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CHARLOTTE – Political candidates and anyone else looking to strengthen community ties in Charlotte are always advised to stop by the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum.
Heath Springs native Sarah Mingo Stevenson organized the group more than 30 years ago.
It was a way for members of Charlotte’s black community to stay abreast of issues facing their city.
These days, Stevenson, now 87, still mediates the weekly morning sessions, which have seen elected officials, prominent businessmen and women, civic activists and other key people come through those doors at the West Charlotte Recreation Center.
Apparently, those gatherings represent just a small slice of the impact Stevenson has had on one of the country’s largest cities.
Born and raised in Heath Springs, Stevenson moved to Charlotte at age 16 to live with her aunt and attend school.
She had previously attended Cedar Creek High School in Lancaster County.
She made it to the 10th grade there but said she and her classmates were sent back to the eighth grade after “they took our teacher away.”
Impacting the Queen City
Stevenson finished high school in Charlotte, where she would begin her career and civic activism.
She was first a kindergarten teacher before working for the city of Charlotte as an ombudsman – a person who receives and investigates complaints from the public. She then worked with a Charlotte youth council that helped at-risk students.
Stevenson would return to work for the city, where she coordinated a dispute-settlement program to address minor legal charges.
That involvement later carried over into a role with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
“I introduced (peer) mediation to the school system,” she said.
Stevenson led the movement to integrate the district’s two Parent-Teacher Association systems, which were split along racial lines.
She recalls the opposition and difficultly from those who wanted to maintain segregation.
“Being ignored,” Stevenson said, reflecting on the reaction she got from school board members. “Sometimes I wouldn’t get answers and it looked looked like people weren’t paying attention to me.”
With federal mandates coming down, that PTA merger, as well as overall school integration, was soon introduced.
Through the years, Stevenson’s Charlotte involvement has also included affiliation with the Minority Affairs Advisory Council, Charlotte Fighting Back Commission, YMCA Board of Directors and the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club – among other organizations.
She’s also a founding member of Charlotte’s Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, where she still attends and serves in many capacities.
Why has Stevenson been so involved for so many years?
“I just love people and I just wanted to get involved,” she said.
Sally Robinson, who’s known Stevenson 20 years, said Stevenson’s friendship and involvement have enriched her life.
“Sarah has shown me, by example, what it means to be a community connector,” Robinson said. “There’s no one better at that than Sarah.”
A special scholarship
Stevenson was most recently in the news for a scholarship she’s established that, in large part, honors the memory of her late son, Sammy Stevenson.
Her son, an accomplished opera singer, died in 2006 at age 50 after suffering from pneumonia.
A special program was held last month in Charlotte in which a $20,000 donation was presented to Dr. Ronald L. Carter, president of Johnson C. Smith University.
That money will launch the Sarah and Sammy Stevenson Scholarship. Interest from that fund will go toward a scholarship that will annually benefit a JCSU sophomore, preferably a music major.
Longtime friend George E. Battle Jr. expressed his appreciation for Stevenson during the program.
“We just want to say to you, thank you, and thank your husband for giving us Sammy, who made such as impact,” Battle told Stevenson.
“Thank you for all of the things you do,” he said.
Keeping on,looking forward
Stevenson, who’s lost a husband and three sons, believes God has kept her around for a purpose. So while she’s still able, she plans to remain involved.
“I don’t want to sit around,” she said. “I want to be doing something.”
There’s still much work to do in terms of improving race relations, she said.
“It’s getting better but we are not there,” she said. “I just think we need to pray harder and talk to each other.”
Contact reporter Jesef Williams at (803) 283-1152