Genma Speaks

Entrepreneur/ Writer/ Radio-Host

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

BIA2: The Continuing Mis-Education of America

I watched Black in America 2 with great trepidation. I honestly sent up a prayer begging God to have mercy on black folks, all America would be watching this show. My prayers got stuck somewhere over Nashville’s skyline because what I saw was a diversity project gone astray.

I applaud CNN for wanting to show that they are committed to diverse subject matter. After all, they are the “most trusted name in the news.” What I find perplexing is the need to script news segments and promote the result as a documentary about life in Black America. Based on the promos, BIA2 would bring forth new ideas or solutions to old problems within the black community. Part 1, which I watched three times, gave us the same extremes that are usually spotlighted by the media and left many wondering why repeat the predictable caricatures that appear on cable news every day.

CNN’s narratives exploited the most vulnerable segment of the community and highlighted bourgeois attitudes at their worst. There is no denying that the two groups – the very affluent and the poor - are parts of the black community. But the affluent and poor are in any group of people. For millions of black folks who work hard every day, who are not making six figure incomes, who pay their bills and taxes, and who have trials and struggles like everyone else, what CNN profiled is not a total of our sums. CNN continued the perpetuation of the same stereotypical genres of black life which are the focus of the media the majority of the time. Blacks are viewed as thugs in jail, unwed teens, and absentee fathers/mothers. While true facets of the black experience, they are not reflect of all of our lives. Just like poverty stricken trailer parks and welfare mothers are not reflective of any other group. In a veiled attempt to show balance, mainstream media who most often portray the negative aspects of the black experience will occasionally show an elitist intellectual who is out of touch with his/her people and reality. Good, wholesome and normal people in the black community are rarely shown on television. BIA2 should have been renamed the “Continued Mis-education of White America” (and the rest of the world). Where is the balance between the two extremes?

In part one, CNN showed three segments. The first segment focused on thirty youth at a community center who traveled to Africa to learn more about themselves by having experiences with other youth whose circumstances were as cruel as their own. Taking young people from the inner city for two weeks to serve the world’s poorest is noble. Mrs. Compton-Rock is to be commended for her dedication to her organization, Journey for Change, and to young people. But to assume that upon their return, the magic dust of the Soweto ghetto will have a lasting effect on youth as they negotiate inner city life is implausible. The travel cost of $12,000 per child could have been used for tutors, speech therapists, and maybe even parenting classes. Traveling is one of our greatest educators. Teaching children to give and serve others should be part of life lessons no matter what zip code they live in. But often times, we miss some of our greatest treasures by not taking children to libraries and across town. Touring our national parks, national monuments will bring life to lessons taught in the classrooms. No greater gift could have been given to one of the young men profiled than a book, but did anyone follow up to see if he even read it? Throwing money at poverty without a deliberate evaluative plan is often a waste of resources and time.

Visiting the slums of another country is a good mission trip. But as we saw, the value of the trip was short lived when we are looking for long term solutions for systemic problems that a foreign trip was not able to cure. My questions to the staff of the Salvation Army: Why were these three profiled? Are they a sampling of the thirty kids or are they the exception? How did the letters of young man end up in the hands of the Mrs. Compton-Rock? Why read letters from an incarcerated father to his son on national TV if he wasn’t reading them at home? After some probing, CNN selected the kids to profile and the kids fit a premade storyline that we see over and over-poor fatherless black child saved by the altruism by some outside benevolence force. Several children in the group had two parents. Yet we saw what is typically presented.

After leaving us lost in thought with Malakk Rock vowing to not give up on her special kids, CNN gives us an uplift with the no nonsense school principal with fire in his belly for his students and his belief that his students can and will attend college. With 100% graduation rate and college attendance, Mr. Perry shares his story of being the troubled youth who got out and stayed out of the projects. A positive role model by any standards, his students love and respect for him was obvious. He also shared with America his greatest frustration - getting parents involved with his program. The two parents shown came from predictable, handpicked, scripted backgrounds, perfect for the exploitation of an otherwise uplifting story. The young lady profiled from Capital school had an abusive father and a crack addictive mother. Thankfully, both parents were shown alcohol and drug free. In this segment, we heard clear solutions with proven results, such as longer school days, six day a week school, and allowing junior and seniors to take college classes. Having a high school within a college prepares students for college transition and helps position them in college even if they do not test well on college exams. One of most profound statements made by Principal Perry and not included in this interview was thus:

“I think that the bigger issue when we have a discussion around race is not the interracial discussions but the intra-racial discussions. We don't have a conversation as African-Americans about what we actually value and within our community where those cleavages are. For instance, we don't have a conversation about why it is that so many schools run by African-Americans are so badly under-performing within communities that have always elected black politicians.”

His statement would have changed the tone of the segment and demonstrated that blacks are also holding blacks accountable for the communities they live in.

After hearing the zealous Mr. Perry, CNN does not allow us to stay excited for too long. They bring us shattering back to earth by profiling the founder of the Tuxedo Ball, Dr. Carlotta Miles, and an elite black family. The story focuses on Bertram Lee Jr., a rugby-playing freshman at the elite Haverford College in Pennsylvania. His grandfather was a prominent state judge, his late father a businessman and co-owner of the Denver Nuggets. He said his mother, a top lobbyist in Washington, D.C., instilled in him a love for his race. He was frankly honest about his life and does not apologize for not being poor. Good for him. He shares lessons learned early in life that despite his family’s successful background and affluent lifestyle, wealthy black people still very much feel the sting of racism.

Lee said he was called the N-word at his well-heeled private school and is often questioned by security when he and his black friends play basketball in the school’s gym. Lee sounded grounded and confident and has awareness that his privileged life will not shield him from racist rhetoric. A part of Lee’s affluent life is attending the Annual Tuxedo Ball.

Dr. Carlotta Miles, a psychiatrist and DC area socialite has hosted the Tuxedo Ball for 23 years. Dr. Miles shares the history of the Tuxedo Ball. It is a weekend of socializing and networking that she said grew from a need to keep privileged black children connected after integration. Prominent black families from across the country attend the weekend of events that also includes workshops, motivational seminars, and networking-opportunities. Dr. Miles shares that for generations wealthy blacks have been invisible people, noting
“We are the invisible people because we don’t match the stereotype. The stereotype for black Americans is failure, poverty, failure, victimization and mediocrity.”

When asked how to be a part of this elite group, Dr. Miles insists that in order for your kid to be invited you must be part of the group. This group is only known to members of the group. How can group of supposedly invisible people see each other? Do they wear special glasses that are available to people in the group or CNN?

Dr. Miles's snobbishness came full circle when Soledad asked “How come you don't do a similar thing for kids who are not privileged?” She explained,
“Well, because it's not our mission. There are tons of things that are done for children who are not advantaged. There was nothing for the privileged black child because to be black in America is a challenge for many people whether you're privileged or not."
This statement was from the same interview but shown in an earlier program but. In a perfect world, I would send Dr. Miles and crew to South Africa to get a tutorial in humility.
BIA2 was filmed over a period of several months. After review the transcripts of several shows shown in January around the time of President Obama’s inauguration and February, Black History Month, CNN took segments of the interviews with Dr. Miles, Mr. Perry and Mrs. Compton-Rock to fit the message they wanted conveyed for that particular month. Breaking barriers and the first this and that was shown in January; historical perspectives of blacks in America were shown in February; piss poor and uneducated and socialites with impaired vision in July. One interview sliced to fit the script.

CNN does a hatchet job on black life and handpicked the theme for BIA2. This was not a documentation about black life but an experimentation on how many ways a network can mislead America, especially white American, with one interview.

BIA2 managed to show America blacks flunking out of school and only wanting to shoot basketball, while giving us a glimpse of the life of Blacks who are trying like hell not to be Black in America or see reality. If this is going to be continuing theme with CNN’s Black Folks Series, I will pass on BIA3 and BIA4.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dinner and Fleas? How not to Entertain 101

I attend many social events in Nashville. My fundraising has evolved into a full-time love affair for the causes I support. And because of my passion, I get invites weekly to parties, events, fundraisers, and social gatherings galore. I am out and about often. I met a nice lady several weeks ago, who attended a fundraiser where I was honored for my work with young people. We talked briefly and promised to follow up with each other.

After exchanging several emails and phone calls, she invited me to a dinner party at her home. She seemed very sincere about helping others and she was aware that I speak often at environmental engagements around the country. She was also curious about the ecological products I use in my business. We shared common interests and had mutual clients.

I accepted her invitation to her party. Her home was in an exclusive neighborhood and I was guaranteed by another party lover that I would enjoy myself and make contacts that would be worth the forty minute drive to her home. Being the professional networker that I am, I could not wait for the big day.

At the party, I saw others I knew. Her home was exquisitely decorated and there were staff to attend to every whim of her guests. Salomon, caviar, smoked trout, and to my surprise, fried catfish nuggets, were just a few of the tempting tidbits that was so beautifully displayed on gigantic silver trays and platters. A bar was stationed in every room downstairs of the home. The décor was summery and southern, no detail spared. I sneaked off to the kitchen to introduce myself to the cater, to ensure I would have a goody bag of catfish to take home. After peeping in the kitchen, the caters were friends and I felt relieved that the food was being prepared by folks who I knew. (Part of my home training from Mississippi is to always know who is cooking the food.)

Thirty minutes into the party, I felt a sting on my leg. Immediately, my spidey senses were alarmed. After being in the pest control business for nearly two decades, I have been stung or bitten by every little creature on earth it seems. Bug repellent for outdoors, antibiotics, antidotes all go in my makeup before my lip gloss. Two minutes later, I felt the second, third, and fourth bites. I excused myself and rushed to the bathroom to give myself a once over. In the powder room, I was not alone. Another guest was intensely looking at her legs. I said, “Oh my, you too”. As we were inspecting ourselves, I pulled out an alcohol swab and started dabbing at a growing red bump. The other woman introduced herself quickly as Julie and said, “You are prepared”. I told her that I owned a pest control company. She knew who I was right away. I poured the contents of my purse out and I spent the next ten minutes doctoring on both of us.

We returned to the party and I noticed several other women were swatting at their legs. I went to the owner and asked if she had any pets. She said yes, several terriers and two chows that were put away. Her babies she informed me. I told her that I was bitten and she had fleas. She said, “I thought I got rid of them.” I stared back stunned, and asked about her treatment schedule. She had her home treated earlier in the week, she informed me. Now, I am pissed because I know she did not use my company and it takes at least two weeks to get fleas under control. The follow up is done in ten days, so she could not have had a follow up treatment. As I was talking to the hostess, we were interrupted by another guest who said she had been bitten by 'something'. The guest then turned to me and asked was I there to take care of the problem. What the hell? No, she didn’t. Yes, folks she asked me to kill the fleas.

I could not get out of there faster enough. I came home with my legs riddled with bites and I was insulted on two levels. I was invited to someone’s home who knew I owned a pest control company, who had conversed with me for several weeks to come to her party and had the audacity to use another pest control company. I have three in college, that job could have bought three text books and a coke. Second, I am at her party as a guest and I was asked to exterminate the pests. In my new BCBG dress, are you kidding me? Now if I had worn something older, sure.

And to add to my burning anger, I left my catfish! Damn. What a night.

After all the planning that was put into this event, the hostess forgot one of the most sacred tenets of entertaining, making sure your party is not remembered for the uninvited guests;ants, spiders, roaches or fleas. This tale of entertaining horror could have been prevented. If you are not using Holmes Pest Control; do not throw a summer extravaganza.

Photo Credits: Erik Johnson,ASAM, HPC

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Maxwell brings Sexy back to R & B with his stop in Nashville

After an eight year recording hiatus, Maxwell is back! Maxwell has put the sexy back in R & B music.

Maxwell’s appearance had ladies willing to stand in the rain to see him perform. The Ryman was filled to capacity with the sell out crowd. Through screams, laughter, and dancing in the seat, the audience enjoyed songs from over ten years of hits. Maxwell good looks and sixties throw back style is a modern day version of the icons Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke.

The official release of “Black Summers’ Night,” a trilogy of studio albums that the artist expects to release over the next three years, coincided with his stop in Nashville. Maxwell’s album is number one in the country.

Opening act, Grammy Award-Winning Chrisette Michele, vocals proved why she is becoming one of the most recognized young voices in the spotlight today. This concert was definitely for the grown and sexy crowd.
Photos: Earl Flippen

A Media drive-by hits TSU

Definitions of drive-by:
“Done or made in a quick or cursory manner”. Webster’s Dictionary

“A drive-by shooting (or drive-by or "D.B." for short) is a form of hit-and-run tactic, an attack carried out by an individual or individuals from a moving or momentarily stopped vehicle. It often results in bystanders being shot instead of, or as well as, the intended target. The objective is to overwhelm the target by a sudden, massive amount of firepower without attention to accuracy”. Wikipedia

According to Urban Dictionary, a “drive-by” media attack implies to shallow, sensationalist, sound-byte-heavy news coverage á la Fox News. Such coverage focus on the scandalous, relies on a reader’s short attention-span, and offers controversial "news" that is mostly cover-up, and/or spin for political purposes.

TSU was on the wrong page at the wrong time and suffered wounds inflicted by our city’s oldest newspaper. An attention grabbing headline on the front page of Saturday’s Tennessean screamed, “TN grad rate is third worst”. Underneath the bold font a large photo depicted students walking on campus, one wearing a shirt that read, “I love TSU”. My youngest son handed me the paper, commenting in a depressed voice, “Mom, TSU has been hit again.”

After seeing the headlines, I put it away to read later. I confess, when I see article after article speaking ill of TSU, I don’t rush to read a negative story. Many of my friends, black and white, often tell me they do not bother to read any TSU story because it is rare any good is reported. “A picture is worth a thousand words”, is an old wise saying. The picture and headline together was a drive-by that left future and current students injured.

For the rest of the story, you have to turn to page 11A where half a page is devoted to the copy. A second photo of TSU records department is prominently placed at the top of the article. The caption underneath the photo in smaller font reads “TSU fairs better than most Tennessee colleges in graduation rates”. I read the article whose headlines seemed to imply that the story was about TSU’s graduation rates. I read the article three times and pondered why the newspaper used TSU’s pics on page 1 and 11 to accompany the sensational headline when the story referenced Belmont, MTSU, and Vanderbilt, and, presumably, all state colleges and universities, public and private. The story gives facts and quotes from the Southern Regional Education Board’s spokesman, Alan Richard and quotes from professors Franklin (MTSU), Gonzalez (Belmont), and Flores (Vanderbilt). A Vanderbilt student is quoted as well. The article discussed in detail issues surrounding Hispanics and Blacks finishing high school and college. College challenges that can be unique to ethnics groups and solutions to close educational gaps were vetted in the article.

On my second reading of the article, I realized no TSU professor or personnel is cited in the story. The article ends by focusing on Ashley Hernandez, 21, a first generation student at Vanderbilt University. But she is taking summer classes at the TSU. In summary, she compares Vanderbilt and TSU. (Duck, here comes the bullets).

At Vanderbilt, Hernandez said, it's unusual if she e-mails a professor and does not hear back from him within a few hours. At TSU, a response can take days.

Wow. Can someone call the corner’s office; folks, I believe we have a fatality. I contacted the reporter to ask why the headline with a picture of TSU was run, when professors from other universities were quoted. Or why not a picture of Miss Hernandez, a Vanderbilt student, with a “I love Commodores” t-shirt on?
Since I am “fair and balanced” like Fox news, I gave her my thoughts on the story. After hearing the reporter’s responses to my questions, I asked if I could quote her. She stated she was not aware she was being interviewed. I was not interviewing her but our conversation was interesting. Our dialogue gave insight to a two prong devil’s fork. The story was not about TSU. But when the paper ran the headlines with TSU’s students in the first photo, used a second photo of TSU’s admission personnel and ended the article with the statements from a part-time student complaining about the university; TSU became its sole target. The reporter was stating facts I was told and it is not the job of a reporter to be concerned about the reputation of TSU. Ouch. My point to her was the photos conveyed a message about TSU which did not connect with the story to me. Her story had an odd smelling odor.

I realized after several push backs, a tiger’s stripes are permanent. My take away from our conversation is that TSU needs to be concerned about the school’s reputation and be proactive in showcasing the schools most precious assets, the students and its outstanding programs. Profiling students and the numerous contributions that are made to society through the university, while marketing to national media outlets are crucial to the school’s long term health. Focusing on a return call back from a newspaper for a positive story is ludicrous at this point. Basic networking teaches us; your message and image are yours to craft and control. How TSU is viewed, is critical to the overall funding, fundraising, recruitment, and retention of students. To roll over and not call out perceived or actual media bias feeds the negative messages that photos under glaring headlines can leave. Public relations have evolved into personal relationship management. The PR of old does not exist anymore in the age of social media.

I strongly suggest to TSU’s leadership to look through their roster of incredibly talented PR graduates who would understand that PR does not mean faxing a press release and invest in a firm that will work night and day to bring all the hidden gems of TSU to the forefront. As part of a long term strategy to build and strengthen community relationships, I would provide interns to local and national media outlets. Allowing the media to work directly with TSU’s talented student body would limit the number of media casualties. Locally, positive stories are usually buried on page 9 of the auto section. In the meantime, I called 911 and asked the diversity police to keep under surveillance the media on Broadway. I believe a crime took place on its front page Saturday, July 11.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

AEG Teaches BET "How to be an Entertainment Company" 101

After watching the coverage of Michael Jackson, I noticed many similarities and differences between the AEG and BET televised events. Both are companies that are in the business of staging concerts, television productions and are part of larger conglomerates. BET targets African-American between the ages 18-34 as their marketing base. AEG developed and operates the $150 million official U.S. Olympic Training Facility.

AEG, which was heavily invested in the Michael Jackson upcoming tour, is part of AEG Live. The AEG brand includes managing sport arenas around the world, merchandising, and corporate sponsorship and marketing. BET is part of Viacom which includes VH1, MTV, Nickelodeon, CMT and Comedy Central to name a few. Anyone in the entertainment industry would recognize the power of three short letters, BET or AEG, which employ thousands. That would include camera operators, sound engineers, set designers, travel agents and key board operators. Both entities have contact to talented artists worldwide and can sermon them at a moment’s notice.

AEG’s commitment to excellence was evident in the production of MJ’s home going ceremony. From the details of the printed program to the orchestrated performances of the stars, their desire to ensure MJ’s messages of empowerment, hope, humanitarian endeavors, and his musical genius were reflected in every facet of the production. As I have said previously, how a show starts usually determines how it will end. With the opening song “Going to see the King”, you knew the program would have a spiritual connotation despite the fact an entertainment company was in charge. The attention to details was impeccable. His coordinated brothers were his pall bearers who wore his signature glove. It reminded us that MJ started his musical journey with his brothers. They honored MJ’s independence from the group, by wearing his coveted trademark with loving pride. That symbolic touch was the start of a service that remained elegant from beginning to the end.

BET repeated excuse that it only had a few days to prepare a ‘tribute’ revealed their commitment to mediocrity and throwing things together at the last minute. Their justification for the lack of quality and care gave life to the word “ghetto”. The artistry of the talent on the stages gave you a glimpse of how the two brands view themselves. AEG understood that the eyes of the world were on them and how it managed this program was an investment in how they will be perceived by everyone. BET was the first to honor MJ’s legacy but did not understand the significance of the world’s penetrating glare. The program was marketed as a tribute to MJ but they were not able to turn off their usual misogynistic, sexist, and degrading antics of its own people to realize the social responsibility that was expected of them by fans from around the world to honor MJ’s legacy. BET also misjudged its community and the power of the internet, via blogs and Twitter, to do what others have not been able to accomplish for years, shame them for their programming.

There are many actors and actresses in black community but only a few have won Oscars. Both AEG and BET had African-American Oscar Winners, Jamie Fox and Jennifer Hudson, on their stages. Jamie and Jennifer are musical prodigies but Jennifer used her voice to echo MJ’s talent and Jamie used his voice to mock MJ. Funny stories were shared by many close to MJ at AEG’s event; their stories were heartfelt and respectful. Absence was the buffoonery that Jamie exhibited at BET.

AEG included various artists from Motown, which was part of MJ’s history as well as a strong influence in the black community. BET had access to Motown executives and artists also. They have honored Diana Ross, Barry Gordy, and Quincy Jones in recent years. I remember Miss Ross admonishing the audience to respect each other with their lyrics and dances. Both companies had athletes on stage. AEG athletes, Kobe and Magic, shared firsthand stories about MJ that made everyone laugh. BET’s Athlete of the Year, LeBron James, was booed by the audience. No public apology was issued to LeBron James or his legions of fans watching. AEG used their arsenal of contacts for the greater good and used MJ’s music to unite the world. In contrast, BET does not understand the value of maintaining healthy community and artistic relationships from different genres, musical eras, and backgrounds.

Each song that was performed at the memorial highlighted MJ’s legacy. His songs were the heart of the service. The songs that were not his songs, like Smile, were song because they were meaningful to him and touched MJ in a special way. The song “Every Girl” included in BET’s show and sung by baby maker, Lil Wayne, seems an odd choice whether you are a fan of MJ or not. It’s hard to believe Lil Wayne cared about a tribute to MJ. But on the other hand, Usher’s performance was loving and unforgettable. Not only did he move the audience emotionally with his presentation, but you knew his tearful tribute was from the heart. In fact, when I listened to BET’s replay, the tribute was riddled with profanity, plugs for new releases, concerts appearances, and various BET “products”, i.e. reality shows, that will do more harm than good to its demographics.

There was no stage or casket sponsorship with AEG. But BET’s sponsors were mentioned every few minutes. Jennifer Hudson, who wore a modest white dress, did not leave us questioning her attire. Whereas Beyonce’s white outfit, left many bewildered. Both women had others on stage with them, but the additional people on the stage with Jennifer were the chorus who gave you a visual that MJ’s songs reflected his admiration of diversity and international inclusion. Beyonce’s extras on stage were part of her costume change that emphasize her “showmanship” not MJ’s words that tells us, “In the promise of another tomorrow, I'll never let you part for you're always in my heart”. AEG even muzzled Joe Jackson and did not prominently showcase him or his coonery. BET gave him a world stage that left us all wondering why in God’s name would anyone give him a mic or MJ’s children.

AEG gave an emphasis to Michael Jackson’s childlike heart in many respects and ended their memorable tribute with children singing his words, with smiles and joyful hearts that radiated from the stage. The last words spoken regarding the greatest entertainer in the world was an unexpected announcement from his daughter that her “Daddy was the greatest father in the world”. It left critics speechless and moved the rest of the world to tears.

On the other hand, BET’s children who were on stage left me speechless and in tears but for reasons that has been addressed by thousands of angry emails and tweets to Debra Lee.

In the end, AEG showed us it was not about Michael Jackson, but the mark he left on the world. They managed to show that in spite of the years of suspicion, two trials and media debauchery, he made contributions that cannot be argued or denied. His monetary gifts of 300 million to global agencies have touched thousands of lives but his songs will live “forever, and forever, and forever”. BET showed us that it was all about them, and they shot themselves in the foot. They drew attention to everything that is wrong with BET’s brand and why it hurts the black community on a wide-reaching stage. The stereotypes of the African- American community, that many fight every day, were front and center.

AEG will make millions from the reproduction of ceremony and the memorabilia copyrights. They invested in MJ’s ceremony and made their name a household brand. Their stock will increase and they will become known as the entertainment company for quality production events. BET made a few thousands and proved why they are becoming irrelevant in the entertainment community. They will be forever and forever and forever remembered for their failed attempt to honor an African-American musical intellectual that transcended race, religion, and politics. They did not take the time to view the long term value of honoring MJ right the first time, even on a smaller scale. The lessons AEG showed us by their actions should be a life lesson for everyone not only BET; the value of your brand is reflective of the standards you set.
Photo Credit: MTV, NBC,


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Gentle Giant, Remembering Steve McNair

Life in Tennessee is different from my upbringing in Mississippi. That statement is not a criticism but to share my viewpoint is often shaped by my simple home training. I fight daily against pop culture’s idolization of individuals to keep myself and my kids grounded. I refuse to put anyone on a pedestal. People are people and their interactions with others speak louder than any publicist’s press release. Having worked in the PR field, I know this all too well.

My grandfather and my dad showed, by their actions, that fathers are providers and protectors of their families. Uncles from Chicago to Mississippi filled in the gaps along the way. The men in my family, though not always perfect, led by positive example. In turn, their example helped me to teach my children what was expected of them. One of the lessons I have taught my kids is to never worship anyone, especially stars and athletes..

My kids' love for their dad comes with much admiration and respect. Both grandfathers are active in their lives and they are surrounded by positive male role models. I seek out community “doers” to help mold them so they may learn firsthand; life is not all about them.

Coach Gilliam has been mentioned every day since they were tots. Something Coach said or did is repeated often. Coach’s influence is everywhere in our household; from my sons’ love of TSU to the Steelers’ memorabilia everywhere. When my oldest son went off to college, he had a solid curriculum of Coach Gilliam’s lessons taught to him by his dad. When he moved into his first apartment, to our surprise and delight, his neighbor was none other than the legendary Coach Gilliam. The stories of his youth came full circle. He became a Coach Gilliam story teller and started the second generation of Holmes that was impacted by Coach Gilliam. He is now Coach Holmes in graduate school passing on the stories of a living legend that he loves dearly.

Steve McNair is the only other person who passed my star/athlete litmus test with my family. McNair was considered “kin”, a transplant from Mississippi and an Alcorn (pronounced All-corn) graduate. In my extended family, ASU or JSU were the schools of choice. Only a few of us did not follow the pack. With Alcorn being only few miles from my home, I knew Alcorn like my kids know TSU. My mom, Dr. Stringer, taught at ASU for years. The SWAC was the NFL to me. Several relatives played ASU sports, so I know McNair’s bio like my kids know Joe Gilliam. McNair’s leadership and generosity was well known prior to him stepping into the NFL spotlight. Even after he became a huge star, he remained humble and without pretense.

I saw Steve McNair’s kindness without the filter of PR lenses. He visited Bethlehem Centers (BCN) to encourage the youth and wowed many young boys at his football camps in several states. Corn, my youngest son, attended his camps and was in awe that a NFL pro threw him the ball. Several McNair’s camp participants are now playing college football. Two years ago, McNair funded a summer program for BCN. To show the agency’s appreciation, Joyce Searcy asked me to take framed artwork by the kids to McNair. You would have thought I handed over a Grammy. He was gracious and I remember saying, “Joyce is ‘kin’, she’s from Miss.” Of course, he knew, since Joyce had no problem reminding McNair about their shared Mississippi connections.

When I became Founder/Chair of Minorities in Pest Management (MPM), I traveled often to raise money to award scholarships to get students involved in the lucrative but elusive pest control industry. My desire to help HBCUs’ students was usually met with opposition from the administrators of the schools and industry insiders. I mentioned my frustration to a friend who shared the info with McNair. Through his contacts, ASU got involved and several former ASU graduate students are now working in a field that usually overlooks minorities. MPM members requested him as a speaker year after year; not because he was a celebrity but because he showed an interest in MPM when industry folks thought we were crazy. McNair opened doors without asking for any recognition.

That was typical and classic McNair; his love for people was evident. When Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the focus was New Orleans. But McNair reminded the world that Mississippi was devastated as well. He used his money to help fill twenty tractor trailers for family, friends, and communities in the Magnolia State. The Wolcotts, friends with hearts that matched McNair’s, sent out pleas on his behalf for help and volunteers responded in droves. From sunup to sundown, they stacked, sorted, and loaded trailers to send down I-55. I called home and told folks McNair’s Calvary was on its way. Within 48 hours, trailers brimming with much needed supplies were in Mississippi. When the USA Army could not get through, McNair’s generosity found a way.

The loss of McNair is overwhelming on so many levels. His life touched many lives every day. He was a bear with such an enormous heart. “Country strong,” my dad would say. McNair was flawed like all of us and his death was tragic, but his love for others will shine brightly. I could not allow this week to go by without expressing my thoughts about the gentle giant. God Bless you Mechelle and the kids. You are in my prayers.
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