CINCINNATI, OH – Even at a young age, Gary Dent was a leader and champion in his community. He grew up playing the piano at his church, participated in an all-Black boy scout troop and was the president of his student council at Norfolk State, a Historically Black College/University (HBCU).
From childhood leader to military officer to veteran, one thing has remained a constant: Gary’s passion to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.
FIGHTING FOR JUSTICE – ON HIS OWN TERMS
Gary’s story takes off in the late 1960s. As the Vietnam War waged on, there was widespread fear of being drafted into the military and being sent overseas with little to no choice in the matter. Gary decided to stay in college with hopes of avoiding the draft until the war ended – but there was no end in sight. While in school, Gary decided that if he was going into the Army, he was going on his own terms and as an officer. He went through Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), and after graduation, entered the military with his brother, Larry H. Dent.
The culture shock of plunging into the armed forces after a world of academia was unexpected. It was 1972 and not only was the Vietnam War happening, but race relations in the United States were tense.
“Why should we fight for a country that doesn’t accept us?”
Questions like this ran through Gary’s mind as a Black man in the military. And he wasn’t the only one. His military friends and his brother were also questioning their dedication to defending a country full of people who would not defend them based on their race.
There were very few Black people in leadership roles, and when Gary became a lieutenant in charge of an all-white unit, he didn’t always get the respect his military rank deserved. One gentleman even said he couldn’t work for a Black man. Gary’s previous leadership experience and expertise helped him overcome these culture shocks and set an example for his team. By persevering, he served in the military, Army Sigma Corps Artillery Combat Engineers, for 13 years of active duty, reserve and national guard.
STANDING UP TO INJUSTICE
Many veterans have a hard time transitioning back to civilian life, but Gary considers himself one of the lucky ones. He was able to translate his skills from the military into a position at an automotive industry company on the assembly line as a supervisor before moving to human resources. While in the HR department, Gary discovered that other military officer new hires who worked for an automotive industry company with similar or even less credentials were paid more and given higher positions than himself, while also being given less authority and fewer responsibilities – and they were all white males.
Gary walked away from his job as a way to fight against the inequality. When his superiors confronted him about his absence, Gary told them he couldn’t work somewhere that turned a blind eye to such injustices. The automotive industry company ultimately made it right, Gary received the promotion he deserved, and he continued to fight for equal treatment of other Black, women, Hispanic and Latino employees.
A HERO TO EASTERSEALS REDWOOD
His experience in the 70s at General Motors is one of the reasons Gary believes so strongly in the mission of Easterseals Redwood. Like Gary, Easterseals Redwood gives voice and support to people without resources or power to navigate systems not designed for them – whether they are disabled, veterans or otherwise disenfranchised.
“Easterseals Redwood has really great clients,” said Gary. “You can tell they are great people. They take care of their children and spouses and care about this country. We need to start with the assumption that people are great. Sometimes they just need someone to believe in them so they can fly.”
As a Board Member for nearly six years, Gary has embraced the responsibility, along with the rest of the board, to ensure that the organization is fulfilling its mission to work toward advancing 100% equity, access and workforce inclusion for people with disabilities, those facing economic disadvantages and veterans.
Gary serves as chair of the Military & Veteran Services Committee, working with Easterseals Redwood’s team of veterans supporting veterans. “I am so proud of the staff at Easterseals Redwood, but in particular, the Military & Veteran Services (program),” said Gary. “They are just great people who served their country and continue to serve their country by doing this great and important work.”
Gary became more interested in helping to bring the F-U-N into Easterseals Redwood’s fundraising efforts when Easterseals Redwood caught his attention at the Western & Southern Tennis Tournament. Local veterans from Military & Veterans Services were honored during the event. He became involved and Gary is proud of new Easterseals Redwood events like the Honor Ride, which brings people together and raises funds for local veterans. The annual bike ride at Miami Whitewater Park encourages participants to get outside, exercise and meet veterans from all service branches and thank them for their service. Gary’s “Team Dent” Honor Ride Team was the 6th place Top Fundraising Team, pulling in over $8200 in donations.
Gary is a wonderful example of volunteer leadership – sharing his life experiences in service to others. He continues to fight for justice for the marginalized by supporting organizations that align with his beliefs. And while he is an inspiration to others, he lets others inspire him.
“The thing that inspires me the most, is people helping people,” said Gary. “When I see it, I get inspired to do more. It’s helping someone cross the street or helping someone who decides they want to make a career change. It’s looking at a person not based on their past but based on their potential. That inspires me.”