“Mrs. Little approached Mrs. Andrew Stewart asking her to make this nursery a Memorial to Mr. Stewart, a man who was known to be a friend to all children and especially interested in all unfortunate ones. Mrs. Stewart was delighted with the idea-stating that Mr. Stewart had told her to give-and to give generously-just as he had given and to commemorate his name in an Institution whose one purpose was to help every child that came within its doors; to give the child an opportunity to make the beginning of life on equal footing with its more fortunate brothers.”
I was recently approved to research and compose a comprehensive history of the Andrew P. Stewart Center as a part of my graduate studies at Georgia State. While giving my advisor some background on the Center and detailing the research I had done, he made a very astute observation: that perhaps what is most significant about the Stewart Center (from a historical perspective) is its ability to survive the test of time.
Gentrification, racial tensions, financial problems, building concerns, and rotating leadership are just a few of the challenges the Center has faced over the past century. While the question of its survival is important to me in understanding the Centers overarching story, it has also been important to me in understanding and accepting my day to day struggles at the Center.
While my time at the Center has been life-giving and beautiful, there have been some tough times. On days when I felt frustrated, unappreciated, tired, angry, ineffective, or cynical, I found myself needing reassurance and strength. Oddly enough, I often sought that reassurance by reading about the people who carried the Center on their shoulders throughout the past 100 years. Like Mrs. Stewart and her friends, who worked tirelessly to get the Stewart Center on its feet through their social influence and financial support, even before they had the right to vote. Like Myrtle Salters and Elizabeth Lundy, who walked the Center through four decades of turbulent social and racial change (1935-1974). Like Alice White, who reached out to neighborhood children when drugs and crime were at an all-time high in Reynoldstown. These leaders faced incredible obstacles and made decisions that would alter the future of the Stewart Center forever. Their courage gave me strength.
Having spent so much time reflecting on the strong leaders of the Stewart Center’s past has helped me identify and appreciate those strong leaders in our present. Like Clayton Davis, who made an empty, dilapidated building come to life again through his clear vision and tireless efforts. Like Bridget Grant, who never stops giving, and who reminds me so much of Mrs. Stewart. Like Jeneen Mitchell, who for four years has continuously modeled unconditional love and respect to the children. And like the countless volunteers, interns, and staff who do the hard work of running an after school program and summer camp…I wish I could write about you all.
Today the Stewart Center is thriving—this summer it will operate 3 simultaneous summer camps, serving over 150 children in two neighborhoods. The staff has grown in numbers and in expertise. We have quadrupled our network of support over the last few years, and it continues to increase. The future is bright, and I am so excited for all of the opportunities the Center will be able to offer children as it grows.
The Center has survived for 98 years because generations of people believed in Love and Justice for every human being, and selflessly gave of themselves for the sake of children. Whether their actions were guided by a call from God, a desire for social justice, or a love for children, their tireless efforts created a truly special place in the Stewart Center. The spirit of love that so many leaders, volunteers, and families shared together at the Stewart Center lives on, and it grows with every act of generosity, selflessness, or reconciliation that occurs today.
While I could try to summarize in a few sentences why I believe the Andrew P. Stewart Center has successfully kept its doors open for 98 years, I’ve realized that the “why“ isn’t the point. Even if the Center celebrates another 100 years in 2116, the reality is that no institution lasts forever. But the spirit of love that lives in this big blue house will forever carry on in the lives of those it touched—including mine.