Heroes raise up the whole community

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 15, 2011

When nine-year-old Zemirah Singleton stepped up to the microphone Thursday evening, the words came out softly and clearly.

Barely able to look above the tables filled with heroes, Zemirah sang the song made famous by Josh Groban, “You Raise Me Up.”

The song starts soft and low with the words, “When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary.” The lyrics at first conjure up images of hearts burdened with trouble and then quickly crescendos to a refrain filled with hope.

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“You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains; You raise me up to walk on stormy seas; I am strong, when I am on your shoulders; You raise me up, to more than I can be.”

No truer words were sung or spoken Thursday night when The Natchez Democrat honored this year’s Citizen of the Year and Unsung Heroes with a reception at The Carriage House Restaurant.

Each year, the newspaper invites family and friends of these community heroes to give them a pat on the back and a little applause for the work each have done to make the community in which we live a better place.

As you might imagine the men and women honored each year shirk such praise. They would much rather be out working in the community than sitting inside at a reception waiting to receive an award.

Former Natchez mayor Tony Byrne, Kathy Fitch, Joe and Dianne Good, Mike Lomasney, Bryant and Jean Reed, Carolyn Ridley, Monroe and Betty Sago, Anniece Smith and Will and Jeanette Warren were recognized for their giving of their time and talent to the community.

Of these fourteen people who were honored, only one couple stood up to say a few words to the assembled crowd.

“We don’t consider ourselves heroes,” Betty Sago said standing beside her husband Monroe. “We were doing what we felt needed to be done in our community.”

My guess is that there were a lot of heads nodding as Betty Sago spoke.

Her words make the lyrics Zemirah sang all the more powerful, because out of the selflessness of a few, a whole community is raised up on mountains and above stormy seas.

Joe and Dianne Goods asked if their godchild could sing at the event. Their grandson Reginald Good also came to accompany Zemirah on piano.

Zemirah and Reginald were just two of the many children who came to this year’s event. In fact, I can’t remember any heroes reception with as many children in attendance.

The Sagos invited several children from the Pendleton Group Home, a Methodist Children’s Home in Natchez. Other families brought their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to the event.

Betty Sago calls the boys from the Pendleton Home “her children.” Throughout the year, she takes these boys under her wing, mentors them and offers them an opportunity to get scholarships from money donated to the Rhythm Night Club Museum.

“Children learn by doing things, by seeing things,” Dianne Good said Thursday at the reception.

Inviting them to events is important because they get to meet other community members doing something positive, both Betty Sago and Dianne Good stressed Thursday.

True to their callings, our unsung heroes found ways to turn a reception designed to honor them into a tool to make the community a better place.

Let’s give them a round of applause and learn from their examples.

Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.