Two Charlotte residents picked to attend inaugural events

Kevin Cherry and Martha Young once struggled with crime and drugs. Now, thanks to a Virginia businessman, they soon will be witnessing Barack Obama's inauguration.

Two Charlotte residents who overcame struggles with crime and drugs with help from the Urban League of Central Carolinas will be heading to inauguration celebrations.

Kevin Cherry and Martha Young will join hundreds of others nationwide chosen to attend the “People’s Inauguration” sponsored by a Virginia businessman. They were picked by a joint committee of the National Urban League and the People’s Inaugural Project.

Cherry dropped out of the 11th grade in 2003 after becoming involved in drugs and violence, according to the local Urban League. A former high school football star, he was arrested in 2003 and 2005.

In November 2007, he was referred to the Urban League’s Urban Youth Empowerment Program. He told staffers he needed to change his life.

His primary goal was to earn a GED, which he did through the program in eight months, receiving top honors in his class.

Kevin now works two jobs and is looking forward to college.

Young, a 46-year-old single mom, was stuck in an abusive relationship and had struggled with crack cocaine for 15 year. Her mother died in 1998 of a heart attack and her 21-year-old son was murdered in 1999, a crime that remains unsolved.

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Then someone told her about an Urban League program that teaches computer and office skills. She currently is on an internship assignment at Big Brothers-Big Sisters. She also does volunteer work at the Urban League.

Urban League of Central Carolinas President and CEO Patrick C. Graham said he was “overcome with joy” when he got a call notifying him that Cherry and Young had been chosen.

“Both of them have made new lives for themselves,” he said. “I cannot think of two other people more deserving.”

The People’s Inauguration is the brainchild of Earl W. Stafford, a 60-year-old Fairfax County, Va., executive whose company, Unitech, is a defense contractor.

A company spokesman told the Washington Post last month that Stafford paid $1 million and was prepared to spend $600,000 more to bring disadvantaged people, terminally ill patients, wounded soldiers and others down on their luck to special inauguration events.

Stafford grew up as one of 12 children of a Baptist minister and will provide his guests with lodging, food and special access, as well as beauticians, gowns and tuxedos, if necessary, according to the Post.

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Stafford said the idea was inspired by his deep religious faith and the good fortune that has come his way. The inauguration is an opportunity to remember the less fortunate and remind the country of its traditions of benevolence, he told the newspaper.

"We’ve gotten away from those core values that made America great," he was quoted as saying. "We just need to get back to caring about one another."

Read Earl Stafford’s story at washingtonpost.com.

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