Saturday, July 26, 2014

Unwavering, Richmond still pushing for change

The testimonials on Dr. Isaac Richmond’s campaign website painting him as the “most qualified” candidate to represent the 9th Congressional District are indicative of his influence on those who share his commitment to fighting injustice and inequality. But can that influence be translated to a wider audience that can send him to Washington?
     “Dr. Richmond, beyond question, is the best, the most capable, and the most qualified man to represent the people as U.S. Congressman for the 9th district,” said Joe Green, director, West Tennessee District of the Commission on Race and Religion (CORR) and Richmond’s campaign manager.
Dr. Isaac Richmond
The nearly 40-year-old civil rights organization has been a bully pulpit from which Richmond’s campaign for Congress was launched. He is challenging the incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and attorney Ricky E. Wilkins for the opportunity to represent the 9th Congressional District on the Aug. 7th Democratic primary ballot. The winner will face Charlotte Bergmann, the Republican nominee, in the general election on Nov. 4th.
“I feel strongly that there must be a change in the political direction in the African-American community in the 9th Congressional District,” said Richmond, 75, national director of CORR. “And that would mean, as I say from my heart, electing a man who has a proven record…and will stand for the people in the U.S. Congress.”
     A demonstrator and in-your-face activist, Richmond is making his fourth run for Congress. His latest attempt, however, might be considered by those who keep tabs on candidates during election cycles as just another futile attempt. Here’s why:
     Richmond was unsuccessful as an independent in two prior congressional races against former congressman Harold Ford Sr. when Ford was dominating Memphis politics. And he was unsuccessful a third time in the 2008 Democratic primary when he vowed to “take Cohen out in the primary.” 
     Richmond’s vision of what the district should look like from an African-American perspective has not changed since he first sought public office. He is unwavering when it comes to campaign logistics and employs a grassroots approach and unorthodox methods when stumping for votes. 
     On any given day Richmond and his supporters may be seen in the community expressing their views on what they adjudge as slow progress for African Americans. They also speak candidly about race, and the race, and pass out handbills. 
     It would not be unusual to see Richmond with a bullhorn to get people’s attention. So far he’s communicating via handbill on the campaign stump.
     “We plan to put 40,000 flyers on the street. We got a message and I’m challenging the candidates to bring forth their platform,” said Richmond, choosing to forego the attention-grabbing yard sign traditionally used by candidates to increase their notoriety because fundraising has been a challenge. 
     Whether Richmond’s challenge to his opponents is accepted or not, he said he’ll focus on changing the political and social landscape in the 9th district; and if he’s elected, he’ll initiate those changes and see them implemented. 
     Some of those initiatives include the following: 
• Demand that 50 percent of all federal funds and tax dollars coming to Memphis be earmarked for building construction, business development, and jobs creation;
•  Introduce legislation to eradicate crime and poverty in the innercity;
• Reverse foreign aid into domestic aid to improve the social welfare of the district’s citizens through educational advancement, economic development, including strengthening the overall infrastructure of the district;
• Call for federal funds to improve MATA bus services throughout the district;
• Reform the U.S. immigration policy; and,
• Fight to restore workers’ rights to organize and unionize.  
Richmond and Maxine Thomas clean up an old apartment building
   in South Memphis that is owned by Richmond's non-profit Inner-
    City Housing/Community Development, Inc. (Photos: Wiley Henry)
Richmond is also pushing to enact a federal bill – H.R. 40 – which has languished in Congress since U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) first introduced it in January of 1989. The bill acknowledges and establishes a commission to study slavery. If the bill were signed into law, “the commission would make recommendations to Congress on the appropriate remedies to redress the harm inflicted on living African Americans.”
     The issue is a concern of Maxine Thomas, a Richmond supporter who tried to broach the subject in a question to Richmond during a candidate forum last Sunday (July 20) at St. Augustine Catholic Church in South Memphis. Due to time restraints, Richmond was not allowed to respond. 
     “I could’ve turned the place out,” Thomas told a reporter after taking her seat.
     The alleged slight was no surprise to Richmond, surmising on more than one campaign outing that “they’re (media) trying to frame the 9th Congressional District as a contest between the man in office (Cohen) and, I suppose, (Ricky) Wilkins.” 
     Cohen and Wilkins have received the lion’s share of media attention and more campaign contributions. According to, Cohen had $525,786 on hand as of July 22; Wilkins, $241,090. No contributions for Richmond have been reported.
     “You got to have a certain amount of votes to win an election, and I’m working on getting the black vote,” Richmond said. “If money buys it (the election), then money is going to rule.”
     Richmond noted that winning the congressional seat would be an extension of his service to the community from Capitol Hill. He remains steadfast in his convictions even if people get a little timid after hearing him speak “the truth.” 
     “The truth will enlighten our people,” he said, “and if they are enlightened, they’re going to vote our way.” 
     Early voting began July 18 and ends Aug. 2. Richmond is asking voters to “choose a man for the people who is un-bought and un-bossed, who stands up for the people, who speaks up for the people, and who fights for the economic rights of the people.” 

About Dr. Isaac Richmond…

Dr. Isaac Richmond, founder of CORR, has fought for over 30 years to right what he believes is wrong with society. According to his website, he has “dedicated his life to fighting for the people” locally, nationally and internationally.
     Richmond graduated from Douglas High School in 1957. He received a B.A. Degree in History and Secondary Education in 1961 from Lane College in Jackson, Tenn.; a Master’s in Religious Education (M.R.E.) in 1963 and a Master’s of Divinity (M. Div.) Degree in 1974, both from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Ga.; and a Doctorate of Ministry (D. Min.) Degree in 1976 from the Atlanta Theological Association.
     Richmond has held a number of positions throughout his career. He and the Inner-City Housing/Community Development, Inc., which he oversees, are currently rehabbing a two-story, six-unit apartment building in South Memphis.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

At home on 'the edge'

There wasn’t much that Glynn Johns Reed didn’t do when it came to promoting cultural awareness and providing a template for business owners and entrepreneurs to showcase their products. Her efforts led to the birth of the Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival, the It’s All About Raleigh newsletter, and the Black Pages New Orleans business magazine. 
     Reed was known for motivating people and empowering them as well. She understood the importance of celebrating her ethnicity and the African-American culture, often introducing herself in the “movement” community as Ayola, her “freedom name.” 
Glynn Johns Reed (June 10, 1948 – July 6, 2014)
Reed continued networking and creating opportunities for herself and others in Memphis and New Orleans until a debilitating illness slowed her down. She died Sunday, July 6 at her home in the Raleigh community. She was 66.  
     Reed had a reputation that spread from Memphis to New Orleans, where she’d lived for two decades. She fell in love with the city and became an integral part of its cultural scene and business community. Those who knew her and her storied career, whether in Memphis or New Orleans, reflected on what she meant to them.
“Glynn Johns Reed was deeply devoted to the Memphis community. She gave of herself in a way that inspired us all to want to do more,” said Mayor A C Wharton Jr. “In her specific work to celebrate and mark our history, she was a phenom. And while her presence will be missed, her impact will long be felt.”
     For State Rep. Antonio “2-Shay” Parkinson, who represents District 98, which encompasses the Raleigh/Frayser community, Reed was a source of education and inspiration.
     “I finished high school in Texas (linked to the birth of the Juneteenth celebration) and didn’t know anything about Juneteenth. I got my education in regards to Juneteenth from Glynn,” he said. 
     “She was an inspiration and a big supporter in everything I did from a leadership standpoint,” said Parkinson, who credits Reed for inspiring him to launch the annual Block Party for Peace in the Raleigh community.
     He also took over as publisher of the It’s All About Raleigh newsletter after Reed moved on to focus on re-launching the quarterly Black Pages New Orleans business magazine, which she first started in 1984. That was the year New Orleans’ businessman Vernes Keeler Sr., president and CEO of V. Keeler and Associates, Inc., first met Reed.
     “She was an impressive African-American female starting a magazine,” said Keeler, recalling Reed’s tenacity. “She was always consistent, a person committed to African-American businesses. Whatever commitment she made, you could count on her keeping it.”
     Reed operated an office in New Orleans while living in Memphis. She commuted several times during the month. Keeler said the business community missed her after she moved back to Memphis in 1991. Earlier this year, he provided Reed with free office space in the building that houses his company. 
     “It was a joy to have her in my office,” said Keeler, who graces the cover of Reed’s last issue. “She’s going to be missed.”
     A native Memphian, Reed graduated from Douglass High School in 1966, Tennessee State University in 1971, and shortly thereafter left for New Orleans.
     Apart from publishing the Black Pages, Reed launched the Message Board Telephone Answering Service, taught aspiring models at the Barbizon School of Modeling and managed the agency as well, performed in over 50 television commercials and movies, signed on as a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild, and was the first African-American concierge hired at the Hyatt Regency Hotel next to the Superdome.
     It was all about New Orleans, said Arthur Reed, who married Glynn Johns in 1994. “Glynn loved all things New Orleans and was very dedicated to the Douglass community. That’s why Juneteenth stayed in Douglass Park.”
     That was the year the newlyweds first trekked to New Orleans by car and braved an ice storm that was wreaking havoc on Memphis. 
     “We were driving on ice from Memphis to Grenada on I-55. It was down to two lanes and trees were falling,” Reed recalls. “When we got to Grenada, the sun came up and stayed out. That’s the way our relationship was.” 
     Bennie Nelson West, executive director of the Memphis Black Arts Alliance, said their mutual love for celebrating the African-American community and its heritage was the core of their friendship. She’d known Reed since the late 1970s.
     Their relationship was strengthened, she said, when “we shared experiences at the Memphis Black Arts Alliance with our 1984 and 1985 Beale Street Juneteenth Celebration and when I helped her launch the Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival in Douglass Park.
     “Our latest joint venture was last year at the Historic Daisy on Beale, where we celebrated the 1st Juneteenth Jazz-A-F!RE in conjunction with the National Juneteenth Jazz Observance Foundation and the 20th anniversary of Glynn’s Juneteenth festival in Douglass Park.” 
     After being gone from Memphis for so many years and returning home, Reed found time to teach inner-city preteens, teens and young adults the importance of etiquette and social grace at her own Ms. Glynn’s Charm and Finishing School.
     “She always looked for avenues to reach the youth. She wanted to leave a legacy for African-American young girls…and her children,” said Crystal Chopin, who didn’t realize until recently the extent of her mother’s reputation and didn’t understand the vigor that she would summon to get things accomplished. 
     But what Chopin did know was that her mother was “unapologetically herself.”
     “She was honest and loved her culture. She also loved teaching people about it,” said Chopin. “Now I can continue the legacy.”
     “For me, it was about blackness,” Reed once explained to a reporter. She ended the interview with her favorite quote from author Stephen Hunt: “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”
     Glynn Johns Reed’s wake will be held Friday (July 11th) from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Bellevue Frayser, 3759 N. Watkins. The funeral will be held at the church on Saturday at 1 p.m. The burial is Monday at West Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery, 4000 Forest Hill/Irene Road. The time has not been determined.

'A nice piece of history'

The descendants of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, an African-American journalist, suffragist, newspaper editor, teacher, anti-lynching crusader, and early leader of the civil rights movement, traveled from Holly Springs, Miss., to Memphis last Saturday (July 12) morning to commemorate her 152nd birthday. 
      “We’re here to celebrate Ida B. Wells’ birthday (the 18th annual) on the date closest to her birthday,” said the Rev. Leona Harris, executive director of the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum, a cultural center for African-American history in Holly Springs. 
Alfreda Duster Ferrell, Ida B. Wells-Barnett's granddaughter,
and her son, Steve Ferrell. (Photo: Wiley Henry)
Wells-Barnett was born in Holly Springs on July 16, 1862. She lived and worked in Memphis and died in 1931 in Chicago at the age of 68. Harris organized the group and contracted with Heritage Tours of Memphis to “help young people to connect the past to the future.”
The trip to Memphis was part of a three-day weekend celebration that began last Friday (July 11) with an opening ceremony led by Holly Springs Mayor Kelvin Buck and an art display at the Eddie L. Smith Multipurpose Center, featuring Tougaloo, Miss. artist Bill Clifton and memorabilia from the civil rights era.
     On Saturday, 15 of Wells-Barnett’s descendants toured the National Civil Rights Museum, which includes a display on the crusader. “I can’t wait to see the renovations,” Alfreda Duster Ferrell said before locating her grandmother among a panel of women fighting for various rights during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 
     Ferrell, 79, who lives in Las Vegas, toured the museum in a motor scooter. She was accompanied by two of her sons, Kenneth and Steve; her grandchildren, Tiana, Alesha, Elliot and Mantel; and her great grandchildren, Justin and Jaylon. 
     “It’s humbling that she did so much for her life,” said Kenneth Ferrell, referring to his great grandmother. “She was such an inspiring woman.”
     Steve Ferrell said the image of Wells-Barnett and the caption beneath it, detailing her contribution to history, was a pleasant experience. “It’s a nice piece of history that my kids need to see and my grandkids need to see. It shows everyday people fought the good fight.”
     Tiana L. Ferrell, Kenneth’s daughter, said it’s a blessing and a curse to be the great, great-granddaughter of Wells-Barnett. “A lot of it is pressure to do great things,” she said, adding that she will continue what her famous ancestor started. 
     Ferrell is the publisher of the Atlanta Free Speech, an online digital and print publication based in Fulton County, Ga. It was inspired by The Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspaper, which Wells-Barnett co-owned and wrote some of her most enlightened anti-lynching articles.
     “There was a need for it,” the 30-year-old publisher said, noting that Atlanta’s daily newspaper had been less than favorable toward African Americans, which prompted her to start her own newspaper. “We don’t make the front page of the paper. So I’m trying to fill that void.”
     Duplicating Wells-Barnett’s exploits and contributions to history is not the goal or challenge of Michelle Duster, Wells-Barnett’s great granddaughter. 
     “We were raised to have our own accomplishments, our own achievements, our own identity, and not ride on the legacy of Ida,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of pressure to live up to anyone, but to stay in school and take care of yourself.” 
     After the museum tour, the group lunched at Four-Way Grill, known during post-Civil War Memphis as the “Curve,” the site of People’s Grocery, where three of Wells-Barnett’s friends were killed by a white mob following a racial conflict. 
     The group then visited Zion Christian Cemetery, where the three men are buried. And later on that evening, they all returned to Holly Springs for an annual banquet at Rust College (formerly Shaw University), Wells-Barnett’s alma mater. 
New York performance artist Safiya Bandele provided the entertainment. She portrayed Wells-Barnett through “narration, dance and physical expression.” It was a fitting tribute to Wells-Barnett, the journalist, teacher, and outspoken leader.