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Sherrod shares her story of redemption
Ousted USDA official serves as guest speaker at Newtown Florist Club's anniversary banquet
Newtown Florist Club executive director Faye Bush, left, speaks Saturday with former U.S. Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod during the Newtown Florist Club's 60th anniversary banquet at the Gainesville Civic Center. Sherrod was featured as the guest speaker at the event. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

On Saturday night, Shirley Sherrod had a story to tell — one that began long before she was requested to resign from her position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As the guest speaker for the Newtown Florist Club's 60th anniversary banquet, she had just the platform to share.

She opened by quoting the 27th Psalms.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear," she recited to the crowd of more than 100 guests.

"When my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. I have recited that scripture many times in my life. It has helped me to stand up and be strong."

In July, Sherrod was forced to resign from her position as Georgia's director Rural Development for the USDA. A post that she had held for 11 months, a title which earned her the credit of being the first African-American to hold that position in Georgia.

Prior to her resignation, a video surfaced online depicting a portion of a speech that Sherrod had given at an NAACP event. The clip showed Sherrod saying that she was reluctant to help a white farmer save his farm decades ago.

Although her speech continued and Sherrod explained that she overcame her initial emotions and ultimately befriended and helped the farmer, that portion of her address was omitted from the online clip.

"I was just trying to tell my story. It's not about race, it's about poor people," Sherrod said.

When Sherrod was 17 years old, her father was shot and killed on her family's property by a white farmer. That farmer was never charged with her father's murder.

While that event in her life - coupled with other injustices towards blacks in her rural hometown in Southwest Georgia - made Sherrod angry initially, she decided to use those incidents as catalysts for personal growth.

Instead of leaving the South for good after graduating from high school as she had originally planned, Sherrod had a change of heart.

"I made a commitment on the night of my father's death — March 25, 1965 — that I would stay in the South and devote my life to working for change," Sherrod said.

"God will take you through things sometimes just to bring you back to where you needed to be."

When she was approached by the white farmer in the 1980s to help save his farm from foreclosure, she says she found the situation ironic since her own family's farm had been foreclosed and was lost due to "racist" practices.

Sherrod says she shared that story about the farmer back in July to show others that if she could overcome her own personal demons, then so could others. The story was meant to be used as an example and encouragement for others to come together.

"We can't just work in isolated groups, (all races) need to work together to make the changes in the world that we need to make," Sherrod said.

"It's not about black people by themselves and it's not about white people by themselves. Let's all come together as a community."

Amid cries of Sherrod being racist, based on the shortened clip circulating on the Web, USDA officials called for Sherrod's resignation prior to hearing the entire context of her speech.

After reviewing a video of the full content of the speech, USDA officials offered Sherrod a position the deputy director of the Office of Advocacy and Outreach in Washington.

Sherrod declined the offer of employment.

"Supposedly this was a more prestigious position, but I saw it as a position to stick me into to shut me up — I wasn't born yesterday," Sherrod said.

"In this particular storm of my life I was calm because I knew that the Lord was working. When you do the right thing, God will take care of you."

Although she plans to "convene a group of people" to help her decide what to do next, Sherrod plans to continue fighting for equality.

"I'm not a person to forget where I came from. I will continue to speak to groups about racism. You can't be afraid to take a stand," Sherrod said.

"Imagine if the Newtown Florist Club hadn't done some of the things that they did 60 years ago. We can't let what's happening continue to happen generation after generation. We have to take up the struggle. We have to come together."

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