An Open Letter to Don Flowers

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“It’s good to be blessed. It’s better to be a blessing.” – anonymous

More than 20 years ago, in the early 1990s, conversations were taking place among a few committed citizens in South Carolina - all concerned with the high teen birth rate in the state. As the stories have been told to me, this was a small group. A very small group. Maybe six people at the most. Joy Campbell, who would ultimately become the founding executive director of the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (SC Campaign), had called everyone together.

Notably, the group included a Baptist minister from Greenville...Don Flowers.

Somewhere along the way, Don – in a fit of weakness – agreed to become the first board chair of the SC Campaign, circa 1994. Data from the state health department reminds us that in that year, nearly 9,000 young women in South Carolina under the age of 20 became mothers.

Fast forward 20+ years to 2017 where the data shows there were 3,696 births to teen mothers in our state. A decline that exceeds 60%! Find me another public health issue that has seen such remarkable progress over the last two decades… there aren’t many! Don Flowers is truly one of a very few who can say he has been involved with the organization and the effort since day one. Literally, from the first meeting. As he and his wife pack a moving van today to head off to their next adventure north of the border (that's the US border, Nova Scotia to be exact), I hope he has time to read this note, because it wouldn’t be right to let him pull away without an appropriate THANK YOU!

Don will deflect any credit for this massive success story, but I’m not willing to let him.

Had the teen birth rate in our state not changed at all since 1994, think of the 10's of thousands of lives that would have lived out a different trajectory. It is not a stretch at all to say that Don’s willingness to say yes, his willingness to give his time and energy to this cause, resulted in improvements in the lives of thousands of young people – many of whom are now adults. After all, how often does one have the opportunity to reflect and know that the time and work you put in had such a direct and profound impact on thousands of other people?

Don will deflect any credit for this massive success story, but I’m not willing to let him.

There have been countless staff members, board members, and volunteers who have contributed notably to the work of the SC Campaign. They all deserve thanks and praise. But, none have exceeded Don’s tenure – as a board member, as a board chair (twice), a mentor, a thought leader, and a voice for change. None of them, none of us, have done as much as Don has done. Don likes to say that when he served as board chair the first time you could “put everyone in the state who was concerned about this issue in a phone booth.” By the time Don’s second term as board chair began in July 2007, just a few months after a young 20-something-year-old kid had taken over the role of executive director, the organization was hosting statewide conferences for 300+ people every year and reaching thousands more through training, education, and outreach. At some point in between his multiple stints as chair of the board, Don and his family moved to Charleston. That in and of itself opened many doors for me and the organization that wouldn’t have been opened otherwise – “…how bad can we be, our board chair is a Baptist minister from Charleston, SC!”

Don will deflect any credit for this massive success story, but I’m not willing to let him.

You’ve probably guessed who the 20-something-year-old kid was, and this is where the story takes a bit of a personal turn. The relationship that Don and I have formed over the last 10-plus years, beginning with that organizational transition in 2007 (even though we had met and interacted some several years before) is more special than words could ever explain. Don has been there for me personally and professionally, without hesitation, any time that I needed him to be – even times that I didn’t know I needed him to be. Don has been a friend, a mentor, a side-kick, a confidant, a voice of reason, a spiritual support, and so much more. He has been by my side, quite literally, through the highest of my highs and the lowest of my lows.

  • Need someone to talk through a big decision with… call Don.
  • Find out a family member or loved one is ill, or having surgery, or battling cancer… call Don.
  • Getting married… call Don and fly him to New York to officiate the ceremony.
  • Need a reality check, someone to put you in your place… “Forrest, Don is on line one.”
  • Need someone to lift you up in prayer… call Don.
  • Just want to vent a little bit… call Don.
  • Syracuse beats Wake Forest in (insert sport)… call Don.

There are times that people come into your life and when you take the time to look back and reflect, you know you wouldn’t be who you are today without them. That is true of Don’s involvement with the SC Campaign. More importantly, that is true of Don’s involvement with me. I honestly don’t know where I would be today without his guidance, wisdom, support, tough love, and occasional stubbornness.

Don will deflect credit for the role he has played in my personal success story too, but I’m not willing to let him.

I drove down to Charleston yesterday to say, “see you around.” I’m comforted knowing Don will still be no more than a phone call away (wait, they do have phones in Nova Scotia, right?), and I’m glad that I was able to give him a big hug yesterday before he left town. But, the blessings Don has given me, given the SC Campaign, and given to this entire state are just too incredible to keep to myself.

Godspeed, my friend. You are indeed a blessing!