Sandy “Beebe” Gillespie was selected as a 2018 Community Service Award honoree.  He was nominated by Joycelyn Pettus, who wrote the following piece about her friend.

There are several ways to explain the impact Sandy Gillespie has made in Northeast Arkansas.  However, the concept of “No Excuses” best depicts who Gillespie is today and how he’s managed to galvanize so many individuals.

It’s been remarkable to see Gillespie’s maturation into a highly valued and respected presence in his community.

A native of Blytheville, Gillespie has witnessed and experienced the kind of unsavory situations that most people only read about.  In one of the more impoverished regions of the state, it’s easy for an individual to get caught in one of the many pits of turmoil.  Unfortunately for Gillespie, he fell victim to the chaos.  He became one of the negative statistics of Mississippi County.

Gillespie was involved in illegal drug distribution.  My longtime comrade had become enamored with the “fast life.”  Gillespie has always been and extremely intelligent, charismatic leader of men.  But at that time he opted to use his God-given talents to participate in immoral, dangerous acts.

Just when it seemed as though he would never depart the street life, something caught his attention: the penitentiary.

Gillespie had friends, some of whom were more like family, who received jail sentences due to their participation in the “street life.”  In essence, seeing so many friends placed behind bars scared Gillespie straight.  He figured his stint in jail was imminent, if he continued to embrace illegal activities.

Also, Gillespie did not want to disappoint his grandmother, who had raised him since he was 8 years old.  Gillespie realized that he committed several years of his life to destroying communities in Blytheville and the surrounding areas.  He finally understood that it was up to him to mature and change his ways – no excuses.

Upon his awakening, Gillespie was a new man.

Naturally, some people in Northeast Arkansas were skeptical of his new outlook on life.  I’ve always supported him as much as I could.  However, I too privately hoped that his change was genuine, and not just an act of grandstanding.

Nonetheless, Gillespie immediately removed any doubt that a person may have about his renewed outlook on life.

Gillespie proved sincere.  Thankfully, he had become engulfed in crusading to save and change lives.  Gillespie had become a source of positivity in Mississippi County.

He began to inspire others to strive for success, and not settle for mediocrity or – even worse –  mischief.  And there was a particular demographic which he targeted the most: at-risk youth, especially young males.

Currently, as a mature, smart, cultured 39-year-old, Gillespie is adamant about helping to restore many of the same neighborhoods he once terrorized.  Gillespie has taken onus to rectifying many of the problems he helped create and/or continue.

Among the first, and possibly most significant decisions he made was meeting with adults who were still living the “street life.”  Gillespie passionately pleaded with those individuals asking them to join in making a positive impact in the lives of the youth.  He advised them that if they wanted to remain out on the streets, do so.  But, let it be for good reasons – making the community better – and not for acts of foolishness which have a negative impact on numerous lives.

Eventually, in 2011, Gillespie established Healing in the Hood.

The purpose of the organization is to serve as a holistic guide into adulthood for males ages 8-18 in Mississippi County.

“With Healing in the Hood, I want to simply reach back and create happiness ,hope, and an expectancy of success in the lives of young males who are too often uncertain about their future,” Gillespie said.  “A lot of people are making the same mistakes that my friends and I once made.  So I want to reach back and plant seeds of goodness in my community.  I love my hometown.  I want everyone to prosper.  I don’t want anybody to have to go through what I once did.  I refuse to just hope things will get better.  Instead I’m working hard, dedicating hours upon hours of each day explaining to people why it’s important to live the right way no excuses.

Some of Healing in the Hood’s primary initiatives are: substance abuse prevention education, underage alcohol abuse prevention education, providing mentors for the youth, helping families combat poverty, and taking the program’s members to conferences and educational events outside Mississippi County.  That way they’re not only being educated, but the youth are able to see different regions of the state and country.  In the process, they’re developing an understanding that life has a lot to offer.  Life is much bigger than what they see in Northwest Arkansas.

Every act of Healing in the Hood falls under the four pillars of Poverty Reduction through Information and Digital Employment (PRIDE). Those pillars are: community outreach, drug education, community service, and drug-free activities.

There are currently over 50 youths who are flourishing academically, socially, and emotionally due primarily to being affiliated with Healing in the Hood.

“I know what it’s like to struggle and get in trouble. I don’t want any youth to have the same experience as me,” Gillespie stated.  “I don’t want them to make the terrible decisions that I did when I was their age.  I want more for them.  I want them to excel and live a great life.  I want them to live by the mantra of ‘no excuses.’  They need to understand that if you want success, you can obtain it.  That’s a principal I often express to our young men who are part of Healing in the Hood.”