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An emotional goodbye to a year and a half

God wanted me to be in the Greater Valley Area. You can substitute that word with whatever makes you most comfortable, destiny, the universe, the almighty algorithm — I call it God.

In December 2017, I was offered a reporting job with a TV station in Columbus. During the interviewing process, I was advised to live along the Georgia-Alabama border, so I could be driving distance from Columbus and Auburn.

I ended up not accepting the offer. I had another idea of how I was going to continue building on the early stages of my career.

Five months later, I was laid off of my job, nearly a year after I received my bachelor’s degree. The next time you want to complain about a paywall or seeing a lot of advertisements on a news site, remember there’s a method to the madness.

I didn’t panic, I just updated my friends and family of the situation.

I was given suggestions and was invited to freelance for a few more companies, but the only full-time opportunity came from my friend Sam Chandler. Chandler told me that he had recently put in his two weeks notice at The Valley Times-News, and he would put in a recommendation for me.

Less than two weeks later, I began my new journey as the sports editor here.

Over the past 18 months, I have written some of my favorite stories.

Examples include Lemanski Hall winning another national championship, this one nearly three decades after he did it as a player at Alabama as a coach under the staff of his Alabama teammate, Dabo Swinney. In his busiest 24 hours of the year, Swinney took 30 seconds out of his day to leave a voice memo for the Hall story and this community.

I remember covering Isaiah Glidewell’s signing day when he committed to leaving Beulah for a community college in Minnesota with hopes to play D-I football one day. What I learned from talking to him and his mother that day is that he was on the verge of quitting football only a few years prior.

I remember speaking to Lanett High School student Alyse Madden after getting shot in a drive-by on a basketball court in West Point. Madden is one of Lanett’s standout players, and she was doing the thing she loved most when a negligent party attempted to interrupt that due to selfish motives.

I remember riding back to the office on Highway 29 and spotting this big red truck in an empty parking lot in Lanett. Da Grub Spot then grew into a Valley Living feature, the community began flocking to the truck and now the local brother business trio owns two restaurant buildings.

I remember covering Valley High School’s 2019 graduation, coming back to the office and seeing this viral post of a graduate who survived cancer. The story of the resilience of Beyonce Howell is one that I still admire to this day.

An 18-year-old college freshman who has lived a life filled with more obstacles than the typical established adult. Point’s 24-year-old sophomore quarterback Keenan Wise’s story teaches me a similar lesson.

While writing stories have been cool, what I’m most proud of in my stint in the Valley has been the relationships and trust that I’ve built.

LaFayette girls basketball star Feliah Greer didn’t want to talk to me after scoring 51 points and pulling down 21 rebounds. By the next semester, she became the first person to speak to me whenever I arrived at an event in LaFayette.

Beulah senior running back Chris Person has always been a man of few words, but he enthusiastically fist bumping me and told me “thank you” on the Bobcats’ logo after his last high school game.

I watched Valley little leaguer CJ Tidwell overcome his social anxieties from not giving me a peep to giving me full conversations and asking me to take pictures of him by the end of the summer. I will surely miss that entire bunch and their families.

I’ll miss my conversations with James Crenshaw, a school employee who loves sports and Alabama football, whenever I went to Beulah. I’ll miss talking to the parents of student-athletes such as Raphe Daniel, Jacob Oliver, Braxton and Bailey Allen when I stopped by Chambers Academy. I’ll miss chatting with volunteer coaches like Chad Chambers and Jatorio Carlisle when I stopped by LaFayette.

I’ll miss talking to Trey Abner’s family members, saying hello to Bryant Lumpkin and catching up with Narfunda Ross when I stood on the sidelines at Lanett. I’ll miss running into Jon Reynolds at Springwood, the school’s unofficial sports information director. He’s always been great to me. I’ll miss going to Valley and knowing the entire coaching staff by name because the majority of the staff are also head coaches in other sports, I’ll miss hearing “hey, Rashad” from Hunter Shurden whenever he spotted me out and about. It’s the little things.

I’ll miss seeing the faces that I have grown familiar with at Point University, an institution that I felt has adopted me as one of their own. I’ll miss the sports debates that I had with my co-workers in the office, seeing Martha Milner come to my desk to hand me various documents. I’ll miss looking to my left and speaking to Kathy Reeves throughout the day. She and Milner were two of my adopted mothers in my time down here.

This community has shown time-after-time that its values center around love. You see it on the signs and you hear residents talk about it, but for the last year and a half, I got to experience it. The amount of love that I have received in the Greater Valley Area, whether it’s been at a game, the barbershop, the grocery store or church, has been overwhelming.

I don’t believe I can express how grateful I am for all of you.

As the first black sports editor of this newspaper, I hope I’ve inspired the younger generation locally to not be intimidated to pursue careers that may be out of the ordinary.

I hope I’ve provided a fresh perspective on many of the stories told around the area.

I am now heading to Jackson, Mississippi to join The Clarion-Ledger.

While I’m excited about the future of my career, it’s certainly difficult to leave the Greater Valley Area. Until we cross paths again, so long, farewell, to you, my friends.