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Betty Reid Soskin, the Nation’s Oldest Park Ranger Suffers Stroke

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “For now, we will need to hire in-home care to keep her safe and give her the best possible opportunity for recovery, recognizing that, at 98 years old, recovery is not a given,” Soskin’s son, Bob Reid, wrote on the GoFundMe site on Sept. 24. “We want her to have the best possible care during this challenge.”

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At 98, Betty Reid Soskin is the country's oldest park ranger. She's earned a bevy of honors, including from President Barack Obama.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Betty Reid Soskin is renowned for numerous reasons, including the insightful dissertations she regularly gives at the Rosie the Riveter Museum in Richmond, Virginia.

There, Soskin regularly speaks on Richmond’s history, race, and social change, including her own life as a black woman working at the city’s segregated union hall.

At 98, Soskin is the country’s oldest park ranger. She’s earned a bevy of honors, including from President Barack Obama.

Today, the famous park ranger is recovering from a stroke, and her son, Bob Reid, said expenses have continued to mount. Reid has started a GoFundMe campaign to help with medical care.

“For now, we will need to hire in-home care to keep her safe and give her the best possible opportunity for recovery, recognizing that, at 98 years old, recovery is not a given,” Bob Reid, wrote on the GoFundMe site on Sept. 24. “We want her to have the best possible care during this challenge.”

As of Oct. 19, $64,250 was raised by 926 donors. The goal is $100,000, which Reid said is based on an estimate of an in-home care person for eight hours a day for one year.

In a Facebook post on Sept. 22, Reid wrote that Soskin showed evidence of a stroke while working at the Rosie the Riveter World War II/Home Front National Historic Park. A visit to the hospital confirmed that fear.

“She continues to improve,” Reid later wrote. “She seems to be getting on with being alive! There is much to reconnect with. Thank you all for your support and for caring for her!”

In an Oct. 9 post, Reid said the International Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers, and Helpers, sent in a check for $10,000.

“The International Vice President, Tom Baca, told me about his first-time meeting Betty. He said it was at a big gathering,” Reid wrote.

“He was wearing his suit and had given a speech that he was pleased with and which had gotten an enthusiastic response from the crowd. He told me that as he was accepting congratulations and was feeling pretty good about things, this diminutive woman came up to him and said, ‘I will never forgive the Boilermakers for what they did to me.’ His stature shrunk. Hers grew.”

Reid continued:

“He proceeded to learn about the history of the Boilermakers and the ‘Auxiliary’ unions, which kept men of color out of the Union. Tom began to see things through a different lens and now says he is grateful to Betty.

“He said the Boilermakers Union now embraces and acknowledges that past.

“It was obvious that there was a deep caring in that office for my mother. I am grateful for his initiative to make this check happen! Thank you, Boilermakers Union, for your generous donation to Betty’s Fund.”

In a 2018 feature in Glamour, which named Soskin its “Woman of the Year,” the magazine noted that Soskin was 85 when she started work as a park ranger.

Soskin had worked as a field representative for California Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, who asked her to sit in on planning meetings for a new park.

During meetings, Soskin would enlighten those assembled with tales of history.

She “quickly saw that, if she didn’t speak up, the park would portray a whitewashed version of history,” according to Glamour.

“There was no conspiracy to leave my history out,” she says in the article. “There was simply no one in that room with any reason to know it.”

She regaled the audience with tales of working at an all-black union hall during World War II. Soskin said she briefly worked in an all-white branch of the Air Force – they didn’t realize she was black when they hired her.

Tom Leatherman, the park’s superintendent, told Glamour that Soskin motivated organizers to bring more people to the table. “Because of Betty, we made sure we had African American scholars review our films and exhibits. We also made sure we were looking out for other, often forgotten stories — Japanese American, Latino American, American Indian, and LGBTQ narratives — that were equally important.”

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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NNPA – Black Press w/ Hendriks Video Interview

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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