Over two dozen youth from the community attended the Second Annual Gary Edwards Leadership Day. Organizer Sherman Riley is seated far left. - Photo: Bryant Thigpen

The Second Annual Gary Edwards Leadership Day was held on Saturday to honor the legacy Edwards left behind by impacting the youth of this community. Over two dozen youth in attendance were exposed to a variety of careers and essential lessons about life. 

The event began early Saturday morning at the First United Methodist Church in Live Oak. Sherman Riley kicked off the day with a warm welcome. 

This event came about when Riley and his twin brother, Sherwin, both SHS graduates, sought for a way to give back to the community, especially to the youth.

“Sherwin and I communicate every morning and we always discuss and talk about how we can impact or make a difference in the lives of youth. I'm currently involved in four non-profits/boards associated with supporting the health, education, and personal development of youth. Sherwin is also involved with organizations in Ft. Lauderdale with similar backgrounds,” Riley said. “We thought that with both of our passions towards giving back that we could do this in Gary Edwards’ name as he embodied these qualities in giving back to the community and supporting the youth in the community.”

While helping aspiring youth in the community, Riley said he hopes this leadership day event honors Edwards and what he meant to this community.

“I'm sure Gary was looking down and smiling and saying good work,” Riley said. “The purpose of the day is to honor Gary Edwards for his legacy and to give back to the kids in the community with leadership modules and education around careers in the next level of life.”

Live Oak Police Chief Buddy Williams shared a few comments about Edwards before leading the group in prayer. “Gary and I went to school together and he was my dear friend,” Williams said. 

Williams elaborated about Edwards’ life as a coach and said Edwards had one motto for all of his athletes, “Get better.” Williams said Edwards always encouraged his players to get better every day on the field and in the classroom. 

Superintendent of Schools Jerry Scarborough then addressed the group of students and encouraged them to stay focused on their education. 

Suwannee County School District guidance counselors Tiffany Smith and Cindy Wiggins talked to the group about preparing for their future career now. 

Doug Auckerman, a retired military serviceman and current ROTC instructor at Suwannee High School, asked the youth to consider a career in the military. 

Shana Riley, an employee at Capital City Bank gave a presentation on money management. Entrepreneurism was the next topic that was presented by Tom Daniels. 

Tommy Randolph, a physician, talked to the students about a career in the medical field. 

Around noon, Sheriff Tony Cameron provided the group with a tour of the jail and the dispatch office and encouraged the youth to seek a career in law enforcement. They concluded the tour in the courtroom where Third Judicial Circuit Judge David Fina presided over a mock trial with Third Circuit’s State Attorney Jeff Siegmeister and Public Defender Blair Payne. The participants served as a jury and determined if the defendant was guilty based on the evidence. 

The event concluded around 1:30 p.m. with lunch at the Dixie Grill for all participants.


Honoring Gary Edwards

Riley played on a baseball team Edwards coached and said Edwards was an inspiration to him. 

“Gary was inspiration for us through sports. He was our little league baseball coach. He always encouraged us to work hard and do our best and have fun while doing,” Riley said. “At the middle school, Gary was a role model as he would pull us to the side when we got out of line. Last, he was a man of God. He was a good example to follow as he was a family man and man of God.”

Cameron recalled Edwards as an upright man that children in the community respected.

“I worked with Gary in law enforcement and in the schools, and he was always a man who the children could look up to and they respected him,” Cameron said. “He was a leader in his community and in his church. He was a positive influence in the lives of others each and every day.”

Williams said the event is a great way to honor Edwards.  

“I think the Gary Edwards Leadership Day is a great way to recognize the legacy of a great man in our community and to instill fundamental principles in the future leaders of our community,” said Williams. 

Edwards passed away in 2011. He was a school resource officer at Suwannee Middle School and was employed by the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office. He was also instrumental in helping the youth in the community.

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