Last summer Steve Whitton, an English professor at Jacksonville State University, was visiting with some friends when someone loaned him a copy of Year of Our Lord, which, through powerful words and haunting photography, told the story of Lucas McCarty.
The then-20-year-old McCarty was the only white member of Trinity House of Prayer Holiness Church in the Mississippi Delta. But that wasn’t the most remarkable part about McCarty. Because of a traumatic birth that cut off oxygen to his brain, he suffered from cerebral palsy and was virtually trapped in his own body.
“His movements are abrupt and spastic,” writes author T.R. Pearson about first meeting Lucas McCarty. “He jerks and flails, twitches and drools, and is incapable of anything approaching the fluid, directed motion most of us manage unthinkingly when we pluck up a fork or turn a doorknob.
“Lucas can’t speak. His voice is a moist, inarticulate growl. Though he uses a wheelchair occasionally, Lucas prefers to walk on his knees.”
But that didn’t stop McCarty from singing in the choir or inspiring the lives of everyone he met.
“By that first weekend of reading,” Whitton recalls, “I was on the phone with the publisher trying to figure out what we could do.”
Whitton is also the director of JSU’s Honors Program. As part of this new program, the 16 current recipients the “most prestigious scholarship on campus” must take part in an ongoing community service initiative.
“One of JSU’s goals is to turn students into good citizens, to expand their lives, to teach tolerance and an understanding of others,” Whitton said. “We want to help them break barriers.”
Inspired by Lucas McCarty as detailed in Year of Our Lord, Whitton presented to his classroom the idea of doing something that would benefit East Alabama United Cerebral Palsy. He expected them to take some time to think it over. He was wrong.
Instead, one of his more quiet and unassuming students stood up and said, “We don’t need to discuss this,” the young man said. “This is what I came to college for. Let’s vote.”
The decision was unanimous.
“From the beginning,” says 19-year-old Jansen Harmon, president of Honors Society, “it was something we knew we were supposed to do.”
Since the semester began, the 16 students have been raising money and awareness by selling custom silicone UCP bracelets and are in the process of getting area business to donate discounted services, which will in turn be sold for $5 each. All totaled, the group hopes to raise upward of $2,000.
“It’s just about helping people,” Harmon says. “It’s about helping people who aren’t as privileged or as blessed as we are. It’s about trying to make a difference.”
The crowning event of this project will be Wednesday, March 30, when Lucas McCarty and Year of Our Lord author, T.R. Pearson visit JSU for a free one-hour lecture, Q & A session and book-signing — as well as an assistive technology exhibition featuring devises like those used by McCarty — at Leone Cole Auditorium.
“There are people making lives for themselves no matter what gets in their way,” Whitton said. “We all have problems and obstacles that get in our way. Our hope is that these students learn something and apply it to their own lives.”
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org