TV meteorologist addresses 5th annual Civil Rights Dinner

By Josh Arntz
The Dickson Herald

Published Feb. 26, 2016

News Channel 5 Meteorologist Lelan Statom encouraged local teenagers and young folks to maintain a positive attitude, remain determined despite adversity and to keep their faith in order to be successful.

Statom spoke directly to the “rising leaders” Monday evening, who were recognized during the Clement Railroad Hotel Museum’s 5th annual Civil Rights Dinner at Walnut Street Church of Christ.

The annual celebration of local activists and community leaders links the past with the present and future – as evidenced in this year’s theme “Celebrating yesterday, today, tomorrow.”

Attendance for the event continues to grow annually, and this year for the first time took place outside the museum.

Museum Director Alex Spann explained the dinner moved to the church because the museum was “bursting at the seams” during last year’s celebration.

Museum board of directors President Darrell James thanked Walnut Street for hosting the event, and congratulated the crowd on the dinner’s expanded attendance.

“One of the great things about this event is we’ve outgrown our space,” James said.

Museum staff prepared for 125 people Monday evening, and nearly every seat was full.

The dinner was sponsored by TriStar Bank, and catered by Sisters Restaurant.

Community awards

The museum’s Minority Outreach Committee recognized five local students and three community leaders during the dinner for their contributions and efforts.

Dickson County High School Principal Joey Holley and teacher Ed Littleton presented the Community Achievement and Inspiration Award to Donna Holt Pollard, DCHS senior guidance counselor.

Littleton described Pollard as “one of the finest public educators the county has ever seen,” citing her ferocity in helping seniors graduate.

Holley noted Pollard carries out her duties with “class, grace and such a Christian spirit,” and “represents all things Cougar pride.”

Minority Outreach Committee member Serina Gilbert presented Robert “Benny” Overton with the Gov. Frank G. Clement Civil Rights Award for his outreach and activism in the community. Gilbert called Overton a civil rights “trailblazer.”

Overton serves as local NAACP chapter president and UAW Local 737 president, among other leadership positions.

TriStar Bank President Ted Williams presented Doris Grigsby with the second Robert Blue Legacy of Leadership Award, calling her a “saint in our community” in reference to her caring nature and volume of volunteer work.

“This award goes to a wonderful lady this year, who is one of my favorite people in the world,” Williams said. “She is such a kind spirit.”

The award was named for the late Robert Blue, who Williams described as a “true champion of civil rights” and a community leader.

Grigsby, who will retire Monday after 40 years with the state, graduated from Hampton High School in ’64; participated in local sit-ins during the ’60s; and was the first African-American employee at Dickson Electric System, among numerous other accomplishments.

Minority Outreach Committee member Martha Gerdeman recognized the potential of five “rising leaders” in the community – students K’leetha Danae Spicer, JheDienne Adams, LeaLea Carter, Gabbi Darden and Dante Guice.

Statom speaks to students

Statom directed his address about the keys to success to these students and young folks in the crowd, but hoped others would “glean a few points” from it too.

Statom wanted the youngsters to consider how determined they were in making their dreams come true. He explained the keys to being successful toward those dreams are a positive attitude, determination and faith.

Statom cautioned the students against underestimating their attitude in front of other people. He referenced the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but noted often your attitude is like the book cover that the world sees, which affects first impressions.

“And sometimes you may be one of the most caring persons. You may be a very sympathetic person,” he said, “but if there is this bad attitude around it, people can’t get inside to know the deeper you, and so don’t underestimate the power of the attitude.”

Statom then read from a work by Charles Swindoll, which described “the remarkable thing” about your attitude it that “you have a choice every single day regarding the attitude you will embrace for that day.”

Statom’s determination

Statom recalled as a high-schooler how he wanted to be a “big time news reporter and anchor,” and his efforts toward making that dream a reality.

“When I got into television, I started off not necessarily with what I wanted to do, but I took a couple of jobs along the way that allowed me to get my foot in the door,” he said.

Statom received a communications degree with an emphasis in news and public affairs from the University of Tennessee, where he worked as a news anchor and news director for the campus radio station.

His path was guided by his “desire” to be a news anchor, and driven by “the fire” inside of him.

“It was part of the desire of, I had this idea of what I want to do, but if it’s going to happen it’s going to be up to me,” Statom said.

Statom encouraged the students to “stay focused” when “the going gets tough.”

“You will have failures along the way,” he said. “You will have to deal with a mountain that comes out of nowhere. You will have to deal with a river or valley that comes out of nowhere.

“But for you, how determined are you to getting around that mountain? How determined are you of getting over that valley?” he added. “Again, the fire has to come from deep down inside of you.”

Statom referenced the challenges in his career, like being denied the chance to audition for a temporary weekend “weather person” position after a year working as a photojournalist in Knoxville following his graduation.

“And again, had I listened to my first news director who told me he didn’t think I had what it takes, then I wouldn’t be in front of you all today,” he said.

Keeping the faith

Statom described how “the foundation” for success requires “falling back on your faith.”

“When things aren’t going like you want them to,” he said, “when things aren’t going as quick as you want them to, you have to fall back on your faith and it’s that faith that will get you through those rough times.”

Statom warned the students against relying on faith only when things “are bad,” and described how he prays every night. If he doesn’t need help “getting through a trial,” Statom simply thanks God for his many blessings.

Statom closed with an explanation that success isn’t necessarily measured in wealth or property, but whether or not you’re happy with those who surround you and the choices you’ve made.

“You can come home to a lot of money and a lot of cars in the driveway,” he said, “but if you come home and you are not happy with what is around you, then my friend you are not a success.”