Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A National Epidemic, Teens killing Teens



I wrote this post while wiping tears and yelling at my monitor. I watched a few minutes of the video of the senseless beating death of the Chicago teen, Derrion Albert, 16, who was an A student at his school. I could not get my mind around the fact that no one intervened. No one. I could not believe that no one yelled out or ran to get help. As I listened to "fonevideographer" give commentary while the life of a young man who had many possibilities slipped from his ravaged body, I literally got ill. I could not watch the entire video.

I thought of the parents whose son's death has been immortalized on You tube because he was doing what young people should be doing: going to school and making good grades. My heart goes out to them. The details and the “whys” of this vicious crime have been lost among the cries of outrage and righteous indignation. An epidemic of criminal activity committed by young males has terrorized our nation. Chicago has become known for being most dangerous city for school children. Going to school can get you killed! Chicago is not alone in grabbing headlines. Florida’s horrendous rape and beating of a mother and son in the notorious Dunbar Village case left many calling the perpetrators "savages". Mainstream media by-passed the story that was covered by the blog What About Our Daughters. After two years, the young men were finally sentenced last month.

Teens killing teens have made the news right here in Nashville. In the last two weeks, two teens have been involved in shootings. Reading through the month of September’s press releases issued by MNPD, teens made up a third of the crimes reported. The number of teens who were nabbed from truancy sweeps in a one month period was staggering. Not attending school during school hours is a recipe for disaster. As I counted the number of children who were arrested for not being in school in a one month period, I wondered what they were doing if they were not in school. Looking for trouble to find them? What can we, as a city, do to help end the violence and get help for young people who choose to pull a trigger or beat another to death?

It is going to take more than a few people. It is literally going to take a village…our city. Working together across race, gender, or religious affiliation for solutions and to implement changes must start sooner than later. This should be the top priority for everyone: parents, schools, and congregations. We cannot point to one particular situation or group to blame because the violence that has snared our youth does not care about situations or groups.

This week, everyone on radio, television and the blogosphere has talked about the condition of our youth. I heard one DJ complain that it was the music lyrics that our young people listen too and a TV pundit suggested it was the glorification of rappers and stars who behave badly that has influenced young people to act the way they do. That may be the case but we as parents must step up as well. Home training must become popular again. The images of Nene cursing her “friends” at every turn and the Kaynes of the world suggesting to us that we blame our foolishness on your mother’s death, only add to the discord that our country has embraced so proudly. We have glamorized ignorance. Add a Facebook poll asking about the assassination of the President and pics of every inch of one’s body swapped back and forth on the Internet like young people are trading marbles-these sorts of activites gives us an indication of the “condition” of our youth today. Often, our youth depict what we value and prioritize as a country or a people. Our national discord is fast becoming anarchy.

We must support community heroes who are trying to make a difference. Jeff O. Carr sitting on a roof for a week to raise $30,000 to keep our youth out of trouble is noble and commendable. At the same time, it is upsetting that it took a week for the community of color to donate $30,000 to sustain a theater that will nurture young people’s artistic talents and keep them safe. If that was a ball or gala to glorify egos, the money would have been raised within a few hours. Yep, I said it. In an Oasis board meeting on Tuesday, I could not help but mention the violence that we are witnessing among our youth across the country and in Nashville. We are not Somalia with teen pirates under the leadership of drug lords who kill for a dime and a pack of cigarettes. We are not Haiti, a country lacking leadership where nearly 75% of the people in the country are under the age of 19. We are not Mexico, Darfur, or the Congo. So why are we allowing abnormal gruesome behavior to become our expectation for our youth as if the are living in wild? I refuse to believe that our young cannot be helped even when I feel helpless at times or overwhelmed by the constant stream of ghastly news.

We must work together…we are Nashville. We can do better. I will close with a thank you. Jeff O. Carr thanks for caring about our youth. You are a leader with heart and soul and your love for young people is contagious. Your spirit need to be imitated. Quickly!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Churchfolks and Roaches



When we started Holmes Pest Control, my kids were practically babies and a handful. Now that they are older, nothing has changed. This time of year reminds me of all the big goals I had for the company initially. I believed starting a company and being patronized by all the people I knew would be a walk in the park. Pick a person and I can do three degrees of separation. The pest control business has been very good to my family. I thank God everyday for every critter he created for HPC to kill and I am thankful for every customer that has been given to us. A customer is more than a customer, they are family and friends. However, it has not been a walk in the park but I am grateful for choosing the road less traveled.

Many moons ago, I naturally assumed the customers on the Goodlettsville - Tennessee State University route we serviced while working for another company would naturally want to become our customers once we started our own business. As the foundation was being laid to start HPC, I volunteered to set appointments for the national known company that employed my husband. Everything about the commercial pest control was at our finger tips, but we had no clue about the residential side of the industry. Calling customers nightly and talking about everything to everybody helped me to understand, firsthand, the likes and dislikes of homeowners. Several large churches were on the 400-plus monthly customer route. After a year of learning names and numbers, I began to share my dream of business ownership with others.

Each time I would express my desire to become a business owner, I was always reassured that when the time was right they would want to be our customer as well. “We would never leave you guys”, we heard over and over. Since the pastors on the route had the most influence, we met with many to discuss our plans. The ministers gave us hugs and reassurances to fight the good fight and to do well. After two years of working for someone, we struck out on our own. Holmes Pest Control was in business and we were officially a “minority-owned" pest control service ready to do business in Nashville! With the excitement of a kindergartner starting school, I went door to door selling Holmes Pest Control.

On a crisp fall day, armed with 400 names, freshly printed pamphlets in hand, and a good pair of shoes; determined and driven, I knocked on doors from morning to night. But there was a slight problem, the customers were firmly planted. My business plan was surmised around customers who were brand loyal to another company not the service that was given to them by us while working for that brand. I did not have a plan B when they did not become customer with Holmes Pest Control. A route that we had serviced for two years, predominantly minority and middle income were not feeling the love for a young start up company with three hollering kids. Out of 400 plus customers, only four came with us. A future vice-mayor, a future councilman, a pediatrician, and character I lovingly called Mr. Slick. All of them are still with us today and considered close friends. Each of them has stayed with us through the good and bad times, personally and professionally. Of our four customers, Mr. Slick’s persona was peculiar and his referrals were unique like him.

He called at odd times with to do lists that were endless. He had rental properties all over town which we did not have keys too; therefore he accompanied us on every trip. No matter how far the drive or how long the job took, he remained with us as we worked. He passed the timed complaining, criticizing, and dissecting us while we worked silently. We never responded to his tirades no matter how his words hurt. After a year of working with Mr. Slick, he called two days before Christmas to get his properties treated. We had packed the vehicle to visit my parents but we unpacked and reloaded it with chemicals for Mr. Slick. After following him around town for an entire day, he told us he wanted us to meet him back as his place. Dog-tired and thoroughly confused, we followed him home without speaking a word about our special customer with his eccentric demands. He came out with an envelope stuffed with cash. He always paid in cash but the envelope was much thicker than usual. “Get something for them babies,” he said in a gruff voice. He also told us his church needed pest control. I was floored. Not about the extra thousand dollars but that he mentioned church. “God provides,” was my comment for my ugly thoughts. Churches were a hard sell. Church folks love pest control service but if you are not on first names with a Bishop, a Reverend Doctor, and Saint Peter…keep walking. Christmas arrived two days earlier for the Holmes family.

After the holidays, we attended service with Mr. Slick. He wanted to introduce us to the pastor and church board. In my Sunday's best, I came prepared with brochures and a contract. Being raised in a multi-denominational family and a graduate of Catholic high school, visiting churches was always an adventure. His church took me back to the old days of fanning and fainting, long and lively, and pious preaching. As I was visually checking out the church folks, I could not miss the bugs. Yep, this church was open to everyone, including roaches. As the minister started delivering his message, I could see smaller roaches starting to scurry. About fifteen minutes into his sermon, the roaches were coming for an alter call. The more he banged on the podium, the more the roaches appeared. I knew this where I needed be. Since the roaches were coming into the light, I felt moved to be thankful. Kicking Roger, I pointed to the roaches and he started clapping as well. The more we clapped the more bugs we saw. Needless to say, we cut a shine right down the aisle. I was praying this church became our customer. Mr. Slick, Deacon Slick on Sundays, was sitting in corner wishing he never invited us. I could read his body language. He knew we saw the roaches and I knew he was going to have to explain his visitors’ “happiness” at the next board meeting.

We got the contract but it was not given right away. We sat out in the hallway while churchfolks with roaches looked for every reason under God’s blue sky not to do business with us. They hid nothing and every suspicion about dealing with a young company was discussed openly with us listening. Humility has many levels and remembering I had three kids to feed kept me from walking out the door. I refused to allow pride to hinder a blessing in disguise.

Years later, Mr. Slick is still a customer. His health has deteriorated over time and he does not call as often but he still gives his commentary. I send highlights of “them babies” often. He gave me the “skinny boy's” gift for graduation this year; cash in an envelope as usual. He finds it hard to believe they are young adults. For Father’s Day this summer, I took him a pie, sweet potato of course, and a card with their signatures on it. He smiled quietly and I could see the humility that comes with aging. As I was leaving his home that we have served over the last decade, I reminded him of our church visit and the lessons we learned that fateful day.

I told Mr. Slick he taught us to be faithful, we learned that four customers that believe in your mission is better than 400 who do not, drop the label minority-owned and just be Holmes Pest Control and don’t be afraid to shout when you are happy. Giving him a big hug as I said good-bye, I was reminded how many interesting churchfolks one meets on the road less traveled.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Memories of 9/12


When the Twin Towers were hit on the morning of 9/11/01, I was talking on the phone with Carolyn Waller, then-owner of Premier Art Décor. We were discussing the details of James Threadkill’s upcoming art show. We were stunned, to say the least. We immediately reacted with cries and shouts, followed quickly by Carolyn’s prayers. As the extent of the devastation grew, I could not turn off my television. Throughout the day, I watched NBC. The Today Show morning program became one endless loop of grim and shocking images.

The next day, 9/12, I was an exhausted ball of emotions. My endless tears became dry sobs. When I could get through, I phoned family and friends to say, "I love you." I called several mothers whose children had attended college in New York to ask about their safety. I phoned every model and fashion show coordinator I had ever worked with wanting to hear “I am okay.” Everyone in New York had a story of someone who had not heard from a loved one or knew someone who worked downtown. My heart was heavier with each call. Weary and distraught, I continued to dial friends and acquaintances in New York and New Jersey. I was determined to reach as many people as I could. Knowing no one would answer, I even called the offices of Black Enterprise.

On 9/12, planes and other transportation came to a screeching halt, phone lines were stretched to capacity, the death counts were rising by the minute, and numbness and pain were etched in the faces of everyone on television. It felt as the world that I knew it had come to an end and I was seeing a small glimpse of the ultimate judgment day. I was terrified along with everyone else.

My television was still on NBC and the descriptions of the aftermath were more that I could fathom. Local churches, synagogues, and mosques in Nashville were filled to capacity with folks seeking solace and spiritual guidance from their leaders, and comforting others. It was not unusual to see total strangers, united in their shock, embracing each other. Even though whispers of the unknown hung in the air like a fog on a dark dreary night, Americans were overwhelmingly without animosity toward each other. We were all Americans on 9/12, helping our fellow citizens through a national tragedy.

After comforting others, I found relief in the book of Job. Not to preach my faith to others, but I found reassurance in God’s word. Job, a faithful man, lost everything. He was devastated, yet God was with him through his entire ordeal. God was faithful to Job even when others were not. He was mocked and ridiculed, experienced ruin, betrayal, alienation, illness, and rebuke. Financial loss is one thing but Job lost his family. At one point, I wondered why I picked passages from Job to read at a disastrous time in our country.

As soon as I asked my question inwardly, I was immediately reminded of the power of Job’s story. The book of Job, one long poem, asks why innocent people suffer. God, who is always faithful, cares about his people, even when we do not see His hands or lose our footing. Our time is not His time. We often lacks patience and perseverance. Through all the desolation, Job refused to insult God. His faithfulness and steadfastness was rewarded by God by not only restoring him to his former prominence but he sent a wise man to explain truth to Job and the very friends that were so eager to denounce Job’s faith. Job’s decision to follow God even in despair replenished my soul on 9/12.

After reading Job, I wanted to help anyone who needed me. Bolstered by the sense that even when bleeding and in pain, Americans could come together, I made my way to the airport, giving out toiletries to strangers, as well as diapers, milk, and bottled water to stranded moms. Carolyn Waller called later that evening to say that after prayer and speaking with James Threadkill, the show would go on. “We will not be beaten by fear,” she said passionately. My eternal distress was uplifted by her determination to stay positive.

When I turned on C-SPAN Saturday to watch the 9/12 Project, promoted by media entertainer Glenn Beck, I was expecting to be reminded of the same determination for our country to stay positive, resilient, and united that I remembered eight years ago. I was expecting to to recall memories of rededication to work with each other to make our country better, because that was experienced on 9/12/01. What I saw left me wondering why 9/12/09 Glenn Beck would evoke a time remarkable for national unity as a backdrop for this event. His fomenting of discord toward our government was hard to miss and opposite of what so many Americans felt in their hearts on 9/12/01. Instead, the thousands covered on C-SPAN expressed anger and disillusionment for an America that protesters barely recognize anymore. What a contrast to the crowds we watched on our television screens on 9/12/01 when the fundamental goodness and tenacity of the American people were on full display. No one shouted down our country leaders on 9/12/01. I remembered that time being bleak, but also marked by the undeniable strength of our country, for all of its diversity.

Protesting is American as apple or sweet potato pie and there is no attempt by my post to deny anyone the right to protest. But the mindset of our country on 9/12/01 was not the message shaped by Glenn Beck on Saturday, 9/12/09. Glenn Beck, who remained in New York while protesters assembled in DC, exploited a somber chapter in our national experience in a way that should dishearten anyone who remembers that day as vividly as I do. For Glen Beck To use the memories of Americans who lost their lives and the anxious days that followed a horrific moment in OUR country’s history to promote his ideology is not only shameful but disrespectful to the families, first responders, the City of New York and our great country. Protest please, by all means, but let’s not pretend project 9/12/09 was a depiction of the state of the country eight years ago because it was not. On 9/12/01 many Americans were grieving but united. No one chanted angrily about taxes, Marxism, socialism, communism, Nazi, Hitler, Germany, and states’ rights were not words I heard on 9/12/01. I remember Americans standing tall in midst of a tragedy was my memory of 9/12/01. To evoke the memories of 9/11/01 and 9/12/01 and to promote a "project" that represents a perversion of ideals distilled in those wrenching days is degrading, even for a media entertainer. let's no distort the memories of the innocent. Let's call Saturday what it really was: the Glenn Beck Show.

New York Skyline 9/09/01
Painting: James R. Threalkill. A Mother's Embrace. 1992. 48 x 36 inches. Painting · oil · canvas. $3000.00.