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I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.  And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do-Helen Keller

I live in a pretty small town in Georgia. I haven’t lived here all my life because my father was in the military, but since 1992, I have called Americus, Georgia home.  Now…I know a lot of people have never heard of Americus or Sumter County, but we’ve had quite a few famous people come from here. Former President Jimmy Carter was born and raised in Sumter County. Habitat for Humanity was founded here. Otis Leverette and Leonard Pope, former NFL players, are from Americus. So yeah, our little town of almost 17,000 people contributed some really great things and people to the world.

At one point, being able to say that Jimmy Carter is from Sumter County was an inspiration. To know that this man, who grew up on a farm in Plains, Georgia went on to become the President of the United States should give hope that we can become great, no matter where we are from. Now…I don’t know if we still hold that in such high regard. And that’s because of the recent rash of murders in our town.  In a town this small, we definitely take notice to the death of people but in the last year or so, we’ve dealt with a lot of senseless violence and deaths.  It’s gotten to the point that I’ve become somewhat fearful of where I live and if this is the best place to raise my family.  Now don’t get me wrong, crime is everywhere but this hits close to home because THIS IS HOME.  In the span of at least a year, at least 9 people have been murdered. The youngest victim that I know of was 4 years old. It’s been an unbelievable time to live here.  Like me, a lot of citizens wondered…how can we stop this? What can we do? How can we change the atmosphere where we live? Race became a factor and a racial divide was becoming much more prominent.

It was out of frustration that S.A.V.E was born. image Laura Edwards, a citizen of Sumter County grew tired of hearing about all the violence and decided to do something about it.  Instead of a facebook post offering prayers, Laura decided to put her frustration into action.  As the founder of S.A.V.E (Standing Against Violent Environments), I knew of Laura before this movement but I got to know her a lot better during and after the first big event.  The first meeting of the S.A.V.E committee produced a lot of ideas and concerns about our community.  We talked about what we wanted to see happen with this group and things took off. We started promoting S.A.V.E on Facebook and in the community and Sumter County rallied around us! From Americus to Atlanta to Alabama to Arizona, tt was so amazing to have so many people jump on board with this movement. Our committee grew, our ideas grew, our vision grew, our desire to make our community safe grew. image On Saturday, June 20, we held a S.A.V.E action rally at Staley Middle School. The event turned out to be better than I ever imagined. It pinpointed some of the concerns of citizens but more importantly, it brought us together as a community.  It doesn’t matter where you went to school, where you live, where you work, who you are related to, or what kind of car you drive. We had to realize that crime is not a black issue or a white issue or a Hispanic issue. It’s not a minimum wage issue or a $50,000 a year issue. It’s a community issue that takes a community to fix. image The event featured a question and answer panel, performances, testimonies and speakers.  We’ve had citizens spend time in jail for making bad decisions and to me, it was uplifting for them to be able to share their stories.  The keynote speaker was Otis Leverette, a former NFL player and owner of ModernDay Fitness in Birmingham, Alabama. Something that he said really stuck with me, because I think it summed up the motivation behind this action rally.  In my own words, Mr. Leverette said we offer prayer to people because it’s easy, but faith without works is dead; we have to be willing to help people. This is the very essence of S.A.V.E. We do not want to sit behind these shirts and have on these wrist bands as a fashion statement. No, we want to be out in the community, seeing where we are needed and doing what we can.  We’ve already bought and installed a door for a family that didn’t have one. Committee members also spoke with the people in the neighborhood, not for judgment but to understand their situation. image

I was blown away by the turn out, the energy and the support we received. I’m honored to be a part of this group that wants nothing more than to empower and better our community.  I’m thankful for all the work that went into planning and pulling off this event. I’m motivated by all the agents of change that spent their time and money for this event. I’m especially grateful for the vision and humility of Laura Edwards. image At the rally, a young lady posed the question to the panel, and pretty much every citizen in attendance: now what? What are you going to do now? The action rally was just the tip of the ice berg. Now that we know the issues that our community is facing, we can take the steps to remedy them.

I’ve always been a fan of the adage “it takes a village to raise a child”. Sumter County, let’s reclaim that village mentality. Let’s see what problems our children (and some adults) are  facing and be prepared to do something about it. Let’s not just offer thoughts and prayers…let’s put our feet to the ground and make some changes. In planning for this rally, we found that for as many differences we had, we only needed one thing in common: to see our community be a better place. image If you would like to find out more about S.A.V.E or donate to the movement, please email us at standnow15@gmail.com

Photo Credit: Kellette Heys Wade, Sr. and Kat Mourninghan