Since coming to Johnstown in the mid-1980s, Linda Myers has always put herself in a position to help others.
Now a secretary at Greater Johnstown Middle School, Myers, originally from Brownsville, Tennessee, was a disaster worker at the Johnstown office of the American Red Cross before downsizing in 2011 forced her to a different desk.
At the middle school, Myers quickly found a great fit.
“I had always liked working with people and children,” Myers said. “When I was with the Red Cross, I was a disaster worker, so I wanted to stay on that path of helping people. It just felt right being in the school and try to guide kids down the right road.”
To know Myers is to know that the quickest path to a familiar smile is to visit her at her post in the office.
“Miss Linda is a friend to everyone in the building. Oftentimes students come back just to say ‘hello,’ ” Greater Johnstown Middle School Principal Dino Scarton said. “They may have graduated, or they may be at the high school. Even our current students will come down between classes just to say, ‘hello,’ because they know that they’re going to be greeted with that smile and that caring demeanor that she has.”
The caring nature was built in Myers with a strong foundation at an early age.
“Being raised by my grandmother (Katie Shelly), she always taught us that it was better to give than to receive,” Myers said. “You’ll get your blessing through giving. That always stuck with me. I get my blessings if I help others.”
Along with her grandmother, Myers cites the Rev. Charles Scales, of the Praise Center Full Gospel Church in Johnstown, and a former teacher of hers, Sophia Wills, as inspirations.
She was quick to add her husband, the Rev. David Myers, the pastor at Pilgrim Church of God in Christ, also in Johnstown, and her son, David Jr., to her list of inspirations.
‘Have to want to change’
“Prior to Red Cross, I worked in retail some years ago,” she said. “I was the only cashier there at the time. There was a person who did not want to come through my line. He really had no choice because there was no one there.
“He didn’t want me touching his hand, his money. He asked me to lay it on the counter. I was very shocked at the time, because I was thinking, ‘Racism is still alive and well.’ ”
Even now, Myers still sees heartbreaking reminders of the gaps that still need to be crossed in race relations.
“Just watching TV every day, it’s still happening,” Myers said
“It’s sad that someone would still want to hurt someone because they don’t like how they look, or because they’re different or people of color. Just the other day, I saw a 9-year-old girl was on TV and how she was maced. The way people handled that, I think that could have been handled a little differently than it was.”
Myers acknowledges that any effort to bridge those gaps can only be successful if everyone is on the same page.
“It’s within a person themselves,” Myers said. “They have to want to change, and I just don’t understand why someone would hate someone based on the color of their skin. And I don’t know how you can change that person. Try talking to them, but if they don’t want to change … I don’t know how you can talk a person into changing about race.”
‘Teaching and guiding’
But Myers, who is also on the executive board of the Johnstown chapter of the NAACP, sees a way to bridge the gap in the future.
“We try to bring kids into different things with the NAACP,” Myers said. “In fact, with a junior board here that I’m a part of, we try to teach kids about diverse races. When we have our Juneteenth in June, we try to have them involved – all races, all colors.
“I’m hoping and praying that we are teaching and guiding kids down the right road; that racism is still here but we just have to try to deal with it, get through it and we just gotta try to – within ourselves – try …,” Myers said. “It breaks your heart that you cannot explain to a 9-year-old, a 10-year-old, why.
“I’m hoping that we can make a change someday – that kids will be recognized or just be noted of who they are, by the knowledge that they have, the education and not just by the color of their skin.”