On Tuesday, Anniston Councilman Ben Little did what he always does. He turns council meetings into divisive, self-serving faux sermons about white people and black people in this city. His consistency is astounding.
Wednesday afternoon, Vikki Bradford Floyd was at McClellan’s Cane Creek Golf Course planning a fundraising tournament this month for The Legacy Club, which she helped start in 2004 as a mentoring and service organization for female students. The Anniston-based nonprofit, now co-ed, features students from schools across Calhoun County and chapters in Gadsden, Talladega, Cherokee County and Douglasville, Ga., and alumni in colleges and universities throughout the South.
“Our goal,” she said, “was to create an organization that was positive, that was cool, that was fun enough that kids would want to be involved.” Which they do, by the way.
Which one exudes leadership?
Which one improves Anniston?
Which one is a better example of today’s Anniston?
This city’s rarely told story is that the Vikki Bradford Floyds outnumber the Ben Littles. It’s not even close. He’s just larger and louder and elected, but he doesn’t move the needle. People like Floyd do that. They own Anniston’s future. They are the reason why some still believe tomorrow’s Anniston holds more promise than it often seems.
Floyd retells The Legacy Club’s beginnings as little more than a group of 10 women — mothers, mostly — who understood the value of preparing their children for the world. Schools handled the academics, but what about the rest? They asked themselves, “What do you wish someone had told you when you were in school?”
With good intentions and little support they began with 25 female students, hand-picked, many from their own families. They taught how to “dress for success” for job interviews, college reviews and work. They held sessions on attending corporate-like events — formal dinners, for example, which require an etiquette foreign to most teenagers. The goal was to mentor these young women and prepare them for the opening chapters of their adult lives.
Today, The Legacy Club’s membership includes 102 students from Anniston and almost every other school in Calhoun County. Its activities include academic support and tutoring, with students required to maintain a C average — though Floyd quickly admits, “we don’t like C’s.” The club meets two to three times a month for workshops and community service events. (In Calhoun County, students meet at the former Girl Scouts building on Christine Avenue in Anniston, which the nonprofit now owns.) Fundraising events, such as the Oct. 14 golf tournament honoring Floyd’s late husband, Sebastian D. Floyd, who died in 2014, are vital to the club’s survival.
Four times a year, older students are taken on college tours — to Alabama, Auburn and Jacksonville State and the Atlanta campuses of Spelman, Clark Atlanta and Morehouse. Georgia Tech, too, if they have time. Of the more than 300 students The Legacy Club has mentored, 97 percent have entered college, Floyd says.
At one point, I asked Floyd where club alumni were studying this fall. There’s 30 of them. She begins: Georgia Tech. Alabama — “nine there last year,” she says. Auburn. Jacksonville State. Alabama A&M. Alabama State. Kentucky. Then she rattles off the club’s older alumni. One’s headed to medical school. Another’s a physical therapist. Two are chemical engineers. There’s also an electrical engineer, several nurses and teachers, a CPA.
That’s why optimism exists for this county’s future, even for Anniston’s future, which can be hard to fathom when score-settling and dysfunction bog down the City Council. Arguments about funding for Anniston City Schools, where many of the club’s students are from, have dominated a number of council meetings this year. In Anniston, at least, city politics envelops everything.
Floyd gets that. “(But) we try to stay away from politics and just focus on the kids and what we do. Our goal is to make sure they don’t internalize that. Make sure they feel valued.”
Demagogues too often steal our attention from the community leaders piloting our true successes. Anniston is eaten up with that sin. But there is optimism. There are reasons to believe, if we’ll look for them.