By Barney Blakeney
With all the stuff there is to do, I sometimes feel there ain’t enough hours in the day. Some of the stuff is things I do to earn a living. The other stuff is things I do because they need to be done – volunteer stuff. And I do a lot of stuff just for fun!
I get busy, but then, everybody’s busy. I constantly have to check myself when I start feeling like I’m doing ‘all that’. There are folks out here who make my activities look like a day at the beach. People like my cousin Tyese Jackson Miller. A devout Christian, she began a ministry teaching Bible study classes at the Charleston County Juvenile Detention Center in 1989. Then in 1998 her son, the victim of a random robbery, was killed. Tyese used her personal tragedy as motivation.
Over the years she developed the Parent Advisory Panel comprised of parents of children in the juvenile justice system and others. She was one of 10 original arbitrators in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office Juvenile Arbitration Program. She’s been assigned over 300 cases. Over 70 percent of her cases completed the program. She’s recruited over 60 volunteers to serve as mentors. In September, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg recognized her contributions with a proclamation.
Tyese is among many of our neighbors who give themselves and their time to enhance the quality of life in our community. Of course there are those knuckleheads who think it’s all about them – folks who do good things, but insist on being the guy with the microphone. For some folks service is all about being the star. I can live with that – as long as they produce positive benefits for someone other than themselves. But then there are those nameless people who everyday do the work and ask nothing in return except to be given the opportunity to serve others.
Every now and then I still get a call from Mrs. Christine Jackson, former executive Director of the Greater Charleston YWCA. I twinge when I get her calls. Mrs. Jackson puts people to work! Lavanda Brown and the folks now at the Y are doing a great job taking the organization to the next level, but Mrs. Jackson gave them a good head start. Now retired, Mrs. Jackson was executive director 37 years from 1966-2003. You couldn’t say ‘no’ to Mrs. Jackson. She wouldn’t accept it anyway. She’s got that way of pulling the best out of people. I’ve done some of my best work because of Mrs. Jackson. She’s still workin’ me.
The Y was built on volunteerism. It was founded July 4, 1907 to serve Charleston’s segregated Black community. Its first president was Mrs. Felicia Goodwin, grandmother of the late Herbert U. Fielding and his brother Bernard Fielding. The women established the community fixture that would become known to generations of residents as “the Girls Y or the Coming Street Y”. The YWCA’s programs continue to inspire new generations to become strong leaders and continue to advocate for opportunity and equity for all women through its focus on technology and the arts. Its volunteers have developed a strong STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program.
I’ve recently met another group of volunteers, Charleston Rhizome Collective, which quietly and strategically is making an impact in the community. I first met Gwylene Gallimard and Jean Marie Mauclet maybe 20 years ago. Local artists and social activists, Gallimard and Mauclet have joined with educators Pamella Gibbs, Debra Holt and LaSheia Oubre along with an ensemble of apprentice artists for the past four years who have created the platform where artists and activists can meet, discuss and share their perceptions of Charleston in transition.
Last year they presented “conNECKted: Imaginings for Truth and Reconciliation” at the City Gallery at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Waterfront Park. The exhibition filled the two levels of the gallery with multi-media expressions of what it is to be Charleston, a city with a rich unique history that is time- warping into a modern landscape where the flavor of cobblestones and oyster shells are being replaced by concrete, steel and glass. From public transportation to architecture, the exhibit facilitated expression and dialogue, said Gallimard. Mauclet said the exhibit used visual art as a revealer to the dynamics of the community.
Among the collective’s current activities is the conNECKtedTOO Tiny Businesses Project which invites small – (Tiny) Businesses to envision how arts and culture can engage economic development and challenge common difficulties. They hope to create a network of Tiny Neighborhood Businesses to cumulate buying and selling power, engage residents in decisions over business ownership, loans, job training, hiring practices, wholesale prices, schooling and housing using art installations, visuals, forums, a tour, an app-interactive map and a youth entrepreneurship.
Everybody advocates youth employment; Rhizome’s volunteers facilitate it. Another project is its third apprenticeship program for young people ages 16-24 called ‘Belonging and Becoming’ which highlights tiny businesses and entrepreneurship. The program wants self-motivated apprentices who will work with mentors in an inter-generational, inter-racial team to; research and conduct interviews; research the history of ‘Tiny’ businesses as well as their presence and impact; do art studio work; document work; perform administrative tasks; do performances and conduct tours. Apprentices will be paid a stipend depending on their age and number of hours worked. For information call (843) 723-1018 or email at conNECKtedTOO@gmail.com.
The volunteers at Wesley UMC in downtown Charleston also are among the most dedicated I know. The group that conducts the monthly third Saturday community breakfast are a phenomenal group of people. Over the past four years the ladies and Sam start about 4 a.m. preparing breakfast that’s served at the church located 446 Meeting St. from 8-11 a.m. Each month, rain or shine, they serve some 300 meals to anyone who walks through the doors.
I’ve only mentioned a few of the people I know who give hours each day volunteering to help other people. There are thousands of others. When I start to think about the few hours I spend doing stuff for no pay, I think about those folks and realize I should be doing a whole lot more.