In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Elliot Goldman, chairman of the board at the National Leadership Foundation, and its CEO, Christine Jones, discuss the Freedom Streets banner initiative.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
When talking about veterans, the passion in Elliot Goldman’s voice is unmistakable.
Goldman, the chairman of the National Leadership Foundation board, helped launch the Freedom Streets banner initiative in Fort Worth.
The program honors veterans with banners parked along Camp Bowie Boulevard.
“Every combat veteran, everybody that went overseas and fought for our country,” Goldman said. “To be able to honor those — and we had four this time that were killed in action, that paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
The foundation has the ability to honor these veterans, Goldman said. Some veterans have recordings of their heroic acts overseas, but many don’t. They just were killed in action and they didn’t get a distinguished service cross, Goldman said.
“But their sacrifice was the same as the other veterans. And so for us to be able to honor them is just the neatest thing that we can do. I don’t want to forget the memories of those people, and it’s just important to us as an organization. It’s important to me personally, it’s important to Christine personally. We just really are privileged to be able to do this.”
Goldman and Jones sat down with Fort Worth Report managing editor Thomas R. Martinez to talk more about the banner initiative.
Martinez: Tell me about the genesis of this whole deal.
Goldman: The National Leadership Foundation does historic preservation. We have the opportunity during that project to honor people who are historically significant. We genuinely believe that everybody’s service is very, very important, especially combat veterans. We’re particularly passionate about combat veterans and we hadn’t had an opportunity or a way to honor them. I became familiar with the banner program, and I thought this was fantastic. And the way they did it (other cities we saw), we could never do it that way in Fort Worth. But I said, ‘How can we do this with the city of Fort Worth?’
And so we talked to a couple of partners and we had Higginbotham (an insurance company in Fort Worth) and there’s a foundation. Christine, the name of the foundation is?
Jones: It’s the Hamm Foundation.
Goldman: Hamm Foundation. And also Kelly Hart law firm. And we figured out how we could start the program and we got some help from them and Fort Worth Magazine.
And we launched the program. You know, we did 40 banners. The banner mix was a combination of two active duty people from the First Army of the United States, the veterans who are continuing to serve their community today in other organizations that help veterans. We try to feature those people as well.
And three Medal of Honor recipients. We felt like it was important to honor the three Medal of Honor recipients who were killed in action. There are four (Medal of Honor recipients) from Fort Worth, but three of them were killed in action.
We chose to honor them as well, so that was kind of the genesis. And Christine worked tirelessly to get the thing put together between creating the banners and getting them done and coordinating the art and getting the artwork from the veterans, getting the photographs from the veterans. It’s been a really, really fun, challenging and rewarding project.
Martinez: How can people get involved with this? I think Christine mentioned you’re doing this through the end of the month. So what can people do now to get involved or help you out?
Goldman: OK. There are a couple of things. We’d like to do this again. We have to get the banner space from the city, or the organizations that control the banners. And so we’ve left the website up. We said it would take a year to do the first grouping. And so we actually set a target date for the month of Fourth of July. (Now it’s) how we’re going to do it, moving forward as people want to have banners put up.
As soon as we get enough people that have committed to do the banners, then what we’re gonna do is we’ll go to the entities now that we know how to do it. And we’ll put them up again at an appropriate time, whether that’s Veterans Day, Memorial Day month, or 4th of July, whenever we can get the banners and we have enough participation.
If somebody wants to do it now and they want to honor a veteran, they can just go to the Freedom Streets website, fill out an application. And once we have enough applications based upon the number of banners that we have for an allocation, then we’ll be able to do the program again.
Martinez: Is there a magic number you’re looking for for that?
Goldman: Not really. This grouping was 40, and that’s a pretty good number to gather together. We’re going to work with the city to see if we can get a smaller gathering for this grouping so that we can do it more frequently.
But for sure, once we get 40, we have the banner space and we can continue to do it.
Martinez: So how did the Camp Bowie location come about this time? (Most of the banners are placed along the main intersections along Camp Bowie)
Goldman: Downtown Fort Worth Inc. has a banner program, but they have 70 banner spaces. And then the city of Fort Worth has about 15 in some specific areas that we might be able to work with the city on depending on banner space allocations.
There are a lot of different places that we might have the opportunity to do it, but we think it is so great. As, as you know, we work on lots of charitable and philanthropic projects and we’ve partnered with historic Camp Bowie in the past for banner space. We have a good working relationship with them and they were really excited to honor our veterans. And so we’re able to work with them on it.
Martinez: Why is it important to you personally?
Goldman: So it’s pretty simple. I’m one of these guys that’s not confused. In other words, I understand that I get to wake up every morning and kiss my wife and spend time with my family because there are people that are willing to go on and fight for us.
It’s that simple. If you don’t have that, you have absolutely nothing. The challenges that veterans face, especially combat veterans, when they come back, the transition back into civilian life is not an easy process. I don’t think we do a good job as a society in the reintegration process.
And so we support a lot of programs. We very much like the Recovery Resource Council program that has EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, a form of psychotherapy) for people who are coming back. We also like Roll Call Fort Worth, a program where they get veterans together for lunch once a month. Anything we can do or that we can help with that process for combat veterans and for those killed in action or for gold star families. I am not confused as to why I get to live as a free person.
Martinez: That’s good. I appreciate that. So for this round, you commissioned an artist to do the banners, is that correct?
Goldman: There are a few banner programs around the country. And so we were inspired by the previous people that had done banner programs, and Christine and I just kind of did the layout to the best of our ability. We had a person named Chris Robinson who also helped us with the design of the banners. We wanted to have as big a picture as possible of the veteran.
We think that’s important and it’s just fun. It was interesting. Sometimes it’s hard to get photos of the veterans, especially the Vietnam veterans. It was really interesting because I talked to one of them and I asked them why it’s so hard.
He goes, ‘Well, most people made slides in the 1970s, so they didn’t print the thing out. They just had slides, everything went directly to slides.’ I was like, that’s great, makes sense. That was one of the more interesting parts.
The other thing that was interesting is we make banners for lots of different nonprofit programs. Every single one of these banners has to be hand created, so it’s an expensive process. They’re all individualized. It’s not like you can run a hundred of them and then throw them up on the poles.
Every single one of them has to be done. You have to work with each individual veteran on it. It’s very labor intensive. It’s a privilege to do it, but it’s been a very different program than we normally run in our banner communications programs.
Martinez: What else should people know about the banner program?
Goldman: Let me think about that. And Christine, do you have anything that I haven’t covered about it?
Jones: Well, I was going to mention two things. So the banners are really neat. After the program is finished, the families get to keep the banners and I’m hearing so many comments about the families that are excited to be able to keep them and show them off to the grandchildren and down the generations.
That’s really special to them. The other thing that I think is important is that the veterans may not be with us anymore, but the banners are also honoring their families. The families get to drive by and show them off and take pictures and talk about their loved one that may be gone now. And in fact, all of the social media posts that we’re doing, I don’t know if you had a chance to see the Facebook page, but we’re also honoring the families because they made a sacrifice as well.
I think it’s important to mention that.
Martinez: You drive by and you see these banners up there, but how big are they? Do you have a size off the top of your head, how big they actually are?
Jones: Yeah, actually they are 96 inches by 30 inches. They’re double-sided. And then they have like a little seam, you know, for the pole to go through. But 96 inches by 30 inches.
Martinez: That’s what? Eight feet tall. That’s pretty good.
Goldman: Yeah. They’re big banners.
Jones: They’re not all that size in the different places around the city.
They have different sizes. So like, if you go downtown Fort worth, they’re a little smaller. The city ones are really big, but in Camp Bowie, that’s the size.
Goldman: There are two other elements to it. There’s certain parts of the program that excite me a lot. One is that I do a lot of nonprofit work and we got a lot of buy in from some community leaders. Like Charlie Powell (president and CEO of Ciera Bank) was super helpful and wonderful about the project. And we had help from him. The other thing is, it’s great to be able to also call attention to the organizations.
As I said, Roll Call and these other organizations that are helping veterans after their service. We really love that promotional piece of the project. And of course, for Christine and I, it’s so rewarding when we get pictures with the family standing underneath the banners with the big smiles and seeing the Facebook post of the veterans that are being honored. They get to blast out that the city’s honoring them and it’s just a feel-good project all around.
Martinez: Well, I enjoyed meeting both of you and talking with you and learning about the program. I think it’s a really nice thing that you guys are doing.
Goldman: If people want to participate, they can go to the Freedom Streets website, they can call the office. It’s simple. It can all be done online if they want and then just email the photographs to us. Christine, I don’t wanna speak for you, but you love the interaction with these guys. I mean, sometimes you get the family and the absolute joy that you see in the families that are able to honor these guys. It’s pretty special, isn’t it?
Jones: Yeah. That’s my favorite part of the project is when they call, I get to talk to them and then of course, then you hear all the stories. I mean, it takes time, but it’s a joy and it’s a privilege to work with these men. Truly. I love it.
Disclosure: Fort Worth Report Board member Marianne Auld is a managing partner at Kelly Hart. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.
Thomas R. Martinez is the managing editor of the Fort Worth Report. He’s a military veteran who served in the Army, including a tour in Operation Desert Shield/Storm during the Persian Gulf War. You can contact him via email or on Twitter.