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.