Gratitude beyond words

Published 10:00 pm Saturday, October 8, 2011

By Bob Stephens

On behalf of the Community Action Coalition of Suffolk, I graciously and humbly accepted the Federal Bureau of Investigation Director’s Community Leadership Award. The local ceremony, hosted by SAC A.J. Turner, agent in charge at the Norfolk field office, was the prelude to the director’s recognition in Washington.

It was with highest honor, gratitude and acknowledgement that I accepted the award on behalf of you, the caring and committed citizens of Suffolk.

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Many people are responsible for what the CAC and its outstanding members have achieved; so any attempt to thank all who have contributed to this work would generate quite a lengthy list.

However, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the central cast of folks and organizations that came forth with ideas, suggestions, resources, support, compassion and natural leadership at the inception of the CAC one year ago in August.

Their steadfast support and direction have consistently provided the energy and opportunity to help respond to some of the community’s most pressing social issues. As such, the CAC continues to successfully fulfill its mission to bring together organizations and individuals that are serious about taking action that responds to local social challenges.

The Community Leadership Award represents the focus and courage that brought forth common-sense strategies aimed at changing a culture that would save lives by eliminating youth violence and delinquent behaviors.

As CAC leader David Mitnick states, “The BFF (Be Fight Free) Campaign was established to honor the memories of those who lost their lives to senseless violence … Hopefully it will continue to inspire youth throughout the city to find non-violent means of ending disputes.”

While these accomplishments are only the tip of the iceberg, it is only appropriate to pause and thank the myriad public and private entities such as Charter Communications; the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office; Crewestone Media Group, the Louis and Mary Haddad Foundation; Genesis Development and Consulting LLC; the Suffolk Public School system (administrators and School Board members and staff); Lakeland, King’s Fork, Nansemond River High Schools and Turlington Woods Alternative School; the Suffolk News-Herald; the FBI; the Suffolk Youth Advisory Council; and, most importantly, the individual volunteers who gave their time and money to positively impact thousands of Suffolk citizens, both students and adults.

As a direct result of these unselfish efforts and strong civic engagement, measurable results have been realized.

While I could go on heaping much deserved praise on those individuals and groups that rose to meet the challenges, I believe this occasion presents an unprecedented opportunity for the total community to join in partnership and collaboration.

We have accomplished much, but we have much work ahead of us to provide greater access to educational, economic and development opportunities for youth. It is imperative that we work in partnership to find the best solutions to our community’s challenges.

Likewise, we must be willing to own up to the issues and share our expertise and resources, all in the interest of achieving results that lead to bright, prosperous and successful futures for our youth.

The CAC owes tremendous gratitude to all the families, individuals, organizations and institutions that have invested in its mission.

In closing, please know that our journey has been described as thoughtful, impactful, provocative, halting, empowering and frustrating. All of these things are true; however, our desire to be exemplary in the “what and how” of our work will be met with tenacity, courage and a spirit of partnership, collaboration and conviction.

As the Coalition’s co-founder and “facilitator,” I cannot sufficiently express my sincere gratitude for your generosity, encouragement and willingness to make a difference. You are truly remarkable.

Bob Stephens of Suffolk is a co-founder and facilitator of the city’s Community Action Coalition. Contact him at