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Articles on the "Heavenly Seven," a grass-roots African-American Men's Group

Dublin Core

Title

Articles on the "Heavenly Seven," a grass-roots African-American Men's Group

Subject

Activism

Description

Group active since ca. 2007. Articles from News-Gazette and Daily Illini.

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'Heavenly Seven' improve quality of life for community members
Group members plan dinners, hand out school supplies
Patrick Wade News staff writer
Posted: September 6th, 2007 - 12:00 AM
Updated: April 22nd, 2009 - 12:49 AM
Tagged with: Bill Hamilton, Person Career, Quotation, Rodney Butler, News

Sitting in a dimly lit garage once a month, 15 men open and close their meeting with a prayer. They talk about how they can help the elderly and young adults.

Most importantly, they talk about how they can better the community.

They call themselves the "Heavenly Seven."

"Our goal is to provide for our community, the whole community - black, white, whatever you want to be," said Rodney Butler, a Heavenly Seven member and vice chairman for the National Council of African-American Men.

About two years ago, the seven founders, most of whom are retired, decided to start a group to address issues in their area.

"When we got started, we didn't know how far it would go," said Bill Hamilton, president of the Heavenly Seven. "But then we just started working, and we organized it, and decided we'd get a charter."

Now that group of seven has grown to 15, they continue to work with children and senior citizens, planning dinners and other functions, despite the fact they pay for everything out of their own pockets.

"We're trying to prepare our youth to succeed from kindergarten to 12th grade," Butler said. "Education is the key."

On Aug. 25, the group gave out bookbags and other school supplies to area kids who needed them.

"When I saw the smile on those kids' faces over there the other day, it really took me," said Augustus Johnson, a member of the group.

But for the Heavenly Seven, bookbags are just the beginning.

"We've got to start somewhere," Johnson said. "We started there, so we've got to keep on moving."

The group is trying to improve the quality of life in predominantly black communities in town.

"I think it's very, very positive for older African-American men to participate in younger African-American men and women's lives," said Seon Williams, who has talked to members of the Heavenly Seven on the Sunday morning radio program he co-hosts for WEFT. "They're showing the openness of love and concern."

Willie B. Franklin, vice president of the group, said that they are trying to open opportunities for black children that have not been there for them in the past.

"We are put on a different pedestal, because we are the minority," Butler added. "Our kids are not supposed to learn, just like 50 years ago."

The group brought enough supplies to the function for 100 people, but in about 20 minutes, everything was gone.

"We ran out of supplies," Hamilton said. "We just didn't have enough for them."

Moving beyond school supplies would be difficult without some kind of help from the community, group member James Culp said.

"We've got to have donations from people in order to accomplish what we are trying to do," Johnson said. "We just can't do it out of our pockets."

Butler said the group has asked both the Champaign and Urbana city councils for assistance, but have been denied by both.

"The city is always saying they're concerned with building a new overpass over there on the west side," Butler said. "What about the infrastructure that's already in place?"

Kerri Spear, acting neighborhood services director for Champaign, said that the Champaign Police Department has been working in the District 1 community and directing many programs to help the residents in that area. No one from the police department was available to comment on these programs.

Hamilton asked that anybody who is interested in donating or helping the Heavenly Seven call his home at 217-643-2854.

As the Heavenly Seven begins to face more situations like the school supply giveaway, they are reaching out to the community and the cities for assistance.

"We need help," Butler said.

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Divine intervention helps schoolchildren
Mon, 08/10/2009 - 9:24am

Angels come in all shapes and sizes.

It's amazing how much good well-intentioned people can do when they channel their collective energy and ideas into public service.

Take the Heavenly Seven Club, a group of local men who liked to get together, play cards and have fun. They decided they wanted to expand their social activities in a way that served the community. They eventually decided to focus on helping schoolchildren and the elderly.

This month will mark the third year they've provided backpacks containing back-to-school supplies for needy children. The first year they gave away 100 backpacks, and they expect to increase that number this year to 200.

The giveaway is planned for Aug. 15 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Morning Star Free Will Baptist Church in Urbana.

Although they accept donations, the men pay for the items mostly by themselves.

They're also planning a Thanksgiving dinner for seniors. Last year, they served about 150 people.

This is a wonderful example of how just a small group (the club has grown from seven to 15 members) can make a big difference in helping people. While setting a wonderful example of community spirit, they also enjoy the sense of personal satisfaction gained by lending a hand to people in need.

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Group of men plans to give school items away to needy
Photo by: Heather Coit

Photo Caption: Members of the Heavenly Seven Club on Tuesday surround a table filled with school supplies they bought, which they plan to give to children in need. From left are Percy McNutt, Willie Franklin, Michael Davis, Columbus Boykins, Cle Easley, club treasurer Bill Hamilton and club president Joe McVay.
Thu, 08/06/2009 - 9:06am | Jodi Heckel

A sampling of school supplies was laid out neatly on a table in a driveway – rows of pencils, notebooks, crayons, markers, glue sticks and backpacks.

Soon those materials will be given away to children whose families may not have the money to buy the items themselves. The school supply drive is courtesy of a group of men who call themselves the Heavenly Seven Club.

Many are longtime friends who get together to talk and laugh and play cards. A few years ago, they talked about starting a hunting club, but not all of them wanted to hunt, said Bill Hamilton, one of the club members. Several of the men had been in a fraternal organization together at one time that did community service work. So the talk turned to their community and the needs of families.

The men decided to do something for kids and senior citizens in the community, and they came up with a name.

"That's how we got it started, just sitting around," Hamilton said.

This will be the third year the group has collected school supplies for elementary school children, and the men are planning their third Thanksgiving dinner this fall for senior citizens.

The men get the school supply lists for kindergarten through fifth grade and they fill backpacks with the required supplies. They gave away about 100 backpacks their first year, and 150 last year. This year, they hope to give away 200.

"Each time they've done it, people have been very appreciative – 'Thank you. You just don't know how much you've helped us,'" said Sandy Lee, the partner of one of the club members, Percy McNutt.

"This year I'm sure there will be more people because of the need in the community," she said. "The economy is really tough for all of us."

The giveaway keeps growing, Lee said, but the money doesn't.

The men pay for most of the supplies themselves. This year, the group will have a food booth at Champaign-Urbana Days at Douglass Park this weekend to raise some money. They also accept donations.

Lee and several wives look for back-to-school sales and do most of the shopping. They buy a lot of the supplies at Staples because the store allows them to get more than the limited quantity of sale items available to most customers.

At the school supply giveaway, the club provides refreshments for the kids – hot dogs, chips, cookies, juice.

"We have a great time doing it," said Joe McVay, the club president. "It's a great reward for us to invest back in their education."

McVay was not one of the original Heavenly Seven, but he joined after seeing how the group helped the community.

"I was just overwhelmed with what they were doing, and I had to be part of this organization," he said.

Cle Easley, one of the newer members of the club, added: "It makes us feel good that we're doing it as a group."

He added that the men benefited from the same kind of attention from older members of the community when they were young.

"The older people showed us the way," Easley said. "We had somebody watch over us and make sure we stayed out of trouble. We're trying to do the same thing."

The club, which now has 15 members, meets monthly to talk about what is going on in the community and what needs there are. One idea they are working on is providing trips to museums for area kids.

The men also attend a different church together once a month.

And they do the cooking for their annual Thanksgiving meal for senior citizens.

Well, they get some help from their wives, McVay said. "We don't want a disaster," he said.

The dinner fed about 150 people last year, and included gospel music.

"Gosh, those seniors from all over love it," Lee said. "They put on a little show for them, and it's a social event. Everybody's exhausted afterward, but it's such a great event."

Hamilton added: "We put a lot of smiles on people's faces. What we are putting out is love."

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Various

Date

2007-2010

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Various, "Articles on the "Heavenly Seven," a grass-roots African-American Men's Group," in eBlack Champaign-Urbana, Item #268, http://eblackcu.net/portal/items/show/268 (accessed March 2, 2021).

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