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A Few People Who Will Make You Smile
10/22/2014 3:46:56 PM

By Barney Blakeney

In trying to determine a subject for this column I felt I should do something positive and upbeat. In this job, it’s easy to become cynical, jaded, too critical. There’s so much wrong with the world, reporters tend to focus on the negative. But there’s a lot of stuff that’s right with it as well. And fortunately you don’t have to look very far to find it. So in a week that’s been filled with the passing of some good friends, shootouts at baby birthday parties and increasing disenfranchisement for Black folks, I’ve chosen to write about some things that made me smile.

Sunday morning I was reeling from the Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant shooting when Reb in her message mentioned one of my favorite people - Mrs. Gladys Pyatt. In Webster’s Dictionary beside the definition of upbeat people is a picture of Mrs. Pyatt. Reb said Mrs. Pyatt is one of those women who when they break a shoe heel exclaims, “Oh! I can get another pair of shoes!” Talk about using life’s lemons to make lemonade.

On Tuesday they held the funeral wake for Alex Williams. I told his daughter I wouldn’t show - anybody who knows me knows I don’t do funerals - but I ended up at Alex’s wake. They were singing C.A. Brown’s alma mater when Bobby and I walked in. Of course, there was a succession of folks talking about how great Alex was. The good thing is, it’s all true.

Alex and Mrs. Pyatt remind me there are untold numbers of unsung heroes out here, people whose nature is to brighten someone’s day, right wrongs and speak up for the voiceless. They don’t hold the titles, get their pictures taken for news stories or are named to receive awards. They just do stuff for people just because that’s what they do, that’s how they’re wired. They look for ways to be helpful and encouraging. They’re all around us, the Alex's and Mrs. Pyatts.

The other day former S.C. State Rep. Floyd Breeland came by the office. His wife, Mrs. Breeland was the chorus teacher at Columbus Street Elementary when I was there. There were others at Columbus Street who pushed bad kids like me and Ernest ‘Hack’ Grant on through. I wonder what ever happened to Miss Varner and Miss Hare, a very light-skinned lady who taught us history. Miss Varner was the youngest of our teachers and taught mathematics.

Miss Garrett was my homeroom teacher. I tried that lady’s patience. One day she walked me home and talked to my daddy about my behavior. I was smart, but bad as ..ll. I thought my daddy would cut my butt after she left, but he didn’t. Those folks, including Mrs. Rhodes and Mrs. Howard really pushed a lot of us through. They were just a few of the heroes who gave us 100 percent all the time.

Mr. Breeland wanted some publicity about the Call Me Mister scholarship named in his honor at the College of Charleston where he directs the program that recruits and trains Black males to teach school. The Call Me MIster program seeks to address the critical shortage of minority male teachers in grades k-8. Dr. Roy Jones, another unsung hero, is executive director. He spent some time with Charleston County School District. Real good guy.

Guys like Joseph “Fess/Pop” Moore, Modie Risher, Cornell Hicks, George Pettigrew, George Kenny, Nathaniel Washington, David Haynes, Lonnie Hamilton, David Mack, John Singletary - heck I can’t name them all - didn’t have the advantage of a Call Me Mister program. I can’t imagine what it must be to shoulder that awesome responsibility, teaching boys to become men.

An email came across my desk last week that announces The Citadel’s new Dept. of Leadership Studies and M.S. Degree in Leadership. When I was coming through, The Citadel was not an option for most Black high school graduates, although a C.A. Brown grad, Charles Foster, was its first Black cadet.

I’m proud that Army Lt. Col. Santel H. Powell, a kid right off the Cooper Street block, is among the ranks of those who followed. Guys like Charleston dentist Larry Ferguson and White House staffer Clay Middleton also are among the unsung heroes from The Citadel.

I got a smile thinking about Ms. Evelyn Brown. Now 89, it was only a few years ago the retired New York, N.Y. school teacher went back to school taking classes at the College of Charleston. She always talked about her hero, some guy named Dr. Bahr (I hope that’s how his name is spelled). He’s from Africa, I don’t know which country.

I’m sure there are other unsung heroes over there in addition to guys like Dr. Bernie Powers and former Burke High PTA President Dr. Andrew Lewis who are pushing students to greater heights. One guy I’m impressed with is Office of Diversity VP John Bello-Ogunu. If CofC President Glenn McConnell listens, I believe Bello-Ogunu can help move the school from stagnation to progress.

Unfortunately, I’ve only got a limited space for this column. I could go on calling names of people who are making a difference in our community all day long. And they ain’t all Black.

I’ve called some names in this space purposely. I know you who are reading this also can call names. Heck, just look beside you as you read, I’ll bet there are some of those people right next to you. Give ‘em a hug.

Visitor Comments

Submitted By: Pat Lee Submitted: 10/24/2014
Great piece Barney! Keep 'em coming.

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