By Carmen K. Sisson | Catfish Alley Magazine
Larnzy Carpenter Jr.
It’s hard to find a corner of Starkville Dr. Larnzy Carpenter Jr. hasn’t touched.
As a DARE officer, he warned students (including sixth grade future city mayor Parker Wiseman) about the dangers of drugs. He teaches defensive driving for the Mississippi Safety Service and serves as chaplain and chief bailiff for the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Department. He works as a consultant for the Starkville School District. He offers anger management counseling to those arrested for domestic violence.
And then there is his role as pastor of First Baptist Church of Starkville. It is a job that begins before daylight and continues sometimes long into the night.
I always believe there’s good in somebody and that I can make an impact on that person’s life. Love is a decision. It’s a choice. I don’t have money to give you, but I do have love. ~ Larnzy Carpenter Jr., pastor
Carpenter took the helm in 2001, when the struggling church had only 27 members, including eight married couples. Today, the congregation is comprised of 400 members, including 88 married couples, and they recently paid off a building expansion.
It’s all about love, Carpenter says. Love is the alarm clock that dragged him out of bed at 5 a.m. each day this summer to drive the church van for children’s day camp. Love is the reason harried drivers used to drive away with a smile after he gave them a traffic ticket. Love is the balm that allowed Carpenter to forgive a drunken, irate man who called him the “N word” 43 times while being arrested.
Love covers all things, Carpenter says, and when he looks around Starkville now, he sees the reflection of that love, in safer streets and the faces of young people he has influenced.
“I never lose hope; I never lose trust,” Carpenter says. “I always believe there’s good in somebody and that I can make an impact on that person’s life. Love is a decision. It’s a choice. I don’t have money to give you, but I do have love.”
Some people might look at downtown Crawford and see blight — vacant storefronts and empty streets in what was once a thriving community. Longtime resident Frances Hairston sees something else: potential.
She notes the neat yards just beyond the shadow of downtown. She talks about the people and how well they get along, how quickly they lend a hand to neighbors in need.
This is the way we will heal race relations. We came together like sisters and brothers. It was a very spirit-filled thing. If each town could do this, I think things would be much better. ~ Frances Hairston, community activist
As a child, growing up in the Mississippi Delta, Hairston developed a strong work ethic and a fierce independent streak. It’s something she brought with her to the Golden Triangle — an enchanting mixture of cheerleader and dynamo that gets things done, not by shouting orders but by joining hands.
Hairston is a force to be reckoned with, whether working as a docent at the Stephen D. Lee home, serving as president of the Noxubee County Garden Club, heading up committees and singing in the choir at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Starkville, or organizing events with the Columbus Arts Council.
Last year, Hairston earned her bachelor’s degree in art from Mississippi University for Women. And not surprisingly, she’s using her new passion — watercolor — to make the world a more beautiful place. Wherever a hand is needed, she is there.
That’s why a recent Saturday found her awake at 5 a.m., heading up a yard sale for the Town of Crawford. By sundown, she and the other volunteers had raised $4,500 toward the $15,000 needed for a new covered pavilion.
More importantly, she raised morale, getting people to focus less on their differences and more on working toward a common goal.
“This is the way we will heal race relations,” Hairston says. “We came together like sisters and brothers. It was a very spirit-filled thing. If each town could do this, I think things would be much better.”
Chuck Yarborough’s bio and curriculum vitae is nine pages long, chronicling a career in education that spans more than two decades. Around Columbus, he is best known for his role as a history teacher at Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science and the creator and director of the wildly popular “Tales from the Crypt” and “8 O’May” performances, for which students research, write and perform scenes detailing the lives of long-dead local citizens.
The projects have won a spate of awards, but the biggest reward, Yarborough says, is seeing his students grow up to make a difference. In addition to teaching history, he is also trying to instill in students an “ethic of community participation.”
There are two great lessons to learn from doing almost anything: If you work hard at something, you can improve yourself, and if you work together, you can improve a community. ~ Chuck Yarborough, history teacher
Working on “Tales” and “8 O’May” gives students the opportunity to participate in the community as “worker bees,” gathering and sharing research and helping the community understand itself better through the careful examination of past and present.
“If you believe in community, you understand that means working together for the common good, and that’s the lesson I try to impart to my students,” Yarborough says. “‘Tails’ and ‘8 O’May’ are wonderful ways to get students to work together in service to the broader community and a better way of life.”
He is a passionate supporter of public schools, which he believes are “the community’s future,” and he can regularly be found serving in the local parent-teacher organizations, reading to kindergartners, attending school board meetings, and lending a hand wherever he’s needed.
“There are two great lessons to learn from doing almost anything: If you work hard at something, you can improve yourself, and if you work together, you can improve a community,” Yarborough says.
And that’s what he’s trying to do — make the world a better place, one inspired student at a time.