Sunday, September 14, 2014

Former lifestyle compels preacher to help troubled youth

Charlotte Y. Cobb wasn’t always compelled to preach the gospel or steer youth away from the crime-ridden streets of Memphis. She also wasn’t always trying to arrest teen pregnancy, keep wayward youth in school, or intervene on their behalf to keep them out of gangs.
     In fact, Cobb, who pastors the Cherokee Outreach Ministry Empowerment Center (COMEC) at 2218 Eldridge St. in the 38108 zip code area of North Memphis, is trying to make a difference in the lives of teenagers who remind her that she could’ve lost her life on the same streets, in the same zip code area, decades ago.
“That’s why I’m geared toward helping others,” said Cobb, who was drug dependent for 12 years before finding solace and piecing together what had been a turbulent life on the streets. “I was a cocaine addict and came off the same streets of 38108.”
Charlotte Y. Cobb
     Cobb saw a difference in her life after releasing the stronghold that kept her bound. “I got saved in 1985,” she said, “at Bountiful Blessings Temple of Deliverance under Bishop G.E. Patterson. I was there for 12 1/2 years and started my ministry in 2000.”
     COMEC was first located on Kerr Avenue in the Hollywood community. The new location, now on Eldridge Street, has been in operation for a month. There will be an open house the whole month of October, she said.
     Cobb recently launched “Memphis Teens with a Dream,” an empowerment program at the church for youth ages seven to 17. “I’m trying to keep them in school, out of gangs, and away from crime – anything that’s negative,” she said.
     On Sundays at the “empowerment center,” Cobb feeds about 50 people in the community who may be food-deprived or who just need a meal to tide them over. “I want to be a person doing more than just feed people on Thanksgiving,” said Cobb, 62.
     Cobb also is converting a home in the Douglass community at 3018 Chelsea Ave. that will be called “The Douglass House of Hospitality.” She said it’s being rehabbed to help youth in that community – the same community where she lost two sons to violence.
     Her son Rocko Waller was killed in 1990 by a stray bullet that was meant for someone else, Cobb said. Mico Waller, who “lived a hard life and never gave it up,” was killed in 2010. Ironically, both sons were killed on Pope Street in Douglass.
     Though gang activity is rampant in the area and crime often runs amok, Cobb said she has a responsibility to help people. “We have got to be available to help. People need prayer. They’re in pain and women are on the street.”
     The youth, she said, are running astray and are lured into the gang lifestyle because they’re often left unattended. “That’s why I’m opening up the home in Douglass to keep them off the streets.”
     When the “The Douglass House of Hospitality” is completed, Cobb said anyone seeking help could take advantage of some of the resources and programs that she’s offering, such as a health initiative, crime prevention, substance abuse, neighborhood watch and an abstinent program for youth.
     Because her ministry is a non-profit, Cobb said she was able to purchase the house in a Shelby County tax sale. It was nearly a shell, striped of its electrical components, said Cobb, who is married with three children, 14 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. She raised two of her grandchildren.  
     She is expecting the house to be up and running in about 6 to 8 weeks.

     (For more information, contact Charlotte Y. Cobb at 901-258-6463.)

Battling domestic violence

The news of Sept. 2nd hit Gwendolyn Turner like a ton of bricks. Tasha Thomas, a woman she knew, had been shot and killed outside the University of Little Scholars daycare in Whitehaven. Thomas’ estranged husband had instigated the deadly encounter on the parking lot where Thomas worked.
     “I was breathless and speechless to learn that another woman had become a victim of domestic violence,” said Turner, who’d suffered verbal, emotional, mental, sexual and physical abuse off and on for nearly 20 years.
While friends, relatives and the Memphis community were mourning Thomas at her funeral on Monday (Sept. 8), another woman was shot. This time the triggerman was a former boyfriend who reportedly had stalked and accosted her on several occasions.
Torhonda Cathey, 33, was shot multiple times in a Target parking lot in East Memphis. She was taken to Regional One Health, where she later died. Ronald Ellis, a Memphis firefighter, fled the scene. He is wanted for first-degree murder.
Gwendolyn Turner, who works at the Family Safety Center
of Memphis and Shelby County, assists a client with an Order
of Protection. (Photo: Wiley Henry)
The violence directed at Thomas and Cathey is deeply troubling and all too common, Turner said. It is a reflection of a persistent scourge that gained national attention after a video surfaced recently showing former Baltimore Ravens running back Raymell Mourice “Ray” Rice knocking out his then-fiancĂ©e, and now wife, in an elevator in February.
Turner escaped her nearly 20-year ordeal, but other women aren’t as fortunate. She was appalled by the video. So was Vernetta Eddleman, director of Client Services at the Family Safety Center of Memphis and Shelby County.
“It’s fortunate that it was caught on tape,” said Eddleman. “For so many women, you don’t see the premeditation of domestic violence. We saw what went on. Unfortunately, there isn’t a tape for women who experience this every day.”
Just like Eddleman, Turner, also an employee at the Family Safety Center, is working to end domestic violence. “My life’s misery has become my life’s mission and ministry,” said Turner, who speaks out against domestic violence as the center’s unofficial ambassador.
The Family Safety Center often is the first point of contact for domestic violence victims and hurting families. It is a conglomerate of civil, criminal, health and social services that are available to help the victims and reduce incidents of domestic violence.
“The Memphis Police Department, the sheriff’s department and the district attorney are right there to help,” said Turner, noting that 30 partner agencies are available within the center, including legal services. And all services are free.

‘Order of Protection won’t stop a bullet’

An Order of Protection is a legal tool designed to keep the abuser at bay. Tasha Thomas had filed three trying to end the abuse that Charles Thomas was accused of meting out. But the orders didn’t stop him from gunning her down.
     Two days earlier, Tasha Thomas was in the Raleigh community attending services at Golden Gate Cathedral, where Billy Rivers and the Angelic Voices of Faith (BRAVOF) were celebrating their 35th reunion concert. Turner, BRAVOF’s co-founder, announced that evening that the group had a new foundation to combat domestic violence.
     An Order of Protection hinges on whether victims such as Thomas can prove to the judicial commissioner that abuse has indeed taken place. And while Thomas’ case met that standard, it is unclear whether Cathey had filed an Order of Protection against Ellis. Records do show that she’d reported several incidents of stalking to MPD and that her ex-boyfriend tried to run her off the road several times.
     In all cases where a permanent Order of Protection is granted, the alleged abuser is ordered not to have contact with the victim for one year. Also, after signing an affidavit, he or she is not allowed to own, possess, or carry a firearm.
     Charles Thomas was in possession of a firearm. He took his wife’s life and turned the gun on himself, leaving a community on edge wondering how he was able to get to Tasha.
     So questions abound: Is the Order of Protection worth the paper it’s written on? And can domestic violence really be stopped?
     According to the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference in Nashville, the victim of domestic violence is not safe just because an Order of Protection is granted. After one is filed, the victim – in most cases – may still need a safe place to stay.
     “It’s good in all 50 states and it’s in the national database,” Eddleman added. “The abuser can be arrested, but the Order of Protection won’t stop a bullet.”
     Between 2,400 and 2,500 Orders of Protection were issued in Memphis and Shelby County last year. The laws, however, aren’t stringent enough to keep the domestic abuser in jail after he or she is arrested, Eddleman said.
     “For simple assault domestic violence is 11 months and 29 days. Abusers spend 30 percent of that time and most of them get diversion, or probation, and don’t go to jail at all. They need to strengthen the laws.”

‘A lot of work to do
 in the community’

Between two million and four million women are battered each year in the United States. There are two thousand deaths each year as a result of domestic violence. And at least 25 percent of battered women commit suicide.
     Although the Memphis Shelby County Crime Commission’s Operation “Safe Community” crime statistics showed a decrease in domestic violence crimes between January and July, the statistics are still alarming and shouldn’t be overlooked.
     The following are additional facts for domestic violence in the state of Tennessee between 2011-2013, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation:
• There were 247,069 incidents of domestic violence offenses as reported by all law enforcement agencies in the state.

• Of that number, females (71.9 percent) were three times more likely to be victimized than males (28.1 percent).  

• 99.2 percent of domestic violence victims were either white (57.6 percent) or African-American (41.6 percent).

• By race and sex: Black females (31 percent), white females (41 percent), black males (11 percent) and white males (17 percent).

• From 2011 to 2013, victims were six times more likely to be abused by a spouse than an ex-spouse in domestic offenses.

• Domestic violence resulted in 288 murder/non-negligent homicides during this three-year period.

So can domestic violence be stopped altogether?

“We may not be able to eliminate it, but we can reduce it significantly. We just have a lot of work to do in the community,” said Eddleman, adding that the Family Safety Center enacts a safety plan for victims seeking a way out.
     Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling behavior that is often physical, sexual or psychological and committed by an intimate partner against another. So why don’t victims just leave?
     “If they leave, they go back because it’s about a relationship,” Eddleman explains. “They have children together and want the children to have a relationship with the father (who’s the abuser in most cases).
     “A lot of women stay because they want to stay safe. You’re less likely to die if you stay. The issue is you’re still alive. Most women are killed because they leave. We’ve had two people back to back to get killed.”

(For more information about the Family Safety Center of Memphis and Shelby County or any of its partner organizations, call 901-222-4400)