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Pa. native serving in Army reflects on race, mentorship, need to 'relentlessly spread love'

A video screen grab shows Army Spc. Christopher Cashaw.

THE TRIBUNE DEMOCRAT

By JOSHUA BYERS | The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa. | Published: February 6, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — Love has played a vital role in Christopher Cashaw's life, from his upbringing in Hornerstown to the organizations he was part of throughout his youth, and even the way he ends text messages and calls with friends and family — often adding "Much Love."

That base emotion is also how the 20-year-old thinks the division in the country, whether political or racial, could be bridged.

Locally, Cashaw believes that community events, such as the block parties of his youth, are a way to possibly heal any divides.

"Those were definitely some of the highlights of my life," he said. "You'd see people coming from all of the different areas of Johnstown."

These gatherings featured games, fellowship and free food — and anyone was welcome to stop by.

"I feel like ever since the community block parties left ... that's when things started to degrade," he said.

Cashaw recommended restarting those kind of events that bring "all types of people" together "no matter what their beliefs are" when the COVID-19 situation is under control — anything that could "relentlessly spread love."

He spoke fondly about his time in the city. Cashaw's childhood was similar to others his age — plenty of time having fun with his sister, riding bikes and exploring the area.

Positive experiences

The U.S. Army specialist hasn't been back to Johnstown in some time. He's currently stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas.

But Cashaw remembers a calm environment, noting that while living here he didn't have to deal with race issues — at least as far as he recalls.

"I haven't ever experienced any type of racism," he said.

He considers that a blessing.

As for the topic of race on the national level involving the Black Lives Matter protests of last year — many stemming from killings of individuals such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police — Cashaw said he doesn't condone some of the actions of the demonstrators.

However, he recognized the necessity of direct action to draw attention to an important issue such as race relations in the country.

"I don't think that the way that it turned out was the right answer," Cashaw said. "But also, I don't think it was necessarily a wrong answer."

He added that he hopes those actions have opened people's eyes.

Scouting and NAACP

Throughout his time in Johnstown, Cashaw kept himself busy through various programs, such as football, wrestling, the Boy Scouts — he's an Eagle Scout — and the NAACP youth program through Greater Johnstown High School.

Cashaw said his maternal grandmother, Sandra Cashaw, encouraged him to get involved in the organization, and for several years he was a participant and spoke at different events.

The group sponsored activities through the school, including fundraisers, and met weekly to discuss what could be done in the community to unite people.

Cashaw said being part of that group helped develop his character, ability to accept people for who they are and brought him knowledge.

"Really, the main thing about the NAACP is really about uniting all races and it gave me a better insight on what it means to be united," he said.

Mentor's impact

Another program that influenced him a lot was Goodwill GoodGuides.

Cashaw credits Mike Docherty, who was his mentor through the organization, as having a significant impact on his life.

They met when Cashaw was about 12 years old and bonded quickly.

"He has showed me the way of success," Cashaw said. "He's still with me today, and for as long as we are alive he would pretty much be my No. 1 go-to person."

Cashaw added that he doesn't think he'd be where he is today without that mentor — enjoying his career in the military and aiming to be an Army pilot.

"We just sort of absorbed him into our family and included him in everything we did," Docherty said.

The Johnstown native now lives in Huntsville, Alabama, but still keeps in touch with Cashaw.

"He's a heck of a guy," Docherty said.

Special relationship

Even after the Goodwill program ended, Cashaw and Docherty continued spending time together.

Docherty said his mentee was a member of his family at that point.

Throughout the years and even to this day, Docherty is impressed with how driven Cashaw is, and how smart he is.

"He's probably one of the hardest workers I've ever met in my life," Docherty said.

In addition, he noticed that Cashaw has never been afraid to try anything, which his mentor credits as something that's helped him in life.

"He has a good head on his shoulders," Docherty said.

"We're really enjoying watching him. It's just a pleasure to see how well he's doing."

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