Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Blackfoot's death ends record deal with Hughes

J. Blackfoot signed a two-year recording contract with Roy Hughes' Uptown Records on May 6, 2009, but Blackfoot never got a chance to deliver that soulful sound that Hughes was looking for. (Courtesy photo)

           The soulful sound that J. Blackfoot could easily summon from within set him apart from his contemporaries. He’d distinguished himself with The Bar-Kays, The Soul Children and as a solo artist on such chart-toppers as “Taxi,” a 1984 smash hit.
            Roy Hughes, who owns Uptown Records at 1217 Thomas St., was expecting Blackfoot to create that same sound when he signed the singer to a two-year, two-album contract on May 6, 2009. But Blackfoot, whose real name was John Colbert, died Nov. 30 before Hughes could get him into the recording studio.
            “I never got a chance to record him,” said Hughes, who paid Blackfoot a five-figure retainer. “He started getting sick and didn’t get a chance to add his part to three songs.”
Blackfoot performed in November for the last time in West Memphis, but he’d been busy prior to that retooling and recording the music that had catapulted him to the top in the genre of soul music.
Hughes, meanwhile, is left with an unfulfilled contract that was explicit, but now null and void. The contract called for Blackfoot to produce two albums – one album and the master for the first year, and another album and the master for the second year.
The contract was renewable if Blackfoot had met his obligations and the master recordings delivered, Hughes said.
Blackfoot signed with Hughes in May 2009, but Hughes collaborated with The Bar-Kays to produce an 11-track Blackfoot album for the group’s JEA/Right Now Records/IODA label more than three months later. “Woof Woof Meow” was released Aug. 18, 2009.
After wrapping up their joint session, Blackfoot would have been bound exclusively to the contractual agreement that he signed with Hughes’ Uptown Records.
“This was his home record company,” said Hughes, who was prepared to executive produce Blackfoot’s next two albums. The three tracks now in the hopper at Uptown Records are missing that one ingredient: Blackfoot’s soulful voice.
Though Hughes won’t be able to record Blackfoot, he has nothing but admiration for the soul crooner. “He was one of the music industry’s original legends and known around the world from his days at Stax Records. He tried to continue his recording career at Uptown,” said Hughes.
Hughes said some of Blackfoot’s label mates at Stax have also conducted business with him and Uptown Records. Blackfoot, he added, was one of the last legends in Memphis and a vocalist who was unmatched until the time of his death.
“My condolence goes out to Blackfoot and his family,” said Hughes. “He means more to me and his legions of fans around the world than my interest in recording him. There will never be another J. Blackfoot.” 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Smiley: Poverty tour not an anti-Obama rally

Tavis Smiley delivers startling statistics about the nation's poorest Americans. (Photos by Wiley Henry)
    Seeing poverty upclose and personal was the impetus that talk show host Tavis Smiley and Princeton University professor Cornel West needed to sound an alert that the nation's middle-class is finding it difficult to hold on to the American Dream: a job, home, automobile, and savings.
    On the last leg of "The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience," a nine-state, 18-city bus tour that began on the Lac Courte Oreilles Indian reservation in Wisconsin and ended at St. Andrews AME Church in Memphis (Aug. 12), Smiley and West painted what they believe to be realistic and futuristic pictures of the dire circumstances gripping the nation's "newest poor": the middle class, the majority of them African Americans.
    "This is a life-altering experience to see poverty upclose and personal," said Smiley, who, along with West, spent the night before with a poor white family in Mississippi on public assistance with "nine kids, a dog, and two kittens." The two had embedded themselves in the muck of poverty in homes or on the streets before each town hall.
    The poor comes in all colors, said Smiley, who echoed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s sentiments about the nation's poor and downtrodden and the Memphis sanitation workers, for which King had championed before an assassin's bullet fell the revered civil rights icon.
    "We closed in Memphis because Dr. King gave his life fighting for the rights of poor and working people," said Smiley before asking the audience of more than one thousand packed in the church's sanctuary, "Are we gonna side with the weak or the strong?" The strong, he referred to, would be the policy wonks in Washington -- whether they're Republican or Democrat -- who make career and life-altering decisions that impact the majority of Americans.
    Smiley began in earnest the conversation with an explanation for the tour and cited some grim statistics that caused many in the audience to cringe and shake their heads in utter disbelief, or nod their approval, as Smiley delivered a message laden with inescapable consequences if America doesn't redress its problems.
Princeton professor Cornel West points to the problem with America.
    "We're here to put a spotlight on poverty in America," he explained to the predominantly African American audience. The few whites sprinkled throughout grabbed hold of the message as well and internalized its impact on America's future.
    Afterward, the talk show host cited some statistics to buttress his compelling argument: "Forty-two percent of young black men are unemployed in New York; one percent of people in America control more wealth than 90 percent of other Americans; the top 400 riches Americans own and control more wealth than 150 million Americans."
    As Smiley expounded on poverty levels and disseminated information like a college professor, West, the controversial go-to college professor himself, waited quietly for the second half of the two-hour town hall to wow the audience with more straight-laced, in-your-face, no-holds-barred commentary and criticism that elevated the statue of both men over the years.
    West is an author, critic, philosopher, actor and civil rights activist who teaches African American Studies and religion at Princeton. He also is a prominent member of the Democratic Socialist of America, an organization seeking "a more free, democratic and humane society."
    Aside from his talk show duties, Smiley is an author, liberal political commentator, philanthropist, entrepreneur and advocate. He said the poverty tour, his brainchild, was mapped out at West's mother's house in California where he and West brainstormed to bring poverty to the forefront of America's conscience.
    "During three presidential debates, poverty and poor didn't come up at any time during the 90-minute debates," said Smiley, aiming his criticism at President Barack Obama. "This is not an anti-Obama rally. If he's going to be a great president, not a garden variety, you got to push him."
    The duo's push apparently prompted comedian Steve Harvey on his syndicated morning show in weeks past to cast Smiley and West as "Uncle Toms" for vehemently criticizing President Obama's handling of the sputtering economy and his alleged inattentiveness to African Americans.
    The feud between Smiley, West and Harvey, host of the television game show "The Family Feud," has reverberated across the Internet, pitting the popular comedian against two reputed activists with a penchant for critical thinking and asking tough questions.
    Besides Harvey, radio personality Tom Joyner and the Rev. Al Sharpton have taken potshots at Smiley and West.
    "Barack Obama ain't Jesus. He doesn't walk on water. He is a public servant," said Smiley, looking straight-face and unflinchingly into the audience and making it a point to quell the rumor mill that he has an ax to grind with President Obama.
    "I've never called the President a name or demonized him," he said. In fact, "I have nothing but 'Respect' for the President. I will 'Protect' him, but then I will 'Correct' him if he's wrong. Right now he's off course. We got to get him back on course."
    West recently called the President a "black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs" and again on Friday evening as he paced in front of the pulpit pointing and gesturing to make his point, this time with Smiley sitting quietly and approvingly in the background.
    West admitted unabashedly that he's an angry black man. "When they put me in the grave," he began, "I'm gonna have the same righteous indignation that brothers Martin and Malcolm and Medgar Evers had, because too many folks are suffering, not just black people, but white people and red people and yellow people and brown people."
    However, West said too many black people love everybody but other black people. He encouraged white people in the audience and any other ethnic group to love themselves as well. "I love my black momma, because that's where I came from. You better love your momma," he said.
    He talked about the outsourcing of jobs overseas and Washington spending an exorbitant amount of money on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq rather than on education. "You find money for jails," he said. "You find money for prisons... where are the jobs?"
    Poverty, he said matter-of-factly, has been downplayed in the last 30 years.
    Consider more startling statistics for the poor posted on The Poverty Tour web site: www.povertytour.smileyandwest.com:
    • There were 43.6 million poor people in 2009 compared to 39.8 million in 2008.
    • The nation's official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008.
    • The poverty rate in 2009 was the highest since 1994, but 8.1 percentage points lower than the poverty rate in 1959, the first year for which poverty rates were available.
    • 19 million Americans (6.3 percent) live in extreme poverty, meaning their family's cash income is less than half of the poverty line, or less than about $11,000 a year for a family of four.
    • The poverty rate for blacks increased from 24.7 percent to 25.8 percent between 2008 and 2009.
    "You talk about the power of poor people, you are confronting the most powerful force ... but they'll crush you like insects if they can get away with it," said West, railing against the powerful in Washington and elsewhere.
    "We're at a critical junction at our nation's history," said Smiley. "Either we eradicate poverty or poverty will eradicate us. This is our last best chance to get it right."
    Although Smiley and West drew inspiration from Dr. King for the poverty tour, "a lot of folks don't want to see poverty," said Smiley, telling the story that a white woman in one city where the tour bus made a stop refused to acknowledge that poverty is just as rampant in that city.      

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thinking outside the box keeps the Raleigh Springs Mall open despite the loss of its anchors

Despite the look of emptiness that pervades the mall, the owner, tenants and community activists all agree that the Raleigh Springs Mall is worth saving. (Photos by Wiley Henry)

        When the Raleigh Springs Mall first opened in 1971 on the north side of Memphis on Austin Peay Hwy., Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Woolworth’s, Dillard’s, and Sears anchored it. Countless shoppers throughout Memphis and the surrounding area started filing through the doors of the bustling mall until newer and glitzier shopping malls sprang up later and lured throngs. Sears, the last anchor standing, closed April 3, 2011.
      Despite the loss of its anchors and the influx of shoppers, the mall, a fragment of its glory days, still boasts a diverse group of tenants -- many of them locally-owned specialty shops -- such as Nailz By Kelley & The Nail Goddesses, Urban Expressions Bookstore, and others.
      The anchors are a fading memory, but a trickling of shoppers still find their way to the mall, which contains 46 stores throughout the 918,217 square feet of retail space. “I brought in 10 stores in one year,” says Tina Priestas, who manages the mall for New York businessman and owner Mike Kohan since taking over as general manager a year ago.
      With a little ingenuity and marketing prowess, Priestas is determined to fill the remaining eight vacant slots. “I’m already talking to Overstock.com, Family Dollar store, and Incredible Pizza,” she says. “But we’re never going to be the Wolfchase (Galleria) since we lost Dillard’s and Sears.”
      “The Raleigh Springs Mall means a lot to me,” says Kelley Alsobrook, owner of Nailz By Kelley. “Some of the nicest people I’ve met are in the Raleigh area. That’s why I moved my business here; there is a lot of potential here. As long as I’m in Memphis, this is where I’m gonna be.”
Jae Henderson signs her book for K. Shives at Urban Expressions Bookstore.
      Ken and Jacky Northfork opened Urban Expressions Bookstore in January. They first looked at Southland Mall and Hickory Ridge Mall, and made the choice to set up their bookstore at the Raleigh mall. They stock hundreds of titles by African American authors, including the book “Someday” by first-time author Jae Henderson, a freelance writer and marketing and media professional.
      The Northforks hosted a book signing for Henderson in early July, one of several they have hosted for local and regional authors. Jacky Northfork, a ghostwriter for 10 years, is expecting to publish her first book in September.
      The bookstore is just one of their businesses. They also co-own a real estate investment company, and Ken Northfork is the proprietor of his own graphic design company. But the bookstore is a love they hope to share with the Raleigh community.
      “Being from Chicago, I’ve seen communities rebuild,” says Jacky Northfork. “So the mall is going through a transition, and I want to be a part of something positive to bring the community back.” Raleigh, she added, has gotten a bad rap.
      Ken Northfork sees the mall as the catalyst for a new kind of mall, where businesses like his can still flourish without the anchors. He’s prepared to fight to save the mall and looking for more recruits. “We’re trying to get more people involved in the fight to keep it alive,” he says. “We want our children to cherish the memories that we have.”

Anchoring the Raleigh/Frayser community…

      After the Wolfchase opened in 1997 in northeast Memphis, malls such as the Mall of Memphis (built in 1981 and demolished in 2004), Southland Mall (the first enclosed mall in the Mid-South), and Hickory Ridge Mall (which underwent major renovation in 1997 to compete with Wolfchase and then was hit by a tornado in 2008) started declining.
      Priestas, however, is not dismayed because the Raleigh mall doesn’t bring in enough foot traffic. Thinking outside the box, she says, has helped to bring in more stores, community events for children, and much needed foot traffic.
      “My goal is to get the mall sold out and get some type of facelift,” says Priestas, who has sold real estate for more than a decade. Losing Sears “hurt us a little bit. Sears didn’t have anything to do with the mall, but it was the perception (of losing the last anchor) that hurt us.”
      The mall, an anchor of its own, is nestled in the Raleigh community in close proximity to I-40. The community itself encompasses 24 square miles with about 44,000 residents, many of them homeowners. Of the 15 largest neighborhoods in Memphis, Raleigh is the fourth income generator, according to reports.
      So why is there less foot traffic at the mall? Although the number of shoppers has dwindled over the years, Priestas believes the community still produces enough residual income and traffic up and down Austin Peay to lure shoppers back to the mall.

Fighting for Raleigh…

      State Rep. Antonio “2 Shay” Parkinson, a firefighter and ardent community activist, has dedicated his time and resources to help shore up the Raleigh/Frayser community and, most importantly, the Raleigh mall. There are several initiatives on the table that he hopes to implement.
      One of them is a task force to look into revitalizing the Raleigh mall and the Austin Peay corridor. The others include renting mall space for wedding receptions, devising a marketing strategy for the mall, securing space for an arts theatre, luring smaller events to the mall that the Memphis Cook Convention Center doesn’t handle, tying the mall in with the Motor Sports Park, and dealing with the abandoned Gwatney Chevrolet site at 3099 Austin Peay.
      The Tennessee Department of Transportation purchased the site in the 1990s with purported plans to store salt bins, says Parkinson, founder of ABetterMemphis.com, a venue for citizens to voice their opinions, likes and dislikes.
      Parkinson, however, is still looking into TDOT’s plan for the site, but for now, he’s focused on growing and supporting businesses. Like Priestas, he sees the mall as an integral part of the community -- which is why he’s planning to launch ABetterMemphis.com Media and Business Solution Center to offer small business owners legal consultation, bookkeeping, and marketing ideas.
      “We’re open to ideas that will be outside the box,” he says. “The mall model of the ‘80s is pretty much dead. The best solution is to think what it can be used for along with retail.”
      Parkinson has stomped for the Raleigh/Frayser community since the 1990s. Since then he’s created, formed or founded such organizations as The Voice of Raleigh and Frayser Community Action Network, The Raleigh Fire Victims Fund & Donation Center, Toys in the Garden, The Fresh Starts Community Baby Shower, the Harvest Ball, and The Block Party for Peace, which is held annually and draws hundreds to the mall.

The Raleigh Springs Mall is worth saving…

      Preistas is gung ho about the mall’s future -- so is Kohan, the owner. The overall goal, he says, is to bring in more tenants, or merchants, and place a tenant in the old J.C. Penney box. He’s hoping the plan will attract more shoppers. He did not specify how soon his plan would be activated.
      “Every day we’re taking the extra measure to manage the flow of traffic at the bookstore,” says Jacky Northfork, who lives more than 10 miles from the mall. She and her husband are doing their part to undergird the mall.
      Although foot traffic may not move as fast as they’d like, the owner, tenants, and community activists all agree that the Raleigh Springs Mall is worth saving.
  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Business leader Gayle S. Rose carries son’s legacy into the inner city at Lester Community Center

Memphis civic and business leader Gayle S. Rose is on a mission to fulfill her son's legacy of community service. She was at Lester Community Center on Monday to talk to the summer campers about "Team Max," a "vigilante philanthropy she helped to start after the death of her son, William "Max" Rose, in 2009. (Top and bottom photo by Wiley Henry)
               The Lester Community Center summer camp is teeming with the spirit and sprightliness of children. On Monday (June 20), nearly 100 of them sat quietly around the gym floor wearing white T-shirts with the picture of a 19-year-old young man who lost his life in a tragic automobile accident on Jan. 3, 2009. Above his head are the words “Team Max,” and below is his name, Max Rose, followed by R.I.P., the acronym for “rest in peace.”
Max, whose birth name was William Rose, was the son of Memphis civic and business leaders Michael and Gayle S. Rose, president and CEO of Electronic Vaulting Services Corp. After his death, Max’s family and friends were compelled to form Team Max, a “vigilante philanthropy” with a mission to feed the homeless, help disaster victims, work with hospitalized children, and clean up the city.
“We are united by an understanding that helping our neighbors and our communities is not someone else’s job – it’s our responsibility,” said Rose, a Harvard-educated businesswoman who was part of the pursuit team to bring the Vancouver Grizzlies to Memphis.
William "Max" Rose
Max had committed his life to serving the community, she said, particularly the inner-city youth at Street Ministries on Vance Ave., and in Hickory Hill, where he’d tutored children. The children at Lester waited to hear from Rose, who spoke to them about community service and teaming up with Team Max.
Max had left behind poems and poignant words that clearly expressed his unwavering commitment to community service: “I want to give everything. I want to give it all. I want to find someplace where I can serve... I want to serve.” Rose asked a teenage girl to recite it to her fellow campers.
The children got to know who Max was and Rose’s commitment to fulfill his legacy. They also met Max’s girlfriend, Theresa Dougherty, and played a game of basketball with University of Memphis head basketball coach Josh Pastner -- but not before he encouraged them to stay in school, resist the lure of drugs and crime, and take pride in their neighborhood.   
The neighborhood around Lester Community Center, which comprises the Binghamton community, was once inundated with drugs and crime, even though the Memphis Police Department’s Tillman Station Precinct is located down the street from the community center. Low-income homes still dot the landscape where poverty is in full bloom.
During the game, however, Pastner ran up and down the floor with some of the campers. Then he, Rose and Dougherty joined them and the others outside for a few minutes to de-litter the grounds of the center. They wore gloves while tossing bits of paper and other debris in garbage bags.
Though Team Max was formed to honor Max Rose and his commitment to community service, it also seeks to enhance youth leadership, social skills, and give back to the community, Rose said.
“Team Max is a movement that Mrs. Rose started to give back to the community. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, rich or poor,” added Patricia A. Rogers, who handled public relations for the group.
More than 1,200 people have joined Team Max on Facebook.
University of Memphis basketball coach Josh Pastner plays a game with the campers.

Picturing Max Rose…

The day was hot and humid, but the staff at Lester Community Center wanted nothing more than for the children to be happy campers. In the cool comfort of the gym, however, they listened intently to Rose and Pastner and seemed to understand the message that was being conveyed.
            The message was clear: Max Rose wanted to serve people. It was his calling.
            The picture of him on the T-shirt is indicative of Max’s zest for life. He’s pictured smiling and flashing a thumbs-up sign, an indication that everything was all right. On the back of the shirt are the aforementioned words expressing his desire to serve his community and a Japanese symbol for the word “God.”  
Rose knew him best when she described him as a “gentle giant” and “the sweetest angel on earth” in a newspaper story about his death. He was a student at the University of Denver.
            Max’s picture, however, does not – and cannot – show his 6-7 frame. His height could be measured, but the passion he felt for people and service to the community was immeasurable, Rose conveyed to the children.
            He loved music too, she said. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Privatizing trash pickup dishonors sanitation workers

    Honor had been 43 years past due, but President Barack Obama made it a point on April 29 to show eight surviving members of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike what they meant to the nation and to him personally.
    After their White House visit and induction into the U.S. Department of Labor Hall of Fame, the University of Memphis followed Washington's lead and hosted a local induction ceremony on June 4 in the Michael D. Rose Theatre for the city's original 1,300 sanitation workers, both living and deceased.
    Three days earlier, Memphis City Council member Kemp Conrad, a Republican representing Super District 9, Position 1, took the sanitation workers back to 1968 when he introduced a lame proposal in council chambers to privatize the city's trash pickup.
     Conrad said he is trying to save the city $20 million to help close a budget gap of $60 million. But the idea didn't bode well for sanitation workers, nor members of AFSCME, Local 1733, the union that fought "tooth and nail" for better wages and better working conditions for sanitation workers.
    The bitter struggle, they recalled, brought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis, where he'd seen "the Promised Land." His death ushered an end to the strike and forced the city to meet the sanitation workers' demands.
    Now the city is looking for savings to balance the budget. New revenue sources should be sought to pare down the deficit, but Conrad's proposal would, in large part, dishonor the sanitation workers and ignite a powder keg similar to the 1968 strike.
    
Kemp Conrad's proposal...

    While Conrad seeks to prop up a limping government on one end of the spectrum, his plan, while laborious in research, could cause the other end of the spectrum to fall in terms of collateral damage: jobs would be loss.
    A private contractor would make 950 stops a day versus 450 for Memphis, the councilman figured. There are approximately 500 permanent employees in solid waste, but if a private contractor gets the job to dispose of the city's waste, 300 sanitation workers would be tossed aside and laden with economic instability.
   The councilman's plan also includes a $7-8 million fund to buy-out 107 employees with 35 or more years of service. Nine have been with the department since the 1968 strike. Those employees would be paid to retire if they choose not to work for the new contractor.
    Conrad hopes to implement his plan in an effort to curtail spending. Revenue streams may be drying up in some cases, but the councilman's bold initiative, though clearly thought out, is thoughtless to those who could be whacked by the budget ax.
   "We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem," Conrad wrote in a June 2 email addressed to a "fellow Memphian." Bold leadership and a durable plan is needed, he wrote, "not one more year of kick the can."
    While I agree with Conrad that bold leadership is needed and that a durable plan should be implemented, I cringe at the thought that the employees who would be affected by the councilman's plan would be essentially kicked to the curb after forcing the city to meet their demands in 1968.

 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

BTW grads embrace President Obama's message

President Barack Obama delivers a rousing message to Booker T. Washington graduates at the Memphis Cook Convention Center while their principal,  Alisha Kiner, looks on. (Photos by Wiley Henry)

   It was Christopher Dean's proudest moment. The Booker T. Washington graduate got the opportunity of a lifetime when he introduced the President of the United States of America to the graduating Class of 2011 at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.
    He stood bold and confident on the same stage with the most powerful leader of the "free world" and announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, the speaker of the Booker T. Washington High School Class of 2011 Commencement Exercise, the President of the United States: President Barack Obama."
    Still cameras flashed and TV cameras rolled to capture that moment on May 16, before a capacity crowd of 3,000, when President Obama embraced the young man whose anguish was reflected in the winning video that he'd selected in the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge.
Christopher Dean introduces the President of the USA. 
    This time Christopher was smiling and proud to be a "warrior" -- BTW's mascot -- so were 149 other graduating seniors who beat the odds despite having to live and attend school in an area of South Memphis that is often beset by poverty and crime.
    President Obama understood their struggle and celebrated their triumph, saying, "If success can happen here at Booker T. Washington, it can happen anywhere in Memphis. And if it can happen in Memphis, it can happen anywhere in Tennessee. And if it can happen anywhere in Tennessee, it can happen all across America."
    Some of the graduates were arrayed in green caps and gowns, others in yellow. They understood what the President was conveying. They listened intently, wept with joy, and focused their attention on the first black president who came to Memphis to give them the presidential seal of approval for their hard-fought success.
    "We are here today because every one of you stood tall and said, 'Yes, we can. Yes, we can learn. Yes, we can succeed,'" he told the ecstatic graduates. "You decided you would not be defined by where you come from but by where you want to go, by what you want to achieve, by the dreams you hope to fulfill."
     Christopher hopes to fulfill his dreams and vowed they would not be deferred just because he's from South Memphis. The President's message was the catapult that he and the others needed to get them to the next phase in life.
    "Yes, you’re from South Memphis," the President said. "Yes, you’ve always been underdogs. Nobody has handed you a thing. But that also means that whatever you accomplish in your life, you will have earned it. Whatever rewards and joys you reap, you’ll appreciate them that much more because they will have come through your own sweat and tears, products of your own effort and your own talents."
    Ashley Woodard liked what she heard -- and especially seeing President Obama up close and personal. "I liked the stuff he was saying in his speech," the 18-year-old said. She is planning to attend Tennessee State University.
     The day for Ricky Roberts, also 18, will no doubt last a lifetime. "I was happy," he said. His father, just as eager to see the President himself, understood why his son was beaming as bright as sunlight in a galaxy containing the biggest star.
    "I was already proud that he's graduating," Ricky Roberts I said about his son. "But I was more proud that the President was here."
    It was a moving and emotional experience for the entire family, said Roberts, a BTW graduate himself. "My son's aunts, uncle and sister graduated from Booker T. Washington as well," he said.
    Courtney Taylor, Ricky's 22-year-old sister, graduated from BTW in 2007. The commencement speaker for her class was not as famous as the President, didn't arrive in Air Force One, and didn't need Secret Service protection.
    It would have been a grand experience, she said, if President Obama had been the commencement speaker for the Class of 2007. Nevertheless, she's happy for her brother.
    "It was a long time coming," said Courtney. "We should have had him from the jump. We needed him to tell us to go to school instead of roaming the streets. You see, it's possible."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Vocalist Toni Green to headline 18th annual Juneteenth festival


            In the South Memphis community where Stax Records spun its way to chart-topping success, the sweet sound of soul music would have to be attributed to the early label mates who grew up in and around the area now known as Soulsville USA: Isaac Hayes, David Porter, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Maurice and Verdine White, and others.
            Where Trigg and Florida intersect, another rising star in the Soulsville area was honing her vocal skills at school talent shows, clubs, and elsewhere for recognition and a pittance. It didn’t take any arm-twisting, however, for Isaac Hayes and other superstars to realize that Toni Green was key to their success as a back up singer. The memories, she says, are still fresh in her mind.
            In the meantime, the songstress would go on to record numerous solo projects and make a name for herself in the U.S. and Europe. She is scheduled to perform in June at the 18th Annual Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival in Douglass Park, in North Memphis, and in Porretta Terme, Italy, at the Porretta Soul Festival in July.
            “Isn’t that something!” says Green, thrilled that she will receive top billing at this year’s Juneteenth festival featuring a plethora of musical acts from June 17-19: R & B, hip-hop, old school, classical, Neosoul, and gospel.
            Green also performed at Juneteenth in 2008. She was tapped this time to headline the roster of talent at this year’s salute to the nation’s historically Black Greek Letter Organizations collectively referred to as “The Divine Nine,” a phrase coined by author Lawrence C. Ross Jr.
            The Divine Nine is comprised of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity.
            The group is also a collaborative of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, Inc., an umbrella organization formed May 10, 1930, on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., and incorporated in 1937 in the state of Illinois. The headquarters is located in Decatur, Ga.
            “For African Americans on black college and university campuses, it’s (Black Greek Letter Organizations) a way to set yourself apart,” says Glynn Johns-Reed, founder of the Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival. “The root of the organization is to uplift the black community. [And] I still see that and a lot of involvement in the community as relevant today.”
            Aside from the entertainment component of Juneteenth, there will be ample food vendors, games, exhibits, horseback rides, kiddy rides, and more. Douglass Park is located at Chelsea Avenue at N. Holmes Street. Admission to the park is free.
            For more information, log on to www.juneteenthmemphis.org or email Glynn Johns-Reed at juneteenthmemphis@msn.com, or call 901-385-4943.

More about Toni Green...
           
            The soul in Green’s voice was first heard and cultivated in Soulsville. She was 13 when she debuted on the Hi London label. But it was her vocal maturation that propelled her forward, although her voice, music and stage presence, she says, could be attributed to the legendary Stax artists who paved a way for her.
            “I grew up in the music world,” says Green, who was surrounded by the music of cousins John Garry and Dickie Williams of the Mad Lads, one of Stax’s successful groups, and her father, a jazz singer “who had a voice like Nat King Cole.”
            As a budding vocalist, Green sang at her mother’s social club and at high school talent shows at Southside, where she graduated, Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. “That’s where you knew who were the best sopranos, tenors, vocalists, groups and bands,” she says.
            Her vocal coaches, she adds, were the best in the world. She studied at the Juilliard School of Arts in New York and has a range of seven octaves. “We were taught to sing correctly as opposed to getting on stage half way. You had to be correct.”
            Green sings blues, jazz, gospel, country & western, rhythm & blues, and a little hip-hop, but describes the music she’s making today as “the big band sound” or “Southern Soul,” which is a melding of various genres.              
            Hayes wasn’t the only superstar who recognized Green’s vocal mastery. She sang with him on his successful Hot Buttered Soul tour and went on to back up or work with such luminaries as the Bar-Kays, Luther Ingram, Millie Jackson, Dennis Edwards, Marvel Thomas, Jean “Bowlegs” Miller, The Memphis Horns, The Doobies, Tennie Hodges, and many more.
            In 1998, Green went solo with her first compilation of songs on the CD “Mixed Emotions.” Produced by Quinton Claunch’s Soultrax imprint, the CD was infused with the Memphis sound. In 2002, she released another CD called “Strong Enough” on Good Time Records, a third disc in 2003 called “Southern Soul Music,” and yet another one in 2006. Then she released a two-song CD in 2009 with Willie Mitchell overseeing production.
            Green’s discography -- about 10 full-length CDs in addition to the Mitchell-produced, two-song CD -- is just one half of her contribution to music. Although it’s the half that launched and sustains her career, the other half, she says, is devoted to charity and teaching school children the art of music as a producer, writer, bandleader and performer.
            “I’m giving back,” says Green. “I’ll go to the elderly homes and sing for them, and I’m hoping to be an inspiration to young people.” After she touches down in Italy, and stays in the country for one-to-two months, “I will be teaching stage presence and performance.”
            What may come as a surprise to Green’s fans is that she has a degree in special education and a degree in corrections. She has classroom experience in both the Shelby County Schools and the Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville.
            Never one to rest on her laurels, Green keeps a full schedule nonetheless, but always mindful of where she’d honed her skills.
            Fans would be surprised as well to learn that Green handles her own business affairs. “I’m my own person, because I haven’t found anybody to work as hard as I do,” she says. “I work overtime. I do what I got to do.”
            By the way, part of the work that consumes Green’s time is being a mother. She has two adult daughters and an adult son in college. One of her daughters is a mother; and the other, a college student.
            The road to success hadn’t been that easy, says Green, adding, “For every door that was shut on me, here comes God with another plan.”
            Green is still following that plan -- wherever it leads her.
            “I’m a praying woman and I’m blessed.”

Additional Green tidbits...

            Green is hyped about the performance this year in Douglass Park, an outdoor community event that draws thousands of festivalgoers. She has also performed at other outdoor venues such as the Umbria Blues and Jazz Festival in Orvieto, Italy, the Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival and Firehouse Black Arts Alliance, both in Memphis, and a Juneteenth festival in Louisville, Ky.
            Green has received numerous accolades, kudos, citations and awards. In 2008, the Nantucket Dreamland Foundation in Kentucky tapped Green for its “Female Artist of the Year.” In 2009, she was the recipient of the W.C. Handy Heritage Award, an annual salute to authentic Beale Street musicians.
            In 2010, the Memphis Music Foundation presented Green with the Emissary Award. That same year she received the Jus’ Blues Award for “Producer of the Year” from the Jus’ Blues Music Foundation. She is nominated again this year in two categories for Jus’ Blues Awards, which will be decided by the number of votes cast by industry professionals and the general public. Votes can be cast on line at www.jusbluesmusicfoundation.org.
            The stage has been the foundation upon which Green has succeeded in the music industry. It is not a surprise that she would lend her talent to writing and singing jingles for Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Chevron Mobile, and others for Allen-Martin Productions, Inc. in Louisville. She also wrote the theme song for the City of Louisville, and was voted “Best Female Vocalist of the Year” for three consecutive years. Louisville’s mayor and the governor of Kentucky honored her as well.
            Green is set to return to the studio to record her 12th CD. She already envisions it a rousing success. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Juneteenth Salutes ‘The Divine Nine’ in 2011

             The Greek Alphabet and its numerical influence may be a little too difficult for some people to comprehend, but its English equivalent has become the hallmark and symbol of social, ethical, scholastic, and economic standards for the nation’s  historically Black Greek Letter Organizations collectively referred to as “The Divine Nine.”
            The fraternities and sororities comprising The Divine Nine are: Alpha  Phi Alpha Fraternity, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity.  
            The Divine Nine, a phrase coined by author Lawrence C. Ross Jr. in his book “The Divine Nine: The History of African-American Fraternities and Sororities,” will be saluted in 2011 during the 18th annual Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival in historic Douglass Park in North Memphis.
            The three-day festival will kick off June 17-19 and feature a plethora of entertainment (poets, performing artists, storytellers), musical acts (R & B, hip-hop, old school, classical, Neosoul, and gospel), food vendors, games, exhibits, horseback rides, kiddy rides, and more.
            Admission to the park is free.
            Glynn Johns-Reed, founder of the Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival, said the Divine Nine continues to play an integral part in shaping the lives and future of African Americans on college and university campuses and beyond. Its principals and ideals are still relevant today, she said.
            “For African Americans on black college and university campuses, it’s (Black Greek Letter Organizations) a way to set yourself apart,” said Johns-Reed. “The root of the organization is to uplift the black community. [And] I still see that and  a lot of involvement in the community as relevant today.”
            Although other Greek letter organizations are thriving just as well, Johns-Reed said the Black Greek letter fraternities and sororities were founded out of necessity to combat racial discrimination and segregation, and promote unity, camaraderie, academic excellence, interaction, and community service.
            Last year in July, Delta Sigma Theta held its convention in New Orleans, which confirmed Johns-Reed’s belief that fraternities and sororities have been true to their mission statement. "They made a major impact in New Orleans,” she said. “And wherever these sisterhood and brotherhood organizations go and whatever they do, they will make an impact.”
            The Divine Nine is also a collaborative of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, Inc., an umbrella organization formed May 10, 1930, on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., and incorporated in 1937 in the state of Illinois. The headquarters is located in Decatur, Ga.
            According to the Council’s Web site, each member organization maintains its autonomy, “strategic direction, and program agenda.” The Council still abides by its 1930 mission: “Unanimity of thought and action as far as possible in the conduct of Greek letter collegiate fraternities and sororities, and to consider problems of mutual interest to its member organizations.” 
            Most people have never heard of The Divine Nine, Johns-Reed opined. “This (the Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival) will  be an opportunity for Memphis to learn more about them. I feel good about the decision that we made to honor them next year.”
            For more information, contact Glynn Johns-Reed at 901-385-4943.

A Few Facts About The Divine Nine:

            • Alpha  Phi Alpha Fraternity, founded Dec. 4, 1906, and incorporated in 1908; Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. Official Colors: Black and Old Gold. Official Symbol: Sphinx. Official Web Site: www.alphaphialpha.net. National Headquarters: Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; 2313 Saint Paul Street; Baltimore, MD  21218. According to the official Web site, “The objectives of Alpha  Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. are to stimulate the ambition of its members; to prepare them for the greatest usefulness in the cause of humanity, freedom, and dignity of the individual; to encourage the highest and noblest form of manhood; and to aid downtrodden humanity in its efforts to achieve higher social, economic, and intellectual status.”
            • Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, founded Jan. 15, 1908, and incorporated in 1913; Howard University, Washington, DC. Official Colors: Salmon Pink and Apple Green. Official Symbol: Ivy Leaf. Official Web Site: www.aka1908.com. National Headquarters: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; 5656 South Stony Island Avenue; Chicago, IL  60637. According to the official Web site, “Alpha Kappa Alpha  is a sisterhood composed of women who have consciously chosen this affiliation as a means of self-fulfillment through volunteer service. Alpha Kappa Alpha cultivates and encourages high scholastic and ethical standards; promotes unity and friendship among college women; alleviates problems concerning girls and women; maintains a progressive interest in college life; and serves all mankind...”
            • Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, founded Jan. 15, 1911, and incorporated in 1911; Indiana  University, Bloomington, IN. Official Colors: Crimson and Cream. Official Symbol: Kappa Diamond. Official Web Site: www.kappaalphapsi1911.com. National Headquarters: Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.; 2322-24 North Broad Street; Philadelphia, PA  19132-4590. According to the official Web site, “Membership in Kappa Alpha Psi is a lifelong dedication to the ideas and lofty purposes of Kappa Alpha Psi, which considers for membership only those aspirants whose personal, social and academic qualifications are acceptable to both the College and Fraternity.”
            • Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, founded Nov. 17, 1911, and incorporated in 1914; Howard University, Washington, DC. Official Colors: Purple and Gold. Official Flower: African Violet. Official Web Site: www.omegapsiphifraternity.org. National Headquarters: Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.; 3951 Snapfinger Parkway; Decatur, GA  30035. According to the official Web Site, Omega Men flourished because of the ideas and intellect of its founders. “The Founders selected and attracted men of similar ideals and characteristics. It is not by accident that many of America’s great black men are/were Omega Men. To this date, there are very few Americans whose lives have not been touched by a number of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.”
            •Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, founded Jan. 13, 1913, and incorporated in 1930; Howard University, Washington, DC. Official Colors: Crimson and Cream  or Red and White. Official Flower: African Violet. Official Web Site: www.deltasigmatheta.org. National Headquarters: Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.; 1707 New Hampshire Avenue, NW; Washington, DC  20009. According to the official Web Site, “The Grand Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. has a membership of over 200,000 predominately African-American, college-educated women. The Sorority currently has 900-plus chapters located in the United States, Tokyo, Japan, Okinawa, Japan, Germany, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Seoul, Korea, and St. Thomas and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Island.”
            • Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, founded Jan. 9, 1914, and incorporated in 1930; Howard University, Washington, DC. Official Colors: Royal Blue and Pure White. Official Symbol: Dove. Official Web Site: www.pbs1914.org. National Headquarters: Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.; International Headquarters, 145 Kennedy Street,NW; Washington, DC  20011. According to the official Web Site, “[The] Phi Beta Sigma has blossomed into an international organization of leaders. No longer a single entity, the Fraternity has now established the Phi Beta Sigma Educational Foundation, the Phi Beta Sigma Housing Foundation, the Phi Beta Sigma Federal Credit Union, and the Phi Beta Sigma Charitable outreach Foundation. Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., founded in 1920 with the assistance of Phi Beta Sigma, is the sister organization. No other fraternity and sorority is constitutionally bound as Sigma and Zeta..”
            • Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, founded Jan. 16, 1920, and incorporated in 1923; Howard University, Washington, DC. Official Colors: Royal Blue and Pure White. Official Symbol: Dove. Official Web Site: www.zphib1920.org. National Headquarters: Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.; National Headquarters, 1734 New Hampshire Avenue,NW; Washington, DC  20009. According to the official Web Site, “The purpose of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority is to foster the ideas of service, charity, scholarship, civil and cultural endeavors, sisterhood and finer womanhood. These ideals are reflected in the sorority’s national program for which its members and auxiliary groups provide voluntary service to staff, community outreach programs, fund scholarships, support organized charities, and promote legislation for social and civic change.”
            • Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, founded Nov. 12, 1922, and incorporated in 1929; Butler University, Indianapolis, IN. Official Colors: Royal Blue and Gold. Official Flower: Yellow Tea Rose. Official Web Site: www.sgrho1922.org. National Headquarters: Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.; International Headquarters, 8800 South Stony Island Avenue; Chicago, IL 60617. According to the official Web Site, “Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority’s aim is to enhance the quality of life within the community. Public service, leadership development and education of youth are the hallmark of the organization’s programs and activities. Sigma Gamma Rho addresses concerns that impact society educationally, civilly, and economically.”
            • Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, founded Sept. 19, 1963, and incorporated in 1968; Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD. Official Colors: Charcoal Brown and Gilded Gold. Official Symbol: The Centaur. Official Web Site: www.iotaphitheta.org. National Headquarters: Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc.; Office of the Grand Polaris, 3001 Hewitt Avenue, Suite 390; Silver Spring, MD 20906. According to the official Web Site, “As Iota Phi Theta continues to grow, so will its commitment to make meaningful contributions to society in general, with particular emphasis in the African-American community. Throughout America, Iota Phi Theta has come to represent excellence in all areas. The Fraternity is, and shall forever remain dedicated to its founders’ vision of ‘Building a Tradition, Not Resting Upon One!”

Noted African Americans in Greek Fraternities and Sororities

            Historically Black Greek Letter Organizations are known for their initiation ceremony, tradition of service, handshake, song, stepshows, Greek symbols, emblems and colors. Some frats and sorors, past and present, include local Memphians Mayor A C Wharton Jr., Alpha Psi Alpha; Johnnie R. Turner, Delta Sigma Theta; Deidre Malone, Alpha  Kappa Alpha; Joe Ford, Alpha Psi Alpha; Sandra H. Burkes, Alpha Kappa Alpha; Dr. Willie W. Herenton, Alpha Psi Alpha; Dr. Cozette R. Garrett, Delta Sigma Theta; Fred Jones Jr., Omega Psi Phi; Velma Lois Jones, Alpha Kappa Alpha; Ruby J. Payne, Delta Sigma Theta; O.C. Pleasant Jr., Kappa Alpha Psi; and Rochelle Stevens, Delta Sigma Theta; Brenda JoySmith, Sigma Gamma Rho; Mary Church Terrell, Delta Sigma Theta; Judge Bernice Donald, Zeta Phi Beta; Benjamin Hooks, Omega Psi Phi; Anfernee Hardaway, Kappa Alpha Psi; and Apostle Bill Adkins, Kappa Alpha Psi. 
            Other noted frats and sorors: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Alpha  Phi Alpha; Michael Jordan, Omega Psi Phi; Felicia Rashad, Alpha Kappa Alpha; Wilt Chambelain, Kappa Alpha Psi; Cicely Tyson, Delta Sigma Theta; Mary McLeod Bethune, Delta Sigma Theta; W.E.B. Dubois, Alpha  Phi Alpha; Thurgood Marshall, Alpha  Phi Alpha; Paul Robeson, Alpha  Phi Alpha; Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Alpha  Phi Alpha; and Andrew Young, Alpha  Phi Alpha; Dr. Ralph Abernathy, Kappa Alpha Psi; Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Kappa Alpha Psi; Rev. Jessie Jackson, Omega Psi Phi; Bill Cosby, Omega Psi Phi; Les Brown, Phi Beta Sigma; Blair Underwood, Phi Beta Sigma; Morris Chestnut, Phi Beta Sigma; Bobby Jones, Phi Beta Sigma; Desi Arnez Hines, Iota Phi Theta; Vaughn Booker, Iota Phi Theta; Calvin Murphy, Iota Phi Theta; Bobby Rush, Iota Phi Theta; Marian Anderson, Alpha Kappa Alpha; Dr. Mae Jemison, Alpha Kappa Alpha; Rosa Parks, Alpha Kappa Alpha; Gladys Knight, Alpha Kappa Alpha; Camille Cosby, Delta Sigma Theta; Ruby Dee, Delta Sigma Theta; Minnie Ripperton, Zeta Phi Beta; Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Siga Gamma Rho; Lee Chamberlin, Sigma Gamma Rho; Shirley Caesar, Delta Sigma Theta; Alice Childress, Sigma Gamma Rho; Esther Rolle, Zeta Phi Beta; Mother Love, Sigma Gamma Rho; Dionne Warwick, Zeta Phi Beta; Dorothy Height, Delta Sigma Theta; Brenda Pressley, Sigma Gamma Rho; and Nancy Wilson, Delta Siga Theta.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A few political nuggets from Carol Chumney

After 17 years in politics, Atty. Carol Chumney offers a few tidbits.
    Now that the March 8 referendum election is over and Memphis and Shelby County schools now preparing to merge -- that is, if a judge doesn't nix the merger -- anti-merger opponents and pro-merger proponents -- many of them politicians -- continue to exert their influence and power to sway their constituents.
    But their constituents really wield the real power, said Bradley Watkins, organizing coordinator for the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center, during a neighborhood alliance workshop Tuesday evening at the MPJC offices at the First Congo Church on Cooper Street.
    A declared non-partisan, Watkins alluded to voter apathy and complacency during recent elections where germane issues were decided by a small percentage of voters. "People have voted every year since 1997, and you wonder why people don't vote. That's because they don't see results," he told 20 grassroots organizers from various neighborhoods.
    Watkins conducted the workshop at the onset and then yielded the floor to the evening's guest speaker, Atty. Carol Chumney, a former Tennessee legislator and former Memphis City Council member who expounded upon her experiences in both legislative bodies.
    But before she got to the point for which she was invited, Chumney recalled the early days at White Station High School when she first became politically involved. "I got involved in CLUE (Creative Learning in a Unique Environment, a Memphis City Schools gifted and talented program), because they were trying to eliminate it," she said. "Then I lobbied in Nashville as a member of the student government at the University of Memphis."
    Chumney said she has always felt strong about democracy and encouraged the neighborhood organizers to get involved as well. "People have so much power," she said. "The whole city would change if more people get involved."
    Daniel E. Lewis of Ezra Morgan Associates wanted to know if it was politically correct to send politicians a certified letter if they are inaccessible and won't respond to a phone call, email or snail mail. Chumney said some people are leery of signing a certified letter and advised participants to vote politicians out of office if they are that inaccessible.
    After 17 years in politics (13 in the Tennessee House of Representatives and four as a member of the city council), Chumney said she never forgot those who helped her on the campaign trail, including the campaign workers who helped her defeat Paul Gurley in the 1990 Democratic primary for the District 89 seat that Democratic legislator Pam Gaia vacated for an unsuccessful run against Harold Ford Sr. in the 9th District Congressional race. Gaia switched to the Republican Party in 1994 to run against Chumney, the incumbent nominee, and lost as well.
    "I just out-worked her," she said. "I knocked on more doors."
    Chumney used the aforementioned scenarios to make a point that it takes effort and hard work to get anything accomplished.
    Other participants beside Lewis wanted to know how to get an issue before their representative or a legislative body such as the Memphis City Council or the Shelby County Commission.
    She offered the following tips:
  • Come up with a strategy. Remember, they need you. The smart politician keeps in touch.
  • When sending information to politicians, send a one-page letter. They won't read more than one page.
  • Be nice to staff. They can make you or break you.
  • You only need one spokesperson.
  • Stay positive. Don't attack the other side and don't make it personal.
  • If you're speaking at a council meeting or commission meeting, stay within the time limit.
  • Write thank you notes.
  • Use your elected friends for advice.
  • Count the votes in advance. If somebody says they're with you, it doesn't mean they'll vote for your bill.
    "No matter how long you've been in politics, you still get scared. So when you get in front of the council, you might get scared, but keep at it," said Chumney.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Memphians vote 'yes' to merge city and county schools

   After a contentious battle between combatants on both sides of the schools merger fight, Memphis voters made it clear in a two-to-one victory on Tuesday (March 8) that the Shelby County Board of Education should in fact assume administrative control of Memphis City Schools, therefore merging the two school districts.
   "It's a good day for Memphis," said former county commissioner Deidre Malone, who co-managed Citizens for Better Education, one of the pro-merger groups promoting "YES for School Unity."
   "While we're disappointed, we're not surprised," David Pickler, chairman of the SCS board, said during an interview after 17 percent of Memphis' more than 420,000 registered voters soundly defeated those opposed to the merger.
   With 100 percent reporting, a total of 71,424 voters had gone to the polls to have their say. Of that number 47,812 (67 percent) voted "YES" for the referendum to dissolve MCS and merge it with SCS, and 23,612 voters (33 percent) voted "NO" to keep the two districts separated.
   State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) -- who crafted a bill that passed both House and Senate and that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law which would delay the merger, if it should pass, for two and a half years to allow for planning -- spoke in a conciliatory tone when asked how he felt about the historic vote that effectively merges MCS and SCS.
   "This is a watershed event that will give us an opportunity to embrace reform in Shelby County," he said.
   Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said, "We got to start thinking forward now."
   Luttrell's counterpart in the city, Mayor AC Wharton, said, "The rough part of the journey is just beginning."
   Although Memphians used the ballot to determine their own destiny, both proponents and opponents of the merger are expecting several lawsuits and counter lawsuits to be filed. A judge inevitably will rule one way or the other.
   Pickler had said all alone that the issue would be worked out in court. But it was his repeated attempt to push for special school district status for SCS that prompted MCS board commissioner Martavius Jones to author a resolution as a counter measure to surrender MCS's charter, which in fact would force a merger with SCS.
   On Dec. 20, the school board voted 5 to 4 to surrender the district's charter to block the efforts of Pickler and the suburbanites who sought to freeze the boundaries to keep Memphis from consolidating.
   The Memphis City Council has since jumped into the fray to approve the surrender of MCS's charter and subsequently urged voters to decide the fate of MCS in a referendum.
   The County Commission is now seeking applicants so serve on a 25-member unified school board. Currently, there are seven SCS board members and nine MCS board members. Nine more are needed to reach the 25 mark.
   The deadline for applications is March 22. Interviews will be conducted March 23, and appointments will be made March 28, or a date afterward if the Shelby County Election Commission hasn't certified the March 8 referendum vote.
   Now that the referendum has passed, a transition team will be assembled to merge the two districts into one and to determine how best to educate 150,000 students. The unified school system will be called the Shelby County School District.