I don’t often get inspired these days. For too many reasons to count, I’ve grown cynical. Skeptical. Distrustful and disillusioned. I don’t like myself in this mode, but that’s where I seem to be lately.
Which is why my recent conversation with Tim Garvin was such a refreshing surprise. After almost an hour on the phone, I hung up feeling more hopeful than I have in ages.
I’m not sure why I was surprised. I’ve been impressed with Tim for at least a year now. I liked the way he led the demonstrations in front of the old Piggly Wiggly last summer, the grace and sincerity he exhibited. I liked his poster that read, “You don’t have to ruin your city to deliver your message.” We talked briefly on that Piggly Wiggly corner a year ago, and I liked him.
“I really stepped out on faith last summer,” Tim told me on the phone. “I wasn’t sure I could do it. I didn’t know the rules or guidelines for protesting. I just went to the sidewalk and drew up my signs.”
Within a week, 500 people had joined Tim and his friend Jacory Wright on that sidewalk at the corner of Boundary and Ribaut – folks of all races, ages, and occupations, all standing with Beaufort’s Black community, calling for racial justice. The protest movement – which came to be known as Unified Beaufort –culminated in a Father’s Day March through downtown. Tim is proud of the numbers and diversity they attracted, and especially proud that the protests remained peaceful.
A year later, Tim Garvin is stepping out on faith again. As the founder and president of Unified Beaufort, Inc. – now an official 501c3 non-profit – he’s creating an organization for boys and young men called Unified Gents.
“Our mission at Unified Beaufort is ‘striving for unity in the community by cultivating equality and justice for all,’ Tim told me. “And we’re starting with our youth. That’s our first step.”
Tim envisions Unified Gents as an organization where local boys can find fellowship, encouragement, and just plain fun. They’ll also be mentored in important life skills like Basic Everyday Etiquette, Written and Verbal Communications, Dating Guidelines for a Gentleman, and Grooming Guidelines. (Read more about it here.)
Tim has an enthusiastic supporter in USCB’s Dean of campus, Bob LeFavi, who’s offered him the Center for the Arts auditorium for his kickoff event.
“Last summer we had USCB students unite with us and join our forces,” Tim told me, “and Bob LeFavi was in full support. At that time, he said, ‘if you ever need anything, ask me.’ So when I had the idea to start Unified Gents, I went out on a limb to see if he would keep his word. Bob LeFavi kept his word. I respect him. He’s a good man.”
I asked Tim what he thinks boys might be lacking today, as opposed to girls, and this father of three – two of them sons – answered emphatically: “Love. Boys are supposed to be so tough. Not show emotion. But they need someone to talk to, too. They need somebody to encourage them, somebody to say, ‘It’s okay, you can do it!’ Sometimes, a man needs a shoulder to lean on, too.”
As we talked, I found myself wondering about Tim’s own boyhood. Much has been written about the absence of Black fathers – and its impact on their sons – and I wondered about his. So I “stepped out on faith,” myself, and asked him.
Tim’s answer surprised me. It was his mother, not his father, who was absent from his childhood.
“My grandmother raised me,” he said. “But my dad was always there. I was kind of a knucklehead in high school, so my dad sent me away to an alternative school, Wil Lou Gray Opportunity School in Columbia. He knew what type of help I needed as a kid, and he made sure I got it.”
Since our conversation was getting personal – and going very well, by my lights – I decided to venture into even more delicate territory. “It’s been a little over a year since you led the protests in Beaufort after the death of George Floyd,” I said. “How do you think things are going in this country, in terms of racial justice?”
“Well . . . Juneteenth is now a national holiday,” he replied. “It’s not enough, but it’s a start.”
Frankly, Tim seemed far more interested in talking about how things are going in Beaufort, especially with our youth. He worries that there aren’t enough activities for young people here. He believes that kids with nothing to do – and nowhere to go – are kids who tend to get into trouble.
“We used to have it all,” he said, remembering his own childhood in Beaufort. “A movie theater. A roller rink. A bowling alley.” All of these youth-friendly venues have now closed. Tim thinks that’s a big problem.
So, along with starting Unified Gents, he’s determined to bring roller skating back to Beaufort; he even started a GoFundMe called Bring Back The Rink. An avid skater, himself, who drives to Savannah every Sunday to indulge his favorite pastime, Tim told me, “If we brought a roller rink back to Beaufort, I guarantee you the crime rate would drop tremendously.”
I have no idea if he’s right, but his enthusiasm is contagious. Building a roller rink sounds like a tall order to me – I’d have no idea where to start – but I won’t be surprised if Tim finds a way to make it happen.
Embarrassing confession: I was nervous when I called Tim Garvin on the phone. Even though he had reached out to me first through Facebook, I was hesitant to make the call. I felt shy and awkward. What would he think of me? Hadn’t he spent the last year – as I have – hearing endless talk about “white privilege”? “White fragility”? “Systemic racism”? And most recently, “nice racism”? (Thanks, Robin DiAngelo, for that latest trope.) I felt like a loathsome stereotype as I picked up my phone.
Fortunately, within seconds of hearing Tim’s cheerful hello, all my media-spun insecurities vanished and we were just two human beings – two Beaufortonians – chatting away, sharing stories, laughing… becoming friends. This is a man who’s sincerely interested in “unifying,” not dividing.
(Speaking of which . . . Tim told me that Unified Gents “has nothing to do with race.” He hopes it will attract a racially and socially diverse group of boys who’ll form a “brotherhood bond.”)
At a time when various forces seem to be pitting Americans against each other – when social media is increasingly anti-social, and the “national discourse” only breeds national discord – it’s heartening to know a personal conversation can still be fruitful and life renewing. In fact, it may be our only way forward anymore.
Thousands and thousands of personal conversations.
The Unified Gents kickoff event is Monday, July 12 from 3-5 pm at USCB Center for the Arts. For boys age 8-12 and 13-17. Fathers welcome with their sons. For more information, contact Tim Garvin at Tgarvin843@gmail.com or 843-949-1600.