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Willie Gladden, co-founder of the Russell Murphy Awards for mentorship, is flanked by 2024 winners Jimmy Brooks, left, and William Smith.  The program originated to encourage African-American male role model/mentors in the Eastside Community.

Smith, Brooks recognized as outstanding mentors

ASHEBORO — William Smith and Jimmy Brooks were the 2024 recipients of the annual Russell E. Murphy Sr. Outstanding Mentor Awards announced on March 3.


The awards program was instituted in 2016 by Willie Gladden and the Rev. John Spencer, who wanted to honor the memory of their former coach, Russ Murphy, while recognizing African-American male role models/mentors in the Asheboro Eastside Community. 


Qualifications for the award are modeled after Coach Murphy’s ideals which he spent most of his adult life enacting in Asheboro.


Smith and Brooks received their awards Sunday at their home church, St. Luke United Methodist.


Smith said he spent seven years as a Boy Scout leader with Troop 525. That included campouts and summer camps with the boys under his direction. He has also volunteered at his church’s Vacation Bible School, working with youth.


Even outside formal organizations, Smith has mentored boys and young men. During his more than 40 years working at Energizer, he would talk to associates about life, working hard and saving their money. He said it was pleasing to see those he has mentored “doing pretty good and being productive citizens.”


Brooks has been volunteering for several years as a mentor at Balfour Elementary School. Currently, he meets every Wednesday with a 10-year-old boy named EJ, eats lunch with him, plays chess and attends his school programs. “We talk about things he wants to do,” Brooks said.


One of his former mentees was a troubled boy but Brooks talked to him about being in the military when he spent a year in Vietnam. “I’m proud of my guy who went into the service and turned his life around,” Brooks said. “I’ve talked to him about the service.


“I’m proud of EJ,” he added. “He plays the piano and the drums and he’s making all A's and doing great.”


As Gladden and Spencer said when they began the awards program, “We may just inspire others in the Asheboro Eastside Community to make a difference in the lives of others. Sometimes just the act or encouraging a young man is all it takes.”