Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

A Lasting Lesson From A Moment In Time

As summer vacations begin to wind down, many of us are refocusing on local businesses, seeking to learn new techniques to attract customers and create new revenue. Learning comes in many forms – seminars, forums, and continuing education. Sometimes though, the most lasting lessons come from the briefest encounters.

Aktion

Aktion Club of Lake Norman

For more than a decade, I have served as the advisor to a group of special needs adults called the Kiwanis Aktion Club. These young adults meet each month at the Lake Norman Chamber to socialize, conduct community projects, and participate in programs to enrich their lives.

Recently, a friend asked if I had a personal connection to this group. Perhaps a family member with special needs or a friend with a disability? As I started to reply, I had to suppress the tears. Yes, there was a story. There’s always a story.

In 1983, I joined a local community service group called the Jaycees and jumped head first into nearly every local project. Then one day, the Chapter President asked for volunteers to participate in Camp Hope Sunday. The statewide charity was a summer camp for children with disabilities. Each year the Jaycees would dedicate one Sunday to drive to this special camp and spend an afternoon with the young campers. The volunteers would take a picnic lunch, usually stopping at KFC just outside of the camp, and spend time with the campers.  After lunch, the kids would sing a few songs for their hosts.

The first few times I was asked to join in, I always found an excuse why I couldn’t attend, but in 1986 I was president of our Jaycee Chapter and felt that I had to go. Once there, I was assigned a little boy. Thirty one years later I still remember his name … Jason. Jason was just like any other ten year old child except he was considered special.  Jason had Down Syndrome.

Shortly after we arrived, we sat down for our picnic. The room was loud with laughter and chatter and Jason hardly took a breath between bites as he filled me in everything that came to his mind. When he reached over and started picking up food off of my plate, I was slightly taken aback.  But Jason just laughed as if he had told the biggest joke of all.

Several minutes later Jason joined a group of kids to sing a few songs. Picture twelve children, all singing the same song, but each and every one in a different harmony and pitch. I caught Jason looking directly at me, eyes locked on mine, and he was smiling from ear to ear. After the last song, he ran back to our table, anxiously asking could I hear him?  “Absolutely,” I replied. I’m quite sure he was the loudest child on stage!  As our group gathered to depart, I’ll never forget that moment when this young boy who I met just hours before, wrapped his little arms tightly around my waist, and said “I love you Mr. Bill.”Aktion 2

We drove three hours back to Rock Hill and although others in the car were carrying on conversations, my thoughts were still on Jason and the other campers. That’s the day, the very moment, I realized Jason didn’t have a special need – I did. But not anymore. I truly believe God gave me that moment with Jason for a reason.

When my friend asked me recently did I have a special needs child of my own? I said yes. I have a couple of dozen of them actually. We meet every month at the Chamber. We call ourselves the Aktion Club.

Some Aktion Club members are in their 20’s, some in their 30’s and they may not be kids – but in a very special way, they’re my kids. When they have every reason in the world to rail against their own particular challenges – they laugh, love, learn, and serve.

Jason touched me in way that I have never forgotten. This ten year old child with Downs taught me I didn’t need to be afraid. He had enough love for us both as he wrapped his arms tightly around me as my body literally shook.  Three decades later I remember that simple hug. It was the afternoon I found God’s Grace in the heart of a child.

Bill Russell

The above article was written for The Lake Norman Citizen Newspaper – July 26, 2017.

 

August 16, 2017 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, Lake Norman Aktion Club, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Heroes come in many form

SuperI recently read a book entitled Hollywood Kryptonite about the life and tragic death of Hollywood actor George Reeves. Reeves is perhaps better known as the “Man of Steel” – the actor who played Superman in the 1950 television series – The Adventures of Superman.

Many of the kids in my neighborhood would gather around their TV sets at 3:30 in the afternoon after school to see Superman, typically rescuing Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson, as he fought to preserve “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”

My mother even went so far as to sew capes for a little boy in the neighborhood and myself as we pretended to be super heroes. While we couldn’t fly, we did jump on our Schwinn bikes, our bright red capes blowing in the wind as we pedaled from neighborhood to neighborhood, secure in the notion we were real American super heroes.

This past month, a different set of heroes emerged at Lake Norman. They didn’t don red capes and blue tights with a big yellow letter “S” on their chest.  But they were actual heroes none the less.

A community forum was held at CPCC Merancas Campus to discuss community policing and bringing our community closer together. A national unrest between law enforcement and the community at large is playing out in communities across the nation.  While the major protests have not been as widespread in our region, panelists comprised of our Davidson and Huntersville Police Chiefs along with CPCC, Charlotte Police, and FBI did share the “real fear minorities have of law enforcement.”

It took courage to open up about how an African American man feels being stopped by a white police officer at night at a routine traffic stop or the deep wounds of racial prejudice, which could have occurred decades ago, but are still lurking under the surface today.

Pic 7 Splash Pad

Huntersville Mayor John Anerall, Kiwanis Governor Dawn Hodges, and Bill Russell – Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce 

Just a week later, community, business, and elected leaders gathered at the Splashville Park as the Lake Norman Kiwanis and the Town of Cornelius PARC Department unveiled a new Splash Pad in Smithfield Park. The Kiwanis Club, assisted by the Park Board, have raised nearly $150,000 in donations for the recreational attraction.

The driving force behind the Splash Pad is Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla. John was president of the Kiwanis Club several years ago when the Kiwanis looked at creating a water park for children. Ironically, the club which is for the most part made up of Caucasians, chose to locate the park in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Cornelius – Smithfield. It also wasn’t lost on me at the dedication of the park, the corporate donations which came from Huntersville and Davidson for this regional collaboration.

This month, the Lake Norman Chamber will recognize Corporations, Small Businesses, Non-profits, and Individuals who both practice and promote diversity in the workplace at our Annual Diversity Luncheon to be held Thursday, September 15th at River Run Country Club in Davidson.

These Champions of Diversity are working to bring our community and region together when so many others still seek to drive us apart. Overcoming prejudice and racism is a daunting task. Many of us still wrestle with generational attitudes when it comes to race, gender identity, cultural, and even generational diversity.

We all need to take to heart the words of Mother Teresa who said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Fifty years after watching my first Superman episode, I’ve come to realize it doesn’t take a man of steel who can leap tall buildings or be faster than a locomotive to be a genuine hero.  It can come in the form of a civic club member, police officer, or community volunteer who simply wants to leave their community better than they found it.

Heroes are just everyday people. They may not be able to change the world but they can impact one life at a time. Creating ripples which speak to our hearts and forever touch our souls.

Bill Russell

September 1, 2016 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, Social Causes | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment