Some of the best advice Salem native James Edwards ever received came from his grandmother when he was in the fifth-grade: “Do not ever judge somebody wholly by what someone else says about them. Gather as much information as you can before reaching a final conclusion.”
Nineteen years later, those words resonate more than ever for Edwards. Anytime he gets a chance to give back to the community, Edwards tries to take full advantage. Such an opportunity presented itself last Friday when the first-ever Roanoke Valley Beautification Day took place at Kennedy Park.
Volunteers like Edwards pitched in and helped with landscaping and planting flowers at local homes and cleaning up the park. Volunteers also sang happy birthday to one of the residents, who was a recipient of the landscaping services.
Aldrica Anderson of VASH (Veterans Affordable Senior Housing) worked with Roanoke City Council last year to make Beautification Day a local holiday. Currently a California resident, Anderson still has family throughout the Roanoke Valley. She pushed for Beautification Day as a way to give back to the community and honor local individuals identified as community leaders.
There were six award recipients last Friday: Lowe’s (Corporate Leadership Award), Pastor Kevin McNeil Sr. (Clergy Leadership Award), Kevin McNeil Jr. (Young Entrepreneur Award), Jordan Bell (Spirit of Excellence Award), Andrew Grider (Business Leader Award) and Kiesha Preston (Community Activist Award).
Former radio personality Frazier Hughes served as the event’s emcee, and Preston gave the keynote speech. Roanoke City Mayor Sherman Lea also spoke at the event.
“It’s our responsibility as human beings to look out for one another, especially right now with everything that’s happening in the world. You never know when the shoe might be on the other foot and it’s you who needs a helping hand. Giving back to others, in my opinion, is both an honor and a moral obligation,” Preston, a candidate for Roanoke City Council, said.
She added, “Earlier this year I wrote a domestic violence bill that was signed into law, and I spoke in the US House of Representatives and briefed members of Congress on violence against women. I also lobbied and helped pass the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act.”
Pastor McNeal has always taken tremendous pride in his community. When he found out that he won the Clergy Leadership Award, he was elated.
“I believe that helping the less fortunate is a theme running through scripture that suggests that the true showing of love and particularly for the Christian, true love of Christ, happens when we help others,” he said. “Helping others is the truest expression of love and self-awareness, particularly when you’re helping others with no thought of reciprocation. It helps to build up others, create connections and restore humanity and dignity. It makes us all better.”
Because of COVID-19, Beautification Day had to be pushed from early July to September 25. Attendees were encouraged to wear a mask and practice social distancing.
David James left last Friday’s event feeling inspired. The Roanoke County resident and single father of four said he attended Beautification Day with his children so they could get a true appreciation on what it means to be selfless. More than ever, James said, we need kindness in the world. It was important, he added, for my kids to see what compassion and decency looks like up close.