Hometown heroes

Published 1:47 pm Saturday, March 21, 2015

by Randy Forbes

Ask a young child to describe a hero, and he or she will probably describe a person in a cape who is filled with superpowers. At some point in his or her life, that child will begin to see heroes not as made-up characters, but rather real-life people with super-human abilities, like athletes. And so if you ask a middle school student to describe a hero, he or she will probably name a basketball player or professional football player.

But at some point in our lives — I’m not quite sure when — our idea of a hero changes again. We realize the heroic qualities in individuals who serve in quiet ways, often out of the spotlight and with little or no applause. These heroes don’t wear capes and, although they may play sports, it’s unlikely that you’d find them on a professional court or field. But their superhuman abilities change lives.

What do these heroes look like?

They look like Patrick Brown. Patrick was born and raised in Chesapeake. When he graduated from Hickory High School, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Today, he’s 25-years-old. He’s served in two wars and earned the rank of sergeant. During his time in Afghanistan, he was hit by an IED and lost most of both of his legs. Today, he’s learned to ride a bike again and he smiles when he talks with you. Patrick knows more about courage and heroism than most of us will ever experience in our lifetimes.

They look like Kwame Alexander, also from Chesapeake. The Great Bridge High School alumni used a story about basketball to teach literacy and poetry to young students who might not otherwise find interest in books. Kwame received the prestigious Newbery Medal for Children’s literature for his novel called “The Crossover.”

They look like 20-year-old Lauren Leonard from Chesterfield County. Earlier this year, Lauren was on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star when the 150-member crew received a call. Their mission? To free 26 people stuck on a fishing vessel that was trapped in Antarctic ice for nearly two weeks. Lauren and her fellow crew members broke through 150 miles of Antarctic ice in an operation that spanned 860 miles. Lauren’s heroic efforts as part of that team led those 26 people to safety.

Heroes are around us every day. They are the teachers who spend extra time helping students improve their grades so they can graduate. They are the neighbors next door who take turns shoveling the driveway for their recently widowed 73-year-old neighbor. They are the couple who gave thousands of dollars and years of paperwork to provide a child a home through adoption. They are the nurses, the EMTs, the technicians and other members of the healthcare team who all contribute to saving a life. They are the estimated 62.8 million people that give of their time each year as volunteers in the United States.

Our nation loves to honor heroes. We write about them in our history books. We name holidays after them. We construct buildings and monuments to remember them. They are iconic in the way they inspire us and weave important threads in the fabric of our nation’s story. But it is you — our hometown heroes — who keep our nation strong. All across America, our communities are built on the daily commitments and quiet legacies of ordinary individuals who do extraordinary things.

Do you know a hero in your hometown? Someone who has left a legacy for Virginia’s Fourth District? We want to hear the stories of these individuals. We invite you to share about these individuals with us on your Facebook page using the hashtag #4thDistrictFriday. Then, we’ll feature some of the stories on my Facebook page. Together, let’s recognize those citizens who keep our nation strong.

RANDY FORBES represents Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. For contact information, see http://randyforbes.house.gov.