Thursday, October 28, 2010

Regent Greg Duckett ducks questions and shows signs of early dementia at TBR Hearings


Tennessee Board of Regents(TBR) Greg Duckett from Memphis comments about Tennessee State University (TSU) in the highly promoted July 12th issue of the Tennessean were front and center this past summer. Duckett’s words seemed to heap coals on my sons’ beloved Big Blue that is in the middle of strife with some faculty members while searching for a new president and trying to maintain steadfast to its mission and vision to educate its students.

TSU’s internal conflicts spilled over into a two-part series devoted to “exposing” the school as the worst college in Tennessee. My grandfather always said, “Be careful when wishing evil on others, karma can be a mother for you.” Six months have not passed since Duckett’s quotes about TSU can be applied to events that lead to TBR’s hiring of John Morgan, TN Deputy Governor, that has left many skeptical of his hiring. The lack of transparency is being alleged by Republicans and Democrats. In the court of public opinion, Morgan’s hiring appears to be good ole boy politics as usual. Let’s review Duckett’s comments about TSU from the Tennessean and see how they are applicable to the hiring debacle of John Morgan for Chancellor.

Regents member Greg Duckett said complaints he receives about TSU, which started almost from the day he joined the board in 2006, are a "hodgepodge of issues." Some people complain about stewardship of public resources, he said, while others comment either directly or indirectly on the campus leadership. (Tennessean)

There seem to be a “hodgepodge of issues” about the process of Morgan’s hiring. From the downgrading of educational requirements, why only six applicants applied for nationally advertised job, the advertising time-line, and Morgan’s huge bump in salary to name a few are being questioned. In the two-day hearings held last month, Regent Greg Duckett ducked more questions than he answered. Within the first few hours of the questioning of TBR members, it was painfully obvious the hiring process was flawed even if Morgan was the best candidate. An above-board search with mandated guidelines was as important as finding the right Chancellor. Duckett, a lawyer, admitted with no shame, he did not know the legal requirements regarding board makeup for TBR that must have1/3 minority party members.(You can literally hear folks gasping on Twitter as I tweeted his admission.) An old saying came to mind immediately, “be careful not to think too highly of self” as Duckett’s dismissive attitude of TSU over the years came to mind. When Regent Barry Gibcomb who is the faculty representative on the TBR stated that faculty members voiced opposition to not having faculty representation on the search committee, the tenor of the hearings changed dramatically. At that point, Education Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dolores Gresham’s white diamonds turned pink as she expressed dismay at Duckett’s reassurance that even though rules were not followed regarding the process of hiring Morgan, the board still made the right decision to hire Morgan. Regent Gibcomb was the only “no” vote against Morgan and expressed “concern” about the hiring process in the early stages.

Sen. Gresham was cordial and respectful for the most part but she showed out at times and did not back down in questioning how the board members came to the conclusion that John Morgan, without a terminal degree, was the best candidate for the job. She repeatedly stated that Tennessee’s reputation was at stake especially since the state won millions from the Race to the Top education funding and the eyes of the world was on Tennessee’s education system. I hope they are blind when they are looking at us; that hearing was painful to watch. In the hearing, Sen. Jim Tracey shared that many wanted to apply for the Chancellor’s position but was told not to apply behind closed doors or in private conversations because Morgan was already “picked”. Hmm. At one point Sen. Bill Keton mentioned that Morgan’s hiring process was some type of “affirmative action” hiring. Yikes. I am still trying to get clarity on the meaning behind that comment. Although Duckett dodged many direct questions and showed signs of early stages of dementia with words like, “not quite sure, I don’t know, umm I need to check, wasn’t aware” and other various mind numbing noncommittal words, he perked up as he fondly recollected receiving a call from the Governor at his son’s basketball game asking him to serve on the board. Ducking Duckett revealed he did not know the governor personally but was honored to serve under his leadership. This appointment should have been tagged with a “stranger danger” warning attached to it!

He said the criticism, whether true or untrue, presents problems for TSU and can't be ignored. (Tennessean)

Using Ducking Duckett’s above logic, the problems that have been brought to light regarding the hiring of John Morgan can’t be ignored. Duckett said he did not know the governor directly prior to his TBR’s appointment. Ducking Duckett was recommended to hold such a coveted role because somewhere somebody knew something about him. TBR is responsible for a 2 billion dollar budget. No sit down dinner to get to know you, no conversation about education, no heart or gut check to make sure Duckett was the right fit for the thousands of employees and hundreds of thousands trying to seek a higher education degree. With so much at stake, the right person with a heart for education and the schools should have been TBR's criteria for board leadership. Duckett’s other repetitive statements at the hearing were the constant reference to the “Chairwoman of the search committee”. When his dementia stance didn’t work with Sen. Gresham questioning, he reverted to throwing the chairwoman under the bus. He did this so often; I caught myself humming the tune wheels-on-the-bus-go-round-and-round several times. At the end of the second day, the number of references to the chairwoman from Ducking Duckett drew the ire of the Sen. Gresham who demanded the education committee reconvene to address the inconsistencies that dementia acting Duckett seemed unable to address. Never heard a lawyer so tongue tied in all my life.

John Morgan is probably a good man and maybe the best person for the job but as Duckett said, “…present problems cannot be ignored".

The TBR is part of Tennessee Higher Education Committee (THEC). When we look closer at Tennessee’s higher education system, one has a better understanding why TSU comes up short often in this system. According to Dr. Rhoda, TBR controls the comings and goings of Tennessee higher institutions it oversees, where funds are directed, how students are recruited, and the day to day operations of the school. Many have lodged complaints against previous TSU administrations but what was clear from the hearings, no matter how good or bad a CEO of a higher learning institution is in Tennessee, he or she must juggle the internal persona of TBR that oversees the governance of the schools. God help you if the board dislikes your president or your school. This same board and with its fractured rules will be the starting and ending point for TSU’s new president. God be with my boys!

If the president of a TBR school raises a million dollars a day, TBR determines how the funds are dispersed. He/she can raise the money but they must fight with the Ducketts of the worlds to get anything done at the school, unless you are the University of Tennessee (UT). UT is special; it’s uniquely and wonderfully made. Many are not aware that Tennessee Higher Education Committee (THEC) maintains TWO boards. THEC formed in 1967 spun a separate board to govern the other schools in Tennessee’s higher education system. UT’s Board of Trustees governs the great school and is considered the orange Holy Grail in the THEC two-board system. UT has board members who are devoted alumni that work for the best interest of UT while fiercely protecting the mission and reputation of the school at all times. When UT has internal issues, the UT community brings the issues to UT board members directly; there is no need for email campaigns to government officials and the media to get issues addressed. Many of UT’s board members are prominent graduates of the school who are invested in their school (give money) and love UT when it is doing well and when it is in the media’s crossfire. The other colleges and universities in Tennessee are governed by the same board that governs TSU. TSU has no TBR member whose blood runs true blue. Not one. When you look at the lack of support for TSU in the TBR’s system you cannot overlook the absence of TSU alumni involved in leadership at TBR or with THEC. On another note, can you imagine Anne Holt, a notable alumnus of UT, giving an interview saying anything negative about her school? Wal-Mart would run out of TVs before that happen. Wonder if she could come give a pep talk on how to show devotion to one’s school across town? Just a thought.


“When you continually hear things, either there's false expectations or there are problems within the institution," said Duckett, a senior vice president at Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. in Memphis. "Either way, it needs to be addressed. The worst thing we could do is ignore something and let the talk persist without looking at it.”
(Tennessean)

One of the worse things our outgoing Governor who is on an accomplishment tour can do is ignore the persistent talk about Morgan. Replacing three recently resigned members with three Republicans does not solve the issues that years of political appointed activists have added to a system that needs an overhaul from its origins. Often, political appointments serve the appointee first and serve the board position second (or third with some folks). This appointment over commitment-connection-character culture has hurt Tennessee’s higher education schools tremendously, especially TSU. No, I am not ignoring the internal problems at TSU, by no means. But for the overall health of all colleges and universities in the two-board governing system, systemic issues like the absence of board members who are invested in the schools they give oversight too must be addressed. An overhaul of TBR must be one of the first jobs of the new governor. Hopefully , the new governor will not use appointments as a means to reward political relationships and disband appointing absent minded color folks for the sake of filling a slot or checking the diversity box. A board must be created that can help the various school administrations address and be held accountable for student retention and graduation rates. Alumni need to do what alumni do around the world, love their schools. What many have seen for the last several years from the current Regents leadership is a cookie cutter mentality in dealing with the schools in its system. All schools are unique and wonderfully made. Until the culture of TBR change, no school except UT will truly prosper under the separate but equal system. If rules can be changed to help aide the “most qualified candidate” get the Chancellor’s job, why can’t rules be altered to require schools to have representation on the board that can bring the perspective and passion for their school to TBR? In many minds, TSU’s mired history with TBR will continue to be adversarial and TSU will continued be viewed as the ugly blue step child in Tennessee’s higher educational structure.

Photo Credit: The Tennessean (boogie man?)
The Boogie Man Stalks TSU
The Boogie Man spotted on TSU campus
Senate Education Hearing on Video September 28, 2010
Senate Education Hearing on Video September 29, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Carol Creswell-Betsch: A guardian angel comes forward quietly




Ellen Pryor making sure her dear friend is flawless on the day of the shoot!

Now that the world knows what I knew back then, I can blog about it! Tennessee’s attorney general, Bob Cooper, announced on Friday, October 22, 2010 that Fisk Alumna, Dr. Carol Creswell-Betsch, stepped forward with funds to keep the Stieglitz collection at Fisk University. To the shouts of many on the outside of the Fisk bubble, a Fisk alumnus was doing what alumni around the country do daily, support their school.

Let me give you a few behind the scenes snippet of what I have permission to share. On Monday I discovered, after much thought and prayer, Dr. Carol Creswell-Betsch decided to establish a fund at the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to help maintain the collection on the campus at the Carl Van Vechten Gallery. She did not announce it with a ticker tape parade or send press releases to shout it to mountain top. She did it Carol’s way that I have come to admire so deeply, with quiet elegance. After seeking counsel from others, she informed the Attorney General of her plans. I got a call from her to share with me her decision to establish the fund that would provide for the upkeep of the art at no cost to the school. She asked for my support which I gave immediately. I was flabbergasted that I was entrusted with such precious information. She was seeking input from others about her decision and building a pool of donors who believed in her mission. I thought the idea was extremely bold and courageous.

Dr. Carol Creswell-Betsch had thought long and hard about her convictions. She is deeply connected to the collection. Her mother, Pearl Creswell, was the first curator of the Stieglitz collection at Fisk University. Pear Creswell met and corresponded with Georgia O’Keeffe for many years. “This art has been a part of my life since I was young girl,” she told me once. Dr. Carol Creswell-Betsch is a 1955 graduate of Fisk University and she cares profoundly about the future of the school. Visit her home and it is evident that she has been raised around Fisk’s Art Collection which includes works by Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne, Marsden Hartley and Diego Rivera as well as O'Keeffe and her husband Alfred Stieglitz all her life. The influences are in every nook and cranny. As she points to what knots here and there, her sentences usually start with two enduring words, “My mother”. Her love for her mother and art is everywhere. Whenever I have come to “sit for spell”, I have been taken aback about the lessons in culture and life I have received on each visit. Her love of family and art is matched by her love of teaching even though she cries,” I am in retirement” often. My visits are lead by a teacher with much compassion and I am not allowed to leave until my teacher-friend has finished my life lessons for that day.

Our paths crossed through mutual groups, organizations and our passion for art. I am learning to temper my spirit as I read from her quiet grace filled book on diplomacy. When she senses I am ready to give a quick witted response to mayhem, I am given a stern look to behave or a reminder to keep my words to a minimal. This past summer, I asked her to be part of My Very Special Frist Center Adventures. She allowed me to pull her in various directions as I stumped the hallways of the Frist Center. We share a mutual love for the museum as well as volunteer at the Frist. She has volunteered for many years while I am still in my infancy stages by comparison. She graciously modeled for The Golden Age of Couture brochure that depicted clothing styles inspired by widely popular exhibit. She was excited to volunteer for the project,an idea I wanted to create for visitors and several media outlets. Her response when I asked her to be one of my "role" models was a simple, “Just tell me my time, I don’t need all the details,” was said with a smile. How refreshing! At one point during the day long shoot, she was surrounded by young women who also participated in the photo shoot along Joyce Searcy and Gloria McKissack. They were in awe as the camera captured the inner beauty of a woman who was made to be in front of the camera.

The time I have spent with her is always positive and encouraging. Our conversations stay with me long after we have departed. We have gone on quiet outings to hear Nashville's Symphony together and we spent a day at Lipscomb last week soaking up the vision and wisdom of Dr. Norma Burgess long awaited Women’s Conference.

Her quite strength and determination to do what is right is at the heart of trying to keep the Georgia O’Keefe’s Gift, the Stieglitz Collection, to Fisk, Nashville and the South on Fisk’s campus. She lives a quite life enjoying her grandchildren and volunteering where she sees various needs in the community. Her only public statement regarding the collection is:

In an effort to support my belief that the Alfred Stieglitz Collection should remain on the campus at Fisk University continuing to be housed at the Carl Van Vechten Gallery I have formed the Pearl Creswell Fund for the Alfred Stieglitz Collection at Fisk University at the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. This fund will provide for the care, upkeep and display for the gift of Georgia O'Keeffe as directed by the donor. The fund will allow Fisk University financial relief.

I am asking those who share my concerns, regarding this unique treasure and who respect its historic value to Fisk University, to join with me and others who have generously agreed to step forward and underwrite this endeavor. If and when you are able please join with us to preserve our heritage and make a contribution at the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to the Pearl Creswell Fund for the Alfred Stieglitz Collection at Fisk University.

To my classmates, to Fiskites everywhere, and to friends of Fisk University thank you for your help and consideration. Thank you for listening to me and for your support in this heartfelt effort.

Don't you love it when a guardian angel steps forward quietly? Knowing her personally has me cheering for her endeavors very loudly!

Photo credits www.aaroncrisler.com for the Frist Center For the Visual Arts
Makeup Skot Williams
Stylist Genma Holmes

Friday, October 22, 2010

Not Just Bed Bugs: Pests Plague the Homeless Community


I am frequently asked about pest control by various members of my community. In church, at restaurants while eating, even at weddings, I have been asked bug questions without hesitation. Often, I nod and smile and give answers as if we are talking about the weather. Because I earn a living as a pest management professional, it comes with the job title. No one wants to live with bugs so I am not surprised by the urgency behind the inquiries. Recently, I had an encounter that caught me off guard.

One evening after stopping to pick up a few items for dinner, I noticed a woman standing by my truck as I was leaving the grocery store. She seemed a little nervous as I approached her and my vehicle. As I slowed my step to better sum up the situation, she looked up and asked hurriedly, “Hello, are you Mrs. Holmes?” I nodded slowly, wondering what was next. The young woman began to tell me she had seen me around town and wanted to know what do about the bug bites on her children, whom she pointed to in the car next to my truck.

Putting my bags away, I turned my attention to the beautiful girls staring back at me. As I started examining her babies very obvious bites, the mom began to tell me her story. She had been displaced by Nashville’s May floods and had to move into temporary housing several times in the last few months. “I am practically homeless,” she blurted out in despair. “I am living in a shelter that is running over with bugs. My kids are being eaten alive.” As a mother of three, my heart went out to her immediately. This mom was homeless because of circumstances beyond her control and she was facing a situation that happens in the homeless community often: infested living quarters.

Pest control issues plague the homeless. Bedbugs are all the rage on the nightly news of late, but contact any advocate for the homeless and pest control issues are discussed often. How do you battle pests like roaches, rodents, lice, spiders and mosquitoes in crowded conditions with limited resources? Often the pest control budget is limited by a “What can we get for the cheapest price?” mindset. That line of thinking plus a lack of education on preventive measures equals trouble for all parties involved.

I took the young mom aside and gave her an impromptu pest control lesson right on the spot. I had a few pest identification books on hand and let her browse through them to see if she recognized any of the bugs that were traumatizing her living space. She pointed out several. As I continued looking at her daughter legs riddled with bumps, my mommy genes took over. I took her and her crew inside the store to buy some anti-itch cream, several plastic storage bins, and a plastic encasement cover for her mattress, as well as large Ziploc bags and retail line of the EcoSmart pesticide products that I use in my business every day.

She left armed with a plan, safe chemicals, and a peace of mind. I must say no one had ever camped out at my truck to try to get pest control problems solved before, but my conversation the next day with the shelter manager where she was living was typical. “We are under contract and we’re trying to deal with it,” she said defensively. I was not asking about a contract; I was asking management: were they being proactive by educating the residents about steps to keep pests at a minimum? Using a pest control company is one step in addressing pests in the homeless community. But engaging members of the homeless community is the key component to controlling the problems. Education on preventive measures must be part their everyday routine at shelters.

The young mom and I stayed in contact for several weeks while she continued to look for bug-free housing for her family. The mom did not want anything other than a safe place to lay her head without bugs until she could find a permanent place to live.

Last month, she called me to share the good news that she found an apartment near her workplace. I could not miss the joy in her voice and told her I would stop by to see her new place. I bought her the best housewarming present I could give her: a year of pest control service. Her smiling face told me I picked the perfect gift!

To purchase EcoSmart Products go to www.ecosmart.com

Article first published as Not Just Bedbugs: Pests Plague the Homeless Community on Blogcritics.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Ironman With A Soft Heart; Chuck Beard



October is officially National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink ribbon themed events are in plentiful supply. I participate with many groups and organizations like most do during the month. But in the cancer community, cancer does not come once a year. It is a twenty-four hour, 365 day a year fight to strike down the dreaded disease. I chose to partner with individuals who understand that in order to beat cancer we must make cancer awareness and survivorship a part of mainstream conversation and not the color of a ribbon one month out of the year.

This past summer, I met Chuck Beard who is a huge advocate for the cancer community. I don’t think I have ever seen him with a pink ribbon. But he can usually be found wearing a red track suit with the name of someone who is fighting cancer on the suit. Chuck is an athlete who competes in races to raise money for cancer patients and their families. He also organizes concerts and art related events to raise money as well.

I was so intrigued with his brand of advocacy that I had to meet with him to learn more about his ambitious drive behind his passion to help others.

When we met, I found myself staring up at Chuck, “he shops in the big and tall shop” I silently thought to myself. Out of curiosity, I touched his arm and realized right away why he was perfect for competing in the 2010 Louisville Ironman event; his arm was flesh over steel. Chuck’s physical appearance embodied the Ironman persona but once he starting sharing with me about why he is involved in the cancer community, I heard right away the heart of a gentle giant and someone who has as much compassion for others as he has strength. Chuck, like millions, lost a loved one to cancer. Chuck’s best friend from childhood fought a long hard battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. To honor that friendship that shaped him at a young age, Chuck started an organization to address the needs in the cancer community. Chuck’s nonprofit has assisted families to help with everyday expenses while caring for a loved one that is hospitalized or undergoing treatment.

This approach to helping others in need is different from many organizations that raise money for cancer causes. Rarely do organizations give monies to individuals who are fighting cancer and usually untold financial stress at the same time directly.

Chuck’s foundation, Adventures Inside of Campus for A Cure, is a 501©3. Chuck and a few friends decided to fight cancer by pulling on a few of their favorite things: education, art, music, and good people. They use their collective resources to bring people together to have a ton of fun while making cancer awareness their top priority. Chuck and company do not see their group as an organization but a movement. “Our goals are to entertain through art and music, educate about the effects of cancer, and enlighten lives with the experiences we leave behind from city to city on our journey”, he said with a big grin. Adventures Inside a Campus For A Cure started in Kentucky in Chuck’s hometown but has found a huge following in Nashville and individuals from around the world.

At the time of our meeting, Chuck was training for an Ironman competition that was held on August 29, in Louisville, Kentucky. He was being trained by Centre College Football Coach Patrick Carter Conley and had been since mid-December of 2009. Chuck shared with me his weekly training which included 6 days a week of swimming, biking, and running. When I asked about his strenuous workouts, he said it was brutal but it would be worth it for a deserving family. Many donated money while Chuck was training and on the day of the event. 100% of the proceeds from the event went to two unknowing and deserving families in Nashville, TN and Louisville, KY that have someone in their families currently battling cancer. Chuck recruited two dear friends who worked in the medical fields from both cities to give him names of families who were in dire circumstances to be recipients of the donations.

If that was not enough, Adventures Inside a Campus for A Cure donations to the family remained anonymous. After hearing him share this bit of information with a big grin, it was hard to fight back tears. He said he wanted the families to know that they were not alone in their courageous fight against cancer, and that many people out there want them to feel inspired by the power of love. Doesn’t every person fighting cancer need an Ironman fighting their battle for them?

Chuck’s advocacy does not stop at triathlon meets or music and art events. He wrote a book titled Adventures Inside A Bright Eyed Sky. ALL money from the book sales goes to families in need. Every cent. Chuck gave me an autographed copy that I rushed home to read right away. I read a story about a boy named Jay who was about to turn thirteen and going through the challenges of life at such a young age. Chuck uses the humor of middle school minds to address grown up problems. The book is appropriate for all ages. As I read it, I found myself imaging Chuck as the young Jay. Since receiving my copy, I have given the book to three families who have young children battling cancer. Their responses have all been the same, “Thank you for the book, I would love to meet the author someday.” With quiet giggles, I said to myself, “You will, you will”, as I took the families names to pass on to Chuck.

Photo credit: Emily Beard

Article first published as An Ironman with a Soft Heart: Chuck Beard Trains for Families with Cancer on Blogcritics.


(Want to support chuck's efforts? Meet Chuck and others:

Local grassroots nonprofit Adventures Inside a Campus for a Cure will host an evening of art, music and conversation about cancer at The Rutledge Fri., Nov. 12, with doors opening at 8 p.m. The evening will feature works from local visual artist Jeff Bertrand and performances by Starlume, Venus Hum and Trenton, with all proceeds from the door benefiting Gilda’s Club of Nashville.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lipscomb's Women Conference Is A Huge Success


Gloria Mayfield Banks Genma Holmes Dr. Cassandra Manuelito-Kerkvliet






















Several months ago, I met with the founding dean of the college of arts and sciences at Lipscomb University, Dr. Norma Burgess. She wanted to discuss an upcoming women’s conference. As she talked excitedly about topics of leadership and faith, I wanted to scream, “Noooo!” Every organ in my body begged to yell out, not another church folk conference with a bunch of women spouting yaky, yaky. Sensing my dismay, Dr. Burgess said, “This is going to be different, you will see.” She was extremely confident while I had flashbacks of several recent encounters dancing in my head. I told Dr. Burgess I am was sick of folks planning and meeting but not accomplishing anything while leaving an awful taste in my mouth at the same time wasting time and energy. Was I negative or what?

She gave me the look of a mother who loves her child, flaws and all, and continued to talk about her big bodacious plans for an event as if I never said a word. Gloria Mayfield Banks, Mary Kay’s 24 million dollar pint size tornado selling machine would be the headliner. What? I was intrigued right away. As if that was not enough, she said the luncheon keynote would be the great, great granddaughter of the signer of the Navajo Treaty of 1868. Wait a minute, a black woman multi-millionaire and a Navajo Indian Chief’s great, great granddaughter speaking at a conference in Nashville on leadership and faith? This I got to see! “I am in,” I said. She also gave me my assignment to spread the news. That was it. No selling tables, chasing down sponsors or media hype needed.“Share this with anyone you would want to be there”, she said smiling. Hmm. That was not what I was expecting her to say. Don’t get too excited I told myself, you are going to be thoroughly disappointed if you do. Have I been burned or what? But Dr. Burgess gentleness and surprised list of speakers left me speechless and I promised her I would tell everyone. That I did.

Why was I surprised? This was the Dr. Burgess’s style that I have come to know and love; quiet class that leave one yearning for more of her sensibility, knowledge, and devotion to others. For those of you who do not know her, Dr. Burgess was born and raised in West Tennessee. She is known for her research and teaching focused on the sociology of the family, sex roles, and gender and cross-cultural families. She has taught at several colleges and universities including Mississippi State and Syracuse. She conducted research on women at the Center for Research on Women at the University of Memphis (then Memphis State). She has led study abroad classes in Costa Rica and presented her work in Africa, Greece, United Kingdom, Italy, and Germany and was the founding dean of the college of graduate studies at Chatham University in Pennsylvania. Her decision to accept the position at Lipscomb was a homecoming of sorts. After years of traveling the world while teaching and lecturing to thousands, she was back on Tennessee soil. Dr. Burgess began her servant leadership role at Lipscomb over a year ago with a goal for the conference to become an annual event at the heart of her mission. Dr. Burgess stated, “Faith and its role in leadership and self management are rarely discussed in professional development seminars and retreats”. The long awaited conference rightly titled, Women. Leadership. Faith, arrived Friday with much anticipation. Moms, wives, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, and students from various backgrounds, careers and professions, denominations and faiths arrived on campus ready to soak up the carefully planned event like sponges.

Gloria Mayfield Banks kicked off the morning with her fiery brand of getting a group excited about God, family, and career. But she did not leave out her struggles. Her transparency about being a battered wife gave the audience a peek into a world that many would never share in church let alone at professional conference about empowering women. There was nothing superficial about Gloria. Her faith in God and her belief in herself pulled her through the darkest period of her life. After leaving an abusive marriage and a six figure income with IBM, twenty years later she currently holds the number four Mary Kay unit in the world!

The luncheon keynote, Dr. Cassandra Manuelito-Kerkvliet, President of Antioch University, is the first Native American woman to become the president of an accredited university outside the tribal college system. She greeted us in her Navajo language and said a prayer to her ancestors before she began her message about, “Grounded and Centered: Generational Power of Family Wisdom in the Workplace”. Her soft spoken voice did not hide her strength and courage as a tribal leader in her culture but a leader by mainstream society’s measurements. She said that when her great, great grandfather, Navjo Chief Manuelito signed the treaty, he knew that education was the next frontier for his people’s survival. She has held strongly to that belief and works endlessly to address the despairing statistics among Native Americans in areas of education and poverty. Her conviction about families and communities coming together was repeated as she gave us personal reflections about being the only Native American family in a redneck town in Wyoming that was subjected to abuse and mistreatment by the townspeople. Her message was not one of despair but of inspiration that left many of us looking at our lack faith in our lives daily. Many attendees stated that “Dr. Cassandra” words left us with no excuses for making changes immediately.

Local women leaders spoke during breakout sessions and the conference was followed by thousands on Twitter, Facebook, and in chat rooms on colleges and universities campuses, and women’s magazine forums around the country.

“Women.Leadership.Faith” concluded with thunderous applause by all in attendance. Whispers about the 2011 conference could be overheard as the women left Ezell Center. I left with a new found appreciation for “your past experiences should not dictate your present state of being”. Had I allowed previous interactions to cloud my thinking, I would have missed a conference that was more than different, it was life changing!

Photo Credits: Kristi Jones/Lipscomb University
Article first published as A Report from the First "Women, Leadership, Faith” Conference on Blogcritics.

Lipscomb's Conference Lineup

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Conversation with Frist Center's CEO Susan Edwards: Art, Culture, and Community










On Sunday, September 12, I said “so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye” to The Golden Age of Couture exhibit at the Frist Center. As many of you know from my blogging, Twitter and Facebook postings, I spent my entire summer at the museum in my self-appointed role as Chairperson of the Committee of One. I am determined to make this the “best year yet” for the city’s iconic building that is fast becoming the epicenter for art in the South. The Frist Center's summer exhibits included Chihuly, the photographs of Tokihiro Sato, and the wildly popular Victoria and Albert Museum’s The Golden Age of Couture, an exhibition in which history and fashion are woven together with intricate and gorgeous precision.

After the outpouring of encouragement from readers of the Tribune in response to the lifestyle fashion section that was produced to show the positive influences of the exhibit on young ladies in our community, I reached out to Ms. Edwards for more details about the exhibit, the museum and to go more in-depth with you about by my adventures at the Frist Center. We heard from hundreds who wanted to know how Nashville was chosen to host the collection that influenced Paris and London designers during 1947-1957. My meeting with Ms. Edwards felt more like two lifelong friends chatting about relatives from back home. I was armed with questions and wanted to learn firsthand about the museum’s mission to integrate art, culture, and community together in ways that have the potential to impact our region and possibly the nation. Ms. Edwards graciously spent Sunday morning sharing with me her life, her passionate love of the arts and the future plans for the Frist Center.

There were common bonds that were recognized right away by learning of our shared heritage of being from small towns with mothers who insisted that dressing in your Sunday’s best was not limited to Sundays. Although her education was not part of our conversation, Ms. Edwards is an Adjunct Professor at Vanderbilt. She is a graduate of City University of New York. Ms. Edwards has a Ph.D. in Modern and Contemporary Art and Photography. She has been the CEO of the Frist Center for over six years.

Our conversation started out with both of us admiring several vintage pieces of clothing loaned to me from Joyce Searcy. In my possession was Joyce’s mother’s black Sunday suit and the opera coat worn by Joyce to the Schermerhorn Symphony’s Inaugural celebrations. As we both admired the pieces, I told Ms. Edwards that my words to Joyce at that time were that her regal dress and coat were worthy of being in a museum because she looked so stunning. Who knew that four years later, I would have her clothes photographed in a museum! That info was an icebreaker as we started thumbing through the pages of Sunday’s top seller, The Golden Age of Couture catalog from the exhibition. From there Ms. Edwards took me into her world as leader of the Frist Center.

Ms. Edwards said, “This year was a perfect storm of bringing many unique art shows together at once. The year started out with the Heroes exhibit during which we worked with the Parthenon and the Chihuly exhibit with us working with Cheekwood.”

I have enjoyed each exhibit but the one that has been dear to my heart was the couture show. The most asked question after the photo shoot was how did the Frist Center obtain the collection? Ms. Edwards said, “It was always the goal of the Frist center to bring a fashion show to the museum.”

The staff began researching the possibility of the Victoria and Albert exhibit nearly three years ago. A show as intricate as the couture show was a feat that could not be done on a short notice.

“We are always mediating mediums, culture, time periods, and of course budgets when we are considering bringing an exhibit to the museum,” Ms. Edward stated. The only time the couture show could come to Nashville was this summer. Since the exhibit was already in North America in Canada, bringing it Nashville helped lower the international shipping costs.

Ms. Edwards explained that the couture exhibit involved months of design planning and installation details. The mannequins were custom built for each piece of clothing and all of the cases were specially designed to hold such rare and fragile works of art. The mannequins and cases were already made and loan to the Frist Center which was another cost saving measure. Even the exhibition guide took untold hours to design to help bring the show to life. Years of planning were unveiled on June 18, 2010 and visitors filled the galleries of all the exhibition halls.

I personally hosted socials events and educational tours at the Frist Center. Women group like Les Gemmes’ and Brentwood Woman’s Club, to name a few, brought friends and family to the show. On August 7, 'Cocktails and Couture" was held at the Frist Center. The social event brought out the faithful, the curious, and the fashionably chic crowds to support the museum. Nashville Parent magazine sponsored Family Day a week later and nearly 4500 spent the afternoon marveling over the unique and different collections. With all the excitement, we could only build on the success of the summer shows for an incredible fall exhibit with the Birth of Impressionism.

I left in the middle of the last week because of a family emergency but promised everyone I would return for the final curtain call for The Golden Age of Couture exhibit. I had barely put my luggage down when emails from members of the community asking about the judge’s ruling in regard to Fisk University’s Stieglitz art collection and involvement of the Frist Center. After reading a few more emails that left me confused, I called the Frist Center to let them know my family was okay and asked if our interview for Sunday was still on.

While waiting for our interview on Sunday, I watched the storylines about Fisk University’s Stieglitz Collection that is awaiting a judge’s ruling if it can be sold or not to help school financially, go from one scenario to another. Since my meeting was already scheduled, I contacted Ms. Edwards to make sure we could address the Frist Center’s involvement in the new turn of events with the Stieglitz Collection on Fisk’s campus. Here is our exchange about the Fisk University and the Frist Center.

Genma: "As we were wrapping up the summer and I was looking forward to this great weekend I had planned with tours booked back to back. I think it is important that if I am asking someone to come to the Frist Center, I need to be at the door to greet them when they come in. That is my way of giving back and showing the wonderful things we have at the Frist Center. On Friday I received an email wanting to know what is happening with the Frist Center and Fisk. I was thinking “I don’t know let me make sure I find out.”

Ms. Edwards: “First, let me say we believe the Stieglitz Collection should remain at Fisk University in the Van Vechten Gallery as Georgia O’Keeffe intended when she gave the art to the school.

The Frist Center and Fisk University have shared an institutional partnership since before the Frist Center opened in 2001. We have worked over the past 10 years in productive collaboration in many ways, including lectures, discussions, presentations, tours of the campus and being asked by the university to store the Stieglitz Collection from 2005 until 2008 during the renovation of the Van Vechten Gallery where it’s currently on view.

What is at issue here in the court case is Georgia O’Keeffe’s intent when she gave this collection to Fisk University. She gave it – 101 works in 1949 -- to Fisk for the specific benefit of Nashville and the South. There were several terms attached to the gift: that it never be sold, that it must be shown in its entirety on white walls, that it not travel, that it be shown in the way she laid it out to be seen.

“This art is valuable. Very valuable. As times have become difficult economically, it’s tempting to look to the sale of the art to raise funds, and this has happened on other college campuses. It’s a difficult place to be, but what the state is looking at is… ‘What did the donor intend to do with the gift?’

“The attorney general is charged to protect donors wishes when it comes to gifts to colleges, museums, foundations, religious organizations and other recipients of gifts and bequests, and it is on these grounds that this issue has ended up in court.

“The attorney general of the State of Tennessee was asked by the Chancery Court to offer a proposal that would keep the Stieglitz Collection in Nashville and on view, as O’Keeffe wished, and asked the Frist Center if we would be willing to temporarily place the works on view, should the Chancery Court look favorably on the proposal. Our Board of Trustees discussed the matter at great length and determined that should the court select the attorney general’s proposal, we would agree to temporarily place the works on exhibition and make the collection available to all visitors free of charge until such time as the court determined it should be returned to the Fisk University campus.

“There may be some who might think the Frist Center wants the Stieglitz Collection. We do not. The Frist Center was conceived as, and remains, a non-collecting institution. The intent of the Frist Center is NOT to have a permanent collection of art.”

As our conversation transitioned from Georgia O’Keeffe's Gift to Fisk University to the upcoming Birth of Impressionism, Ms. Edwards’s eyes beamed vibrantly. She spoke excitedly about the upcoming exhibit. As thrilled as I was about The Golden Age of Couture collection, I could feel her love for this period of art history. Her passion for this period of art history encouraged me to become an official docent tour guide. So long, farewell to my chairperson of the committee of one title! More than ever, I am committed to bringing as many members of the community to the Frist Center.

“The vision of the Frist Center is to inspire people through art to look at their world in new ways.” I was inspired this summer to look at the world around me with a fresh perspective. My spirit as a volunteer was renewed. I saw the value of my community like never before. The friendships that were built by many of us coming together for our community to have the best year yet, will always be with me. I am hoping that as we move through next few weeks that everyone in the community will work for the greater good for all our wonderful institutions that we have in Music City. Rather it is a museum that is in an old post office or an institution of higher learning whose main goal is to educate students to become productive members of society. Art can inspire us to look at our world in new ways.

Photos credit: http://www.davidfarmerie.com/ Photographer *Filmmaker

P.S. I met David at the Frist Center one evening in August...enjoying music, art, and the wonderful exhibit.

Update: In three months, the Frist Center had a record breaking 196,000 visitors! That attendance record beat all markets except one for visitors to a Museum!

Update:"Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle rejected the proposal Tuesday afternoon, saying Cooper had not come up with a "long-term solution to keep the collection in Nashville full-time."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mike Wherter's campaign needs prayers, keep your votes


Last week, President Clinton was in town campaigning for the Tennessee Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Mike McWherter. The fundraiser was billed as the Democratic event to attend this election season and was sure to unite the Tennessee Democrats. Old Bill without Hil was meant to electrify the diehard old-timers and to transfer Clinton's energy to McWherter's lifeless campaign. I was not in attendance but I was wired for updates. Clinton’s visit has me wondering, what is happening to Tennessee Democrats, especially, professional black voters in the party? When I look at the demographics of those that have been supporters of the party’s inclusiveness, I question if anyone is noticing the absence of men and women of color on the stage at fund-raising events.

Now, I know some folks maybe holding on to the nostalgic days of Governor McWherter but folks his son is not the same type of politician. Hearing Mr. McWherter speak has an anesthetizing dumbing down effect on me. His sentences usually start with “my diddy” and “Governor Bredesen”. After spouting those four words, little else is really understandable. I call him “Arizona lite” because he mentions Arizona more than he mentions Tennessee the few times I was able to translate a few of his stump speeches. I know that sounds harsh and cruel but many are noticing his lack of political savvy.

Prior to the election of the country's First Black President, President Obama, many black folks loved President Clinton dearly, even with his baggage. Remember when Clinton was called the first black President? My, how time flies. With that kind of love and affection known about the people of color for President Clinton, why would the Tennessee Democratic Party pull a Glenn Beck styled event with one person of color on the program? Instead of having Representative John Deberry of Memphis to share words of support for McWherter, he was asked to pray. With as many Tennessee mega churches with rock star preachers who can influence thousands with an “amen”, none graced the stage to bless the audience. While the Representative who has influence on thousands in a predominantly black district, was given the role that is usually designated for a preacher in the community. I hope Deberry was praying hard for McWherter, because he is going to need a legion of angels to help him get elected. By no means am I suggesting that there was something wrong with Deberry praying at the occasion, but the event was very telling about how McWherter's camp is out of touch with reaching out to all people.

McWherter’s part-time Democrat campaign lacks diversity that is craved by the usual Democratic base. McWherter is teetering close to Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer's ideology and her lack of ability to articulate her stance on issues. As I have stated before, it is easy to point the finger at Republicans who are seen as exclusive. But many must be willing to call a spade a spade when Democrats are guilty of the same actions. Tennessee Democrats are doing a lousy job of being inclusive and working very hard to include the fringed voices that are creeping into mainstream political conversations and debates daily. My grandfather often warned his grandchildren about not taking the right to vote for granted. He said that the faithful that vote early and often won’t be considered by any political party worthy of being courted or counted because of those who squandered their influence by not voting. Daddy was ahead of his time. In this mid-term campaigning season, black folks are being discounted in many Democratic campaigns, even right here in Tennessee. Remember Andrew Jackson Day? Black folks were included only if they bought a ticket and showed up. There was no representation of people of color who have long been considered the faithful base of the Democratic Party on stage. You think I am talking nonsense? Look at the line up for the highly promoted affair. Tributes were paid to outgoing Democratic leaders; Governor Phil Bredesen, Congressmen Bart Gordon and John Tanner. Scheduled remarks at the cheer-a-thon were made by Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester, Congressmen Jim Cooper and Lincoln Davis, State Senator and Congressional Candidate Roy Herron, Gubernatorial Candidate Mike McWherter, and Clinton’s VP, Al Gore. The keynote speaker was Vice President, Joe Biden. The lineup was all white males over fifty. No women, minorities, or young folks spoke on the program. Interesting. At Davidson County Democratic Unity Day, the stage was absence of color as well . Throw a rock and you might hit a black Democrat office holder in Davidson County. And folks are questioning me for writing about Mayor Haslam's visit to Jefferson Street. Kool aide alert!

Let us go deeper. Look at the women of color that are elected state officials. Are any of them active with McWherter’s campaign? Think. But McWherter trots out Mayor Dean, former Congressman Tanner, and Governor Bredesen to talk about the wonderful things his father did as Governor. If he is elected, none of these men will be able to help push his legislative agenda. Hello, anyone home? I attended a McWherter event to hear a stump speech. Within ten minutes, I was calling out to Baby Jesus for him to stop rambling. I was begging for the event to end. Begging! I could barely tweet as I struggled with remarks that were borderline condescending in many ways. “Y’all know my diddy was good to y’all” can only get you so far with young folks. But by the looks on the faces of some of the mature voters in the room, they were struggling with the remarks too. I could not nibble on the beautiful bounty on my plate because I was fighting back vomit. Yuk. I asked a few questions that he did not have answers too and he made a snide comment about bloggers. I am a blogger with a syndicated column. Not good.

McWherter is not only the one overlooking folks. Everyone is testing the “you don’t count cause you don’t vote anyway” thinking that was brought on the community by folks not going to the polls to vote. Look at political new comer and cute as a button state senate candidate, Jeff Yarbro. Yarbo could have beaten the snot out of Douglas Henry if he had stepped up his game in the black and the Hispanic community. One thing we know at the Tribune; in local races, old folks vote while young folks eat your food, pose for pictures and shout “change”. He ran a campaign that even the old heads admired but he did not include the Tennessee Tribune in his campaign budget. Opps! His competitor was inclusive in his marketing and met with several ethnic newspapers. Who do you think Tribune readers voted for? Right or wrong for the job, voters want to know their politicians know they exist. When you lose an election by less than twenty votes, an ad or two in the most widely read black newspaper would have eliminated nightly tossing that Yarbro is probably enduring right now. You know he is wondering what the hell he could have done differently. But then again color folks were not courted. Don’t get me wrong, I really, really liked Yarbro and reached out to him several times to meet with the publisher but that is water for another bridge.

Y’all can keep looking at me sided eye because of my blog about Mayor Haslam. I only posted what he said. Do not let your vote be taken for granted; your vote is as important as you make it. In the meantime, I am headed to Knoxville this weekend. Folks up there know how to dialogue with a blogger from 1501 Jefferson Street!

Photo credit...I got off his website because this photo sums up exactly what I am thinking!

Bedbugs


Holmes Pest Control was referred to a new customer this week. I drove over to East Nashville to meet the owners of a nursing home. They had bedbugs. It took all of thirty seconds to spot the creepy critters. I started asking them to remove items out the home immediately. Unlike other pest control companies, I will not treat mattresses; they are sent to the garbage dump immediately.

After inspecting the home, I sat on the porch to talk to the sweet couple about their business and mutual contacts. They were nice and I believe this will be a good account. They are well connected so I am looking forward to the referrals. On my way home, I felt a small twitch around ankle and instantly I thought "oh no"! As soon as I pulled in my drive way, I started disrobing on the spot. When I took off my shoes and socks, I saw three bedbugs waiting for me to bring them inside my home.

As simple as walking into another facility, you can bring bedbugs home with you. And they are not the easiest critters to get rid of. Because this is a nursing, this job will take us a minute to get things under control. I was told by the owner that one of the patients received a box from out of town three weeks ago and since that time they the patients have complained of intense itching at night. Below are pics of bedbugs. Boy,do they multiply quickly! If you are starting to itch at night check you around your mattress for spots and these little critters.



Photo credit: Louento

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Christian Protests That Produces Ungodly Behavior


Middle Tennessee is part of what is known as the Bible belt. “A church on every corner” is how we are depicted. For every church, there are five associate ministers waiting to hear “the call” to start their own church or begging God that main preacher will allow them to preach one Sunday. We have several national Christian organizations that are headquartered in Nashville: the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention, and the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church are just a few examples. Lifeway, RH Boyd, and the United Methodist Publishing House are Christian entities that produce church material for church folks to gain a better understanding and knowledge of God daily.

This area is home to several colleges that have Christian roots or missions: Belmont, David Lipscomb, Fisk, Meharry Medical College, Trevecca, and Vanderbilt are all titans in secondary education. These colleges have produced some of the most intelligent, nationally recognized folks who are highly respected throughout the world. Many national Christian conventions are held here as well. The National Religious Broadcaster (NRB) is one the most successful conventions held here annually. National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) is a non-partisan, international association of Christian communicators whose member organizations represent millions of listeners, viewers and readers. If you want to be on the television or radio and you want to call it a ministry, NRB is a conference you should attend. The Middle Tennessee area is also the number one region in the country for home school families. Many home school families cite religion as their primary reason for homeschooling. The number of private Christian schools in the area are too numerous to even begin to list.

With all Christ-centered organizations mentioned above, the behaviors of some church folks are keeping Middle Tennessee in the national spotlight. The spotlight seems to say we are church goers who are deeply devoted to our religious beliefs but are not practicing the tenets of loving our neighbors and Christ like acceptance of others. We are wearing hypocritical halos. I have received several calls from curious media friends from around the country asking what is happening in my beloved Volunteer state. My friends were stating that the many stories I have written about the Volunteer State’s generosity and philanthropy endeavors to those in need did not seem like the same state that is producing extreme ungodly behavior towards others who not of the Christians faith. It is a phenomenon that I am having a hard time trying to explain because I am perplexed as well.

Lately, there have been several protests against proposed Mosques in our area that have become very heated and have evoked fear in Christians that Islamic extremists are taking over. Really? With thousands of churches in the Middle Tennessee area that serves millions of Christians, three Mosques are a threat to the faith to Tennessee Christians? Hmm, let that soak for a minute. Protesters have gone from lawfully honking horns, signing petitions, and protesting Mosque locations at council meetings to someone crossing the line by burning construction equipment on the site of the property of the Murfreesboro’s Mosque, which is criminal. With the South’s ugly history of protests that have lead to the burning of property, the burning of the construction equipment was too close to numerous stories that I have heard from my parents and grandparents on the Civil Right battlefield. Many of the protests have been cloaked in biblical poetry and using constitutional sounding words that sound very unconstitutional. All of this protesting had me digging deep to separate fact from fear with a friend.

Since we debate political issues often for sport, I shared with her some of my concerns of where the protests can lead if voices of reasons do not speak up soon. Damaging property leads to harming individuals physically and neither are Godly behaviors. My concerns were deflected with her view that Islam was becoming the “new” religion of our country which she stated was founded on Judeo-Christian values. The discussion had us nursing our coffee cups for three hours.

For several weeks, her emails were sounding the alarm to take the country the back and the need for us to remember the constitution was founded by our Founding Fathers. I would reply that I refuse to live in fear. At our coffee summit, I gave her a copy of the Bill of Rights with the First Amendment highlighted. I asked her to read it out loud.

She read, “"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." After she read it, we both sat in silent for a moment. I could feel her becoming angry in her silence. I said to her, “Fear can provoke us into mayhem and madness.” The Constitution that my friend wants us to get back to gives us the freedom of religion, no matter who we worship; it gives us freedom of speech to say what we want no matter how sane or vile it may be; it gives us the right to read this blog weekly through the freedom of the press; it give us the right to the freedom of assembly so we can meet to protest or pray, and allows us to complain about our government because we have the right to petition the government. That is what separates us from countries like Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

“Try calling the leader of China a socialist and see where it gets you,” I said to her with a smile. After another pot of coffee, we realized that we were going to have differing views on the actions of burning the equipment at the Mosque site. I finally pleaded: how can we read our bible daily and allow the hate and fear of others to fester from our pores? ‘Isn’t that the opposite of being a Christian,” I asked sadly. “I don’t hate them,” she said quietly. I was not trying to change her mind on any issues, I only wanted to her understand and respect my family’s heritage of non violent protests that I strongly believe in today. I have friends from all different backgrounds. We have dialogued about the Mosques buildings that have the media swarming in Tennessee like termites.

Tennessee has become a haven for national corporations over the last decade or so. With trade and industry booms, diversity in ethnicity and religion has followed. As we have opened our arms to invite others to Tennessee for economic reasons, we have to accept with those invitations an influx of other cultures. Those cultures which at one time were in the background are more visible because of the growth in our population, the anti-Muslim political climate, and the ever present media hype without a purpose.

In this age of social media, it is easy to adopt a Twitter mindset of follow and unfollow the constitution depending on how we feel about a particular subject matter. But as Christians, folks are supposedly to think and act different, right? Since there are Christian groups and church folks as numerous as the stars above in the Middle Tennessee area, I would have thought a leader would have stepped forward from one of the many national Christian organizations that are based here and calmed the masses with words that would curtail violent behavior knowing our Southern heritage of protests followed by cruelty. We are in desperate need of leaders who preach the gospel to remind us to practice the words that printed in our area by the hour. Let me close with the verse that I closed my coffee session with my friend.

19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

As great as the constitution, it is has undergone several revision. However, God's word has stood the test of time.

Photo Credit:(John A. Gillis/DNJ)

Article first published as Christian Protests that Produce Ungodly Behavior on Blogcritics.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pick Your Battles: Lessons Learned from my Grandfather

Friends who know me well hear me sharing about my grandfather (Daddy) and his love he showed his grandchildren. He really was a good man. He was not perfect by any means but he did not waiver on things that were out of sync with doing what was right when no one was around to see. One of his favorite sayings was “fair is fair.” Those words were usually followed up by “ball or strike.” One day, I am going to write a book about his poetic sayings. 

Once, I accompanied my grandfather to a meeting held at our community lodge. Watching Daddy on the front row, I thought I was going to hear one of his fiery speeches about doing what is right because it is the right thing to do. But on this particular night, things would not be normal. The tone in the room was not what I had expected. Even at the age of nine, I knew something was different about this crowd. 

The crowd had gathered to debate a hotly contested ordinance being proposed. Some community leaders were urging folks to vote for a law that was not good legislation according to my grandfather. Daddy adamantly opposed the measure and did not hide his disdain for those supporting it. In this public hearing, Daddy’s critics never called him by name but there was no doubt that he was the object of their dissatisfaction. I watched for hours as one speaker after another took pot shots at my grandfather. He never said a word and a few times, I caught him smiling. I sat in disbelief wondering why Daddy was not speaking up for what he believed in or refusing to address the group to defend his point of view.

On the drive home, I asked Daddy about the meeting. With much confidence, Daddy responded, “Never bet against the truth; you must learn to pick your battles.” At nine, my lack of comprehension showed on my face so my grandfather served up this nugget of knowledge that I use often, “Never argue with a fool, they will either win the argument or kill you.” Later that week, several individuals met with my grandfather to thank him for not debating with the noise makers. His silence spoke volumes, they told him. That was the first of many meetings where I saw my grandfather win the battle of words by never uttering a sound. He was an old school passionate orator but from time to time, he would fall silent and allow his lack of verbal engagement diffuse a situation or get others to speak up instead of waiting on him to be the messenger.

Several weeks ago, I got to experience how my grandfather felt firsthand. I attended a meeting that left me wondering had I a missed a Prozac pill. I thought I was attending a meeting to discuss empowering others to be the best they can be and mobilizing individuals to be more educated about issues in the community. I was ready to soak up whatever knowledge that was going to be shared. I had my sleeves rolled up to learn new ways to tackle old issues with relevant goals and defined action plans. As with most folks and good intentions, you get what you get. Nothing in life is a guarantee. 

Folks, I sat in a meeting, which I initially thought would be informative and motivating, dodging bullets and daggers. Damn! I did not get the memo to come dressed in amour. One speaker took great pleasure weaving belittling comments into a message about leadership. There was no hiding the fact-less infused lecture with its saccharine coated ugly tones, there was an issue with me. Before you ask, my name was never spoken. Are you surprised? Me either. As my amusement grew by the minute, I saw out the corner of my eye several individuals sitting stoned faced and showing signs of being uncomfortable with what was taking place for all to see and hear. I thought to myself, Daddy would have loved this meeting! I could visualize him twisting his Mason ring around on his finger while never looking away from the speaker. Channeling my grandfather, I twisted my diamond ring on my finger and found myself fascinated with counting the number of biting remarks that were meant to either hurt or humiliate. 

At one point, I started taking notes because I would hate to leave this one out of my upcoming book. Not to get even but because I needed to record what was taking place within my spirit. I did not get upset or walk out. I pinched myself several times to make sure I had not dozed off or was having an out of body experience. I was actually listening quietly to words that were not having an effect on me. My grandfather words came rushing back to me, “pick your battles.” This was not a battle; this was a pissing match and I was not a bed wetter. I had nothing to prove. I had spoken truth to a few folks and the result of speaking up was this angry crazed tirade that had me pinned in my seat. Riveting. On the drive home, I found myself laughing as if I seen a comedy routine. Does personal growth and revelation come with bouts of laughter? Instead of fuming and ready to take folks to the shed, I was laughing at what I experienced. Meds do not produce that kind of response.

By the time I made it home, I received calls apologizing for my experience were pouring in from many individuals that I respected. Each apology was heartfelt and genuine. Their phones calls made me respect them even more. Unbeknownst to me, several expressed their indignation at the meeting not being about serving others. I did not have to mention that the meeting was not as it was billed. Although my experience was meant to humiliate me, I witnessed folks willing to do the right thing even when no one was looking. I realized something had changed in me. Not one to hold my tongue when mayhem and foolishness rear their ugly heads, surprisingly, I was silent. By not engaging in petty words that faithful day, I took in what was said and made a decision to use my time building others up for the greater good of everyone, including myself.

Since the meeting, I taped the notes from that day near my calendar to remind me of the lesson from my grandfather that was revealed years later. It took courage for him to hold back. I cherish those actions from the lodge that I witnessed; his strength in his silence, the twisting of his ring and smiling while staring intently at a speaker hurling clandestine insults. He was showing me not every battle is worthy of my energy and to always leave foolish arguments for fools to debate. After a few days, I sent a note to the speaker expressing thanks for a presentation that had a positively profound effect on me. Growth is good. How was your week?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bill Haslam visits Jefferson Street



Over a year ago, I was introduced to Knoxville’s Mayor Bill Haslam by close personal friends, the Wolcotts. Mayor Haslam was a special guest at an event they sponsored. Since that time, I have heard Mr. Haslam speak at several business forums and I have also heard him on the campaign trail all over Middle Tennessee as I have blogged about the Tennessee’s 2010 Elections. I was at the televised debate at Belmont University earlier this summer as well. During this campaign cycle several times, I have been seated at the table with the Mayor for one reason or another and he spoke with common sense. Once, his daughter, Leigh, and I had an engaging conversation about her journey to becoming a public school teacher.


Not one to hide my passion for social media, I tweeted from many of those meetings to my followers on Twitter as I have with various other candidates. After many requests, Mr. Haslam finally made his way to 1501 Jefferson Street, the offices of The Tenneseee Tribune Newspaper on Monday. He arrived with one of his campaign staffers, Andrew, to answer questions from many in the African American community who wanted to hear from him. This was not a meeting I was going to miss. This was different. In all the places that I have been to hear Mr. Haslam speak, this was the first time that I seen him in an African America audience; Mrs. Perry’s staff and as well as a conference caller. No one will ask Mr. Haslam to weigh in on the building of a Mosque, what folks are doing in Arizona, or how much money he made at Pilot. This meeting was going to be straight and boxed, “What are your plans to bring jobs and to help improve education in this community?”


After greetings and introductions, there was some small talk but everyone was eager to get to the business at hand, hearing Mr. Haslam answers to questions to help the community that was feeling economic warfare much more than others. Mr. Haslam was as cool and calm as usual. I asked Mr. Haslam about his daughter, Leigh, and reminded him this was not our first meeting. Mrs. Perry cut off my small talk with Mr. Halsam (with a look) and the meeting started out the gate with questions centered around education, the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) and Tennessee State University (TSU). Since the Board of Regents recently named John Morgan as new chancellor, questions regarding his hiring were being debated statewide. To many individuals, the actions surrounding the hiring of Morgan was straight from the good old boys frequent awards government program that smells of cronyism at its best. Many throughout the state have noted that the qualifications for the Chancellor's job were downgraded to fit Morgan's education skills but still managed to give him a hefty pay raise from $180,000 to $385,000 without any push back. The group gathered wanted to know how would Mr. Haslam address this type of hypocrisy from the Board of Regents that has a long ugly history with TSU dating back to days when Morgan’s father was running Tennessee’s higher education ruling board. Mr. Haslam did not hesitate with his answers regarding the Board of Regents and its board members. He stated that members of TBR should be individuals who care about the mission of educating students first. “The board should represent the people who serve those institutions; people who understand the mission of each school”, he stated intently.


He went on to state, “Tennessee colleges are behind national averages for graduating students from higher institutions. The boards of each university should have individuals who are invested in the university that they are appointed too. In education, Tennessee is ranked 42 out of 50 states. We must improve those numbers in order to attract corporations to come to our state and to get out students prepared for the workforce.” In regards to TSU, Mr. Haslam said he met with Dr. Johnson shortly before he announced his retirement that was a surprise to everyone. Haslam would like TSU to focus on raising graduation rates and he would work with the University with best practices for measurable goals to be reached. When asked would TSU be turned into a two year university, Haslam said TSU would remain a four year institution if he is elected Governor.


Several follow up questions regarding the TBR were asked that showed Haslam was not following sensational headlines but was aware of issues perceived and actual on the campus. When a comment about TSU’s Alumni Association wanting to give input regarding existing and future issues at the school, Mr. Haslam stated the incoming President would be the authority at the university and he would be willing to “listen to others and gather collective information” but he would not “circumvent the President’s role at the university”. His job, as Governor, is to work with the school to educate students not police the administration.(Wait, shouldn’t TSU’s Alumni main role at the school be to help recruit students and raise funds for the school? Just asking!)


Anyway, when Mr. Haslam was asked about his track record in the African American community, he pointed to his current administration’s staff diversity and political appointments. He also addressed the program Project GRAD that was implemented in Knox County schools that is modeled after a program from Texas. Project GRAD is a 501c3 partnership between public schools and private sectors that was established in 2001. Project GRAD serves over 7000 students in 14 schools that are mostly low income areas to help students: increased academic achievement, increased high school graduation rate, and increased college going (and success) rate.
He was asked about his leadership style which he attributed to working in the business sector, “there is a time to listen and a time to lead”. When Mr. Haslam was asked why he wanted to lead the state at a time when the national economy and the political atmosphere are at all time lows, he became passionate in response. He stated, “He was uniquely qualified to bring business leaderships skills to the state, not only in one region of the state but to urban areas and rural areas that are hit the hardest in an economic downturn.” He also stated he has proven experience to lead in the government sector because his experience as Mayor of Knoxville. Mr. Haslam shared that he was a graduate of Emory University and has been in the private sector at the helm of Pilot Oil, a successful business that employs thousands in 39 states, for over twenty plus years.

I have seen Mr. Haslam in many different settings over the last year; business, private, and public. I must say, he was exactly the same in Mrs. Perry’s conference room as was at the Wolcott’s event and at Chamber of Commerce meetings. He was at ease speaking with us as he was at events where I have attended and often was the only minority or at least one of ten in attendance. His tone and demeanor did not change nor did he appear uncomfortable or patronizing.


After the interview and thank yous, we gave Mr. Haslam copies of back issues of the Tribune as everyone was on the way out the door. I rushed out after my wrap up conversation with Mrs. Perry and Mr. Benson. I was scheduled to interview actor Barry Scott at J. Alexander’s. After arriving at J. Alexander’s, who did I run into at the restaurant? Mr. Haslam and Andrew. Surprised, I introduced Mr. Scott to him and made small talk before moving on to our table. What did I catch out of the corner of my eye as I was being escorted away? A copy of the Tribune! Hmm, this should be a very interesting campaign season.


Photo credit: Steve Benson for Tennessee Tribune