ATLANTA — JT Liddell grew up in Mississippi, reading fiction novels by Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum. The pages fueled his passion to serve his country, and he enlisted into the military in 2003.
After spending a decade in the service and doing defense contracting work, Liddell transitioned out of the military. He found the obstacles challenging to overcome.
A few months before the COVID-19 pandemic, Liddell founded a tech startup called Promenade. The company, based in Atlanta, aims to connect veterans nationwide with organizations that offer resources to help them transition to civilian life.
“I’ve really made it my life’s mission to help veterans coming behind me have a much more seamless journey," Liddell said. “It’s really ensuring that each veteran is aware of all those different resources out there and making sure you get them connected to the ones that work specifically for them and their individuals journey.”
Despite the pandemic limiting face-to-face operations, Liddell said his company got a big boost when awarded a $100,000 grant from Google. The tech giant offered 25 grants this year to minority business owners across the country.
Liddell said Promenade has already helped hundreds of veterans with its growing database of available groups and resources. The founder said he wanted the company to primarily target minority veterans first, explaining their struggles tend to be magnified.
“Veterans who are suffering the most in their post-military journey are really minority veterans, specifically Black veterans," Liddell said. "The pandemic, from a mental health standpoint, really exasperated the pain veterans were going through because they really were isolated and didn’t have that sense of community they were really longing for.”
Jerrod Williams, who spent nearly a decade in the Army, met Liddell in graduate school. Through Promenade, Williams said he has landed work and connected with like-minded veterans going through similar experiences.
“A lot of times, Black veterans fall through the cracks, just like other vets," Williams said. "We fall through the cracks just as much because of the lack of information being told to us. It's about word of mouth, because if one veteran has a good experience or has information that’s a central focal point they can get information, another veteran can tell another veteran. It’s endless.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Georgia has close to 700,000 veterans. About 40% are minorities. Williams said he and other minority veterans struggle with support systems, mental health and translating skills learned in the military to real life work.
"We sacrificed our youth, we gave it all," Williams said. "Some gave more than all and yet, things are still happening. There’s always room for improvement, but sometimes room for improvement is not enough. We’d like to see action.”
Liddell said Promenade will go through a soft launch in the next couple of months before being offered on a wider scale to the public sometime in 2022.
“Serving my country was something I always wanted to do, and through Promenade I have another avenue to serve this same population as their exiting the military," Liddell said.