October 16, 2018
By David Riera, Volunteer

Miami’s 1st and Broward’s 1st platoons have two unique things in mind: environmental stewardship and youth development. It is within this cross-sectional focus that the two platoons come together and literally build community, one nail and wooden plank at time.

As a member of this community, I have found strength, not through the force of hands; wisdom, not through the wealth of experience; and kinship, not through the number of bodies. I have discovered these attributes and more, like empathy, kindness and sacrifice through their capacity to accept me as I am.

My Struggle to Find Acceptance

Growing up in Miami as an Afro-Hispanic American was difficult. Both of my parents were immigrants, one from Cuba and the other from Spain, and this is where I joined my first uncommon team of many to come.

My dad, a very learned man, read the following to me:

We came to America. Either ourselves or in the persons of our ancestors, to better the ideals of men, to make them see finer things than they seen before, to get rid of the things that divided and to make sure of the thing that united.

Woodrow Wilson

I reflect on this quote by Woodrow Wilson a lot with my dad, because this is a deeper understanding and illustration of the American Dream. A dream which many families from all over the world risk life and death to attain, sometimes for themselves, but more often for their children.

How the Military Surprised Me

My father never wanted me to join the military, as he had served in Spain and knew that a military life would a hard life, especially with the history of non-acceptance in the U.S. military from race to creed and from color to sexual orientation.

What a relief it was when I got to Parris Island and everyone was getting screamed at equally!

I learned at that recruit depot that we were all one color green with different shades, from light green to dark green and all the points in between. I didn’t know how I fit in, but I knew that I was on the green line of shades.

Then, I Lost My Green Family

After Iraq, returning to civilian life, I didn’t see the green continuum of shades anymore; I saw racism, ageism, and genderism, discrimination for being disabled (physically, mentally, and emotionally) or of a certain religious, social, or institutional background. I have even felt discriminated for being a veteran.

Losing my community truly obscured my identity.

My New, Blue Family

Three years ago in San Antonio, TX, I felt that identity resurge within me. Instead of a green line, I now stood on a blue line.

And yes, one might think we are Smurfs when we get together. Our sense of community (common + unity) is built during social events and service projects. We are like a lean, mean, green machine–some of us less lean and others a bit more mean, but we all come together to continue the mission. We don’t do this to just accomplish our own dreams, but so that we may help families, friends, neighborhoods and partner nonprofits realize theirs.

As Wilson said, and my dad would agree, we CAN break the barriers that divide us to ensure that things, places, and people stay united.

Now, alongside the nonprofit organization GEN2050, the Miami and Broward 1st platoons restored and rebuilt this community’s garden, a living laboratory for youth discovery and therapy.

I Went from Green to Blue, and You Can Too!

While the places and faces may change, the fact is that we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. There will always be a place for you to belong, and a mission to continue.

I invite you and your family to join our Smurfy group of blue-shirt volunteers.