Black History Month

St. Stephen’s history is Black history. 

In celebration of Black History Month, we asked our staff to share stories about Black individuals that had a significant impact on their lives. These individuals could be well-known figures, family members, friends, or community members. Below are the stories that our staff members shared.

George Walker

George Walker at his desk at SSCH.

Written by: Marilyn Mehaffie

George Walker was the Assistant Director at St. Stephen’s Community House when I started at the agency in 1988. I didn’t know it at the time, but Mr. Walker would become my greatest mentor and the best example of what it means to be a leader.

George was passionate about education and service. He had two Masters degrees and felt that everyone should have the opportunity to obtain a quality education. He also served in the U.S. Army, doing two tours in Vietnam before his time at St. Stephen’s.

Mr. Walker was personable and even if you had only met him once, he would always remember your name. He had a way of building connections with people and making them feel heard. He wanted everyone to know that their voice mattered.

George taught me that in order to be a good leader, you have to be able to be vulnerable and own your mistakes. He often preached that the needs of our agency and our community came before his, and he truly exuded the qualities of a “servant leader.”  George Walker is a big part of the reason that I have the confidence to lead our organization today. He believed in me and gave me the tools I needed to succeed.

During his 26 years at SSCH, George had many other projects that he was passionate about. He created the Four Corners Park at the corner of Cleveland and 17th, and maintained it himself for many years. Mr. Walker was also inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, held the position of chairman for the South Linden Area Commission, served as the President of the Linden Eagle Youth Athletic Association, and served on several Columbus School Board committees.

Although George was raised in Florida, his heart was in Linden. He lived in Linden, raised his children in Linden, and woke up everyday ready to make this community better and stronger. Mr. Walker was always reminding us that while we work at St. Stephen’s, we really work for the community.

Mr. Walker often spoke about the importance of staying positive, looking ahead, and passing along a legacy. He would say, “focus on the progress, not the past.”

Mr. Walker passed in 2016, but I know that he would look at our agency today and take pride in the progress we’ve made since he last walked these halls. I’m confident that we will continue to build a legacy that he would be proud of.

Paul Robeson 

Written by: Tommy Ferguson. 

I would like to spotlight one of my personal heroes, Paul Robeson. Robeson was an athlete, actor, singer, author scholar, and political activist.

Tommy and his photo of Paul Robeson.

His influence as Black man put a target on his back. The PBS Master series wrote of him, “Robeson was singled out as a major threat to American democracy.” Every attempt was made to silence and discredit him, and in 1950 the persecution reached a climax when his passport was revoked. He could no longer travel abroad to perform, and his career was stifled.

At this time, Lloyd Brown, a writer and long-time colleague of Robeson, states: “Paul Robeson was the most persecuted, the most ostracized, the most condemned Black man in America, then or ever.”

As a young kid, I remember learning a lot about never allowing fear to dictate taking a stand against injustice, know that taking a stand is costly. Robeson taught me what it means to be free. He would say…

“the only way to be free…is to be free! To be free . . . to walk the good American earth as equal citizens, to live without fear, to enjoy the fruits of our toil, to give our children every opportunity in life–that dream which we have held so long in our hearts is today the destiny that we hold in our hands.”

Vivian Harris 

Nominated by: Tiesha Willis 

When I was 10 years old, I moved in with my Grandmother because my mother was not in a place where she could take care of me.. I remember my grandmother always wanted better for us. She was adamant that we moved out to the suburbs, attended good schools, and she fully supported my decision to go into the Marines at 17. Even though she had already raised five kids, she was invested in the future of her grandchildren. When I think back to that time in my life, I realize that I would not be the person I am today without her.

Vivian, Tiesha, and her brother. 

For a long time, silence is the way that my family has dealt with issues. I’ve learned that speaking about our life experiences and traumas has helped me appreciate where my family is now. My grandmother’s story of life is filled with some tears, lots of laughter, and an abundance of wisdom.

My Grandmother was born February 11, 1932 in Birmingham,  Alabama.  She was raised by her mother and father, Henry and Lottie Blanton.  When she was 6 years old, she recalls a car ride with her mother and father that would change the course of her life forever. During this car ride, she asked her father to pull over on the side of the road. There was then an altercation with a police officer that ended with her father having to flee to Cleveland, Ohio, due to fear of being hung.

My Great Grandmother raised my Grandmother and her siblings until it was safe for them to join my Great Grandfather in Cleveland.  They were very poor in Alabama, and my Grandmother recalls that they were surrounded by racism. Although they were fortunate compared to some, they understood the struggle despite being shielded from some of it. My Grandmother described her mother as “a mountain that shielded them from a lot of pain.”

When my Grandmother grew up, had five children and went on to work at the federal building as a union rep, nannied for 15 years, and retired as a lunch lady for Maple Heights Schools. She touched many lives and continues to live a life worth talking about.

Vivian and her children. 

Knowing about the struggles and hardships of my Grandmother’s life has help me understand  how I was raised. I am so grateful for her stories, and I am blessed that I still have her here to share them with me.




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