Service is the Rent We Pay to Live on this Earth
I grew up seeing my mother and father serve in our church, The Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church of Rocky Mount, NC. Both of my parents held several positions in the church. Both held elected offices in church auxiliaries and served on church committees. My mother held the position of President of the Senior Choir for several years and she has served on several committees such as the committee for Women’s Day, Hospitality Committee, and she continues to regularly participate in the church’s annual Clothing Closet which is held in November of each year to assist those people in the community in need. Both were church ushers, sang in the choir and were active in all phases of the church. My father eventually became an ordained minister before passing away from cancer in 2004. My mother continues to be active both in the church and in the community by collecting and distributing food to those in need. Both parents regularly transported people to church who needed transportation.
Not only were my parents active in serving the community, but the spirit of community activism and service also existed in many of my other relatives. My aunt, Nancy Gary Wilson Joyner, was involved in numerous activities – too many to even begin to name here. My second cousins, Catherine Lucas Perry and Rebecca Perry Lucas were also both very active in the community. Namely, these two sisters were instrumental in the building of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park located in Rocky Mount. Benches have been dedicated to these two cousins at the park in their honor. All three women were school teachers who taught for many years and were active members of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.,
This idea of service was ingrained in me at an early age and has become a “Magnificent Obsession” as such. While growing up, I, along with my parents, also ushered, sang in the church choir and held several positions within the church.
While attending Howard University in Washington, DC; I pledged a coeducational (males and females), professional, business fraternity - The International Fraternity of Delta Sigma Pi, where I held the position of Vice President of Community Service. Among several activities of service that we performed, my brothers and I worked served meals at soup kitchens and domestic violence shelters; collected and distributed gifts at the Hospital for Sick Children in Washington, DC and served as volunteers for the Special Olympics during the time I held the position of Vice President of Community Service.
I also volunteered with Guilford County Department of Social Services in Greensboro, NC (1990), as a tutor for children who had been placed in foster care. Once I married and had children of my own, I regularly volunteered as a grade parent with the Edgecombe County and Nash-Rocky Mount School Systems. At the Edgecombe County School System, I volunteered with the H.O.S.T. S (Helping One Student to Succeed) program where I helped students to read. I volunteered as an after-school program tutor with the Nash-Rocky Mount Boys and Girls Club.
I was a Girl Scout Cadette and Senior Troop Co-Leader with the Coastal Plains (now Coastal Pines) Girl Scouts (2002 – 2004). Our cadette troop consisted of approximately nine young ladies between the ages of 11-14 and we were dedicated to performing community service activities. As a Cadette/Senior Co- Leader, I assigned service projects to these young ladies to foster a sense of charity and serving their communities. The young ladies were also able to earn badges for their uniforms. They began a babysitting service after receiving babysitting training through the American Red Cross; donated and served cookies to the participants of Wright’s Center Adult Living Facility; sang Christmas carols during the holiday season to the residents of the South Village Nursing Home; served meals to the homeless at United Community Ministries; made Christmas Stockings for the Salvation Army for Christmas distribution; and coordinated an Easter Egg hunt at the Bassett Center, a transitional housing facility for displaced families in Rocky Mount, NC.
Since 2008, I have been involved with the Organizing for America (OFA) group. I assisted in setting up a local office in Rocky Mount, NC and performed unconventional voter registration activities in several local counties within eastern North Carolina. Our local group campaigned for then Democratic Presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama to become elected to the office of President of the United States. I, along with other members of OFA continued to carry out the agenda of President Obama. We organized phone banks and went door-to-door to inform the public about health care reform and encouraged citizens to make calls to their Congressional representatives to vote in support of Health Care Reform.
I worked on campaigns on a local level as well to assist those candidates whom I felt best represented the interests of the citizens of Rocky Mount and Edgecombe County.
During the 2010, mid-term election, I, again, did unconventional voter registration and encouraged citizens to participate in the North Carolina “Vote to Honor a Veteran” program where citizens could complete a form and mail it to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, indicating that they would like to vote in honor of someone who had served in the United States military.
During 2000, I volunteered with the American Red Cross Legacy of Life to encourage Black people to donate blood plasma. I have continued to donate blood to the American Red Cross on occasion and have also volunteered to help with blood drives. I regularly advertise local blood drives through emails, social media and flyers.
On several occasions from 1998 until 2008, I organized community trash pick-ups through the “Keep America Beautiful” program with the city of Rocky Mount.
I have been most passionate about the utility bill issue that currently exists in Rocky Mount, NC. Rocky Mount has been a part of a Utility Cooperative, Electricities since 1971 and owes a debt of $26,000,000. Consequently, this debt has been passed along to the citizens of Rocky Mount and this has caused economic chaos amongst the citizens and the city itself. For several years, I have suggested to grassroots community leaders to call for a boycott of Rocky Mount Public Utilities until this matter is addressed with some type of viable solution that will benefit the citizens and not continue to cause the downward spiraling economic effect on the city that it has caused over the last 20 or so years. Employers are feeling the pinch of the burdensome utility bills and have been leaving the city causing increased unemployment. Families are losing their homes due to the burden of the utility bills. Those who are able to leave the city are leaving in droves, decreasing the population and therefore causing this debt to be spread amongst fewer people and causing rates to steadily increase. Because people have less discretionary income, they have less to spend in retail establishments and these businesses are leaving because of decreased revenues. The utility bill situation has caused a negative economic domino effect and apparently the hands of the elected city officials must be forced before anyone will take a serious look at this problem and know that the citizens of Rocky Mount are serious about wanting change.
Within the last ten to fifteen years or so, I began reciting the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. I simply envision a day when there is no suffering, no injustice, no homelessness, no hunger, no poverty, no discrimination, etc. I realize this is quite idealistic but my belief is that we are our brother’s keeper and as long as these atrocities exist, it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to do what is within our power to eradicate these problems.
My mother, often quotes my Great Uncle Sherman Cooper (or maybe it was her father, my gradfather - the world will never know) who always said, there are one thousand and one ways to do anything you want to do. I look at the way things are and always think “How can this be done better? How can this be improved?” I don’t believe in can’t. Just like Uncle Sherman, I believe there is always a better way. The work I do simply fits into a belief that there is always a better way when people are suffering. I don’t believe that suffering should exist when it doesn’t have to exist – when the situation is within one’s control. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc. are beyond our control. They are acts of God and cannot be changed. Greed, bad customer service, apathy and lack of vision are within one’s control. These are areas that I hope to effect positively - if not change completely.
Social change requires baby steps. Lao Tzu said “the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step”. One must take action before any progress can be made. I am often criticized because I have not aligned myself with any organization to do the work that I do. I am not one to sit in long meetings when I can just be out working to fix a problem or meet a need
I feel my greatest contribution to date has been helping my friends and relatives during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. My then husband James and I cooked and served food to several people we know who were flooded from their homes. I helped a friend and co-worker salvage her belongings from her flooded modular home. We picked up and distributed water to the elderly. This was my proudest moment because I felt that this was something that God called me to do. A large percentage of homes in Rocky Mount and surrounding areas had flooded. Many people that I know had lost their belongings. My home suffered nothing whatsoever. I felt that it was my duty to assist my friends and loved ones.
To sustain change for the long haul, I just continue to do what I do. I find it difficult to turn a blind eye to situations I view as unjust.
I am a part of no organization. I have not wanted to reinvent the wheel, therefore, I have worked to assist many causes and have unofficially aligned myself with many organizations which are already in existence. I have faced the same challenge as any organization – money and human resources. It is difficult to find funds to do what I believe should be done. I have used my own money for postage, gasoline, computer time, office supplies, printing, food and etc. Occasionally I will have a donor or two, but most of my time has not been compensated nor do I receive any reimbursement for any expenses. Therefore money and encouraging people to get involved and “DO SOMETHING” has been the greatest challenge.
I would like to take time off because, honestly, I am tired. I would like to travel and see locations outside of the United Sates. I would like to focus on writing about my travels. A sabbatical would allow me to rejuvenate myself and hopefully see my immediate surroundings from a different perspective once I have rested and experienced other cultures.
In the next five years, I would like to have completed a Master’s degree in library science (or perhaps even a law degree), continue to work with children, play a role in helping to settle the Rocky Mount Public Utilities/Electricities situation, reform public education and maybe get a mention in President Barack Obama’s memoir as being influential in carrying out his agendas after he has served his second term in office.
I would like to continue my efforts under a not-for-profit organization - Lemons 2 Lemonade. This organization will be dedicated to the efforts of social activism in my community. I would like to encourage job growth in the community, recycling efforts, congressional lobbying for legislation that will benefit the "47%", reduce homelessness and serve those "forgotten" folk who get stuck in the nooks and crannies of life.