The headline read, "NOTICE To Students, Supporters Partners & General Public" and it was dated Jan. 1, 2014. In the brief electronic message that followed, one could sense the pain being experienced by the sender, Bennetta "Bennie" Nelson West, executive director/founder of the Memphis Black Arts Alliance, Inc. – FireHouse Community Arts Center and Academy
"Due to personal and organizational issues, the Memphis Black Arts Alliance, Inc. – FireHouse Community Arts Center and Academy will suspend operations, effective today until March 31, 2014," the message read. "In the interim, with guidance from key stakeholders, we will assess the future of MBAA."
West's reference to personal issues relates to a chilling Facebook entry posted to her site on Dec. 22. In part, the post read, "Dear Facebook Friends – I sadly report that my son, Joshua Benjamin Malekbu Parks[,] was responsible for his death, the death of the mother of two of his five children and critical injuries to the children's grandmother on Wednesday, Decemb...er 18th."
A memorial service for Joshua will be held, Saturday (Jan. 4) at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church- Broad, 2385 Broad Ave., where the Rev. Keith Norman is senior pastor.
"We now realize [that Joshua suffered depression (a form of mental illness) lingering from childhood experiences," West wrote in her Facebook post. "It became full-blown in the last few weeks when he was no longer living with his youngest son and daughter. Mental illness, untreated is just as deadly as a physical illness (e.g. cancer). I believe God gives us the present which is pre-sent, a present. God makes no mistakes. So, I give thanks for Joshua being in my life bringing joy and pride in his own way, while accepting its Divine Order."
A 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization, MBAA has been in operation since May 7, 1982. It is headquartered at the FireHouse Community Arts Center, 985 South Bellevue Blvd, Memphis, TN 38106 at the Gateway to Soulsville, USA.
The New Year's day message from West said a decision will be made by March 31 on "a plan either toward (a) transition to new leadership and a plan of action or b) dissolution of the organization, effective June 30, 2014."
In her Facebook post, West asked that, "you lift us all up with your spirit, heart, mind and prayers for peace."
"In spite of my spiritual beliefs, I am in deep pain and grieving mightily for his loss, the loss of his children's mother, and the children's loss of their loving parents," wrote West.
"Yet, I am looking for ways to be grateful because I know God has lessons to be shared."