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2012 Angels Among Us: Ordinary People Make a Difference

2012 Angels Among Us: Ordinary People Make a Difference
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Scott Macaulay | A Thanksgiving Happy Meal

In the fall of 1985, Scott Macaulay faced a dilemma: His parents had just divorced, and things had gotten so tense that he wasn’t sure where he was going to spend Thanksgiving. “I just knew I didn’t want to be alone,” the Melrose, Massachusetts, native says.

Instead, he took out an ad in his local paper and offered to cook a Thanksgiving meal for 12 people and serve them at the fellowship hall at his hometown’s First Baptist Church. He’s been doing it ever since.

Each Thanksgiving, Macaulay starts his day at 4 a.m., cooking four big turkeys, potatoes (two kinds: mashed and sweet), squash, stuffing, peas, and gravy, and getting the fruit cup, bread, and cranberry sauce ready. He buys pies for dessert and puts out cheese, crackers, pickles, and other nibbles. But beyond just preparing the food, Macaulay also transforms the hall into a home, bringing in a faux fireplace, a faux woodstove, rugs, flowers, candles, and furniture the night before. The meal commences around 1 p.m. as each guest says what he or she is thankful for; then the Reverend Veronica Lanier says grace.

“My thing is: You’re not looking at four walls as you eat alone,” Macaulay says. “You may not know the person sitting next to you, but you’re not alone. It’s an occasion.”

Macaulay, who owns a vacuum repair and retail shop, does almost all the work himself and funds the meal, which often exceeds a thousand dollars, largely out of his own pocket. “I start saving the day after Thanksgiving,” he jokes. Last year, Macaulay welcomed 69 guests, some of them staying well into the evening. “The goal is to have nobody show up,” Macaulay says. “That means everybody has a place to go.” Macaulay then lets out a big laugh: “But that hasn’t happened yet.”

Tina Chéry | Healing Hand

Louis Brown was easy to like. Tall, with an easy, infectious smile, Brown wasn’t afraid to dream big: First he’d earn a Ph.D. in aerodynamic engineering, and then, he told his mom, Tina Chéry, he’d be the country’s first black president. His sense of humor made him the life of family get-togethers. During Christmas he loved to play Santa, strapping a pillow beneath his shirt, donning a stocking atop his head, and calling himself “Cool Claus.” In December 1993, the 15-year-old honor student had even started planning his 16th birthday, which was still four months away. It was to be a big party, with a guest list that included both his parents’ friends and his own buddies. “He marched to the beat of a different drummer,” Chéry says.

When Louis Brown was growing up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the largest section of Boston, lives were being lost and families torn apart by gang violence. Tina Chéry and her husband, Joseph Chéry, believed that their loving home could protect Louis and his two younger siblings from the dangers.

“We can justify why bad things happen to certain people,” Chéry says. “They were in a gang. They were dealing drugs. They have a lengthy criminal record. To many of us whose children aren’t living that lifestyle, it’s: ‘Oh, it’s those people. They’re not talking about me.’ My husband worked, I stayed at home, my son was driven everywhere. We were safe.”

But on December 20, 1993, a mild early-winter afternoon, Louis was walking with friends when he was innocently caught in the crossfire of a gang shootout. The tragedy around his death was compounded because of where Louis was headed: a Christmas party put on by Teens Against Gang Violence, a group he’d joined just three weeks before.

The senselessness of Louis Brown’s death turned a glaring spotlight on Dorchester. Newspaper reporters grabbed hold of the story; Boston’s mayor, Thomas Menino, visited Chéry and her grieving family; the cost of the boy’s funeral services was donated; and neighbors rallied in the way that any good community does when a crisis hits.

But although her son’s killing sent Chéry reeling, it also propelled her into action and got her thinking about the lack of support other families receive when faced with the same situation. Her son’s narrative–good student, stable family, avoided trouble–was an easy one for the media and politicians to grasp. But Chéry knew that not everyone shared her experience.

“What happens in the inner city, if you’re poor, if your child was a part of the problem?” she asks. “Services don’t come to you as easily as they would if you’re white, got caught in the crossfire, or were a teenager who was a straight-A student. How do we provide the same services to all families, regardless of who the victim was?”

The following April, Chéry went ahead and celebrated Louis’ 16th birthday. She rented a hall, just as her son had planned, and invited a robust guest list. But instead of honoring one child, she used the party to honor all children. She sent out fliers and asked parents to bring a list of all the positive things associated with their kids. “The only time our community gets attention is when our violence is high,” Chéry says, “and then we’re knocking our children over the head and not celebrating those who are doing what we want them to do.”

Guests brought food, there was music, and some 100 youths received Louis D. Brown certificates of appreciation. More important, the gathering laid the groundwork for the launch of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, a nonprofit aimed at supporting families of homicide victims.

Without pay, Chéry set up shop in her kitchen. As a stay-at-home mom, Chéry was not your typical nonprofit leader. But her commitment trumped experience. Her work became a mixture of advocacy and compassion. Whenever she’d read a story about a murder in a Boston newspaper, she’d cut out the picture of the victim, laminate it on a button, and mail this small piece of recognition to the reporter to give to the family. As the button project grew, it became Chéry’s roving exhibit with a message: showing the cross-section of lives that had been taken.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

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