Russell’s Ramblings

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

Lots to be thankful for!

Last weekend, a longtime friend called to inform me she was moving to Colorado and hoped we could get together again before she made that trek out west.

Jill was one of the first people I met at the lake when I took over the helm of the Chamber in 1996. She and I could not have been more different in our political philosophies. She was a diehard progressive and I was clearly a conservative when it came to my beliefs and values. Yet, our love of the Lake Norman community and the potential of this region transcended our partisan differences.

jayceesAs a reporter for the only newspaper in the area at the time, Jill and I were both involved in many of the milestone events for our area, such as the groundbreaking of the “New” Exit 25 on I-77 and the grand opening of Birkdale. Since she also served as president of the Lake Norman Jaycees and was active in both the Chamber and Rotary, she and I interacted a great deal over two decades.

As we sat together on her last weekend in town, we lamented how partisan, bitter, and angry politics have turned both nationwide and locally. Ironically, we also both remarked how glad we are that it will soon come to an end – at least until next fall! We spent the next two hours reminiscing friends we have lost here at the lake and celebrating how things have grown and prospered since we first met over 20 years ago.

As we started to say our goodbyes, almost on cue – a beautiful Lake Norman sunset burned brightly in the sky above The Port City Club. We watched as the sun slowly sank below the cool waters, glistening orange and yellow as the day gave way, surrendering to twilight.

We hugged one last time and she left for her new life out west. Driving home, I was reminded that during this season of Thanksgiving, how very fortunate and thankful I am to all of the many people like Jill who have profoundly shaped our community and my life. And, how much better the Lake Norman region is because of these remarkable individuals. I am also very thankful that unemployment is down, our local real estate market is thriving, and commerce is strong. The chamber continues to introduce new businesses to the Lake Norman market, engage new members and benefit from the immense dedication of our volunteers. For these things, we are immensely grateful!

Recently, the Chamber held a Public Safety Luncheon where we saluted our local Police, Fire, and First Responders for keeping our families and businesses safe. While riots and protests ensued just a few miles down the road, our communities were safe! For that and for the services this special group provides each day, we should all be relieved and thankful!

We also celebrate the growth of our Lake Norman Chamber Young Professionals who celebrate their second anniversary this month! This group is growing as we see more and more young adults get involved in their community. America can feel the power of her young people and nowhere is that more evident than Lake Norman.ed-collab

Last month, we called on local businesses to help our Lake Norman Education Collaborative and you responded recognizing the need for businesses to partner with our public education. Thank you!

While I am thankful the campaign season is coming to a close – I am also very grateful to the men and women who both serve and those who seek political office.

As I watched Jill walk away, it occurred to me sometimes it’s the smallest of things and the people who have touched your life you cherish most of all. You may not remember all they said, perhaps not all they did, but you remember how they made you feel and the impact they have had on your life.  It really is a lot to be thankful for.

 

 

December 20, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized, Chamber of Commerce, Politics, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycee) Speeches | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Were!

Withrop Univeristy, Rock Hill, SC

I cannot think about the holidays without reminiscing of the Christmas Eve’s spent at my grandparents.  The bountiful meals my grandmothers prepared, the Church pageants, and yes…the multitude of gifts under the trees.  And while I will cherish those times, I often think back to an event which touched my heart and perhaps set in motion actions which led to my career with the Chamber today.

It was the Christmas of 1984 and I was Chairman of the Rock Hill Jaycees Christmas Charities project.  We were given a list of 30 or so families a little down on their luck that needed a helping hand.  This wasn’t your Bing Crosby White Christmas.  Rather it was a cold, rainy southern winter evening where you’d much rather be indoors watching television rather than delivering food and toys in the rain.  The family that I was given was several miles out of town.  A fellow Rock Hill Jaycee named Joe Stinson volunteered to team up with me and we drove for what seemed forever in rural Rock Hill. We traveled down muddy slick roads until at last we ventured on an old house sitting alone in the dark dreary night.

Stepping up on the creaking porch, I pulled back the screen door and knocked on the window pane of the door as Joe began unloading the groceries and toys.  A woman came to the door appearing a little puzzled as to her late night visitors.  I explained we were from the Jaycees and were there to help.  Tears slid down her cheek as she explained she was sure no one was coming and she had told the kids there wasn’t going to be a Christmas this year.  The lady said her husband had deserted them and it was just her and the children now.

She wiped back the tears as she talked proudly of her little boys as they could be heard in the background tearing through the house.  Eventually, one of the little tikes ran up and threw his arms tightly around his mother’s waist.  “Mama, mama, who is that?” he asked looking up at Joe and I.  “That’s Santa Clause,” she replied with a bright smile as she rubbed her hand across his head.  The lady thanked and hugged us as we made our way to the door. “God bless you both and Merry Christmas,” she said as she closed it gently behind us.

Joe and I drove back to Rock Hill.  I turned the radio off and we listened to the sounds of the wipers as they scraped along the windshield.  As we neared the city, Joe turned to me and said, “Little brother, we really were…”  Joe’s voice choked off as he looked the other way staring back out the passenger window.  Joe didn’t need to finish his sentence.  We were, that night – we really were.

Rock Hill Jaycees at an early 1990's Christmas Charities project

I will always remember the family gatherings, the wide eyed wonder when I surveyed our den after Santa arrived, and for the reason we all celebrate this most holy time in the first place.  And I will also remember the night we brought an evening of happiness to a mother and her children.  A mother who thought no one remembered – no one cared.  A night when tears were wiped away, hope and promise filled the air, and for a moment in time, we really were.

Merry Christmas and God Bless

December 24, 2010 Posted by | Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) | , , , , | 1 Comment

We Must Be Equal in the Eyes of Each Other

Helen Thomas - Former White House Press Corps Member

Last month, Helen Thomas, the legendary White Correspondent retired. The longtime White House journalist has covered every president since Dwight Eisenhower and broke several barriers for female journalists. She resigned her position as a columnist with the Hearst Newspapers in the wake of controversial remarks made in late May about the need for Jews to “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to Poland and Germany.  There was some discussion among talk show hosts that perhaps this prejudicial gaffe by an 89-year old legend should be overlooked. However, according to many who know her, this latest comment was not her first Anti-Semitic comment. It was perhaps the first caught on video and replayed for the world to witness.

The words we use not only say a great deal about how we feel on issues but reveal our very character. I remember long ago reading the quote, “True character is revealed at what you do when you think no one is looking.” The same can be said about what we say when we think no one may repeat it. As much as I have loved and admired my grandparents, all of whom are deceased now except my Grandmother Feemster, I still recall a Saturday afternoon hearing my grandfather use a racial slur that sent chills down my spine. Perhaps such language may have been in the main stream and considered acceptable by some fifty years ago, but it was certainly not acceptable just a decade ago when I heard it.

Even more recently, in a private conversation with several business leaders, I heard the CEO of a very prominent organization use a similar expression. This individual, still in a significant leadership position today, has perhaps the brightest intellect, business acumen, communication skills, and education of anyone I know. Yet, my perception of this individual as a community and business leader will perhaps never be the same. This one instance altered forever my view of this person. It doesn’t mean that they are not a good person or that they cannot change. We all make mistakes and I have made many myself. However, it is absolutely mandatory that as community and business leaders we learn from our mistakes, so that we do not dare repeat them.

Our Chamber of Commerce has created a diversity program whose mission it is to support the diverse minority business community in the Greater Lake Norman region and create access through education, networking, and advancement opportunities. In short, we realize that we are stronger as a region because of the diverse population that calls Lake Norman home. We are not born bigots with natural discriminatory views. We learn them – we also teach them.

Meeting President Reagan in 1992

One of the highlights of my life was meeting and having lunch with President Ronald Reagan.  Regardless of your political views, most concede Reagan brought about a renewed patriotism and a sense of optimism to our country. Reagan once said, “It is not enough to be equal in the eyes of God. We must be equal in the eyes of each other.” Let us all pray that we begin to live out that principle. Much sooner than later.

July 11, 2010 Posted by | Social Causes | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lula Bell

Lula hiding from the camera - Garden City Beach trip 1975

Lula hiding from the camera - Garden City Beach trip 1975

Recently I was going through old family photographs when I stumbled upon a picture of a lady who used to help my mom, and before that, my grandmother with their housekeeping.  To say she was merely a housekeeper would be completely disingenuous.  When my aunt was a little girl, an African American lady named Lula Bell Wilson helped my Grandmother Russell around the house and kept my Aunt Terry until my grandparents arrived back home from work.

When I was three years old, I was by all accounts a precocious little tyke.  There is a good reason why my mom waited seven years to have another child.  My mom was almost a nervous wreck when my grandmother suggested strong reinforcements in the guise of Lula Bell.  Mama has always told me I had a difficult time pronouncing Lula’s name and instead called her “Wuda Bell.”  For the next six years, Lula kept me during the day while Mom and Dad were at work.  While I’m sure that many of the values and beliefs that I cherish today were no doubt passed on to me by my parents, I have no doubt that Lula herself also had a profound impact in shaping my world.

While I sometimes have difficulty remembering what I did last week, I can recall with clarity sitting out in the back yard with bologna sandwiches Lula had made us or walks up to the ice cream shop, roughly a mile round trip from our house on Carey Drive.  Mom said Lula would often pay for the ice cream cones out of her own pocket.  I was after all – her little boy.    I suppose it’s because of the time I spent with Lula that I’ve always had such difficulty seeing the contrast between black and white.  The differences between races, between those who have and those who have not have always been blurred for me.

Exchanging gifts with JCI Japan National President - 1993

Exchanging gifts with JCI Japan National President - 1993

In 1994, I had the chance to attend the Junior Chamber International Japan  Academy with students from approximately 80 countries. Over the next two years I would serve Junior Chamber International as General Legal Counsel and then Treasurer, traveling into Japan, Korea, Central America, and Eastern Europe.  It was a rewarding experience sharing ideas and appreciating the diversity and customs of other cultures.

This month the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce launches the first of its Women and Minority Business Development programs.  This is an opportunity to engage the diverse population that makes up our region.  Our hope is to create programs that strengthen us as a region, to open doors of opportunity, and provide resources for our citizens to help them reach their potential.  After all, we are at our best when we help others achieve their dreams. 

This past Sunday, I traveled to Rock Hill to help my dad on the farm.  On the way back to Huntersville, I drove to our old home where I grew up as a child.  I parked the car and looked at the little house on Carey Drive.  I stood in the drizzling rain peering into the back yard, beyond the little fence, where Lula and I would sit and eat our sandwiches.    I can still hear her laughing at my many antics.  She would put her hand to her face and laugh with a sparkle in her eye.  To me Lula wasn’t a black woman or a white woman, she wasn’t well off or poor  – she was my Lula and I was her little boy.  While she has passed on now, her laughter still warms my soul.  The days we spent together, four decades later, are etched in the memories of my mind and through the eyes of a young boy I remember.

May 27, 2009 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jaycee Speech – “Dirt Roads” Circa 1994-1999

junior-chamber-logo0001Years ago, when I was just a teenager I remember taking a walk with my Granddaddy Russell through some of the back roads near his house.  He raised a few head of cattle and every once in a while they would venture to another pasture to graze on the tall grass.  I remember he made a comment to me, something I didn’t understand at the time.  “You know what’s wrong with the world”, he said, “there’s not enough dirt roads.” Being a city boy I replied, “Why would you want to live on a dirt road?” Mark Twain once said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, 1 was astonished at how’ much he had learned in 7 years.” I think I understand now what my grandfather meant…  the world continues to change… progress, evolution. Society, its values and customs also evolve.   Here in South Carolina, our communities continue to grow, prosper, and change.

Today we are faced with challenges that come with these changes … crime, drugs, school overcrowding,  family deterioration, traffic congestion, and yes even gang related incidents.  Challenges which could be solved with just a few dirt roads. You see, dirt roads build character.  People who live at the end of dirt roads learn early that life is a bumpy road… it can jar you right down to your bones-but its worth it if waiting at the end is your home with a loving spouse, happy kids, and a frisky puppy dog. We wouldn’t have near the problem with juvenile issues today if our kids got exercise walking a dirt road with other kids with whom they learn to get along.

There was less crime in our streets before they were paved.  Criminals did not walk two dusty miles to rob you when they knew they would be welcomed by five barking dogs and a loaded shotgun. Our values were better when our roads were worse.  People didn’t worship their cars and houses more than their kids.  Dirt roads were a sign of simpler times. But we out grew them.  America grew up.  The world grew up. Who would have believed 30 years ago when my Grandfather was still a young man – that in Russia –  the statues of Lenin would be replaced by the Golden Arches of McDonald’s. That Coke would replace Vodka as the beverage of choice. That the Berlin wall would crumble into souvenirs.

Here in America, young people continue to turn to drugs for an answer. Men and women line the city streets looking for shelter.  Health care costs are moving out of reach.    People are losing faith in their Government leaders, and volunteerism is on the decline. Where are we headed?  Never in the history of this country has volunteers been needed more than today. We stand at the precipice of tomorrow and America is calling out to its volunteers.  Men and women of vision and action.   President Bill Clinton took a step in the right direction in 1992 when he recognized the need for national citizen service.  We must understand that government can’t solve the problems of people.  Only people can solve the problems of people.

We must take responsibility for the future of our communities assisting bobby1those who cannot help themselves.  We should instill positive values in our young people by our actions rather than by our words.  We should make our communities the best possible place to work and to live.  And we should do it not because of what we gain, but what we become by doing it.  A revolution faces both this country and our government………. not a revolution of armed men and women, but a revolution of change.
Thirty years ago, Robert F. Kennedy had a vision of America, he said,  “A revolution is coming- a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough- but a revolution is coming whether we will it or not … we can affect its character, we cannot alter its inevitability.” It’s time to rekindle the spirit of cooperation and volunteerism in this country.  We must use our talents to create a better place to live.  It is our responsibility passed down by the generations which came before us and the legacy we leave for the next generation.
Even the most active of us sometimes wonders whether our vote…our actions…the time we may volunteer really make a difference.  The world is so complex can we really change the face of our communities? I want to be honest with you.  I can’t motivate you to do anything.  I can’t get you to do anything you really don’t want to do.  But I can tell you…yes, we can make a difference. Do you realize that somewhere within ten miles of where you’re sitting… a child will go to bed hungry tonight?  That somewhere within 20 miles of where you’re sitting.. a teenager will try his or her first marijuana cigarette?

Somewhere today at one of our area hospitals…a crack baby will be born already addicted to drugs. Sometime tonight a teenager, perhaps neglected or abused by their parents, pushed by his or her peers, will commit their first crime. Can we prevent all this from happening?  Probably not.  But if we can feed one child, educate one mother on the effects of drugs and alcohol, on her baby….if we can steer one child away from drugs or crime by spending a little time with them.  Showing them that we care.  Shouldn’t we try?   Aren’t they worth it?

The cost for each of you may be a little extra time from your job…or perhaps an evening watching a rerun of Sienfeld.  It may mean missing that golf game this weekend or the trip to the lake.  But the cost to any one of those less fortunate… the one’s who need our compassion and understand.   The cost to them could mean their life. The question for you is are they worth it?  I think they are.  I think you  do to or you wouldn’t be here today.  Let’s work together to make our communities a better place to work and live.  Let’s make a difference in a few lives…today.

April 21, 2009 Posted by | Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycee) Speeches | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments