Recognizing the F.A.C.E.S of our military veterans
“I come from a long line of hard-working men. My father worked for 43 years as a longshoreman, loading and unloading ships. He became vice president of ILA Local 12. My grandfather was a porter on the trains. Both of these great men had an influence on me and I am named after them.”
Harrison Booker III speaks proudly and fondly about his father and his grandfather who had a great influence on him. As a young boy, he saw these men get up every morning and head to their jobs. He remembers the stories told by his grandfather and this resulted in a strong work ethic being instilled in him.
“Parents have a more challenging job today as they raise their children,” he goes on to say. “Additionally, there are fewer fathers in our homes today.”
Harrison believes that in today’s society, wages and benefits are lower and more scarce. This, he says, adds to the pressures families face and these factors have taken a toll on African American men.
Harrison grew up in the Roosevelt Road area in the ABLA Homes of Chicago. He smiles as he remembers what fun he had in this neighborhood in the 1960s. “I knew about the dangers of gangs and drugs,” he says, “but my parents worked hard to keep me and my two sisters and brother away from risky behaviors and safe.”
The backbone of the Booker family was his mother, Francine Joy. Her influence on him was huge. Booker smiles as he talks about this beautiful, outspoken, and articulate woman who was determined to “raise my kids in the right way.”
Professionally, she was a paralegal and knew how to balance her work and family life with her activism in the community and the Westside Organization. Gaddi Ben Dan worked with her and agrees with Harrison that she was a “force to be reckoned with.” Her activism also included involvement with the Urban Progress Center. She passed away in 1996 but her drive and outspokenness are two of the traits that Harrison carries with him as he builds on the work he is presently doing.
As a young man, Booker joined the Navy in 1979 and was sent to boot camp in San Diego, California. The first ship he was on was captained by a civilian and had a mix of personnel. It was a supply ship that took supplies to other ships. During this time, Booker visited several countries, namely Spain, Italy, and Portugal and for his last 18 months he was in Hawaii. The Navy was an enjoyable experience but he missed home and wanted to go back to Chicago and get into radio.
He returned to the Windy City and for 16 years he worked in radio sales, produced commercials, and did voice-overs. Well known radio station WVON gave him his first start in sales and he was fortunate enough to meet the great radio personalities including Herb Kent, the “Cool Gent” and “Big Bill” Hill. His mother went to school with Soul Train creator and host Don Cornelius. Harrison is part of that legacy, having been on this show where, “you could be proud of your high school and neighborhood.” One feels his pride when he talks about his growing up years, neighborhood, and family.
He also likes to talk about his love for music, jazz, and blues. It’s a love he has had all of his life. “There is nothing like a live jazz or blues concert,” he says. He has thought about seeking ways to bring music artists to Madison. And, although his major focus is on building the capacity of his non-profit, he is considering bringing the two together, one (live jazz) that could fund the other (his non-profit). Harrison’s energy, enthusiasm, and desire to be a change agent brought him to Madison.
In 1983, Harrison came to Madison because he wanted “to do something different.” His family encouraged him to come because of the opportunities he would have. He came but was not impressed. Where were the opportunities people spoke about? He was not aware of any in the fields he was interested in, so after three years, he headed back to Chicago and radio sales. Harrison’s interest in Madison remained and in 2004 he returned, seeking better health care and he found out about the Veterans Administration (VA) which he felt could give him some support.
His experience with the VA, gave him up close and personal situations that helped him understand the challenges and obstacles that many veterans face as they navigate systems. As he looked for assistance, Harrison experienced problems and became passionate about helping others who were like him. These are men and women who served their country and want what we all want, a life that allows one to be productive, raise a family and make contributions to community. “How can I do this?” he asked himself.
Just recently, he read that there are 48,000 vets across this country who are homeless. As he gave more thought to the situations that he and other vets face, he began to create a plan that would provide coaching, counseling, and other services for Veterans.
“I would like to build a network of support that matches vets with vets who help each other,” Booker says. These thoughts have resulted in an organization, F.A.C.E.S , Inc. (Freely Assisting Citizens Economic Situations), a non-profit that is pursuing a 501c(3) status and will undertake these services.
The name F.A.C.E.S. was chosen because as he says, “This is not just about the faces of the vets, but it is also the face of the community coming together to leave no vet behind. It is about all faces in the country coming together to make this country a great place to live, work, and raise families.”
Harrison is building his organization, step by step, meeting others in the community and finding those who share his interest and values.
Realizing that this plight of vets is local as well as national, Harrison solicited the help of his brother, Howard Booker, and a friend, Vincent Moody, in Syracuse, New York, who are heading up an office there. Housing has been secured in Syracuse.
His goal is to expand to other cities across the country over the next six years. Ambitious as this is, his plan includes building meaningful relationships, fund-raising, and creating partnerships and sponsorships. He has begun here in Madison and has reached out to resources that can help him realize his dream. Harrison Booker is a dreamer and a doer. He is quiet but forceful and is determined to carry on the legacy of his mother as he pushes forward in her honor.