published Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Upton: Everyday people make a difference

You don't have to be written about in a book to be a history maker. Most of us do it every day in small, steady ways. Ordinary citizens make history as they give of themselves to the communities around them.

This month, as we celebrate Black History, I want to acknowledge the little-known heroes I also call friends. I think people should know about them and the many others out there who put the hoe to the ground, breaking the soil of brotherhood and creating wonderful things in the process.

My friends Jerri and Aubrey, mentor youth in their Alton Park community, working directly with neighborhood schools to encourage parental involvement and spiritual development. They've regularly opened their home up to others, and though it has been a sacrifice at times, they don't regret their calling. They live in a neighborhood where they know many of the youth, and they have what Aubrey calls, "life on life" relationships with them.

Aubrey says that students like his friend, Deron, who once had a 1.37 GPA, help make his work rewarding.

"He thought he was not college material, but now he's at Chattanooga State, studying to become a history teacher in his community," Aubrey explains.

When Jerri and Aubrey married, they made history again. As African-Americans, they are included in a cultural subset that many statisticians call the least-married in the nation. When they walked down that grassy aisle in front of a shimmering lake last spring, they set an example of love and commitment that will impact young lives. Some of "their kids" have never witnessed a loving marriage.

Aubrey says, "I constantly hear girls and guys say to me now, 'I want to get married and start a new legacy in my home.'" Jerri says that marriage helps to end the cycle of poverty. "I hope my marriage is an example of what black love can be and that being married is not intangible," Jerri said. "Being married is beautiful."

And then there's Sara, a blue-eyed blond who spends much of her free time mentoring a crowd we may refer to as delinquent, at-risk, angry. She teaches them how to manage that anger and express themselves in healthy ways.

She said, "As each new group begins, the children always amaze me with their stories; they amaze me with their strength and resiliency... I try to create a safe place for the children to share these stories and learn healthy ways to express their anger. And I am honored to be a person with whom they share this part of their lives."

I know pastors of small, little known churches that faithfully reach out to those in need. There are teachers who spend their own money, mental energy, and emotional strength on children they desire to see live better lives than what the statistics predict for them. One resilient woman I've met organizes youth seminars throughout the year, virtually on her own. She provides transportation, lunch, and invites local men and women to come and speak.

My unsung heroes work in non-profit organizations, run small newspapers, raise children, volunteer behind the scenes, produce inspiring plays, plant community gardens, teach the arts, sports, are foster parents, and more. They encourage young people and old ones to be all that they can be. They inspire in so many unique ways and they make black history, which is also American history -- all of our history -- with each small effort. This month I just want to say, thank you.

Tabi Upton, MA-lpc, is a therapist at Richmont/CBI Counseling Center. E-mail her at tabiupton@bellsouth.net.

about Tabi Upton...

Tabi Upton, MA-LPC is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center.

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