Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tennessee Baptist Convention elects its first African-American president, Dr. Michael Ellis Sr.

     A spirit of humility swept over Dr. Michael Ellis Sr. after he was elected the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s first African-American president in its 140-year history. He’d also served as the convention’s first African-American vice-president three years ago.
     “I am grateful and blessed all at the same time and humbled that we have a Tennessee Baptist Convention that is inclusive,” said Dr. Ellis, pastor of Impact Baptist Church at 835 Whitney Ave., a church plant of the Bellevue Baptist congregation, which he organized in 2006.
Dr. Michael Ellis Sr. and first lady Angela Ellis.
     The unanimous vote of more than 940 “messengers” representing hundreds of Southern Baptist churches from across the state was a turning point that catapulted the convention into the 21st century as an inclusive body of believers.
     The annual meeting – or Summit – was held Nov. 10-12 in Brentwood, Tenn., at Brentwood Baptist Church. The convention rotates each year around the state. The vote drew a standing ovation for Dr. Ellis, who believes he was chosen to lead the convention based on his qualifications. He will serve a one-year term.
     Two years earlier, the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, elected its first African-American president, the Rev. Fred Luter Jr., pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.
     Dr. Ellis succeeds Dr. Fred Shackelford, senior pastor of Ellendale Baptist Church in Bartlett, as president. He was quoted as saying Dr. Ellis’ election was “long overdue” and that he has what it takes to lead the convention.
     Dr. Ellis said the conventioneers were looking for the best-qualified person, “and God put me in the path to receive the nomination.”
     The newly elected president said he would love to be a connector “to connect our convention with others who believe what we believe.” He also intends to move expeditiously to implement the vision of Dr. Randy C. Davis, the convention’s executive director-treasurer.
     “I’m going to stay focus on his vision for the convention, such as planting churches and reaching the lost for Christ,” said Dr. Ellis, 54, a U.S. Navy veteran and the father of six children. He and his wife, Angela Ellis, are uniquely positioned in ministry.
     “We are in a unique situation,” Dr. Ellis said. “My wife has been elected president of the Baptist Ministers’ Wives Guild of Memphis and Vicinity Inc. She will serve a four-year term. We’re in a unique position to create a spirit of unity in the body of Christ.”
     He said he wants the city of Memphis and the state of Tennessee to “shine” across the country.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Not ready for pregnancy!

      Neither Burnudecia Huey, Bonnie Stevenson nor Akilah Wofford were ready to get pregnant. Two – Huey and Stevenson – were teenagers and Wofford was 23. All were single.
      Getting pregnant before they chose to be is not a road any one of them would choose to travel again. Despite making bad decisions and grappling with a torrent of circumstances in some cases, the experiences have not derailed their aspirations of achieving something worthwhile in life.
      "I thought it would never happen to me. I was shocked," said Huey, 18, relating her story to Minister Telisa Franklin, host of "The Telisa Franklin Show," during a taping with Stevenson and Wofford Friday evening (Nov. 22) on the topic, "Voices of Teen Moms." The segment will be aired soon on Franklin's cable TV network on Comcast 31.
      Determined to succeed… Burnudecia Huey was 17 and in her second trimester before she mustered enough nerve to tell her mother that she had gotten pregnant. Undaunted, the high school senior still plans to pursue her education while taking care of 10-month-old Jamarcous Graves. 
      "There are extenuating circumstances sometimes that cause teens to make the wrong decisions," said Franklin. "But those problems don't always stop teens from exceeding in life. That's why it's so important to address the issue."
      Although the birthrate for teenagers aged 15-19 dropped 8 percent in the United States from 2010 to 2011, the latest data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows teen pregnancy is still a major concern affecting all population groups.

Burnudecia Huey

      In 2011, 90 girls were reported to be pregnant at Frayser High School, about 11 percent of the school's approximately 800 students. The staggering number of pregnancies received national attention and prompted local authorities and school officials to mount a campaign to urge and help young girls and boys make better decisions.
Burnudecia Huey and Jamarcous Graves.
      Huey had heard about the high pregnancy rate at Frayser, but never in her wildest dreams thought she would get pregnant. It happened when she was 17 and in the 11th-grade at Trezevant High School in the Raleigh-Frayser community.
      "I didn't find out that I was pregnant until I had five months to go. I wasn't that big at all," said Huey, now a senior at Trezevant running track, playing the French horn and trumpet, and keeping a steady 3.0 GPA.
      Huey was in her second trimester and feared telling her mother. Her father is deceased. "When I asked Burnudecia if she was pregnant, she told me no," said Laveta Huey. "But she kept sleeping a lot and gaining weight."
      Huey didn't know how to break the news to her mother. So she wrote her a letter, which read in part: "I'm sorry. I know you're going to be disappointed. I hope you still love me."
      Laveta Huey was disappointed, but not enough to reject her grandson. Instead, she gave her daughter the leeway to raise him with minimum help. "It's her responsibility," she said. "I have to let her be a mom."
      Jamarcous Graves is 10 months old now. His father, Huey said, is still in her life and caring for his son. Meanwhile, she is putting all the pieces together to become a nurse.

Bonnie Stevenson

      Stevenson was 16 when she found out she was pregnant. The baby's father was 23. The news, she said, was depressing. The expectant mother was a power forward on the basketball team at Trezevant. She played softball, too, and the French horn in the school band.
      Originally from Boston, Stevenson moved to Memphis when she was 13. Shortly thereafter, she was raped, which left her devastated. On top of that, her mother was a substance abuser and her father was incarcerated.
      "I didn't blame anybody for my problems. I knew what I was doing," said Stevenson, who was raised by her grandmother. "I put my trust in him (the baby's father). But he didn't hang around. I was vulnerable at the time."
      People started looking at her differently, being judgmental, she said. "I lost a lot of friends. A lot of family members started looking at me in disgust."
      Stevenson dropped out in the 11th grade and was pregnant again by another man. At 18, she moved back to her hometown and back again to Memphis when she was 21. She persevered, earning her GED, the equivalent of a high school diploma.
      Stevenson is 23 years old now and has three children – Baija Miller, 8, Dyuana Stevenson, 6, and Ephan Eubanks, 1. She and the children live in Bartlett with Ephan's father.
      Two weeks ago, Stevenson lost her job. Undaunted, she is pressing on, studying to become a physical therapist at Southwest Tennessee Community College.

Akilah Wofford

      Wofford and Stevenson were classmates from the 6th-grade at Brookmeade Elementary until they matriculated together at Trezevant. She also played basketball on the team at the point guard position.
      After graduating in 2008, Wofford went to Tennessee State University, majoring in communications. She left in 2011 and enrolled at the University of Memphis, this time studying journalism with a minor in communications.
      "I got pregnant at 23," said Wofford, who once considered having an abortion before deciding to go through with the pregnancy. She still has a relationship with the baby-to-be's father.
      Nearly six months pregnant now, Wofford laments the fact that she got pregnant. Her mother died three years ago and she wishes her father could be there for the birth of her child, but he died in June before Wofford learned she was pregnant.
      "He raised me," Wofford said, noting that he was an 85-year-old doting father. "Three years ago I lost my mom, who was a drug addict. So I'm bringing a child in the world without grandparents."
      Wofford does have a godmother, Phyllis Thomas, whom she regards highly. Thomas, said Wofford, will step in to fill the role of a grandmother. But family, she noted, hasn't been there to support her, "particularly on my mother's side."
      Reflecting on her father's love and the circumstances of her pregnancy, Wofford said, "I will persevere."

      (This story was first published in the Nov. 27, 2013, issue of the Tri-State Defender.) 

Love of teaching shaped Dr. Sarah Chandler's legacy

      She was a woman of “grace, substance, intelligence and wisdom” – attributes that endeared Dr. Sarah Chandler to family and friends. Many noted her “good looks” but it was her penchant for reading and her love of teaching that shaped her legacy.
      Those who knew Dr. Chandler were impressed with her skillset and her commitment to equip students with the skill to read books that could take them anywhere they wanted to go in the world. She taught sixth-grade and retired in 1992 after serving as principal of Dunn Elementary.
Dr. Sarah Chandler and her daughter Judge Jayne Chandler.
      Dr. Chandler died Friday, Nov. 28, following a long illness. She was 84.
      Herman Morris Jr., a former student, said he loved Dr. Chandler at first sight. “I met Dr. Chandler when I was in the 4th grade and again in the 6th grade at Lester Elementary School. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, other than my own mother.
      “She was well read. She said you can go anywhere in the world and do anything that you dreamed by reading a book. So I wanted to be well read,” said Morris, attorney for the city of Memphis. “She inspired me and my classmates to be excellent. We all wanted to please her.”
      Dr. Chandler set the bar high for herself by earning a master’s degree and a doctorate. She valued her family and challenged them and others to get an education, no matter what rung of the socioeconomic ladder was the starting point. 
      “Sarah Chandler was the cheerleader for the underdog and the downtrodden – always trying to help those at a disadvantage to be able to enjoy the benefits of the ‘haves.’ That is one of the reasons she worked hard to ensure that her students were good readers and orators,” said Daryl Leven, Dr. Chandler’s son-in-law. “She knew that without those skills, students would struggle in adult life and have difficulty in being successful.”
      Dr. Chandler also challenged her children.
      “I remember her buying a set of encyclopedias – the animal encyclopedias and the science encyclopedias – and encouraged us to read them,” said her son, Horace L. “Randy” Chandler Jr. of Houston, Texas. “If you’d ask her a question, she would say, ‘Look it up and come back and we’ll talk about it.’”
      Chandler would challenge his three children as well. He grew up with a sister and they were taught that success demands hard work. “I had the kind of mother that was perfect for a boy,” said Chandler. “I’m going to miss her.”
      She also was the kind of mother who was perfect for a “village,” said her daughter, City Court Judge Jayne Chandler.
      “She was an educator and teacher and saw children as her own. Although she was human with human frailties, she was perfect for me. And God blessed me to have her as my mother.”
      Judge Chandler said she was raised to be independent. She recalled her mother giving her an American Express card when she was 18. “She wanted me to be independent and instilled in me a sense of truth and righteousness and a desire to help people. I had to do the right thing.”
      Dr. Chandler also encouraged honesty and a higher level of ethics, said Judge Chandler, recalling her election to the bench after detractors had railed against her.
      “When I ran for judge my Mom, like others, did not think I could win,” she said, “because I was a young, newly licensed attorney with no money. However, she supported me financially and encouraged me to pursue my dreams.”
      Inger UpChurch was smitten by her aunt’s intelligence and commitment to family.
      “Some people called her Sarah, but she was ‘Auntie Mae’ to me. She knew the family history and was a strong advocate. She encouraged us to stick together.”
      Dr. Chandler wouldn’t accept failure, added UpChurch, who manages the Cornelia Crenshaw and Gaston Park branch libraries. “When I wanted to give up, she would say, ‘I’ll kick you in the butt if you quit.’ She was strong and hard on us, but loving nonetheless.”
      She was a true Renaissance woman, said UpChurch, a woman who juxtaposed her gifts as an artist, songwriter, wordsmith, art critic, and lover of music, history, and the game of Jeopardy with her lifetime dedication to community service.
      It was Dr. Chandler’s love of community that prompted her and lifelong friend Josephine Bridges to found a charitable organization in 1953 that they named JUGS, an acronym for Just Us Girls. The letters now stand for Justice, United, Generosity, Service, International. There are as many as 11 chapters in the U.S. and Bahamas.
      Dr. Chandler graduated from Manassas High School and received her undergraduate degree from LeMoyne College. She earned a master’s from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, followed by a certificate in library science from Memphis State University. She was conferred a doctorate in education, administration and supervision from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
      Dr. Chandler will be eulogized at 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4, during a family graveside service at Memphis National Cemetery, 3568 Townes Ave., at Jackson Avenue.
      R.S. Lewis & Sons Funeral Home has charge.