OneJustice Blog

Bring life-changing legal help to Californians in need.

Great news for 2016 – all because of you

Thank you for bringing hope, help, and justice to those in need.

Once again, you did something simply amazing.

And you did it for people whom you will probably never meet.  That is truly remarkable.  Thank you.

You see, your continued support for OneJustice will bring life-changing legal help to people in need.  Veterans who are struggling – right now – to access medical care and employment. Women who are – at this very moment – experiencing horrific abuse.   Teenagers who – as you read this – are living in fear of deportation because they cannot apply for the federal immigration relief they deserve.

Thousands of Californians are suffering – right now – from solvable legal problems.

And because of you – help is on the way.

Veterans will get jobs and medical treatment. Women will escape abusive relationships.  Young adults will get immigration relief, driver’s licenses, and jobs.

You will transform their lives in 2016.  So, here at OneJustice, we think you are pretty amazing.

I am so inspired and moved by your steadfast support that I made a short video to try to express how very grateful I am – we all are – for your generous support.  I hope it conveys how much your donation means to me, to the OneJustice Board and staff, and most of all, to the people whose suffering will end this year – because of you.

Thank you.  Thank you for bringing hope, help, and justice to those in need.



2016 Thank You Video from OneJustice on Vimeo.


Leadership is like a box of chocolates

You have to hack into them with a knife to avoid the marshmallow crème

And things can get a little messy

Photo: Box of Chocolates

Photo credit:

So, I recently returned from a three-month sabbatical.  Fair warning – I’d like to take the next 1,000 words to tell you why I am now a full-time sabbatical evangelist.

But first, I want you to know that my first 10 drafts of this post were sprinkled liberally with photos of my sabbatical tour of European soccer stadiums.  It was like an aggressive slide show on “My Amazing Vacation.” My staff objected, and after just 9 rounds of edits I gave in. See, I really can share leadership!  I hope you enjoy my 3 boastful photos and feel appropriately envious.  Thank you!

Why a sabbatical?

OneJustice had doubled in size over the last 8 years and was ready to grow yet again.  But our leadership structure was stuck.  We were locked in a traditional model of the solo executive director overly involved in every aspect of the organization.  And while I loved being part of the organization’s accelerated growth, it had also taken a personal toll.

At exactly the moment that OneJustice was preparing to take the next leap forward, armed with a new strategic vision, I was flagging – badly.  I didn’t want to leave, but I was feeling tapped out.  The Board and I decided we had to do something outside the box to meet both my need for rejuvenation and the organization’s need to scale.

Photo: Loyal Tottenham Hotspurs fan at White Hart Lane (North London) #COYS

Loyal Tottenham Hotspurs fan at White Hart Lane (North London) #COYS

How did we do it?

First, we won the nonprofit lottery.  I know, you didn’t know such a thing existed, right?  Well, it does.  It’s called the O2 Initiatives Sabbatical Award.  And it is truly a remarkable gift.  The program provides funding for 3-month sabbaticals for Bay Area executive directors, plus a stipend for the leaders who provide sabbatical coverage, a professional development fund, and an organizational coach before, during, and after the sabbatical.  If that’s not the lottery, then I don’t know what is.

Second, we prepared.  We promoted three talented folks into newly created Director positions: Arbour Decker, Kim Irish, and Mike Winn. This new Leadership Team then worked with an insightful organizational coach from CompassPoint.

We ripped apart my job description and externalized every aspect of the position.  We conducted trainings, wrote memos, created detailed plans, and had lots and lots of meetings.  We formed a group meditation practice and walked across hot coals together.  Actually, we didn’t do that last part.  But now I wish we had, because it makes a better story.  Darn.  Next time.

After more than 7 months of planning and preparation, we were ready.  Or, at least, we were so sick of talking about sabbatical that we just wanted it to be under way already.  Which was close enough.

We also realized that you can’t prepare for everything.  There will always be some unexpected situation or decision that needs to be made.  You can write 25 memos about what to do if you grab the marshmallow crème, but when you end up with the rum raisin by accident, you just have to decide whether to chew or spit it out.  Both decisions are valid – and it’s up to that particular leader to make his or her own call.

How we know it worked.

On a personal level, the time away was incredibly restorative.  I traveled, spent time with my family, played a lot of soccer, and engaged in some great self-care.  And yes, even a little yoga took place.  By the end of the three months, I was itching to get back to work.  Now, instead of feeling burned out, I am fired up to explore new ways to bring life-changing legal help to those in need.

Photo: In the stands at Anfield (home of Liverpool Football Club)

In the stands at Anfield (home of Liverpool Football Club)

And the organization thrived in my absence. The Leadership Team successfully undertook programmatic expansion, revenue generation, and deepened their direct relationships with the Board. They also managed some unexpected challenges with poise and strategic responses. In fact, the entire staff didn’t just maintain the organization — they all excelled.

There were also significant benefits for the members of our Leadership Team.  Kim, Mike and Arbour have all shared with me the different moments when they realized that their job during sabbatical was not to figure out what I would have done in a given situation.  Instead, their job was simply to lead the organization – in their own way.  That’s pretty powerful stuff.

It’s a messy process.

Our challenge now is to take all the initiative and ownership that grew in my absence and institutionalize it through shared leadership.  We’re overhauling our decision-making structures, mapping power and authority in the organization, and setting up systems for mutual accountability.

We now know that creating our new leadership structure will be an ongoing process.  In fact, it’s pretty messy at times, and it will surely take us a while to figure out.  But already, when we hit the right chord together, it’s totally satisfying – like dark chocolate with almonds.  There is so much promise in the work, that living through the messiness is clearly worth it – for me, the Leadership Team, and the entire organization.

Above all, a new sense of gratitude.

I found that as I slowed down enough to take in my whole life, just like the Grinch, my heart grew 3 sizes.  From the first day of the sabbatical and through this very minute, I have been simply overwhelmed by waves of intense gratitude.

Photo: End of the soccer pilgrimage: selfie at Camp Nou in Barcelona.

End of the soccer pilgrimage: selfie at Camp Nou in Barcelona.

I’m tremendously appreciative for the support of OneJustice Board, Advisory Board, and Strategy Council.  I’m thrilled to watch Kim, Arbour and Mike’s innovative leadership. I’m deeply moved by how brilliantly and diligently our staff work.  I treasure every moment I have with my family and friends, the relationships that sustain me.

I’ve realized that my life is not like any old box of chocolates.  No way!  My life is that ginormous box of See’s candies that arrives – unexpectedly – as a gift from your office landlord.  Just when you are trying to fix the copier for that last round of fundraising letters that are going out late.  (Not that I’m saying that has ever happened at OneJustice.)

And then you rip open the box and grab a chocolate, and lo-and-behold, it’s the perfect one.  Your favorite.  The one that makes you close your eyes, savor the experience, and smile.  That’s how my life feels now.  That exact blissed-out moment.  That is what O2 Initiatives made possible.  So yep, I’m pretty darn grateful.

In this lovely holiday season, I wish you all so much chocolate that you have to loosen your pants and lay down on the floor – and many, many moments of bliss and gratitude in the coming new year.



Photo: Julia R. Wilson

Julia R. Wilson has served as OneJustice’s CEO for the last 8 years.  When not working to transform the civil legal aid sector (or saving the OneJustice copier from paper jams), she is most likely watching, playing, coaching, or refereeing a soccer game.  If you are interested in diving deeper into the benefits of nonprofit sabbaticals, she encourages you to read “Creative Disruption: Sabbaticals for Capacity Building and Leadership Development in the Nonprofit Sector,” by Deborah Linnell and Tim Wolfred.

Camelot photographer & seeker of justice

The OneJustice network lost a lion of a supporter.

But Randy Silver’s passion for justice continues through the Veterans Clinics in his honor.

My heart is broken.

Julia Wilson with Randy and Anne Silver at the Opening Doors to Justice event, standing together.

A sweet moment together at the 2014 Opening Doors to Justice celebration.

There are simply no other words for it.

Last year, Randy Silver, my dear friend and a talented photographer, donated an original, signed print of President John F. Kennedy for the live auction at our Opening Doors to Justice event.  Randy was the official photographer to President Kennedy from 1961 to 1963, while he was serving in the U.S. Navy.  He took this photo of the President at the Press Association Dinner in Washington D.C. in May 1963. Over the years, he had only produced three prints – until last year, when he created the 4th and donated it to the OneJustice auction.

Randy and Anne, his wife of 35 years, were there in the audience as the bidding went fast and furious.  Just at the point when the next-to-last bidder dropped out, Randy graciously agreed to produce and sign a 5th print so that there could be two final winners.  Together, the prints raised $8,000 – and to Randy’s surprise and delight, I announced on the spot that we would use the funds to create two Randy Silver Justice Bus Clinics to bring life-changing legal help to veterans in rural California, in honor of Randy’s years of service in the Navy and his incredible personal commitment to justice.

If I could go back in time to that moment, I would also run over and give Randy a huge hug.  And oh, how I wish that I could.

Because, you see, Randy passed away unexpectedly in January, leaving an unimaginable hole in the OneJustice network – and in my heart.

Just six weeks after his death, a team of volunteers boarded the Justice Bus and traveled to Northern California.  Over two days, they staffed the Randy Silver Memorial Legal Clinics for veterans in Chico and Redding – serving 36 veterans and their family members.

Photo of President Kennedy smiling.

And now Randy’s beautiful print of JFK is back in our office.  When one of last year’s winners, honoree Erika Rottenberg, learned of Randy’s death, she decided to donate her print back to OneJustice to be part of our live auction again this year.  Once again we will use the funds raised to support another series of Randy Silver Justice Bus Clinics, bringing volunteers from urban areas to set up mobile pro bono clinics for veterans in isolated communities.  It is incredibly generous of Erika, and I think Randy would be so pleased.  I wish so much that I could tell him in-person, but instead I have to just trust that he knows, somehow.

“For me, it is not a matter of giving back; it’s a matter of just giving because it’s the right thing to do.”

Anne & Randy Silver at the 2014 event holding a sign that says "I'm with Julia"

Anne and Randy Silver at last year’s event.  This message brings me great joy.

This was Randy’s acceptance message when the San Mateo County Chapter of the NAACP presented him with their 2014 Distinguished Service Award for his many years of devoted volunteerism with the NAACP and many other causes.  He was an active volunteer with the NAACP, Second Harvest Food Bank, Relay for Life, and Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo.  He offered his photography skills pro bono to the Annual Cyril Magnin Awards, Red Cross, San Mateo Women’s Hall of Fame – and of course, OneJustice.

He had a quiet and deep-seated passion for justice and a commitment to serving others.  He earned  a JD from Boalt School of Law, but knew mid-way through that the law was not his life’s work.  Instead, he began working as a social worker in Napa County and found a true calling in helping people work through the challenges and problems of life.  He obtained his Masters in Psychology at Chapman College, which launched a long and successful private practice  as a psychotherapist.

A third generation photographer, Randy created his first print on his 9th birthday, in his mother’s darkroom, and continued with photography his entire life.  This included teaching throughout the Peninsula, organizing national and international trips for groups of beginning photographers, and the production of three books that showcase his particular area of expertise – infrared photography.

Randy and Anne Silver at the 2013 Opening Doors to Justice event.

Randy and Anne attending the 2013 Opening Doors to Justice event.

And now Randy’s generosity will live on.  We will once again auction his original print of JFK – which sadly we now know must be the last signed edition.  His art will once again bring much-needed assistance to veterans facing pressing legal problems.  And I will try to find solace in the fact that in this way, Randy is still giving back – still making great things happen in the world – and that those of us left behind can continue on, in his name and taking inspiration from his life.

For Randy was a man of palpable integrity.  He cared deeply about the people around him and was effortlessly generous with his time, talents, and energy.   He died as he lived, with great dignity, and he will be sorely missed by all of us who had the great joy of knowing him.

Chick and Poppy on Veterans Day. Whom will you honor?

Veterans Fund Banner

I give in honor of Chick and Poppy.  Whom will you honor on Tuesday?

Every Veteran’s Day, I give thanks for two very special men in my life:  Charles (Chick) Henson II and Walter Willard Travis (Poppy). 

You see, both of my grandfathers fought in World War II. 

I actually never met “Chick,” as he died from ALS long before I was born, but his passion for learning and fierce dedication to family have been passed on.  And I adored my “Poppy” with his deep love of nature, literature, and all of us grandkids.

I’m super proud of their service to our country – and the sacrifices that my grandmothers made to support them.

Every year on Veterans’s Day, I am proud to make a personal contribution, in their honor, to OneJustice’s Veterans Legal Aid Fund.  I love it that their names are on OneJustice’s Wall of Honor as a result.

And every time I hear about a veteran who receives free legal help because of the Justice Bus Project, it makes me think of Chick and Poppy.  I think they would be proud.

Let’s all take a moment  tomorrow to give thanks for all those who have served our country. 

And, I hope you’ll join me in honoring a veteran or service member who is special to you by making a contribution in their honor to the Veterans Legal Aid Fund.

With such gratitude for your support,

Donate Now - Thank You

Julia R. Wilson, Executive Director 


You are my hero.

Really, there just aren’t any other words for what you did.

You are a justice hero.IMG_8122

Ok, so I understand that might seem a little over the top.  Or even silly.  But here’s the thing – I think what you did was exceptional.

We know that there are millions of poor Californians living in rural areas who are facing pressing legal problems – all alone.  Why?  Because there are no attorneys in their communities to help. So they suffer – needlessly – from solvable legal problems.

And you all are changing that.  In my book, that makes you all heroes – justice heroes!

You see, last Thursday night, the OneJustice network raised over $335,000 for rural justice projects.

That just takes my breath away!

Generous law firms, corporations, law schools, and others donated over $195,000 in sponsorships for the event – bringing life-changing legal help to rural veterans, seniors and families.

And a group of over 125 amazing individuals ensured that the OneJustice network raised $60,000 for the Rural Justice Challenge. And because you achieved that goal, the law firm Cooley LLP provided a $65,000 matching donation.  Folks who participated in our live and silent auctions contributed over $20,000.  Working together, these justice heroes raised over $140,000 for those in need.

And my personal promise to all of you is that these donations will support 75 mobile legal clinics reaching at least 1,000 rural Californians. Your support will bring teams of volunteers to serve these communities and will supply hours of free legal help for those facing legal barriers to basic necessities.

So you see, I’m pretty sure that makes everyone involved a hero!  I believe that the individuals involved in the OneJustice network are pretty special, and my heart is full to overflowing with gratitude.  I wish I could thank each and every one of you in-person.

Thank you all so much for your generosity.  Your dedication to rural justice, pro bono, and legal services for those in need was palpable throughout the evening.  You can see it in all the photos from the event below!

I look forward very much to keeping you all posted – on this blog and elsewhere – on our progress as we implement the rural justice clinics made possible by the OneJustice network’s commitment, passion, and support.  Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Rural Justice: it’s not just for people!

Nonprofit corporations suffer from legal problems, too!

We’ve learned that rural justice isn’t just for veterans, seniors, and kids.Expert attorneys provided advice.

I know, it’s kind-of our constant refrain here at OneJustice. We’re pretty much always going on about rural justice and the urban/rural divide. We can’t help it! We care a lot about the legal needs of rural Californians – and we are all about addressing the fact that nonprofits providing civil legal aid in rural areas have less funding, less access to volunteer attorneys, and larger geographic regions to cover.

So you’ve heard us talk before about veterans, children with disabilities, seniors, and families living in rural and isolated areas of the state. Reaching those folks is the whole point of our statewide Rural Justice Initiative, including the Justice Bus Project.

And yet, we never really thought about the legal needs of the rural nonprofit organizations serving those same isolated communities. Until yesterday.

Volunteers working with a nonprofit client.Our staff had the amazing experience this week of working with volunteer attorneys from Hewlett-Packard Company and Morgan Lewis & Bockius to put together the first-ever Rural Justice Clinic for Nonprofits. Yesterday a terrific group of attorneys from HP and Morgan Lewis – together with the entire national class of Morgan Lewis summer associates, from all of the firm’s offices, came together for a high-octane free legal clinic for nonprofits serving the North Bay counties.

In just 3 hours, the volunteers assisted 12 nonprofits – walking them through a comprehensive legal “audit” (like a health check-up on their legal needs) – and then providing individualized advice. It was beyond awesome. The volunteers brought incredible understanding and expertise to help these nonprofits, whose missions range from cultivating healthy families to providing shelter and services to victims of domestic violence to ensuring affordable housing for persons with development disabilities.

And here is our big takeaway from yesterday: rural justice isn’t just for individuals. It is also for nonprofit organizations – and in these isolated communities, the local network of nonprofits  serves as an essential safety net of services and assistance to the same individuals that the OneJustice network reaches through the Rural Justice Initiative.

It was pretty much an eye-opener for us. And we’re already working up the idea of replicating this clinic in other rural areas.  More to come, both in our Rural Justice Initiative and on this blog!

So, a most heartfelt “thank you” to the attorneys at Hewlett-Packard Company and Morgan Lewis, both for providing all the volunteers to make yesterday’s clinic possible, but even more importantly for opening our eyes to the need for this kind of rural justice.

All aboard to Santa Barbara!

10,000 youth in need of immigration legal services

Just 50 cents per kid to put the Justice Bus on the road

Over the past year, volunteers with the Rural Justice Initiative (the Justice Bus Project and Rural Justice Collaborative) have provided life-changing legal assistance to over 275 immigrant youth who came to this country as very young children and have basically lived here their entire lives.  A two-year old federal immigration program was created specifically for these kids and is called “DACA,” which stands for “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”  Kids who are approved through the DACA program can get work permits and their driver’s license, meaning they can support themselves and help their families.

These dedicated OneJustice volunteers have traveled to the far ends of the state to reach immigrant youth living in isolated communities – from Humboldt County in the north to El Dorado County to the east and the Inland Empire in the south.

And now we’re worried about Santa Barbara County – and specifically the northern end of the county, where the recession hit families hard on top of pre-existing high poverty density.  We know that there are over 7,000 kids eligible for the DACA program in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties – and another 3,000 who will be eligible as soon as they turn 15Access Makes all the Difference years old.

And here is the rub: there are only two legal aid programs in Santa Barbara County – and neither one does immigration services.  There is one small social services nonprofit trying to help these kids – with no attorney staff.  And in the northern part of the county – Santa Maria, where 35% of the children and youth live in poverty – there is literally no one to help.

Only 2 and 1/2 hours away from Los Angeles – and these kids have nowhere to turn.

So how about we change that?

So we’ve decided to invite the OneJustice network to crowdsource the funding for this particular Justice Bus trip. We need to raise just $5,000 to do our first-ever Justice Bus trip to reach low-income youth in northern Santa Barbara County who are eligible for DACA and need legal assistance to apply.

Let’s get the Justice Bus up there for the first time – and then make the connections to get there regularly.

There are 10,000 kids who need us.  And all it takes to get started? $5,000.  That’s 50 cents per kid.  I think we can do that.

We’ve set up a special online giving center specifically for this trip – check it out at You can get this Justice Bus route started through an online donation – of any size – today.  Thank you for your support!

Spring 2014 Campaign YOUTH

To believe is power. Justice is power. This is justice.

Sometimes you get to be part of something really special.

That’s what happened when Mr. Salazar invited me into his home.

Last October, something really special happened to me.  I drove in the early morning from my home in Pacifica to a small town in the Central Valley – Firebaugh, California.  And there, I met Mr. Florentino Salazar, who invited me into his home.

Mr. Salazar in the Dave Brick Film for OneJustice

Click on the image above to view the 3-minute film Dave Brick created about the power of legal services.

You see, a couple of months earlier, OneJustice won an amazing contest run by Dave Brick of Brick Films.  Dave is an incredibly talented filmmaker (you can see his work on his website) – and he decided to provide a free film to a nonprofit as a way of giving back.  After 47 contest submissions and thousands of votes cast for the finalists, OneJustice was the contest winner – and the recipient of Dave’s generosity with his time, energy and expertise.  Working with Dave, we all decided that the best possible idea was a film that could be used by the entire legal services sector to relate the power of our work – through the lens of one client’s experience.  And with OneJustice’s focus on reaching isolated areas of the state, and Dave’s prior work for CRLA and PolicyLink documenting the needs of small unincorporated communities in rural areas, it was a no-brainer that we would focus on the Central Valley.

And so we worked with Chris Schneider and the dedicated team at Central California Legal Services, who introduced us to Mr. Salazar.  He agreed to meet with me, to hear more about the film idea, so I trundled off to Firebaugh.

And had my heart broken wide open.  As we sat around his kitchen table, Mr. Salazar was incredibly open with me about his experience.  He had worked his entire life to provide for his family.  Like many low-wage workers, they lived one pay period away from truly hard times.  And then came medical problems, surgery, and trouble making ends meet – followed by a terrible experience with a loan modification company whose unlawful practices brought Mr. Salazar and his family to the brink of losing their home.  Somehow they miraculously made it to Central California Legal Services – who stepped in, saved the home, and ultimately won an injunction that prohibited the company from continuing their illegal and predatory behavior.

Now I know that this story is repeated hundreds and thousands of times throughout California.  Legal services attorneys work miracles in family’s lives every day.  But sitting in Mr. Salazar’s modest and immaculate home, meeting his wife, sons and family members, hearing him describe the attorneys at Central California Legal Services as angels who came into his life – it reminded me what an honor and a privilege it is to do this work.

And so it seems particularly right to share this film with you all on Martin Luther King Jr. day.  Because I think Dr. King would have agreed with Mr. Salazar that “To believe is power.  Justice is power.  This is justice.”

(Click here or on the image above to watch the film.)

How could we not move mountains to get to him?

It’s that time of year.

Not just the holidays – but the barrage of nonprofit fundraising.

I know, I know.  If I get one more nonprofit fundraising email, I think my head might explode.

I’m sure you feel the same way, too.  And this is true even for nonprofit causes that I hold very close to my heart.  With the deadline for tax-deductible donations quickly approaching, I guess it’s a given that the bulk of the year’s charitable contributions will be made over the next four days.  And all us nonprofit folks are clamoring to be heard.

And hey, I get it.  I’m not a fundraiser by nature, or by profession – but I am deeply proud to be part of OneJustice’s development team.  I believe with 100% of my heart, mind and spirit in our mission of bringing life-changing legal help to those in need.  And so, just like most of the rest of the nonprofit folks out there, I will be spending much of the next four days emailing, calling, writing, posting, and tweeting as many engaging, interesting, attention-grabbing messages to raise funds for OneJustice as possible.

But it’s also too easy to get caught up in the activities of fundraising in times like these – and to forget what it’s really all about.

The Justice Bus reaches veterans in isolated communities.So I keep this photo right beside my computer screen.

The brave gentleman is a veteran who received legal help through a Justice Bus trip that brought a team of volunteers to the isolated region where he lives.  He is brave because he served our country – at great personal cost – and brave twice over for seeking legal help he now needs.

And seeing his face every day deeply inspires me.  First, it means a great deal to me that our organization – working together with our amazing teams of volunteers and legal services partners – was able to help him.  Second, with that inspiration comes a deep, deep sense of responsibility.  Because for the hundreds of veterans we have helped this year, there are thousands more who are – right now as I type this – suffering.  With no access to the legal help they need.  They live right across the county borders from some of the highest density of attorneys in our state – Lancaster, Palmdale, the Inland Empire, Merced County, Los Banos – and it is as if they live in the middle of the Mojave desert in terms of access to legal help.

How can we not move mountains to get to them?

So every time I pick up the phone to call a donor – or post something about our New Year’s Eve Challenge – this photo reminds me of the deeper meaning of these fundraising campaigns.

It’s not the action of making the call or sending the email that matters.  And although they are so appreciated, neither are the generous donations that are made in response to our outreach, ultimately, the point.  The ultimate deep, soulful part of all of this – is that this veteran – and thousands and thousands more, just like him – are waiting.  Waiting for the statewide network to expand and grow and deepen our services, and finally, finally, finally reach them.

And that day – that beautiful day when they walk into a Justice Bus clinic and are served and heard and empowered – that is what every other piece of all of this is all about.

Your support for OneJustice – for one justice system that serves all – is a blessing in the world.  I hope you will join us by making a year-end donation to support this work.  Not because of this yet-another fundraising message.  But because you know that together, we can truly make a difference.

Julia R. WilsonThank you for everything you do,

Julia R. Wilson

OneJustice Executive Director & Chief Fundraiser

We accept, on faith, metamorphosis

Can our hearts hold the enormity of our losses?

Maybe veterans writing can help us find the way.

On Memorial Day, our nation pauses to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.  OneJustice is privileged to work with and serve members of the military community through our Justice Bus trips that bring essential legal assistance to veterans living in rural and isolated areas of the state.   It is a deeply moving experience to serve those who have served our country and made it home.  And today – on Memorial Day – we try to comprehend the depth of the loss of those men and women who also served and did not come home.

But perhaps this loss simply is incomprehensible, unimaginable.  Maybe it is right and just that the emotions and impact are too large for our minds and hearts to hold.  And perhaps it is fitting that we are overwhelmed by attempting to express it – and our hearts broken open in the trying.

In honor of all those who have lost their lives serving our country, we offer the powerful words of veterans – who, in writing their wartime experiences, perhaps offer all of us some way of comprehending the enormity of these losses.

Saint Francis’s Satyr Butterfly

All creatures have the same source as we have.
Saint Francis of Assisi

The Saint Francis Satyr Butterfly

The Saint Francis Satyr Butterfly

A reclusive small brown butterfly,
white and yellow stigmatic suns

deployed along its wing ridges,
Saint Francis’s Satyr – christened

after the 12th century Italian soldier
and POW turned mystic –

secretes itself, miraculously,
in 10 by 10 kilometers

of the 251 square mile brash
of Fort Bragg – exact coordinates classified –

beyond which – we know this much –
it has gone undetected. Shy, endangered,

preferring anonymity, it hides
in high artillery impact domains –

life often chooses death –
the fires triggered by bombardment.

It wears Marsh camouflage,
resembles in its favored habitat –

blasted sedge and beaver ruins –
a tiny standard issue

Advanced Combat Helmet.
Parsed from the chrysalis,

rent too soon from its dream of living,
the satyr blazes in desperate glory

but three or four days,
in its imaginal stage,

then tenders its life in writ sacrifice.
Its gorgeous numbers dwindle.

The caterpillar has never been seen.
We accept, on faith, metamorphosis.

— Joseph Bathanti, Poet Laureate of North Carolina

When award-winning poet, Appalachian State University professor and advocate for literacy Joseph Bathanti was named North Carolina’s poet laureate in October 2012, he announced plans to work with veterans to share their stories through poetry. To celebrate Veterans Day in 2012, Bathanti wrote this poem for veterans, families of veterans and for everyone who honors America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.  We are honored to share it with the OneJustice network in observance of Memorial Day.

For more writing by veterans and members of the military community, we offer two additional sources:


%d bloggers like this: