From civil rights to healthy communities, George Coates marches on


Ask George Coates about being known as a ‘baby boomer’ and he will tell you that he’s fine with it.

He’s not fine, however, with what he sees out on the horizon – and he sees a critical need to find a way to use his age and experiences to help.

“I am happy to celebrate my age,” said Coates, 55. “But I think we are at kind of a critical point. Our children and grandchildren are going to face some economic conditions that our parents and grandparents faced, but we didn’t, so that puts responsibility on us to be good stewards and good teachers.”

Coates is doing just that in his multiple roles as assistant pastor at Raleigh’s Crossroads and Peace United Methodist Churches and, through November 2008, as executive director of the Guilford County Substance Abuse Coalition. The coalition studies the issue of substance abuse, assesses services that are available locally and is working toward establishing effective mechanisms to plan and monitor those services.

“Unfortunately, substance abuse affects too many people,” said Coates. “One thing we have to do is to be aware, to look around and see what we are involved in and how we can help our brothers and our sisters and our children make the right choices.”

Coates comes by it honestly. He has an undergraduate degree and a master’s in business administration from the University of North Carolina, during a tumultuous time that saw Coates divide his time between class work and marching in the streets for civil rights.

But he said he learned, earlier than college, the value of devoting his life to helping others. He had his parents as examples. They started out as sharecroppers when he was a child, in the little town of Lawndale, near Shelby. Later, his father worked in a furniture factory and his mother worked for a physician, cleaning his home and his office.

From those modest means, Coates’ parents bought a home and sent three children to college. Two others had the opportunity, but decided instead to get married and start families.

Coates became a banker, first for Northwestern Bank and later for NCNB, (now known as Bank of America). Coates said he looked at his career as a means to help others, because he would regularly help his customers solve their problems, sometimes working out budgets to help them learn how to save so they wouldn’t have to borrow.

But when the banking industry’s focus moved more toward sales than problem-solving, Coates himself moved on to the United Way, first in Greensboro and then in Research Triangle Park, before joining the Substance Abuse Coalition.

Coates is heartened by the current political climate, in which unprecedented numbers of young people have gotten involved in the political process. He hopes that their current concern about their future continues into their future – and that they will continue to reach out a hand to help those other than themselves.

“We have a responsibility to one another. We are not just our brother’s keeper; we are our brother’s brother. Whatever I do, needs to have some benefit beyond me and my family.”


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