Two years ago, a few military veterans who attend Bryant Temple A.M.E. Church approached Pastor Clyde W. Oden, Jr., requesting to open an American Legion Post on the campus.
The unique request would actually fulfill Dr. Oden’s vision to offer tailored community outreach to vets. Working closely with member Robert Miller and other congregants, Dr. Oden’s dream became reality with the establishment of the American Legion Bryant Temple A.M.E. Church Post #109 in May 2012.
Reflecting on the accomplishment, Dr. Oden said, “The fact that we were perhaps the first Black church to ever do this was a challenge, rather than an obstacle.
“I always wanted Bryant Temple to be known as a church friendly to military veterans and there was no better way to make that happen than to have an American Legion Post as part of our ministry,” he said.
Since opening, Post 109 has exploded in membership and activities, according to Miller who served as the founding Commander.
“This ‘new’ Post now is the fastest growing American Legion Post in District 24 and has the sixth fastest growth in percentage increase in the entire state of California,” he noted.
“The Legion’s programs range from honoring veterans to providing services to the jobless and homeless to comforting the wounded and advocating for more rights and services for veterans.
“Youth-oriented services include scouting, scholarships and athletic events. These are all important features of the American Legion and we wanted to have a presence in the community and in the faith community,” explained Miller.
“Our Post sponsors youth trips to Dodger and Angel baseball games and to UCLA women’s basketball games. We are also a regular participant in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Kingdom Day parade,” added Pastor Oden.
Citing additional achievements, Pastor Oden shared, “Post 109 just elected Ruth Harris as its new Commander making her the first female to lead a Post in California. We are excited to witness her breaking that ‘glass ceiling’!”
Also, the Post was recently honored by the American Legion’s Department of California for its scouting programs. The unit earned awards for the Best All-around Scouting Effort, Post Chartering Outstanding Cub Pack, Post Chartering Outstanding Troop and Post Chartering Outstanding Girl Scout Unit. In addition, outgoing Commander Miller received the Outstanding District Chairman award.
“The vision is being realized,” said Pastor Oden. “We are reaching out to those men and women who have served our country, and providing them with a loving faith community that not only welcomes their membership, but honors their service to our nation.”
The pastor’s affinity for military veterans stems from his childhood experiences.
“I am a Navy brat. My father was a career member of the U.S. Navy where he first served in the segregated military. The options for a Black man joining the service in the 1930’s was to be a steward ‘servant’ or cook ‘servant’ to other enlisted men and officers,” he recalled.
“By the time my father retired 26 years later, he had ascended to the highest level for an enlisted person and he taught his children respect for those who had or were serving our nation.
“Eventually, the military got it right in terms of respecting all persons regardless of race, gender and sexual orientation.”
As the U.S. prepares to celebrate Independence Day, Dr. Oden observed, “I am grateful to have lived long enough to see the election and re-election of President Barack Hussein Obama. However, my heart is heavy for what is still the plight of the majority of African Americans and other people of color in this country.
“It is with mixed emotions that I see the celebration about the Independence of the United States, and I still see the prisons, jails, detention centers and skid rows filled for people of color.
“I can’t celebrate with enthusiasm until I can see a way clear to empty our prisons, detention centers and homeless encampments of our people.”
To learn more about services offered for veterans and youth at American Legion Bryant Temple A.M.E. Church Post 109, call (323) 293-6201.