A mighty coalition of people who want to see the differently abled students of School Districts 56 and 55 employed and self-sufficient gathered Tuesday and part of the program was a lesson about ice cream.
The Laurens District 55 Interagency Committee’s annual Disability Employment Awareness Luncheon was a time for the coalition to heard messages and honor this year’s recipient of a service award
Felicia Johnson, Commissioner of the SC Vocational Rehabilitation Department, thanked the local coalition for its work, amending her agency’s mission statement just slightly to say, “Helping people with different abilities get and stay employed” and adding “we could not do that without the support of all the state agencies and partners that are here in the Laurens area, we could not do it without you, the school districts, the chamber, Prisma and the Laurens County Disabilities and Special Needs Board.
“I hope for many, many more years of successful collaboration.”
At the luncheon, Laurens County Administrator Thomas Higgs was presented the 2023 community service and leadership award for his work in opening county employment to people of different abilities.
The coalition also heard from Chris Singleton, former professional athlete, inspirational speaker, and best selling author, whose life was deeply touched by the 2015 shooting at Mother Immanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston. He also has spoken at the Clinton Family YMCA Prayer Breakfast
Singleton lost his mother in the mass shooting and lost his father a year later from liver disease brought on by alcoholism. Borrowing a quote that says 10% of a person’t live consists of action beyond their control and 90% consists of reaction to it, Singleton said, “I couldn’t control that but I could promise my family that I will never be an alcoholic. I couldn’t control the 10% my father’s drinking but I can control the 90%. Celebrate Everybody, that is my mission; it’s not easy as we see certain things happen in the world, but I think it’s necessary.”
Singleton told the luncheon audience at The Ridge in Laurens about Grandma E, a woman he met living at a St. Paul retirement community while he was playing semi-pro baseball in the Chicago Cubs organization. She showed him a picture on her iPhone of her two great-granddaughters, and told Chris that they are twins.
“No, they’re not,” he responded, as one girl is white and one girl is black.
Grandma E (Ester) explained that her grandson and wife were supposed to have twins but one died in childbirth, so they adopted a child.
Grandma E continued, “They call themselves chocolate and vanilla ice cream - I taught them that. Although they’re different on the outside, on the inside they are just as sweet.”
Singleton said, “I wish my mother’s killer had a grandma like (Grandma E). Everybody is different and everybody should be able to show their strength. There’s not everybody you could hand a microphone to and say give me 30 minutes of inspiration - just like I could never be a middle school principal.”
With that, Singleton guided the audience through their favorite ice creams and a unity clap, celebrating all the different flavors in the audience
“Everybody can be celebrated whether we are banana split, cookie dough, mint chocolate, regular chocolate, or dark chocolate like me - everybody can be celebrated and that’s the mission I’m on.”
Singleton brought the Mother Immanuel AME shooting in Charleston to the audience’s hearts by talking about one of the people who was killed - 26-year-old Tywanza Sanders. The connection was especially poignant for Chris because last Tuesday, the day he spoke at the Laurens event, was his 27th birthday.
Tywanza was shot and he stood up and told the shooter, “You don’t have to do this. We mean you no harm.” Then, he was shot again.
But that interaction made the shooter flee and the carnage stopped, as Tywanza’s mother lay under a table. She was the person who called Chris and told him his mother - a speech pathologist who took Chris with her into people’s houses as she worked to help people with conditions like cerebral palsy communicate - had died that night at the hands of a gunman who Chris says was “misguided, misled, and misinformed.”
The day before he died, Tywanza had posted a famous athlete’s quote.
Wrapping up with a word to employers, Singleton quoted what Tywanza had posted from color-barrier in sports breaking athlete Jackie Robinson, “‘One life is not important except in the importance it has on another life.’ Give people a chance because they deserve it. You do that and you will have an impact on me and on my mission to make my mom proud.”
More about Chris Singleton here.
What can you do here.