A special mentor for young women

Published 9:53 pm Monday, May 20, 2019

By Tonya S. Swindell

Helen Adams was strict, staunch and expected nothing but the best. As director of a marching drill team I performed in as a child, she exclaimed, “Cover. Cover. Cover!” whenever we competed or walked in a parade. For young ladies walking in front, behind and beside me, “covering” meant looking out for, protecting and cooperating with one another throughout life.

Mrs. Adams was a strong African American woman with pecan tan skin and hair of an auburn hue. When I was in middle school, she didn’t seem much taller than me, but she always commanded respect. To assess our team’s performance, she peered through a pair of oval-rimmed glasses which framed her petite face. Her voice chimed in a very high octave whenever she acknowledged accomplishments and identified necessary improvements.

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During formal events, she wore white, including a tasseled, domed hat with bedazzled lettering representing her prestigious organization. In casual settings, she dressed conservatively except for unique footwear: shimmering gold mules with a pointed toe and flat sole. They reminded me of shoes worn by elves in Christmas-themed movies.

Mrs. Adams was a schoolteacher who loved her husband, cared for her aging mother, spoke highly of her son and worked closely with her daughter, Mrs. Dillahunt, our co-director. Practices occurred at Mrs. Adams’ home, in a recreation center or basement of a church. Sometimes, she sold vanilla ice cream for a small fee.

On a Greyhound bus, teammates talked, laughed, sang and ate Vienna sausages and crackers as we traveled to places like Washington D.C., Norfolk and Atlanta. We scored high despite being teased for wearing crisp, white tennis shoes instead of quarter-length boots. As we got older, Mrs. Adams and Dillahunt never stopped advocating for us.

Before two teammates and I traveled to become pages at the North Carolina House of Representatives, Mrs. Adams visited us. She wore a red flowing top, casual pants and her signature shoes. She appeared serene, confident and proud of our accomplishments.

One teammate described Mrs. Adams as “inspirational” and “caring.” A different one affirmed: “Mrs. Adams taught me discipline and order.” Additional comments were: “She was an awesome drill organizer…” “I have been blessed to have her in my life. She helped to give me the confidence I needed to be a flag girl in my high school and college band. I thank her for sowing into my life.” Another teammate concluded, “She reinforced my sense of responsibility to my community ‘covering my peers,’ assuring we were in alignment to achieve a common goal…excellence as a collective.”

At least two teammates helped celebrate my marriage. Many congratulated one another after giving birth. Several brought comfort when family members passed away.

On May 21, 2019, Helen Adams will be 92 years old. We appreciate her dedication, service and loyalty to a group of girls who became phenomenal women. We endeavor to follow her example by maintaining dignity and covering others with love.


Tonya Swindell writes a blog for www.inspirenewlife.org and is a teacher for Kingdom Building Equipping School (KBES.com). She can be reached at 1brightot@gmail.com.