Editor's Note: This story is part of The Common Ground Initiative. In each installment, writer Anthony Payton aims to highlight the diversity of our communities with stories of people the average Granite Stater might not get to see or meet, clarify misconceptions and find the threads that bind us all together as one New Hampshire community. He can be reached at Anthony.Payton@collaborativenh.org.
Cordan James Haveron, of Manchester, is a proud Army veteran who served in Baghdad, Iraq from December 2009 through December 2010.
These days, the 33-year-old helps other veterans and the homeless in Manchester. He’s the owner of a moving company, Vetrun movers, LLP that he operates with another veteran. He’s also the founder of The Comeback Kids, which helps transform lives through mentorship, awareness, and mental health.
We met at the community listening session of our mutual friend, political candidate, Anthony Harris. We were there to answer questions from the community, as well as to offer our vision of the future.
As Harris spoke to the crowd, Haveron and I were blabbing away like two long lost friends. The energy was great. He tended to his daughter, who was present, the same way that I do to mine.
Then Haveron addressed the crowd and told his story. It was heart-wrenching, genuine, and the audience was spellbound. This comes naturally to him.
Born in Los Angeles to a drug-addicted mother, Haveron was raised by a white family in a small town in Utah. He went to rehab himself at 5-years-old and struggled with addiction.
In March of 2008, two years after high school and after graduating from his group home, he enlisted in the United States Army on active duty as a 19D Cavalry Scout in St. George, Utah. Following that, he was deployed to combat in Iraq in 2009, where he served until he returned and transitioned into the National Guard before discharging in 2013.
Haveron credits his military experience with showing him discipline, how to serve his country, and how to serve others. He’s been trying to bridge gaps with our communities for quite some time now.
I recently sat down with him to discuss his service both in the military and in his community and get his thoughts on what patriotism means to him.
Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Anthony Payton: What led you to serve?
Cordan James Haveron: Great question brother. I needed to provide for my family. I reconnected with my adoptive family after I graduated high school in 2006 in hopes of rebuilding my family.
However, I wasn’t aware, due to being placed back in foster care at 13, that drug addiction was affecting my adoptive siblings, so there was a lot going on there. And then, six months after graduating, my adoptive father passed away suddenly, which shook the core of our family.
Upon his death, my mother revealed that I had six biological siblings in California that I wound up finding on MySpace. We wound up connecting.
It’s important to note, my children were the first biological family that I’d ever met. I enlisted when I was 19 and had been married for 14 months. My son was born on the 4th of July, 2007. He was just under a year old, and we were pregnant with our second son.
I had lost a great paying job when I was illegally fired for saying the “n-word” in a conversation with another Black man outside the building at work.
So when you ask me what led me to serve? I had been fighting all my life. My father was a black belt in Kenpo. I had some street smarts and was fearless and I needed to uplift the family I’d dreamed of having. In my opinion, I was failing fast. I saw an ad in the newspaper and went to enlist. It was that simple.
Anthony Payton: What obstacles did you face that others may not know about?
Cordan James Haveron: Initially going into active duty, I dealt with authority issues.
A specialist who had just returned from Iraq took a particular liking to give me orders
When I felt singled out, I questioned him about his focus on me. This caught the attention of Philly-born and bred Sgt. Kareem Yates.
Yates, also a Black man, who had two combat deployments, addressed me as a sergeant to a private, so I snapped to parade rest.
Parade rest is a stance we take when talking to someone of the rank of sergeant and above. We are to remain silent and motionless until excused. Understand that, Yates and I were the only Black men in our troop at the time and this was my first interaction with a Black leader.
The other soldier and I continued to bicker, angering Sgt. Yates. Yates ripped off his rank, ripped off mine, and said, ‘Respect me as a man before you respect my rank, private.’
Due to my own traumatic experiences, I wasn’t a trusting person. But when a Black man spoke to me as a man — it just did it for me. From that day forward, I’d say I began to understand what discipline really meant.
A value my own father never instilled in me. I learned to keep my cool under the most unfair of circumstances that may involve race or rank.
That was one of those moments and lessons that I never forgot.
Anthony Payton: What did the military do for your individual growth?
Cordan James Haveron: The military taught me the discipline that nothing else had yet
I was a child who was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, who grew up in several foster homes until I was adopted at 3.
As a high-risk adoption, I’d faced psychologists, therapists, rehabilitation centers and more programs than you can imagine
What I learned is that discipline is about self-control. I’d spent much of my life being ‘triggered’ by everything and muscling my way through.
In psychology, the locus of control concept explains how we determine how much control we have in our experiences
As you can imagine, you can’t punch a drill sergeant in the face when he’s yelling at you to obey orders.
The military would challenge me in ways I had never been challenged before. The US Army followed values I’d hardly seen modeled: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage.
Anthony Payton: As a Black American, how does your definition of patriotism both meet and differ from the white majority?
Cordan James Haveron: There really shouldn’t be much difference. I’ll never forget in basic training, my drill sergeants called all the soldiers into the conference room. They asked us all to take a knee.
And then they asked everyone in the room questions. Such as, ‘Who in here has never met a Black person?’
Several people raised their hands. They continued on to every other race and more and more people raised their hands, showing that they had never met another member of a race before.
When I took an oath to serve the people of the United States and live the Army values, ‘The people,’ meant everyone, regardless of race, and I committed to the values.
That’s what I consider my patriotism: to be continuing to serve this country and its residents. That shows my love for this nation. My love for this country doesn’t have to be overly aggressive.
It’s crazy to see that the “isms” and diversity issues still exist in the military, such as racism and inequity. But one thing that we do know is that you’re willing to lay it all on the line for one another.
I’m proud that I got to witness that loyalty and selfless service. I am a proud Black human who was raised in a majority white space in Utah. I was also one of four Black men in my unit. So despite the shell shock, we unified
Anthony Payton: You talked about laying it all on the line for your fellow soldiers. It seems like something you’ve continued in the work you do. Explain your company, Vetrun Movers, to us?
Cordan James Haveron: As a veteran of the United States Army and general manager for U-Haul for seven years, I wanted to bring the same level of discipline and service to our communities. Vetrun Movers is proud to be a veteran-owned, Black-owned and operated business in Manchester
Anthony Payton: You also have a company, “Comeback Kids.” What is it about
Cordan James Haveron: As a speaker, I share my testimonies of the truest tests in my life and what I learned. This is what bore Cordan James Haveron LLC. The Comeback Kid Mentorship Program was a part of that vision.
Our catchphrase is, ‘Where comeback kids come back stronger.’ It’s a safe space for healing.
Being a comeback kid celebrates your ability to attain equanimity or the ability to find peace amidst the chaos.
In the program, we have three steps — the first being social-emotional learning. As facilitators, we use the nation’s leading evidence-based social-emotional learning program that I used in my teen years called “WhyTry,” just to break the ice.
Then through weekly one-on-ones, group and peer mentoring, combined with workshops and community service, we look to improve the overall well-being of our mentees and their families by providing support and resources that address their actual needs.
Anthony Payton: How do you feel when people call Black Americans unpatriotic when they criticize systemic injustice or do things like taking a knee for the national anthem in protest?
Cordan James Haveron: In the U.S. Army, the “soldiers creed” includes the following value: “I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.”
We can have these feelings of injustice and be able to peacefully voice those opinions. We fought for people to have that right.
We should all try to do better in terms of putting ourselves in each other's shoes. Black people are the most patriotic Americans that I know.
Despite all of the injustices since 1619, there have been plenty of Black veterans who’ve given the ultimate sacrifice. And to lack recognition of Blacks in America who helped build, then defend this country, would be to label our efforts invisible.
The Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiment consisted of Black men who were enslaved at one point or returning from the Civil War.
Their motto “Ready and Forward” and “ We can, We will” model our readiness to be recognized as humans, Black humans and Americans
Anthony Payton: How can we bridge the gap between those extreme patriotic nationalists and a person like yourself who has served their country?
Cordan James Haveron: Understand that we both have the same core beliefs when it comes to preserving our way of life and protecting our citizens.
Also, be mindful not to become what you despise and actually become a threat to America yourself.
One can easily use the veil of patriotism to ultimately wind up becoming a threat by being hostile towards your neighbors.
Want to know more? Writer Anthony Payton gives his take in this episode of The Common Ground podcast. Listen now
These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative as part of our race and equity project. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org