Lisa Hunter and Talia Molé, Part 1: Creating a Prosperous Community in Richmond, Calif., Helping Veterans Transition

lisahunter.jpg

"I felt the disconnect from my community, I felt the disconnect from people who look like me. I felt that I didn’t relate to people who look like me and it was pretty problematic. I had to educate myself on who I was and the world." 

 

This week, I sat down with Lisa Hunter and Talia Mole, who are starting a nonprofit called “Carved Space” in the San Francisco Bay Area. I met these two amazing women last year at the California Institute of Integral Studies (San Francisco) in the Anthropology and Social Change program, where they are getting their PhDs and where I graduated with my master’s last May (2015).

Part 1 focuses on the Carved Space nonprofit along with Lisa’s experience in the Navy and how that has helped create a veteran side of the nonprofit. Part 2 focuses on Talia’s project that gives a platform to childfree women, and another nonprofit that she’s a part of about autonomous education.

Tell me about the nonprofit that you're starting called, Carved Space.

Lisa: This is an idea that Talia and I have had for a year and we’re still in the planning stage. When I think of Carved Space, I think of it as a community center in an urban area. We’re looking at Richmond and Oakland, California. Not just here in the United States but all around the world, people don’t have the space for safety, people don’t have the space for education, people don’t have the space to eat well. We want to provide people with the space to prosper in any way that they want to.

For me, my inspiration came from moving to Richmond, California. There’s a high crime rate, high poverty rate, and, frankly, I really wasn’t used to being around a lot of crime. I never lived in a community where there was a lot of crime. I wasn’t faced with people who struggled with education, nutrition-good nutrition, so that’s where my inspiration came from, just wanting to be an advocate for people who need advocacy.

Who are the people that this nonprofit is for?

I think anyone in Richmond, really. It’s not just for people who struggle with having education. I look at is as an organization that would benefit everyone in the community. It would benefit the schools because we talk about bridging mentors with education leaders, with parents. Also, getting city officials’ businesses involved, so it’s more of a collaboration between different legs of the community.

What kinds of services are you going to offer?

Mentoring. Tutoring. Stem education. Counseling. Coding, since it’s big right now. Restorative Justice. That’s more with the kids but also we have a veteran leg of it and I’ll let Talia speak more about that.

You are a veteran. Is that partly what inspired this?

To be honest, no. Actually, the veteran aspect of it is Talia’s idea. I was more focused on the kids.

When you say kids, how old are you thinking?

We would love to touch every kid, every age group, but our main focus is going to be 5th graders going into middle school. It’s an age where they’re old enough where they don’t need as much supervision and they’re still malleable. I think it’s proven that the earlier you catch kids, the easier it is to succeed in the endeavor that they want to achieve.

Talia, tell me about the veteran side.

Talia: When I first met Lisa in class, she had something about her, so I knew that whatever she was going to do I had to join her. When we were chatting about her wanting to do mentorship, that’s when I knew I could help out. I focused my masters in mentorship. I used to work with children through mentorship programs and counseling. I believe in sharing knowledge and I had all this knowledge on children and mentorship and verbage and books, and wanted to offer that to her. In the hopes that she would ask me to come on board. When I like an idea, I think about it a lot and I really like what she is doing, so I constantly kept thinking about what other knowledge do I have that I can share with her so that she can bring this off the ground and, hopefully, ask me to join her.

The relationship of the nonprofit within the capitalist system dawned on me. You have to think like a capitalist, where are we getting the monies from? It got me thinking, how is this nonprofit going to compete with the pillars of the community like the boys and girls club and other nonprofits that have been around for many years? Lisa was my inspiration for including veterans because she’s a vet. So, I see it as a whole thing. How do we take a pool of money and help the most people that we can, not just children, but our vets are being underserved as well. There are so many different pockets of people that are being underserved. There is money, you just need to know how to market yourself and know where to pull it from. My idea was to take the vets and make them the mentors, so this becomes a project of transition, it’s a transition for them and it’s also first employment coming out of the military because they don’t really have many choices. There’s no help for that reintegration into society, so how beautiful it is to have a program of mentorship where you can actually re-integrate in a natural process of trust and community and relationship, especially with kids when they’re transitioning as well. I presented this idea to Lisa and she liked it. That’s when she asked me to be co-founder and I was like, YES! We’ve presented it to a couple of cities (Richmond and Oakland) and they love the idea because there is so much money to be given.

Tell me more about how Carved Space would help Veterans transition?

Lisa: Often times, the transition back into the so called “civilian” world is difficult for Veterans.  First of all, in the military, we are taken away from our home communities, we serve overseas, we go on deployment. It’s just a different lifestyle. Even the language is different. So, a lot of times the transition back into civilian life is difficult. A lot of veterans have families so there’s a big rush to get a job. Even though there’s a push to hire veterans, the transition is not that smooth. You still have companies that look down on the military. They’re against war efforts. There are some companies that hire military members but there are a lot that don’t. Our nonprofit gives veterans a soft place to land where they are not in such a rush to jump into a job that they might not fit into well.

In the military, you hurry up and get things done and that way of working doesn’t always work in the civilian life. You don’t fit. So, you may get hired but how long will you last? There’s not a lot of data on veterans who get a job, but then are gone within 2-3 months, whether it’s the veteran’s idea to leave or the company’s. But a lot of times, the job doesn’t last because they haven’t been able to transition back into the civilian way of life. Carved Space is a soft spot and we would also allow them the opportunity, not just to mentor as their job, but also to be educated on the veteran benefits that are due to them. Instead of just working all day, they’ll have time to check into the VA to find out the program that is available to them.

Who is funding Carved Space, or where are you looking for funding?

Lisa: Right now, it’s going to be personally funded. Starting on a small scale, of course, because the budget is limited. And hopefully, when we get off the ground, we can get some type of corporate sponsorship. Chevron is one we’re looking into because it is the largest corporation in Richmond. We have to be in existence for a year before we could get sponsorship from Chevron.

Talia: We’re waiting on our status. So, here in California, it takes five years to get your 501 c 3 Status, which is the nonprofit status, but we’re trying to get a fiscal partnership or sponsorship. I have a friend who is willing to do it. Any monies that come through us will go through him, who’s an established nonprofit until we get our status through. So, hopefully, pretty soon, we’ll have the funds to get it off the ground.

Lisa, I’m curious if you could talk about your experience in the Navy…?

Lisa: I was in the Navy for 21 years and then retired. Initially, I started off as an electrician and I did that for 13 years, then the last eight years, I was a Navy counselor in recruiting so I recruited women and men into the military.

lisahunternavy.jpg

"I felt that I always had to be a lot stronger, work a lot harder, especially in the engineering field that I was in because it was a field that was geared towards men."

 

What was it like being a queer woman of color in the military?

Lisa: It was stressful because I never was a queer woman in the military. It was hidden. Don’t ask, don’t tell. I was never OUT in the military so there was a double life that I led. Now, it’s different. After I retired, people are openly gay or queer in the military. I would assume that it’s less of a big deal but I really can’t say because I don’t know what’s going on in the military right now. I just know that, now, people can serve openly. But when I was in, I was living a double life, and when you can’t be who you are that adds a lot of stress.

As a woman in the military, I think it depends on who you ask, but for me, I felt that I always had to be a lot stronger, work a lot harder, especially in the engineering field that I was in because it was a field that was geared towards men. There was always a constant stress too with there being more men than women. There was always that attention that you get from the guys, the constant flirting, the constant comments; it just becomes built in where that’s the way it is. There’s a lot of sexual harassment and, a lot of times, nothing happens even when the guys get caught. And I think it’s accepted, sometimes, even by the women who are receiving the attention because it’s the way it is and you have to learn how to deal with it or fight it off. I tried to keep boundaries and never let anyone get too familiar with me where they felt that they could just say anything to me.

You grew up in Kentucky. Can you tell me a little bit about what that was like?

Lisa: I left Kentucky when I was 18. When I joined the Navy, I left, but I remember it being segregated. Black and white neighborhoods. Now, it’s more integrated but it’s separated by socio-economic differences. When I was there, it was more blacks over here and whites over there, but now it’s poor blacks and whites over here and more prosperous blacks and whites over there. I moved out to the Bay Area in 2003 with the Navy. I retired from the Navy in 2007; I had a choice of going to different areas but I chose the Bay Area because of its diversity.

Lisa, I just wanted to ask you about the Anthropology and Social Change PhD program. I’m wondering what inspired you to go into it and what do you hope it gives you? What do you want to do with it?

What inspired me to go into the program is that I felt that I needed to strengthen my foundation on the injustices, not just in the world, but in the United States and in my community in Richmond. I felt the disconnect from my community, I felt the disconnect from people who look like me. I felt that I didn’t relate to people who look like me and it was pretty problematic. I had to educate myself on who I was and the world.

Everything that I’m getting from the program is going to go directly into the non-profit and it’s going into me. Most of all, I’m finding myself in the program because I was blinded by the capitalist world. I was unaware. I served 21 years in the military, so my mindset was totally patriotic, and I’m breaking out of that.

The broad question of my thesis is discovering the visible and invisible barriers that prevent veterans from receiving care from the VA. Some of the invisible barriers are veterans not knowing that they need care. It could be something as simple as the VA being geographically far away. It could be a proudness in veterans where they may be walking around with all their limbs and not think they need care, but they might need mental or emotional care. Normally, when you go into the military, you’re told that you’re going to get benefits, that you’re going to get a job, that you’re going to get an education. I don’t think the average veteran goes in thinking that they’re going to come out with PTSD or a lost limb or lost hearing. We don’t talk about that. I’ve been a recruiter, so we don’t talk about the things that could go wrong. We talk about the things that could go right.