“To sing a song that would bring peace to a person’s heart” — that is Larry Calloway’s dream, and one that he’s a little closer to achieving thanks to Unsung Heroes, a nonprofit organization that works to bring campus communities together by highlighting the achievements and aspirations of university staff members who are often overlooked.
Calloway, who is a bus driver at Georgetown University, says he’s been singing since he was five years old. He recalls a day in his childhood home when he asked God to bless him with a gift he could share with the world. A few minutes later, he says his voice took on a whole new tone, and he’s been singing anywhere he can ever since, including on his bus route.
Febin Bellamy, the founder of Unsung Heroes, first met Calloway on his bus in March of this year. Impressed with his singing ability, Bellamy asked Calloway if he would be willing to tell his story via Unsung Heroes, and Calloway agreed. During the interview process, Calloway remembers being stunned when Bellamy said, “Have you ever sung in front of 1,500 people? That’s going to happen!”
Bellamy arranged for Calloway to sing at the 2017 Georgetown Spring Concert, which was attended by several hundred people. Calloway says that when he walked onto the stage, it was “an experience I’ve never had before in my life. … After the song was over, the crowd was hollering ‘Encore!’”
The audience’s enthusiasm has bled over into his daily life as well. The support his passengers show for his singing has “gotten more intense” since the concert, he says, and people on campus tell him to “never stop singing.”
That camaraderie is exactly what Bellamy, who recently graduated from Georgetown, was hoping to encourage when he started Unsung Heroes as a business student. Studying late in the business building one night, he realized there were many people working there whom he’d never met; he assumed that other students and faculty had also never met or talked to these staff members. After striking up conversations with some of these employees, he quickly concluded that there was an untenable divide in the Georgetown community — and he decided to do something about it.
Bellamy and a small team of students proceeded to interview more than 100 Georgetown staff members. In April of 2016, he officially launched Unsung Heroes and began featuring Georgetown community members’ stories on social media. Currently, the stories of 37 staff members are available on the Unsung Heroes blog, and the organization’s Facebook page is followed by more than 10,000 people. Some of those featured by Unsung Heroes haven’t talked to students in years, says Bellamy. Now, just over a year since the organization launched, “people who are already part of our community are feeling acknowledged,” he says.
Jeff Reid, founding director of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative, says he is impressed by what Bellamy has accomplished. “[He] is an exceptional entrepreneur — and an exceptional person,” says Reid. “He has a unique ability to connect with people from different backgrounds and then bring them together to bridge the common divisions in our society.”
For Bellamy, breaking down walls between faculty, staff, and students — the original goal of Unsung Heroes — was a good start. However, the organization is now going even further. Its goal moving forward is to help overlooked community members achieve their dreams, in addition to sharing their stories. Sometimes this means fundraising and organizing to create opportunities, as the organization did with Calloway’s stage debut.
As part of this initiative, Unsung Heroes is working to get Calloway more exposure, which Bellamy hopes will lead to a recording opportunity. As of the writing of this article, Calloway’s video interview on Unsung Heroes’ Facebook page had more than 55,000 views and almost 250 shares.
Before he met Bellamy, Calloway says he’d become discouraged about the possibility of a music career and had “almost given up on it.” Now he’s hopeful that someone will step forward to help him reach more people with his music.
Unsung Heroes has already raised more than $10,000 to support other staff members’ dreams and has launched chapters on five other university campuses, including the University of Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Bellamy says that by the fall of 2017, he hopes to have more than 30 chapters at universities across the country.
For Bellamy, the reward of this work lies in the stories he hears about barriers being broken down and connections being made. He says recently a woman who works as a janitor on Georgetown’s campus told him that a random student bought her a cup of coffee. Although it was a small gesture, Bellamy says she told him it’s the only recognition she’s received from a student in her 15 years working at the university.
It’s all about getting “people to think differently,” Bellamy says, “to see each other as human beings.”●
Alice Pettway is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. For more information or to start a chapter, visit unsungheroes.org.