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Wright is fighting for others

February 20, 2002

Wright is fighting for others



Editor's Note: This is the third in a week-long series during National Black History Month recognizing blacks in the area who make a difference in their communities.

By MARLO BARNHART
marlob@herald-mail.com


June Overton Wright was born in Hagerstown in the late 1930s and said, from the first day of her life, she never felt different.

"I was actually the first black baby born at Washington County Hospital," Wright said, noting that her mother and grandmother told her there was no demonstration to mark the event. "Before March 19, 1938, black babies were born at home."

Perhaps that milestone had something to do with how Wright has lived her life, raised her family and contributed to her community.

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Wright is deeply committed to her work as chairwoman of the Northwest Central Committee, which is holding a contest to raise awareness and promote screenings for early detection and treatment of colon cancer.

A bout with pancreatic cancer in 2000 gave Wright the impetus to forge her experience into a positive campaign to raise awareness of another cancer that is much more preventable and curable than the one she fought.

Two years ago, Wright went in for what she thought was going to be same-day surgery on her gallbladder and ended up spending five weeks in the hospital battling pancreatic cancer - a killer 98 percent of the time.

"Now, I fight for colon cancer awareness because the rate of survival is 98 percent with early detection for all people, black and white," Wright said.

Wright said she was raised not to be prejudiced.

"I was taught we were all God's children, regardless of gender or race ... there was no room for prejudice in our home," she said.

Throughout her life, Wright has lived that creed. But in the 1940s and 1950s, there were two separate communities within Hagerstown, and everyone knew it.

"I grew up in the 300 block of Jonathan Street where your world was your family, your church and your school," Wright said. "We had our own shops, stores and restaurants within a six-block area."

Young people with creativity moved away because there wasn't much in Hagerstown for them, Wright said.

She was no exception. A mother at 17, Wright raised her son, Kelly, and worked in the metropolitan area as a traveling barber/stylist to some of the top television newspeople, including Jim Vance.

She returned to Hagerstown and opened her own shop.

"My shop was called 'Yesteryear ... Today,' and I did black and white hair," Wright said.

When her son was in his early teens, Wright saw signs that he needed some direction in his life. Taking a cue from her own upbringing, Wright took a strong stance for her son.

"I put him in St. Maria Goretti High School and made him repeat the ninth grade," Wright said. "And then I kept him busy with worthwhile activities."

Now an Emmy Award-winning newscaster in Portsmouth, Va., Kelly Wright keeps in touch with his mom on a regular basis.

"Discipline was important in our family," Wright said. "And in a way, the community participated in that."

Wright said there was strong reinforcement for good behavior within the Jonathan Street community when she grew up and when her son was young. Sadly, that is missing in many instances today, she said.

But she said she is optimistic about the future for her neighborhood and her city. "When I look back on my life, there is joy," Wright said.

Still recuperating from her illness, Wright is working part time at the Hagerstown Telework Center in the Elizabeth Hager Center, 14 N. Potomac St.

"I'm not completely back to full health, but I'm up and running," Wright said.

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