Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dr. LaShondra Jones helps veterans mired in the criminal justice system

The affinity that Dr. LaShondra Charmaine Jones has shown veterans was apparent after conversing with a Vietnam-era veteran in 2012 while volunteering at a reentry facility in Houston, Texas.
“The facility specifically focuses on men who’ve been incarcerated 20 or more years,” said Jones, a native Memphian who graduated Dec. 10, 2016, from Texas Southern University in the Barbara Jordan/Mickey Leland School of Public Policy.
Dr. LaShondra Charmaine Jones
 After nearly four years of study, Jones, 41, scrolled upfront in cap and gown during the graduation ceremony in the Health and Physical Education Arena to receive her Doctor of Philosophy degree in the Department Administration of Justice.
She had penned her dissertation on veterans who served gallantly during Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom and their post-combat involvement in criminal activity.
It was aptly titled “An Analysis of the Resiliency and Criminal Justice Involvement of Combat Veterans.”
The conversation that Jones had with the veteran sparked her interest in the more than 21 million veterans in the United States – according to the Census Bureau’s 2014 figures – who find themselves caught up in a bureaucratic labyrinth that they can’t seem to navigate.
This veteran, whom Jones befriended, had spent more than 30 years in prison and lost his right to vote. “He said, ‘I’m on paper until about 2040. I’m already in my 60s and I’ll never be able to vote again.’”
Jones, a veteran herself, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at 17. She served four years of active duty and was honorably discharged in 1998. Consumed by compassion, she couldn’t believe what she’d heard and wanted to do something about it. The man had paid his dues, she said, but that wasn’t enough.
“The first job that he got when he was released from prison is the same job that he’s still on. He’s constantly getting promoted. He’s been on the job about seven or eight years,” she said.
“For me, that just took my breath away,” Jones continued. “You have a Vietnam veteran that was drafted, served his country, and came back… so [they] turn to drugs and alcohol, crime, because of the things that they’d experienced and were exposed to in Vietnam.”
If the man’s criminal record can’t be expunged, he’d never be able to vote, she pointed out. “He’s served his time, served his country. He’s a law-abiding citizen and no longer can gain his right to vote.”
Jones had traded Memphis for Houston in 2011 in search of a new perspective, to pursue her doctorate, and to secure a decent job in her chosen field. She’d already earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from the University of Memphis after concluding her service in the U.S.M.C.
But something was stirring in Jones. She sought to right what she deemed to be wrong with the treatment of veterans. She studied law, served as a paralegal, and worked for the county attorney’s office in Memphis.
“My goal was to get involved in law some kind of way,” said Jones, who was raised by her mother, Teresa McGlothlin.
While working at a homeless facility for veterans in Houston, for example, Jones noticed the challenges they were confronted with. Crime had run amok among the veterans and mental illness was pervasive.  
“You have a lot of decorated soldiers that are homeless,” she said, “because they’ve become involved in the criminal justice system. Now you have Purple Heart [recipients] sleeping in homeless shelters.”
Jones currently works as a program coordinator in Houston for Catholic Charities in the Pathways to Hope/Lotus Project program to help women veterans regain their “resiliency” and “self-sufficiency.”
In 2015, she interned as a policy associate with State Sen. Rodney Glenn Ellis’s Texas Legislative Internship Program during the 84th Texas Legislative Session and focused on legislation that impacted veterans.
“The first thing they did was placed me with a policy firm that allowed me to focus specifically on veterans legislation,” said Jones, who testified several times before the Texas House and Senate on behalf of veterans.
“I got opportunities to meet a lot of legislators and they began to defer to me about veterans,” she added.
Jones attends national conferences across the country to learn more about veterans. She served three terms on the Texas Veteran Commission Funds for Veteran Assistance and was the first African American and first female to be elected chairman and vice-chairman of the board.
She also is active in the Houston Branch NAACP, where she serves as vice-chairman of the Armed Forces Committees. Her short-term goal is to move to Washington, D.C. to lobby for veterans.
“I would like to be a part of the Senate one day,” said Jones, hoping someday to toss her hat into the political ring. “Who knows?”

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Distinguished Memphians honored with the Memphis Heritage Trailblazer Award

Some of the trailblazers included Joyce Blackmon (left), Beverly Robertson,
Ruby Bright and Jocelyn Wurzburg. (Photos by Isaac Singleton)
“On my radio program every Sunday, I always start off with ‘Tell the Lord thank you,’” said Markhum “Mark” L. Stansbury Sr., a longtime luminary who has made his mark at WDIA-AM 1070, the first radio station in the U.S. that was programmed for African Americans.
Stansbury is a history-maker whose storied career runs the gamut from radio personality to university administrator to interim college president to photojournalist to newspaper reporter to serving on prominent boards to community service and more.
He has been the recipient of several awards too – including the latest one that he and 27 other distinguished Memphians received for “advancing civil and human rights and carrying the torch to uphold its African-American History and Culture.”
Markhum "Mark" L. Stansbury Sr. was one of 28 Memphis
who received the trailblazer award. Paul Young, director of
Housing and Community Development, and Felicia Harris,
Memphis's Planning and Development manager, flank him.
The city of Memphis and the Division of Housing and Community Development presented the “trailblazers” with the Memphis Heritage Trailblazer Award on Dec. 7 at the Halloran Centre For Performing Arts & Education.
The award was named for the Memphis Heritage Trail, a historic 60-block redevelopment area in downtown Memphis, which is considered the epicenter of African-American history, heritage and culture.  
“We are extremely excited about the Memphis Heritage Trail project and it has been eight years of planning to get us where we are today,” said Felicia Harris, the city’s Planning and Development manager. “It is important for us to pay homage to those individuals who have fought and continue to fight for civil and human rights.”
In addition to Stansbury, the award also went to Yvonne and David Acey, Ekundayo Bandele, Joyce Blackmon, Ruby Bright, Atty. Mike Cody, Erma Clanton, 
Fred Davis, 
Bishop William Graves, the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., Happy Jones
, Marion Mitchell and Robert Lipscomb, the former HCD director who led the Heritage Trail project at the onset
. Paul Young is the current HCD director.
Clanton, a playwright, lyricist and former schoolteacher, started saluting trailblazers in 2003; and each February at New Sardis Baptist Church, a dozen or more Memphians are honored with the “Living Legends Award.”
At 93, Clanton is more inclined to shower praises on others and honor them than accept the honor she’s long overdue. “It was a collection of black and white citizens who’ve made a contribution to Memphis,” she said. “It just encourages me at my age to do more.”
The other trailblazers included Dr. James Netters, Atty. Charlie Newman, O C Pleasant Jr., Diane Rudner, James “D’eke” Pope, Beverly Robertson, Dr. Coby Smith, Judge Russell Sugarmon, Calvin Taylor
, Henry Turley
, Elaine Lee Turner, 
Rosalind Withers
, Jocelyn Wurzburg, and Jan Young.
“Society has so much to thank these individuals for,” said Mayor Jim Strickland. “These recipients come from all walks of life and have sacrificed to make a better Memphis for us all.”
 “I just want to tell Him thank you for putting me in a position to be able to speak out for those who didn’t have a voice and couldn’t,” said Stansbury, who doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight with those who’ve also made contributions to society.
He credits the late international photojournalist Ernest C. Withers Sr. for stepping up to the plate as his mentor in photography. Rosalind Withers, who is blazing a trail as executive director of the Withers Collection Museum & Gallery, is carrying on her father’s legacy.
“It’s an honor to pick up the torch and make his (Ernest Withers) body of work a part of our own every day lives,” said Rosalind Withers, who calls herself a legacy builder. “People know the work, but it’s my duty to make sure that people know the name.”
It takes a lot of effort and persistence to build and secure a legacy, said Withers, which was, without a doubt, one of the reasons she was tapped to receive the city’s first trailblazer award.  
“The job I’m doing is one of a kind,” she said.
For many, the plaudits keep coming.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Stephen Saine uncovers a pay-for-play scheme involving his nephew in the book ‘Fragrant Fouls’

The criminal lifestyle that Stephen Saine once knew firsthand could have ended unpleasantly like so many others of the same ilk: They either languish in prison or wind up on a cold slab in the morgue.
Saine was lucky – or blessed, as Christians would say – that he was able to skirt the inevitable consequences of drug dealing and lead a life that is respectable and responsible – that is until he found himself embroiled in a pay-for-play scheme involving his beloved nephew, Jartavious Pierre Henderson-Niles.
Stephen Saine
Known as “Pink Chevy” when he was dealing on the streets, Saine would make amends for such an unsavory vocation and turn to God and the ministry. He is the pastor of Higher Heights Christian Church in Memphis.
Old habits are sometimes hard to break. In this case, Saine would call upon a familiar skill-set after he was led to believe that his nephew’s basketball prowess was ripe for the pros.
The street life and Saine’s ingratiation with swarming coaches thus became fodder for an autobiographical book entitled “Fragrant Fouls” (River House Publishing), a true story about Saine and his penchant for stopping at nothing to hew out a path leading straightaway to his nephew’s success on the basketball court.
“It chronicles the highs and lows of my life when I was in the streets back in the day selling drugs,” said Saine, bringing to bear his criminal activity, his reinvention as a “Man of God,” and, of course, the “lies, deceit and scandal” that rocked the Memphis basketball community.
“It coincides [with] where I am now in my life, reaching back, letting folks know to stay out of the streets….” he said. “I wrote the book to let others know there’s a better way than the way we were going.”
That better way – in addition to the “hustle” that got Saine in trouble at the onset of his criminal life and at the outset when he stood in the gap for his nephew – is best detailed in the following synopsis of “Flagrant Fouls.”
“Chronicling firsthand experiences that were a paltry mix of lies, deceit and scandal, ‘Flagrant Fouls’ explores what happened behind closed doors to recruit his nephew to a college basketball program, the broken promise made by ambitious high-profile coaches and the impact those negotiations ultimately had on his family.”
One of the infamous coaches that Saine accuses in the book is John Calipari, the former head basketball coach at the University of Memphis and current head coach at the University of Kentucky. After negotiations turned ugly, the drug-dealer-turned-preacher learned that “all that glitters isn't gold.”
“It’s about my dealings with Memphis basketball coach John Calipari,” said Saine, who was his nephew’s custodian during that era of Tiger basketball. “They (coaching staff) were fragrant; they were foul; they were corrupt.”
Saine claimed Calipari and others on the coaching staff brought him into the mix under the guise of helping him because he was a “one-time” felon and couldn’t get a job.
“They were paying me under the table to bring my nephew there (U of M)…so he wouldn’t sign nowhere else,” said Saine. “As time went on, they said they would help me get a job and pay me whatever my bills were for the month.”
Saine accused Calipari of reneging on the deal, but he would pay a hefty price for the lessons he learned – including unwanted public exposure for yet another misdeed. It was all because he wanted his nephew to excel at collegiate basketball and then on the pros.
After the media broke the story in 2014, Saine said he and his nephew would run afoul of each other. He added that Henderson-Niles would eventually realize that “that man was crooked” – referring to Calipari.
Henderson-Niles graduated from the UofM in 2010. A few months ago, Saine said he struck up a conversation with his nephew about the scheme that placed them at the center of controversy.
The U of M has been silent and Saine’s allegation has not marred Calipari, who did incur several major infractions when he coached Tiger basketball.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

‘If I didn’t have art, I don’t know what I would do’

Gloria Fulton Singleton thrives on being creative. She is diverse with a skillset that’s equivalent to being a songstress who can climb eight octaves on the musical scale. Singing, however, is not her forte. Art is.
Her longtime supporters and art enthusiasts alike are well aware of her development as a painter, muralist, interior designer, decorator, woodworker, upholsterer, art teacher and seamstress.
But the years it took her to reach the apex of her career are inconsequential compared to the opportunities she now enjoys as an artist and craftsman who manages to eke out a reasonable living.
Gloria Fulton Singleton's creativity comes
in many forms such as the chair she
painted and holstered to give it an artsy
look. (Photo by Wiley Henry) 
“If I didn’t have art, I don’t know what I would do,” she said.
Singleton comes from a family of artists and craft persons. Her late mother was a seamstress and her late father once dabbled in portraiture painting. Brothers Walter “Atoosie” Fulton (painter) and Jerome Fulton (painter) are professional artists.
Sisters Vickie Fulton and Towanda Fulton are artists as well. Vickie, who recently discovered her talent, stitches quilts, makes bowties and organic, holistic oils. Towanda makes jewelry.
 “My mother sewed slip covers and my grandmother made shoes. My mother also made our clothes. So it was natural for me to sew,” said Singleton, who transformed her sewing skills into a multi-faceted home-based business called “Custom Furniture and Textiles.”
 “I’ve been creating art for a number of years,” said Singleton, who took a sabbatical in the early days to raise two children, Tonique and Joneaú, who are now adults with children of their own.
“I had to slow down to take care of my children,” she said.
Tonique and Joneaú also have artistic inclinations as well, said Singleton, 64. “But they never cultivated it. Tonique prefers instead to critique my work. They don’t want to be starving artists.”
The reluctance of Tonique and Joneaú to follow the artistic path taken by other family members didn’t bother Singleton, who allowed them to make their own choices in life.
Her own career path had not been hewn out as a child when brothers Walter and Jerome were advancing their skills in the home with their parents and siblings. “I studied under my brothers,” said Singleton, one of eight Fulton children.
 “‘Tootsie had stuff all over the place. I just threw stuff away. But I felt inferior to him. When I would try one time at a work of art, he would come behind me and perfect it,” said Singleton.
 “Jerome was much neater than Tootsie. Jerome’s skills had to be developed, though. But Tootsie had the natural gift to draw and paint. He would be up late at night. So, for me, it was innate. It was our way of life.”
Both Walter and Jerome graduated from art school. Jerome and Towanda had gone to Saturday art school as well, said Singleton, who attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Ray Vogue School of Fashion Design in Chicago, the Tennessee Technology Center at Memphis to study carpentry, and the University of Memphis.
During her stint in Chicago, Singleton got a whiff of star power by being exposed to the fashion titans at Gucci, Willie Smith, Giorgio, and Armani. “I sewed for people while going to art school,” she said.
In 1975, Singleton worked for Ebony Fashion Fair, the world’s largest fashion traveling show. She did alterations as the wardrobe seamstress. This experience prompted her to look at fashion in a different light.
 “For me to draw and be creative, I like painting on denim,” said Singleton, who has taken the idea of painting clothes to painting a couch or chair she has upholstered. “I like the combination of art, fabric and wood.”
She also likes splashing colorful acrylic paint on chairs to give them an organic look. Some drawing is required in some of the artist’s finished upholstered chairs, such as a drawing of Prince, the ‘Purple One,’ and Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat.
“You can pay your bills with upholstering. People need something nice to sit down on,” she said. “If I can combine art, fabric and different textures to my upholstery business, that would be ideal.”
Creativity is just one phase of Singleton’s output as an artist. Teaching is another. “I want to teach girls and guys how to sew,” she said. “I want to teach them sewing skills so they can make gifts.”
In her spare time – or rather time she commits to mentoring children – Singleton teaches sewing and upholstering periodically at Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, Miss.; Me & Mrs. Jones in the Cooper-Young community; and at Mustard Seed Studio: Sewing and Crafts Workroom.
“We’re trying to appeal to the youth to keep them busy,” she said. 

Vince Gardley reopens Riviera Fitness following leasing dispute

The spacious facility is equipped with two floors of machinery and other
equipment in the Whitehaven area. (Courtesy photos)
Fitness guru Vince Gardley is recovering from the ouster of his fitness center in the Whitehaven Plaza after the landlord, Finard Properties, decided not to renew a conflicting leasing agreement.
After less than two years into what he thought was a 10-year agreement, Gardley vacated the building at 4130 Elvis Presley Blvd., but eventually found a new home for Riviera Fitness in the Southland Mall Shopping Center on Shelby Drive, just 1.20 miles south of the former location.
Gardley learned in April that he had to vacate the building by October. Now he’s opened for business and trying to recoup as much of his losses as possible, including 15 percent of the members who joined other spas and fitness centers during the hiatus.
Vince Gardley celebrates with Councilwoman
Patrice J. Robinson during the reopening of
Riviera Fitness.
“It’s a much nicer, larger facility,” said Gardley, who had to break down, transport and re-install several elliptical machines, tread climbers, punching bags, upright cycling bikes, rowing machines, weight benches, and other cardio exercise equipment.
“It was labor intensive, a lot of work to do,” he said. “We had to do it all in a certain time frame. We did a six-month move in a month and two weeks. It’s unprecedented. Everybody in the gym industry I spoke with said, ‘Vince, you need five to six months to do that.’”
Gardley and his team worked night and day to get Riviera Fitness up and running again. But he wasn’t content having to vacate the fitness center in the Whitehaven Plaza at a moment’s notice. He’d purchased the business from a Utah resident, but the lease wasn’t transferrable.  
 “My attorney told me, ‘Vince, sell everything and get the hell out of there.’ I listened to them. They’ve been down this road before. They know what they’re doing. But when I looked at the effect we’ve had on people, I had to stay.”
He had to stay for the 96-year-old man who could barely walk before making a move to the treadmill. “I had to stay particularly for my people,” said Gardley, whose members are as young as 12 and as old as 97. “So I signed a 10-year lease and re-opened. And most of the members followed me.”
Riviera Fitness is not just a gym in a box, he said. “I want to be a complete fitness health center to help people, their lifestyle…longevity…their quality of life. That’s our goal.”
Vince Gardley working out the kinks after moving
the tonnage of exercise machinery to his new location.
Members now can take advantage of “two floors of fitness.” The weight equipment is located on the first level, including a 70 x 80 foot heavy equipment room. The upstairs is artificial turf for members who play football, soccer and rugby. There is a punching bag, rooms for classes, and other equipment as well.
“We offer everything now,” said Gardley. “My whole focus is to take care of my folks in Whitehaven and take care of my folks in Memphis. I believe if you take care of people, everything will take care of itself.”
Whitehaven is on the precipice of change. Construction and redevelopment are ongoing along Elvis Presley Boulevard, where The Guest House at Graceland, which is adjacent to Elvis Presley’s mansion, was just completed. It’s billed as a world-class hotel.
Riviera Fitness is strategically located in the mall – near the Graceland hotel and Interstate 55 – and will benefit from the influx of tourists and new development along a three-mile stretch of Elvis Presley Boulevard, courtesy of money from the city and state.
Former City Council member and mayoral hopeful Harold Collins led the charge to spruce up the famous gateway leading into the Whitehaven community that comprises the mostly 50,000 African-Americans.
“It’s an incredible area for folks,” said Gardley. “We want to service everybody we can and get them healthy.”
His motto: “The greatest wealth is health.”

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Corinthian Hope House set to open for women and children affected by domestic violence

The love of God that Gwendolyn Turner espouses in church helps to heal the emotional scars left behind by a man she was in a relationship with for a number of years. But not all victims of domestic violence are fortunate as Turner, who found refuge in the church and support from family and friends.
“I tell people all the time that I’m a bold and beautiful survivor of domestic violence,” said Turner. “So my heart goes out to those who have no support system, nobody behind them that can say, ‘You can do this. You can start again. You can live, love and laugh again.’”
Gwendolyn Turner was a victim of domestic
violence. Now she's opening the doors to
Corinthian Hope House to help victims
seeking refuge from the perpetrator.
The members of Golden Gate Cathedral, where Turner worships, had heard her story before, so had friends, preachers, entertainers and radio personalities who gathered Oct. 24 at the Hard Rock Café on Beale Street to support Turner’s Domestic Violence Benefit in advance of the opening of Corinthian Hope House, a home for women and children affected by domestic violence.
Most people who know Turner are aware of her public persona as a songbird and one of the founders of the original Angelic Voices of Faith, a community choir known around the contemporary gospel circuit as Billy Rivers and The Angelic Voices of Faith.
Turner had no problem soliciting help from the AVOF and others, including the incomparable Melvia “Chick” Rodgers, who breathed life into the lyrics of her songs. The evening, however, was devoted to Turner and her mission and ministry.
 “I always knew that what was once my life’s misery would be my mission and my ministry,” said Turner, who hopes the Corinthian Hope House will help victims get back on their feet. “I’m very passionate about it, because I’ve been in that place.”
A process will be in place for victims seeking refuge or a getaway to Corinthian, Turner said. “It will be long-term housing. The first thing we’ll do is do an intake on the victim to see exactly where they are. The second step is a safety plan.”
Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed in October. However, the number of assaults is serious enough that warrants attention to domestic violence year-round. Turner has sounded the alarm since fleeing her perpetrator.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, a little more than 232,000 incidents were reported to law enforcement in the state of Tennessee between 2013 and 2015. Roughly 68 percent of that number, the report concluded, were simple assaults, which included slaps, punches or kicks.
Some victims grew up in domestic violence situations,” said Turner. “I never saw domestic violence. My downfall was I did not know the red flags…the warning signs of domestic violence. It was a while before I knew that I was a victim.”
About seven years into the relationship, she added.
Two hundred seventy six domestic violence victims were murdered, the three-year TBI study pointed out. Turner was fortunate enough to escape what could have resulted in physical abuse: slaps, punches, kicks and, in some cases, death.
Women are three-times likely to be victimized than men, the TBI noted. In some cases, children suffer emotional unrest, or a similar fate, if they witness domestic violence in the home by the person purporting to love the victim.
We need more places where we can house these women and children who’ve gone through this traumatic experience,” said Turner. “The difference in what we’re trying to do is not only house them but connect them with resources that they won’t have to go back to those relationships.” 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Sable Otey’s journey to the 2018 XXIII Olympics Winter Games in PyeongChang, Korea

Bobsledder Sable Otey is determined to make it to the Winter Games
in PyeongChang, Korea. (Courtesy photos)
Bobsledding is synonymous with track and field in terms of the preparation that’s needed to reach the finish line. In both sports, the athlete would need strength and conditioning training, balance, speed, power, perseverance, and the right mindset. Chip in a healthy work ethic too.
And it wouldn’t diminish the athlete’s athleticism one iota to secure a sponsor or a benefactor who wouldn’t mind making a monetary contribution toward a worthy pursuit – the 2018 XXIII Olympics Winter Games in PyeongChang, Korea.
That athlete is Sable Otey, a 29-year-old native Memphian who knows what it takes to succeed in both sports. She sprinted in high school, college, and post collegiate. Now she’s turned her attention to bobsledding, a winter sport she is training thrice as hard for to qualify for the Olympic team.
Sable Otey: Olympic bound.
“Some athletes are funded. I have to work full time,” said Otey, a physical education teacher at two Shelby County Schools –  Lowrance Elementary on Monday through Thursday and Cromwell Elementary on Fridays.
In addition to her teaching duties, Otey juggles a hectic training schedule with her family – a husband of more than 10 years, Navy veteran Reuben Otey, and their son, Amar’e.
“I train three to four hours a day. It’s very exhausting, very tiring,” said Otey, training as the breakman. “I wake up in the morning and I have to train before work. Then I have to train after work. It’s hard to try to find time for everybody. Some kind of way I make it.”
The family works together, she added. It’s a cohesive unit.
“We make it work together. That’s the most important thing. I can’t do it by myself. I can’t do it without the support of my family. They understand if I come home and just fall asleep. Some days I just come home and I’m just beat.”
But not that beat that Otey would fail in her quest to make it to the Olympics. But she wasn’t always sure of herself, or whether or not she has the talent, skills and moxie to make it to PyeongChang and bring home the gold medal.
“I was down on myself at first, because I have this great opportunity. But I can’t execute it fully,” said Otey, noting how difficult it is to train for the bobsled event. “I can’t train for four or five hours like I need to because I have to go to work.”
Otey’s desire to compete in the Olympics manifested in 2011 while training for the 100-meter hurdles. Then she got pregnant and had to table her plans. But another opportunity to make it to the Olympics would spark interest by way of a simple suggestion.
“My god brother actually told me about it (tryouts in South Carolina). He said I should go and try out for the team,” said Otey. She did, on Aug. 8, 2015, and received the second highest score, men and women combined. The next day, she received an email from the United States Bobsled Federation inviting her to the rookie camp in Lake Placid, New York.
“For some reason I just couldn’t figure out how to push that sled correctly to save my life. I couldn’t figure it out. It was horrible,” said Otey, struggling through the three-month tryout. “I ended up getting a hamstring injury. That set me back a little bit, but I kept pushing through.”
She made the team in October 2015. Now she’s focused on the 2018 Olympics. James Lancaster coaches sprinting and weightlifting when Otey trains at D-1 Sports and Injuries Training Center in Collierville, Tenn. Guy Cullens coaches sprinting and strength conditioning when she’s training elsewhere. Both coaches work pro bono.
Last week, Otey trained at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York. “I’m super sore, super exhausted,” she said. “But I need to work on a couple of things, things like sprinting and running fast. The real deal is working on the ice. That’s where it counts.”
As the breakman, Otey has to be strong and physically fit. Her timing has to be spot-on too. A two-woman sled (without the crew) can weigh up to 300 pounds. It can travel up to 90 miles per hour on ice depending on the push from the breakman.
The next competition is in Calgary, Canada. Then Otey will be on her way to Whistler, Canada, until she makes it to PyeongChang, Korea.
For more information on Sable Otey’s journey to the 2018 XXIII Olympics Winter Games, go to, call (901) 337-3966, or email her at A Go FundMe account also is set up for donations at

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Beauty radiates despite hair loss

Mariah Michelle Stokes suffers from alopecia areata, a lack of hair. But her parents,
Mitchell and Sandra Stokes, make her feel like she's the most important person in
the world. (Photos by Wiley Henry)
When Mariah Michelle Stokes was born, her mother envisioned grooming her hair with dainty ribbons and colorful barrettes. But after her baby girl’s first birthday, her head-full of hair started falling out.
Something was happening to Mariah, which sent her parents, Mitchell and Sandra Stokes, searching for answers. “We took her to the emergency room,” said Sandra Stokes. “We also went to see several doctors…and Mariah had lots of blood work.”
They soon found out why Mariah had loss her hair. “At that time, they (doctors) determined it was alopecia areata, an auto-immune disease that attacks the hair (follicles),” said Sandra Stokes, who was devastated after receiving the glum diagnosis.
Chances are most people wouldn’t know what alopecia areata is unless a loved one, or someone they know, is struggling with the disease. According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, this “polygenic disease” affects as many as 6.8 million people in the United States with a lifetime risk of 2.1 percent.
Mariah Michelle Stokes and her parents
Mitchell and Sandra Stokes.
In some cases, there may be a total loss of hair on the scalp, face and body, and then hair may return to those areas. In either case, there is no cure for alopecia areata.
“I never had an issue with it,” said Mariah, who is quick to flash a toothy smile when complimented, and even when she’s not. “I never felt self-conscious. I feel self-conscious about other things – but not about [not] having hair.”
Mariah never really noticed that she was different until she started school and began socializing with her playmates. “I never felt different,” she said. “When I’m around other kids, I probably noticed I’m the only person who looks like this.”
“When all of this first happened, I wondered what I could do to help her,” said Mitchell Stokes, recalling a conversation with Mariah who asked him point-blank why she had to be the one stricken with alopecia areata.
“I tried to have a sound answer for her as much as I could,” he said. “I just told her that God knew she could handle this…and that it will help somebody else.”
The couple, also the parents of 31-year-old Mitchell Jarod Stokes, instilled in their daughter that she is beautiful, imbued with self-confidence, and possesses a positive attitude.
“My parents didn’t make me feel like I was different,” said Mariah. “They always told me that I was beautiful. I never had a problem without hair. I actually like it now.”
But that wasn’t always the case. During her formative years, mean-spirited kids teased Mariah and gawkers, including curious adults, assumed she has cancer.
“I’ve dealt with people staring, people coming up to me asking me if I have cancer. And I’ve been called a milk dud,” said Mariah, now 18 and a freshman attending Arkansas State University Mid-South in West Memphis, Ark.
“Beauty comes from the inside out,” said Sandra Stokes, recalling an incident when she was ready to “jack up” a group of cruel children who encircled Mariah in a mall. “I’m like, ‘Leave my baby alone. Give us some privacy.’”
Mariah is used to roving eyes and revolving heads. “She doesn’t let it get her down,” her mother said. “Sometimes I wonder if she really knows she really doesn’t have hair.”
Mariah said she just wants to be happy and encourage others. She also likes dancing and glorifying God, which she gets to do on Sunday mornings at Golden Gate Cathedral, her family’s home church. She’s a praise dancer and once sang in the choir.  
She loves children too.
“I want to be an OBGYN,” she said. “I’ve always liked kids, but I didn’t want to be a pediatrician because I don’t want to see sick kids. I feel like bringing them into the world. I want to help people. I want to deliver babies.”
“We’re Christians,” said Mitchell Stokes. “So we tie the word into everything that we do. We let her know that all things work together for the good for those who love the Lord.”   

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Daughter of Ray Charles opens up about drugs and life without her father

Sheila Raye Charles finds solace in testifying about her life as the drug-dependent
daughter of the legendary Ray Charles. (Photo by Wiley Henry)
Her early childhood and years thereafter were painful, depraving and angst-filled, to say the least. But Sheila Raye Charles didn’t have much to look forward to without having much of her father in her life, the legendary Ray Charles.
Deprived of the doting relationship Charles sought with her father was enough to send her cascading down a seemingly never-ending slope into drug dependency and deviant behavior, which mirrored, in a way, her father’s 17-year heroin addiction.
Charles’ drug of choice was crack cocaine. She grappled with it for 20 years, served three prison terms, and, as a result, lost custody of her five children. She wrestled with what could be described as her demons, but managed to break free after undergoing a kind of Damascus Road experience.
 “Sheila Raye has fought off her demons and now has a powerful testimony,” said Wanda Taylor, president/CEO of Ladies in Need Can Survive, Inc., a 501(c) 3 non-profit transitional home for women who grapple with some the same vices and destructive behavior that nearly sent Charles over the edge.
Taylor was impressed with Charles’ riveting story and subsequent breakthrough and invited the singer, songwriter, evangelist, author and former substance abuser to Memphis on Sept. 23 to headline LINCS’s “Taking My Life Back” conference at the Pursuit of God Transformation Center in the Frayser community.
Charles has been telling her story to audiences from a very few to tens of thousands all around the world. The handful of people who came to hear her speak and sing at the Center drew inspiration from her testimony.
“It wasn’t my dream to be a speaker about addiction and recovery,” said Charles, who aspired to become a rock star when she was a little girl. “But through my journey of trying to be a rock star, I found myself engulfed in all the things that came with that – sex, drugs and rock and roll – the whole stigma.”
“She is not alone in the vices that had her bound,” said Taylor, who, like Charles, struggled with drugs, sex, errant behavior, and a stint in jail before she found God, then LINCS. She’d made up her mind that the road she was traveling would come to an end.
“It was easy for me to fall in that path, because I was a child in an adult’s body full of pain and hurt and sadness and anger,” said Charles, “all the things that a child goes through when you experience the things that I experienced – sexual abuse, abandonment issues from my father, an alcoholic mother.”
Charles spent a lifetime trying to suppress those “pains, hurts, shames and sadness.” The only way out, she said, was through self-medication.
 “At the age of 19, I had my first free-basing...I tried it and it was the most wonderful thing I’ve experienced,” said Charles, who would become dependent on the drug. “I didn’t get addicted then. It was after the age of 24 while experiencing Postpartum Depression.”
After Charles’ daughter was born, flashbacks took her back to that grim moment in time when she was sexually abused as a little girl. “I started remembering the euphoria I got from the cocaine,” she said. “I began to use it and it just spiraled down to a point where I literally lost everything in my life.”
She had become unhinged, destroying herself. She’d become the addict that she hated in her father. “He was an extraordinary man, but a horrible guy,” said Charles, one of 12 children her father pressed to succeed. “My father was hard on us almost to a fault.”
It wasn’t until later on in life that Charles started embracing her father. “Later on I felt cheated that I wasn’t able to be more intimate in his life,” she said. “He tried to show us love, but it wasn’t that ‘father knows best’ love. He didn’t have the tools to parent.”
Charles lives in Minneapolis, Minn. She is married to Michael “Tony” Steptoe. In 2007, she started One Way Up Prison Ministries to encourage women in prison to stay away from trouble and live productive lives, which she had failed to do before turning the page on a sordid lifestyle.
Charles details her story in the recently published book “Behind the Shades: Hope Beyond the Darkness.” It is a moving testimony about “redemption, reconciliation, and healing.” Sheila Raye Charles can be reached at (612) 876-7964.

Newly installed officers at masonic temple testify to the benefits of freemasonry

The 2016-17 installation of officers of Williams E. Eddins Memorial Lodge
#377. (Photo by Michael Floyd, Esq.)
There are dozens of masonic temples in the city of Memphis. Unbeknownst to the general public, membership in this private fraternity continues to creep upward. The William E. Eddins Memorial Lodge #377 (Prince Hall Affiliated), for example, recently installed five officers.  
In an unprecedented move, the “brothers” bestowed upon Tony M. Jackson, a young businessman and one of their latest recruits, the title of Lodge Secretary. Jackson “was initiated, passed, and raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason” in April.
“I believe the family of brothers elected me to the secretary position because they saw that drive in me and my willingness to work as a part of the team to better the lodge and hold to the theme of building on a strong foundation,” said Jackson, owner of Arlington Computers in Arlington, Tenn. He also is the author of “Pulling Customers Back To Small Business,” a business guide.
On Sept. 4, Jackson was officially installed at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church along with Michael Richardson, Lodge Treasurer and Past Master; Eric Williams, Senior Warden; Timothy Jones, Junior Warden; and Everett Burks, Worshipful Master.
Richardson said there were three keys that inspired him to become a mason: 1) His grandfather, Deartis Barber Sr., a Freemason; 2) “…the historical impact that the fraternity has had throughout this country and the world”; and 3) “I believe that in unity there is strength. And as farfetched as it my seem, I believe that some day we all will be unified by the common bond of peace and love.”
Richardson was initiated in November 2004. Freemasonry has been an integral part of his pedigree dating back to his grandparents, who raised him, his mother and father, and several aunts and uncles. He has held several positions at the lodge.
“Freemasonry teaches us that as brothers we are all ‘On the Level.’ We meet each other on the same ground,” Jackson explains. “I felt the true brotherly love and was even blown away that the Past Masters, Masters and Wardens welcomed me with open arms.”
Although Freemasonry is shrouded in secrecy, there are characteristics that are common among the brothers, said Jones, a corporate security officer for Memphis Light Gas and Water. He was initiated, passed and raised in William Eddins #377 in 2015.
 “What a mason does is very simple, but not limited to being an upright [and] honest man of great character who sets a positive example in his community by his charitable works and deeds,” said Jones. “Things such as feeding families in need, mentoring the youth and community clean up efforts.”
There are benefits, too, added Williams, such as establishing a closer connection with God, camaraderie with the brothers, and drawing closer to one’s family. “Men are naturally providers and problem solvers. So Masonry is embedded in you,” he said. 
Williams also noted the importance of having “someone to talk to when there is no one there and not judging you, just there to lend an ear and a helping hand.”
“Continuing to Build on a Strong Foundation” was the theme of the installation ceremony, which drew more than a handful of supporters.
“We are here to develop the character and shape the minds of any qualified and vouched-for brother that knocks at our door,” said Burks, who was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason on May 3, 2008. “We will build, we must build, and we are building on that strong foundation.”
Burks is employed at Smith and Nephew and has held several positions within the lodge.
Jackson said Freemasonry will take him as far as he wants to go. “It’s just like anything else: You get out of it what you put into it,” he said. “We are a working lodge. That means we earn our titles and degrees through hard work and perseverance.”
“The wisdom, youth and passion that these men possess will surely benefit not only the lodge, but the community of South Memphis, the city of Memphis, and hopefully the state of Tennessee, if not further,” said Richardson.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Invaders hope to set the record straight in new documentary

The Invaders: Dolores Jordan Briggs (left), Jabril Jabez, Minister Shukhara Yahweh,
Charles B. Smith, Dr. David Acey, Dr. Coby Smith and Juanita Thornton. (Photo by Wiley Henry) 
For nearly 50 years, several members of a 60s-era radical group from South Memphis have tried to debunk the tall tell that they’d instigated the riot that broke out during the first march that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led in March of 1968 in support of the striking sanitation workers.
“I’m happy that Memphis to some extent has decided to embraced us,” said John B. Smith, a founding member of The Invaders, a militant group of college students, Vietnam-era veterans, musicians and intellectuals espousing Black Power.
Smith, who lives in Atlanta, was in Memphis on Sept. 7 for the private viewing of a feature-length documentary about The Invaders as told by some of the members along with never-before-seen film footage and photographs from various archives.
“The general opinion is that we started the riot. Now we’re able to show people the documentary and what actually happened,” said Smith, who reconnected with some of the Invaders at Collins Chapel CME Church, site of the private viewing.
The viewing of the documentary coincided with the church’s 175th anniversary and the 101st birthday of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), a nationwide organization founded by Carter G. Woodson, the “father” of Black History Month.
“We are about African-American history,” said Clarence Christian, president of the Memphis Area Branch of ASALH, which studies, researches and disseminates local history in the community. Chapters nationwide also research, preserve and interpret Black life, history and culture.
The local chapter hosted the documentary, which began as a classroom project, said Christian, who told the story of J.B. Horrell, a guitarist and former student who wanted to write about something that no one had ever written about before.
“So I suggested the Invaders,” said Christian. “Then I introduced him to Minister Shukhara Yahweh (a.k.a. Lance “Sweet Willie Wine” Watson), a former Invader.” Horrell made the connection, and from that first contact with Yahweh, he would go on to co-write and produce “The Invaders” documentary.
“I was fascinated with the Invaders,” said Horrell, who was present to tell the diverse audience of activists, educators and civic leaders that he’d learned a lot about social and political upheaval in the ‘60s in large part due to the Invaders project.
“This is public vindication,” said Smith, who speaks quite a few times in the 76-minute film. “Not only is it vindication, it’s an opportunity to present Dr. King from another standpoint. He was not the meek, timid individual the media has presented him to be over the years.”
  Smith shared the spotlight in the film with fellow Invaders Charles Cabbage, Calvin Taylor, Juanita Thornton, Dr. Coby Smith, Willie Henry and others. They paint a riveting picture of the civil rights movement while juxtaposing it against the non-violent principles espoused by Dr. King.
The sanitation workers’ strike drew Dr. King to Memphis. But the Invaders were already on the ground trying to strengthen the strikers’ position by attempting to stop garbage trucks from rolling into the neighborhoods. When the riot broke out, the Invaders were blamed.
Dr. King vowed to return to Memphis to finish the march peacefully. The resolution the Invaders sought for the plight of the sanitation workers differed from Dr. King’s, who mutually agreed to work with the militant group after meeting with them on April 4, 1968.
The Invaders were looking for funding for their “community unification program.” Dr. King agreed to help, said Smith, if they would serve as marshals for the Poor People’s Campaign in Memphis. They agreed.
“We met two times on April 4,” said Smith, noting that Dr. King was evolving in his tactics. “He wanted to hook up all the power groups around the country. This is what we talked about in that meeting, which would demonstrate that Black people were together all over the country.”
The last meeting ended at 5:30 p.m. At 6:05 p.m., an assassin’s bullet fell Dr. King.

Friday, September 9, 2016

There’s no denying the success of The Southern Heritage Classic

Looking back more than two decades ago, Fred Jones Jr. recalls the day he took a leap of faith – and a long with that leap a combination of moxie and aptitude – to create, package and brand the Southern Heritage Classic as one of Memphis’ biggest sports/entertainment venues.  
“I had no track record in producing an event like this in Memphis, even though I was traveling all over the country participating in events already,” said Jones, who started out as an entertainment promoter. Even the “city fathers did not believe I could pull the Classic off.”
Fred Jones Jr.
And since rivals Tennessee State University (TSU) and Jackson State University (JSU) were part of the equation, Jones had to convince the administration at both schools that he knew what he was doing. It was a tough sell, he said, even though the schools’ athletic directors were on board, but believed the game should be played on the gridiron in Memphis.
Twenty-seven years later, the two HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) will romp the gridiron once again on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 6 p.m. before an expected 50,000-plus Classic fans cheering on their favorite team, or alma mater, at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
The football game is the Classic’s signature event. However, prior to the kickoff, fans will be privy to other classic events over the course of three days – Sept. 8-10 – which includes two star-studded concerts, a parade, a fashion show, a golf tournament, and tailgating.
“You never know where anything will go,” said Jones, who was determined to see his idea come to fruition and to prove his naysayers wrong. “To get to 27 [years] is mission accomplish.”
In terms of corporate support, community involvement, government participation, and monetary value, what Jones has accomplished since the onset is tantamount to reaching the summit, a word he uses in the name of his company, Summit Management Corporation.
“As you track us over these first 26 years, the level of participation from corporate has increased,” said Jones, noting that FedEx has been a presenting sponsor for more than 20 years. “You can see the level of participation and the quality of our presentation.”
TSU and JSU can count on a payday of $325,000 apiece for their participation. The city of Memphis is reaping benefits as well, as residuals continue to be added to the coffers ever since Jones transformed a two-dimensional idea into an entertainment reality.
“You can’t deny the success of the Classic,” he said. “You can’t deny how the community feels about the event. You can’t deny that this is a quality event that has an impact on the community in many ways. The impact and the numbers are very clear.”
Jones said the combined total has been $10 million dollars over the course of the Classic. “But when you look at the numbers, the tale of the tape, it speaks volumes. Every survey that’s been done – the last one was two years ago – indicated that there’s a $21 million impact on the city of Memphis.”
But some people still think the “glass slippers will slip off any moment,” said Jones, who doesn’t entertain negatives. In fact, he has a contract with both schools through 2019. “We had preliminary discussions about going forward up to 2024. It’s an ongoing process.”
The enthusiasm for the Classic hasn’t waned over the years, which is good news to Jones, who intends to quarterback the Classic for years to come. Then he’ll toss it to someone who’ll take it farther than where he’s been able to take it.
“It [Classic] was built to get to 27, to 50 [years],” said Jones, noting that his son, Nathanial Jones, is “very capable” of stepping in and keeping the event going. “I want the event to go on forever. It will go on as long as there is support for the event from fans, the government, and corporate.”
If there is a barometer for Jones’ success, it is this: “As long as the people are giving me clear indications that they are satisfied with the work that we’re doing, we’ll be good.”
For more information, visit or call the Summit Management Corporation at (901) 398-6655 or 1-800-332-1991.