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The Common Ground Initiative: Am I a patriot? Yes, and you are too.

 Anthony Payton's father, Freddie Payton, is pictured in the center of this photo.
Anthony Payton
Anthony Payton's father, Freddie Payton, is pictured in the center of this photo.

This segment originally aired in September 2021 as part of the The Common Ground Initiative, a podcast produced by the Granite State News Collaborative.

In each installment, writer Anthony Payton aims to highlight the diversity of our communities with stories of people the average Granite Stater might not get to see or meet, clarify misconceptions and find the threads that bind us all together as one New Hampshire community.

NHPR chose to share this segment with our audience as part of our Independence Day programming.


This transcript has been lightly edited.

My father was a Vietnam veteran from the civil rights era. For most Black men in their day, they had a handful of role models. When it came to a famous Black man who went against the system, none was more famous than Muhammad Ali.

My dad was a huge fan of his and watched all of his fights. One of his biggest and most famous fights was against the U.S. government. Ali was convicted of evading the draft, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. When asked why he evaded the draft, he said no Vietnamese person ever called him the n-word.

I’m told that this was the sentiment of plenty of Black people. While other groups of people got their slice of the pie, we had to pick up crumbs from the floor. We had to fight, scratch and claw for it. We went against every obstacle put in front of us, including self-sabotage.

Why should we ever pick up arms to defend this country?

My father still put that uniform on. As a Black man in that era, it was especially hard to be patriotic enough to enlist. I’m sure that he got flack from some other Black people, and I know that he was treated as less than his white counterparts. Yet and still, there’s plenty of Black servicemen and women like my dad who push through. They’ve seen the benefits of serving this country and risking their lives.

My father never gave one specific reason why he joined the military. Instead, it was a combination of things. He always spoke of the discipline, pride and benefits that it would provide for his family. My father likely suffered in silence with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and it manifested in ways that I didn’t understand back then. He kept gainful employment for most of my youth, but he did love his drinks. At the height of my run in the streets, he struggled with heroin addiction.

One thing that he always cherished was the benefits associated with his service. He always made mention of some of the programs that he was eligible for and how he planned to utilize them. He spoke fondly of VA loans and housing, which at the time said that eligible veterans would only have to put down 3% of the cost of a home. This was something in his heart: homeownership and leaving a home for his children.

I wasn’t able to attend his funeral, but months later, I was told that the American flag was folded on his casket. That brought tears of pride and joy to my eyes.

Given my father’s service, my brother’s service in the Navy and countless friends who’ve served, I know that we have plenty of sweat equity dripping from that American flag. Our family members continue to serve this nation, despite its ugly history when it comes to those of us with darker skin.

 Anthony Payton’s brother Donald Phifer
Anthony Payton
Anthony Payton’s brother, Donald Phifer.

We’re only decades removed from civil rights atrocities that spilled over generations, and we're told to disregard that history. Black history is American history — rich with pain, pride and still being written.

While I don’t believe that it can be condensed down into one month, without Black History Month at least, I can already see society’s collective amnesia and my history fading into the background. It’s the ebb and flow when it comes to Black folks in America.

And yet, a lot of us still stand up, even though we’re still marginalized and shelved in many regards. So when I see Black veterans being left out of conversations regarding patriotism, it tends to rub me the wrong way.

I hope that your ears aren’t hearing self-pity or victim posing. Your ears also shouldn’t be hearing me singing the gospel of all white people being evil.

I have grievances with the country. I’m allowed to have them. However, that doesn’t mean that I want to see its destruction. We’re stakeholders in this nation.

What you should hear is: Don’t be fooled by the typical narrative of the America-hating person of color. A lot of us care about the safety of this nation.

I crave and appreciate that feeling of security that we won’t get bombed by Russia, North Korea or China. When it comes to the safety of this country, I sleep well most nights. This is mostly because of those brave men and women who protect us from foreign and domestic threats.

Cordan James Haveron, of Manchester, is one of those brave men.

Cordan is a proud Army veteran who served in Baghdad, Iraq, from December 2009 to December 2010. These days, the 33-year-old helps other veterans and the homeless in Manchester. He’s the owner of a moving company, Vetrun Movers, that he operates with another veteran. He’s also the founder of The Comeback Kids, an organization that helps transform lives through mentorship, awareness and mental health.

This comes naturally to him.

Cordan was born to a drug-addicted mother and was raised by a white family in a small town in Utah. He went to rehab himself at 5 years old and struggled with addiction. At age 21, he enlisted in the military and was deployed to combat in Iraq. His military experience showed him discipline, how to serve his country and how to serve others. He’s been trying to bridge gaps with our communities for quite some time now.

Read more from Anthony Payton's interview with Cordan James Haveron here.

When I first met him, my immediate reaction to Cordan was that he was a young man with an old soul. He possesses the poise and discipline that are key to being a mentor. He manifests his talk, and he constantly seeks to uplift. He’s a welcome addition to my social media feeds.

A week or so before I sat with Cordan for an interview, I was at a Zoom conference that he invited me to as part of his fathering initiative called Fathering Together. He speaks fondly of his children. He’s the father of two boys and a biracial daughter whom he showers with his immense affection.

He’s very compassionate when listening to other fathers, and expresses his vulnerability by maintaining good communication skills with his young daughter. Again, the military being such a huge and proud portion of his history, he eventually drifts back into those memories of discipline and trusting the processes that he’s set for himself, tying it all together perfectly.

This guy gets it.

Making America great starts with individuals who are actively looking to uplift their communities. Men like Cordan are on the front line every day trying to make this a reality. Strengthening the marginalized within those communities eventually builds a stronger nation. This is how we can unite those with differences.

Cordan sacrificed and served his country in war. Since he’s been back home, he’s continued to serve this country by helping children, fathers and veterans. However, like most people of color, Cordan will voice his displeasure with the inequalities that he sees. He also takes issue with how Black people are treated in this country.

Does that make him less patriotic?

To those who would answer yes to that question: Criticism of America doesn’t mean you hate it any more than waving a flag and calling someone a traitor means you love it.

No one gets to dictate what patriotism is — or hijack it. Patriotism isn’t exclusive to one race.

Patriotism shouldn’t be measured by the number of American flags I have, the vehicle I drive or which news outlet I choose.

Cordan’s your neighbor — a neighbor who’s served his country and is now serving the community in New Hampshire. His stake in this country is just as important as anyone else’s.

He’s a shareholder who’s built his equity through selfless actions.

He‘s earned the right to voice his discontent when he feels the need.

Our children are watching us. They are the future of this nation. Let’s show them what patriotism is and not be so quick to judge each other.

You can find more of Anthony Payton's columns for the Common Ground Initiative here.

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