Service & Sacrifice: NAACP members serve Paducah community then, and now
PADUCAH — For more than 100 years, the NAACP has fought for equality and justice for African Americans. The fight continues today, but not without people like Benny Heady and Corbin Snardon. The two are of different generations, but are united in their passion for service and sacrifice.
Benny Heady’s love for fire fighting started young. He was just 14. It took a little longer for Corbin Snardon’s life path to reveal itself.
“There was actually a teacher at my high school, was like you’d be a really, really good teacher. And I remember, vividly, laughing,” Snardon said. “This is the reason why you never say never.”
At 30 years old, Snardon taught in the classroom. He’s now a guidance counselor at Paducah Tilghman High School.
“Try to instill in kids to be life-long learners, and you know, achieve their greatest potential,” Snardon said of education. “All other professions are made possible by a teacher.”
These two serve their communities through their work and as members of Paducah’s chapter of the NAACP. It’s an organization that’s seen much change since it was created in 1909.
“Back in my day and time, it was obvious that you were different,” Heady said of growing up in the 50s and 60s. “Our schools were segregated. If you went downtown, at Kresge’s we couldn’t get at a certain part of the counter.”
There’s been progress since even 20 years ago, when Heady became an NAACP member.
“If you’d have asked me if we’d have a black president of the United States of America, I would have told you ‘Are you crazy?'” Heady said.
Heady’s generation helped pave the way, and the West McCracken Fire District facilities are just one example of that. Heady started as a volunteer fire fighter 50 years ago. He’s a board member now, and in his time, he’s helped not only buy new trucks and equipment, but build a new station. It’s a decision he was a big part of making.
“Now, those are the new jaws of life we have,” Heady explained, pointing out the equipment. “When we bought this truck probably 10 to 12 years ago, it was $406,000. So uh, it was almost unheard of.”
Benny doesn’t run calls anymore. He’s 64 years old, after all. He misses it, and would get on a truck in a heartbeat if he was needed.
“I still have a radio. I still keep a radio,” Heady said. “And I hear every call.”
It was work that required sacrificing a lot of his free time over the years.
“You had to drive from your house to the station to get in a truck and go to a scene. So, a lot of times on the weekend we would come down here over in the old station and spend the night,” he explained.
Snardon understands the meaning of sacrifice. Any educator will tell you, it’s not a 9 to 5 job.
“I literally on a daily basis get the opportunity to influence the lives of hundreds of kids daily,” Snardon said. “As long as what I’m sacrificing bears good fruit, then I’m OK with it.”
Despite the progress made for African Americans in Paducah, Snardon and Heady say there’s more work to do, so children born today have more opportunities than they did.
“Now we’re seeing a lot of things that are going on that are wrong — just blatantly wrong. And so the NAACP has really become energized again and revitalized to tackle these things,” Snardon said. “Your gifts and talents aren’t for you. They’re not for yourself. They are to be shared.”
And used for good and seen by all — including the next generation.
“A lot of people think that’s just a little thing, but that’s a, that’s a big thing in our eyes when we’re able to see, if we can get an African American to be in jobs like policeman, school teachers,” Heady explained.
Asked if he feels like those little things help to break down barriers, he said “Yes.”
Whether in Paducah Tilghman High’s hallways, or on a fire truck in West McCracken, small steps are noticed, and they lead to big steps.
“I’ve seen a big change from 20 years up to now, but there’s still a bigger change that needs to happen,” Heady said.
But it can’t happen without service and sacrifice.