Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Real Heroes vs. Sports Heroes

Today the Miami Herald ran their annual pro and college football special edition. It was an amazing thing to see and hold-- it could easily replace light dumbbells for a workout. It had 6 sections, 74-pages with full color/full depth covers of serious, stoic players. Only one guy was frowning this time-- probably because he was a college player and wasn't getting paid copious amounts of money yet. Daunte Culpepper, the new Dolphins quaterback was almost smiling which is understandable since he has a lot on his mind right now considering the still questionable strength of the repair to his devastating knee injury (something local TV still likes to show over and over again and something we still can't watch). Now don't get us wrong, the staff at MVB loves football. We believe it is the nearly perfect game that combines suspense, action, brute strength and violence with athleticism and balletic beauty. But that doesn't mean we aren't tired of seeing athletes made into heroes. It is our contention that our community should also allocate time and media space for the unsung heroes, the ones "who live lives of quiet desperation," who get up every morning to go to work to make ends meet, who struggle to keep a family together despite working for minimum wage. ABC News recognizes the worthy in their Friday "Person of the Week." The Miami Herald and local TV could do the same. These kind of awards and recognition are not only good for the spirits of those being honored, they're good for us too because they remind us, if nothing else, that someone a lot like us-- maybe even someone who is worse off than we are-- can make the effort to not only keep on keeping on but takes it a step further by giving something back to the community.

With that in mind, we would like to bring recognition to those in our community who really deserve it. We can't gurantee an award each week but when we are reminded by one or more people who continue to "put up the good fight," you can bet they will be recognized with a "Thelma Award." Named in honor of the mother of one of our staffers, this remarkable woman recieved her recognition in the late fifties when the Miami News (the long gone but not forgotten afternoon paper) ran a pictorial on her. Readers discovered that she had given birth to two boys. The second one died at 17-months in her arms from complications due to cerebral palsy. Less than a year later she caught the polio virus and was never able to walk again without braces and crutches. Her husband died when our staffer was only 14-years-old. Without a car and "depending on the kindness of strangers," life got tough. Still, her son reports that she never complained and was in fact cheerful throughout her life. Despite her handicap, she was for years the neighborhood organizer for the March of Dimes and Muscular Dystrophy where she made sure volunteers went door-to-door soliciting money to fight those diseases. Despite all the bad deals life handed out to her, she still managed to not only hang onto her faith, but gave large amounts of her time to her church as its kindergarten secretary where she earned a small salary that was able to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. The church got the best part of the deal because Thelma would volunteer to write the weekly church bulletin and the monthly newsletter-- something that required many late hours at home on a manual typewriter. Since this was long before the computer age, frequent last minute changes meant using lots of Wite-Out and laborius retyping into the wee hours of the morning to prepare the "mimeograph" stencil for printing. Yet, her son never heard her complain. She was always cheerful right up to the end when a heart attack finally killed her through the side effects of muscle atrophy brought on by the stress of living for 25-years with useless legs.

In all deepest sincerity, MVB presents the first "Thelma" award to David and Sherrone Jenkins, parents of their slain 9-year-old daughter Sherdavia. Cut down on July 1st in a shootout between thugs in a Liberty Square public housing complex, Sherdavia, a bright-eyed chess champion and a student who aced her FCAT test, was destined for greatness. How her parents were able to continue on continuing on was an amazing thing to see as the media covered the story. Living in the projects is a day-to-day struggle. Keeping a family together compounds the difficulty. We learned that the Jenkinses were able to do this and more by guiding their children by example. We remember reading that Mr. Jenkins, a security guard, first heard about the shooting at work. Not having a car, he had to walk and take busses back home. In the one-and-a-half hours it took him to get home all he could think about was what he might find there. In the aftermath and under the media spotlight the parents showed uncommon composure and Mr. Jenkins in particular humbled us all with his off-the-cuff eloquence. Since that time through the "kindness of strangers" and Mr. Jenkins' boyhood friend, U.S Rep. Kendrick Meek, the family has gotten a second chance at having a happy and fulfilling life: they now have a home of their own, a duplex with a lawn and trees and a front porch far from the projects. Now, only time and their faith and the effort they put in every day to get out of bed and get along will help them distance themselves from what once was to what can be.

The Miami Herald has created a commendable multi-media site that includes a timeline of articles with still photos, video, and music. It is quite moving. To see it, please click here."

Except in terms of reaching a larger number of viewers, the "Thelma" award is not so different from the ABC News "Person of the Week." It comes with no financial honorarium but in a case like this, an award as such is little more than meaningless self-referential hubris on our part without attaching money to help the family along. So, if you want to extend a helping hand to this deserving family, please join us by writing checks out to David and Sherrone Jenkins, C/O Audra D.S. Burch, South Correspondent, Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132. Please enclose the check and any personal correspondence to the parents in a separate envelope so that it can be given to the family unopened.

UpDate (1/29/09): The City of Miami renamed a mini-park for Sherdavia Jenkins. The Sherdavia Jenkins Peace Park at NW 62nd Street and 12th ave comes "as Liberty City bursts with outrage over the neighborhood's latest fatal shooting -- a weekend (1/23/09) bloodbath that left two teenagers dead and seven others wounded."

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