'Stellar' service

Millennial-led organizations receive Deacon Herbert Kitchens Legacy Award

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For Todd Dean, following in the footsteps of his forebears is an honor. A 2010 graduate of Cartersville High School, the 27-year-old is the president and co-founder of The Circle of Advancement.

“My father taught me the importance of giving back at an early age. He had his hands in everything — president of the New Frontier, Cartersville School board member, he started mentoring programs and even found time to coach recreational sports,” he said, referring to his father, Michael Dean, who died in 2011 at the age of 46. “Like Matthew Hill, Bibby Morgan, Ralph Lowe, Randy Ford and so many others before him, he put education at [the] forefront, and he did his best to [give back to] ... our community. Seeing that growing up, and watching my grandfather serve in the church, then hearing stories about my great-grandfather and how active he was with the New Frontier, I felt an obligation to help the best I could.

“Serving people has been instilled into Dean men for generations. For me, it is my purpose and passion. My dad instilled in me the value of being a man of principle and helping your own people. I am extremely inspired by both parents to give back into this community, because it gave me so much.”

Established Jan. 31, 2018, COA was founded by Dean, Darian Lyons and Silken Solomon. Along with its toy drive at Christmastime, the group also is known for supplying 200 book bags to students in the Summer Hill neighborhood last summer and volunteering with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bartow County.

Working alongside Love Travels, Dexter Jones and Trey Benham, COA is gearing up to present For the Culture, an open forum for men, March 10 at 3 p.m. at the Olin Tatum Agricultural Building’s Stiles Auditorium in Cartersville.

“In 2016, we started a toy drive for less fortunate families,” said Dean, who currently is a reporter for WBHF radio. “After our second Toy Drive, we decided that we wanted to do more for our community, and not only be examples for the youth but all people in the county. That initiative to do more turned into [how] the Circle of Advancement was formed.

“COA and organizations alike have always been a necessity. There is a standard in the county that needs to be set for our young people. A standard rooted in education, love and respect for yourself and this community. The New Frontier and Afro-American Social Civic Association set that standard for us growing up, and we want to build upon the energy and framework these organizations created, while also unifying and uplifting the people here.” 

In honor of its “stellar community service,” COA — along with Love Travels and Saving Her Essence, also known as S.H.E. Matters — received the Deacon Herbert Kitchens Legacy Award at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church’s Heritage Celebration Service Feb. 22.

“We created this award because we wanted to highlight individuals and/or organizations who we felt were currently making history through acts of charity and service,” said Isaiah Robertson, senior pastor for Macedonia Missionary Baptist in Cartersville. “Deacon Herbert Kitchens served as the chairman of Macedonia’s deacon board for many years. His generosity, integrity and wisdom made him a beloved figure at Macedonia and within the community. We wanted to honor his memory by creating this award in his name. We feel that those who selflessly work for the betterment of others embody his legacy; even though they may have never met him personally.”

Led by individuals in their 20s, Robertson said, the three awarded organizations are “dedicated to uplifting and bettering” their community.

“[Love Travels, Saving Her Essence and The Circle of Advancement] willingly give of their time, talent, and treasure to provide help and hope to people who need it the most,” he said. “Their sacrificial and often thankless work for this community made them the absolute best candidates to receive the first ever Deacon Herbert Kitchens Legacy Award.

“I am exceedingly impressed by the work they’re doing. They defy the stereotype about millennials beings self-absorbed and shallow. These young men and women exemplify what W.E.B. Du Bois called ‘The Talented Tenth.’ They are young, many of them have completed degrees or they’re currently completing degrees, and they are leaders within their community. Some of them could have graduated and gone to Wall Street, Hollywood or anywhere else, yet they love their community so much, they’ve dedicated their work here. It’s phenomenal and all of Bartow County should be thankful for what they’re doing.”

Delighted to accept the award, Scottlin Smith — founder and secretary of Love Travels — is thrilled to share the honor with the other two civic groups. A 2013 graduate of Cartersville High School, the 24-year-old received a degree in mass communication from the University of West Georgia in 2018.

“I was excited when I learned Love Travels and fellow Bartow organizations, who we work closely with, [were] being honored,” she said. “The [award] means to Love Travels that we are doing something right and headed in the right direction. When you are doing community work, the most important part is the community. This showed us we have people in the community who believe in us and are willing to support our efforts.

“We have people in our organization that are also apart of COA and S.H.E. Matters. The bigger goal is the betterment of our community. We aren’t concerned with who’s doing it but how we can help get it done.”

Prior to forming Love Travels in June 2017, Smith launched the Belles of the Ball outreach, which supplies gently-used prom dresses to high school students, in 2016. This year’s offerings took place at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton Feb. 16 and The Villages at Carver YMCA in Atlanta March 16. Collecting more than 3,000 gowns since Belles of the Ball’s inception, Smith and her colleagues have assisted over 1,000 girls with their prom experience.

Each year, the group also offers a mission trip to Mexico for its Bartow and University of West Georgia chapters, a Service Summer Camp for youth and the Charity Basketball Tournament.

“I formed Love Travels because during my darkest days love brought me out,” Smith said. “When I wanted to give up, love is why I didn’t. … Our mission is to spread love in as many places as possible through service, while developing professionally to better serve our community. Our motto is through love we shall conquer all.

… [One] moment that I wish I could experience every day is the joy that I see in young girls’ faces as they are walking down the red carpet at Belles of the Ball. To see a girl that has dealt with bullying, suicide attempts, broken homes, anxiety, etc. feel beautiful and invincible is amazing,” she said, adding 200 donated dresses were distributed during the last Belles of the Ball event. “She has every person in the room cheering her on and letting her know she is worthy. Parents will come up to me in tears telling me their struggles. I have parents tell me they didn’t know how they were going to tell their child they couldn’t afford prom. That moment makes all the hard work worth it.”

Echoing the comments of Dean and Smith, Jasmin C. Tucker — co-founder of S.H.E. Matters — also is passionate about uplifting youth in her hometown. Tucker established the group in December 2018 with Kennedy Robinson. Now both 23, the leaders were classmates at Mission Road Elementary and Woodland middle and high schools.

“We are a community outreach movement designed to inspire young black women to ignite their self-authenticity, and also guide them in pursuing leadership, career building and networking fundamentals while being uplifted in solidarity through sisterhood,” Tucker said. “We came back after graduation and built a team from the ground up who are all our peers from childhood. The leaders of this program are all young women who were once or are current members of the Bartow community. We are college graduates, small business owners, program developers and much more.

“We felt like this organization was needed because we remember when we were young, and we did not have an outlet of young women just a few years older than us to come back and talk to us about their experiences and give us an open forum to ask questions. We wanted to change the narrative and become a ‘Big Sister, Little Sister’ mentorship program to allow these young girls to talk to us about anything.”

Before presenting S.H.E. Matters the legacy award, Robertson witnessed the impact of one of its community outreach events.

“In December, Saving Her Essence held a free all-day Teen Summit for young girls of color,” Robertson said. “My 13-year-old daughter attended this event. She was apprehensive because she didn’t know anyone, and she felt like she would be an outsider. Well, when I picked her up, she couldn’t stop talking about it.

“She said they boosted her self-esteem by affirming her value; they helped her plan for the future by constructing goals; they got her excited about attending college; and though she didn’t know anyone when she arrived, they made her feel like family. This is only one example of the impact these organizations are making. Frankly, they are doing the work many churches should be engaged in. They are not just examples to young people of color; they are examples to all of us.”