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Richmond Heights was founded for Black veterans. Every year, students there celebrate them

Fifth grade students Nyla Ashby, Richard Bishop and Prabhav Pande pose for a photo at Frank C. Martin International K-8 Center in Miami on Nov. 9, 2023. For more than a decade, the school has welcomed service members to campus for its annual Veterans Day celebration.
Kate Payne
/
WLRN
Fifth grade students Nyla Ashby, Richard Bishop and Prabhav Pande pose for a photo at Frank C. Martin International K-8 Center in Miami on Nov. 9, 2023. For more than a decade, the school has welcomed service members to campus for its annual Veterans Day celebration.

The cafeteria at Frank C. Martin International K-8 Center was festooned with flags and hand-colored red, white and blue stars this week as service members and their families sat down for a breakfast of biscuits and gravy.

Waiting for them on the tables were hand-written notes from students with messages like “thank you for your courage” and “thank you for protecting us."

Veterans Day is a big deal for the school in the Richmond Heights area of Southwest Miami-Dade, where every year students and staff welcome veterans to be honored and celebrated. The neighborhood was founded for Black veterans returning from World War II and is still home to many service members.

At the event on Thursday morning, a color guard from the Miami Killian Senior High School JROTC marched in, while the school’s band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Taps.”

Air Force veteran Ray Ballou says he couldn't miss this year's event — his granddaughter Mya was so excited to have him visit her school. She’s in third grade.

“There’s my baby right there!” Ballou said, pointing her out.

“It’s a great feeling because nowadays a lot of folks will say thank you for your service. And to me it was a privilege to serve my country," he said. "It's a lot ... but it's worth it."

Air Force veteran Ray Ballou and his granddaughter Mya fill a care package for a service member during a Veterans Day celebration at Frank C. Wright International K-8 Center in the Richmond Heights neighborhood of Miami on Nov. 9, 2023.
Kate Payne
/
WLRN
Air Force veteran Ray Ballou and his granddaughter Mya fill a care package for a service member during a Veterans Day celebration at Frank C. Martin International K-8 Center in the Richmond Heights neighborhood of Miami on Nov. 9, 2023.

Celebration has run for more than a decade

The Veterans Day celebration at FCM has been running for more than a decade, according to Assistant Principal Robert Hoel, who himself is a veteran. It’s a way to drive home for students the meaning of service, and to help them understand the history and heritage of their community.

“I feel like veterans need to be recognized,” said fifth grader Richard Bishop. “And they offer a lot to us children of the United States. They offer freedom, a better place to live, and lots of other things.”

This year, local veterans and students worked together to make care packages to send to the 1st Brigade, 11th Airborne Division based in Fairbanks, AK, where the son of one of the school’s teachers is stationed.

Students at Frank C. Martin International K-8 Center in Miami made handwritten notes for local service members as part of the school's annual Veterans Day celebration.
Kate Payne
/
WLRN
Students at Frank C. Martin International K-8 Center in Miami made handwritten notes for local service members as part of the school's annual Veterans Day celebration.

“These guys are out in the field. And they only have about six hours of daylight per day,” Hoel said. “I wanted to make sure that they felt love from us here in Richmond Heights.”

Service members and their students stuffed mailing boxes with snacks, coffee, sunscreen and hand warmers — a critical creature comfort for South Florida natives based at Fort Wainwright, where it’s forecast to be a low of 10 degrees on Saturday.

Another new addition for this year’s celebration — a parade. The idea came from Air Force veteran and FCM mom Jenanne Durham, who has two kids currently enrolled at the school. She says she wanted to reach more veterans in the broader Richmond Heights community who may not have the ability to travel to the school for the event.

“Let’s take it out to the community,” Durham said. “For those that aren’t able to get out here with us, let’s go out to them and show them how much we care and thank them as well for their service.”

Air Force veteran Jenanne Durham poses for a photo with her kids at Frank C. Martin International K-8 Center during a Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 9, 2023.
Kate Payne
/
WLRN
Air Force veteran Jenanne Durham poses for a photo with her kids at Frank C. Martin International K-8 Center during a Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 9, 2023. It was Durham's idea for students at the school to put on a parade for local service members.

Principal Elianeys Basulto said unfortunately the students weren’t able to parade around the neighborhood on Thursday as planned, due to a shortage of school police officers to cover the event, but she hopes to continue to expand the celebration next year.

And scores of students still got to march around the school grounds, led by a color guard and the guests of honor — the local vets.

“Today’s the day! Hooray hooray!” students cheered. “Hooray hooray! Veterans Day!”

A historic home for Black veterans

Since its founding, Richmond Heights has been a home for Black veterans. World War II veteran and Pan American Airways pilot Frank Crawford Martin — who the school is named after — established the planned development specifically to provide quality, affordable housing to African American service members who risked their lives for their country in World War II, but returned home to a Jim Crow society that treated them as second class citizens.

Black veterans were largely barred from many of the signature benefits of the G.I. Bill — free education, unemployment pay and home loans. Those benefits catapulted many white veterans into the middle class, further widening the wealth gap between white and Black Americans.

According to the Miami Times, Martin was only able to secure federal financing for the development of Richmond Heights by reaching out to a former West Point classmate, who was then an aide to President Harry Truman.

READ MORE: An 'anomaly' of the South: How Black and white settlers worked together in Palm Beach County

With Federal Housing Administration funding secured, the neighborhood went on to become known as a “Shangri-La”for Black families. It offered a “planned community of wide curving streets, concrete sidewalks, and modern homes” in what was then a rural stretch of southwest Miami-Dade County — with “no neighbors to fight the proposed development”, according to the Richmond Heights Community Development Corporation.

Fifth grader Nyla Ashby says she and her classmates have learned a lot about the history of the area and the namesake of their school.

“It’s very important to us because the founder of the school, Frank Crawford Martin … he was actually a veteran,” she said. “And he built this place for his fellow veterans to have a place to sleep at night.”

Students cheer on a Veterans Day parade at Frank C. Martin International K-8 Center in Miami on Nov. 9, 2023. The neighborhood was founded for Black veterans returning from World War II and the area is still home to many service members.
Kate Payne
/
WLRN
Students cheer on a Veterans Day parade at Frank C. Martin International K-8 Center in Miami on Nov. 9, 2023. The neighborhood was founded for Black veterans returning from World War II and the area is still home to many service members.

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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