Game Changers: Products of Their Decisions
Feb 01, 2018 08:30AM
By Jason Huddle
Game Changers: Products of Their Decisions
Historical trauma: it’s the result of experiences of a cultural group – Native Americans, immigrants and people of color. Their experiences can include poverty, war, violence and oppression.
African-American and licensed psychologist, Keisha Ross, PhD, wrote an interesting presentation called Impacts of Historical Trauma on African-Americans and its Effects on Help-Seeking Behavior.
Ross explains that this type of trauma affects a whole culture and travels from generation to generation. Even if a Millennial didn’t experience the violence firsthand, he or she is still impacted by it.
While Native Americans were forced to “Americanize,” plus endured loss of lives and land, European immigrants came to these shores hoping to escape discrimination, famine and religious intolerance. African-Americans faced slavery, poverty and America’s colonial dominance.
What all these groups share is how their experiences manifested into negative responses with common denominators: poverty, racism, aggression, substance abuse, suicide, homicide and domestic violence, among others.
Ross says, “Poor individuals and families are not evenly distributed across communities or throughout the country. Instead, they tend to live near one another, clustering in certain neighborhoods and regions.
“This concentration of poverty results in higher crime rates, underperforming public schools, poor housing and health conditions, as well as limited access to private services and job opportunities.”
Marshall Cannon, an African-American marketing professional and writer, agrees with much of what Ross has to say. While he points to educational opportunities as a basis for success, he sees motivation as both working for and against African-American communities.
When economics come into play, Cannon looks at lower-income public school districts experiencing budget cuts, as well at at-home instability. “The idea that our youth can achieve under these conditions is questionable and dismissive of the differences in what’s happening in the African-American community as compared to other communities,” he says.
“Some of the country’s most important African-American communities within cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta have had a major impact on our culture as a whole. These cities have continuously seen individuals achieve high levels of success across many fields, including academia, entertainment, sports, science and art. While there are exceptional individuals who achieve at the highest possible levels, these cities also see large swaths of their African-American population fall below the poverty line as well as historically attaining lower levels of basic educational fundamentals like reading comprehension.”
Ross points out, however, that positives can come out of historical trauma. They include:
• Resilience – work on understanding the historical trauma;
• The ability to become strong, healthy or successful again after something bad happens – focus on healing ones self as well as healing within and among the community;
• Adaptive survival behaviors –releasing the pain in healthy ways;
• Increased religious/spiritual coping – spiritual/religious and/or cultural healing services;
• Evolutionary enhancements – taking advantage of psychological treatment services.
Cannon says, “Motivation is an individual’s trait that can propel an individual. As individuals, we can create circumstances for ourselves and singularly change our world. However, changing the world one person at a time has proven to be as hopeless as finding weapons of mass destruction. It really is a community and societal obligation to change the world. Individuals change themselves, but communities change the culture.”
Thankfully, individuals throughout history have dedicated themselves to causes, crusades – even other passionate people – in the hopes of prompting needed, large-scale change. They often have little regard for their own personal safety, instead continuing a steadfast push toward the goal. Former U.S. President Barack Obama once said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
For some, the goal isn’t attained in their lifetime. Motivation, though, continues to run through the veins of those who are handed the baton, and there are a number of African-Americans that have played pivotal roles in this country’s fight for racial equality. Names like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohammed Ali quickly come to mind. But what compels a person to that level of motivation?
Cabarrus County is home to those who think along the lines of those named above. We call them game changers. Warren C. Coleman (Lead picture) was one, and has been spotlighted in Cabarrus Magazine in years past.
Born in 1849 to Rufus C. Barringer (a white man born in Cabarrus County who became an attorney, politician and Civil War general) and Roxanna Coleman (a slave), Warren Coleman founded Coleman Manufacturing Company in 1897. It was the first textile mill owned and operated by African-Americans in the U.S., employing some 300 at its peak. He is buried in Campground Cemetery, near the intersection of Cabarrus Avenue and Old Charlotte Road.
Ella Mae Small and her husband Allen – now deceased – are contemporary examples of movers and shakers in Cabarrus County. Ella Mae met Allen at Carolina A&T College (now North Carolina A&T State University) during the fall of 1956.
“It was my freshman year and I had seen him several times. We had spoken to each other several times and he always gave me a big smile,” Ella Mae remembers. “I often visited the library on Friday evenings to check out books that were on reserve so that I could do my assignments over the weekend. On one of my Friday night trips, there were only two people in the library – Allen and me.
“I was searching the shelves for the books I needed and suddenly I realized that someone was standing near me and it was Allen. He asked, ‘Are you finding the books that you are looking for?’ I answered yes and thanked him for his concern. He went back to his table and I returned to my table to gather my personal belongings. I looked up and he was staring in my direction, and I had the most peculiar feeling. I think it was love at first sight.
“Allen left the library before I did. When I descended to the 1st floor, he was standing there and asked, ‘May I walk you to your dorm?’ He came in and visited until visiting hours were over. A week later, he asked me to be his girlfriend and I said yes.”
Allen was a year older than Ella Mae, but remained enrolled at the college an extra year to take graduate courses and electives – and be near her. “We graduated in June of 1956, he entered the Army in August (there was a draft at that time) and we were married December 30, 1956,” Ella Mae shares.
After Allen completed his service in the Army, the Smalls moved to Concord. In 1958, Allen became a teacher – then principal – at Logan High School. Ella Mae had earned her Bachelor of Science degree in early childhood education and home economics before going on to earn her master’s in early childhood education at UNC Charlotte.
She spent her career years teaching in the Cabarrus County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Atlanta school systems, as well as at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and North Carolina A&T.
After attending Atlanta University and earning his master’s degree, Allen was named principal of Coltrane-Webb Elementary School. This was significant because that appointment made him the first African-American principal of a desegregated school here in Concord. He also served as principal of Wolf Meadow Elementary School before he retired in 1992.
Recalling those years, Ella Mae says, “Racism was the most serious obstacle that we faced. When schools were integrated, Afro-American teachers and students were assigned to white schools. We were accepted, but in many schools we were made to feel unaccepted. Allen became the first principal of a ‘white school’ in the Concord City School System and he was confronted with many challenges, including notes from someone who claimed to be the Ku Klux Klan.
“We lived in constant fear. Allen did not exhibit fear, but I detected that he became more aware of his surroundings. I was more fortunate because I was assigned to a school that seemed to be more receptive, but I still received some second-class experiences. We never felt like we were totally accepted as educational professionals.”
Allen retired from education in 1992 when he was principal of Wolf Meadow. Five years later, he won his seat on Concord City Council.
“A few years before Allen passed, he had a friend in a nearby city who passed and we were wondering who would take his seat on (that city’s) council,” Ella Mae shares. “Allen’s opinion was that his wife should apply for the position. He also said that if anything happened during his tenure, he would like for me to apply. I said, ‘I can’t be a council person.’ He replied, ‘You can be anything that you want to be.’ ”
With Allen’s sudden passing in 2006, Ella Mae was indeed encouraged to file for her husband’s position. She was reluctant but gave it serious thought.
“I talked with my family, pastor, friends and Mayor Scott Padgett. All of them thought that it was a good idea and encouraged me to apply,” she says. “There were three other applicants at the selection event; one withdrew when she realized that I had applied. There were six council members present and I received five of the votes.”
While Ella Mae was appointed to fill her husband’s council seat until the next election, she won subsequent elections and remains a council member today.
She prides herself on Concord’s accomplishments while she has been in office, like securing
additional water from the Catawba River; the new City Hall; restoration of the old Heilig-Meyers and Hotel Concord buildings to apartments; greenway expansion; and The Villas at Logan Gardens.
Ella Mae is active in the Logan community, in educational associations, the NAACP, the Cabarrus County Child Protection Team and Sisters in Partnership, and at Price Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church.
She’s also seen the achievements of her husband celebrated. In August 2015, the North Carolina Board of Transportation approved naming a new bridge constructed on Cabarrus Avenue over Norfolk Southern Railroad in Allen Small’s honor.
Just down the street from the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, the Allen T. Small Bridge was dedicated in November 2015. Now at the gateway to a city that he dedicated his adult life to hangs a plaque with his likeness.
Former Concord Mayor Scott Padgett said at the time, “The City of Concord is pleased to be a part of this tribute to Allen, who was a public servant of highest order. He served as a teacher and principal not far from where we are standing; he truly cared about young people and pushed them to succeed far beyond what they believed they could do. As a council member, he was very interested in economic development and creating jobs for those thousands of young people he cared for as students.”
Ella Mae hopes to continue that legacy, saying, “If I walked down Union Street 25 years from now, I would like to see the old City Hall and Annex buildings replaced by new buildings that would be occupied by businesses and tenants – all of the buildings renovated and fully occupied, the street redesigned to be more people-friendly. The street would be lively and business would be flourishing. In fact, it would be a ‘dream street.’ ”
Hank Alston is a Concord native whose parents were schoolteachers. “Dad was a coach,” he says. “I graduated from Northwest Cabarrus, and then went on to UNC-Chapel Hill. Out of school I started out in radio sales. Sales jobs then progressed from radio to office equipment to telecom. It wasn’t long before Windstream ended up purchasing the company I worked for, so I worked for Windstream for about eight years.”
Along the way, Alston became immersed in the community, both on a professional and personal level. Currently a member of the Cabarrus Regional Chamber’s Board of Directors, he’s won Chamber Ambassador of the Year three times. He’s a member/former member of various business, fraternal and faith-based organizations, as well as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and Meals on Wheels.
Now Alston has taken the next step in his career. He’s a franchise owner and business broker with Transworld Business Advisors. “I sell businesses for a living,” Alston says. “Business ownership is something I’ve wanted to do for a while; this was the right opportunity at the right time.
“It was difficult to leave the security of Windstream and, even more, the people I worked with but, based on everything I had done in the past, this opportunity was perfect because it fit beautifully with my background.”
When asked if he’s seen a shift in attitude toward minority-owned businesses, Alston says, “To some degree, but at the same time there is still somewhat of a perception out there that blacks aren’t that knowledgeable of certain industries – even by my own race. There are blacks that won’t
do business with black-owned businesses because of the perception that they are not equipped. We (blacks) can be like crabs in a barrel. We don’t want to see someone of our race get ahead of where we are, so we pull them down.”
And while he doesn’t necessarily see added challenges as an African-American running a business, he has experienced racism in his corporate life.
“Several years ago, there was a man who I spoke on the phone with and he was interested in meeting with me. But when we met and he saw I was black, he was no longer interested – things like that.”
It’s not a deterrent, however, because Alston advises minorities wanting to launch their own business to, “Follow your dream. Don’t let anyone take that from you. It sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. There will be challenges along the way but if you’re passionate about something, you’ll find a way around or through those obstacles.”
Part of the definition of success is the ability to sit back and say you’ve done all you aimed to. But does anyone with passion and motivation really ever stop exploring? Stuart Scott said, “Don’t downgrade your dream just to fit your reality. Upgrade your conviction to match your destiny.”
Article by: Kim Cassell with Jason Huddle
Photos courtesy: Michael A. Anderson Photography (Warren Coleman photo from files of Cabarrus Magazine)