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February 6, 2013

A family celebration

THOMASVILLE — Last Friday night, about 500 members of Jailah Armstrong’s extended family gathered for a celebration here in Thomasville. Now when I say family, I mean Thomas Countians - black and white and all colors in between – who joined together at the heart for the common cause of raising Jailah and her family up.   Jailah is 13 years old. She’s been fighting a winning battle with brain cancer for over a year now. Her mom – a single mom, no less – and her grandmother are pretty much all the ‘official’ family she has.   We figured it was high time to extend that a little bit.   A year ago, Root 3:16, the contemporary Christian band of which I am a part, hosted a successful event to support Nick Brinson, a Thomas County teenager who was fighting his own battle with cancer.  So, when word of Jailah got to us – inexplicably suffering the exact Medulloblastoma cancer as Nick – it was time to do it again.   So, Friday night that’s exactly what we did.   After the sit down barbecue supper, folks bid on items that had been offered by local businesses, citizens, and national celebrities for Jailah’s benefit. For instance, Al Pitrelli, the lead guitarist from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra who had visited Thomas County Central High School last year, heard about the event and wanted to help. So he donated an electric guitar signed by the entire band. Charlie Ward, Jr. offered up a football signed by almost every Heisman trophy winner since 1955, which is something you just don’t drop by the store to pick up with the milk on the way home.   Those men didn’t have to offer their help. But help they did, alongside 50+ local businesses and individuals.   As an example of the family spirit in question, the ladies from Providence and First Baptist churches cumulatively baked 20 something pound cakes that were dessert for the evening’s meal. If there are many things on this earth better than homemade pound cake, I don’t know about them.   The night’s entertainment was provided by local acts. Our group opened things up, then backed up local singer Jamie Nunnally when he followed with some original music. Jailah’s friend Caroline Upton sang the song “Healer.” Shawn Walden brought the crowd to their feet when he offered his rendition of “Our God is Greater.” Former Miss Thomasville and Miss Georgia Marlesa Ball Greiner then brought the house down with her well-known rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Root 3:16 closed the night with a medley of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” and Casting Crowns “Lifesong,” the other artists joining us on stage.   Jailah, the inspiration for the event, had been feeling a little down the week before, and none of us were sure she would be able to attend. Seems her feeding tube had become infected, and she just had returned from a trip to Atlanta to get that addressed. We all knew she was going to be tired, and probably not feeling very well.   But not only was she there, she was the light of the night, smiling and beautiful. Heck, she was even wearing a jean jacket and sporty cowboy boots, having a great time.   Through the course of the evening, there was great music, powerful prayers, tears, laughter, and lots and lots of hugs. I guess when you get down to it, all the things you’d hope would go into a day worth living, which all of them blessedly are.   I had family drive down from Atlanta for the event. Jailah had family travel from Tampa and even New York.   As we closed the night down, we gave the microphone to Mr. Emory Virgil, the pastor at Providence, to offer up a prayer of healing for Jailah. As he placed his hand on her shoulder, every person in that room placed their hands on the shoulders of the person next to them – black, white, and all colors in between – to create a literal chain of humanity. For the entirety of the prayer, all in the room were connected physically and spiritually for Jailah.   I know I am not supposed to admit to as much, but I was onstage as this moment was unfolding, and I just could not help but take a peek at the sight. I felt like a kid at the supper table looking over his folded hands to see if anyone else was peeking, too, but I wanted to see it. I just wish I could’ve taken a photograph of the image, one that brought tears to my eyes and that will be forever etched in my mind.   No, Thomasville and Thomas County aren’t perfect. We’ve never claimed to be. We’ve got our problems and issues just like anywhere else.   But I’ll say this without any hesitation – there is no place on this earth that I would rather call home than right here. While some who think they know us want to paint all of us as simpleminded and/or filled with prejudice, in reality we have a heartfelt, rooted-in-family way of caring and sharing concern for our own that quite honestly gives me hope for the future of our poor country.   Jailah’s extended Thomasville/Thomas County family – black, white, and all colors in between - proved that once again last Friday night. Trust me on this one: this time I saw it with my own eyes. 

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