Democrats honor local heroes
Published 8:32 pm Monday, May 5, 2014
The Suffolk Democratic Committee on Saturday honored three local heroes in a luncheon at the Quality Inn on Pruden Boulevard.
Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson, Suffolk Young Democrats chair Jewel Gatling and community organizer Robert Stephens were honored at the sixth annual event.
“This is a very special occasion,” said guest speaker Justin Fairfax, a primary candidate for the Democratic nomination for attorney general last year. “We need to celebrate the quiet heroes — the people who, when the votes are tallied, and you have your winners and losers, they’re still there the next day.”
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Fairfax compared the community leaders to the redwood trees of California, which grow to great heights but have surprisingly shallow roots.
The reason they are able to stand so tall, Fairfax said, is because the roots intermingle with each other underground.
“They work together underneath the ground, where you can’t see it,” he said.
Fairfax spoke of each of the honorees in turn, and then the people who had nominated the honorees also spoke about them.
“He is an extraordinary public servant,” Fairfax said of Ferguson. “The things he’s focused on are the things that really impact our families and our children. For him to have dedicated his whole life to public service, we should all be proud.”
Joan Turner, community outreach coordinator in Ferguson’s office, said she nominated him for the award for his 35 years of service, which includes numerous community outreach initiatives. Two recent programs include the citizens academy for adults and forensics camp for children.
“It’s not about recognition; it’s about the people of Suffolk,” Ferguson said in his remarks.
Fairfax similarly honored Jewel Gatling.
“Jewel is somebody who represents the best of not only what we have to offer in Suffolk, but across the entire state,” Fairfax said. “She cares about people.”
James McCollum said Gatling has dedicated herself to building an “active, vibrant and committed” Young Democrats committee, one of only three in Hampton Roads.
“We are here to serve; we are here to act; we are here to inform and represent,” Gatling said in her remarks. She noted the voting booth “serves as a great equalizer.”
On Robert Stephens, the founder of the Community Action Coalition of Suffolk, Fairfax said, “He talks with as much passion about children in the community as he does his own son,” Fairfax said.
Stephens’ work is helping ensure local children don’t “become the kid who had so much promise but went the other way because they didn’t have a quiet hero.”
Jack Crowley also noted Stephens’ work with local youth, including in the Be Fight Free and “It Takes All of Us” campaigns.
“I am truly grateful and honored,” Stephens said. “If you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you inevitably conclude it didn’t get there by itself. Today, I am that turtle.”