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Leaders & Legends: Melvin Everson

There’s an old, sepia-toned photo hanging behind the desk of Melvin Everson. In it, a couple stand outdoors, shoulder to shoulder. The man sports a suit, tie and slightly tipped fedora. He wears a pragmatic, no-nonsense expression. The woman is clothed in a floral-patterned dress, resplendent grin lighting her face.

The photo of Melvin Everson’s parents was taken after church in the front yard of their 168-acre South Georgia farm home sometime between 1979 and 1982.

An inscription above the picture reads:
Northern Everson Sr. & Willa Blanch Hunt Everson
Thanks for leaving a faithful foundation for your children.

The photo means a lot to Melvin Everson for reasons any picture of one’s parents bears importance: it brings nostalgia, recalls one’s origins and floods the mind with feelings
of love for the people who took the time to guide a young mind.

But there’s more to it than that. The inscription talks of faith and family – and an implied, interlocking quality the two possess. Faith and family are longstanding, invaluable themes in the life of the accomplished politician, minister, higher education leader and Snellville resident.

“That’s them right there,” Everson says on a recent afternoon, leaning back in his office chair at Gwinnett Technical College to tap the photo. “I sent this same photo [and inscription] to all my siblings, so [my parents] could watch over us everywhere.”

Adds Everson, gesturing again toward the picture: “It’s what drives me. Every morning I get up, and I pray to God that I make [them] proud.”

His father was a fount of knowledge for the Everson children growing up, and it seems his words made a mark on each of the eight surviving sons and daughters.

Without prompting, Everson launches into the paths several siblings took: an electrical engineer; a wounded Vietnam War vet who came home to earn a degree; a sister who earned a master’s degree and worked for the Florida Department of Revenue; a professor at Macon State College; a manager with General Motors; an auto repair shop owner; and so on.

It’s easy to see he’s proud of them all – in total, ten siblings with two deceased.

And, there’s Everson: a minister, U.S. Army veteran, Snellville city councilman, probation officer, member of the Georgia House of Representatives, executive director of Georgia Workforce Development and Vice President of Economic Development at Gwinnett Technical College.

Seems Everson’s late father would be proud.

Everson recounts a memory of high school graduation day in which the elder Everson and wife gave he and his siblings the same gift: “It was a two-piece set of Samsonite luggage, because, my father said, ‘you’ll be leaving. You’re on your way to post- secondary education.’”

Your Reputation Will Go Places You’ll Never Visit

Born in Abbeville, Georgia – 70 miles south of Macon – Everson grew up on a family farm. His father, the farmer, was a World War II veteran with a fifth-grade education. His mother was a school teacher. Everson grew up during the Civil Rights era. The family had no indoor plumbing.

“I remember the first years of my life, we had an outhouse,” Everson says. “And, when we finally did get indoor plumbing, my brothers and I would turn on the faucet just to watch the water run… that was foreign to us. So yeah, humble beginnings, but we had a wonderful life. My father and mom provided for us and made sure we had everything we needed. And, my father was a stickler for hard work.”

There’s a wealth of Everson’s father’s sayings that stuck with him. Here’s one:
“Son, your reputation will go places you’ll never visit. Protect it with everything you have. Integrity is everything.”

And, another: “If you make a mistake, which you will do in life, own up to it. Admit it and learn from it. Then, move on.”

Keeping his father’s wisdom in his heart, Everson enrolled at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in fall 1975, left to join the Army in June 1976 and later enrolled in then-Albany State College in 1980. He earned his bachelor’s degree in criminology.

During his time in college, while serving in the U.S. Army Reserve, he enrolled in various military schools as well as holding down jobs. He would go on to work as a welder, a security officer and a probation officer over the next couple of decades.

And, in the middle of all this, he started a family of his own – marrying wife, Geraldine, and becoming a father: his first and only son, Ricardo.

They landed in the Atlanta area in 1986 – specifically, what would become Peachtree Corners – and moved into a house in Snellville two years later.

It was around 1994, when he first had the desire to run for office.

“I remember I would walk through the city and I would see little issues,” Everson says. “I would make mental notes about how they could be corrected.”

He ran for Snellville City Council in 1995. Election day rolled around “and I learned the meaning of landslide. I was walloped,” Everson says, laughing.

But, his interest in the process led to his being appointed to the city’s planning and zoning board, where he served five years helping chart the course for growth in Snellville.

Later on, an encounter with a Snellville councilman who’d worked with Everson in his planning and zoning role gave Everson the impetus to run again for city council.

“I met with him and some of the other [councilmen],” Everson says. “I was the only Black guy in the group. I looked at them and said, ‘Okay, have you guys prayed about this?’ They said, ‘yeah, Melvin, we prayed.’ I said, ‘no, have you really prayed about this?’

According to Everson, Brett Harrell, who would soon run a successful bid for Snellville mayor, said: “Melvin, you’re Black. We’re white. That’s OK. Let’s get on with it.”

Adds Everson, smiling: “I’ll never forget that.”

He’d go on to lose that particular run for city council but in a subsequent special election, Everson secured a council seat and would later become mayor pro-tem. He served from 2001-2004.

From there, Everson ascended to win a seat on the Georgia House of Representatives, serving District 106 from 2005-2010.

In 2010, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Everson Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development and appointed him again in 2011 the Executive Director and Administrator of Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity.

In a phone interview with Gwinnett Magazine, Deal explains what he saw in Everson during those times was someone “willing to take a position and exert his influence.”
“Melvin has demonstrated his abilities… and I always really appreciated him, and he was always willing to help when I asked him.”

Deals adds that faith and family “always seem to be two ingredients that make a difference in his life, and when he talks in settings, publicly and privately, both of those are qualities that are important to him.”

Melvin is Always Right There to Pray with You

Others who have worked with Everson talk, among other positive traits, of his character and genuineness.

Snellville Mayor Barbara Bender, who has worked with him in the local political sphere around 15 years, says “Melvin is true to his principles, and he’s true to his word. He’s been like that no matter what role he’s fulfilled.”

Everson’s faith, she says, is “rock solid, and when anyone is going through any kind of trial, Melvin is always right there to pray with you. He’s there to support you. He’ll give you advice if you need it… he’s just one of those rock solid people you don’t meet very many of.”

She adds that “once you make friends with Melvin, you’ve got a friend for life. He stays in contact with you, and you know you can just pick up the phone and call him, and he’ll answer.”

Gov. Brian Kemp praises Everson’s “dedication to our state and country.”

“Whether in his service to the Army, to his congregation, in the Georgia House of Representatives, or to the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity, Melvin has used his gifts to honor God and make Georgia a better place. Even with his impressive resume, perhaps his greatest accomplishment has been his marriage to his wife Geraldine and raising their son Ricardo, a UGA graduate. Our state is lucky to have leaders like Melvin who make the Peach State the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”

The importance of putting family first remains a priority for Everson, even in the workplace, where he shares that very same idea with staff at Gwinnett Technical College.

“My number one thing I share with my staff, whoever’s working with me, and under me… Family comes first. Take care of your family. These jobs will be here long after you’re gone. But when you have a situation with your family, take care of it, because you never know what’s going to happen the next day. That’s part of my ministry… I just love sharing, and I treat people the way I want to be treated.”

Licensed and ordained in 1998, Everson is currently a minister at Cross Pointe Church in Duluth. Being a minister isn’t limited to just Sundays for Everson.

He reads from a devotional every morning. He prays. And, he goes out into the world ready to share the word of God and the wisdom and peace he’s found through being a believer.

“Even those who don’t share my religious beliefs, they respect me for who I am,” Everson says, adding that his ambition is to unite people – both those separated by religious affiliations as well as political ideas.

“I want to be a positive force,” he says. “I’m a conservative, but I carry myself in such a way I could respectfully disagree with your position, shake hands and move on. That’s what we need to get back to in this country, because right now it’s so polarized. It’s so divided… I may not agree with you, but I’m going to respect you as a human being, and I’m going to love you as a human being, period.”

He says the same attitude extends to what he sees and shares on social media.

Keep Your Eyes on Him

Anyone who is friends with him on Facebook has seen his signature phrase, “Boom!”

Every post and status update begins with the word. “It’s an attention getter,” he says, laughing. “A catchphrase.”

Everson aims to use social media “in a positive way” as much as he can, sharing encounters with old friends, inspirational words and photos of him passing out unique, signature Georgia football plaques made by a local artist, Nelson Cross.

“One day, I was attending the Snellville farmer’s market, which I like to do, and this gentleman had some there. He’d made them. I thought they were great.”

Everson bought one and put a photo of it on Facebook, with description: Boom! One lucky Georgia fan is going to get this!

He said the post got more than 800 likes. Everson has since bought and given away more than 300 similar plaques from the same local artist. Other recipients of the plaque include former Gov. Deal, Gov. Kemp, former Congressman Rob Woodall and more.

And, Everson’s son, Ricardo, a UGA graduate, ended up getting that first one.

Everson’s relationship with his son, Ricardo; daughter-in-law, Meghan; as well as his two grandchildren, Rilynn, 9, and Reid, 4, is very close.

“I call my son up or text him every day. I say, ‘I love you, son,’” Everson says. “And, I share with him as my dad shared with us according to the faithful foundation. I say, ‘Keep God in the center of everything you do. The road is going to be rough at times but keep your eyes on Him and everything’s going to be all right.’”

Everson has met and talked with President Bush, he’s greeted Vice President Dick Cheney on Air Force Two, he’s dined with senators… he’s met more distinguished individuals than most people ever would – but, none of it would have meant a thing, he says, without his foundation in faith and family.

He thanks his parents for that every morning he walks into work at Gwinnett Tech. He reflects on the dated, sepia-toned photo and the inscription beneath it. Everson sees God’s love in his children, and in his grandchildren, when they visit him.

Look closely enough at their expressions, and you can see reflections of the same smile that graced his mother’s face in the photo that hangs behinds Everson’s desk.