My work often takes me to community advocacy meetings and puts me in contact with people who fight fiercely for a better Wake County. When I tell them I work with INDY Week, the first thing they tell me, almost 100 percent without fail, is how much they love Bob Geary.
When I showed up at WakeUp Wake County's annual meeting last night, I expected to hear the same thing. Instead, I saw it on the agenda.
WakeUP, a nonprofit group that has advocated for better transit and education, honored Bob as the first recipient of its Stan Norwalk Community Leadership Award.
"Bob has written about many issues important to our quality of life, from transportation to education," said Yevonne Brannon, outgoing chair of WakeUP. "And like Stan Norwalk, [Bob] never shied from speaking his mind if he thought it was something right for the community."
It's also fitting Bob was honored with an award from WakeUP since he helped form the group in 2006. Raleigh was experiencing major changes during that time and a boom of development both in downtown and the suburbs. But no group existed to bridge the gap between citizens and politicians; no major grassroots entity had a voice at the table advocating for good growth.
In community meetings, similar to the one last night, which focused on transportation, some of the heavyweights in local politics had been bemoaning the lack of a grassroots group that could push an agenda. City councilor Thomas Crowder; Karen Rindge, who went on to serve as WakeUP's chair; and Stan Norwalk, a former county commissioner who died last year, were some of the few.
Since then, the group has become a powerhouse in Wake County politics.
WakeUP formed Great Schools in Wake, an organization that arguably played the biggest role in organizing protests against the Republican majority that scrapped the Wake schools diversity policy in 2010. The protests led to the arrest of more than 20 people and national media attention in Wake.
Ultimately, a group of diversity-supporting Democrats regained control of the school board in 2011, due, in large part, to the efforts of WakeUP and GSIW.
All the while, Bob has played his part as a columnist at the INDY, writing consistently about what he saw as the most vital components for making Wake County a great place to live—education, transit, land-use and social justice.
Fighting for change in a community can be a drawn-out, lonely affair. And no one knows that more than the members of WakeUP. That's what made hearing Bob's voice in the paper all these years so important for them.
Without ever setting out to do so, Bob validated their efforts—a priceless service for those who wonder some days if they are fighting a lost cause.
"We all fought over who would be able to give you this award," said Brannon, "because we all love you that much."