Carla Mason fought back tears as she was honored for a role she never wanted to play.
Mason, who was named the Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale’s 2011 Mother of the Year last week, said she had mixed emotions about the award. She said she wishes it could have gone to her daughter, who was murdered at age 24.
Mason now plays the role of mother to her grandchildren, who were 3, 2 and 1 when their mother was killed. She moved the family from Atlanta to her former home of Carbondale nearly six years ago following their mother s death.
At a Family Banquet for recipients and nominees of the BGCC’s Mother, Father and Grandparent of the Year Awards, Mason's children spoke about their love for their grandmother, who they call “Mom.”
“I wish (my daughter) could’ve been here and gotten the award,” Mason said through tears. “I’m raising them how to love, not to get recognition.”
The children, now ages 10, 9 and 7, are still overcoming the emotional trauma of losing their mother, Mason said. The oldest child witnessed the murder, she said, and has gone through counseling to deal with anger and abandonment issues.
The children have shown progress through counseling and have been able to verbalize their feelings. Mason said it is unfortunate there is a negative stigma attached to counseling too often in black culture, which leads many young people to self-medicate by abusing drugs.
She said her goal with the children is to teach them how to love through pain and learn how to love themselves before they can love anyone else.
“I don’t want them to grow up having that victim-attitude,” Mason said. “I want them to grow up to be responsible, productive adults — to see God s truth and not man’s truth.
Also awarded for a role he didn’t expect to play was the BGCC’s Father of the Year, Brian Keels, a single father who was recently awarded full custody of his three children.
Keels, 34, said he never imagined he would receive full custody after he and his wife separated three years ago because courts traditionally side with mothers. He said he is eternally grateful for the opportunity to be a full-time dad, a role he has been determined to play since his own mother became a single parent when he was a teenager.
“I couldn’t understand why my father would leave the family, and I vowed to never be like him,” Keels said.
Keels, a housekeeper at Memorial Hospital of Carbondale, said in his work he sees many fathers step up and take on the responsibilities of a single parent. As a single father raising two girls ages 12 and 9 and a 7-year-old son, he said it is important not to be arrogant and try to do everything himself, especially with the girls.
Keels said he relies on his mother and other close family friends who are female and trusts them to relate to the girls in ways he cannot. Through the divorce, he said he has also learned to do what is in the best interest of the kids, no matter what emotions occur between battling spouses.
After worrying about his children’s emotions for so long, Keels said he was grateful to hear what his kids thought when they spoke about him at the ceremony. He said he was completely caught off-guard to hear he was voted as father of the year.
“I just think of all the other fathers and mothers who bust their butts every day too,” he said.
For the second-annual awards ceremony, staff at the Boys and Girls Club nominated a pool of candidates for the awards. The field was cut down to three nominees per category, and the children and other community members voted on secret ballots for their choices.
Without knowing the results, nominees and family members gathered for a pre-Thanksgiving feast provided by Panera Bread Co. and Fazoli’s and heard from the children as to why their parents deserved the award. Added to the field this year was a new award, Grandparent of the Year.
Jearline Lawless, who has five grandchildren ages 12 to 8 that attend the Club daily, said she was pleased the Club chose to include grandparents, especially considering the number of grandparents who raise their grandchildren.
Two of Lawless’ grandsons, ages 12 and 11, live with her and she acts as their primary caregiver.
“As a grandparent you done raised your own kids and now it’s just a whole new outlook on life,” she said. “It’s a big role for me because I’ve lived my whole life all over again.”
Lawless has 17 grandchildren, ranging in age from 16 to 3. She said she has been working on making photo albums for each of them since her stomach cancer came back from remission last year.
Lawless said she wants her grandchildren to remember her, the family’s animals, their birthdays and other significant events in their lives. She said she loves looking at her “grandbabies” because she often can see in them the likenesses of her past relatives, such as her grandfather and her late sister.
“Sometimes I just sit back and say, ‘Man, it s déjà vu,’” she said.