by Tarrin McGhee
Special to the Tri-State Defender
Unless you have just decided to poke your head up after hiding under a rock all of this year, you are aware that in March Memphis voters passed a referendum to merge city and county schools. And since that time, local, regional and national interest in the education of Memphis and Shelby County public school children has significantly increased.
Efforts to create and determine the best approach to sustain a unified public school district to provide education for approximately 150,000 students are underway.
Almost 12 months ago (Dec. 20, 2010), the Memphis City School Board Commissioners – in an unprecedented move – voted to relinquish the MCS charter. That action sparked a chain of events, including tense political battles and citizen-driven movements. In February, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed into a law a controversial bill (sponsored by Republican State Sen. Mark Norris), outling stringent requirements for the transition process and impending schools merger.
Memphis voters (71,424 of them) went to the polls in March and 47,812 of them (67 percent) answered yes to this question: “Shall the Administration of the Memphis City School System, a Special School District, be transferred to the Shelby County Board of Education?”
A dizzying number of lawsuits were filed to expedite, delay and/or halt the merger. In August, U.S. Federal Court Judge Hardy Mays declared the dissolution of Memphis City Schools “for all purposes except the winding down of its operations and the transfer of administration to the Shelby County Board of Education” by the start of the 2013-14 school year. The ruling has since spurred action by local government leaders to adhere to new laws and ensure a successful merger takes place.
Perhaps most notably is the formation of two new bodies – the Shelby County Unified School Board (SCUSB) and the Transition Planning Commission (TPC), with a combined 44 members.
Regardless of individual – and sometimes directly opposing viewpoints on the merits of the schools merger, the reality is that it is going to happen, making it is vitally important for residents to know about those entrusted with the task of guiding us through it.
With approximately one year down and one year to go, The New Tri-State Defender introduces a new feature series on public education. It will include stories on key developments in planning the schools’ merger, in addition to in-depth interviews with members of the SCUSB and TPC respectively.
This week, the TSD features a conversation with Chair of the Transition Planning Commission, Barbara Prescott.
Tri-State Defender: Mrs. Prescott, please provide key highlights of your educational and professional background and examples of community involvement.
Barbara Prescott: I have a Ph.D in Counseling and Human Relations from Florida State College, a BA in Education and a Masters Degree in Guidance. I was a teacher in Memphis City Schools, and many years ago I also worked as a guidance counselor at Carver High School. I served on the Memphis City Schools Board for three terms, totaling 11 years – serving as president twice and vice president twice. My last term ended in December of 2002.That same year, I served as president of the Tennessee School Board Association.
Professionally, I operate a small private counseling practice and my husband and I have a consulting firm that does strategic planning and fundraising primarily with non-profits organizations. Our firm assisted in raising the $20 million in private funds that was a required match for the Gates Foundation Grant to Memphis City Schools.
TSD: Unlike many of your colleagues, this is not your first experience as a public servant. Why were you interested in serving in this role? Describe your thought process behind deciding to accept the appointment to the TPC and what you hope to accomplish.
B. Prescott: Our children attended Memphis City Schools so our public education system has always been a great interest of mine. To me, the importance of public education is unquestionable and I think it is the greatest success factor for our community and our country to have an educated workforce and population. Although I value alternatives, I think public education will always be the primary way.
In terms of the schools’ merger, initially I did not take a position, but I had ideas on what I thought would help it be successful…one of them is the value of single source funding. When you have everyone in the county acknowledging the importance of ensuring that all children are adequately educated, that seemed to be philosophically a way that we could best serve our community. From an economic standpoint, the city and suburbs are joined together. But still, I can identify with fears of change and the concerns that Memphis and Shelby County parents have for their children when they don’t know what will happen to the schools they have grown to love.
I want to be very careful and aware of ensuring that for schools that are doing well, we treat them with a great deal of deference. I’m very sensitive to what parents want whether they live in Collierville or north Memphis and I just want to be a part of building solutions. I want there to be good schools in all neighborhoods, and if that is not the case for some, let’s make it that way and keep it that way.
TSD: In October, you were voted in as chair of the Transition Planning Commission. Not only do you have a huge responsibility to facilitate discussion and build consensus, but you have to do it with 21 members who are also serving the community in this capacity for the first time. How has your experience been thus far? Are things coming together?
B. Prescott: Without hesitation, this is an extraordinary group of people and this really has been an amazing process. All members have served the community in a variety of ways, but not in a way that is open to public and media scrutiny. Several members have stepped up and are really using their individual talent and skills to move different areas along.
TSD: Can you describe the organizational structure of the TPC and the primary responsibilities of its members?
B. Prescott: As set out by state law, in the Norris-Todd bill, there are nine items that lay out exactly what we’re responsible for. Basically, we are charged with producing a plan for the schools merger that will be submitted to the SCUSB and Tennessee State Department of Education for approval. That plan will include an outline of the unified school district – how it will be organized, recommendations to address financial issues, personnel concerns, etc. Seven committees have been established around items that we have to put in the plan – Administrative, Educational/Academic Services/Plan, Communications, Finance, HR/Personnel, Logistics and Assessment.
TSD: What is the timeline for developing the transition plan?
B. Prescott: We are required to submit the plan for approval to the Shelby County Unified School Board and Tennessee Department of Education by late August, or early September of 2012. From October of this year until now we have used this time to get organized, form committees and engage in learning opportunities, which will continue throughout the timeline.
In January 2012, we will begin working with a consulting firm to help coordinate the planning process. There will be a lot of fact-finding and committee work to prepare recommendations to include in the plan through the end of June. From there, we’ll put final touches on before submitting the plan for review. From that point forward, we don’t really know what will happen – the SCUSB and Tennessee Department of Education may approve it or send some of it back to us. We have been appointed to serve throughout the whole merger process and or until our work is thoroughly completed.
TSD: In your own words, what are the ideal outcomes for a successful school merger?
B. Prescott: To create an outstanding, top notch school district that will drive attention to our metro area, to create a better equality of life in community and better economic standing for more of our population, and to become one of the best places to live, not only in Tennessee, but in the Country. A lot of that has to do with schools.
TSD: Can you provide a brief update on progress and describe any immediate next steps?
B. Prescott: Up until this point, we have focused primarily on putting together the committee structure, deciding which ones we needed and what members would be best suited to serve.
On Dec. 15, we will hold a full commission vision session to look at our committee process – how they work and establish guiding principles and objectives.
We have created a relationship with the Shelby County Schools Foundation to hire a consulting firm that will help to assist our committees in fact-finding, data-gathering and developing recommendations to include in the plan.
We have also done some speaking engagements and as our committees start to work, we will be rolling out a community engagement plan that will involve internal and external communications. This will be a key piece in developing the transition plan. We recognize our plan is a plan of recommendations, and community engagement is a major part of what we are doing.
TSD: How can the community stay updated, engaged and/or get involved?
B. Prescott: Shelby county government has graciously offered the support of staff and the use of their website to help the community track progress. Recordings of our meetings will be available there and all of our meetings are open to the public. If there are organizations or individuals that wish to have us speak to them directly, we’re happy to do that as well.
Soon we will begin coordinating listening tours and town hall type meetings that will help to provide the community with more information and opportunities to ask questions and learn more about the process.
Transition Planning Commission charge
The charge of the Transition Planning Commission is to develop a comprehensive transition plan to guide the consolidation of Shelby County Schools and Memphis City Schools. System. In developing the transition plan, the following items must be considered: administrative organization; ensure that there will be no diminution of educational services; plans to transfer assets, liabilities, and disposition of bonded indebtedness; preserving pension rights of teaching and nonteaching employees; preserving the existing tenure rights and benefits to teaching and nonteaching employees; appropriate plans for contributions by municipalities to the county for operations of unified school system; and any other matters deemed pertinent by the planning commission.
Special to the Tri-State Defender
While the U.S. Justice Department announced this week that it is investigating a number of states to determine if new voting provisions comply with federal voting rights laws, it isn’t saying just yet whether Tennessee is a target.
This summer, U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen wrote federal officials in the Justice Department to ask for a review of Tennessee’s newly-strengthened photo ID to vote law, which was strongly opposed by numerous veteran civil rights and voting rights groups.
The Justice Department has not yet replied to Cohen’s letter. Staff members in his office say officials are not likely to either, as Justice typically declines to confirm ongoing investigations.
On Tuesday (Dec. 13), U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Jr. left the matter open for interpretation as he publicly responded to the swelling chorus of voter complaints – including a few in Tennessee – by pledging to aggressively protect the rights of American voters.
“Ensuring that every veteran, every senior, every college student, and every eligible citizen has the right to vote must become our common cause,” said Holder, speaking at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library & Museum in Austin, Texas.
“And, for all Americans, protecting this right, ensuring meaningful access, and combating discrimination must be viewed, not only as a legal issue – but as a moral imperative.”
Holder outlined a few specific concerns with recent legislation and voter disinformation campaigns, but declined to identify or list all the states that may be targets for Justice investigators. He did publicly cite Texas and Florida.
“Although I cannot go into detail about the ongoing review of these (Section 5 states) and other state-law changes, I can assure you that it will be thorough – and fair. We will examine the facts, and we will apply the law,” said Holder.
“If a state passes a new voting law and meets its burden of showing that the law is not discriminatory, we will follow the law and approve the change. And where a state can’t meet this burden, we will object as part of our obligation under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said he welcomed the help from Justice Department officials.
“ Proponents of voter suppression have launched the most sophisticated, well-coordinated attack on voting rights in the modern era,” said Henderson.
“Their goal is simple – to suppress the vote of African Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities, low-income people, American Indians, Asian Americans, young people, seniors, and other constituencies that support progressive policies. The poll taxes and literacy tests of an earlier era are today embodied in state laws that require photo IDs to vote and that limit early voting, provisional voting and voter registration.”
Last summer, The New Tri-State Defender highlighted the fact that the new photo ID to vote law would pose a particular problem in Memphis, where some local residents were standing in line for two hours just to enter the motor vehicle department local offices, where state voter ID’s now are available. The wait to get an approved photo ID can be four to five hours in Shelby County, while state motor vehicle centers in other regions report wait times of 20 minutes of less.
The average wait time in the state is 55 minutes. Following the TSD reports, some changes were made – tents were erected to shelter those standing in line from the elements, bottled water was handed out, and the state pledged to start express lines for patrons seeking IDs to vote.
The Justice Department, in its review, said it will examine – among other things – whether the new voter ID laws and restrictions pose a greater burden for minorities, who are far less likely to have a driver’s license or valid state ID. In a recent speech, Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, said that states under review bear the burden of showing that the new laws are not intentionally discriminatory and will not have a retrogressive effect.
Tennessee’s new photo ID law states the Department of Safety and Homeland security will provide a photo ID at no charge for registered voters who do not have a government-issued photo ID. However, residents still have to produce documentation such as a birth certificate and two proofs of residency (utility bills, car registration or bank statements.)
The NAACP, however, notes residents typically incur a cost in ordering copies of birth certificates. In some cases, the records simply may not be available.
“In the rural South, many people of a certain age have no birth certificate because they were born to a midwife,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP.
“For them, the barriers to getting a state issued ID without birth certificates are tremendous. Others are dependent on the rides to the polls provided by church-organized Sunday voting drives, which have been shut down in some states.”
While civil rights group applauded Holder’s remarks, their efforts to protect voter rights will continue. On Dec. 5, the NAACP released a report summarizing the effect of recent voting laws, which supporters say are needed to combat voting fraud. In the report, “Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America,” officials argue that the new laws are designed to suppress minority turnout, which in 2008 was a factor in the election of Barack Obama, the first African American to serve as president.
“Last week was a game changer,” declared Jealous, whose organization helped to organize a voting rights rally in New York City last Saturday (Dec. 10) that attracted more than 25,000.
“We issued our call for voting rights in the streets of New York, at the United Nations and across the nation through the media. The far right is now on the defensive about their attack on voting rights.”
In a related matter:
The NAACP is urging members to sign the petition for voting rights at Stand4Freedom.org http://www.stand4freedom.org/page/s/stand-for-freedom.
In Tennessee, a citizen-led effort is underway to repeal the photo ID for voting law. Tennessee Citizen Action, in conjunction with the No Barriers to the Ballot Box Coalition, has launched ProtectTheVoteTN.org, a new website for Tennesseans who want to help repeal the photo ID to vote law, serve voters who need assistance, and monitor the 2012 elections.
On Dr. Martin Luther King Day, the NAACP will launch an unprecedented voter registration drive and it’s first-ever voter identification drive.”
Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration founded by Maulana Karenga and observed Dec. 26 through Jan. 1. Each day is guided by one of the Seven Principles of the Nguzo Saba.
‘Black on Black Love’ theme for Mid-South Kwanzaa Inc.
Mid-South Kwanzaa Incorporated – directed by President and CEO Ayanna Ruby Payne – embraces Kwanzaa as a celebration of culture, community and family.
This year’s theme is “Black on Black Love.” Those designated for special honor are:
Kenya Bradshaw, children’s advocate (Umoja); Mable L. Williams, spiritual activist (Kujichagulia); Bro. Jamalo, community activist (Ujima); Bennie Nelson West, entrepreneur (Ujamaa); Min. Anthony Muhammad, community activist (Nia); Winford Bryant, inventor (Kuumba); the Rev. Alton Williams, spiritual activist (Imani); and Roberto and Rochelle Person and family, family of the year.
Day 1: UMOJA (Unity) – Monday, Dec. 26 at 2 p.m. at the Board of Education Auditorium (Sponsored by MCS, Orange Mound Progressive Women; and 7 p.m. at Unity Christian Church at 3345 McCorkle Rd. (Sponsored by the Rev. Eric Donaldson).
Day 2: KUJICHAGULIA (Self-Determination) – Tuesday, Dec. 27 at 5 pm at Southwest Tennessee Community College-Auditorium, 737 Union Ave. (Sponsored by Levi and Debra Frazier); 7 p.m. at the Alpha Church, 1084 E. McLemore. (Sponsored by LeQuita Sims)
Day 3: UJIMA (Collective Work & Responsibility) –Wednesday, Dec. 28 at Slavehaven, 826 N. Second St. at 2 p.m. (Sponsored by Heritage Tours); 7 p.m. at Exum Towers, 3155 Sharpe Ave. (Sponsored by Reuben and Lula Barnes)
Day 4: UJAMAA (Cooperative Economics) – Thursday, Dec. 29 at Lewis Center for Senior Citizens, 1188 N. Parkway at 10:30 a.m. (Sponsored by Adimu and Pearl Ali); am Economic Summit at The LeMoyne-Owen College, Student Lounge, 807 Walker Avenue at 4 p.m. (Sponsored by Ayodele Kofie)
Day 5: NIA (Purpose) – Friday, Dec. 30 at the Orange Mound Senior Service Center, 2590 Park Ave. at 10:30 a.m. (Sponsored by Trennie and Kiwayna Williams and Dr. Niambi Webster); Lester Community Center, 317 Tillman St at 7 p.m. (Sponsored by Osupa Williams, Frances Barnes & Tillman-Binghampton CDC).
Day 6: KUUMBA (Creativity) - Saturday, Dec. 31 at White’s Chapel Elementary School, 3966 Sewanee Road at 2 p.m. (Sponsored by Carolyn Crawford and Khepra); Java, Juice, & Jazz Restaurant, 1423 Elvis Presley Blvd at 7 p.m. (Sponsored by Johari Brittenum)
Day 7: IMANI (Faith) – Sunday, Jan. 1 at the University of Memphis-Pan-Hellenic Building at 4 p.m. (Sponsored by the African & African American Studies Department).
‘Year of the Father’ celebration for Memphis Kwanzaa International
Memphis Kwanzaa International Inc., is ready for the 2011-12 Kwanzaa Cultural Celebrations!
Dr. Kaia Naantaanbuu-Jones, president of Memphis Kwanzaa International, notes that this year’s theme is “Year of the Father.”
Day 1: UMOJA (Unity) – Monday, Dec. 26 at The LeMoyne Owen College, 807 Walker Avenue, from Refreshments from 4 p.m.-5 p.m., with program to follow.
Day 2: KUJICHAGULIA (Self-Determination) – Tuesday, Dec. 27 at the Benjamin F. Hooks Public Library, 3030 Poplar Ave., Refreshments from 4 p.m.-5 p.m., with program to follow.
Day 3: UJIMA (Collective Work & Responsibility) – Wednesday, Dec. 28 at the Glenview Community Center, 1411Barksdale, Refreshments from 4 p.m.-5 p.m., with program to follow.
Day 4: UJAMAA (Cooperative Economics) – Thursday, Dec. 29 at Memphis Botanic Gardens, 750 Cherry Road, Refreshments from 4 p.m.-5 p.m., with program to follow.
Day 5: NIA (Purpose) – Friday, Dec. 30 at McFarland Community Center, 4955 Cottonwood, Refreshments from 4 p.m.-5 p.m., with program to follow.
Day 6: KUUMBA (Creativity) – Saturday, Dec. 31 at The Links of Whitehaven, 750 East Holmes Rd. This day’s event is a Soiree and Fundraiser to help establish The Memphis Kwanzaa Health and Social Center that will offer free health services and job training classes. Food, fun and live entertainment from 7 p.m.-midnight. Tickets are $50 (single), couples $75.
Day 7: IMANI (Faith) – Sunday, January 1, at The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Labor Center, 485 Beale St., refreshments from 2 p.m.-3 p.m., with program to follow.
(For more information, call 901-210-1218 or 901-239-1555.)
by Amy Rosenberg
Special to the Tri-State Defender
The Neely name is arguably more famous than any other in the legendary Memphis barbecue scene. Yet, more valuable to brothers Tony, Gaelin, Mark and Patrick than any secret sauce or spice rub is a family bond that extends far beyond the kitchen.
|For the Neelys, family is serious business. Pictured: Tony, Mamma, Jackie, Gaelin and Mark. (Courtesy photo)|
Family is the thread that ties the Neelys’ restaurants together, and family, not fame, is what they are most thankful for this holiday season.
Even with barbecue businesses thriving in Memphis, Nashville and New York City and the family’s treasured recipes finding their way into homes all across America by way of The Food Network, the Neelys still see the holidays as a time for reflection, focusing on the long journey that has brought them so much to be thankful for.
It was 1988 when the Neely men decided to take all they had learned from their uncle, Jim Neely of Neely’s Interstate Barbecue, and go into the restaurant business for themselves. However, that first Neely’s Barbecue restaurant was less of a dream come true, they say, and more of a necessity.
“I’ll never forget my mother telling me she was living in a tiny apartment, and she said, ‘I don’t even have a decent place to host Thanksgiving,’” Tony recalled. “That bothered us, bothered all of us.”
Mamma Neely was a widow at the time with young children at home, and barbecue was the best way Tony and his brothers knew how to help her. From the very start, family has always been at the heart of every recipe that has come from the Neelys’ kitchen.
“It was just ingrained in us – being family oriented and working hard. It’s in the Neelys’ blood,” Tony said.
Step foot into any Neely’s BBQ restaurant, and the writing is on the walls.
Photos that adorn dining room walls and greet hungry customers in takeout lines depict a family history full of entrepreneurs dating back to the 1930s with Grandfather Neely’s trucking company. They’re joined, of course, by classic images of all six of Mamma Neely’s children – five boys; Gaelin, Mark, Patrick, Tony and Christopher and a girl, Jackie – as well as numerous newspaper articles documenting the rise of Neely’s from a simple local eatery to a major national brand.
Local fame didn’t take long to achieve. The first Neely’s restaurant opened to hungry Memphians in the medical district in 1988. It was the only spot to grab a bite in the entire area at the time, so business boomed immediately.
“It was crazy,” Gaelin recalled. “There were no eateries, but there was a customer base. It was like a goldmine. We opened our doors and it would be standing room only.”
The goldmine continued to grow, and the next stop for Neely’s was a larger location in the Midtown area that still packs in lunch and dinner crowds at 670 Jefferson. A second store opened later at 5700 Mt. Moriah, followed by two Nashville locations, a freestanding store and one at the airport. Add to that two Food Network programs featuring Pat and Gina, as well as the recently opened Neely’s BBQ Parlor in New York City and a steady stream of Internet sales, and it’s easy to understand why Mamma Neely says her family’s journey has been nothing short of amazing.
“In a million years, I never thought it would be like this,” she said. “I always felt they’d be great one day, but I didn’t know at what. And I never would have expected it to be like this.”
Admittedly overwhelmed by what has become of the Neely name, Mamma Neely is quick to point out that her family’s success is not a surprise.
“All we did was work hard and stay together,” she added, “and that’s the key to the success of it all – loving one another, working hard and being caring and concerned about one another.”
Mamma Neely’s only advice to her sons has been to treat people right, something her late husband instilled in the children at a young age. He also preached the importance of being close, which they are to this day, and the value of working hard as a family.
“I remember on Saturdays, mom would be inside doing the housework, and we’d be in the yard doing yard work,” Gaelin said. “I remember not having a problem with it. We liked being together, working together.”
As children and adults, working together has always been the Neely way. Together, they made it possible for Mamma Neely to retire early and ensure she always has a proper place to host holiday meals.
“We just wanted to do right by the name and make our father proud and our Uncle Jim, make our mother proud,” Tony said.
And though they may be spread far and wide as Pat and Gina are on their book tour, the Neely’s will celebrate the holiday season, their thriving business and a bright future just as they always have – as a family.
“I’m grateful that God has given me another year of health to see the greatness of this family,” Mamma Neely said.
“I believe the best is yet to come.”
(PRNewswire) – Hundreds of young American minority college students in their final year of college are in immediate danger of not graduating.
“They have hit the economic wall and have nowhere else to turn,” said Pearl Algere-Lonian, Director of Financial Aid at Xavier University of Louisiana, one of the 38 historically black colleges and universities that are members of UNCF (United Negro College Fund).
To address the issue, UNCF initiated the CESA (Campaign for Emergency Student Aid) program in 2009, and hopes to raise at least $5 million in scholarship aid to help this year’s students. The average CESA grant is $1,600 per student, the difference between a dropout and a graduate.
“If we lose a student close to graduation, America loses because more often than not that student will not return to finish his or her studies,” said Dr. Beverly Hogan, president of Tougaloo College in Mississippi,
To learn more about CESA or to make a donation, visit http://give.uncf.org/cesa.
Russell Simmons was among the handful of celebrities making a daily show of support of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) via a very visible presence on the ground in lower Manhattan and other cities. But since the police began banning and bulldozing the group’s campsites all across the country, it seems that the activists might have lost some of their momentum. So, I decided to track down Russell to see whether he thinks OWS was just a flash in the pan or if it will be revived despite the recent crackdown.
Kam Williams: Hey Russell, thanks for the time.
|“We don’t want the heads of the biggest industries to make all the decisions, because they’re not for the people. They’re for the corporations. Power to the people!” – Russell Simmons (Courtesy photo)|
Russell Simmons: Hey, man.
KW: Why did you join the Occupy Wall Street Movement?
RS: Well, I have certainly been one of the people who’s been very vocal about the government’s being more concerned about special interests than the needs of the people who elected the officials. There’s always been talk about this, and now we have a chance to have a real dialogue. Wall Street controlled the future of the people participating in the occupation.
A lot of pundits keep asking, “What do they want?” It’s so clear to me what the protesters’ rap is all about. They’re occupying Wall Street and carrying picket signs that say things like, “I couldn’t afford a politician, so I made this sign.” You can trace their grievances and discontent back to all the corporate influence, which has had a huge impact in terms of all the inequalities that people are suffering from. If you talk about the prison-industrial complex, I’ve fought against the prison-industrial complex when I called for a repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws. The biggest impediment to get the laws changed was the lobbyists. Whether you’re talking about healthcare, jobs going overseas, or tax reform, you’re always coming up against lobbyists. Hello! So that issue is critical. And this dialogue is bringing a lot more attention to it.
KW: But are the politicians listening to OWS or to the lobbyists?
RS: The politicians already in office don’t want to change. A few might have it in their hearts to change and to start working for the people, but even some of the most progressive politicians are silent because they know that the candidate with the most money wins.
KW: So, what’s the solution?
RS: On the day that Mayor Bloomberg cleared out Zuccotti Park in New York, I went up to Boston where I promoted a Constitutional amendment calling for public financing of elections, a very straightforward, no-nonsense, no compromise amendment which prohibits any expenditures by any third party, by any special interests or even by the candidates themselves.
KW: That would certainly level the playing field.
RS: Yeah, the elected officials should be working for the voters who elected them. Money corrupts the process. Why would you be giving a candidate money unless you expect something in return? That’s why I want to get this amendment done. It’s only four lines long. This is not a partisan idea. It’s an American idea. We’re trying to make a true democracy.
KW: Do you think the Occupy Wall Street Movement has been hurt by getting kicked out of park after park around the country?
RS: No, no, no… I think it’s only made it stronger. The movement’s just beginning. It’s only a couple months old. I was at Zuccotti Park almost every day. The kids down there were very compassionate. They embraced the homeless, and they were even kind enough to give free food and tents to inmates just being released from Riker’s Island. And some of those people would come out of jail and find purpose in joining the movement. Unfortunately, a few were disruptive, and the media would give the bad apples the most attention and so OWS’ message was being misrepresented. But OWS was only taking care of people the City of New York should’ve been caring for. So, the cleaning out of the parks just means the revolution has to evolve.
KW: What would your answer be to people who ask: What, specifically, does Occupy Wall Street want?
RS: We want the government to be controlled by all the people, not by the richest 1 percent. That’s always been the first demand. That’s a simple enough message, and I think it’s pretty clear now, even though much of the media has been disingenuous in its coverage. We don’t want the heads of the biggest industries to make all the decisions, because they’re not for the people. They’re for the corporations. Power to the people!
KW: How will eliminating political contributions help the election process?
RS: Presently, you can’t be a free man and run for office in this country. Everybody wants something! Even individuals who bundle your money want something. The system has to be changed so that the politicians will work on behalf of the people.
KW: Isn’t it possible that you’ll still have politicians taking money under the table?
RS: That’s a different type of corruption. Most people don’t want to break the law. I’m concerned about eliminating perfectly legal forms of bribery. At least 4 out 5 Americans believe that Wall Street and special interests have too much control over our government. So, it’s not just a progressive thing. Remember, even a whole unit of Tea Party members marched with us on the Brooklyn Bridge. They want their elected officials to work for them, too. We see a flaw in our democracy, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to fix it. We want to educate people on this one issue.
KW: What’s tragic to me is the precariousness of the middle class. I’ve seen people lose their jobs, and then lose their home. Or get sick, and then lose their home. Or be working full-time but be unable to afford health care or to send their kids to college. A quarter of the kids in this country now live in poverty. Meanwhile, the Bush tax cuts for the rich remain in effect. Whatever happened to a living wage?
RS: All of those problems are what makes this so urgent. And at the same time, the stock market just rolls on. It’s a disconnect, a money grab. Things will change when they can no longer exploit the people.
KW: So, isn’t business to blame for these problems more than politicians?
RS: No, I don’t fault business. If you run a corporation, your job is to maximize the return on investment for your investors. Good for you. But by the same token, we have to remember that corporations have no compassion. That’s why legislation and regulations are necessary.
KW: Do you anticipate seeing greater African-American involvement in the Occupy Wall Street Movement?
RS: Definitely! Veteran activist Dr. Ben Chavis is coming aboard with his long history and great record in terms of organizing. I know that when the civil rights community joins forces with the unions and with the pop stars of the cultural community, we can make this country much greater.
KW: Are you at all worried about a possible backlash from the black community the way that Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley were criticized as being anti-Obama when they went on their poverty tour?
RS: No, this not about Obama. I’m prepared to go on the road to make sure that Obama gets reelected. I’m a big supporter of President Obama.
KW: And what’s up next for Occupy Wall Street?
RS: There’s going to be an announcement made very shortly. I can’t blow it, but I will say this much: I potentially see the unions, the black Church and the cultural community coming together to spearhead a Poor People’s Revolution as a fulfillment of the dream envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King.
KW: Well, thanks for updating me, Russell, and best of luck with expanding the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
RS: Thank you, brother.
- Category: News
08 Dec 2011
- Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom
by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender
A group of civic-minded businessmen on Tuesday (Dec. 6) announced that Brothers About Change (BAC) has reformed to spearhead a $2 million dollar fund-raising drive to upgrade the sports training facility at Whitehaven High School and purchase artificial turf for the football field.
|An undefeated regular season in football is stimulating a move by Brothers About Change (BAC) to raise funds to upgrade facilities at Whitehaven High School. Pictured: Seated (l-r) – Clarence Dillard, offensive coordinator; Rodney Saulsberry, head coach; Terrell Burks, defensive line coach. Standing (l-r) Antonio Harris, BAC; Ced Collins, former coach; Jason Harris, QB coach; Byron Harris, BAC; and Patrick Johnson, BAC. (Courtesy photo)|
Sigmund Hamilton said the inspiring story of Whitehaven’s 14-0 undefeated season inspired the businessmen to reform the group and get behind the school. BAC was high profile for many years because of its tie to a huge free sports celebrity summer camp. Stimulated by the football team’s tenacity, the new group’s kickoff committee is heavily comprised of Whitehaven graduates, with plans to grow.
“They not only competed, but did it without having the facilities and the support most schools that compete on their level have,” said Hamilton. “We need to form strong alumni committees to show these kids, and schools throughout the city, that we support them in action.”
Whitehaven math teacher and football coach Rodney Saulsberry agreed. Though Whitehaven lost the state championship game to Maryville by a score of 23 to 7, Saulsberry said the game was far from a defeat.
“I told them that you have to learn from everything you do. Even though we did not win the state championship, look back and enjoy the journey that we had to get to the championship. No one expected us to go but us,” said Saulsberry.
“We set the goal to go on a mission to win the state championship, but even though we didn’t win it only makes us hungrier to go get it next year. They should embrace the work that went into this season. We kept our eyes on the prize and achieved an undefeated (regular) season together.”
Noting that the football team’s success brings attention, Saulsberry said he is a real stickler for details.
“Please make it understood that I consider myself a math teacher that coaches football, not vice versa,” he said. “I don’t believe in using kids to make your own career. You cannot play on the team if you don’t maintain passing grades. You have to make sure they finish strong in school if they are going to have a chance to earn a scholarship. Football is a vehicle to highlight education, and that must always be understood.”
He welcomes BAC’s goal.
“Look at what these kids have done, and all of our teams consistently produce, without the level of support that others throughout the state enjoy. We teach them to strive to be the best. Why shouldn’t they have the best equipment to help them the same as others?”
- Category: News
08 Dec 2011
- Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom
The rehabilitation of existing commercial and historic structures is an integral part of the elimination and prevention of slum and blight. Grant funds are available to rehabilitate existing commercial and historic properties within a designated zone.
The designated zone is bounded by Chelsea, Manassas, A.W. Willis and N Main. North Memphis Community Development Corporation is hosting a public meeting to discuss the grant application and to solicit comments.
The meeting will be held at 6 p.m., on Dec. 22 at the Uptown Square Apartments, 252 N. Lauderdale. The meeting is not mandatory, but prospective applicants are encouraged to attend.
Applications are due on Jan. 6.
- Category: News
01 Dec 2011
- Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom
by Tarrin McGhee
Special to Tri-State Defender
Kevin Huffman, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education, is visiting Memphis this week to provide an update on initiatives to improve education locally and across the state of Tennessee.
On Thursday (Dec. 1), Huffman will address questions from the Transition Planning Commission at their December meeting regarding the planned merger of Memphis and Shelby County Schools.
The 21-member Transition Planning Commission is the government body made responsible for developing a plan to consolidate the two public school systems by the start of the 2013 school year. The commission was crafted to take on that role after a countywide referendum was passed earlier this year by Memphis voters in favor of a unified school district.
Members of the Transition Planning Commission are working to complete and submit the merger plan for approval from local and state education officials by September 2012. Individually, each member serves on one of seven committees that have been established for operations: Administrative, Educational/Academic Services/Plan, Communications, Finance and HR/Personnel .
In an update provided for members of the Shelby County Unified School Board at a meeting held on Tuesday night, Transition Planning Commission Chairwoman Barbara Prescott said Huffman is expected to bring clarity to several complex issues related to the planning process in an effort to streamline progress.
“Our committees have been working to address particular items…and there are a lot of things that are not absolutely spelled out,” Prescott said. “We are looking forward to discussing these things with him.”
Huffman, executive vice president of Public Affairs for Teach for America, was appointed as Tennessee’s Education Commissioner in March by Gov. Bill Haslam following a nationwide search to fill the position in state government.
The Shelby County Transition Planning Commission meeting will be held at the Office of Construction Code Enforcement located at 6465 Mullins Station Rd and is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. The meeting is open the public.
- Category: News
01 Dec 2011
- Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom
WASHINGTON – The National Urban League on Tuesday (Nov. 29) announced its partnership with leading out-of-school-time organizations to unify principles for nutrition and physical activity.
The announcement came during the Partnership for a Healthier America’s Building a Healthier Future Summit.
In addition to the National Urban League, the Healthy Kids Out of School initiative is a collaboration between the Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of the USA, the National Council of La Raza, the National Council of Youth Sports, Pop Warner, US Youth Soccer, the YMCA of the USA, and 4-H.
The leaders of the organizations, convened by ChildObesity180, developed universal nutrition and physical activity principles from a broad list of evidenced-based recommendations for combating childhood obesity – marking the first time leaders from the groups have worked together toward a common goal.
“Healthy Kids Out of School represents a groundbreaking collaboration of major youth-focused groups in a new and strategic effort,” said Peter Dolan, chairman ofChildObesity180. “These organizations are demonstrating the essential leadership and cooperation necessary to counter the childhood obesity epidemic and to meaningfully improve the health and well-being of the tens of millions children who participate in their programs.”
Many children in communities of color are more likely to be obese and live in unsafe communities where there are few opportunities for physical activity and limited access to healthy food, said National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial.
“Now, by adopting these three principles in after-school programs and as a part of out-of-school time activities, we are coming together to offer our children practical, smart, cost-effective measures for a lifetime of lessons about healthy food choices and physical activity.”
A significant percentage of school-aged children in the U.S. are enrolled in out-of-school-time activities, including a large number of rural, urban, and low-income children who are particularly vulnerable to the poor health outcomes linked to childhood obesity. However, there has been variability in the quality of foods and beverages served and opportunities for physical activity offered to children participating in out-of-school-time programs.
Recognizing this opportunity for action, leaders from the nine ChildObesity180-affiliated organizations identified and agreed upon three sustainable, actionable principles that are sufficiently flexible for adaptation to local environments and cultures. They are:
Drink Right: Choose water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Move More: Boost movement and physical activity in all programs.
Snack Smart: Fuel up on fruits and vegetables.
“Aligning these nine organizations with unifying principles ensures that the tens of millions of children who participate in out-of-school programs are consistently encouraged to eat and drink healthfully and to be active, regardless of where they spend their time out of school,” said Dr. Christina D. Economos, associate professor at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and director of ChildObesity180.
Facebook pages and blogs lit up all over the city of Memphis as the news spread Wednesday (Nov. 30) that the Memphis Soul Legend we all know as “J. Blackfoot” had taken the “Taxi” to soul heaven.
|J. Blackfoot stirred a blast of blues energy at the 6th Annual Memphis Tri-State Blues Festival at the DeSoto Civic Center in 2008. (Photo by Warren Roseborough)|
Born John Colbert in 1946 in Greenville, Miss., he acquired the nickname “Blackfoot” as a child for his habit of walking barefoot on the tarred sidewalks. After a long battle with cancer, he died at the age of 65.
“J Blackfoot was one of the greatest singers that ever lived,” said legendary bluesman Bobby Rush. “He did not do a lot of movement on stage, but the energy in his voice was amazing. Whether singing blues or R&B, you could feel his spirit in his tone and heart.”
Blackfoot’s impact on Soul Music is tremendous.
Did you know that after the plane crash claimed the lives of four members of the original Bar-Kays, for a little less than a year, J. Blackfoot joined the re-created group as the lead singer?
Then there were the Soul Children years from 1968 to 1978. This was a project that Isaac Hayes and David Porter created after the Stax Label lost “Sam & Dave” to Atlantic Records. The Soul Childen – Blackfoot, along with Norman West, Shelbra Bennett and Anita Lewis – recorded 15 charted R&B hits in a 10-year span, with such hits as “I’ll Understand,” “The Sweeter He Is,” and “Tighten Up My Thang.”
In 1983, came the huge hit “Taxi,” which was originally written for Johnny Taylor. The song not only hit the charts in the United States, but in the U.K, eventually crossing over into Billboard’s Hot 100.
Months ago at a tribute event put on by 103.5 radio personality Jackson Brown, Blackfoot was the honoree. During a performance by headliner Michael Cooper of the group Confunkshun, Cooper told a little story that a lot of people had not heard. Confunkshun, he said, started as a backup group for the Soul Children under the name “Project Soul.”
And with a heartfelt tone, Cooper said, “There would be no “Love’s Train,” no “My Baby’s House” no “Confunkshun” without J. Blackfoot.”
Rush said Blackfoot was “a spiritual man.”
“Losing him has left a void, but I know he’s in a better place. I would like to say to his family, keep your head up,” Rush said.
“I will always remember that J always had a smiling hello when you met him and a smiling goodbye when you left. In fact, he would be the one to pull things together when things weren’t going right. He would say, ‘come guys, we are all brothers.’”
Rush last worked with Blackfoot at the Tri-State Blues Show and then in September at the Delta Blues Show. They were scheduled for a New Year’s Eve show.
“J was kind, easy to work with and an all around gentleman,” said Rush. “I will miss my good friend.”
Funeral arrangements are still pending.
(This story includes contributions from Tri-State Defender staff.)
- Category: News
17 Nov 2011
- Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom
- Category: News
17 Nov 2011
- Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom