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Supervisor Nathan Fletcher today during a small ceremony at the County Administration Center honored the winners of his inaugural “Salute Our Veterans” awards. 

The three winners were selected from 50 total nominations received in three categories. Kiara Blanchard, a veteran who helps children and nonprofits is the recipient of the Salute Our Veterans Community Leaders Award; The Mental Bar, a veteran-owned coffee shop, is the recipient of the Small Business Award; and Black Deported Veterans of America, Inc. is the recipient of the Non-Profit Award.

“Many service members when they leave active duty transition into doing great things for the community, but not often enough is their civilian service recognized; the Salute Our Veteran awards is my way of expressing my appreciation for their contributions to San Diego County,” said Supervisor Fletcher, U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran. “I really enjoyed reading through all the submissions we received, and it was a tough decision, but after meeting the winners I am even more encouraged by the contributions our veterans are doing to make our county a better place.”  

About the Winners: 

Salute Our Veterans Community Leader Award: Kay Black, MSW

Kay Black is a United States Army Veteran. Ms. Black was selected because she has been an advocate for numerous causes, including science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) events for underrepresented youth. She promotes community building, empowerment and speaks out against injustice. Ms. Black has also taken it upon herself to raise more than $80,000 to support nonprofits and small businesses. She currently serves as a Veteran Service Representative for the Department of Veteran Affairs and owns One1Africa, an African boutique based on the Swahili term Sankofa; to go back and get it, whose mission is to build a lasting connection between community and culture from Ghana through a mixture of modern and traditional swag. To learn more, visit:

Salute Our Veterans Small Business Award: The Mental Bar  

Tommy Walker is a United States Navy Veteran. Tommy, along with his wife Daneyel own The Mental Bar located in Southeastern San Diego’s Black Cultural Arts District (6325 Imperial Avenue). It’s a neighborhood business where the community gathers. Customers can enjoy delicious menu items, a warm environment, free internet access and an outdoor community space with a mural that’s representative of San Diego’s 4th District. Their coffee and tea products are used to help treat anxiety, chronic pain, substance use disorders, and Central Nervous System Disease. To learn more, visit:

Salute Our Veterans Non-profit Award: Black Deported Veterans of America, Inc. 

In 2022, United States Marine Corps Veteran James L. Smith II along with Army Veteran David Bariu started the Black Deported Veterans of America, Inc. nonprofit to bring home Black veterans who have been unjustly deported. Mr. Smith is a dedicated advocate who has been raising awareness of this issue for years; often self-funding efforts to support this population of veterans who have been separated from their families. Most recently he was involved in the return of David Bariu, his co-founder and newly repatriated veteran from Kenya. They connect with veterans on a regular basis in other countries that are separated from their families. To learn more, visit:

In October 2022 Supervisor Fletcher launched the inaugural Salute Our Veterans aboard the USS Midway Museum. To learn more about the criteria, visit:

Supervisor Fletcher and the Board of Supervisors earlier this year voted to pass policies to open a new veteran support facility in East County and expand the number of veterans hired by the County of San Diego; an initiative Supervisor Fletcher first discussed earlier this year during his State of the County Address. 

Before entering public office, Supervisor Fletcher served as a Counterintelligence/Human Intelligence Specialist in the Marine Corps and served two combat tours in Iraq, the Near East, and the Horn of Africa. For his service, he earned the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat “V” for valor along with other awards. A proud Veteran’s advocate, Chair Fletcher founded the Three Wise Men Veterans Foundation to help eliminate stigma surrounding Post-Traumatic Stress and launched the “Honorably Discharged, Dishonorably Deported” campaign to spotlight the unjust deportation of veterans. He successfully brought home previously deported veterans. Supervisor Fletcher’s son is a member of the U.S. Marine Corps.