One man's inspiring comment helped change her life

Sharon Cullins awarded historical Eggleston-Osborne Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship

By Julianne Kuykendall | Mar 14, 2013
Photo by: Julianne Kuykendall MOVING FORWARD: Sharon Cullins is currently studying at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College where she will graduate next May with a double degree in Human Resources/Business Administration.

Sharon Cullins, who was recently awarded the historical Eggleston-Osborne Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship, named in memory of two African-American teachers in Haywood County during the 1930s, points to 2005 as the year her life took a drastic change in a positive direction.

She was 42 years old that year.

“Up until that point, I had made some unhealthy decisions which led to dysfunctional living,” she began.

She said Jerry Presnell, a probation officer with Haywood County Community Corrections, made an inspiring comment to her during that time that spliced her life into two categories – the dark past and the bright future.

“Jerry looked at me that day and said, ‘The past is your past and what matters is what you are going to do from today forward,’” she recalled. “I never forgot that because he was a person who didn’t judge me – he looked past what I had done and saw what I could become.”

Cullins didn’t see him for four years after that comment, but one day when she saw Presnell on the streets of Waynesville, she stopped him and told him what an inspiration he had been to her.

Soon after that pivotal day in 2005, she was determined to make a better life for herself and got seriously involved in counseling and support groups. It was during that time in intense counseling when she began to see herself in a new light. She became increasingly persuaded to help other women in similar situations.

She could see their feelings of unworthiness in their eyes.

“I saw so many women who were oppressed in abuse or drug situations and they were so down and depressed,” Cullins said, noting she noticed that men seem to bounce back easier after making a life mistake but women seem to carry a label with them and think they are not worthy of anything better. “There were many women in counseling who went back to destructive relationships after counseling because they just didn’t feel like it could get any better.”

Because she wanted to help those women, she developed more of a zest than ever to improve her own life, and began studying at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College where she will soon complete her Associate’s degree in Human Resources.

“In Human Resources, there is a need for people who look at the person instead of what’s on paper, so that’s who I wanted to be,” she explained.

As a direct result of being awarded the Eggleston-Osborne Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship, she is now able to attend another year to study business administration and will graduate next May with a double degree in Human Resources/Business Administration.

When she thinks ahead to next semester when she will be studying under this prestigious scholarship with so much history behind it, she says she feels honored and privileged.

“It makes me know that somebody believes in me because sometimes you need a little ‘I believe in you,’” she said, pointing out that she continually stresses the importance of a good education to her four children – Keith, Tabitha, Jordon and Caleb – and wants to lead by example.

Currently, she stays busy giving back to the community that has helped her because, as she succinctly puts it: “The only way to keep what you have is to share it.”

In addition to attending school full-time and working part-time at A-B Technical Community College, she spends her free time working with support groups like Al-Anon and Women in Recovery, being involved in church at Jones Temple AME Zion Church in Waynesville, plus being a member of a community group at the Pigeon Community Multi-Cultural Development Center in Waynesville which is striving to bridge the racial gap in Haywood County.

This group, which is open to the public, meets at the center at 450 Pigeon Street in Waynesville the third Monday of each month at 5 p.m.

“One example of things we discuss at the meetings is the recent cross-burning incident in Haywood County,” said Cullins, adding that various members of the community who care about the racial gap, including the district attorney, were present to discuss the issue. “We wanted to figure out what we could do rather than putting those kids in jail because jail would just make them angry, and we wanted to heal the hurt because there was some reason they had this kind of anger and hatred.”

“We know it will never be a perfect world but we can try to do our little part,” she added.

As Cullins peers into the future of her life, she wants to land a Human Resources position, plus pursue her personal dream of opening up a transitional house for women in Haywood County. In her vision of this house, she sees a transformative place where women can get the help they need in all aspects of life and become strong enough to stand on their own before they go back into society.

“I’m not better than any of these women, but I’m on the dark path with them carrying a flashlight and following other women who have mentored me shining a light in front of me,” said Cullins.

“I always tell other women that somebody had to reach out and help me and that if I can bounce back being a single mom with four kids, that anybody can do it,” she added.

To contact Cullins, e-mail her at cullins19@gmail.com, or call 246-7147.

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