Shirley Edwards looks at her grandfather's picture which sits on the end table in her living room. She does not see a white man or a black man.

Edwards simply sees an amazing human being.

"I never knew there was black or white until I was 4 years old," she said. "I just thought people were people."

Her grandfather, Edgar McLamb, was born to a white father and a black mother in Sampson County, and people in the community looked at him as a white man.

In his early 20s, McLamb made the hardest decision of his life, she said.

"He could've taken the easy way out, but he said no. He said, 'I am a black man, and I will serve black people,'" Edwards said.

Her grandfather loaded up bags of food on a tractor and delivered the food to widows and widowers, single mothers and neighborhood children. She said he would gladly take off his coat and give it to someone in need.

"That had such a profound effect on me, seeing my grandfather give," she said. "And I would hear him say if you had more than one coat, 'You don't need it. You give that coat to someone else.'"

Edwards said her grandfather, as he got older, would face confusion during his times at the hospital. She said nurses would look at his paperwork and tell her grandfather he made a mistake by writing down he is black instead of white.

She said he stood by his commitment to identify as a black man until he passed away 29 years ago at the age 107.

Ms. Edwards said the positive things she saw her grandfather do set her on the path of helping others.

Born in a small township between Halls and Keener in Sampson County, Edwards lived with her parents, Theodore McLamb and Myrtle Bryant, along with her three older brothers. She said her parents never divorced but did separate when she was 8 years old, and her mother eventually remarried and had another son and two daughters.

But as a young child, Edwards spent most of her time with her 20 aunts and uncles.

She moved to Newton Grove where she lived a short time with an aunt and uncle. She moved to New York and to the District of Columbia to do the same, but she said her father always asked her to move back home each time.

From house to house, Edwards learned values from her distant family and received coats and dresses as well.

She learned to give her clothes away by watching her grandfather.

It also got her in trouble.

"Some days I would go home without a coat because I would give the coat away," she said. "I got an awful spanking one year for giving my Easter outfit away. This child didn't have an outfit, and I had several."

It did not stop her.

In her neighborhood, Edwards gave her clothes away to white and black children, but three children -- especially -- drew her to them.

She said she played with a white boy, a black boy and a black girl who were intellectually disabled, and even at a young age she understood the sensitivity of the less fortunate.

"I played with them because other children didn't," she said. "Part of me has just always been. That's who I am, and it's who I am now."

She continued to give her clothes away to children at the former Hargrove High School. She said Hargrove was a consolidated school before integration in the '60s and '70s, and she said only black students were allowed at the high school.

Edwards married at age 16 to feel more mature and grown, she said.

"Very young, very young," she said. "I thought, 'I'm going to break this cycle, and I'm going to get married, and I'll be grown.' I didn't know what I was doing."

Edwards did know what she wanted to do for education and employment, however.

She graduated from Hargrove and gained an associate's degree at Wayne Community College and an undergraduate degree from Shaw University. She then received a master's degree in business administration from Central Michigan University through a program at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

She then became an administrator for the state of North Carolina's Department of Mental Health. She served 33 counties in eastern North Carolina, and advocated for families of Cherry Hospital.

During her employment, Ms. Edwards volunteered at Goldsboro High School to help seniors complete various graduation projects, and she helped teenage mothers succeed in their courses.

She started Crossroads to Understanding Inc. in Goldsboro during the late '80s -- while still employed with the state -- to serve at-risk teenagers.

Edwards said several of the program's young men became pastors and business owners as adults, but she said some ended up in prison.

One particular teenager, Tarrius Artis, still calls Edwards his "mama," and he text Edwards on New Year's Eve from the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner to wish her a Happy New Year.

"That young man calls me 'mother,'" she said. "I haven't given up on him because God hasn't given up on me."

Her program ended after 15 years and 2,500 teenagers were served.

Edwards said other programs popped up in the same community, leading her to close her program.

She retired from the state in 1996 after 30 years of service, but she still possessed more passion for helping those who cannot help themselves.

Ms. Edwards volunteered for WAGES in the '70s -- and still serves there to this day. She currently functions as the chairman of the WAGES board, but she has served as the vice chairman, secretary and treasurer over a 40-year span.

"My life has not been a life of just helping the African American communities," she said. "My work has been with all races from Indians, Hispanics, all nationalities and all cultural groups."

Edwards said she will celebrate Black History Month as always, but she said the month should be celebrated every day. She said she understands the importance of the designated month to teach African American children about the history of black inventors and black activists.

"It wasn't created to just be a month," she said. "But that's how it had to get started."

Edwards taught her three daughters, Erica Ward, Andrea Ward and Selena Edwards, black history.

She said her five granddaughters and her one grandson are learning the history as well.

But she believes everyone's history is important.

"Black history is every day just as white history is every day. Hispanic history is every day," she said. "Blacks make history every day, whites make history every day, Hispanics make history every day."

"History is made every day in the world."

And the history of Edwards' life is represented by the people throughout the state she has touched over her life, but the awards and recognition hang on the wall of her living room.

As the former president for the previous North Carolina Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Edwards has received the Governor's Award for Excellence in human services from the former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt, an award from the department of mental health services, the employee of the year at Cherry Hospital for her volunteerism and more.

"In terms of a lot of public recognition, I do not seek that," she said. "What I do, I do for the greater good."

"And I can get very emotional about it because I believe in helping those that can't help themselves," she said. "That was the kind of environment I was raised in."

Edwards picks up the picture of her grandfather and proudly gives him credit for how she was raised.

"My grandfather showed me that you can have a better world," she said.