‘Heavenly Seven’ improve quality of life for community members



By Patrick Wade

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.

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“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.