Saturday, August 17, 2013

Difficult childhood drives Telisa Franklin to succeed in business despite a few recurring obstacles

Telisa Franklin is realizing some of her dreams after a difficult childhood forced her to grow up quickly. 

When Telisa Franklin and a team of volunteers fed more than 500 people in 2012 during the Thanksgiving holiday, the upper echelon of Memphis, the community at-large, and the news media took notice of the work that Franklin had been doing to feed the needy since 2008. Feeding the needy, she said, is her way of giving back to a community that is beset by one hardship after another, a community she knows so well.  
Hundreds of people on any given day in Memphis go hungry and as many of them don’t have a place to call home. Franklin is passionate about helping those who’re less fortunate and feels compelled to lend them a hand. Why? She grew up in a home in the Douglass community that reminds her of the daily grind to survive.
She was raised in an environment where crack addiction was all too common. Her father was brutally murdered, and her grandparents, who did not graduate from school, did their best to provide for her and protect her after they became her guardians.
“My grandparents saved me from becoming a statistic and a prey to the evildoers in my environment who sought to destroy me,” Franklin said.
Despite having to overcome those extreme difficulties, Franklin would go on to achieve some of her goals. But the path she’d traveled to get to where she is today was meandering -- not a straight path, that is before the viccitudes of her life convinced her to take a faith walk.
She’d incurred hardships both as a child and as an adult, but her determination to succeed, despite the odds against her, was much stronger than the negative forces that tried to snuff out her dreams before they could come true.
A 1993 graduate of Craigmont High School, Franklin acquired innate skills that didn’t come from academia. In fact, it was her fluency of speech, radiant personality and her bulldog determination that keeps her focused on obtaining the brass ring of success. She credits much of what she’s been able to accomplish thus far to her grandfather, a Baptist preacher, and her unwavering faith in God. 
“If it weren’t for my grandfather teaching me to choose God first, to work hard, I am not sure where I would be or what I would be doing now,” said Franklin, who chose to fight (figuratively speaking) to survive rather than give up like so many others had done in similar circumstances.
Although Franklin’s childhood memories are bittersweet, the experience only fueled her desire to overcome her wretched circumstances. But dreams do come true, and this determined warrior from Douglass is now seeing some of them come to fruition after years of toiling.
          After trial and error and a few hopes and dreams dashed along the way, the circumstances didn’t stop Franklin from reaching within and discovering what she is really made of: strength, character, fortitude, integrity and the uncanny ability to overcome obstacles.
Although the aforementioned attributes were pillars that she leaned on to survive a difficult childhood, they have essentially become the hallmarks of her success as an entrepreneur, floral designer, motivational speaker, philanthropist, TV talk show host, radio host, author, minister and now the owner of her own TV network.
On Aug. 11, Franklin officially launched her TV network on Comcast Channel 31 seven days a week. It is arguably the first female-owned African-American network based in Memphis that serves African-Americans in the coverage area of Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi, according to Franklin, president of TFC Media.
A Christian-based radio, television and social media platform, TFC Media is Franklin’s foray into communications, having owned and operated several businesses that eventually gave birth to her newest venture, cable TV.
“I have devoted time and energy to making my businesses successful,” Franklin said. “The network on Comcast Channel 31, which entrepreneurs and business owners can utilize to fulfill their dreams, is another project, or business, that I hope would bring those involved on the ground floor a measure of success.”    
Franklin and her team have since worked long hours to create an impact in the communications industry.
          “I’m determined to be somebody and leave an inheritance for my children’s children. That’s what the Bible instructs us to do,” said Franklin, who doesn’t mind being called a role model. “When I see young people looking like I looked as a child, where I had been earlier in my life, I don’t want them to see me give up. I want them to be able to see a good image in me.”
           As an entrepreneur, Franklin has owned several businesses prior to the launch of her cable television network – including “That’s Love Florist,” “That’s Love” and the “Royal Pavilion Event” facilities. In 2005, she was the recipient of “Bust-A-Move Monday” (BAMM), an initiative launched in June of 2001 by Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum, senior pastor of Olivet Baptist Church, to spend money with African-American businesses.
           Over the course of her professional career, Franklin has either owned a business, operated one, or worked in various capacities for a couple of banks, a car dealership and a videographer. In 2012, Glenn Johns Reed, founder of the long-running Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Festival in Douglass Park, tapped Franklin to succeed her as the festival’s executive director.
            Franklin has an affinity for young people. She motivates them to dream big and to work hard, just like she’d done from 2004 to 2008 as producer of the “Prom Show Expo,” a trade show that exposed high school students to school proms, graduation, college and career training.
            “I believe children should have an opportunity to be successful in life, but the leaders of today must prepare them for their destiny,” said Franklin, who organized a Christian youth group in 2008 called Memphis Youthful Praise of Douglass, which promoted positive activity for the youth and young adults in the community.  
Despite her rigorous schedule, Franklin attends Golden Gate Cathedral on James Road where she is a licensed minister and evangelist.
          The church has become an inextricable part of Franklin’s life. She’d been a secretary and Sunday school teacher at Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church; a youth leader, choir director, and praise and worship leader at Willing Souls Missionary Baptist Church; and a leadership coordinator and a media ministry coordinator at Greater New Liberty Missionary Baptist Church.  
          So what is Franklin’s ultimate goal? “I want to be able to make senior citizens’ dreams come true,” she said. “They don’t have enough money to do what they want to do. I want to build a home for them. It will be like a permanent retreat.”
She added that while children have opportunities to be successful, “older people are thrown away. They’re sometimes forgotten.” Oh, and she also hopes to grow her TV network into a mega communications outlet
Franklin didn’t forget about her three younger brothers. Although she struggled in her early years to survive, did not pursue higher education, worked tirelessly to make ends meet, she didn’t want her brothers to follow in her footsteps. So she paid for them to go to college.
One of her brothers is a student at Mississippi Valley State working on a master’s degree in criminal justice. Another one is a professional over the road commercial driver. The youngest is a student as well at Mississippi Valley State working on a bachelor’s degree.
“My brothers all know that failure is not an option,” said Franklin, the mother of a 6-year-old son, Charles Edward. “I just want them to succeed in life. That’s why I stepped in to provide a foundation from which to launch a successful career.” 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Glynn Johns Reed: An enduring legacy on two fronts: Memphis and New Orleans

Glynn Johns Reed and family. From left, Reed's son and daughter-in-law, Reuben and Helen Johnson, Reed, daughter Crystal Chopin, husband Arthur Reed and grandson (Photo by Wiley Henry).

          Never one to shrink from civic responsibility or her role as standard-bearer, Glynn Johns Reed has made headway in a world where the travails of life have prevented a many African Americans -- past and present -- from realizing their true potential.
Those travails can be traced back to the slave trade. But it wasn’t until Reed matriculated at Tennessee State University in the late ‘60s that she made a conscious decision to shake up the status quo that had unleashed the fury in women such as Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer.
“All my life I've been sick and tired. Now I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired,” said Hamer, a civil rights activist protesting her right to vote in the ‘60s.
Reed’s protest wasn’t political per se, but donning an Afro on the campus of TSU was an outward sign that she, too, was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She protested vehemently by celebrating her African-American ethnicity, asserting her right to be heard, and challenging a system that had given rise to Jim Crow and thus permeated Southern thinking.    
“I was with a group that burned down the ROTC building at TSU,” said Reed, disclosing a decades-old secret that no doubt baffled campus officials at the time. Though she admits not starting the fire, the sideline view she’d taken was her way of protesting the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Vietnam War, and what she’d considered to be an unjust system that had relegated African Americans to menial jobs, a back-of-the-bus experience, and an uncertain future.
That epoch was vintage Jim Crow – or somewhere afterward where unjust laws against African Americans would soon be dismantled -- but the vestiges of racism and discrimination would linger. Reed thus began asserting pride in self and in a race of people that had struggled mightily to break shackles in the arts, entertainment, education, medicine, business and other noteworthy professions before and after Reed left TSU.
“I never liked working with the system. I always bucked it. I was always in protest mode,” said Reed, who was determined to find her own way in life, including rejecting that which would bind her tenacious pursuit of self-awareness and cultural identity.
Perhaps what drove Reed’s awareness of self early on and her afro-centric bent is the fact that she grew up in the Douglass community in Memphis where the center of her universe was speckled with black people: friends, neighbors, school chums, “Mom and Pop” businesses.
“I thought it was more black people in the world,” she said, “because I grew up in a sheltered black neighborhood and went to black schools and college.”
But then something happened after Reed ventured beyond the periphery of the Douglass community in pursuit of a higher calling. “It was a culture shock when I found out there were more white people than us,” said Reed, who would solidify her pro-black stance and look for opportunities to promote the African-American experience. She also would start budding as an entrepreneur and take on a few jobs in between to support herself.
But the spark that first ignited Reed’s passion for serving her people has not been extinguished to this day – for she’s since championed from Day 1 many causes and endeavors to help as many African Americans get ahead as possible in Memphis, where she was born, and in New Orleans, a city that has shaped who she’s become today. And those who benefit the most from her sensibility and sensitivity to the African-American cause understand what motivates her to succeed.
Success, in large part, is predicated upon the persistent effort that a person puts into his or her work. And Glynn Johns Reed, who has made an inedible mark in the African-American community in both cities, doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
And why should she?
          Because Reed is at the apex of her career and has always been at the ready when transacting business or managing to be in the right place at the right time in history. Each step forward, for example, has ensured her legacy and a luminous vita in the annals of history.

Creating a business climate in New Orleans…

After graduating from Douglass in 1966 and receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration from TSU in 1971, Reed worked as a bookkeeper for the Memphis Urban League, took an administrative job in a sickle cell office, set up an office for acupuncturist Dr. I.K. H. Chang, worked as a commodities broker, and left for New Orleans in 1976, where she began honing her entrepreneurial skills and investing sweat and equity in the community.
            Though Memphis was slow to satisfy Reed’s insatiable appetite for social and cultural uplift, the “Big Easy,” on the other hand, drew Reed to the arts, entertainment, food, music, the business community, and the granddaddies of them all -- the Jazz Fest and the Mardi Gras. The collective experience – which started when she first set foot in New Orleans -- is simply “electric,” she said.
           “The first thing I want when I get to New Orleans is an overstuffed Shrimp Po’ boy.”
           After Reed’s acclimation to New Orleans’ culture, the entrepreneurial ideas in her head started churning. In no certain order she launched the Message Board Telephone Answering Service, started publishing the Black Pages to promote black businesses, taught aspiring models at the Barbizon School of Modeling and managed the agency for a year, performed in over 50 television commercials and movies, became a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild, and was the first black concierge hired at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, next to the Super Dome.
            “People like Dr. J (Julius Erving) and Pelé (a Brazilian soccer player) were staying at the hotel and would ask me where they could find a black restaurant or a black cab company,” said Reed, who would soon launch “An Official Guide to New Orleans,” the precursor to “The Black Pages New Orleans,” after she herself couldn’t find someone to shape her Afro. 
            “I love Memphis, but my heart is in New Orleans,” said Reed, who, within 20 years, solidified her reputation as a businesswoman and became an inextricable part of the city’s cultural mix. Her sojourn to the city along with her business acuity has enabled her to network effortlessly between Memphis and New Orleans, which earned her the moniker of “master networker.”
            It was Reed’s networking ability that enabled her to bring the first Black rodeo to New Orleans in September of ’95. The Cherokee Bill Wild West Rodeo was held at the University of New Orleans - Lakefront Arena, which honored noted cowboys such as Nat Love, also known as Deadwood Dick (1854-1921), Willie M. “Bill” Pickett (1870-1932), and James P. Beckwourth (1798-1866).
           “I introduced that culture to New Orleans,” said Reed, who was living in Memphis at that time. “People never realized there were real Black cowboys.”
           Though Reed’s parents never ventured outside the Douglass enclave to live, Reed wanted something else. So she created a haven in New Orleans that has earned her kudos from the elite and people in the community where she has a vested interest in creating a climate for African Americans to succeed.
           Reed’s two decades in the cultural mecca included building a family structure. Her son, Reuben Johnson, was born in Nashville, but enrolled in first grade at St. Louis Cathedral School. He graduated from St. Augustine High School, both within the Catholic Church, and afterward attended Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La.
Reed’s daughter, Crystal Chopin, was born in New Orleans, and lived there for a while after she obtained her Business Administration degree at the University of Tennessee. She now lives in Memphis, after evacuating from Hurricane Katrina, and works with her mother as the multi-media coordinator for the Black Pages.   
           Reed raised Crystal and Reuben on the culture, pizzazz and splendor of New Orleans and once lived at Gov Nicholls and Dauphine, and at 601 Esplanade and Charters in The French Quarter. “When my son became an adult, he thanked me for raising him in The French Quarter,” said Reed, who’d learned much about living in an international environment as did her children.
“In New Orleans, it doesn’t matter if you’re black, white or Ethiopian. It’s a melting pot of cultures,” said Reed, recalling the blues song “Let the Good Times Roll” as an example of how she’s lived her life.

The advent of Juneteenth…

            Reed moved back to Memphis in 1991 after folding the Black Pages that she’d started in 1978. “We had a brain drain,” she explained. “When it was time to deliver the Black Pages, businesses had shut down. People were struggling and the city couldn’t cut the grass on the neutral (median) grounds.”
            Networking had come relatively easy -- perhaps innate -- for Reed. Although she left behind the ambience of New Orleans – temporarily, that is – another idea was planted in 1993 that took root in Memphis: The Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival.
            Reed said the idea had come to her after her pastor at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church had requested that she oversee the June birthday month celebration, since her own birthday is in June. “We did a Juneteenth program and 27 people showed up on a Friday evening. So they said, ‘You must take this to the community.’ So we took it to Douglass Park because of the shade trees.”
            Reed had given much consideration to the aggregation of people and wrote a proposal called “Summer in the Shade.” She presented the proposal to the executive director of Memphis in May, then a burgeoning organization celebrating the rich culture and historical significance of faraway countries to Memphis. Needless to say, the proposal didn’t go anywhere in the MIM organization.
            The first time that MIM saluted the Netherlands, Reed was busy in the office working as a bookkeeper after answering an ad in the classifieds of the local daily. The job lasted about five months, she said. During that time, “I saw how they put Memphis in May together, and it wasn’t rocket science. Their poster unveilings were also an inspiration to me.”
            What Reed had taken away from MIM was hands-on experience in organization, structure and management. But there was another side to the growing organization that troubled her the most: the artist contract-for-hire.
“If it had not been for Memphis in May, there might not have been a Juneteenth,” concedes Reed, who was teaching inner-city preteens, teens and young adults the importance of etiquette and social grace at her own Ms. Glynn’s Charm and Finishing School. Over 300 participants would graduate.
The festival has grown considerably; drawing approximately 45,000 festivalgoers during its annual three-day run in late-June. It is an anchor in North Memphis and undoubtedly one of Reed’s crowning achievements. However, after 18 years at the helm, Reed has moved on, choosing to re-focus instead on the Black Pages New Orleans.
“New Orleans is for me,” said Reed, who commutes to and fro, and still the master networker. “I want to be buried there.”
The ‘60s and ‘70s had opened Reed’s eyes to the systemic problems that negatively affected African Americans. But Reed found another way to sidestep those problems and focus on the culture, heritage and entrepreneurial spirit of her people.
Bringing African American culture and heritage into the spotlight is second nature to Reed. In 88 years, for example, the “Sojourner Truth Memorial Time Capsule” that Reed and her husband buried on June 19, 2000, in Robert R. Church Park in downtown Memphis will be unearthed to reveal the historical items from Memphis’s first Black mayor, Dr. Willie Herenton, the late photojournalist Ernest Withers, and other contributors. The time capsule was the climax of the 7th Annual Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival.
“For me, it was about blackness,” said Reed, ending the conversation with her motto: “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”