Genma Speaks

Entrepreneur/ Writer/ Radio-Host

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Boogie Man Stalks TSU

During my early childhood years while growing up in Mississippi, I was told often by a hateful cousin that the boogie man was going to get me. He told tall tales that haunted and damaged my young psyche. His depictions of the boogie man seemed real to my impressionable imagination. I would awaken in the middle of the night shaking and believing the boogie man was in the closet or under the bed. As a way of comforting me back to sleep, my grandparents would throw open the closet doors or peer under the bed to show me no one was going to harm me. My grandmother would say to me as she was going through the room, “Van love calling you a scary cat; don’t let him whisper things to you that are not true.” After seeing no one in my room and hearing my grandparents soothing voices, I would return back to my bed realizing that I was safe. My grandparents reassured me that everything would be alright by their actions; they physically showed me that no boogie man was lurking to get me and told me the truth about my cousin words each time I had a bad dream.

Over the last two weeks, I had to similarly reassure my sons who are attending Tennessee State University that the media hype from Broadway with doomsday headlines that are misleading was nothing but the boogie man myth stalking TSU with an incomplete narrative. My eldest son returned from spring break wondering if TSU was going to lose its accreditation. Bewildered, I asked “Who’s telling those tall tales?” He said students were receiving calls from their parents from around the country asking if TSU is on the oust. My son who works with freshmen student athletes was reassuring them that everything would be okay. But he was also seeking comfort by confiding in me. Wanting to put his mind at ease, I told him I would check into the root of the students’ fears. Like days of old, I needed to show my son that there was no boogie man at TSU. Or was it? Concerned, I made a call to a friend who worked at TSU the next day.

My friend gave me an insider’s view of trying to do one’s best for students while watching the university she loves and worked for be attacked from the inside out. “TSU is having a whisper campaign being waged against it with the media carrying the whispers in the wind. Brazen headlines with false claims are causing dread in the minds of students and faculty alike,” she said in hush tones. She spoke as if we could be overheard when it was only the two of us on the phone. I found myself reassuring her that everything would be okay and the truth always prevails. Like Mother, like son. After I hung up with her, I said a prayer for my sons and the TSU community. I found myself recalling last summer’s misleading headline about TSU and wondered why does TSU receives so much negative press from one media outlet that provokes panic, alarm, and trepidation in the Nashville community about the standards of TSU. I pondered quietly about what does TSU need to do to show the good practices while correcting the bad habits without being written as a monster in the headlines? Why has the media not mentioned the awards that TSU has won for outstanding community service in the last several weeks? My mind was on my sons’ future as well. A few days later, I received a second call about TSU from my youngest son who was concerned about his status at the school.

My youngest son, known as “Cool Corn”, was showing signs of distress about his future at TSU. He asked me in a voice that reminded me he had only fifty percent of my DNA, “Ma, what’s up with the money at TSU, I heard something ‘bout TSU’s money”. What now, I thought to myself. He went on to tell me about TSU’s audit that made the news. My sons were worried. I was determined to keep them focused on their education and not on headlines and campus gossip. The insinuations made about the school they love dearly were spreading like wild fire. I would learn later, TSU’s boogie man was real but disguised as bias journalism.

Jaime Sarrio, a contributing writer for The Tennessean, covers education in Middle Tennessee was the writer of two articles that appeared in The Tennessean a week apart. The article that my younger son was discussing with me was titled “Audit finds errors at TSU”. Ms. Sarrio wrote about the “numerous inaccuracies related to scholarships, investments and retirement funds at Tennessee State University.” The article cited figures and recommendations on how TSU needs to do better with its accounting practices. As I continued to read I could not help but notice the statement towards the end of the story;
“TSU isn't the only state institution to record errors on financial statements. East Tennessee State, Austin Peay, Dyersburg State Community College and Motlow Community College were cited for similar mistakes in recent month,” Jewell said.
TSU was mentioned along with several other schools but figures only from TSU were given. In Ms. Sarrio’s bio, it states that she covers education for Middle Tennessee but only mentioned the audit of one school that was in Middle Tennessee. Clarksville and Smyrna are in Middle Tennessee, right? Interesting.

After I picked up copies of the audits for the schools that were listed in the story and audits for school not written about, I wondered what were the “similar” mistakes mentioned briefly, but not expounded upon by Ms. Sarrio. Since I try to be a fair and balance blogger, I decided to include the overviews from each school in alphabetically order. I would hate for anyone to think that I pulled one school out the hat that only had one school in the hat. When I was in grade school, I learned that the letter A came before T. Most of the schools audits were 70 plus pages long and to remain fair I will give the samplings of information from the findings and recommendation pages of the audits for each school. All Links to the complete audits pages are available at the end of the page.

In each school’s audit the objectives were the same:
1. To consider the university’s internal control over financial reporting to determine auditing procedures for the purpose of expressing opinions on the financial
2. To determine compliance with certain provisions of laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements;
3. To determine the fairness of the presentation of the financial statements; and
4. To recommend appropriate actions to correct any deficiencies.

The audits were conducted as a part of the checks and balances of being a public institution in the state of Tennessee, not as a witch hunt. All public universities and colleges are audited, not just TSU.

APSU audit was 72 pages long. It did not take but a few turn of the pages to concur with Ms. Sarrio’s findings that some of the other schools had similar problems. I noticed right away that APSU like TSU had “made mistakes two years in row” as well. Now let’s take a peek into the horrors of higher education accounting, hold your chest because this will be a spooky, scary, frightful read from here!

The Office of University Advancement personnel did not establish policies and procedures for monitoring pledges receivable and did not comply with established policies and procedures related to receipting, recording,and documenting contributions and pledges received from donors. The Office of University Advancement receives contributions and pledges for both the university and the foundation. While obtaining an understanding of controls over cash receipting and pledges receivable in the Office of University Advancement and while completing agreed-upon procedures on the Athletics Department’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Statement of Revenues and Expenses, we noted that
•staff recorded Athletics Department revenue amounts in the wrong account;
•management failed to establish policies or procedures to monitor pledges receivable to determine which amounts should be written off, and staff failed to follow established policies for maintaining pledges receivable documentation; and
•the Executive Director of the foundation failed to ensure adequate controls over cash receipting and recording functions.
We noted similar problems when performing our agreed upon procedures for the year ended June 30, 2008.

Dyersburg State Community College
1. The Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services did not ensure that the college’s and foundation’s financial statements and notes to the financial statements were accurately prepared, which increased the risk that amounts could have been materially misstated and that critical financial decisions could have been made based on inaccurate information.

Top management of Dyersburg State Community College (DSCC) is responsible for the fair presentation of financial position in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America. However, the Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services did not ensure that the college’s and foundation’s financial statements and the accompanying notes to the financial statements were free of material misstatement. According to the Vice President, she prepared the financial statements, notes to the financial statements, and the management’s discussion and analysis (MD&A); however, no other knowledgeable person reviewed the financial statements, notes, and the MD&A for accuracy or cohesiveness. As a result, we noted several reporting errors in the financial statements, notes, and MD&A.The new staff was unfamiliar with the previous and new systems and did not have sufficient experience to extract information to prepare the financial report, and there was not adequate time permitted to provide the specific training. In Aug 2008, the Business Manager accepted another position at the college and a new Business Manager was hired.The Vice President was, as in 2007, the only staff remaining with prior experience in preparing the financial report. Also, the Vice President was on leave intermittently due to a family illness and was unable to have sufficient time to review the notes and management’s discussion and analysis as it should have been before the deadline for submission to the Tennessee Board of Regents.

The university needs improved review procedures to prevent errors in the preparation of the university’s financial statements. The Vice President for Finance and Administration and the Associate Vice President for Financial Services worked together in preparing and reviewing East Tennessee State University’s financial statements and related notes to the financial statements. They also relied on information provided by other employees. Our audit found that this arrangement lacked adequate review procedures to ensure the accuracy of the information presented in financial statements and notes. This weakness resulted in three significant reporting errors:
• In note 8 of the financial statements, the Associate Vice President for Financial
Services reported the reserve amount for Tennessee State School Bond Authority (TSSBA)bonds as $21,941.24. The correct amount, according to a TSSBA confirmation, was $4,093,706.22. No review of this information was performed by another employee.
The note was corrected in the audited statements. The audited statement was not corrected. The entry was deemed immaterial by the university’s Vice President for Finance and Administration. These reporting errors resulted in significant misstatements in the financial statements. According to the Associate Vice President for Financial Services, these errors were not detected because she did not have sufficient review time between year-end closing and the final preparation and submission of the financial report to the Tennessee Board of Regents Central Office. The Vice President for Finance and Administration also cited the lack of sufficient resources to provide adequate review due to staff reductions from the university’s recent voluntary buyout plan. With an adequate review process, the Vice President or Associate Vice President could have detected and corrected these errors before the financial report was completed.

Motlow State Community College
The Vice President for Business Affairs and the Director of Fiscal Services made several classification errors in Motlow College Foundation’s financial statements, resulting in inaccurate financial reporting. The Vice President for Business Affairs and the Director of Fiscal Services of Motlow State Community College did not ensure the financial statements and notes of the college’s component unit foundation were accurately prepared for the fiscal years ended June 30, 2008, and June 30, 2007. We found that management made several classification errors due to oversights during the preparation process. Based on our audit, we found that the Vice President for Business Affairs and the Director of Fiscal Services, who worked together in preparing Motlow College Foundation’s financial statements as presented in the college’s Annual Financial Reports, made the following classification errors:
• On the college’s statement of net assets at June 30, 2008, in the component unit column, they failed to separately report $383,551.65 of nonexpendable net assets restricted for scholarships. The amount was shown in the nonexpendable restricted net assets - other category. Inadequate review procedures led to the misclassification.
• In note 14 in the college’s 2007 financial report, they misclassified $3,262,305.47 of foundation equity mutual funds and $41,496.63 of money market mutual funds as bond mutual funds. According to the Director of Fiscal Services,the amount was simply placed in the wrong category in the note, but the statement of net assets reflected investments properly.

University of Tennessee
1. Advancement Services and Athletic Department personnel failed to address risks associated with improper accounting for pledges receivable, resulting in a $6.4 million over statement of pledges receivable on the university’s June 30, 2008 financial statements.

The University of Tennessee uses two separate systems to process and account for donor pledges made to the university. Personnel in the Advancement Services office use the Alumni and Development Information System (ANDI) to maintain the official record of all gifts and pledges made to the university. Personnel in Athletic Development at Knoxville use the ADvantage system to account for gifts and pledges made to the UT Knoxville Athletic Department. Pledges and gifts are initially entered into the ADvantage system and then are subsequently entered into the ANDI system through a multi-step data transfer process. University personnel failed to appropriately respond to data integrity issues discovered within the ANDI system, failed to establish a pledges receivable write-off policy, and failed to mitigate other internal control weaknesses involving the pledges receivable process. The Assistant Vice President for Advancement Services and his staff are responsible for reporting accurate gift and pledges receivable balances at each June 30 year-end to the Controller for proper financial statement reporting. However, the Assistant Vice President did not provide accurate pledges receivable balances at June 30, 2008, to the Controller because of uncorrected data integrity issues on the ANDI accounting system and because of the staff’s failure to establish an Advancement Services policy for the write-off of delinquent, uncollected pledges, ultimately affecting the June 30 balances. Also, based on our audit work, we identified certain other internal control weaknesses. The specific discrepancies are described as follows:
Delinquent Pledges We determined that, based on research done by Advancement Services’ staff, delinquent pledges (no payments for one year or more) totaled approximately $7,944,600 and were included on the university’s June 30, 2008, statement of net assets net of a 20 percent allowance for doubtful accounts and discounted to net present value. These pledges were deemed uncollectible and were scheduled for write-off on January 1, 2009. Since the entire amount was deemed uncollectible, the allowance account established for doubtful accounts was not sufficient to cover all uncollectible pledges. At June 30, 2008, net pledges receivable were overstated on the university’s statement of net assets by at least $5,936,319.84.

I read hundreds of pages of state audit reports for several universities and colleges in Tennessee. Many had numerous accounting errors and discrepancies.I am not trying to down play TSU’s audit or negate TSU's issues by any means but when I read the other schools’ reports, I realized that folks in Tennessee just can’t count. When I contacted Tennessee Comptroller of Treasury Director of Communications, Blake Fontenay, to find out why only TSU’s audit was discussed in the article, I was informed “There was a media inquiry specifically about TSU’s audit.” The reporter did not inquire about the other schools? Hmmm. “We told her that other schools had problems as well,” stated Mr. Fontenay. Perplexed, I asked about the release date of the audits? I was told where to find the release dates for all the schools. I was startled to read that Motlow State University was released 10/27/2009, Dyersburg State Community College was released 2/8/2010, APSU was released 2/8/2010, ETSU was released 3/11/2010, and TSU was released 3/17/2010.The reporter who covers education in Middle Tennessee had not written any prior stories about the audits of the other schools. Why focus only on TSU? I searched the Leaf Chronicles website, which has the same parent company as the Tennessean, and found no stories on APSU’s audit, a Middle Tennessee School. ETSU did make the news in East Tennessee and the story was cross posted on several websites. ETSU story ran before the Tennessean reported on TSU. News Channel 5 mentioned some of the issues at ETSU:
Among the errors the audit found - the associate vice president for financial services reported the reserve amount for Tennessee State School Bond Authority bonds as $22,000 when the correct amount was more than $4 million. Also scholarship allowances were understated by more than $2 million, which resulted in other accounting errors.

The information about ETSU’s audit was in the news but not included in the reporter’s story about TSU’s audit. As we can see, Broadway’s narrative about TSU is as dramatic sounding as the “War on Terror”. The terminology is catchy but the theory lacks sustainable measures. Reporting specific inaccuracies at one school but
not other schools you cover whose audits were released earlier has a ghoulish distortion that does not sit well with this parent. This added to the discord that my eldest son said was evoked in students the previous week when a headline by the same reporter read “TSU Runs Risk of losing its Accreditation.” My manicured mommy nails are becoming claws while I am trying to help my sons understand the politics of public mind games without poisoning them about life.

An implication from the headline was that TSU was on the short list for the accreditation guillotine. That story was read by many students before the beginning of TSU’s spring break. No wonder the students returned back to school afraid of the unknown. Can you imagine the conversations about TSU with families who were trying to sort reality from make believe? God forbid if families went to the media’s website and read the comment section that seems to bring out a type of hate that is becoming more and more mainstream and is encouraged by the headlines that are written. What about the new enrollees for the fall semester? How many read or heard about the headlines and decided this may not be the school for them in 2010-2011? Who would want to send their child to a pending non-accredited school? My eldest son bristled at the notion that students were not properly tested throughout his time at TSU. “Mom, I was number one in my graduating class and rarely slept for four years because of all the work and tests I took trying to graduate from TSU,” he told me emphatically.

This headline and the truthiness of the story were disputed by TSU and the Southern Associations of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Apparently in the writer’s rush to keep students awake at night wondering about their future, she confused reaccreditation and reaffirmation and used them interchangeably. Reporting on a story and not knowing the correct definitions and context of words while challenging the credentials of an award winning school is laughable and shameful! Did the reporter get tested before she left college? The President of SACS, Dr. Wheelan, sent a letter to the reporter’s publisher and editor explaining the process of reaffirmation since the reporter’s fifteen minute interview with SACS and what was printed failed to show she had a grasp of the subject matter that became sensationalized in the Nashville community because of the headlines and misstatements. SACS challenged the story but there has not been a correction or an apology for the misinformation but the story was given a new title. The story was complete with a daunting photo of Dr. Johnson who was pictured looking like the grim reaper who killed my youngest son’s financial aid.

As a mom of TSU students, I am part of the TSU family. I am proud of my sons. I was concerned about the rumors and half-truths that have reached fever pitch. I researched for myself the facts on both stories about TSU. I went to the administrators of TSU and asked about my sons’ futures at TSU. I have no time to deal with mess and mayhem designed to divide, alienate, and conquer through osmosis. I have one son graduating in May with his Masters and one son who needs prayer. If I chose to send my sons to TSU, I am going to support the school when things are going great and when things are going bad. There is no perfect institution and no perfect administration. If there are issues that need addressing, by all means get them addressed. I made my list and action items this week. The TSU community should hold administrators and faculty accountable. But folks must come to the table with solutions and action plans with measurable outcomes. This is a time to course correct and used information that has been given (the good, the bad, and the ugly) to do things better. Let’s not feed into the negative atmosphere that some in Nashville wants to cloak over TSU like a creepy fog.

My granddaddy always said, “If you don’t care about what is yours, why do you think anyone else will or should.” Folks, I care about my sons and their education. The readers of the Genmaspeaks and the members of the Nashville community should think beyond one media’s narrative. At this point in history, we should leave the hate on a website’s comment section. That kind of demoralizing hate can destroy a community. Besides, there is too much good to do…young people MUST be educated and led to become productive citizens of this great country and of this wonderful city of Nashville.

(The SACS On-Site Committee arrived at TSU on Monday and will conclude its visit on Thursday March 25, 2010. Tennessee Tribune will report on their findings when it becomes available.)

Photo Credits:TSU Campus TSU
Dr. Melvin Johnson Tennessean
Children/Dr.Johnson TSU
My sons-proud mom

Links to all schools audits:

Release dates of audits:

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Awesomely Luvvie...Using Social Media to Raise Awareness about HIV and AIDS

I was spoon fed as a tot that helping others is part of my foundation in life but living in Nashville taught me about serving others with a passion and giving with flair. Nashville is one of the most philanthropic cities in the country and I am always looking for new ideas to address issues to get people involved and excited about caring for others. The women (and men) I have befriended over the years in this great city are always willing to open their hearts to causes that make a difference not only in Nashville but nationally and internationally.

Once, a very wise and influential woman said, “Show me your checkbook young lady and I will show you your heart. What you care about the most is where you spend your money”. Being young, dumb and not realizing I was being taught a lesson, I boldly showed her my overdrawn checkbook. With a look that could have buried the dead, she said in an exasperated voice, “When people care about others, they surround themselves with like minded people. Your shoe shopping helps retailers not the causes you care about!”

What a lesson! I love to serve my community, especially working with organizations that help women. As my income has grown (shrunk in 2008) over the years, I have practiced living within my means, to be sharp and savvy about my love of fashion and to volunteer for causes where women shop with a purpose. Last year, I worked with many others on the Power of the Purse Fundraiser where Jane Pauley was the keynote speaker. Women bought designer purses galore to help many charities that benefit women and girls in the Nashville area. This month I volunteered with the Brentwood Women’s Club “Step Up, it’s a Charity Affair”. The annual fundraiser helps many charities in the Williamson County area. Both were great opportunities to give back locally and to shop.

To keep with the theme of shopping that serves and gives to others, I suggested to a few folks to take a look at the Red Pump Project, an effort to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS to women. The subject matter make many uncomfortable to talk about, but being a woman of color and seeing devastating effect of HIV/AIDS in the community and nationally, I believe the topic of HIV/AIDS cannot be taboo. We must talk about it. I decided to step out on faith to do a fundraiser for the Red Pump Project this fall. Here’s how the Red Project got started:
National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is Tuesday, March 10, 2009. It's a nationwide initiative to raise awareness of the increasing impact of HIV/AIDS on women & girls and encourages ladies to take action. While progress has definitely been made in the areas of AIDS prevention and treatment, women still represent 27% of all new AIDS diagnoses, with African-American women accounting for 66% of that group.
In observance of this day, Karyn of The Fabulous Giver and Luvvie of Awesomely Luvvie came up with the idea of The Red Pump Project. The concept is simple: Rock the Red Pump on your blog to represent the strength and courage of women fighting HIV/AIDS or affected by the disease both directly and indirectly. We ask that on that day (March 10th), you embed the Red Pump Widget within your post with a short snippet of its significance, or you can rock the widget on your sidebar.

March 10th was National Women & Girls' HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Online and on the ground, hundreds of women "Rocked the Red Pump" to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls. I was introduced to the Red Pump Project by the Awesomely Luvvie. Luvvie is one of the funniest women in social media. Her blogs are world famous for calling out mayhem and foolishness. From her renowned post about the BET Awards show last year dubbed “Dear BET, iQuit U” and “Twitter killed the Celeb Star” and Mother’s favorite “Dear Moorehouse” to the statement above her blog roll “If these blogs were crack, I would have no teeth”, Awesomely Luvvie keeps me in stitches laughing at her rants about all things “ignance”. Her Avatar page changes as fast as the Healthcare bill provisions and her “helpful” hints on Twitter have followers rolling on the floor. Words that are now part of pop culture, “Queen Bey’s Onesies”, “iSuck”, and “iQuit U”, can be attributed to Awesomely Luvvie. Luvvie’s blog was voted Best Humor Blog 2009 by Black Weblog Awards. You can also find Luvvie speaking at several 2010 Blog Her Conferences.

With all the laughter one can find from reading Awesomely Luvvie’s blog posts and following her on Twitter, there is a passion in her to use her brand and blogging to help save women lives. Luvvie, born Lovette Ajayi, the 25 year old self professed shoeaholic, plans to pursue a MBA in non-profit management and marketing. I wanted to share with you a little more about the phenomenal woman that keeps sisters laughing, engaged, and concerned while at the same encouraging young ladies to take better care of themselves by being educated about the devastating effects on HIV/AIDs on young women, especially women of color.
In her own words… “Here’s Luvvie!”

GSH: What makes you passionate about making a difference with your life?

Luvvie: It's important for me to make a difference with my life because paying
it forward makes the world go round. If it's in my power to make some change happen, then it's an obligation, not an option. I feel like I should extend my blessings to others. Besides, when I'm gone, I do want to leave my footprints in concrete, not sand.

GSH: When did you decided that THIS (your activism) is IT (needed now)?

Luvvie: HIV/AIDS has been at the forefront of my mind since college, when I
did a campus-wide campaign about it. The disease is one of the deadliest, and also the most preventable. Sex is supposed to bring forth life, not take it, so HIV is nature's oxymoron. I've focused on the effect of the disease on women because we're the caretakers. When we get sick, it affects more people around us. That's why I use the Red Pump as a symbol to represent the strength and courage of those
women that are affected, directly or otherwise. Plus, it doesn't hurt that I'm a shoeaholic.
GSH: What woman has made a significance difference in your life?
Luvvie: Honestly, my mother. I give all credit for the person I am to her.
She's raised me with a strong sense of integrity. She's the prototype for awesome, making do with little and always being selfless in the process. She really instilled in me that putting others first sometimes lets you lead a fulfilling life. Her shoulders are stronger than Atlas' and she hasn't shrugged yet.

GSH: Could you share about your background and family...anything you want me to know?
Luvvie: I'm Nigerian, born and bred. I have a strong sense of culture and
pride in my background. I'm fluent in Yoruba. Although I don't have a
strong accent, I still bleed that green-white-green. My family's pretty close, although we're everywhere.

GSH: If you could change one thing today...what would that be?

Luvvie: Wow that's a toughie. *strokes chin* There's just SO much I'd change.
Do I have to pick one? Hmm… I guess I'd change the level of apathy in the world. Not enough people care about what's going on outside of their personal life bubbles. If more people were philanthropic in SOME shape, change could be easier.

Lovette Ajayi is using her life and social media to make a difference in the world. The Tennessee Tribune and Inspired Media Group are proud to sponsor The Awesomely Luvvie’s trip to Nashville this fall to help spur our community to be more aggressive about educating women and young ladies on the subject of HIV/AIDS awareness. The Links, Inc., Les Gemmes, NCNW, and all Greek sororities have been invited to partner with this endeavor that promises to be shopping with a purpose. Designers, stars, and stores will donate red pumps and accessories and art by several female artists to raise funds through an auction. The day will end with words from the incredible talented Lovett Ajayi. All proceeds from the event will be donated to The Red Pump Project.

I can’t wait to hear my girl, Luvvie, shake up the stiff crowd and inspire our city to raise consciousness about a disease that is preventable. Get ready Nashville, the one and only fabulous Awesomely Luvvie is coming to town. I promise you, Luvvie's Awesomeness will be a blessing!

To find out more about the work Lovette Ajayi HIV/AIDS outreach go to:
For a Twitter feed like no other go to:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Nashville's Email Triology Makes National News...Again

Once again, all eyes are on Nashville because of an email. An email! An email has cost Walt Baker, former CEO of Tennessee Hospitality Association his job; his partnership with Mecatus Communications is on the ousts and needs to hire a crisis management team to help its clients; and Mayor Dean who convinced Metro Council to borrow $600 million to build a convention center to persuade tourists to visit is having to explain why the email came from one of his drum majors. If I was a betting person, I would swear this was a cartoon on the Cartoon Network. Damn folks, Nashville is in trouble. This time, folks are really going to pay attention to our piece mill diversity we have here in town because this email got some folks rushing out to find a new black friend. The email, Michelle the chimp, will be in every competing city’s presentation on why one should choose their city over Nashville for convention business.

If you are wondering how an offensive email can hurt convention center business, just browse around the internet. Blogs about the email are on every major website; AOL, Comcast, MSN, New York Times, Washington Post and every cable news outlet. Tennessee is making national news because of a trilogy of emails that had racial undertones hit the World Wide Web. The first email in this disastrous trio was the 44th President Spook email sent by the now infamous secretary Sherri Goforth. The email depicted President Obama’s picture as a black face with only his eyes showing. The President Spook email was explained away with an, “Oops, the wrong list got the email” by Goforth. It was a negative ugly email but the there were no real consequences from it. Other than bad press, business resumed as usual for our state legislative branch and no one lost an election or a paid job. The cost of that President Spook email was mandatory diversity training for all legislative staff which Sherri Goforth did not attend. She was told she could view the training on video at a later day after she returns from paid medical leave.

That incident got media attention but because the sender was a "lowly" government employee that answered the phone of an elected official, the emphasis of the email was diminished. A government employee on government’s time, dime, property, and equipment was allowed to shrink out of sight in her state representative’s office to the firestorm burned out.

We barely digested the actions of Sherri Goforth, when a 2nd email surfaced from a different sector of Tennessee’s government. Tennessee Highway Trooper Brent Gobbell sent an email that said “proud to be white” to 787 recipients. There is nothing wrong with white pride except, he ranted how sick he was of ethnic groups and their ilk. A guy with a badge and gun who looks like he leads a militia hate group one finds hidden deep in the woods, was spouting off racial epithets that even law enforcement could not ignore. The state suspended him with pay for 15 days while they conducted an investigation of Hate-a-Brother email Part 2. After an investigation, the state of Tennessee sent out a press release to make sure everyone knew the State of Tennessee did not support the rantings of Trooper Gobbell.
The investigation determined that at approximately 10:39 a.m., October 9, 2009, Trooper Gobbell sent the external email to himself so he could print a copy. At that time, he inadvertently sent the email to 787 state email system recipients by striking a wildcard key using his GroupWise email account. During an interview, Gobbell told OPR investigators that he intended to forward the email to himself and was not aware he had forwarded it to other state employees.

Unlike State Rep. Diane Black secretary’s “oops” email, his email was not swept under the rug. Trooper Gobbell was reprimanded but he kept his job and ordered to take a mandatory diversity class. His picture and all the details of the investigation were made available to the public. After reading the details of the investigation one can conclude Trooper Gobbell is not the brightest trooper with a badge and his rant fed the national media’s narrative that we are backwards and crazy in the Volunteer state.

With our third national email scandal, the sender comes from Nashville’s pedigree stock. This is not a secretary that many labeled a hick or a prick with a badge and gun who hate color folks. No, this email put millions of dollars on the line. The state’s tourism industry is under scrutiny because of Walt Baker’s itchy finger. Our city leaders’ entire argument around the dearly needed ½ billion dollar MCC was visitors, tourists mind you, flocking to our city in the next two years to save us from the brink of disaster. This is what we were sold/told by our Mayor and our compliant Metro Council. Tourism dollars would come by the plane loads if we signed on the dotted. And with the flick of a switch, our council members voted 29 to 11 to start digging ditches. Walt Baker was one of top drum beaters for the MCC Project; he gave us the tourism viability angle at every opportunity. We were given the do or die scenarios at every turn. The former leader of the state's tourism industry is turning off tourists because of an email. The cost for Baker’s email is already being felt economically starting with the sender himself. He lost his six figure income, credibility, and reputation. The Tennessee Hospitality Association fired him quicker than he could draft an apology letter to anyone who would receive an email from him. There is no mandatory diversity class training this time. Diversity class is for a much lower pay grade and social rank.

The email was sent to select prominent friends. Several of those close friends vouched for Walt Baker’s goodness in message boards on the first few days of the scandal. Upon reading the email that was sent to the press, my immediate thought was what kind of conversations they are having with each other that Mr. Hospitality felt comfortable enough to send a Michelle the chimp email to them. I have plenty friends and I forward different things to different ones. My church folks get the miracles can happen and praying for you emails. My girlfriends who are dealing with cheating men get the nutcracker emails. My political friends that know my love of politics get emails that represent my views and theirs. Some of my emails are good and some are just plain awful, I must admit! A few folks from Walt Baker's chimp email list that initially defended Walt Baker are now defending themselves. The glare of the national media is asking questions not only about Walt Baker but the recipients of the email who are deemed as prominent leaders in our community. Because no matter how the case is being made on the comment section of a website “I don’t think like that” or “an email does not make me or him a racist”, folks are giving the favorite friends from the email the side eye. Yep, I said it. The comment section on the website is damaging but nothing can compare to the comments that are being said over coffee, tea, and margaritas. The public is wondering who sent the original email to Walt Baker and why did Walt Baker select those who received email. Inquiring minds are dying to know.

Now that our state and the city of Nashville is on every “don’t visit” website, how are we going to continue to sell the tourism angle as a meal ticket when we are not willing to accept we got some real diversity issues that we must overcome quickly in order to bring tourists here? I suggest we start with that big ditch downtown that will be the site of the MCC Project. The Mayor needs to make every effort that true diversity contracts are represented in building of the MCC Project. It should not be delegated to folks who have no power. If the Mayor, the leader of our city, became active in building relationships with as many people of color as possible, it would set the tone for others to follow. This may not stop emails from being sent that are viewed as racists but at least people from every background would be willing to come forward stand up for our great city. Real conversations must be discussed among each other and not on message boards.

In a previous post, I have addressed the 'two black friends’ issue that plagues many leaders in this city. Good honest hard working folks from every background and square inch of our city are being painted in broad strokes because we, collectively, are not being the people we want to attract. In order for our national media to stop referencing Nashville when it wants to show an example of ignorance, we must be willing to talk and educate each other first before we can reach out to others. That is the making of a great city that can attract businesses from every corner of the globe.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Akoo Jeans Model, Dawn Montgomery, speaks to Genmaspeaks about Controversy

Everyone knows I love Twitter. One of my favorite folks on the social media site is Dawn Montgomery, a fashion model and writer. Dawn and I have known each other for over a year and have talked often about working together to do a charity fashion show for a few of my favorite non-profits here in Nashville.

I was drawn to Dawn because of her Twitter name, @MississippiDawn. My Twitter followers and Tennessee Tribune readers know I am from Mississippi and often share stories about my hometown. Dawn and I have endless Tweet streams catching up on all things in the Magnolia State. Born and raised in Hattiesburg, Miss., Dawn is attending college in Atlanta. Dawn is fast becoming one of hottest urban models in the U.S. Dawn not only models and writes but she also is a community activists, patron of the arts, and raising a young son. She is the first to arrive and last to leave, I am told by many. The community that she loves dearly, loves her back and it shows by the number of friends who thank her daily for endless deeds done out of the kindness of her heart.

Last week, Dawn sent me links to an ad campaign with Akoo Jeans, a clothing line by rapper T.I. I opened the links, saw Dawn’s face and thought, “She has landed another big job.” A few minutes later, Dawn sent me several more links with the same picture and asked, “Have you read this?” This was the Dawn that I love, always seeking advice and critique no matter how big the contract. It took me a few minutes to realize Dawn’s photo Akoo Jeans shoot was being blogged about around the country. Dawn’s Akoo billboard ad was asked to be removed by the Newark, New Jersey community and the Mayor Cory Booker for obscenity. Isn’t New Jersey the home of the Jersey Shores Reality TV Show that is watched and hate by millions? Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker was cutting a shine over a billboard because it was not a good image of the community. Within 24 hours, Dawn’s face was all over cable news. Wow, someone I knew was in the middle of mayhem and mess. On Twitter @mississippiDawn and Akoo were trending topics.

I called Dawn to find out what were her A, B, and C plans. Dawn who is media smart hired a publicist who had her responding to the crisis within a day. She was interviewed by Essence to address the controversy, the sexual content of the ad and the media bias towards urban vs. mainstream models. Being from Mississippi, Dawn and I conversed the way two Divas from the country do...straight to the point. I asked Dawn without any tack as soon as she said hello, “Are you neckit?” (You say it like it is spelled). She responded in true Diva dramatics, “You know me better than that!”

With that cleared up and out of the way, here’s Dawn’s exclusive interview with and The Tennessee Tribune.

Dawn, since I know you personally and most of our readers don’t, we are going to discuss the controversy first.

GSH: What was the mayhem and mess about?
Montgomery: The Akoo Billboard Ad featured me pulling downwards on a gentleman's pants. Newark, NJ's Mayor and citizens were upset at the sexually suggestive pose, and viewers felt as if this was not a great representation of African-Americans.

GSH: Were you surprised at the response from the community?
Montgomery: Yes, I was surprised at the response from the community. In the mainstream modeling industry, there are clothing ads (Calvin Klein, Abercombie & Fitch, Victoria's Secret) that market sexually suggestive ads and are rarely talked about or addressed in the media.

GSH: How long have you been modeling and was this the first time you faced this type of controversy?
Montgomery: This was the first time I faced controversy in my modeling career, and I have been modeling for 6 years. I do not like negativity, so I am turning this into something positive. In this Industry I have to make choices daily. I always think of my FAMILY when making decisions, and my morals & values guide my decision-making.

GSH: Would you do it again?
Montgomery: Would I do it again? Yes. I am a model and my job is to give the client what they ask for. The representatives from Akoo Clothing line & the photographer that shot the Ad Campaign discussed with me what they were looking for and showed me their vision images. I was allowed to do what made me feel comfortable in comparison to the vision images, and I did just that. I will be more mindful of my surroundings, because for some of my family members the gentleman's hand on my head struck a nerve with them. My family understood my decision and they support me. As long as I am able to have their support and show my family the images then I can continue to do my job.

Dawn, you imitated a toned down version of a Calvin Klein ad. You decided how you wanted to interpret the Calvin Klein Ad and through this controversy helped Akoo Jeans become a household name in a matter of days. Their marketing worked and you have become one of the most recognized faces in America. Now, that we addressed the madness, let’s talk about the Dawn Montgomery who is fierce about her love of family and helping others in your community.

GSH: What makes you passionate about making a difference with your life?
Montgomery: My upbringing makes me passionate about making a difference. I was raised around strong women that no matter what they lacked in their lives, they continued to help others. It is hard to help someone else when you know that you may not have what you want in life, but that drives me to do more.

GSH: When did you decided that THIS (your activism) is IT (needed now)?
Montgomery: Currently I am still trying to figure out what this is. I have always had a passion for making my voice heard in my community by volunteering and spreading the word about needed change. I currently use my Modeling & Writing Careers as ways of communicating how I feel about what is going on in my community today.

GSH: What woman has made a significance difference in your life?
Montgomery: My late grandmother, Dr. Rev. Gertie Smiley, made a huge difference in my life. When she was battling Breast Cancer she showed me how to be strong until the very end of your life. My grandmother always told me that every decision I made will affect someone close to me & I have to make good decisions daily. She was a community activist and she always spoke up when she needed to be heard. All of the women in my family are just like her, but she was so charismatic.

GSH: Could you share more about your family…anything you want me to know?
Montgomery: My grandmother's battle with Breast Cancer and death changed my life. My son was born a year later, and then 2 months after his birth Hurricane Katrina hit Mississippi. I am a single mother, and God has blessed me with an amazing support system of family members and friends. I have a mental illness, Bipolar/Manic Disorder, and I deal with this daily.

GSH: If you could change one thing today, what would that be?
Montgomery: I would not change anything. My days are difficult, but through the grace of God I make it through each day.

GSH: What advice do you give to other young women about following their dreams?
Montgomery: The advice I would give to other young women about following their dreams: RESEARCH! There is someone out there that has the career you want and you can learn a lot from researching how they got there. You will not travel in the same lane that they are in, but God created a lane just for you. I did not come into this industry naive. I learned how to put my portfolio together and set goals consistently for my career. Know the path you want to take, and understand that sometimes you have to walk that path alone. Learn what works best for you and master that. My late grandmother, mother, and aunt have all taught me these things that truly work for me today.

GSH: What are your future goals?
Montgomery: Next endeavors are; Graduating from Oglethorpe either in the Fall of 2010 or Spring of 2011, Getting my son started on the right path with his education as he enters Kindergarten (I am excited!), and I really want to have the opportunity of hosting a Sports Talk show either on radio or television. I am a huge College Football fan, and I love all sports.

Photo Credits:
Allen Cooley
Marion Designs
Mays Photography
20/20 Photography
Dawn Montgomery Agent
Dawn was recently photographed for Savoy Magazine for the current issue and interviewed by me for

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Desiree Rogers Quits, Resigns, Fired, Stepped Down, Asked To Go, Left the White House Last Week

Desiree Rogers, White House social secretary quit, resigned, fired, stepped down, asked to go, left last week. Ms. Rogers came to the White House from Chicago like many members of Team Obama. Much has been said about Ms. Rogers being a fashionista and the gate crasher debacle but very few examine how she became a lightning rod for the Obama’s opposition.

Born and raised in New Orleans by a working class family, many in the media do not acknowledge that not only was she beautiful but smart. Ms. Rogers attended Wellesley College where she earned a degree in political science and received an MBA from Harvard Business School. She joined AT&T as a customer service manager in Chicago after graduating from college in the early eighties. During the eighties, an MBA from Harvard positioned Ms. Rogers as a top income earner. Ms. Rogers was young, beautiful AND smart at a Fortune 500 company that was considered a powerhouse.

From 1991-1997, she worked as the director of the Illinois Lottery; not a party planner as been stated but the director. She and her team implemented a marketing plan that took the once downward spiraling Illinois Lottery and introduced a catchy slogan, “Somebody’s gonna Lotto … It might as well be you”. The slogan, along with a 1-800 number and credit card payment options, had everyone praising Ms. Roger’s genius marketing mind. In 1995, the lottery increased revenue sales by seven percent. When asked about her success at the time, “We’re running a business inside state government,” she said. “We can make things happen.” (Borden, Jeff, “Forty under 40: Desiree Rogers,” Crain’s Chicago Business, Sept. 25, 1995)

With success, came opportunities for advancement. Ms. Rogers entered the gentlemen’s club of regulated utilities. In 1997, she stepped into the role of Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Peoples Energy Corp., which served millions in the Chicago area. In 2004, Ms. Rogers became President of Operations for Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas. When Ms. Rogers became President of Peoples, she was in a field that has few minorities and even fewer women at the helm even today. Ms. Rogers was leading operations of a Fortune 500 utility company. Under her leadership at Peoples, she led several high profile investigations while also trying to raise rates. The investigations into safety of pipe corrosion and employees of the People Gas falsifying records were conducted by federal, state, and internal investigators. Ms. Rogers had barely been in her role as President when the investigations started in 2006.

At that time, many in the Chicago business inner circles considered the investigations her biggest challenge and possibly the end of an impressive career. Ms. Rogers (known as a marketing and branding phenomenon) operational skills were being tested at Peoples Gas. She acknowledged the challenges and welcomed the critique. Ms. Rogers was balancing customer safety, strained corporate and regulatory relationships and a needed rate increase at once.

Despite the controversies, she successfully obtained the rate hikes, hired quality control employees, implemented a check and balance system with new training and auditing procedures. In 2008, she was asked to join Allstate Insurance to create a social media networking site to discuss financial products and retirement issues that would put her marketing and branding expertise to work for insurance giant.

During Ms. Rogers rise to the top, she was very involved in social and philanthropy endeavors. She used her professional networks and contacts to raised millions of dollars for many non-profits in the Chicago Area. She also used her network of influential business owners and civic leaders to raise money for political candidates. One of those candidates was President Obama. Ms. Rogers’s relationship with the Obamas spanned many years. She donated over $14,000 to various Obama campaigns and helped raised over $500,000 through her network of relationships, friends, and contacts in his run for the White House. Her ability to raise funds from wealthy donors, called bundling, is why she was valuable as an ally. She was once married to Princeton economics trailblazer, John Rogers with Ariel Investments, one of the largest money management funds in the country. The media’s focus on her personal relationship with the Obamas dilutes the economic and political power Ms. Rogers harnessed over many years of perseverance.

When the Obamas went to Washington, Ms. Rogers was tapped to oversee the Obamas' social calendar. Her business style and flair that made her successful in the corporate world coupled with her understanding of working with politicians was needed in the White House that was going to be known not only as the resident of the President but the “peoples house”. This was a departure from previous administrations that had older Washington insiders that ran the White House. Ms. Rogers’s dedication to the Obamas political success, her knowledge of philanthropy and the Obamas' commitment to the community, and her business savvy were considered assets. The White House was transformed behind the scene in many ways. The public was actually seeing magazine spreads featuring many who were part of the white house staff, especially if they were people of color. From chefs to staff and interns, the once secret life of who works at the White House was now public knowledge. The White House was embracing diversity by showing the public with numerous interviews, specials, and photo shoots. Pop culture was being integrated into the museum like atmosphere of the White House.

Ms. Rogers was one staff member who was featured prominently and as much as the First Lady, Mrs. Obama. Snarkly named the co-First Lady, this may have been Ms. Rogers undoing. Her trips to the fashion shows and photos of her planning events at the White House had become the norm at the new open White House. Ms. Rogers was often a contradiction of the First Lady. While Ms. Obama was often seen in J Crew ordered online, favored unknown young designers, and kept her clothing choices under wraps until the day of an event, Ms. Rogers did not hide her relationship with famous designers and became the toast of Seventh Avenue. As the First Lady was shaping her agenda and getting her young girls and family settled into a new school and environment, Ms. Rogers was being photographed for Vogue Magazine cover and WSJ. The fashion industry was salivating over Ms. Rogers who was not afraid to show her love of designer threads that loved her back equally. But in DC’s dark blue pant suit society, Ms. Rogers was ruffling feathers. Many felt that Ms. Rogers’ social agenda for the First Couple was more about her and that did not sit well with many inside and outside the White House circles.

By the time the Bravo wannabes gate crashing incident occurred at the White House State Dinner, the writing on the wall for Ms. Rogers was read out loud…she needs to go. With a summon to congressional hearings on the gate crashers that Ms. Rogers refused to attend by evoking executive privilege, it was noted Ms. Rogers’s greatest mistake was attending the dinner as a guest and not working the event was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Security for the President is the job of the Secret Service but the securing the names of the guests was Ms. Rogers’s job. Critics quickly began comparing Ms. Rogers to other social secretaries that many never knew by name or sight. The analysis of Ms. Rogers took her from fashion reviews’ best dressed to the political pundits’ talking points. She became the latest casualty for the administration.

Security for a President who has received an unprecedented number of death threats in his first year of office while at the same time Secret Service openly admitting it is underfunded in protecting him and his family, set many nerves on edge when a couple was able to have photos made with the President and posted on their Facebook pages. This added to the cries that Ms. Rogers’s sophisticated style may be best suited at the Kennedy Center and not the White House where national security should be first and foremost. Having survived federal, state, and internal investigations in the private sector, Ms. Rogers’s critics in the beltway were threading their needles ready to sew up Ms. Rogers’s short stint in the White House.

Ms. Rogers came to work at the White House for the Obamas who she had known personally for many years. Her skills and talent was what they needed the most. Ms. Roger’s ability to run business inside the government thinking was crucial to helping them put their stamp on the White House. The media embraced her marketing and organization skills with style and grace. But often times our strengths can also be our weakness. The same media often criticized her for not being hidden out of sight. Ms. Rogers who led a Fortune 500 company through a major crisis could not be on the frontline at the White House that was trying to change its culture internally. Every major city has its own traditions, culture, and whispered do's and don'ts. Washington, DC is known for eating folks for lunch, even those from Chicago with gracious intentions. What is becoming very obvious is change in DC is coming more slowly than many had ever hoped or imagined. At the same time, the White House that was supposed to have a different culture on the inside is beginning to eat its own for lunch as well.

(Having a family member who worked in the White House, it was something we cherished with pride but we rarely spoke about to the public. We have many photos of him with the President, but rarely was he photographed for the sake of being photographed. A different time…different President. )

Photo Credits:
Vouge Magazine
Chicago Tribune

Crain Business Reprt
Wall Street Journal
Chicago Sun Times

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Feminist Writer, Publisher, Activist to Address Women’s Progress, Challenges
(MURFREESBORO) – Writer and lecturer Gloria Steinem, whose pivotal role in the women’s rights movement has resulted in great strides toward equality, will deliver the keynote address of MTSU’s National Women’s History Month celebration at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Mar. 2, in the Tennessee Room of the James Union Building. This event is free and open to the public and will be followed with a reception and book signing.

Steinem, a co-founder of Ms. magazine in 1972, raised the public profile of feminism with her writing, lectures and public appearances. She helped to found the Women’s Action Alliance, a national organization dedicated to nonsexist, multiracial children’s education, and the National Women’s Political Caucus, a group that strives to increase the numbers of pro-equality women in elected and appointed offices at all levels of government.

“Gloria Steinem is an icon!,” says Terri Johnson, chair of MTSU’s Women’s History Month Committee and director of the June Anderson Women’s Center. “Her place in the women’s movement is one that will always be respected and honored. She opened doors when so many were closed for women. She stood up, spoke out and fought for the cause! She fought behind the scenes and on a public platform, using her voice and pen to raise consciousness to a new level for women.”

Among Steinem’s other accomplishments is her tenure as the founding president of the Ms. Foundation for Women, which funds grass roots projects, and as co-founder of “Take Our Daughters to Work Day,” which has become an institution in the United States and numerous countries.

Steinem’s work also has been essential to the progress of the pro-choice movement. She co-founded and served as president of Voters for Choice, a political action committee that merged with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund for the 2004 elections. In addition, Steinem co-founded Choice USA, a national group that supports young pro-choice leaders and comprehensive sex education in schools.

“I admire her individuality, intelligence, bravery and her ability to place women in the forefront of society,” Johnson says. “Gloria Steinem asks the tough questions about women's important value as individuals in society.”
As an author, Steinem is the recipient of the Penney-Missouri Journalism Award; the Front Page and Clarion awards; National Magazine awards; an Emmy Citation for excellence in television writing; the Women’s Sports Journalism Award; the Lifetime.

Achievement in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists; the Society of Writers Award from the United Nations; and the University of Missouri School of Journalism Award for Distinguished Service in Journalism.
Her books include Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem; Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions; Moving Beyond Words; and Marilyn: Norma Jean, all bestsellers. Steinem also was an editor of The Reader’s Companion to U.S. Women’s History.
As an activist, her honors include the first Doctorate of Human Justice awarded by Simmons College; the Bill of Rights Award from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California; the National Gay Rights Advocates Award; the Liberty Award of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund; the Ceres Medal from the United Nations; and numerous honorary degrees. In 1993, Steinem was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y.
A 1956 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Smith College, Steinem is collaborating with her alma mater’s Sophia Smith Collection on a project to document the grass roots origins of the U.S. women’s movement. In addition, she is working on Road to the Heart: America As if Everyone Mattered, a chronicle of her more than 30 years as a feminist organizer.
The National Women’s History Month Committee, the June Anderson Women’s Center, the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence, the Distinguished Lecture Fund, the Esther Seeman Fund, the Black History Month Committee, the Virginia Peck Trust Fund, Women in Action, the Women’s Studies Program, and the School of Journalism are sponsors of Steinem’s appearance.
Steinem’s keynote address is part of the MTSU Women’s History Month theme of “History, Change and the Future.” For more information on Steinem’s appearance or any other Women’s History Month activities, contact the Women’s Center at 615-898-2193 or, or go to the Web site at
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