LEADERSHIP IN ACTION: WILLIAM SIMS, NABVETS FOUNDER AND EMERITUS BOARD MEMBER

Every now and then, there are men and women who so dedicate themselves to a cause that their lives become the very filament that defines that cause. In the case of NABVETS, the sweat and dedication of William Sims is the fiber upon which the expanding matter of NABVETS is built. In fact, there is no ground or air or space in the house of NABVETS where Mr. Sims has not stepped, slept, cleaned, prayed, smiled or cried. And in mutual accord, where only the magnificent mountains and the expansive sky dwell in comparison, Mr. Sims is surrounded by NABVETS and NABVETS is surrounded by Mr. Sims.

Mr. William Sims is a Founder of the Interested Veterans of the Central City (IVOCC), the precursor organization to NABVETS. Milwaukee is, of course, where Mr. Sims and other veterans legally incorporated IVOCC back in 1969. But, for Mr. Sims, the “founding” of IVOCC occurred not in the racist hot zone of Milwaukee but, rather, in the dangerous and forbidden black jungles of Vietnam. There, amid the toxic clouds of war, existed no unemployment, housing discrimination or income disparity. There was only widespread desperation, unimaginable fear, bloodshot hatred, equal access to suffering and fox holes – with everyone and everything in them. There, where suffering was so constant and normal, a young soldier could easily forget just how oppressed he was in the debilitating experience of Milwaukee’s urban ghetto; until, that is, he returned.

Mr. Sims, who had survived death more than once, came back to a Milwaukee African American community that was dying or, at least, badly hemorrhaging. The manufacturing jobs were leaving the city, taking with them the tax base and the middle class; and leaving in its wake joblessness and despair. In Vietnam, Mr. Sims was a Point Man for his unit, keeping them out of the path of danger and protecting them when danger was exposed. In Milwaukee, there was no Point Man for the African American community; it was getting hit from all sides and casualties were mounting. It is in this environment that Mr. Sims and six other Vietnam veterans dug themselves a proverbial fox hole from which to launch a counter-attack against urban blight, poverty and despair – they called this counter-attack, the IVOCC.

There is nothing simple about Mr. Sims: Before going off to war he was an artist and while a soldier he became an expert marksman, a Point Man and an ambush specialist; while in combat he wrecked great havoc and destruction upon the enemy but in peace he has been a creator of institutions that empower communities and given hope to many. And, yet, he remains humble: When recalling his time in Vietnam, Mr. Sims says that “I am here for a reason…God has a reason for me to be here…I’ve always felt that way.”

In 1973, Mr. Sims was standing at 14th and Atkinson talking with Mr. Robert Cocroft and Mr. Thomas Wynn (two other NABVET legends) about plans to convert the IVOCC into the National Association for Black Veterans (NABVETS). Mr. Sims recalls that as the three men spoke about the possibilities, he began to cry and cry, and cry…like a baby. He said he could not stop crying because he was overwhelmed at what NABVETS would mean to so many Black Veterans. He told Mr. Cocroft and Mr. Wynn that he would “dedicate the rest of his life” to building NABVETS and promoting its mission; and for the past 40 years he has done just that, with every fiber of his soul.

In addition to being a Founder of IVOCC and NABVETS, Mr. Sims is also a Founder of the Center for Veterans Issues, Inc. and the Eclipse Magazine.  And he is not done yet: Mr. Sims recently started a web-based radio station, called the “Eclipse Radio”; he’s working to develop a NABVETS Community Development Credit Union; he recently completed an aquaponics project; and he is working on acquiring a building in Milwaukee to be the “Global Headquarters of NABVETS.”   Between the Bingo games he organizes, you can usually find Mr. Sims at Vets Place Central eating his famous fried chicken with men and women veterans who may have been, not to long before the feast, homeless.

NABVETS salutes Mr. William Sims and his determined resolve, dedication and spirit for being a Champion for the rights of Black Veterans.