Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Youth will take center stage at Juneteenth

Ivi Wicks performing at the Memphis Juneteenth Urban Music Festival.
(Photo by Leslie Thompson)
Ivi Wicks was 11 years old when she first learned that African Americans began celebrating Juneteenth two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a historic document abolishing slavery throughout the Confederate South.
Maggie Townes was seven when she was first introduced to Juneteenth. Now she’s 10 and still kicking up her heels, so to speak, as one of Juneteenth’s dainty little models that will perform on one of several stages.
“I enjoy Juneteenth,” said Maggie, passing to the fifth grade next year at Sea Isle Elementary. “I was a princess one year, a queen another year, and I won an award last year.”
The celebration continues June 15-17 at historic Robert R. Church Park on “World-Famous” Beale Street in Downtown Memphis, where music will reverberate throughout the park.
Wicks and Maggie will be present and showcasing their talents.
Although music has been the epicenter of Juneteenth, there will be an outpouring of entertainment, food vendors, games, a car show, play rides and inflatables for the children, a jobs fair, a veterans’ 5K Walk/Run, and two awards shows taking center stage.
More than 40,000 visitors near and far are expected to attend the three-day celebration. And just as many visitors – including a number of children – will learn for the first time about that sordid era comprising America’s history.
“African Americans were being separated because of racism,” said Maggie, summoning her knowledge of the tumultuous slave trade. “This [Juneteenth] was a time when slaves were freed.”
 “We recognize that our children need to learn about the history of Juneteenth and why we celebrate our freedom from slavery,” said Telisa Franklin, president/CEO of the Memphis Juneteenth Urban Music Festival, one of the longest running cultural festivals in Memphis for African Americans.
“We also recognize that we have to acquaint children with the knowledge of our ancestors who died and fought valiantly to break the yoke of servitude in order that generations henceforth would take pride in their history and the future that they are shaping,” Franklin added.
Although education is one of Wicks’ strong suits, “they don’t teach Juneteenth at my school,” she said.
Wicks will be a senior at First Assembly Christian School, a private, college preparatory Christian school in Cordova. She is just one of many young people getting an education about Juneteenth outside a school setting.
Singing is Wicks’ forte, including performing and choreographing an African dance number at this year’s youth talent showcase and awards. “Wakanda,” the homeland in Marvel Comic’s Black Panther, is the central theme.
Wicks said her mother, Dr. Sharli Kay Adair, Juneteenth’s director of Operations, insisted that she learn the significance of Juneteenth and what it means for African Americans to be free.
“That inspired me to go for my dreams and aspirations,” she said. “Mostly, it inspired me to be who I am and to be my own person. As long as you know who you are, you will thrive.”
Wicks is ambitious and has kept her eyes on a set of goals. She plans to become an entertainment attorney and then return to college to study medicine.
Even at such a young age, Maggie knows she is special and knows what she wants to do in her adult years – thanks in part to her parents’ tutelage and their embrace of Juneteenth.
“I enjoy learning new things about Juneteenth,” she said.
Maggie could take what she’s learned and apply it in a classroom setting some day once she’s certified to teach, which is her career goal. For now, she’s gung-ho about modeling.
“We are revving up the festival this year with something for everybody,” said Franklin.
On tap will be the show-stopping Juneteenth Evening of the Stars (a youth talent showcase and awards), the Memphis Juneteenth Lifetime Achievement Awards, the Ultimate Dance Showdown, a mobile outdoor educational museum, a Memphis Juneteenth Jobs & Career Fair, and Praise Fest at Memphis Juneteenth.
Juneteenth is the mother lode of music and entertainment, she said.

For more information about the Memphis Juneteenth Urban Music Festival, contact Telisa Franklin at 901-281-6337 or log on to

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

New menu-reading, web-based app a game-changer for the blind and visually impaired

Stephanie Jones, who lost her sight 12 years ago, tests a menu-reading,
web-based app using her iPhone that was developed by Helen Fernety of
ShopABLED, LLC to help the blind and visually impaired order from a
restaurant menu without assistance. (Photo by Wiley Henry)
     Reading the menu at a restaurant wouldn’t take much effort for most sighted diners. But for the blind and visually impaired, trying to figure out what to order and what the meal would cost could be a daunting experience.
     Just ask Stephanie Jones, who had to rely on her children and friends to read the menu so she could order what she really wanted. “Whoever was with me would read the menu,” said Jones, the mother of five children. “I used braille menus in the past, but they’re not always updated. But you learn to work through it.”
     Jones is one of many diners who can’t make heads or tails on a menu without assistance. But a recent call from Helen Fernety could be a game-changer for Jones and other diners if restaurants subscribe to a menu-reading, web-based app that Fernety has developed.
“Helen called the Clovernook Center (for the Blind & Visually Impaired in Memphis) to explain the product, and I happened to be the one who talked to her,” said Jones, who teaches braille and the iPhone accessibility feature at Clovernook.
Eager to test the app, about 13 of Jones’ students gathered at Soul Fish CafĂ© to order from an online menu of authentic southern-style soul food. “As soon as I logged in, it was perfect,” said Jones. “It gave me headings, pricing, descriptions…everything was perfect.”
Her students – pretty much hyped over their experience – agreed: “It was perfect.” Fernety couldn’t have been any happier that her product passed muster. She knew she was on to something big – something special that would make dining much easier for the blind and visually impaired.
Fernety, who struggled early on with her own disabilities, is the CEO of ShopABLED, LLC, a collaborative group in Little Rock, Ark. “focused on improving ‘life skills’ for people with different abilities through technology with a focus on user centric product development.”
The first product from ShopABLED’s drawing board is of course Menus4ALL, the low vision/no vision mobile restaurant menus app that is being developed in multiple languages for the blind and visually impaired. Work on the app began two years ago.
“We have a very innovative product,” said Fernety, an accessibility expert who moved to Memphis from Little Rock one year ago. “The app is based on my friends’ needs. They don’t have a lot of choices (at restaurants) – because they can’t read menus.”
The app works using the accessibility features in a smart phone and computer. For Android users, the blind and visually impaired can access the pre-installed TalkBack screen reader. The iPhone and iPad – both Apple products – use VoiceOver, a gesture-based screen reader.
“We’re building the app for both platforms,” said Fernety, who had overseen 21 prototypes with the help of freelance app developer Shawn Hartman of Little Rock. For $300 a year, restaurants can subscribe to the service.
“It would be wonderful to get 50 restaurants to be accessible to people who are visually impaired,” said Fernety, noting that the website version is ready for the market. “We’re not a mobile app yet. That’s the next level.”
It’s called the Native App, which will roll out soon. Also, for those who use Lyft, a smart cab link is located at the bottom of the menu. If a customer needs a ride to and from the restaurant, the app will detect the link.
“This is huge for me. I can do this by myself,” said Jones, who lost her sight 12 years ago. She has spent six of those years teaching at Clovernook.
Jones is not the only visually impaired person in the dark, so to speak. According to the National Eye Institute, 4.2 million Americans ages 40 and older are visually impaired. Of that number, 3 million have low vision. By 2030, when the last baby boomers turn 65, the number of visually impaired Americans is projected to increase to 7.2 million, with around 5 million of those having low vision.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on disabilities, Fernety is making it easier for the blind and visually impaired to access Menus4ALL and enjoy their dining experience.
For more information about Menus4ALL, contact Helen Fernety at 501-590-6723 or email her at

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Dream of NBA stardom morphs into a thriving t-shirt business for Binghampton resident

Inspired by NBA greats like Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway, Xavier Winston
squashed his dream to play in the NBA to launch his own t-shirt business.
(Photos by Wiley Henry)
Can anything good come out of Binghampton, a community marred by blight, crime and poverty? Xavier Delanne Winston, the 31-year-old founder of Kencade Apparel, thinks so.
With roots deeply planted in the community, he is not bothered about the perception that skeptics may have about Binghampton – except when he tried to invite a female acquaintance to his home a few years ago and she declined.
“I told her where I stayed and she said, ‘I’m not coming to Binghampton,’” he recalls, adding, “Binghampton was notorious for the bad stuff. [Now] I’m trying to shed a positive light on the community.”
Winston saw the light at East High School, where he began designing sneakers and clothes. He graduated in 2005 and went on to study architecture at Southwest Tennessee Community College, and then on to MCC-Penn Valley in Kansas City, Mo.
After launching Kencade Apparel in Binghampton in 2013,
Xavier Winston plans to stay in the community to inspire
the youth.
“I switched my major over to graphic design, and I actually fell in love with it,” he said, but didn’t graduate from either college.
Rather than follow the wrong crowd down the path that converges at the intersection of drugs, crime or gang-life, he set out to do something starkly different: follow the path to entrepreneurial success.
“For me, I stayed on the straight and narrow,” said Winston, whose dream of NBA stardom once superseded his innate talent for artistic expression. “I just wanted to go to the NBA. I didn’t want anything to interfere with my dream.”
Does he regret surrendering his hoop dreams to a desk and computer? “No,” he said with assurance that he’d made the right decision. Succeeding as an entrepreneur – not a hoop star – has since been his primary motivation.
“If it wasn’t for basketball, I don’t know where I would have been today,” said Winston, describing himself as a leader, not a follower. But then, he added, “It’s tough growing up in a neighborhood when everybody is doing everything else.”
Dreaming of NBA stardom may have kept Winston out of trouble, but it was his creative energy and desire to become self-sufficient that led him to found Kencade Apparel, a home-based business.
Another impetus that spurred Winston to seek his own fate was growing up in a single-parent household with five siblings. A brother, Milton Winston, played a part, too, at the onset of Kencade Apparel.
“I wanted to work for Rocaware, because (Shawn) Jay-Z (Carter, a co-founder) is my role model; and Reebok, because of Allen Iverson (a former NBA standout for the Philadelphia 76ers),” said Winston.
Milton Winston suggested they start a company and name it “Fly Boy,” said Winston, who pondered his brother’s idea of creating movies, plays, and music. “But he never puts any action behind it.”
A couple years later, the Winston brothers talked about launching a clothing line. They needed a name for the company. “Coming up with a name was like the hardest part,” said Winston.
He thought about the name a former co-worker suggested he use: “Delanne,” his middle name. When he tried to copyright it, it was taken. So the brothers went back to brainstorming.
 It then occurred to Winston that his brother’s middle name would be perfect: “Kencade.” “I instantly fell in love with it,” he said. “Everybody knows Ralph Lauren. Everybody wears Polo, no matter what your occupation is... That’s the status I’m trying to get to.”
Winston started selling t-shirts in 2013 for $10 to $20 each, all sizes. Sales vary – about 300 so far since his official launch – he said, adding, “It’s been up and down, but, for the most part, I do pretty good.”
To supplement sales, he works part-time at Target.
Though Kencade Apparel is fairing relatively well, Winston wants to give back, perhaps to defy those who still think that nothing good can come out of Binghampton.
His cousin, the late Desmond Scott Merriweather, for example, won three state basketball championships with his friend at Lester Middle School – local NBA legend Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.
He also coached boys’ basketball one year at East High School. The residents in Binghampton can’t – or won’t – forget his exploits.
Merriweather grew up in Binghampton, now a community on the precipice of change. The Broad Avenue Arts District is proof that a beleaguered community can come back from the brink of decay.
Winston wants to leave a legacy, too. Just like Hardaway, whom he admires, and his cousin, he hopes to grow Kencade Apparel beyond the boundaries of Binghampton without leaving his roots.
(Some of Xavier Delanne Winston’s t-shirt designs can be viewed on his website at

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Shannon Street Documentary: A Memphis Tragedy

Memphis police killed seven people in this home at 2239 Shannon St. in 1983,
including the homeowner, Lindberg Sanders, after hostage Robert S. Hester was
beaten to death. (Courtesy photo)
If you witnessed the 30-hour siege unfold on Shannon Street on January 11, 1983, or watched the tragedy in real time on TV, it would be difficult to forget the aftermath.
That fateful day a tactical squad from the Memphis Police Department stormed the home of Lindberg Sanders and killed seven black men, including Sanders, after their hostage, officer Robert S. Hester, was beaten and heard pleading for his life.
Hester and his partner, officer Ray O. Schwill, were dispatched to the home at 2239 Shannon St. to investigate an alleged purse snatching. Schwill was shot but escaped being collared.
Author James R. Howell, a former police officer, traced the siege from its beginning to the horrific outcome in the book “Echoes of Shannon Street.”
Inspired by Howell’s work, which was based on the case file, Marie Pizano, an author, producer and director, felt compelled to produce a 90-minute documentary aptly titled “Shannon Street: Echoes Under a Blood Red Moon, a Memphis Tragedy.”
Marie Pizano
“It was my gut feeling that told me I had to do this,” said Pizano, CEO/founder of MVP3 Entertainment Group, LLC, which produced the documentary. A Chicago native, she moved to Memphis in 1999.
Accompanied by cinematographer and editor Keith Cadwallader, Pizano spent two years researching and interviewing police, stakeholders in the community, and the Sanders family.
No one from Hester’s family was available for an interview, said Pizano, adding that Schwill did not want to be a part of the documentary. She said he was blamed for losing his partner.
“I had to let them all have a voice,” said Pizano, trying to strike a balance in the story. But then, she added, “Everybody was afraid to talk about it. Police were afraid to talk to me.”
Pizano was afraid at first to reach out to Sanders’ wife, Dorothy Sanders. She didn’t know how to approach her; she was devastated. Her children, too, were angry at one time, she said.
“When I called her and told her who I was, what I wanted to do, she was welcoming. She was a godly woman. [And] that fascinated me more,” said Pizano, who would break bread with the family.
She’d come to realize the Sanders family had built up resentment for the police and expressed by a daughter of Dorothy Sanders. “She was mad for a long time. [But] she was honest.”
After completing the research and interviews, Pizano crafted a narrative that looked at the tragedy from two perspectives: how it impacted the families of both the suspects and the police.
“It’s important for the documentary to share the truth from the voices of those involved,” she said.
The truth of the matter is Lindberg Sanders suffered from mental illness, said Pizano, arriving at this conclusion after speaking with the family and combing through police reports.
“The family will tell you that he did take medication,” she said. “But they will come back and tell you that he didn’t have a mental illness.”
Pizano believes it was a foregone conclusion within the MPD that mental illness sparked the chain of events, which would come to be called the “Shannon Street Massacre.”
The MPD now has a specially trained Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) in place that handles individuals with mental illness. Manned by volunteer officers, the MPD responds to serious crises.
The massacre, however, still echoes today and conjures up ill feelings – particularly if there is a police-involved shooting and the victim is African American. Such incidents are frequently captured by cell phones and posted on social media platforms.
“We don’t know what started the fight on Shannon Street,” said Pizano. “[However], nobody wants to see this happen again.”
The filmmaker is hoping the documentary will heal festering wounds and bridge the oft-perceived rift between the police and the African-American community.
A movie version of “Shannon Street” is also being developed. “The take away is, yes, you’re going to be mad, and you’re going to be sad,” she said.
Proceeds will benefit the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in memory of Officer Robert S. Hester and the National Alliance of Mental Illness.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Juneteenth showers Williams family with gifts this holiday season

Holiday bliss: From left: Renell Williams, Xavier Williams, Prince Williams, Imani
Jefferson, Dr. Sharli Kay Adair (Juneteenth Urban Music Festival's director of operations),
Telisa Franklin (Juneteenth's CEO and executive producer), Kevin Williams, Malik Williams,
and Shirley Marlow, the children's maternal grandmother. (Photos by Wiley Henry)

This holiday season has been a little merrier for a single mother struggling to care for her five children.
“I’m very overwhelmed. I didn’t have the funds to do what I wanted to do for my children,” said Renell Williams, 31, the mother of Prince Williams, 17; Kevin Williams, 15; Xavier Williams, 7; Malik Williams, 5; and Imani Jefferson, 3.
Last year, parents spent an average of $422 per child during the holidays, with 34 percent of them spending $500 per child, according to data compiled by T. Rowe Price Group, Inc., an asset management company.
Williams isn’t one of the fortunate parents with that kind of money to spend. The money just isn’t there. Hardships often preclude families like Williams’ from buying gifts for the children.
Renell Williams and her children show their appreciation
for the gifts that the Juneteenth Urban Music Festival
provided this holiday season.
But there are people and organizations like the Juneteenth Urban Music Festival that make it their business to help families with limited means. On Dec. 17, board members showered Williams and her children with at least six gifts apiece. Shirlan Marlow, Williams’ mother, also received a gift.
Juneteenth is celebrated annually in June to mark the end of slavery for African Americans. And each year during the holiday season a family is selected to receive an outpouring of gifts. There are no set criteria to receive gifts. 
“This Christmas will be very memorable – one that my kids won’t forget. This is a real blessing,” said Williams, who gets by on two of her children’s disability checks.
Dr. Sharli Kay Adair sums it up this way: “If you’re a blessing for someone, you’ll be blessed.”
Adair is Juneteenth’s director of operations. She has an affinity for children. Along with Telisa Franklin, Juneteenth’s CEO and executive producer, they wanted to make sure the Williams family receive an abundance of gifts and food baskets.
“As a single parent, you’re not always able to do that,” said Adair, noting that Williams has been an “amazing mother” in spite of her circumstances. “She has overcome the odds.”
“We really needed this for the family,” said Kevin, an eighth-grade student at Colonial Middle School. He enjoys playing basketball and aspires to be an engineer.
Franklin reflected on her own experiences as a child when the family could barely make ends meet and when life, most times, was topsy-turvy. Faith would sustain the family, she said, and prayer would keep them lifted up.
“Growing up as a child, we relied on others to make the Christmas season bright,” said Franklin, who grew up in the home of her grandparents. “They were limited trying to raise their children, as well as their grandchildren.”
The family survived on the generosity of others. “There were a lot of others making contributions to the family,” said Franklin, whose own generosity provided the impetus for gift-giving this holiday season.
Prince framed the experience with a radiant smile and expressed his heartfelt appreciation. “I’m glad they blessed us,” said Prince, not ashamed to show humility. “I’m grateful to get what I got.”
Prince is an 11th-grade student at Pathways and Education. He likes drama and the cultural aspects of theatre. In 10th grade, he landed a major role in “Big Fish,” a musical. His mind, however, is set on a career in education.
Franklin choked with emotions when the children started tearing into a couple of their gifts. “It means so much to see the children’s eyes light up and a smile warming their faces,” she said.
Franklin and Adair plan to keep in touch with the Williams family throughout the New Year.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Bringing Jazz Great Jimmie Lunceford’s legacy back to life

Caquita Monique sings, Ekpe Abioto plays the djembe drum, and Deborah Gleese
Barnes strokes the kalimba during The Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Jazznocracy
Concert at the House of Mtenzi. (Photo by Wiley Henry)
The melodious jazz music that Jimmie Lunceford made famous during the swing era was buried with him in 1947 at historic Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. The alto saxophonist and bandleader was only 45 years old when the music went silent.
Silence pervaded throughout the decades and Lunceford faded into obscurity – until an artist, musician, activist and historian discovered the maestro’s musicianship and his integrality to swing music nearly sixty years after his death.
In late October, however, Ronald Herd II was quite perturbed that his 10-year effort to raise awareness of Lunceford had largely gone unnoticed and that he wasn’t getting much traction.
He’d spoken to an intimate group of Lunceford devotees on Oct. 28 at the House of Mtenzi in Midtown Memphis minutes before the start of the Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Jazznocracy Concert, which he produced primarily singlehandedly.
Jimmie Lunceford
The concert was part of the first annual seven-day Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Festival that Herd – along with his mother, Callie Herd – founded to honor the legacy of the late extraordinary bandleader in order to secure his place in the annals of history and the world of jazz music.
He’d taken to social media to amp up visibility and awareness, which included radio interviews and news stories highlighting Lunceford’s contributions to Memphis and the music that inspired other jazz greats, such as Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller and Count Basie.
“After this week people probably will have heard more about Jimmie Lunceford than any time in the last 20 years, or even before then,” Herd told the group prior to the concert. “For a black man who had done so much, he deserves the honor.”
Since Herd had captured the attention of his audience – at times while punctuating his monologue with stinging rebuke – he encouraged those not already onboard to help bring Lunceford’s legacy back to life.
 “He was the epitome of greatness,” said Herd, chief executive artivist of The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group Inc., a nonprofit organization. “He was the real king of swing – not Benny Goodman. Glenn Miller said it best: ‘Jimmie Lunceford has the best of all bands. Duke [Ellington] is great, [Count] Basie is remarkable, but Lunceford tops them both.’”
The “artivist” was candid during his presentation of Lunceford and his exploits in music. “He was the number one band of choice for African Americans in the county. They called him the Harlem Express,” he said.
“Everybody wanted to be Jimmie Lunceford because he had this distinctive two-beat sound. Normally the other bands [during that era] had a four-beat sound,” said Herd, noting that Stax Records, Hi Records, and even Three-Six Mafia had emulated Lunceford’s two-beat rhythm.
A student of history, Herd compiles data and information and stores them in his memory bank. When the need arises, he retrieves them at a moment’s notice to express a point or to educate those who may be barren of facts.
Like, for example, James Melvin Lunceford (his name at birth) was born July 6, 1902, on a farm near Fulton, Miss., and learned to play several instruments as a child. He matriculated at Fisk University in Nashville and arrived in Memphis in 1927.
An accomplished musician by then, Lunceford took the job of athletic director at Manassas High School, where he organized a student band called The Chickasaw Syncopators. He later changed the name to The Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra.
The Orchestra soon rose to fame playing venues like The Apollo Theater in New York and The Cotton Club in Harlem, also in New York. He also toured extensively in Europe. But Lunceford was more than the music that he loved and shared with the world.
“He saw music as a rite of passage for young black boys and girls [to become] men and women,” said Herd. “He took the time to invest in people.”
Education and cultural awareness are essential to understanding Lunceford and the “excellence” of African Americans pursuing their dreams, he said.
“You must know where you come from and who your people are,” said Herd.
A brass note was dedicated to Lunceford on Beale Street in 2009.