Black History Month would not be complete without celebrating the accomplishments and legacies of an endless pool of black creatives, businessmen, and American heroes. To that endeavor, the VetNet team is thrilled to take this special month to spotlight two of our favorite role models who inspire us every day of the year; Army vet, businessman, and philanthropist, Earl Graves Sr., and Navy veteran and Singer-Songwriter, Bill Withers.
While these men come from two opposite sides of the media entertainment spectrum, they are both undeniable examples of Americans who stepped up to serve and went on to leave long lasting legacies of impact in their civilian lives.
Bill Withers' 1977 song "A Lovely Day" has lyrics that resonate well in light of these two role models, saying, “and the world's alright with me. Just one look at you, and I know it's gonna be, a lovely day.” Lovely day, indeed. Bill and Earl’s community legacies instill an easy sense of motivation and gratitude, and VetNet is proud to highlight these two well-deserving veterans in the media entertainment field.
Earl Gilbert Graves Sr. (Jan. 9, 1935 – April 6, 2020) was a New York native, entrepreneur, publisher, businessman, philanthropist, and advocate for black businesses. His massive success as a businessman makes it easy to forget that he came from humble beginnings. Like many Veterans today, his parents were first generation immigrants; his father was from Barbados, and his mother was from Trinidad.
Earl’s military service instilled an ethos that served him well throughout the rest of his life. He was a proud US Army Ranger; Earl knew the value of a disciplined work ethic and big dreams. He went on to graduate from Morgan State University, found Black Enterprise magazine (which started out as a newsletter) and chair the media company Earl G. Graves, Ltd. He was the director for Aetna and an Executive Board member of the Boy Scouts of America. In 2002, Graves was named as one of the “50 most powerful and influential African Americans in corporate America” by Fortune magazine.
While Earl, who passed in 2020, is survived by his wife, Barbara, and their three sons, he will always stand as an accomplished and brilliant role model for the next generation of young entrepreneurs and transitioning veterans.
And while Earl stands are a pillar of accomplishment to budding veteran entrepreneurs, Bill Withers stands as a light to all veteran creatives making their way down their own artist paths. William Harrison "Bill" Withers Jr., famously known as Bill Withers, was born in the summer on July 4th in 1938. Bill Withers, a Grammy Award winning singer and songwriter, is known for his hit songs, “Lean On Me,” “A Lovely Day,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Just The Two Of Us,” among many others. Although he started his music career in the mid-late 60’s, prior to that, Bill enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 17 and during that time became interested in writing and singing songs.
Unknown to many, Bill Withers was born with a stutter and struggled to get through school, dropping out of High School. Later he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and it was there he was able to receive assistance with speech therapy. Many suspect that he stayed in the Navy long enough to continue his speech therapy sessions and gain confidence with his speech. Afterwards he left the service and begin his music career. Soon after, he released two songs, one of which was “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which won him his first Grammy as a songwriter.
The soulful singer released songs in the 1970’s and 1980’s and many songs stood the test of time, and are still heard on the radio, in movies, commercials, or covered by other musicians such as the late Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Black Eyed Peas, and an endless number of YouTubers from all corners of the globe.
In the 2010 documentary “Still Bill,” fellow musician, Sting, said that, “the hardest thing in songwriting is to be simple and yet profound, yet [Bill] seemed to understand, intrinsically and instinctively, how to do just that.”
During an interview with Rolling Stone, Withers said, with characteristic humility, “I’m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with. I don’t think I’ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia.” While Bill Withers passed away in early 2020, he is survived by his wife and children. He instilled many life lessons with song, such as “Lean On Me,” (1972) which Bill attributed to his West Virginia upbringing. During these challenging times, let the veteran and military community remember wise words that Bill Withers wrote, that were never more pressing than they are now:
“But if we are wise, we know that there's always tomorrow. Lean on me, when you're not strong, and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on, for it won't be long, till I'm gonna need somebody to lean on.”