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A Colorful History: Role models and heroes

Today’s youth may find it difficult to find role models outside of the mainstream media, but they are there — rather, they are here, among us in our community leadership, local workers and educators, and in people who live in our neighborhoods.

These role models also had people who inspired them to take the paths that they took, and they spoke about who those people were and how they influenced their lives.

“My father was my hero,” said Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department chief Ronnie Few. “I watched my father take care of our family. He was a leader and a role model for me and my brother and sister. I’ve been especially grateful that I had that growing up, with both of my parents.

“There was a man out of Oklahoma City who was the fire chief named Dr. Carl Holmes. When I decided to go into the fire service, I met with him. I had read about him in so many places. Not only did he teach me about being a fire chief, but he has had so many people who became chiefs: the chief of Atlanta, the chief of San Francisco, the chief of St. Louis, the chief of Las Vegas. If I ever ran into something where I had a problem, he was always there for me.”

Demopolis Public Library circulation manager Connie Lawson heard someone speak in Demopolis who influenced her to return to college and finish her degree.

“I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. William Henry Gray,” she said. “He was the president of the United Negro College Fund. He was here with Bill Gates (at the library in October 1997). I was thinking about going to school, but I just couldn’t put it back in my mind to do so until I talked with him. It was like talking with all of the historical African-American people that I had read about, all piled up into this one man.

“It was wonderful talking with him! My aunt Julia and I talked with him the whole while after Bill Gates and his wife gave their speech about the computers. It was his words of encouragement, his words of inspiration that really made me go back to school. He was such an inspiration to me. Ever since I graduated from Concordia College in Selma, I have always wanted to thank him. He came into my life at a time when I needed a little push.”

Carolyn Moore, the guidance counselor at U.S. Jones Elementary School, was also inspired by her father.

“Rev. Lonnie Williams was my father,” she said. “He was a sweet man. He was a man of great wisdom, of great character. He raised six girls and a boy by himself.

“He had his own construction company, Williams Construction, but he’s retired now. He was just a great person: caring, loving, giving. He is well-known in the community. He’s the pastor of Bethel Rock and at Cole’s Chapel in Marion.”

These people all succeeded by the influence and example of others and hope to be examples and role models for others.

“I’m proud to be an African-American,” said Few, “but I’m more proud to make a difference in my community.”