Jun. 1, 2017

Sheldon A. Butts

Finally, after having to send out flyers to track Mr. Sheldon Butts, I was able to catch up with him at his childhood residence. He graciously gave me a quick tour of the home in which he grew up. The family room is littered with pictures of his brother, two sisters, and him along with the grandchildren of the Butts family.

“I’ve been living here since I was in second grade,” he said of his family dwelling. “I even went to good ole Maryville School. I have lots of happy memories here in this house.”

At present, Sheldon works as an educator at the high school. He teaches Non Diploma Tracked children at the high school level. I had asked once before what that was and he had answered, but now I could not remember at all so I asked again.

“I work with children who often get labeled early in their education,” he answered. “It’s a Special Education class with instructional studies – mostly math and English. I help them grow and achieve more from their academic life than they otherwise would have had.”

As a man with ADHD, his 14-year military life helped to give him structure. He admitted that at the time, he didn’t realize he had that diagnosis because of the military routine. Although he was honorably discharged as a captain and a company commander, his life was forever changed from the experience.

“Have you been in any wars?” I asked as I sat as his mother’s table.

“Oh yes,” he answered. “I was in the OIF #1 and 2 (Operation Iraqi Freedom). My team worked hard and we played hard.”

He shared with me what it was like for a soldier. “We did what we had to do, every day and every day after work, we’d go the class VI (6) store which sold alcohol. I was self-medicating for many different reasons.”

“You know you can become an alcoholic doing that, don’t you?” I teased.

“Oh yes, I know it well,” Sheldon admitted. “I am a recovering alcoholic now. I’ve been sober for over three years. I tried to sober up twice before, but this time I’ve got it nailed down.”

Knowing that Sheldon is a man who believes in God, I suggested he go through God to quit. “I no longer have any desire whatsoever to smoke again,” I stated of my own addiction.

“As did I,” he said with conviction. “I cannot stand the smell of alcohol now, must less the taste.”

We spent a lot of time talking about his girlfriend, Rhonda Green, his military life, his teaching, his alcoholism and so much more. In speaking of our addictions, it raised a question on the current Facebook debate about whether these addictions are disease or conditions of choice. While I believe they are by choice, he is adamant they are caused from a disease process.

“You wake up every morning and need that drink,” he answered of the debate, “Or you come in from work needing it. At least I did. I knew when it was time to get off work, I was going to feed the addiction, and so I could make through the day very well.”

“So you were a functional alcoholic?” I asked.

Nodding his head, he answered, “Very much so. I didn’t realize I was an alcoholic though until after I got out of the military. That’s also part of the disease, and if I didn’t get the drink then I would start to tremble and shake. I had to have it even though I was no longer on active duty.”

“But you did that by choice. A disease is something you didn’t ask for like cancer. No one asks for cancer,” I argued, “but you asked to become addicted by drinking the booze and knowing it leads to alcoholism.”

“Hypothetically, what if I went and lay with someone and got an STD? I didn’t ask for that?” he rebutted.

Not to give up the ghost, I replied with a laugh, “You did if you didn’t use a condom.”

In the end, I understood what he meant. The disease of addiction is a process the mind takes on. You eat the bacon and cook in the bacon grease knowing it is a link to heart disease is an equivalent to you took a drink knowing it leads to addiction.

The reason I had such a hard time nailing him down for an interview was because of Sheldon’s very active lifestyle. I knew everyone in town sees him about so the flyers went out to track him down.

To list some of his commitments that extend past Rhonda, he also teaches varsity basketball and track, he is a trustee at Bethel A.M.E. Church, he is on city council, and Sheldon often volunteers a lot of his time doing public speaking when he’s able or asked to.

“I have a hard time telling people no,” he said with a smile. “I want to do whatever I can.”

As I was jotting my notes, Sheldon added that he is a part of the 2017 class of the James E. Clyburn Political Fellowship. He explained that you must be chosen through a very selective process by the South Carolina Democratic Party for this one of a kind experience for young, South Carolina political leaders and he was the only one from Georgetown County. James E. Clyburn is a Senior U.S. Congressman from South Carolina's 6th District.”

When I had a confused look on my face, Sheldon explained. “The selected group meets in Columbia monthly and we learn leadership, policy, campaign training and other different points to develop and train the next generation of Democratic Leaders.”

In addition to these things, he is on the sub-committee for the West End Redevelopment Plan which has been sitting idly since 2003. He is passionate about wanting to see this revived. I firmly expressed to Sheldon that I wanted to see the old slave homes on Front Street refurbished. They are beautiful in their historical presence and need to be respected.

I admit, the very first time I ever met Sheldon Butts, I thought to myself, he’s going to become president one day. I often tease him about that and tell him he and Rhonda would make a nice addition to the White House.

When asked about that political avenue, Sheldon laughed and said, “No, I don’t think I will go quite that far. I’d like to represent Georgetown and South Carolina as maybe governor, senator, or U.S. congressmen. Until then, I will remember that life is a daily struggle, but through God, I will continue to enjoy and rise above it all.”