By Bonnie Newman Davis
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’
— Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Shortly after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, civil rights leaders and black elected officials throughout the country called for a national holiday to honor King, who dedicated his life to pursuing equal rights for all people. The push for a King holiday was realized in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan signed legislation designating the third Monday in January as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This year marks the 30th anniversary since the federal holiday was celebrated legally in 1986.
The King holiday is celebrated or observed in schools, workplaces, community facilities and churches throughout the country and in various parts of the world. Often leading such observances are individuals who embody the courage, compassion, integrity, inspiration and vision displayed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Urban Views Weekly is proud to feature in this issue two Richmond-area individuals, who not only believe in the teachings and work of Dr. King, but display many of his characteristics and qualities in their own lives and in helping the lives of others. They are Urban Views Weekly’s Visionaries 2016.
Henry Mack served honorably as a warrant officer in the U.S. Navy, with stints in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967. He retired as a chief warrant officer, filled with a love for his country and proud of his role in “ensuring Democracy and the American way of life,” he said.
After the war, Mack worked in construction for several years in New Jersey before moving to Richmond to attend Virginia Union University. He earned a degree in business administration and later started a construction company that specialized in renovation. While successful in college and his construction business, Mack was less successful overcoming the disabilities, including post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), that came home with him from Vietnam.
Mack filed a claim for his disabilities in 1968, the same year in which Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. The claim was initially denied. It would be 1998, 30 years later, that the claim was settled or “ejudicated,” said Mack. Continuing to pursue the claim was worth the effort, said Mack, adding that his military training and staying focused helped him while pursuing his claim.
The lengthy claim process prompted Mack to start an organization to help other veterans facing obstacles and struggles similar to his own. In 1997, Mack founded Veterans Helping Veterans Now (VHVNOW) a nonprofit organization that works with U.S. Veterans and non-veterans, men and women, who are homeless, incarcerated or have been incarcerated. The organization, which has served 1,000 to 1,500 veterans, also provides assistance and guidance to women who have been sexually traumatized.
VHVNOW also works with dependents and spouses of military veterans who have been exposed to contaminants such as Agent Orange. Other services include housing, restoration of voting rights, employment, job training, education, and assistance with filing claims for veterans’ benefits.
Many Vietnam veterans were met with hostility when they came home, said Mack, who acknowledges that the recognition now received by veterans is long overdue. He believes that the increased presence of women in the military has brought more attention to veterans’ needs.
Mack, 72, a resident of Chesterfield County, said he feels good about the work his organization has provided, but noted that much work remains. He is in the process of renovating an outreach center for veterans and others in need.
Partnerships with Richmond Police, a local sorority and the Chesterfield Fire and EMS have benefited his organization, which counts on volunteers for support. Funding also is a priority, and Mack hopes that grant procurement will provide his nonprofit much needed financial assistance.
“Our youth are really struggling and it’s up to us to turn around this paradigm,” he said.
- Participated, volunteered, and served on many committees including: The Boys Scouts, The Healing Place, Blackwell Civic Association, Leadership Metro Richmond (LMR) and the Virginia Prostate Cancer Coalition.
- Chaired the United Voices of Veterans Action Group at the Richmond McGuire VA Medical Center.
- Participated in the Southside Lock-Up fundraiser to benefit the Central and Southeastern Virginia Chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).
- Attended the Richmond Citizen’s Academy, Chesterfield County Police 29th Citizens Academy and the Chesterfield Citizens Fire and EMS Academy.
- Inducted in the Chesterfield Senior Citizens Hall of Fame in 2014 and recognized as an Allen and Allen Hometown Hero in 2015.
Just months before the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, his speeches often focused on the economic inequality and injustice that permeated America. King was planning a poor people’s march in Washington to bring attention to the income disparities felt by African Americans, Native Americans and other racial minorities.
Michelle Oliver wasn’t born when King was killed, but the quest for justice and economic empowerment that King espoused lives within her. As a child, Oliver recognized the importance of economic freedom, and by age 10 she had launched her own business, Stickerfantastick.
“For $2 you would get the stickers of the month and a newsletter mailed to you,” Oliver said. “My father finally showed me I need to look at my pricing because of the cost of the mailing and cost of stickers. Great lessons learned!”
Oliver said her experience taught her that the person who owned the businesses not only made the decision, but also made the most money. “When I think about it, my father, even though he was a federal probation officer, had his own side business. Before ADT and these other alarm systems companies, he installed burglar alarm systems in homes. I watched him order wholesale and make a profit because he had an expertise that people had no clue about.”
Today, as president and a financial adviser for the Oliver Financial Group, Oliver, 44, routinely talks to women about financial concerns that burden their communities. Her compassion for women facing unexpected circumstances leads her to assist women in transition from divorce or the death of a spouse. And, she has a knack for working with different markets and developing an understanding of various parties.
A graduate of Virginia State University, Oliver began her adult career at Life of Virginia before moving on to Wachovia Bank and Securities, GE Financial, and Genworth Financial and Virginia Asset Management (VAM). She owned the Oliver Financial Group for nearly seven years, until merging her practice into the Richmond-based branch of VAM in 2010. Two years ago, Oliver returned to her independent practice, a move that enables her to more effectively assist clients, she said.
“Statistically there are less than 8 percent minorities in all of financial services, including administrators and call centers,” she said. “Very rarely do you see a minority woman trailblazing in the industry.”
Oliver is passionate about promoting financial literacy and enjoys helping others make positive changes for themselves and their families.
“My charge in life is to help others understand finances; to help others understand that putting money away for your retirement is not a sin and you are not going to starve,” said Oliver, who lives in Henrico County. “My charge in life is to help others maintain their small businesses. I am here to help others understand that it is just as easy to save as it is to spend. I am here to help others understand how to run an effective business and to provide the tools you need to stay in business. That is my charge. That is my gift.”
Oliver articles or commentary about money management and life insurance have appeared in several print and online publications, including Bankrate.com, Black Enterprise, Essence, Heart and Soul, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. In 2009, Michelle also served as the CVS Pharmacy Personal Finance Expert Spokesperson. Professionally, she is a member of Ladenburg Thalmann Institute for Women and the National Association of Professional Agents (NAPA).
“Michelle flies under the radar, helping and assisting others,” said a longtime colleague. “With all that she does in her professional life, she is very active in her children’s lives and a great wife. She is a great listener, motivator and has a sense of humor.”
Reflecting on Martin Luther King Jr.’s economic justice platform near the end of his life, Oliver offered several reasons for today’s continuing cycle of economic disparities in the African-American community.
“Economic inequalities still remain an issue because of what we are taught,” she said. “We are taught to get good grades, work hard, and work for a large corporation. No one teaches entrepreneurship. We are taught that our children need to play sports in order to earn lots of money. We think that we should spend our tax refunds instead of saving a portion or all of it.
We are taught that having the best and latest model car, house, and clothes means you are wealthy. There are so many more things, consciously and subconsciously, that we think and believe to be true.”
However, a different truth exists, Oliver explained.
“Generational wealth is not the power ball jackpot, it is not the athlete, it is not spending money because we have it. It is so much more. Our community is a community of spenders. The media knows it, companies that sell to us know it, and they use us to make millions from our lack of knowledge.”
- Holds Series 6, 7, 63, and 65 Registrations
- Life & Health Insurance licensee
- Registered Representative of Securities America Inc.
- Investment Advisor Representative of Securities America Advisory Inc.
- Securities offered through Securities America Inc., member FINRA (www.finra.org) / SIPC (www.SIPC.org) Advisory Services offered through Securities America Advisors, Inc. (The Oliver Financial Group and Securities America are separate companies.)
- Securities license in Virginia and Maryland.
- Executive Board Member and Secretary, Bizworks, a nonprofit business incubator in Chesterfield County.
- Vice President of Programs, Hungary Creek Middle School Parent Teacher Association.
Bonnie Newman Davis is a Richmond-based journalist, journalism educator and news media consultant.