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A veteran-to-veteran storytelling project designed to let Miami Valley veterans describe their own experiences, in their own words with a special focus on stories of re-entry into civilian life.

Veterans' Voices: Preparing Future Leaders To Get Involved

Phyllis Allen and Odell Graves
Phyllis Allen and Odell Graves

The Black Knights were a precision drill team within the JROTC program at Colonel White High School, now Thurgood Marshall High School in Dayton. The JROTC program and its drill team were started by Army veteran Odell Graves of Clayton. Retired English teacher Phyllis Allen asks Graves about his work with students.


Odell Graves (OG): The whole idea was to take young people and help them become better citizens. The only mission the JROTC has is a simple sentence to help young Americans become better citizens. But the funny thing for me, for Colonel White, is Colonel White had a fantastic band. It was called The Little Colonels.

Phyllis Allen (PA): Right.

OG: And I said, this is phenomenal. We have a phenomenal band and I’m going to create a fantastic cadet corps.

PA: And you did. We had all kind of contests, competitions, gun-twirling, and all sorts of things. These were the Black Knights. That’s what the drill team was called.

OG: Right.

PA: Well, I came in 1998, and they were already were twirling away and being really professional about it.

OG: Well, I started in 1983, and The Black Knights did not become The Black Knights until 1989. It took us six years to really train a group of young people to be able to do that.

PA: I guess I'm thinking of just how much the kids were a part of the school that was really a school for the arts. But a lot of what we did would not have been possible were it not for the cadets.

OG: Well, many of the leaders were cadets in other departments and other activities throughout the school. We didn't want to monopolize, but I wanted to get the point across that leadership was pervasive. Every aspect of every program required leadership.

PA: The fact that you are still working now at Dayton Early College Academy. I thought, how many times have you retired and been pulled back in, or just compelled. And how lucky these kids are, even if they have you for one eighth of the amount that Colonel White and Thurgood Marshall had you for. I never heard you say no. And you told me why that was. Do you remember what you told me?

OG: The military has an “I can” attitude. Being in the military for as long as I was, I learned one thing. You got to get involved. As a citizen of this country, we all need to be involved and be committed to support this country. And The Black Knights will appreciate having been mentioned by you in this, because they truly are future leaders of this country.

Army veteran Odell Graves and Phyllis Allen spoke at WYSO as part of StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative which visited the Miami Valley last summer. Veterans’ Voices on WYSO is presented by Wright-Patt Credit Union with additional support from CareSource. This story was edited by Jim Kahle and Will Davis and created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.