|The city of Memphis is offering $50,000 in grants to 14 sanitation workers from 1968.|
Baxter Leach, now retired, said he could use the money. (Photo by Wiley Henry)
Thursday, August 10, 2017
When Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland announced in early July that the city would offer $50,000 in tax free grants to the 14 surviving 1968 sanitation strikers, a wave of excitement washed over Baxter Leach.
“I feel great about it,” said Leach, who never imagined that he would be compensated nearly 50 years after the sanitation workers opted to participate in Social Security rather than a pension plan offered by the city at that time.
“We’re proposing a new retirement plan, an additional retirement plan for all sanitation employees,” said Strickland, making his remarks at the National Civil Rights Museum, site of the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
Standing before the 7,000-pound bronze sculpture “Movement to Overcome,” Strickland and other city officials expressed the need to remedy the decades-long pension debacle that did not give sanitation workers anything to look forward to after retirement other than Social Security.
Whatever it took for the city to arrive at its decision, “the money comes in handy,” said Leach, 77, who retired in 2005 and receives a small Social Security check each month after working 43 years in the Public Works Department.
Nine other sanitation workers from the 1960s have retired as well and getting by on Social Security. Four others, including 85-year-old Elmore Nickleberry, are still on the city’s payroll trying to keep up their standard of living.
The money, Nickleberry noted in The New York Times, “will really help me retire.”
“Obviously we can’t undo everything,” said Robert Knecht, the public works director. “As Chief [Operating Officer Doug] McGowen said, ‘It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing.’”
The city is drawing down $700,000 from its general fund reserves to pay the striking sanitation workers and added an additional $210,000 to cover the taxes on the grants. First Tennessee Bank and the nonprofit Operation HOPE, which offers free financial literacy workshops and one-on-one financial counseling, will administer the grants.
Leach is expecting a payday soon. He’s unsure how much of the money will be allotted at a time, but he’s certain that the money will be put to good use. “I show can use the money,” he said.
The money can’t come too soon for Leach, who eked out a living day and night to take care of his wife and six children. He worked odd jobs during the day and hauled garbage at night.
“I was hustling,” he said. “I did some of everything to make a dollar. I hauled junk. I painted houses and worked at a mechanic shop while working my routes at night throughout the city.”
Recalling the hard knock job of hauling filthy garbage, Leach said, “It was hard back in those days. We didn’t have anywhere we could go to the bathroom and nowhere to wash our hands when we got through eating.”
Leach recalls having nowhere to shower either after liquid stench would dribble from the metal tubs they had to lug to the garbage truck. “We would wear the same clothes back home,” he added.
The announcement serves as a prelude to the 50th anniversary of the sanitation workers strike and the assassination of Dr. King, who rallied the sanitation workers and encouraged them to stick together to achieve their goal: a fair wage, recognition of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and better safety standards.
It was the horrible crushing deaths of garbage collectors Echol Cole and Robert Walker that led to the sanitation workers strike and Dr. King’s visit to Memphis. Thirteen hundred black men went on strike carrying placards with the slogan “I Am A Man.”
The sanitation workers who participated in the strike fought long and hard to initiate change. Choosing to forego the pension, they were not able to retire in relative comfort. Many of them kept working.
“I got tired of working. I’ve been working since I was 9 years old in Mississippi,” said Leach, spending his leisure with family. Most times he’s sitting around at the restaurant they own, Ms. Girlee’s Soul Food Restaurant.
|Dr. Charles Steele Jr. is taking the Southern Christian Leadership Conference|
to new heights beyond the apex of its glory days. (Photo from the SCLC website)
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference survived decades of internal discord and instability after its founding in 1957, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., SCLC’s first president, began leading the organization through the tumultuous civil rights movement.
Dr. Charles Steele Jr., SCLC’s current president and CEO, is leading the organization through global discord and instability, and evokes the organization’s creed to “Redeem the Soul of America.”
Steele will be in Memphis July 20-23 when SCLC convenes its 59th convention at the historic Peabody Hotel. The theme: “The Hour is Now to: Believe, Empower, Act.” The issues: poverty, injustice, economic inequality, police brutality, and others.
Steele is the first non-clergyman to lead SCLC, an interfaith organization committed to peace, unity and non-violence. Since its founding 59 years ago, he said, “We’re in worse shape than we were.” Black success today, he added, is cosmetic at best. “We attained it, but we didn’t maintain it,”
There have been highs and lows over the course of SCLC’s existence. The organization, however, is still relevant, said Steele, recalling a conversation he once had with Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union before its collapse.
“The first thing he asked me was, ‘Steele, have we fulfilled the dream? Is the dream complete?’ I told the president, ‘Mr. Gorbachev…no…we’re not halfway there.’”
Gorbachev’s sentiments were embodied in the hopes and aspirations of African Americans past and present who’re still searching for the elusive dream. Steele said other world leaders likewise understand the black experience and the travails of black life in America.
On Sept. 13, 1964, Dr. King delivered a heartfelt speech in East Berlin at Sophienkirche (Sophia Church). Gorbachev was listening intently, Steele said. “He wasn’t in the audience; he was eavesdropping.”
Steele has traveled all over the world. He’s visited five continents and countless countries, including Moscow, Russia; Berlin, Germany; Jerusalem, Israel; Rome, Italy; and many countries in Africa.
He’s motivated by the support that SCLC has received from many world leaders. “People say to me, who’re receiving us, ‘Don’t give up on SCLC, because if you stop, you stop the flow of freedom throughout the world.’”
Steele has taken SCLC to new heights. In 2006, he raised $3.3 million (and more than $10 million altogether in first five years at the helm) to build an international headquarters for SCLC in Atlanta.
The slogan, “New Day…New Way,” signified that a change had come.
“I can’t run SCLC the way we ran it in the ’50s and ’60s,” he said. “I have to have God to give me the anointing, vision and enough sense to understand that I got to have good people who will never be seen supporting me resourcefully….”
Steele is focused on economic development – which, like the black man’s quest for freedom, has eluded the black community, the charismatic leader said. “We’ve gone backwards due to the fact that we have not embraced the economic development aspect in our community.”
He predicts, for example, a sobering decline in black banks and financial institutions within the next 15 to 20 years. “Something is wrong with that,” said Steele, adding that the problem is systemic.
“In the last 8 to 9 years, we have lost 52 to 53 percent of our black wealth. It will take two generations for us to get it back,” Steele said. He pointed out that 52 to 53 percent of homes in the black community were lost through Wall Street and the banking industry.
Black wealth, Steele said, is evaporating and cannot be solidified with government oversight. “The government is the enemy,” he said, borrowing the line from Dr. King. “The government is not going to do anything to free you.”
It wouldn’t matter who is president, Steele said. “I don’t care if we have a black president, brown president, Caucasian, Hispanic, politics can’t free us. We’re in a system.”
He said it also wouldn’t matter the political party. “I’m not Republican or Democrat. I’m Baptist. I do ‘Thus said the Lord.’ That’s what sustains us. That’s where we are. That’s where we’re gonna be… and we’ll be here forever.”
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Tupac Shakur (or 2Pac), a West Coast rapper and actor, was gunned down on Sept. 7, 1996, in a drive-by shooting at an intersection in Las Vegas, Nevada. His fans still mourn his death.
The Notorious B.I.G. (or Biggie Smalls), an East Coast rapper, was killed in a drive-by shooting by an unknown assailant on March 9, 1997, in Los Angeles, Calif. His fans still mourn him too.
Aiesha Overton, a visual artist known as Naima Peace, was a little girl when both rappers died in the middle of an East Coast and West Coast feud that went awry and rocked the hip-hop world. She is one of their biggest fans.
“I’m the biggest 2Pac fan ever. I fell in love with his poetry, writing and music,” said Peace, 27. “I’m a Biggie fan, too. He was an inspiration. He had so much in his voice and was so genuine.”
Peace’s love and admiration for both men are reflected in a small mural she’s stenciled on the East wall of the North Memphis Market at the corner of Vollintine and Avalon in the historic Vollintine-Evergreen neighborhood.
|The mural of the late legendary rappers hands on the|
East wall of the North Memphis Market.
The corner is a magnet for criminal activity and wanton violence. A man was recently killed and another one was wounded after a gunman opened fire and left behind a gruesome display of humanity.
The corner is infamous for such dastardly acts of violence. Peace drew her inspiration from 2Pac and Biggie, which she juxtaposed against each other in monochromatic colors and separated only by the gulf that divides them.
“I wanted to put the picture of them on the same mural because people feel they were worlds apart. But they were so similar,” Peace said. “When people see them, I want people to see them smiling and together.”
Violence, tension, struggle and peace are words the artist used to describe the rappers’ creative output of heartfelt music, which fueled their fans’ loyalty, respect, adulation and idolatry following their untimely deaths.
“People tried to separate them,” she said. “If 2Pac and Biggie can be on the same canvas, I feel peace is possible.”
Peace is an artist of impeccable talent, but it is her insight and search for peace in a violent world that motivates her and drives her into advocacy mode. In fact, “Naima means peace and feminine tranquility,” she said.
While peace is the operative word, the artist heads an organization called “Recycle Peace,” a creative consortium of artists working hand-in-hand to offer their services – whatever genre of art, whatever medium.
“We want to continue to push peace,” she said. “Peace is possible between people, between neighborhoods, between countries. There can be peace of mind, peace in all aspects.”
Before the artist made the decision to create art while advocating for peace, she studied civil engineering at the University of Memphis. “I’m two semesters shy of receiving my civil engineering degree,” she said.
Three years separate the time Peace left the U of M and the direction she’s headed in her career as an artist. She launched her first solo art exhibit two years ago at Crosstown Arts. The exhibit title: “The Product of Pac.”
“Each piece,” she pointed out, “was inspired by a poem from his book, ‘The Rose That Grew From Concrete,’” a posthumous album based on 2Pac’s poetry and writings. “I had about six or seven pieces.”
Peace has been exhibiting her art with other artists and as a featured artist since 2014. She is scheduled to be the featured artist at Crosstown Arts in August. The title of the exhibit has already been decided: “MadAir Skate Deck.”
“I want to do bigger and better pieces that transcend my art. And I want to think outside the box,” said Peace, noting that everything she’s created then and now has to mean something.
Peace graduated in 2008 from Germantown High School. A quiet spirit, she is adept at critical thinking, which she applies to the creative process. It is a luminous calm with spiritual overtones.
“I’m heavily influenced by my mom,” she said. “She is spiritual, which has been reiterated throughout my life. The older I get, I realize how important it is to maintain your own peace of mine.”
(Naima Peace can be reached at 901-826-9619 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Friday, July 7, 2017
|Medical Missionary Mamon Wilson discusses homeopathic (or natural) remedies with|
seminar participants at Breath Of Life Seventh Day Adventist Church. (Photos by Wiley Henry)
What Mamon Wilson has been able to accomplish with homeopathic medicine is beyond comprehension – particularly since he’s not a medical doctor or the conferee of a medical degree from a prestigious medical school.
What he is credentialed in is treating patients stricken with catastrophic diseases with holistic, natural and plant-based medicines derived from nature’s botanical garden: seeds, berries, roots, leaves, flowers, fruits, herbs, etc.
“I never had any schooling. [But] I’ve trained a lot of doctors and medical missionaries,” said Wilson, one of three facilitators focusing on the theme “Better Health & Body,” a seminar held nightly at Breath Of Life Seventh Day Adventist Church June 25-30.
“They think I’ve been to medical school. Everything I know came from the Holy Spirit,” added Wilson, a medical missionary who has wowed the medical establishment for 46 years with his insight and keen knowledge of natural remedies.
|From left: the Rev. Mark Hyde, the "Bible Patrol Man," and|
seminar facilitators Dr. Franco Taylor and Mason Wilson.
Wilson was at the podium that Monday and Tuesday night speaking forthrightly to an inquisitive audience eager to learn about alternative treatments to illnesses and diseases that he opines has confounded the best of medical doctors.
On Wednesday, Dr. Franco Taylor, a master herbalist and international health educator, followed Wilson, his mentor and teacher.
Clinel Walker, a life coach, medical missionary and chef trained at Wildwood Lifestyle Center in Wildwood, Ga., completed the seminar.
“Drugs don’t cure. Doctors manage diseases. They don’t cure diseases,” contends Wilson, then referencing Matthews 10:8: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.”
Wilson is reputed worldwide. “I’m working everywhere now: India, Africa, South America, Europe. I’ve been to London I don’t know how many times,” he said. “I’m scheduled to go to New Zealand, Fiji Islands, Australia....”
A man with a huge tumor protruding from his face had practically given up hope until he heard about Wilson, who showed the audience the monstrosity during his PowerPoint presentation.
“The man wanted me to remove the tumor,” the missionary recalls. “I told him I didn’t have the experience. But he said he believed in me. He had faith.”
Because of the man’s faith, Wilson said the tumor was successfully removed. “My goal is to get people to live right, eat right, and the Holy Spirit will guide them in the right direction.”
“I believe it works,” said Gloria Singleton, attending the seminar with her younger sister, Vickie Fulton. “I started reading about herbs and plants 20 years ago trying to stay healthy the homeopathic way.”
Fulton, a firm believer herself, attended a month-long medical missionary training class last year at Wilson’s Centurion Ministry/Bible School of Health in Savannah, Tenn., an accredited school located approximately 116 miles from Memphis.
“I learned a lot about the healing process of the body,” said Fulton, a vegetarian who once struggled with body pain. “Mamon taught us to be in tune with our bodies. The healing is in nutritious foods.”
Singleton and Fulton relied on Mamon’s homeopathic remedies when their mother, Willie Bell Fulton, was gravely ill, bed-ridden, and told by doctors that she only had three days to live.
With Wilson’s guidance, Fulton said her mother defied the doctors’ prognosis and lived more than three weeks after her diet was changed and medicine bottles discarded.
“We were blessed that he helped us with Mom,” said Fulton, growing her own backyard vegetable garden and following Wilson’s prescribed homeopathic remedies for good health.
Wilson is making headway in the field of natural medicine. But there was a humble beginning. What inspired him was reading a book that was given to him called “The Ministry Of Healing.”
He once studied at the former Memphis Academy of Arts (now the Memphis College of Art) and obsessed with painting. But his career aspirations changed as he dove deeper into the art of healing.
The change didn’t come, however, until he left Memphis, his hometown, and moved to the mountains in East Tennessee at the onset of his ministry and lived five years in a rustic log cabin that he built from pine trees.
“There was no running water, no indoor toilet, nothing like that, just a wood stove,” he said. “It gave me five years’ time to appreciate nature, to learn about the trees, the bushes, herbs. I gained a new experience. The Holy Spirit was my teacher.”
While sojourning with nature, Wilson studied Indian herbal medicine, Russian folk medicine, tropical medicine, the Bible, and other books to fortify himself with knowledge and the Holy Spirit.
But he has not forgotten what drove him into homeopathy in the first place.
“My mother had lung cancer; she was a smoker. I asked the doctor if he could fix it. He said it couldn’t be fixed.”
Wilson was nine years old then and made a commitment to God that he would one day find a cure for cancer.
“God told me very clearly that, ‘I want you to take the most difficult cases in the world, because if you take the most difficult cases you’d have no competition.’”
Wilson complied and has since treated patients over the years with brain cancer, bone cancer, breast cancer, and prostrate cancer.
“God was with me every step,” he said.
(Mamon Wilson can be reached at Centurion Bible School of Health, P.O. Box 1302, Savannah, Tenn. 38372 or by telephone at 931-724-2246)
Friday, June 23, 2017
|Shalonda Jackson walks across the stage at The LeMoyne-Owen College commencement to|
accept her degree. She graduated from Whitehaven High School in 1987. A devastating auto
accident caused the 30-year delay. (Photo by Markum Stansbury Sr.)
If it had not been for sheer will power and the determination to finish what she had started 30 years ago, Shalonda Patryce Jackson wouldn’t have been ready to walk across the commencement stage to receive the Bachelor of Science in Education.
But she was more than ready for that crowning achievement on the morning of May 13, when The LeMoyne-Owen College kicked off its 147th Commencement ceremony at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westwood in Memphis.
Donning cap, gown, tassel and the purple and gold stole, Jackson remembered how far she’d come to this point in her life and made her way to the stage to complete her final journey to academic achievement.
|Shalonda Patryce Jackson|
That sterling moment almost didn’t happen, though. On May 28, 1990 – Memorial Day weekend – Jackson and Sherian Boyd, her roommate and best friend, were en route to Memphis from Washington D.C. and careened the rented car Boyd was driving into a grove of trees in Greenville, Tenn., about 56 miles from Knoxville.
Boyd had fallen asleep at the wheel, but managed to crawl from the back seat of the twisted Lumina with a broken leg and fractured ribs just in time to beckon a trucker to stop. Like the Good Samarian, the trucker stopped to help.
Jackson, whom Boyd thought was dead, had to be airlifted to Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, Tenn. Her prognosis? Not good. She’d suffered brain trauma, a right broken leg, and lapsed into a coma.
Beverly Wade said she’d forbidden Jackson to come home because she’d hosted a party at Sherrods to celebrate her daughter’s 21st birthday on May 14, 14 days before the accident.
Wade’s admonishment was no doubt a second thought after receiving an alarming phone call from Boyd’s mother, who broke the news that the two Howard University students had wrecked the car on the way to Boyd’s brother’s graduation in Memphis.
“Shalonda was in Kingsport in a coma for two months,” said Wade, who dropped everything and rushed to Kingsport to be with her daughter. She was there for the duration while her husband, Bill Wade, other family members and clergy, made the trek as much as possible.
The doctors didn’t think Jackson was going to pull through, Wade said. They were giving up hope that their life-saving equipment wouldn’t be enough to save Jackson. Wade, on the other hand, was praying for a miracle.
“When we arrived at the hospital, she didn’t even know she was in the world,” said Wade, refusing to give credence to the doctors’ grim report. For assurance, she turned to God – and some tranquilizers and valiums to calm down.
“When we walked into the ICU, she had a trachea in her throat,” Wade observed. “She had a cast covering her entire face.”
When the coma finally released Jackson from a state of deep unconsciousness, she opened her eyes to a world that was remotely familiar. But she couldn’t remember the serious accident that had mangled her body and nearly took her life.
The accident only delayed Jackson’s quest to finish her education. “It was a setback,” she said. “I knew what kind of student I was and I knew things weren’t the same.”
Jackson graduated from Whitehaven High School in 1987 and was studying for a career in pharmacy. “It was hard then,” she said. “But having a head injury and losing a little of my thinking…I just couldn’t remember all of that stuff.”
Five years after the accident, Markhum “Mark” L. Stansbury Sr., a family friend and then interim president of the former Shelby State Community College (now Southwest Tennessee Community College), mentored Jackson and encouraged her to enroll.
Dr. Gina M. Stewart, who served as Dean of Admissions at the college, also mentored Jackson and supported her efforts to finish the course. Stewart, the senior pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church, stuck by Jackson’s side since the accident and subsequent rehabilitation.
“I was able to drive down to Shelby State and talk to her. She (Stewart) told me that enrolling in Shelby State would be a start,” said Jackson, who went on to earn an Associates Degree.
She discovered thereafter that the two-year degree wouldn’t cut the muster in the job market.
“Everybody was looking for experience,” she said. “How can I have experience when I’m fresh out of college? So I kept working and decided to go to a four-year institution.”
Jackson was working at Kroger’s – where she is employed part time today – but pursuing a four-year degree superseded everything else.
She first enrolled at the University of Memphis before matriculating at Howard. After the accident, she went back to the U of M, then Shelby State, and transferred from there to LeMoyne in 2013.
It was difficult physically and mentally to pull it all back together, said Jackson, now 48. “I don’t walk the same. But I pretty much do the same things that everybody else does.”
She is not like everybody else, though. The accident couldn’t stop her from pursuing an education. Her resolve wouldn’t falter.
“I’ve taken the Praxis 1 exam and now I’m working on completing my certification. I didn’t pass the first time,” said Jackson, a teacher’s assistant at Melrose High School.
If Jackson had given up after the accident, she wouldn’t be where she is today. So she’s determined to pass the Praxis to make her life just a litter better.
“It’s something that’s been in me all my life,” she said.
|Martha Washington-Smith opens "Mama's Kitchen" to feed police officers J.M. McCoy|
(left), D. Johnson, Lt. J.B. Bell and others during COP STOP. (Photo by Wiley Henry)
Several police officers from the Memphis Police Department’s Cordova/Appling Farms precinct pulled their cruisers up to the home of Martha Washington-Smith and made a beeline to the front door.
The intermittent show of force on May 13 may have drawn gawks and curious stares, and no doubt triggered the gossip mill, but a sign in Washington-Smith’s yard explained the officers’ presence – COP STOP.
COP STOP is the brainchild of Bob and Joanna McNeil-Young, a Germantown couple who started feeding police officers in 2015 to show their support for the arduous job they do to keep the community safe.
The mission is to provide fellowship and goodwill by opening homes throughout communities and provide home-cooked, family-style meals to local law enforcement officers.
A news report featuring the benevolent couple serving police officers in their home caught Washington-Smith’s attention and inspired her to open her home to the men and women who swore to “serve and protect.”
She inquired about COP STOP and joined the group a few months later – but not before going through the vetting process. The homes can’t be in an area where there is a potential for ambush, Washington-Smith said.
Accustomed to feeding the homeless via Golden Gate Cathedral, her home church, Washington-Smith was eager to serve the first responders in “Mama’s Kitchen,” a name she uses to describe her love of cooking.
“God has blessed my daughter, Tamika C. Washington, and I to become a part of your ministry!! Your ministry is rapidly growing,” said Washington-Smith, thanking the Youngs on Facebook after a successful COP STOP last year.
“When I do it, I do it from my heart. It warms my heart,” said Washington-Smith, an employee at Express Scripts. This is the fifth COP STOP she’s hosted. An usher at the church, she is used to serving people.
“The Lord has blessed me to be a blessing,” she said. “I believe in giving them flowers while they live.”
Washington-Smith and her daughter prepared turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, cabbage, baked chicken, mac and cheese, corn and green beans. After the full-course meal, the officers sampled ice cream, peach cobbler and banana pudding.
Theori Wade, Tamika’s 8-year-old daughter, helped to prepare the latter dessert. She wanted in on the action.
“It’s great. It’s awesome…the food…the people,” said Officer J.M. McCoy, a 14-year veteran with the MPD. He added that COP STOP helps to bridge the gap between the police and civilians.
“Most people who see the uniform think we are coldhearted. But we are people just like you,” said McCoy, who dined one other time at Washington-Smith’s home and remembered her hospitality.
“I just love it,” said Washington-Smith, who spends her own money to feed dozens of officers throughout the day. Many of them arrive on an empty stomach and fill up between calls.
“At one COP STOP, I had about 40 police officers in my house at the same time,” she said.
Lt. J. B. Bell has been with the MPD for 34 years. Saturday was his fifth COP STOP. Like McCoy, he said the invitation to dine at the home of a civilian “shows that people in the community do care.”
“There are some good people in the community,” the lieutenant added.
Officer D. Johnson, a 14-year veteran with the MPD, has eaten at Washington-Smith’s home each time she’s extended an invitation.
“The food is great and wonderful,” said Johnson, trying to find another word in his lexicon to describe Washington-Smith’s cooking.
Johnson barely finished a plate before he was called to duty. He left and other officers came in behind him.
“I thank God for you,” Bell told Washington-Smith at the dinner table. “Not many black people do this for the police.”
“Showing love to these deserving men and women is the only way to change things in the community,” Washington-Smith said.