|Ricky E. Wilkins|
Thursday, May 29, 2014
A first floor suite in the historic 14-story Shrine Building at the corner of Front Street and Monroe Avenue is ground zero for The Law Offices of Ricky E. Wilkins. The architecture is exquisite and furnished with the trappings of success. But Wilkins is willing to trade much of it for a fulltime seat in Congress.
"I'm a lifelong Memphian who was raised in South Memphis. I want to give back to the community any way I can," he said. "I've been practicing law for 23 years and volunteered my time, talent and resources because I care about the community. So running for Congress is a natural extension of giving back."
Wilkins is challenging U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen for the right to represent Tennessee's Ninth Congressional District, an area entirely contained in Shelby County and includes the city of Memphis and portions of Collierville and Germantown.
The district is 60 percent African American and 33.5 percent white. Wilkins is mindful that basing his campaign solely on race likely would be counterproductive and lessen his chances of unseating Cohen in the Democratic Primary on Aug. 7.
"I'm planning on running this campaign based on my qualifications and the issues. The fact that I'm African American has nothing to do with it," said Wilkins, alluding to the hotly contested congressional races that pitted Cohen against Democratic challengers Nikki Tinker in 2008, Dr. Willie W. Herenton in 2010 and Tomeka Hart in 2012.
Undaunted by the incumbency on Cohen's side, Wilkins intends to run a grassroots campaign that highlights who he is, what he has been doing and what he plans to do for the Ninth Congressional District.
"Nobody thinks it can be done," said Wilkins. "We intend to prove them wrong."
Wilkins' supporters include Randy Wade, Cohen's former friend and one-time district director of his Memphis office. Wade parted with Cohen last year after the congressman filed an ethics complaint linked to Wade's support of a state representative's re-election bid.
Wilkins pulled a petition for Congress on Jan. 3rd, bringing onboard Wade at the onset of the campaign.
"Mr. Wade is an active and enthusiastic supporter of mine in my quest for Congress," said Wilkins. "I appreciate Mr. Wade's support and his continued efforts to help me identify other supporters in the community."
Wilkins said those who have confidence in him are stepping up to help.
"I'm encouraged by that and intend to bring on new supporters," he said, "people who have not been a part of the political process."
Two other Democrats besides Wilkins and Cohen have pulled petitions to run in the Democratic primary and two Republicans have placed their names in contention for the Republican primary. Only one candidate has filed so far.
The qualifying deadline for both Democratic and Republican primaries is April 3rd at noon.
Fighting the tough fight...
Wilkins said a change in leadership is needed to solve the district's problems.
"The economic conditions in this community must not be ignored," he said. "It must be a front-burner issue, and I intend to spend an appreciative amount of time working hard."
After graduating from Carver High School in 1983, Howard University in 1987, and Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1990, Wilkins said the South Memphis community where he grew up is still blighted and neglected.
"I'm embarrassed. And my heart hurts every time I drive through the community," he said. "Thirty years later, the community in some areas looks like a war zone."
As congressman, Wilkins said he'd bring new ideas, new approaches, and new alliances to improve the district. "Those who have served I respect and appreciate, but we're taking this to another level," he said.
The level Wilkins is referring to comprises his campaign platform, which includes growing small businesses, providing economic opportunities, improving education, fixing the crime problem, making provisions for veterans, and uplifting people in the district.
"Education is the great social equalizer," he said. "Everything that I am goes back to the educators who believed in me, guided me, and set me on the right path. I'll make sure they (the school system) get the support of the congressional office."
If elected, Wilkins said he'd bring federal dollars to the district and work cohesively across the aisle with others in Congress with opposing views. He used as an example the federal dollars the Memphis Housing Authority obtained to dismantle public housing during his 20-year stint as chairman of the board of commissioners.
"I understand the need to work across the aisle," said Wilkins, pointing also to his experience as a trial lawyer. "I'll make sure Memphis gets its fair share of federal dollars. And I'm going to be very successful in doing that."
Political pundits and observers have noted in past congressional races that a hefty war chest would be needed to get one's message across or make a sizable impact in the race. In the 2008 race, Cohen raised $1.2 million according to opensecrets.org. In 2010, he raised $1.1 million; and in 2012, more than $800,000.
During those races, the money raised by Cohen's opponents paled in comparison. Wilkins, however, said raising funds wouldn't be a problem and that people would be curious to see his financial disclosure form.
"We're reaching out to our supporters, not just locally, but outside of Memphis as well," said Wilkins.
Cohen, is a career politician, said Wilkins, stressing that he on the other hand is looking for an opportunity to serve the people and not a job.
He also pointed out other differences between he and Cohen.
"Steve Cohen has never been married, never had kids that I know of, and never has been responsible for employees and helping them pay their mortgage."
Wilkins was married 18 years and has two daughters.
The Ninth Congressional District needs leadership that motivates and inspires people to reach their fullest potential, which subsequently uplifts the entire community, said Wilkins, vowing to be that leader.
Running for Congress is a sacrifice, he said, and, no doubt an uphill battle in this instance.
"I'm a guy that grew up around welfare and food stamps to a teenage mother who dropped out in the 10th grade. So fighting an uphill battle is not new to me," he said. "It's a part of my DNA. I've been taught that if you work hard and have faith in God, there's no mountain you can't climb."
A man stands up and speaks to what he believes and goes forward regardless of what people think, said Wilkins.
"You have to be strong enough to stand up to the opposition."
About Ricky E. Wilkins...
Ricky E. Wilkins is a native Memphian who graduated from Carver High School in 1983. He went on to graduate from Howard University in 1987 and Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1990.
After law school, he was the first African-American attorney to make partner at Burch, Porter & Johnson. He left in 2003 to start his own law firm, The Law Offices of Ricky E. Wilkins.
Wilkins served 20 years as chairman of the Memphis Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. He is a past president of the Ben F. Jones Chapter of the National Bar Association, past president of the Memphis Bar Association, and past president of Tennessee Board of Law Examiners.
He is a life member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Vanderbilt Alumni Association, the NAACP, and a member of New Life Missionary Baptist Church.
She has lived more than the Bible's promise of three scores and 10. In fact, Sarah Jackson Bobo, born April 28, 1924, in Hookpur, Ark., is poised to celebrate yet another milestone. On Sunday, April 27th, her children will help celebrate her 90th birthday at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel at 185 Union Ave.
"My mother has lived almost a century," said Derome Bobo Sr., the 11th of his mother's 17 children and chairperson of the Sarah Jackson Bobo birthday gala. She birthed five daughters and 12 sons. One of them, Sgt. Edward Lee Bobo, was killed in August 1967 while serving his last tour of duty in the Vietnam War. He was scheduled for discharge that year in October.
|Sarah Jackson Bobo|
"She's the oldest remaining member of the family and, I believe, the oldest African-American living in Elaine, Ark. She only has cousins left, and she's the oldest of them all," said Bobo, operations manager for the Memphis Postal Service.
In 10 years, Ms. Bobo will be ranked a centenarian and eligible for the Smuckers birthday salute with the "Today's Show" Willard Scott. Until then, the proclamations and citations that she's received from the U.S. Postal Service and the following luminaries will suffice: President Barack Obama, William "Bill" Jefferson Clinton and Hillary Rodman Clinton, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, Arkansas State Sen. Stephanie Flowers, and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.
Ms. Bobo is unaware of the slated birthday gala in her honor or the attention she's receiving. She lives alone in Elaine, about 90 miles from Memphis, and continues to live life to the fullest without assistance from her children.
"She has a memory like a book and walks without a cane," her son said. "She washes her own clothes and takes care of her house. She's self-sufficient."
Ms. Bobo was still driving at age 88, Bobo remembers, and would still be driving her vehicle if her children hadn't taken the keys. She has glaucoma and her eyesight is quickly growing dim.
Ms. Bobo lost her husband, Leroy Bobo Sr., when she was 56 years old; he was 60 and the father of 14 of her 17 children. They were together for 36 years. She never remarried. The years, however, seemed to multiply, but the matriarch remained strong in character and the family pillar, her son said.
She is the grandmother of 61 grandchildren, the great-grandmother of 142 and the great-great grandmother of 20. "She is kind, gentle, understanding and has stood the test of time being the back bone for her children, grandchildren and extended family," Bobo said.
He recalled stories his mother often would tell about times when life was a little unbearable for her and the family in the segregated South when Jim Crow reigned.
"When she was a younger woman, there was a boy who supposedly liked a white woman. My mother smuggled him back to his parents, driving him to his parents' home in another small town outside Elaine. Back in those days, you didn't mess with white girls.
"She had another experience with a white man. He thought my mother couldn't read or write," said Bobo, retelling the story about an abusive white man whom his mother worked for in the cotton fields.
"She worked for 75 cents a day and they paid by the pound. He tried to cheat her. But my mother was strong and vibrant. She stood up to men and women."
Strength and courage...
Ms. Bobo's parents, the late Robert and Grover Kelly Jackson, worked as sharecroppers on the Green and Demoret plantations. She joined them in the fields after withdrawing from Elaine Industrial School. She was a ninth-grader then and would soon marry at the age of 16.
After giving birth to twins – one would survive – Ms. Bobo moved to Chicago determined to be successful so she could support her siblings (one sister and three brothers) by supporting her parents. She worked in a box factory and lived with her great aunt. One year later, she moved back to Elaine and birthed another child.
On May 28, 1944, she married Leroy Bobo Sr. The children kept coming. She raised them to be independent and successful. Several have earned college degrees and are successful entrepreneurs, managers and high-ranking officials in various government agencies.
When the children were young, Ms. Bobo worked various jobs – as a field worker and maid – starting each morning at 4 a.m. She also worked in the home cooking, washing, ironing and cleaning, often ending her "day" at midnight.
Living in Elaine in the 1940s was challenging, Bobo remembers his mother telling him. Everything was segregated – blacks living on one side of town, whites on the other. Long before school integration found its way to Elaine, black parents were permitted to sign a parental consent form for their children to attend Elaine's all-white middle and high schools. Bobo said his mother, although apprehensive, gave permission for three of her children to attend those schools. Her own educational pursuit had been cut short due to the daily grind and the need to eke out a living.
In 1965, Ms. Bobo drove a school bus for Elaine Industrial School (renamed the Elaine School System) and continued to work as maid. She also became a study hall instructor for grades 9th through 12th. While working, Ms. Bobo opted to get her high school diploma, having relayed to her children that a good education was the key to success. She set the example by enrolling in Phillips County Community College at night.
She retired from the school system after 39 years.
Tragedy struck in August 1967. That's when her son, Sgt. Edward Lee Bobo, was killed in Vietnam. Two other sons were serving active duty in the United States Army during this time. One of them was sent to Vietnam immediately after the funeral.
In honor of her son's sacrifice, Ms. Bobo was given the Purple Heart. On Sunday, her remaining children – and a few dignitaries who admire her strength and courage – will pour out their heart with a special birthday salute arranged to acknowledge her excellence and to simply say, thanks.
The enslavement of African Americans in the United States is an atrocity that Orlando Matthews abhors and doesn't mind talking about. He spoke about that desolate period in human history during a recent two-day conference and community town hall meeting in Nashville on "Debt Relief & Reparations for HBCUs."
The conference was held on the campus of Tennessee State University and organized to save Historically Black Colleges and Universities from budget shortfalls, to restore Africana Studies on HBCU campuses, and to keep the focus solely on educating African-American students.
Though Matthews was one of several conference facilitators, there were others of note, including U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who conducted workshops during the community town hall meeting at Ray of Hope Community Church and emphasized the urgency for reparations to keep HBCUs solvent to avoid going defunct.
The focus of Matthews' discussion, however, oscillated between the birth of reparations, the early proponents of reparations (or government recompense for crimes against humanity), and the movement in Tennessee.
"The United States is guilty of crimes against humanity," said Matthews, pointing to the book "My Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-slave Reparations," which he used as a point of reference in his discussion.
"The early reparations struggle in Tennessee was led by Mr. I.H. Dickerson and Mrs. Callie House, who lived and worked in Nashville in the late 1800s," said Matthews, a longtime proponent of reparations and community activist.
|Rep. John Conyers, Camille Mabry and Orlando Matthews.|
House, an ex-slave, "mulatto," widowed washerwoman and mother of five, lived in Nashville and died 70 years before the advent of the civil rights movement. She was the ringleader of a movement in Nashville that demanded justice and reparations for ex-slaves for centuries of unpaid labor.
Dickerson also was active in reparations for ex-slaves. He and House headed the National Ex-slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association, but were investigated by the United States Bureau of Pension for their part in an alleged scheme to defraud "ignorant" blacks.
The movement that House and Dickerson led in Nashville, which preceded Marcus Garvey's United Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, was the precursor to the civil rights movement and recently Conyers' unsuccessful attempt to get a reparations bill passed in Congress.
Conyers first introduced bill H.R.40 – Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act – in January of 1989. He has re-introduced the bill in every Congress "and will continue to do so until it's passed into law."
The conversation about reparations eventually segued into the struggle to keep the country's more than 100 HBCUs on solid financial footing. Matthews said many of them are under attack due to funding shortages and changes in legislation – particularly the dismantling of affirmative action in some states.
"In the last 10 years, they've brought in white presidents and white students into these HBCUs in the name of diversity," said Matthews, a 2001 delegate at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.
Matthews was one of 400 delegates to address the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade as a crime against humanity. He termed the financial hemorrhaging of HBCUs as the government's change in policy to merge HBCUs into the mainstream of higher education in order to comply with uniform admissions standards.
Have black colleges and universities thus outlived their usefulness? Matthews pointed to past atrocities against African Americans and said HBCUs are still relevant today. Other conference speakers and workshop facilitators agreed.
Dr. Abdul Alkalimat, who teaches Africana Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Campaign, titled his discussion, "Reparations and the Mission Essential Need for Africana Studies at HBCUs." Dr. Raymond Richardson, a professor in the mathematics department at TSU, followed with the topic, "The Maryland HBCU Case Verdict and Its Implications for HBCUs in Tennessee."
In the Maryland HBCU case, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Black issued a 60-page ruling last year that said in part there was no discrimination in the state's capital expenditures between HBIs (historically black institutions) and TWIs (traditionally white institutions). This was a blow to the HBIs (the plaintiff), who sought more money per student vs. TWIs (the defendant) from the state of Maryland.
In his spiel to the workshop participants, Conyers continued advocating for African Americans to receive reparations and debt relief for the nation's HBCUs.
The conference and town hall meeting were dedicated to House; the late Jackson, Miss., mayor Chokwe Lumumba; the late Dr. Harold R. Mitchell, who taught speech pathology and audiology at TSU; and the late Edward H. Wisdom Jr., director of Management Information Systems for 37 years at TSU.
The dedication read: "They gave the last full measure in the struggle for truth, love, education, justice and reparations for the sons and daughters of 'Mother Africa.'" Sponsors included Save TSU Community Coalition (STCC), Nashville Black Covenant Coalition (NBCC), African American Cultural Alliance, HERU Fraternity Inc. & Het-HERU Sorority Inc., Tennessee State University College of Liberal Arts – Department of History, Political Science, Geography, and Africana Studies.
Katherine Williams drew in a deep breath and exhaled following a morning salute to graduating seniors at Craigmont High School. One of the graduates – her son, Christen Walker Dukes – weighed only two pounds at birth, was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, and wasn't expected to live.
The grim report that Williams had received from the doctors at Methodist University Hospital 18 years ago was superseded by her son's dogged determination to survive and overcome the malady that threatened his life.
"He was a preemie at birth and underdeveloped," said Williams, who birthed her son after a 24-week gestation period. "He was born on a Thursday, around 3 p.m., and the doctors said he wouldn't live throughout the night."
Dukes was hospitalized for three months before he was allowed to go home. He had defied the doctors' prognosis, but there would be a revolving door to and from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, where he would go periodically for routine checkups. Along the way, he would summon the wherewithal to succeed at most endeavors and do it so well that admirers would heap accolades upon him.
His mother is his biggest admirer.
"He has been an honor student from the first-grade through the 12th grade," said Williams, basking in the light of her son's achievements, both medically and academically. "The doctors said he wouldn't make it, but he's accomplished a lot.
"He'll be wearing several ribbons and medallions around his neck at graduation."
On Saturday, May 17th at the Memphis Cook Convention Center, 178 graduating seniors bid farewell to their alma mater and looked toward the future. As he had done at the salute to seniors two days earlier, Alvin Wright, Dukes' pre-calculus and honors teacher, made a special presentation that surprised Dukes. Wright spoke fondly of his student and presented him with the "Beat the Odds" award at the graduation.
|Christen Dukes receives the "Beat the Odds" award.|
"I was shocked and surprised. I wasn't expecting it," said Dukes, who graciously accepted the plaque as a memento for the years he's struggled to survive.
With Dukes by his side on the commencement stage with school officials and political leaders, Wright implored the senior class to point in Dukes' direction and say, "Christen, don't give up!"
"At times I thought my situation would stop me from certain things," said Dukes, who rides the wave of good and bad days. "But the fact that I have faith in God, I'm inspired and motivated to do the things I do."
Dukes, a musician with impeccable skills, plays the trombone and baritone horn – a talent his mother said budded when Dukes was around 8 years old. He took music in the 5th grade, played in the band in middle school, and then performed in the marching band in high school. He plays jazz, rhythm and blues, and fusion.
"Music is my passion. It speaks to me and gets me through the day," said Dukes. "It comes from the inside, but whoever listens to it, it can speak to them as well."
The Dukes vita...
The wellspring that Dukes draws inspiration from comes from the jazz music of Grammy-winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum, the former Stax Music Academy's artist in residence and current president and CEO of the Soulsville Foundation.
Dukes has studied at Stax Music Academy for five years after auditioning in the 8th-grade and receiving a scholarship. His tenure is over at the end of June and then he's off to Bethel University in McKenzie, Tenn., where he will join the Renaissance band and continue to study music.
"I've learned a lot over the past five years," said Dukes, who aspires to be one of the greatest trombone players of his time. "I learned to stay humble, always put God first in whatever I do, and believe He will work everything out. I also learned a whole lot of music knowledge."
Dukes' academic success and his prowess as a musician have catapulted him farther than he'd ever expected. His vita is replete with accomplishments – artistic pursuits, social activism and community service – that would rival a seasoned professional.
Last year, in December, Dukes was invited to attend Nobel Week for a three-day awards ceremony at Stockholm University in Stockholm, Sweden, on behalf of the National Society of High School Scholars, which recognizes academic excellence.
He also spent five weeks in the summer of 2013 as an intern at Berkley College of Music in Boston, Mass., on behalf of Stax Music Academy. In 2012, he performed at the WattStax Music Festival with his peers from Stax Music Academy for the festival's 40th anniversary.
Citations, awards and honors abound. He was a recipient of the Jefferson Awards Students In Action for public service, selected for the People to People Ambassador Programs for academic excellence, and has been a member of the National Honor Society since middle school.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell Jr. and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen all have cited Dukes for his commitment to St. Jude, where he serves on the teen advisory board, volunteers for St. Jude, and produces an annual concert to benefit the children. He also advocates for The Sickle Cell Foundation of Tennessee.
When Dukes is off to college, he'll be missed by his mother, who hopes he will continue to excel academically and improve his musicianship.
"I always told him to follow his dreams, be committed to what he's doing, know that there are no limitations, keep God first, and know that he can do anything that he wants to do in life," said Williams.
"My mom is my rock," said Dukes. "I wouldn't be where I am if it wasn't for her help and strength. I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing."
It got hard sometimes, he said.
"But my mom stayed strong for me to help me get through my medical problems. She stayed positive."
If the Shelby County Commission chamber had been a classroom and Commissioner Henri Brooks had been Pablo Pereyra's teacher, the admonishment that she directed at the real estate agent during a May 12th Commission meeting likely would not have caused such a firestorm.
But that was not the scenario that played out. Brooks' upbraiding of Pereyra was a key element in a scene that set off a chain reaction, including calls for Brooks' resignation, an apology from her, or a resolution of censure from the Commission.
During a meeting Tuesday afternoon with the editorial staff of The New Tri-State Defender, Brooks moved to put the swirling controversy in what she considers the correct context.
|Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks makes her point.|
"Any move to do anything to me can't be done. Nothing can be done to me," said Brooks, noting that she was right for admonishing Pereyra, asserting that her "detractors" and "opponents" are stirring a media firestorm in an effort to singe her chances of winning the race for Juvenile Court clerk.
"My campaign is focused on July 18 (early voting). I'm gonna get my base out and I will be winning. Juvenile Court can start packing up now," said Brooks.
Making it clear that she didn't want to dwell on what transpired at the Commission meeting or respond to sound bites, Brooks, however, did want to set the record straight.
"He (Pereyra) made a mistake and I corrected him," said Brooks, a former teacher.
During the Commission meeting, Brooks determinedly voiced concern about the awarding of a $1.7 million county roofing contract to a firm that employed 25 Hispanic roofers and no African Americans. At one point, Pereyra was given the floor, using the opportunity to draw upon his Hispanic background to make the case that Hispanics are the "minority of minorities" in Memphis. That's when Brooks unleashed a sternly-worded shot of her view of relevant history.
"You asked to come here. We did not, and when we got here, our condition was so egregious, so barbaric," said Brooks. "Don't ever let that (the minority of minorities reference) come out of your mouth again because, you know what, that hurts your case. Don't compare the two, they're not comparable."
In the session with the TSD editorial staff, Brooks said, "I knew something was going on when that man spoke. He didn't have to speak. He had the vote. He got up to talk about his experience and they knew that would push my button. It made me angry. What I said was a fact."
Brooks said she became suspicious of Pereyra after he acknowledged that he represented a real estate company in Nevada that purchased tax property from the Shelby County Land Bank, which the commission had approved by a vote of 4-3.
"He said he is the representative of Anthony Joseph Sy (also known as Anthony Syevades)," said Brooks, pointing out that Sy had acted as an unlicensed broker in 740 real estate purchase transactions on behalf of buyers at foreclosure auctions, which landed him in U.S. District Court.
"We're getting ready to take property away from a black man and give it to a man in Nevada who has 740 counts of fraud," she said.
The other issue that concerned Brooks was the $1.7 million roofing contract that the commission had awarded to B Four Plied Inc. to replace the roof on a county-owned building at Shelby Farms.
Brooks argued that B Four Plied Inc. should hire employees from the dominant ethnic group in Shelby County, which is African American. She said she advocates for African Americans who put her in office, and that the whole shebang is all about economics and fair play.
The New Tri-State Defender: Was B Four Plied Inc. in compliance when the company received the roofing contract?
Henri Brooks: You can institute policy to implement a law and it would have a disparate impact on black folks. That's what's going on. We're not getting any contracts. The policy is cumbersome. We don't even get a piece of anything. If we do, they want to use our name only. Then they pay you off. It's a sad situation. It's going to get worse.
TSD: You took umbrage at the company that was awarded the roofing contract. Why?
HB: We are both ethnic minorities. The workforce should reflect the demographics of the county. That's fair. That's humane. That's equal. It has been my philosophy, my intent...and we've talked about it on the County Commission, that when a company receives a county contract or taxpayer dollar project, at least the workforce should reflect the demographics of the county.
This particular contract really caught my attention because it came down three times. We sent it back each time for the same reason, because it did not have any black employees. ... And black people are the dominant population here in this county. To ignore that makes me very uncomfortable.
We talk about the poverty in this city...we have to understand what the underpinning of poverty is. Those policies that we make to implement law, those are the kinds of things that are...malignant. For some reason, they don't understand. When we don't make money, we cannot pay taxes. When you don't pay taxes, then you're not a productive citizen.
You can have all kinds of small businesses and skip over black people, but you're in compliance with the law. So it's those policies that we use to implement the law. We're still in compliance with the law, but we're still having a disparate impact on another group of people. That statement in itself doesn't mean that you're trying to give special attention or preference. You're just trying to be fair.
We have a fiduciary responsibility to be good stewards of the taxpayers' dollars, to make sure it's evenly spread and that people who come here do not give the appearance of being discriminatory. Title VI and Title VII come into play here. No one has ever filed a lawsuit against the county; it is ripe for a Title VI lawsuit and a Title VII.
TSD: Explain the reason for the "sheet" comment regarding your fellow commissioner, Chris Thomas?
HB: That resolution had been down three times. It was on its third hearing, and each time we'd send it back for the same reason. Each time during committee, Chris Thomas was the one who wanted to push it, always wanted to give a speech that we need to move forward, that we're complying with the law. When I referred to the sheet, I was talking about a cover-up.
TSD: How can you change a policy that you say is unfair to African Americans?
HB: We got to get the people with the courage to change it. Seven votes can buy Japan. You need seven courageous votes to take a stand for right. You don't have enough black people with backbone to stand up and speak the truth. I'm saying be fair and equal.
TSD: Is there a percentage of African-American businesses getting contracts in Shelby County?
HB: One of the certification agencies here, when that question is asked about doing business with black people, they aggregate the total number that certified companies are doing, and they say this is the amount of business that black people are doing. That's not the way you do it. That's making figures lie. What you do is, you take the number and you divide by the number of participation. I filed a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee in 1998 for contracts: 0.1 percent. It hasn't changed.
TSD: Is there a standing committee that oversees contracts?
HB: We all do that. All 13 of us can sit on and vote on every committee. Some of us are assigned to various committees as chairpersons. But we can all sit and have a vote on the committee.
TSD: It appears you're the only local leader leading the charge. Why?
HB: When you start talking about the money, the pocketbook, economic issues, people get a little crazy, and they'll pull out every rabbit that they can out of the hat to keep you from getting your fair share. That's wrong. We're not saying that anybody should get more than the other. It should be fair across the board. Nobody should discriminate – red, black, green, yellow. And then no one should be denied the opportunity to participate, particularly when you have a federal law, state law and county ordinance. So why won't other people say what I say? You think about it.
TSD: Is there a difference between minorities as it relates to the law?
HB: Quite frankly, there's an unspoken rule. Ethnic minorities do not compare themselves. If you look at Title VI, you'll find that Hispanics are mentioned and blacks are mentioned as protective beneficiaries. It just says that we have suffered discriminatory expenditures of federal dollars. So we're both in the same group. Title VI protects us both. So there's no need to compare each other.
TSD: Do you think your admonishment of Mr. Pablo Pereyra was misconstrued?
HB: In Memphis and Shelby County, the backdrop here...everything is about race, whether we want to admit it or not. It's just a fact. It's a reality. I'm not in denial. If most of us would come out of denial and deal with the substantive issues of race or talk about it in a substantive way, in a setting, then I think we might move a little further than where we are now. It takes individuals who are intelligent, who have knowledge of history...who have some self-esteem...who have knowledge of self to be able to talk about that. And I can do that.... As I expressed in committee, I am who I am and I am proud to be who I am. I am a black woman and I am proud of my ethnicity.
TSD: If the issue was the same and Mr. Pablo Pereyra were to address the commission again, would you respond the same way?
HB: Yes I would. I stand by my comments. I said nothing wrong. It was factual. It was correct. As a schoolteacher, I corrected a young man who made a mistake. If you get up in front of me and make a historical or factual misstatement, I will correct you. I would not want anyone to think that his condition, or his story...well, his experience here in America is just like mine. It's not. It's totally different. And I can say that in a non-confrontational way, in an instructional way. If he doesn't understand, he needs to understand. So I would like to think that I helped someone with an accurate knowledge of history.
TSD: Your "detractors" or "opponents" have called you a racist. Can you respond to that assertion?
HB: How can I be a racist? They need to go and look up the definition of racist. People are talking, but they don't know. They're speaking hateful terms or ugly terms... so their intent is to malign or marginalize me. But what they've done is marginalize their intellect because they're not taking the time to just go to Webster and look up the definition of racist. Now do I love my people? Of course I do...and proud to be a black woman...very proud to be black and, secondly, female. I support my people. I support the least of these. Some of the least of these are not my people. They don't look like me. They look like the gentleman who stood before me, that came before the committee.
TSD: Will the fallout jeopardize your chances of winning the Juvenile Court Clerk's race?
HB: This is not going to hurt nothing. My base is going to vote for me anyway. I have sense enough to know...I'm old enough and have seen the polls to know that white people in this town do not like opinionated, strong, intelligent black women who speak truth to power, know what they're talking about, and can back it up with research.
I'm really clear about who my supporters are. This is not going to hurt my chances at all. The only thing that will hurt my chances is that our people won't come out to vote. ... I'm gonna get my base out and I will be winning. Juvenile Court can start packing up now. I've already started going down there.
People have been so supportive. And what has really been encouraging ... the black women who have been so supportive. Goodness gracious! What they've done is send people to my campaign headquarters. When black women support you, you know you're doing the right thing.
TSD: Will the fallout hurt other Democratic candidates if they align with you?
HB: I do not pay them (detractors) any attention. They're going to put the most negative spin on this as they can. I don't listen to them; I listen to the people who actually put me in office and have kept me in office for decades. This is not my first scrape. I have been burned in effigy at high noon on War Memorial Plaza for speaking up or for exercising my First Amendment right. And I'm going to continue to exercise my First Amendment right. It is not my intent to cause anyone to lose votes for aligning with me.
TSD: Do you think you need Hispanic, white and black votes to win the Juvenile Court Clerk's race?
HB: I need everybody's vote. I want everybody's vote, because what I'm doing is the right thing for families, youth and children. Remember, I'm the one who filed the complaint with the Justice Department in 2007 because of the violations of the constitutional rights of children. I didn't say black children. I said children at Juvenile Court. I need everybody's vote, because what I want to do is fix a serious problem that's been going on for decades.
TSD: Is the good ole boy network alive and well? And are you still fighting it?
HB: Sure. I've always fought the good ole boy network. That's who runs this town. I say that with knowledge because I've been sitting as a policymaker on the local level for eight years and I've sat as a policymaker on the state level for 14 years. And I do have a tendency to read; I can read. So I understand where the dollars are going. And I do follow the money, and the money is not coming into the black community.
TSD: Why is there so much media attention when you speak on issues affecting African Americans?
HB: The powers that be want us to be docile. They want us to be submissive and they want us to be quiet while they run around and do what they want to do...wreak havoc on families and children economically. I can't be quiet about it. I wasn't raised that way. I have to do for the least of these. So I can't do for the least of these if I don't speak up for the wrong that I see. ... It is incumbent upon me as an elected leader, as an elected official, as a policymaker, to ensure that the policies are fair for all citizens no matter what their ethnicities are – all citizens.
TSD: Do you believe in diversity?
HB: I think it should be a melting pot. In a melting pot, it all comes together and there's no fine line. With diversity, you got to have these lanes – some over here, some over there. I don't really like that word. It's so intentional, made up, so phony to me. Melting pot is real.