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Feb. 17, 2012
HCC honors seven during 2012 Saluting Our Local African-American Heroes Event
WELDON, N.C. – For the fifth year, Halifax Community College (HCC) held its “Saluting Our Local African-American Heroes” celebration. Special honors were bestowed on six community leaders and one HCC student during the Feb. 16 ceremony held at The Centre. Roanoke Valley Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Allen Purser was the guest speaker.

This year’s honorees included:
• George Branch
• Gary Grant
• Lester Greenwood Jr.
• Donte’ Johnson (HCC student)
• Dr. Charles McCollum
• Beatrice Strayhorn
• Ruby Vincent Ward

Heroes are chosen based on their commitment and contributions to the community, unselfish devotion to others, initiative, innovation and leadership, and willingness to share time and wisdom through community service. HCC student heroes are chosen based on their commitment and contributions to the HCC community, initiative, innovation and leadership, and demonstration of academic promise.

About the Honorees
George Branch
Branch started his tenure in the emergency service field with the Rheasville Fire Department. He spent hundreds of hours of his spare time in school to become a certified paramedic in order to further his service to the community. Branch could often be seen at the county emergency medical services building volunteering his time, providing life saving care to those in need. As a paramedic, Branch gained the respect of his peers and quickly became a mentor to many younger emergency service practitioners. In addition, Branch was the founding member of the emergency response team at Kennametal.

Branch continues to serve as a volunteer firefighter with Garysburg Volunteer Fire Department and as a deacon for Roanoke Chapel Baptist Church. He has worked with Habitat for Humanity, Relay for Life, Girl Scouts and other civic groups.

Gary Grant
Grant has served as the executive director of the internationally-acclaimed Concerned Citizens of Tillery for the past 33 years. He is also founding president of the national Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, director of the National Land Loss Fund and co-director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. As a progressive community activist, Grant has served on many boards of directors including the Halifax County Board of Education, the Center for Women’s Economic Alternatives and the Halifax County Black Caucus. He is the founding board chairperson of the national Black Family Land Trust and is an advisory board member and chairperson of the African-American Environmental Action Justice Network.

Grant has received many recognitions including the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future’s Individual Award for Leadership in Environmental Stewardship, the first NC Democracy’s Torchbearer Award for Excellence in Organizing for Democracy and the Elijah Muhammad Award of Excellence, among others. Grant received the first Halifax County NAACP Humanitarian Award and an honorary doctor of humanities from Eastern North Carolina Theological Institute. He is featured in the documentary “Environmental Heroes,” which aired March 2010 on UNC Public Television. Grant was also the 2010 Washburn University Oliver L. Brown Distinguished Visiting Scholar for Diversity Issues.

Lester Greenwood Jr.
Greenwood has given 32 years of active service to the Garysburg Volunteer Fire Department. On Feb. 1, 1979, a group met at the Garysburg Town Hall to discuss organizing a volunteer fire department. Greenwood was selected as the incorporator and registered agent. On March 26, 1979, Garysburg Volunteer Fire Department (GVFD) was chartered and Greenwood was selected as GVFD’s first fire chief. With this position, he became the first African-American fire chief in Northampton County. He held the position of chief for 14 years. The GVFD’s first fire station was Greenwood’s carport, which housed one pumper. In 1984, the department moved into a two-bay station with one pumper and one tanker.

Today, with the leadership and dedication of Greenwood, the GVFD has a new station with three drive-through bays containing two pumpers, one tanker, two brush trucks and an equipment truck. As one of GVFD’s deputy chiefs, Greenwood remains dedicated and continues to be present at every fire and accident scene, making sure that the grounds are safe for the firefighters.

Donte’ Johnson (HCC student)
Johnson exudes character, integrity and leadership. Johnson is a full-time student at Halifax Community College, majoring in the associates in arts program. He is also very active in the male mentoring program. While at HCC, he has shown strong interest in areas of photography and graphic design. He is a 2010 graduate of Weldon STEM High School. While attending high school, Johnson participated in various clubs such as the Future Farmers of America and Students Against Drunk Driving. His plans after graduating from HCC are to transfer to North Carolina State University or the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to pursue his education in photography or reporting.

Dr. Charles McCollum
In 1987, McCollum served as the executive director of the Halifax County Black Caucus. Under his leadership, the Halifax County Black Caucus was instrumental in renewing the Halifax County School System personnel director’s position, hiring a principal for Northwest High School and hiring the first African-American superintendent of Halifax County Schools. The caucus registered 2,859 new voters and was instrumental in computerizing each household by income, number of children by age and even made sure each person made it to the polls to vote. Later, he and the caucus sponsored a “March in March.” On March 23, 1995, they held a march from HCC’s parking lot that proceeded up Highway 158 to the First Baptist Church in Roanoke Rapids. A rally was held to commemorate the Million Man March.

McCollum has successfully worked with incarcerated students to improve reading skills in an effort to pass literacy tests or GEDs. While serving as a transition specialist for the Virginia Department of Corrections, he wrote many projects that are now part of correctional programs such as the Steer Straight Project. He has taught a 15-week course that gives inmates life skills and readies them for re-entry into society. He has also taught a parenting class to young male inmates who are fathers. McCollum started the only theological institute, Eastern Carolina Christian College (ECCC), in the Roanoke Valley community in order to rid the community of religious and theological ignorance. It has satellite schools in Newport News, Detroit and Wilson. ECCC recently entered into a partnership with HCC. McCollum is also known for starting the local Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration, which begins with a parade in Littleton and ends with a service at Oak Grove Baptist Church.

Beatrice Strayhorn
Strayhorn is known for her unselfish devotion, innovation and leadership. Strayhorn holds the distinction of being the only individual from her class, as well as the only African American, to be nominated and inducted into Phi Delta Kappa national honor society while pursuing her administration/supervision certification from East Carolina University. Strayhorn created The Silverlite Club, which raises money for scholarships for individuals wishing to attend college. She organized the first chapter of the Business and Professional Women’s Club in the Roanoke Valley. She also founded two branches of University Women including the Northampton County Chapter and the Roanoke-Chowan Chapter.

Strayhorn organized the Tri-City Chapter of Chums and served as its first president. She has served as national Chum treasurer for two, two-year terms. She has also been visible in the community. These activities include, but are not limited to, volunteering on Thanksgiving to feed the hungry, mentoring, donating money to children who are in college and other educational endeavors. She has volunteered as an usher for The Centre at Halifax Community College, worked the polls during local elections and volunteered at the Weldon Public Library.

Ruby Vincent Ward
Ward is known in the community as a leading voice in the Roanoke Valley area. Her unselfish commitment and contributions to the community go far beyond what is expected of her. Ward retired from Halifax Community College (HCC) in 2011. She continues to demonstrate a strong commitment to HCC in many capacities. She volunteers in the bookstore, the classroom and on many projects at the College.

Ward donates her time to the local food bank by distributing and delivering food throughout the surrounding counties. She was instrumental in the effort to obtain cable television and high speed internet in a rural and remote area of Northampton County. She has served as spokesperson and advocate for the citizens of Northampton County, demonstrating a strong commitment to the community and contributing to the effectiveness of the county to help its citizens. She is currently coordinating the effort to keep Gumberry High School memories alive by establishing a room at Garysburg Elementary School for Gumberry’s artifacts. She is also the chairperson of the Gumberry High Ole School Reunion. Ward is a proud graduate of Elizabeth State University where she is still very active. She is a member of Roanoke Salem Missionary Baptist Church where she is a trustee and chairman of the Hospitality Committee.
HCC honors seven during 2012 Saluting Our Local African-American Heroes Event
Photo cutline: Halifax Community College held its “Saluting Our Local African-American Heroes” celebration. Special honors were bestowed on six community leaders and one HCC student during the Feb. 16 ceremony held at The Centre. Pictured are front row from left, Beatrice Strayhorn, Ruby Vincent Ward, Lester Greenwood Jr., HCC President Dr. Ervin V. Griffin Sr.; back row from left, Dr. Charles McCollum, Donte’ Johnson, Gary Grant and George Branch.
Halifax Community College’s Mission
Halifax Community College strives to meet the diverse needs of our community by providing high-quality, accessible and affordable education and services for a rapidly changing and globally competitive marketplace.
Primary Media Contact: Melanie Temple, Director of Public Relations and Marketing, templem@halifaxcc.edu, 252-538-4319

Secondary Media Contact: Linnie S. Carter, Ph.D., APR, Vice President of Institutional Advancement, Halifax Community College and Executive Director of the Halifax Community College Foundation Inc., carterl@halifaxcc.edu, 252-536-7239