Sunday, February 26, 2012

U.S. marshal speaks to middle-schoolers in Conway

Does everyone know who is the U.S. marshal for the district of South Carolina?

I didn't know we had one. It appears we have only one, U.S. Marshal Kelvin Washington, and he spoke this week to students at Black Water Middle School in Conway.

A native of Hemingway, Washington has held various law enforcement positions, including sheriff of Williamsburg County. He was appointed to his current post by President Obama. Washington took the opportunity to bring home three important points to the students in the audience.

“Where you come from has nothing to do with where you are going,” said Washington, who was raised by a single mother. “You make the decision about where you are going in life.”

He told the students to not allow others to set their goals because others will go by the limits they have set on their own lives. Most importantly, he told them to always do the right thing, no matter what the cost.

Washington also took time to dip into history and talk about the origin of Black History Month and those who have fought for equality along the way, including Judge J. Waties Waring of Charleston, who laid the foundation for school desegregation. He also talked about the Power of Words, a program the school has launched to encourage students to think before they speak, write or text.

I love to read about Waties Waring, and especially of the unique and pivotal role he played in South Carolina's and America's history. I'm glad to hear that our state's highest-ranking federal law enforcement officer is familiar with Waring, too, and doesn't refrain from raising students' awareness of Waring.

After all, not everyone regards him highly. A bona fide descendent of South Carolina ruling elite, Waring fell out of favor with Charleston society when he divorced his wife and brought home a second bride, a flower of New England. He fell out of favor with South Carolina's ruling class when he applied the law and justice equally on behalf of African-American citizens, upsetting many of our state's most sacred apple carts.

That's probably why there's no statue of Waties Waring on the State House grounds, nor anywhere else that I know.

Black Water Principal Cindy Thibodeau said the event was the culmination of activities that had been held at the school all month on black history and that she was happy Washington could make time to visit.

“We are a diverse school, and I’m always looking for opportunities for successful people [of the students’] ethnicities to come in,” Thibodeau said. “He represented so many of my faces.”

Good for the students of Black Water Middle School in Conway. Thanks to their educators and administrators, and to Marshal Washington.

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