CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte has done everything possible to make a good impression for the Democratic National Convention.
The Rev. Brenda Stevenson – well-known in Charlotte for her holiday charity work – has gone a step further.
She got a new leg for the occasion. Stevenson, an amputee, is a delegate, and had intended to walk at the convention for the first time in two years.
However, recovering her sense of balance is taking longer than expected. She now has her sights set on something simpler but still meaningful.
“I’m going to stand when President Obama finishes his speech,” Stevenson said, referring to the nomination acceptance speech set for Sept. 6 at Bank of America Stadium. “It will be a honor to see the president of the United States, and I’d like my being there to make a statement about disabled people. We are determined.”
She has been in a wheelchair since her left leg was amputated in 2010. Her hope now is to walk without crutches by Thanksgiving.
Stevenson is famous in the community for carrying out 25 years of charitable acts on the city’s west side, through her New Outreach Christian Ministry on Gossett Avenue.
The ministry’s Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts attract hundreds of poor families each year and hundreds more donors, who drop off hams and turkeys.
This is the first time Stevenson has been a delegate.
Even she was surprised when the votes were counted and she had been elected over some of the region’s most respected female leaders.
Sam Spencer, head of the state’s Young Democrats, credits Stevenson’s election to her reputation for helping others.
He’s among the people who have taken turkeys to her mission for the holidays. He says losing a leg hasn’t slowed her down.
“She’s in a wheelchair, but nothing else has changed. I think her election is a testament to the impact she has made on the community,” said Spencer, who voted for her. “I don’t know anybody who didn’t vote for her.”
Stevenson said she hopes to make a point at the convention of how disabled people need to be factored into the Democratic agenda.
Her left leg was amputated after she spent 70 days in the hospital, part of it in a coma. Doctors predicted at one point that she wouldn’t survive the infection that took her leg.
“I had to be fed through a tube and had to live off an oxygen mask,” she recalls. “I had to face my fears.”
That changed her, she said, making her more fearless in the pursuit of justice for the needy.
Now, it’s two years later, and she’s only recently received a temporary prosthetic leg, having repeatedly postponed the procedure out of fear it would interrupt her mission work.
She is wearing the leg only four hours a day, while waiting for swelling to diminish. That could take weeks.
Bill Trock of Impact Prosthetic Solutions is the specialist working with her. He, too, is an amputee, having lost one leg below the knee in a 1979 motorcycle crash.
“She’s a ball of energy, with a charisma that is contagious,” said Trock.
He supports her decision not to try to walk during the convention. It’s common for patients to need crutches for a month or more in the early stages of the process, he said.
“When the delegates get together, it’s going to be crowded and very fast-paced, but that’s her lifestyle. I wouldn’t doubt it that she doesn’t get a personal visit from the president,” Trock said.
Stevenson is hoping that will happen, too.
But he’d better be prepared to listen because Brenda Stevenson is no longer afraid to say what’s on her mind.