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My 2017 People of the Year

Posted: January 2, 2018 11:56 a.m.
Updated: December 29, 2017 1:00 a.m.

This was a strange year in terms of people having an impact. No one person, or group of people, had what I would consider a year-long impact on Kershaw County and its communities in a way that I would want to single them out.

Instead, there were smaller stories about certain individuals that affected me, personally, in some way. The two that rise to the top are a young lady who was #MeToo before that became the hashtag of the year, and a teenage boy who is leading his school to be a more inclusive place.

I first wrote about Alexis Gilmore at the end of January in a two-part series called “Threatening letters.” In the first story, I detailed the case now CPD Lt. Penny Lloyd built a case against Gilmore’s ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Aaron Betrand that included a history of physical abuse dating back to 2011, peaked with his throwing of a Molotov cocktail at her apartment building while her father was inside, and ended with his receiving a 33-month federal sentence for sending threatening letters from inside prison.

The second story was all Alexis. She not only agreed to have me use her name, she wanted me to in order to be a voice for other domestic violence victims. In fact, by the time we spoke, she was already helping a friend going through a similar situation.

The #MeToo movement is more than just about the big scandals we’re hearing from Hollywood to Washington; it’s about anyone -- mostly girls and women, but boys and men, too -- who have been sexually or physically preyed upon. At least that’s the way I look at it.

In a way, Alexis’ story launched that sense of things here in Kershaw County. At least, I hope so. I have always been impressed by girls and women willing to come forward to speak out against their accusers. I have also been saddened by the greater number who still don’t. No one should ever feel as though they can’t -- and we all have a responsibility to change society so that victims feel safe to come forward.

During many of my years as a journalist, I’ve attended trials and hearings. I remember one case where a teenage girl spoke in court about the betrayal she felt at the invasion perpetrated by a male role model. We should all have such courage.

Alexis had the courage to tell her story and I hope that she and her fiancé are having a good life together. And I hope she’s serving as a good inspiration for girls and young women everywhere.

She is definitely one of my people of the year.

Teenage boys. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Believe me, I know this. Every now and then, though, they don’t just surprise you, they bowl you over with their awesomeness.

Such was the case when I met Camden Middle School 8th Grader Anthony Lyles back in mid-November. I interviewed Anthony because he had just learned he was one of only 10 kids in the entire country to be awarded a 2017 Be Fearless/Be Kind Award from Special Olympics and the Hasbro Children’s Fund.

Anthony earned the award for working with Camden Middle School’s (CMS) Special Olympics Champion Unified School program, formerly known as Project Unify.

(Full disclosure: One of my sons was involved in Project Unify during his 8th Grade year at CMS.)

Special Needs teacher Ashley Middleton, who has known Anthony “since before he was born,” nominated him for the award. She told me about how Anthony has worked hard to bring mainstream and special needs students together not just in the classroom, but on the sports field.

Middleton said Anthony gave up recesses and Saturdays to help out with her students; he also recruited friends and teammates (Anthony is a member of the CMS football and basketball teams) to help out, too.

Where does Anthony get his motivation to help out? Some of it comes from his sister, Adriana, who is now one of Middleton’s students.

In 7th Grade, Anthony buddied up with special needs student, helping that student make it on to the main CMS basketball team.

Now, during 8th Grade, he has buddied up with his own sister. “He would do anything to make sure his sister was looked at with admiration and not pity, to feel pride and not shame, to know respect and never bullied,” Middleton wrote in her nomination.

She told me Anthony acts as a real friend to her students, not a “mini-teacher,” which she said is condescending.

Word has it that Anthony and Adriana will be representing South Carolina at a major Special Olympics event next year. I’m sure I’ll be able to report more on that in the weeks to come.

Meanwhile, CMS and the entire Kershaw County School District have a major role model in Anthony Lyles. I have a feeling this young man is going to do great things for years to come.

That is why, he, too, is one my people of the year for 2017.


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