Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner, in the suit, sits with the members of Rev. Charles W. Grant’s family on the front row during Wednesday’s ceremony honoring Grant’s legacy. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
FOREST PARK — Rev. Charles W. Grant’s spirit permeates the service center that bears his name and now there is a plaque out front explaining his legacy to visitors.
“His goal was a hand up, not a hand out,” said Beechie Yates, his second in command for 40 years and now his replacement — of sorts.
As guests congratulated Yates on her promotion to executive director in the wake of Grant’s April 3 death, she smiled but was hesitant in accepting the accolades.
“Thank you, I think,” she laughed. “We’re working hard to continue what he put in place. We’ve got a great staff and they are committed to maintaining the programs to make sure people have all the resources they need to be successful.”
Yates and the staff of Clayton County Community Services Authority gathered Wednesday afternoon to honor employees and pay tribute to Grant. The center provides resources to low income families in Clayton, Henry and Fayette counties.
CSA center were created out of President Johnson’s Economic Opportunity Act in 1964. This is the 50th anniversary of the Act and the programs that evolved out of it. Centers provide Legal Aid Services, weatherization, transportation, Head Start classes and community support.
It is the place residents turn to when they can’t pay their heating bills in the winter and when they need free or reduced fees legal assistance.
But Grant wanted to do more than just provide services, said Yates.
“He was determined that clients were treated with respect,” she said. “The harshest I ever saw him with the staff was when they were rude to a customer. I learned quickly to not do that.”
Yates worked her way up to executive director from secretary and was one of many honored for milestones of employment, starting with five years. That part of the ceremony ended with her own plaque for four decades of service.
“I’m the mother of all these children,” she said, indicating her staff.
Members of the governing board and Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner were also recognized for their support.
“They don’t get paid a penny,” said Yates. “In fact, we beg them for money.”
The center got started in 1964 with a $60,000 grant, she said. Now, 50 years later, the staff works a budget of $8.5 million. Board Chairman Gary Furlong said the financial stability of the center is worth noting.
“Over the years, millions of dollars came through this center,” he said. “Not one penny was ever questioned by the U.S. government. How many other programs that have been around 50 years can say that? That’s in tribute to Rev. Grant.”
Furlong also credited Grant with easing race relations in Clayton County over the years. Grant formed the first NAACP chapter in the county and offered a cool head and understanding heart in the matters of race, he said.
“There will never be another individual in Clayton County who did more for race relations than Rev. Grant,” said Furlong. “I met him in 1966 and I never saw him upset.”
Yates handed out Employee of the Year awards in the center’s four departments. Betty Drummond was honored for her 18 years of work in Community Support; Juanita Crumbley for Transportation Services and Alfonso Weems Jr. for the Weatherization Program.
Robin Lind was honored for her work in the Head Start program. However, Lind is battling breast cancer and could not attend the ceremony. Her co-workers said Lind has “been all that we’ve needed, getting things done gently and with a smile. There’s nothing we ask her to do that she wouldn’t do.”
Yates played an audio recording of one of the last speeches and closing prayer Grant gave to round out the ceremony. In the speech, he tells the audience about a father who tore up a photo of the world globe from a magazine and told his son to put the pieces together and then do his homework.
In just a few minutes, the boy returned, quicker than the father expected, said Grant. The father questioned him about whether he’d done the task and done it properly.
“‘Well, I turned the pieces over and saw that on the other side was a picture of a man,’” Grant said. “‘I decided if I put the man together right, the world would be right.’”