They made Charlotte better in 2018

Cedric Dean with some of his SAVE mentees.
Cedric Dean with some of his SAVE mentees.

Each year, the Observer editorial board searches for heroes among us who make our city and region better. This year, we’ve found people who’ve made the most of a second chance, helped dads connect with children, helped students explore and forever changed treatment of cancer in Charlotte. (See our next two people Thursday.) To them, and to all who make our community better, we say thank you!

Finding redemption through giving back

Cedric Dean lost almost a quarter of a century. He has no time to waste.

Dean started getting into trouble as a kid on the streets of Charlotte. He was convicted of armed robbery at age 16. When he was released from custody a few years later, he went right back to his old ways. In 1995 he was convicted on a variety of drug and weapons charges and was sentenced to life in prison plus five years.

That sentence came at a time when sentencing for crack cocaine charges was disproportionately punitive. A series of changes in the law, plus Dean’s behavior in prison and work by his attorneys, lowered Dean’s sentence repeatedly. On Nov. 28, 2017, at age 45, Dean was released after serving 23 years and 11 months in prison.

This is where the story gets good. On his first day as a free man, Dean vowed to give back and to steer kids to do well in school and not get on a track that leads to prison. In the year since, he has done more to contribute to Charlotte than many do in a lifetime.

He created a nonprofit called SAVE (Safeguard Atone Validate Education). He spends much of his days working with students at Thomasboro Elementary, Martin Luther King Middle and West Charlotte High. Eighteen “problem” students at Thomasboro were chosen to attend Dean’s character education program. Together, they had 32 behavioral incidents and 58 absences before joining the program. They had 5 incidents and 14 absences after the program, and nearly all are on the honor roll.

Dean has worked with Police Chief Kerr Putney, Sheriff Garry McFadden, CMS Superintendent Clayton Wilcox and others to serve children, and he now is a reentry specialist for the Securus Foundation, helping former prisoners re-enter society.

He knows some people might not be ready to believe in him yet.

“There’s nothing I can tell a person to make them believe I’m for real. I can only show them,” Dean said. “And that’s why I do what I do every day.”

Small gestures and a big impact

Long ago, when Lia and Sam Beresford were in elementary and middle school in Charlotte, their father would give them $5 to pay for the field trips their classes were taking. He also would give them $5 more. That, he said, was for the teacher to give students who might not be able to pay for their trip.

This was not unusual for Joe Beresford. He was an insurance adjuster back then, but he was not defined by his career or his paycheck. Money was something that helped his family enjoy each other, and it was something that could bring some small joys to others. “It’s nice to be nice,” he would tell his kids frequently.

A year ago, when Joe died, Lia and Sam got together to help organize his things, including the money he’d left behind. They smiled at old memories — their dad was a big Grateful Dead fan — and told old stories. Someone brought up the extra $5 for field trips. “We realized, ‘This money isn’t ours,’ ” Sam remembers.

Their father and mother, Jackie, were big believers in how schools — especially diverse public schools — could broaden horizons. “We had a great neighborhood school,” Lia said. “But they put us on a bus. It was the one of the best things they did for us.”

This month, the Beresford children announced the Joe Beresford Field Trip fund through the CMS Foundation. Beginning this school year, the fund will provide fees for arts and curriculum focused field trips. Sam and Lia provided $25,000 for the fund. Family and friends gave $7,000 more.

It is, say Lia and Sam, one of the best ways they can honor their father, a man who understood the impact we can have on others, even just $5 at a time.