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Democrats wage internal battle on Shelby County Commission


by Tony Jones

Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Newly elected Shelby County Commission Chairman Justin Ford (District 9) faces a potentially bare-knuckled debate over the makeup of subcommittees when the Commission meets on Monday (Oct. 13th).

Two weeks ago, after a unanimous 11-0 initial vote during the nomination process, Ford presented his nominees to the Commission for final approval. But then, much to his surprise and many others, a 7-5 vote forced the process back to the drawing board.

Commissioner Walter Bailey (District 13) orchestrated the baffling move. He requested that the two resolutions forming the nominee slate be moved from the “consent” agenda, where items considered a done deal are parked, to the regular agenda to allow a full vote.

With a deliberateness that reflected prior conversation, the six Democrats (not counting Ford) on the commission then nixed Ford’s subcommittee selections. Their surprising move took on decision-making weight when Republican commissioner Steve Basar (District 13) sided with them. Basar’s fellow GOP member George Chism (District 2) was not in attendance.

Bailey says he persuaded his fellow Democrats that Ford’s subcommittee selections were not strong enough for the greater good that he said the Democrats represent.

 “There are seven of us that represent the urban community, all Democrats. Seven votes are required to get resolutions passed,” Bailey told The New Tri-State Defender.

“We (Democrats) feel we have a golden opportunity to control committees like Budget, Education, Law Enforcement, which have authority over the courts and Juvenile Court; critical committees that shape the direction, destiny and priorities for this county and the committee chairperson usually is the one who gives a committee the impetus to move forward. We need it to be individuals that can be consistent with our priorities.”

Bailey said Ford cut a deal with the Republicans to become chairman.

“They preferred him because I was up for chairmanship, but it was not something that I really coveted. They preferred him because they feel they can manipulate him.”

Ford said Bailey’s move was out of bounds.

“Traditionally, the chairman of the body is nominated by your peers and you are elected by your peers. As the chairman of the body I have to take a neutral position on most issues, and I have to chair the meetings, run the office and preside over the meetings for the people of Shelby County from that perspective.”

Not only are his appointments sound, Ford counters, there’s no way he would turn his back on his roots.

“I’m African American, and the chairman. I am the youngest chairman in state history and the youngest chairman to sit on any major government body in this country. I think it does a lot for African Americans, and especially young African Americans,” he said.

“I have also been appointed to the board of the National Organization of Black County Officials while I was at the Congressional Black Caucus. So when we discuss the issues that are important to this community I think I am on the forefront, I think I am part of what is needed to bring solutions for the communities that I represent.

“My district includes Whitehaven, Boxtown, Mitchell Road, the Florida street area. There’s no way I’m not going to watch out for the interests of my voters.”

As chairman, he works for the entire county, said Ford.

“We can do more on the commission now than we have ever been able to do. I think we can do more than we ever did before because we have a commission that can work together. We can transcend racial lines and we can move forward for the people of Shelby County,” said Ford.

“We went on a three week tour of Shelby County … we went to Germantown, Collierville, Millington, Memphis, Arlington. What we are trying to do now is have a respectful, honorable government, a government for the people by the people that will be problem-solvers not problem-causers.”

But, said Bailey, if the Democrats can unify, there will be several key issues where Ford, as chairman, may become the deciding vote.

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Sweetie Pie’s‘Ms. Robbie’ delivers the personal touch

by Brittney Gathen

Special to The New Tri-State Defender

St. Louis soul food restaurant owner Robbie “Ms. Robbie” Montgomery is seeking Memphians’ support for her latest business venture – a Beale Street location for her St. Louis-based Sweetie Pie’s restaurant.

Montgomery brought her palpable energy to Beale Street recently (Sept. 25th) as she checked on the progress of the Sweetie Pie’s set to open soon at 349 Beale St. It was clear that she is excited about joining the Memphis community via her their restaurant.

“It’s an honor to be in Memphis on Beale Street,” Montgomery said. “I’m meeting a lot of challenges. I’ve got a lot of restaurants here I’ve got to compete with, but I’m hoping my food is just as good.”

For Montgomery, opening and operating the new restaurant is going to be a true family affair that will require the support of the Memphis community.

“This is a family operation, and we can’t do it without each other. It takes all of us to make this work, and (it’s going to take) the city of Memphis,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery decided to open up a Memphis location after being offered the opportunity to move to Beale Street.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to bring my food down here. When I come to Memphis, I always enjoy it, and I’m glad to be a part of it,” she said.

Montgomery said her son, Tim Norman, would be very active in overseeing the restaurant’s new location.

 “Tim will be 200 percent involved because he’s going to move down here,” said Montgomery. “I’m just going to come and make sure he’s doing what he’s supposed to do.”

Montgomery said her sisters would also come down to check on the establishment.

The former “Ikette”(a backup singer for Ike and Tina Turner) and star of the Oprah Winfrey Network reality series “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” learned how to cook her mother’s classic soul food dishes by working alongside her in their St. Louis kitchen. After a lung condition ended her singing career in 1979, she returned to St. Louis from California and worked as a dialysis technician. She would soon trade a health care career for a career in the culinary field. In 1996, with help from her son, Sweetie Pie’s was born.

Montgomery is pleased with the reaction she’s already getting from the Memphis community.

“I want to thank Memphis for opening their arms to me,” she told The New Tri-State Defender during an impromptu interview on Beale Street.

“It seems like everybody’s waiting on me, and I can hardly wait to get here. So, stay hungry and wait on me!”

Authors –and their works – speak to ASALH mission


Toussaint Louverture, Nathaniel Turner, Sengbe Pieh, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman are familiar iconic symbols of heroism whose struggle in the United States, Africa and the Caribbean helped to change the status quo of their day: racism and slavery.

Celeste-Marie Bernier, the Dorothy K. Hohenberg Chair of Excellence in Art History at the University of Memphis, traces the lives and histories of these six men and women in her book, “Characters of Blood: Black Heroism in the Transatlantic Imagination.”

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What’s up with Memphis youth?


Another weekend with a frightfully dangerous incident powered by unruly youths has area residents amping up the call for a crackdown on the perpetrators of such law-breaking behavior.

A 46-year-old mother and her 9-year-old daughter were swept up in an eruption of out-of-control youths following a football game at Central High School last Friday night (Sept. 26th). Sharon Mourning and her daughter were trapped in their car as dozens of youths jumped on, kicked and stomped the vehicle.

  • Written by Tony Jones
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Freedom Award honorees – a trio of barrier breakers who advanced freedom


“Breaking Barriers, Advancing Freedom” will be the theme that links Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Robert (Bob) Parris Moses and Frank E. Robinson on Dec. 2nd and forever link them to Memphis and the National Civil Rights Museum.

With Beverly Robertson, the museum’s high-energy (and retiring) president doing the honor, the three were announced as the 2014 Freedom Award honorees on Tuesday. This year’s presentation will be Dec. 2nd at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, with the traditional Gala Dinner later at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

Are ‘dysfunctional relationships media invention or state of crisis?


There are a plethora of books, online sources and more seeking to provide relationship insight and assistance. Pennsylvania certified psychologist, school principal and author Dr. Umar Johnson made an effort to be another resource last week (Sept. 18th).

The University of Memphis chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists and the Student Event Allocation Committee sponsored an event titled “Dysfunctional Relationships: Media Invention or State of Crisis.” Johnson spoke on the topic, “Black Male-Female Relationships: The Clash of Pain Bodies,” discussing such subtopics as reasons for failure.

From homelessness to leadership: “People’s mayor’ to share her story

Peoples Mayor

Dr. Evelyn Wynn-Dixon will make her first trip to Memphis this week to share her story of persevering through poverty and homelessness to become the mayor of Riverdale, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta.

She will serve as the keynote speaker at The RISE Foundation’s second annual gala, An Evening of Change, which be held Saturday (Sept. 27th) beginning at 7 p.m. at the Hilton Memphis.

Memphian transforms Mondays from mundane to ‘Melodic’


Monday is a word that few love to hear. It signals the beginning of another week of work or studies; more “we-time” and less “me-time;” more stress and more mess… for most of us. However, a local Memphis poet, author, and musician is seeking (and successfully so) to transform our usual outlook on Mondays into anything but bleak. Her name is Shana Jay.

Drawing upon her inner-creativity, Shana began writing at the age of seven. She discovered great comfort and joy in the process after she began to keep a journal of her emotional-thoughts following her mother’s divorce.