Melvin Everson is a public servant who has worked his way to the top
By Carole Townsend
Gwinnett – Melvin Everson is an affable, easygoing man. Ask anyone who knows him.
He is a man who has remained unchanged over the years, whether he worked successfully in corporate America, or campaigned for (and lost or won) a Snellville council seat, or was tapped by the state’s top man – Gov. Nathan Deal – for a position of power and influence in Georgia government.
Today, Everson is the Executive Director and Administrator of the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity. His department is charged with investigating and handling complaints from citizens about unfairness in both housing and state employment, with respect to seven protected classes: race, color, sex, national origin, religion, familial status and disability “I never thought I’d be called on by the governor,” Everson said. The seventh of ten Wilcox County, Georgia, children brought up by his hard-working, God-fearing parents and grandmother, humility has followed Everson all the way to the capitol. “My mom gave birth to me when she was just three hours out of the cotton field. I stand on the shoulders of my parents and my grandmother.” As humble as the man is, he is as proud as any of his family and deep south Georgia roots.
“We had no indoor plumbing at first, but eventually, we did. My mother washed clothes in a wash pot. We made our own sausage. My family built, with our own hands, the meat house, the equipment shed, we put the roof on and we wired the whole thing,” Everson said. He understands what it means to work hard, and that understanding has equipped him well along the path that has led to the state capitol.
Laughing, he recalls his somewhat bumpy start in Snellville city politics. “I served on the city’s Planning and Zoning Board for five years, and in 1994, I ran for council against Wayne Odum. I got slaughtered. That was when I truly learned the meaning of the word ‘landslide,’” said Everson. “I didn’t know the first thing about campaigning. But I felt good, because I participated in the process.” The resounding defeat might have soured a lesser man, but Everson found the positive side and took heart.
Left: Melvin Everson with American Idol winner Diana DeGarmo
“In 1999, I got a call from Brett Harrell. He said he was going to run for mayor, and he said, ‘I want you to run with me.’ We met one Sunday afternoon for about three hours at his old print shop. I asked him if he was sure he wanted to do this. He said, ‘Look, you’re black. I’m white. Now, let’s get on with this.’ Keep in mind,” Everson said reflectively, “this had never been done before in Snellville. Ever.”
“Everybody who had met that Sunday won that election, except me. I lost by fifty-four votes. While several people encouraged me to demand a recount, to say that my civil rights were violated, my wife gave me some very good advice.” What Gerri Everson told her husband was that, in a city comprised of mostly white people, he managed to garner more than thirteen hundred votes.
“Seven months later, I was asked to run again, to fill the unexpired term of a member who had passed away. I got the seat and eight months later, I had to run again for the same seat. I won this time, because by then I knew every street and just about every household in Snellville. I knew all about campaigning by then,” he laughed.
After serving on the city council for more than four years, he ran for the state house seat and once again, he lost by fifty-four votes. But he campaigned even harder and won the runoff election by twenty-seven votes – exactly half of those fifty-four.
“When I was a state representative, Gov. Nathan Deal called on me to be part of his transition team when he won office. Then, he tapped me for the Workforce Development position I held for a while, and then for this position.” The path, while not exactly straight or easy, has led Everson to places that he’d never imagined as a young man growing up in Wilcox County. “I was called to the White House to meet President Bush. I met Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, and Laura Bush. I was invited to celebrate Duke Ellington in the East Room,” he said. “I don’t sing or play an instrument, so I have no idea how I got on the invitation list, but I didn’t ask questions.”
Everson is surprised and gratified at every turn; every accomplishment, while earned, is also deeply appreciated. Perhaps that is because nothing was ever handed to Everson or any of his siblings. Well, there was one exception.
Right: Melvin Everson with The Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory, S.L.D.
“My father had a fifth grade education, so there was a high priority put on education throughout our childhoods. However, when each of us graduated high school, our parents did give us a gift: a two-piece set of Samsonite luggage, and the message was clear. Laughing, Everson said that the message was that “we were getting up out of there.”
Education looked different back then, too. “Failure in school was not an option. If we got in trouble in school, we got two whippings before we even got home.” Thinking back on his high school years, Everson remembered the worst trouble he ever got in as a student. “I got in an altercation with another boy. The school called Mama, and she called my dad. He came to the school and wore me out right there in the principal’s office. He told me that I was acting a fool and that I’d better straighten up, that he’d better not ever have to come up there again.”
Years later, when Melvin was called back to that same school to address the faculty and student body, he wouldn’t go back to the principal’s office for that very reason. He has never forgotten that or any other lesson taught to him by the teachers whom he respected and by his family, whom he loved. In fact, he credits his teachers with the fact that to this day, not only can he name all of the 159 counties in Georgia, he has also visited every one of them. His love of history and government began to grow and thrive back when he was a young boy.
“I had a paper route, and even back then, I would read about issues in the news, write them down and study them, try to figure them out,” he remembers. “Between that natural desire to learn about such things, a solid spiritual foundation, and the love and expectations of my parents and grandmother, I feel like those things worked together to help me get where I am today.” Everson also attributes many of his achievements, as well as his patience and perseverance, to the time he spent with elderly people throughout his life. “I would sit and listen to their stories, people who have lived through real hardship. They taught me about endurance,” he said, with respect.
Everson can be seen around Gwinnett and around Georgia, in schools, and speaking to civic groups and churches. A man who understands the value of both education and hard work, who understands that failure is simply another lesson and not the end of a dream, his insights are sought after by people all over the state. The man with strong, unshakeable roots has traveled a winding, fascinating road straight to the top of Georgia’s government. But he’d just as soon talk to you about his family, or his faith, or his “second” hometown of Snellville, rather than the well-earned notches on his belt.