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Making some new friends

One of the great things about the annual project that we call our Horizons Edition is the opportunity we have to spend some real quality time with folks who are shaping our community.

The immediacy of our normal news cycle has a tendency to engender lots of short interviews about highly specific topics. It’s surprisingly rare that we get to take the time to really get to know the people we’re writing about beyond the details that impact the particular issues with which they are involved. Government officials, police officers and teachers, for example, normally don’t step outside of their roles long enough for us to learn what makes them interesting PEOPLE, at least not aside from their official capacities.

But I’ve had a great experience getting to know some wonderful people this year as I put together stories for Horizons, and I suspect that the others on our news staff shared similar experiences. This year, I was really able to connect on a fundamental level with some of the folks I interviewed.

Two of those subjects, in particular, I now consider friends. Because of the depth and breadth of those articles, I had to move beyond the normal bounds of an interview, and I got to know two people from Suffolk who are dedicated — from two different perspectives — to improving their city. At least as important, I got to know them as people as we sat inside their homes chatting.

Dot Dalton has one large dog and a small one. The big one will greet you — barking — in the driveway, but it’s the little one you have to watch out for, she says. The dogs — which get along just fine, despite the fact that they are such different versions of the canine species — seem like a great metaphor for the work that Dalton and Impact Suffolk do to bring together Christians of different denominations and races to share the love of Jesus Christ throughout the city. Much like Dalton’s dogs, those folks have little in common, except for their basic identities as Christians. But they overcome those differences in pursuit of their goal of the unified body of Christ.

In a different way, Charles Gates also is looking for unity, though he is the local leader of an organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, whose very name carries an implied division. Suffolk has changed over the years, he says, and not all of the changes have been good ones. “Progress” has brought gangs, drugs and violence to town, and young black men, especially, have suffered as a result. During the same period, the effectiveness of the NAACP in the community has waned, and the organization — and the black community in general — could benefit from some new partnerships, including with traditionally white organizations and churches. Gates is working to make that happen.

Gates also owns dogs. Though I never met his three German shepherds, I could hear them outside the house during our recent interview. They sounded like they were busy the whole time, and that, too, was appropriate, as I’ve seldom met someone with more on his plate than Gates. In my experience, most folks who are that busy are reluctant to spend two or three hours chatting with a reporter.

I’m blessed to have met both of these new friends, and I’m pleased to have been able to take the time to get to know them as more than just figureheads for their particular organizations. Even if you never a chance to meet either Dalton or Gates, though, you should take some time to learn what they’re doing in Suffolk. They could use your support.