Comptroller of the State of Illinois. She currently holds that position and is also a mayoral candidate.
Mendoza said a colleague in the legislature forwarded a story about the plight of the Montford Point Marines Chicago Chapter to her attention with the hope she could assist them. Her colleague said, “This is such a great organization I hope you can help them.” As she contemplated what she could do to help the organization with a possible donation from her campaign, a donation from an elected official came under question. She like many of the other recipients decided to also donate the those funds.
“My integrity is not for sale—its priceless,” said Mendoza. She felt like there must be one group that can be saved by one large donation. Mendoza described her hope for the donation, “I want it to be a game-changer.”
Mendoza said God always has a plan and there must be one organization that these funds could be a gamechanger to receive. That is when Mendoza realized the story she had read about Montford Point was not just by chance. They needed a sizable amount and the $141,550 would be a gamechanger for them as opposed to distributing it around in small amounts to various groups.
As she elaborated on how the difficult times the veterans center went through afforded her and others the benefit of learning about the rich history of Montford Point Marine Veteran Center, the decision was made and the president of the organization, Sharon Stokes-Parry, was contacted.
Although Parry thought it was a joke at first, she soon realized her group had been praying for an angel and Mendoza was that angel.
Both Mendoza and Parry shared their subsequent meeting and today the organization is still in need of funding, however, a major crisis has been avoided.
One of the problems the association faced is a drastic loss of membership or members who are no longer financially able to contribute. “If you think about that first group of marines who created their own organization, right now the youngest is 91 and the oldest in our chapter is 97,” said Parry.
Parry said, “The Montford Point Marines are the first African American Marines to ever serve in the Marine Corp and they served in a segregated Boot Camp from 1942 until 1949. It is very significant that they were the first because the intent was to send all of the Black Marines home at the end of the war, but they proved themselves to be committed to their country. So, they were given the opportunity to continue to serve in the military.
The organization has had the building for the past 35 years. The original idea came in 1965 to create an organization that would preserve the legacy of the first African America Marines. Shortly after the first reunion they came and created a chapter in Chicago in 1966. They began by providing community service and assisting with the African American veterans who were coming home from the Vietnam War.
Part of their desire was to have a facility to support those returning Vietnam Veterans. When you support a veteran, you have to support their families too. That’s where the community service aspect originated. From their first location on East 71st Street, which burned in 1982, they picked a new site, which was in 1983 — where we are now. The association has been there for 35 years assisting our Veterans and serving our community.”
Parry thanked Mendoza and all those that have and will contribute to the continued service to veterans by the Montford Point Marine Veterans Center.