September 9th, 2014

Let’s stop fighting for equity in our public schools and make it happen

I am a longtime fan and admirer of Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, which she founded in 1973 to improve policies and programs for children.
I am in awe of anyone who can stomp on flames that never seem to burn out. How long can anybody do that?
When the Fayette ­County Public Schools’ Equity Council announced that it is sick and tired of being sick and tired over the number of suspensions of minority, disabled and poor children, over the lack of ­diversity in our ­teaching corps, and over the ­seemingly ­motionless ­narrowing of the ­achievement gap, the first person I thought of was Edelman.
The Equity Council’s charge is to advise the school board about the inequities that exist in our public school system. Last week, members reviewed the system’s fourth annual equity scorecard, and the results were pitiful.
“We’ve talked and we’ve talked and we’ve talked,” council chairman Roy Woods told a Herald-Leader reporter. “We have no forward movement. Programs are out there, but it’s not working for all kids.”
Brian Hodge, chairman of the council’s suspension committee, said in a letter to fellow council members, “We have asked the district for solutions while trying to be patient, and it appears all we get are promises that things are gonna get better, but yet they never do.”
That is the same ­sentiment voiced in 1994, when the board established the council.
Then, the Rev. Dana Jones of Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church, ­chairman of the Equity Task Force, the precursor to the council, told the board, “I think we have a very serious problem.”
That also was the ­concerns voiced in 2001, when black leaders ­rallied against public school ­officials, saying they had “no confidence, no trust” in what officials were doing. Those leaders had five concerns that were getting only lip service, including the achievement gap, suspension rates and personnel diversity.
“Something must be done to address these concerns,” the Rev. Bob Brown, a ­former Equity Council ­member, said in 2001. “We’re fighting for survival in this system.”
Now, 20 years after the Equity Council was ­established, the problem ­remains. Fayette County is not doing right by its ­children, and the folks ­leading our schools don’t seem to be concerned enough to change that culture.
Twenty years, half the time Edelman has been ­battling for our children, and the council’s frustration level is apparently boiling over.
In her Child Watch Column dated Aug. 29, Edelman could have been talking about Fayette County.
“Everybody in the classroom and teaching children today — when for the first time white students will no longer be the majority in our nation’s public schools — needs to be culturally sensitive and culturally trained,” Edelman wrote. “This is true for all child-serving ­institutions. We need to watch out for the subtle as well as the overt ways in which we treat non-white and white children and those who are poor differently.”
In that piece, ­Edelman noted that Terrell ­Strayhorn, an Ohio State ­University professor, said at a ­symposium that his 14-year-old son asked him why he had gotten in trouble for speaking out of turn, but his white female classmate who had done the same thing was praised for being excited about learning.
She said Strayhorn told participants, “There are lots of black and brown boys who are often penalized for committing the same exact act that non-black and non-brown, usually white kids, commit in school — and some students are praised for certain behaviors that other kids are penalized for. It sends a very mixed message, because my son is confused.”
Edelman went on to say that other roadblocks to the success of our children exist and that the “disparate treatment of black children in the classroom from the earliest years, especially black boys,” discourages them, often knocking them off the path to college, “and burdens them with an emotional toll they don’t deserve.”
In discussing programs that work, Edelman said, Strayhorn “emphasized the need for positive interventions based on proven designs — because in his program evaluation experience, he’s seen far too many well-intentioned efforts that lacked a measurable impact because good ideas weren’t well implemented.”
Is that our problem in Fayette County: good ideas that aren’t well implemented? Or is it that we talk good game but don’t follow through? Either way is very damaging to our children.
P.G. Peeples, president and CEO of the ­Lexington Fayette County Urban League, was a member of the Equity Task Force in 1994 and was an original member of the Equity ­Council when it was formed. He said he attended the ­equity meeting last week when Roy Woods expressed the frustrations of the ­council. It was déjà vu.
The lack of proven results in narrowing achievement differences, in lowering suspension rates, and in creating and equitable atmosphere in the school system has to fall in the lap of the school board, Peeples said.
“They are more ­concerned with adult issues than what is related to our kids,” he said. “It must emanate from the board that they are serious about equity.”
Groundhog days. Same old story: one step forward, two steps back. Use whatever phrase you want to describe the situation. The best phrase, however, will be “We have fixed this once and for all.”
It shouldn’t take another 20 years for us to say that.
The council will meet with the school board on Oct. 13. Maybe we ought to be there.

September 9th, 2014

New leader at Nathaniel Mission feels ‘blessed to be a blessing’

To me, the cluster of metal warehouses at 1109 Versailles Road looks like a huddled mass of aluminum.
To the Rev. Kathy Ogletree Goodwin, it is a campus on which people of various cultures and stations in life can soon find disciples doing God’s work.
Goodwin, the newly appointed pastor and chief executive officer of the Nathaniel Mission United Methodist Church, believes the mission’s new location is a big plus for the program’s future.
“I want to form a collaboration with people right here on this campus,” she said. “I want to connect with the nationalities and ethnicities that are here. I want to connect congregations that way.”
The mission’s building is located behind Hope Springs Community Church, a congregation in the Kentucky Conference of the United Methodist Church and co-founded by the Rev. David Calhoun in 2000. Nathaniel Mission is part of that conference.

Rev. Kathy Ogletree Goodwin

Rev. Kathy Ogletree Goodwin

Hope Springs also serves as the home of a large Hispanic congregation that meets Sunday evenings. And, just a short walk away, sits Antioch Baptist Church in Speigle Heights, a predominantly black community.
That grouping of diverse cultures is an opportunity for the Nathaniel Mission to “impose some new kinds of strategies,” said Goodwin, adding that is still in keeping with the vision the founders put in place in the 1930s.
Back then, Nathaniel Mission began serving the marginalized residents of Davis Bottom, a financially struggling community often forgotten by government officials and programs. Residents were black, Irish immigrants and Eastern Kentucky transplants, all living together with poverty as a bonding agent.
The mission moved from its DeRoode Street location in the spring, forced out by the Newtown Pike Extension road construction project.
Soon after the Rev. David MacFarland orchestrated the move, he retired and Goodwin was appointed as his replacement.
Some programming has changed since the move, but the food market, the clothing bank, and diabetes education and support classes remain. Also, a hot breakfast is still served after 8 a.m. worship service every Sunday.
The transition from Coke Memorial United Methodist Church in Louisville, where Goodwin served for 17 years, to Nathaniel Mission has been made easier because of the number of committed volunteers at the mission, she said.
“It would have been harder for me had I not had that commitment,” Goodwin said. “They are here every Sunday at 6:30 a.m. fixing breakfast. It makes a difference.”
Born in Barnesville, Ga., the fourth of nine children, Goodwin had planned to be a lawyer. At age 12, she imitated preachers she had seen at a revival.
But Goodwin wasn’t about to be a minister.IMG_2394
“I did not see people who looked like me preaching,” she said. “That left my mind.”
Later at Atlanta University, she met her husband, Alvin Goodwin, who was attending seminary, and settled on the idea of being “the cute first lady” of a church.
Again, others suggested she should go into the ministry, but she told them, “I’m going to law school. I’m going to make some money.”
Obviously, God had other plans. One opportunity after another came about, all leading to the ministry.
Now, “I’m not keeping people from going to jail, but I’m keeping people from going to hell. I’m using a greater law book, God’s law.”
Goodwin was the first black female ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, Kentucky Conference and is one of only three, she said. She started at Nathaniel Mission June 29.
And while she doesn’t earn a lawyer’s salary, God has never failed to meet every one of her needs, Goodwin said. She and her husband, who pastors Garrs Lane United Methodist Church in Shively, have three grown children and have been married for 32 years.
Goodwin said she has always wanted to start a feeding program and after-school program, but the time was never right. Now it is.
“This is perfect timing,” she said. “I don’t know how long I’m going to be here, but I am here now and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability. Right now, this is the place God has me working with God’s people.”IMG_2389
Also, Goodwin would like to start a program similar to The Cookery, a Nashville restaurant that serves as a culinary school that trains homeless individuals to work in the food industry.
Calhoun, co-founder of Hope Springs, is also an assistant professor of religion at Lindsey Wilson College with a focus on mission work. Goodwin believes the campus could become a training site for missionaries in the Kentucky conference.
“We could collaborate based on what the needs of the people are,” she said. “We could erase those lines between churches and create something that everyone will be talking about.”
Goodwin said she is not changing the vision of the mission. She just wants to put that vision into action. She wants to do more than feed people a fish, or even teach them to fish. She said she wants people to understand they need to own the pond where the fish were caught.
“This is a new place, but the same old mission,” Goodwin said. “We are serving the people of God.”
Nathaniel Mission plans to host a dedication service soon. The kitchen has passed health inspections and items are being moved to the newly finished permanent site at 1109 Versailles Road, Suite 400. The mission welcomes volunteers and donations. If anyone has a van or bus they want to donate, they would love that, too.
“We are blessed to be a blessing,” Goodwin said. “That is my mantra.”IMG_2416

To see a video of the Rev. Kathy Ogletree Goodwin, visit

September 9th, 2014

Superhero Runs help give worthy kids the advocates they need

I wondered why a growing number of Court Appointed Special Advocate programs in the U.S., including Lexington, were hosting Superhero Runs to raise awareness of, and money for, work that their volunteers do so quietly and effectively throughout the year.
And then I read this in the news release about the event: “Superman was adopted. Spiderman was raised by his uncle. Batman grew up with his butler, Alfred, and later took in Robin to raise as his ward. Thor was kicked out of Asgard by his dad but eventually re-unified with his family. Few superheroes grow up in a typical family situation raised by their own parents, yet they all accomplished great things as adults.”
Wow. What would have happened to those heroes had we labeled them at-risk.

CASA of Lexington executive director Melynda Milburn Jamison, holding bullhorn, prepares young runners for the start of the Super Hero Run in 2013. Costumes are encouraged. Photo provided

CASA of Lexington executive director Melynda Milburn Jamison, holding bullhorn, prepares young runners for the start of the Super Hero Run in 2013. Costumes are encouraged. Photo provided

“CASA,” the news release continued, “a nonprofit that advocates for children who’ve experienced abuse or neglect, believes all children deserve the chance to grow up happy and healthy and become superhero adults themselves.”
I almost ran to a sewing store to gather material for tights and a cape.
Knowing that people — many of them volunteers — are looking out for children who don’t get the best of starts in life should be enough to encourage us to sign up for Lexington’s CASA Superhero Run set for Sept. 20 at Coldstream Park.
“This is not a normal 5K run,” said CASA of Lexington’s Executive Director Melynda Milburn Jamison, just in case the large number of people in costumes was not a dead giveaway.
But to keep things on the up-and-up for legitimate 5K runners, chip-timing will be used, Jamison said.
“That is a first for us,” she said.
Last year, the first time for the superhero theme, 538 participants showed up in the rain to support the program. Jamison is hoping for 1,000 this year. And she wants the event to be as family friendly as possible.
To that extent, there is a 1K for children 12 and younger, or even adults. Each registered child receives a free cape, and no matter how far they run or walk, each child will receive a medal as well.
“I don’t care if they go one step or the whole way,” Jamison said. “Where they stop, someone will drape a medal around their necks.”
For runners or walkers in the 5K, 300 small figurines or action figures will be placed along the course. Each has a number on the bottom that entitles the holder to special prizes ranging from a comic book to a $500 gift certificate.
Plus, the top three male and female winners in each of several age categories will be awarded a handmade plaque created by Rick McGee, a local artist.

CASA Superhero 5K Run at Coldstream Park in Lexington, Ky., Saturday morning, September 20, 2013. Photo by Matt Goins MATT GOINS — Herald-Leader

CASA Superhero 5K Run at Coldstream Park in Lexington, Ky., Saturday morning, September 20, 2013. Photo by Matt Goins MATT GOINS — Herald-Leader

“We also give trophies for the largest group of friends and family; business and organizations; church teams and Greek teams.”
And, of course, the officials couldn’t encourage costumes without handing out rewards for the best and most creative get-ups for humans and pets.
Once registered, participants can enjoy a variety of activities in a festival atmosphere. There will be inflatables, carnival games, face painting and a crafts booth where children can make comic strips or masks. There will also be opportunities to take photos in front of a giant city skyline or behind a cardboard stand that allows you to put your face above the body of a superhero.
Starting Thursday, two Lextran buses and a billboard will feature ads for the race created by Joey Ball. The first people to take photos of the buses or billboard and post them on the CASA Facebook page will win a prize as well.
Registration for the race is online, by mail or at Embassy Suites Lexington on race day. The cost is $25 for adults and $15 for children 12 and younger for early registration and $5 more on the day of the race.
In 2013, local CASA volunteers served as the voice of 171 children in court, but more than 1,000 additional children in Lexington need that help. Money raised through the Superhero Run will be used to sustain and expand their services. Children with CASA volunteers are more likely to perform better in school and less likely to move to various caregivers or be assigned to longterm foster care.
Instead, they are more likely to find safe, permanent homes than children without CASA.
And we all can help them achieve those goals just by signing up to have fun.
Jamison is looking for several volunteers willing to help just on race day. Contact her at for assignments.
One final surprise is planned for the runners that I can’t reveal. You’ll have to participate to learn what that is.
“It is going to be a wild ride,” Jamison said.
I believe her.

Court Appointed Special Advocates of Lexington’s Superhero Run, which includes a 5K with timing chip and a 1K run/walk for children and adults.
When: 9 a.m., for 1K; 9:30 a.m., for 5K, Sept. 20.
Where: Coldstream Park, near Embassy Suites Lexington, 1801 Newtown Pike.
Cost: $25 for adults, $15 for children 12 and younger. $5 more on race day.
Registration: Online at; by mail at CASA of Lexington, 1155 Red Mile Place, Lexington, Ky. 40504; or Embassy Suites on race day starting at 8 a.m. Make checks payable to CASA of Lexington.
Information: Go to, or call (859) 246-4313.

September 9th, 2014

Black women breastfeed less than other moms

When my niece was pregnant three years ago, she insisted on being cared for by a nurse midwife, and she was just as adamant about breastfeeding her son when he was born.
I loved it, but it did surprise me a bit.
My niece had researched giving birth and nurturing her child and found that midwifery and breastfeeding were the best options for her.
Most of the mothers of my generation were directed along a much different route. I didn’t know any woman who gave birth without a doctor present and definitely didn’t know any mother who breastfed.
When my son was born prematurely, however, I knew I had to give him the best start I could and that had to be through human milk.
But now I’m hearing black mothers are still lagging behind white mothers at the rate at which they breastfeed.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, in 2010, 62 percent of black babies began breastfeeding at birth, compared to 79 percent of white babies. Hispanic and Asian mothers had a rate of 81 and 83 percent respectively.
After six months, 36 percent of the black infants were still breastfeeding, while 52 percent of white children were still breastfed. Hispanics and Asians were one to 10 percent higher than whites.

Madalyn Milner, 3, with her parents Qiana Flewellen and Mitchell Milner. Flewellen breastfed her daughter for 21/2 years.

Madalyn Milner, 3, with her parents Qiana Flewellen and Mitchell Milner. Flewellen breastfed her daughter for 21/2 years.

Those numbers reflect a disparity that has existed for 40 years. For various reasons, black women are not breastfeeding their children as routinely as other women.
August was Breastfeeding Awareness Month and the last week in August was the second annual observance of Black Breastfeeding Week. Doraine Bailey, with Breastfeeding Support Services at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, said she would like to know why there is such a gap.
“We know in general moms choose to breastfeed by personal values and family values,” she said. “If my sister tries and it is painful, I’m not sure I will do it.”
Bailey calls that an anchoring event or reference point that can make or break a new mother’s decision to nurse. Many anchoring events originate with mothers or grandmothers who may not support breastfeeding.
“Between 60 and 70 percent of black moms leave (the University of Kentucky Hospital) breastfeeding,” Bailey said. “That’s compared to 85 to 90 percent of white, Hispanic or Asian moms. Where is the tipping point? Is there a key thing?”
Qiana Flewellen nursed her 3-year-old daughter Madalyn Milner for 21/2 years.
“The good thing about it was being able to provide for her,” said Flewellen, a civil engineering student at UK. “It was sustaining to see her growing and knowing the only thing she was getting was nutrition from me.”
Flewellen researched the benefits of breastfeeding before Madalyn was born and then presented the financial savings to her partner Mitchell Milner, who was in agreement with her decision.
Flewellen’s mother breastfed her children as well, so that anchoring event was more positive for her.
But some black mothers and poor mother may not have support at school, their workplace or from family members. Being able to pump the breasts to gather enough milk to store while the mother is absent can be a difficult maneuver.
A lot of things are difficult to maneuver, but well worth it in the end. Breastfeeding is one of those things.
Historically, babies were carried by their mothers and fed human milk on demand. Eventually, with the increased availability of formula and women working outside the home, breastfeeding began to decline. The youth movement of the 1960s began to bring it back because of the benefit to children.
Not all women can nurse. Not all women want to. But Bailey said it is time all women had the right to choose what they want to do. Making breastfeeding difficult or failing to support that natural act takes away not only a choice but also the best preventative medicine nature provides our children.
Some nursing mothers are still treated negatively when they feed their children in public. It seems to be more acceptable to expose breasts in a sexy ball gown than while feeding a child.
We have got to change that narrative. We need to help women do what is best for their child and themselves.

September 9th, 2014

Special-needs kids need special adults to give foster care

At the end of May, Crystal Curry of Nicholasville took a week’s vacation partly because she needed alone time and partly because she needed to do some soul searching.

For three months, Curry served as a foster parent for a 13-year-old boy with autism spectrum disorder. She had quit her job as a pediatric medical assistant and fully embraced the work she was doing for Key Assets Kentucky, part of a worldwide network of agencies that find individuals and families who will care for difficult to place children who are in the state’s care.

Reality, however, tends to paint rosy pictures grayer.

The boy came to her wearing Pull-ups and with a tendency toward self-injury and tantrums. It took two weeks to get him into underwear, but the rest has been a process.

“Everything is scheduled and routine,” Curry said. “It is definitely non-stop. …We do things about the same time every day.”

Changes were usually met with tantrums.

For the 33-year-old single woman, life began to resemble a jail term.

Crystal Curry is a therapeutic "foster carer" for a 13-year-old boy with autism who lacks the skills to integrate into a regular foster home.

Crystal Curry is a therapeutic “foster carer” for a 13-year-old boy with autism who lacks the skills to integrate into a regular foster home.

“In the beginning, I would cry myself to sleep,” Curry said. “I can’t do this. I’m trapped. I’m in prison. It felt like my life was completely gone.

“Is this what I am meant to do?” she asked herself.

Before her May vacation, she called Chris Groeber, executive director of Key Assets, to warn him she might not want to be a foster parent when she returned.

Groeber understood. He knows how hard it is to be a therapeutic foster parent. He knows only a few can care for a child who hasn’t fit into any other home setting because of behavioral problems or because of trauma, and mold that child into a human being who can successfully navigate society.

“It has to be a mission and a calling,” he said. “The rewards are huge, but the sacrifices are equally huge.”

Key Assets is the first branch of the Core Assets Group to locate in Kentucky. Core Assets started in the United Kingdom in 1994 and has spread its brand of foster care — called Fostering First International — to four continents, Europe, South East Asia, Australia and now North America. An office recently opened in Florida.

In Kentucky, Key Assets, a subcontractor for Kentucky’s Department of Community Based Services, focuses on foster children with multiple physical or mental barriers or who are members of large sibling groups.

The goal is to take a child from an institutional setting and place him or her with a family.

“We must give these kids connections in the community and with significant adults because at the end of the day it is about relationships and relationships matter,” Groeber said.

The agency supplies the foster carer, as he calls foster parents, with the support necessary for the child. That could be training, helpers, therapists or 24-hour crisis coverage.

“The foster parent is at the center of the service model,” he said. “She is the leader of the treatment. We take our marching orders from that parent.”

She thought about all of this while on vacation. When she returned, she said she was a different person.

“I cannot give up on this kid,” Curry said.

Her foster child usually stayed in a placement for only two or three months, she said, never seeming to get past that point. And that’s where they were in May.

When she decided to continue working with the boy, she realized she had allowed him to rule home. She said she had walked on egg shells to preempt tantrums that would lead to more holes in her walls from his head bangings in addition to the 20 that are there now.

“The boy needs to be told no,” Curry said. “We may have been making it worse trying not to upset him. When I came back, I said things have to change around here.”

And they did. Slowly her foster son came to realize he was no longer the boss. Curry stopped catering to his wishes when those wishes were unreasonable. She treats him like a teenager who doesn’t have autism.

Now, she takes him out to new places and watches as he adjusts to the newness. He threw out the first pitch at a recent Lexington Legends game and seemed to enjoy it.

“All those people in the stadium had no idea how big a deal that was,” Curry said. “He was standing out there instead of locked up in a facility.”

They’ve been together for six months and the change in her foster son has been remarkable. “He came to me almost like an animal,” she said. “He had never been out. To see him now and how controlled he is …”

Kentucky has more than 7,000 children in out-of-home care; 3,500 in private care, Groeber said. “The number is not going down,” he said. “We, as a state and community, have to learn how to deal with these children.”

One managed care agency in Kentucky has 25 to 30 children needing intense supervision on a waiting list for foster home. And, he said, there are four other agencies with similar lists.

His agency has 22 foster families, five, like Curry, specializing in therapeutic care. As the children in specialized care improve and learn to live in communities, their level of care is reduced and they can be moved to permanent placement homes.

“This is not a lifetime commitment,” Curry said. “This isn’t something you have committed to doing for the rest of your life. Think of this as a job. You are preparing (the child) to be in normal foster care.”

Difficult-to-place children in Kentucky need more people like Curry who are willing to change a child’s life and future, Groeber said. He wants those special people to contact him for more information about becoming a therapeutic foster parent.

“Our job is to maximize potential,” he said. “Do you want to be a part of maximizing someone’s potential?”

Curry said it is worth it.

“If I, with no experience, can do this and change this kid’s life, anyone can do this,” she said. “It is giving up your life and it is hard. But seeing the smile on his face (at the Legends game) makes you think this is worth giving up a small chunk of my life to save another kid’s life. I’m fine with that.”


Key Assets Kentucky, a foster care agency, is recruiting families or individuals willing to care for hard-to place children with physical, emotional, intellectual or behavioral problems.

Information: Call (859) 497-3800 or visit

August 25th, 2014

Ferguson stirs local civil rights activists

Lamin Swann believes his grandfather would be proud of him for joining protesters and community organizers in Ferguson, Mo., who don’t want the recent killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer ignored.
Swann is the grandson of the late William C. Parker, a former vice chancellor of minority affairs at the University of Kentucky and civil rights activist. His grandfather took a van load of students from Oberlin College, where he was a professor, to participate in the second Selma to Montgomery, Ala., march in 1965.
“We’ve made progress on so many other things,” Swann said, “Why not on the killing of blacks and poor people? It could have just as easily been an 18-year-old white kid from the other side of the tracks.”

Lamin Swann

Lamin Swann

Swann, 36, laments that only a few other young activists from Lexington are planning to gather with various other groups in Ferguson to learn how to handle any similar circumstances that might arise in their home communities. He had hoped to take a busload of people. But, he has faith that Ferguson has ignited an activist movement with younger people.
“Someone posted on Twitter that our parents dropped the baton on the civil rights movement and that our grandparents passed it to us,” Swann said.
Social media seems to be how the younger generation is getting and staying engaged in activism. Most of the communication has been through conference calls, he said, and through Twitter.
That’s how Operation Help or Hush got started. The grassroots group has been providing supplies to make signs, cover travel expenses, as well as food and shelter for Ferguson protesters. It connects with activists throughout the country through social media.
Swann is traveling as a journalist, documenting events and people he finds in Ferguson.
And he is traveling as an activist, gleaning information from the groups converging on the St. Louis area so that he and others can shore up or change policy in Lexington.
“I want to know what we can do after Ferguson,” he said. “What can we do locally?”
April Taylor, 32, arrived in St. Louis County on Friday hoping to get a first-hand perspective for the blog she writes for Your Black World.
She noticed soon after the shooting that Brown’s death would be different.
“One of the things I do is skim through the news,” she said. “There is no shortage of stories about black people getting shot down. But what was unfolding on the streets of Ferguson was different.”

April Taylor and her daughter, Gianna Taylor-Martin, 4.

April Taylor and her daughter, Gianna Taylor-Martin, 4.

She monitored her Twitter feed and noticed that the mainstream media was not covering the shooting and the initial events around it. It was the protesting with their tear gas that brought the attention.
But it wasn’t long before she started seeing tweets about local organizing, conference calls and meetings.
“That was reassuring for me,” she said, adding she hadn’t experienced a major black movement led by black people in her lifetime. “It showed me my generation was capable of stepping up.”
She hopes to not only talk with local residents, but also attend meetings called by The Stop Mass Incarceration Network, a group co-founded by author, professor, and activist Dr. Cornel West, the scheduled speaker for the LexEndPoverty, the Community Action Council’s annual fundraiser on Sept. 27.
Long before Brown’s death, Taylor said, the network was planning events throughout October to draw attention to the high rate of imprisonment for black people. The network set aside Oct. 22 as the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.
Plans are being made in Lexington to acknowledge Oct. 25, the 20th anniversary of the death of Antonio Sullivan, an unarmed black teenager, who was shot by Sgt. Phil Vogel, a white police officer.
“We’re planning to have a media round table and symposiums to talk about race and some of their experiences with race in this community,” Taylor said.
But while she is in Missouri, she hopes to talk with some of the older soldiers in the civil rights struggle.
“What do they feel like they want to tell our generation?” she said. “Is there anything they could have done differently?”
I hope she gets answers to her questions. I hope she can correct any mistakes my generation made or pick up any balls we dropped.
Time magazine recently published a letter Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, wrote to Brown’s parents. It said in part: “The galvanizations of our communities must be continued beyond the tragedies. While we fight injustice, we will also hold ourselves to an appropriate level of intelligent advocacy. If they refuse to hear us, we will make them feel us. Some will mistake that last statement as being negatively provocative. But feeling us means feeling our pain; imagining our plight as parents of slain children. We will no longer be ignored. We will bond, continue our fights for justice, and make them remember our children in an appropriate light.”
We need to do more to ensure no more mothers have to write those words. We must not ignore, or forget, what has happened in Ferguson.

August 25th, 2014

NAACP program gets families ready for kindergarten

I hated parent-teacher conferences. Hated them.

I never got a sense that the teacher really knew who my children were or anything about them.

For example, when we moved back to Lexington in 1983 from Memphis, my daughter and I lived in the Northern Elementary School district. In Memphis, my daughter was in an advanced level class with third-graders, even though she was in first grade.

When we returned to Lexington, she attended second grade at Northern. I asked her teacher if she could be placed in an advanced class but was told that only happened after testing in the spring for the fall semester.

Nearly every day, my daughter would complain that school was boring. We’d do educational activities at home and I would tell her to hang on until the spring.

By spring I was told my daughter needed remedial help.

What had happened to my child?

She had entered second-grade reading on a fifth-grade level, but over a few months she had regressed to needing remedial help? Please. The teacher did not know my daughter.

My husband and I had to tighten our belts and put her in private school.

That’s the reason the Ready to Learn Academy caught my interest. Hosted by the Lexington-Fayette County NAACP, the program is a literacy enrichment program for 4- to 5-year-olds who will be entering kindergarten in the fall of 2015, and a heads-up training meeting for parents or guardians.

JoJuana Leavell-Greene, program coordinator, said a kindergarten teacher works with the children at four meetings to assess their readiness for kindergarten. The teacher, Frances Blackford, then lets the parents or guardians know where the child stands in comparison to other children at that age. She also can provide information to the parent to get the child up to snuff or to help the child move even farther along.

At the same time, the parents and guardians are learning more about the Fayette County Public Schools system and how to navigate some of the pitfalls that could lay in wait.

One of the meetings includes the four most important questions that parents should ask teachers during conferences.

“The first question,” Leavell-Greene said, “is, ‘Do you know my child?’

“If they can tell you a few things that let you know you are talking about the same child, then the next question is ‘What can I do at home to make your life easier?’” she said.

That’s where I must have messed up in that conference with my daughter’s second- grade teacher. Maybe we weren’t talking about the same child.

“Parents need a partnership with their child’s teacher,” Leavell-Greene said. “In order to be in a partnership, you have to be a part of the ship.”

Other parent meetings include information about the school their child will be attending and how it performed on the School Report Card. Plus, parents

guardians will receive information about their rights and the rights of their children, about the Site Based Council, Central Office, the school board, PTA/PTSA and assistance in registering for kindergarten.

Orientation for the program is Oct. 8, with the four classes scheduled for Nov. 12, Jan. 14, Feb. 11 and March 11.

The program officials hope that helping children at an early age will have an impact on the achievement gap. If children begin on the same level and parents are engaged, the gap will be significantly narrowed if not closed by graduation.

The program is funded by a grant from Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, along with support from the Community Action Council and the Urban League of Lexington. Members of the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., Lexington’s Graduate Chapter, Educational Team serve as volunteers. The upcoming session will be the third, Leavell-Greene said.

Participants have included young single mothers sending children to school for the first time, as well as foster parents and grandparents rearing their grandchildren.

The meetings will take place on the second Wednesday of each month at Russell School and Community Center. The time of the meetings will be determined by the participants. Child care for other children in the family, as well as a meal for all, will be provided. Registration starts Aug. 20 and ends Sept. 27. Parents must commit to attend the meetings with their children.

“We ask them what a quality education looks like,” Leavell-Greene said. “Then we show them this is what you have to do to get to that kind of education.”

To Apply

If you are the parent or guardian of a 3- to 5-year-old who will enter kindergarten in the fall of 2015, you can apply for the free monthly meetings of the Ready to Learn Academy, which will be held at the Russell School and Community Center, 520 Toner Street, from October through March. Call JoJuana Leavell-Greene, (859) 608-9735, or email her at

August 12th, 2014

NFL, justice system demean women

When my son played football, starting when he was 8 years old, it was not uncommon to hear coaches shaming players by saying they were playing like girls.
Demeaning women continued throughout his sporting career, mostly from coaches.
So when I heard all the uproar about the two-game suspension and $58,000 fine handed down to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell because of domestic violence, I was surprised.
The NFL did more than our judicial system did in this case.
Rice was charged with third-degree aggravated assault when, on Feb. 15, he was seen on surveillance camera dragging his then fiancé Janay Palmer out of an elevator that she had walked into on her own two feet.
According to police, Rice knocked her out after she spit on him.
Rice was indicted but agreed to enter a diversion program to avoid jail time. After a while, the charge will be expunged from his record.
That was our judicial system’s decision. I didn’t see any comments from anyone about it.
The uproar came with the NFL meting out “only” a two-game suspension and fine for Rice. Seems society wants our workplaces to deliver harsher punishment than our justice system.
If our courts had dealt with him more severely, we wouldn’t be criticizing the commissioner dishing out what folks are calling a slap on Rice’s wrist. Rice would still be behind bars and there would be far more games missed than two.
I’m not letting the NFL off the hook, mind you. There is a big house to clean in a league where domestic violence doesn’t seem to have great importance.
My point is, outside of women’s groups and agencies that have to help the women and children scarred mentally and physically by abusers, where is the outpouring of indignation that should be focused on our laws and enforcement?
Palmer is now Rice’s wife. She married him a day after he was indicted, days after she was dragged limp from an elevator. Palmer had been charged with assault as well, but charges against her were dropped.
Rice apologized and our judicial system said a diversion program was sufficient punishment.
The court said hitting a woman is not OK, but it was Rice’s first offense, so we’ll go easier on him than his fist did with Palmer.
After all, she spit on him. She caused it, just like women wearing short skirts cause their own rapes, right?
Come on, people. We should be past this.
It is never OK, first, fourth or 40th time, for a man to hit a woman. And it is not only women who should be shouting this, but also men.
I’ve seen some public service ads and posters urging men to stand up against domestic violence. There are men out there trying to do just that.
And, hopefully, coaches are no longer demeaning a gender to get their male players to perform better. If they are, it is time for the men, the fathers who received that type of motivation as boys, to tell coaches to find a better way for their sons. Demeaning another gender is not acceptable.
When women are demeaned they become less human. When they are made to be less human, any negative behavior or language about them or toward them, no matter how traditional or violent, becomes acceptable.
With dehumanization, a woman wearing a short skirt is asking to be raped. Hitting a woman, instead of walking away, serves her right.
The NFL can’t be expected to correct years of wrongs alone. If the court thought Rice’s actions deserved only diversion, there should be a louder outcry against the court.
“It is disappointing that I will not be with my teammates for the first two games of the season, but that’s my fault,” Rice said in a statement. “As I said earlier, I failed in many ways. But, Janay and I have learned from this. We have become better as a couple and as parents. I am better because of everything we have experienced since that night. The counseling has helped tremendously.”
I hope so.
And I think if we are going to hold the NFL more accountable than our judicial system, then all workplaces should be held to the same standard.
We should be outraged when women in factories or in office buildings receive less pay than their male counterparts. That’s dehumanizing.
We should be questioning why there aren’t more women in top positions in businesses throughout this country. That’s demeaning.
And we should be enraged that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled businesses can decide not to cover birth control for women, the only gender that can reproduce. That’s just wrong.
The NFL has a problem it must deal with, true enough. But so does our judicial system. And so do all of us who should be holding both accountable.

August 12th, 2014

Native American conference a chance to be enlightened

My first assignment with an Ojibwe Indian photographer was quite a learning experience.
I was smart enough to know that everything I had learned about Indians via old-time Western movies was incorrect. However, that left a wide gap in my knowledge of that culture which I had no problem trying to close by asking her questions.
Thank goodness she was a patient woman.
One-on-one opportunities to learn about another culture is the best way to understand them. And when it comes to Native Americans, that one-on-one can help us better understand the slights we are inflicting with the naming of some sports teams.
Fortunately, on Aug. 22 and 23, we will have a chance to ask questions, observe and listen to American Indians.
The Native American Educational Conference will feature examples of Native American dance, storytelling, games, music, crafts, shelters and children’s activities, all free of charge.

Anne Wood

Anne Wood

Some of the Indians will be dressed in the native attire of their tribal roots and others will dress just like you and me.
“There will be examples of the different types of regalia,” said Helen Danser, chairwoman of the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission. “Someone will explain how it was earned, when it came into being, and what it was for. The regalia are what people call an Indian costume.”
Not all Indians wore feathers, however, and not all chiefs wore war bonnets. In fact, war bonnets were not worn east of the Mississippi River.
Indians also don’t greet folks with “how.” They aren’t all alcoholic. They don’t all live on reservations out west.
There will be morning discussions both days about the myths and stereotypes that we still have about Native Americans, and about the different tribes represented in Kentucky.
“Kentucky is still struggling with how to define Indian and whether Indians actually lived in Kentucky,” Danser said. “They said Indians just passed through,” using the state as a hunting ground.
In fact, Kentucky does not have any federally recognized Indian tribes, a designation that carries with it benefits of being a sovereign nation. And Kentucky also has not set up a process for tribes to be officially recognized by the state, although several attempts have been made to do that through the General Assembly.
The Ridgetop Shawnee tribe and the Southern Cherokee Nation of Kentucky have been acknowledged through resolutions, however.
But many Indians found it safer just to blend in with the general population instead of announcing their culture.
Anne Wood of Centenary United Methodist Church, where the conference will be held, said she was a middle-aged adult before she learned of her Native American heritage. Her family, like so many others, hid their culture to avoid discrimination and potential persecution. They chose to blend in.

Helen Danser

Helen Danser

Similar handcrafted items will be available at the conference.

Similar handcrafted items will be available at the conference.

That’s changing. More and more Indians are standing proud of their culture and seeking state acknowledgment of it, she said.
During the afternoons of the conference there will be demonstrations of flintknapping, the art of fashioning spearheads and arrowheads and a teepee exhibit, with discussions about the difference between a teepee and wigwam.
Vendors will be on-site throughout the day, selling Indian crafts, including beadwork and silver jewelry. Food concessions will also be available.
From 6-8 p.m. on Friday and from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday, there will be exhibitions of drumming and intertribal dancing that requires audience participation.
There will be a special program for children on Saturday that features traditional games and discussions about tomahawks and blow guns.
“The children will learn how to use blow guns,” Danser said. “By age 5 or 6, young Indian boys could use that as a weapon to bring down birds, rabbits, and squirrels for dinner.”
The children’s activities will be outside. All others will be indoors.
“We’re hoping to get a good many people to come at 10 a.m. for the discussions on myths and legends,” Danser said.
That will be your chance to learn and ask questions of people who are coming out of the shadows wanting to teach and to be heard.

The Native American Educational Conference will feature storytelling, dancing, discussions on myths and stereotypes and children’s activities.
When: 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Aug. 22; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Aug. 23.
Where: Centenary United Methodist Church, 2800 Tates Creek Road.
Cost: Free.
Information: Email Anne Wood at, or Helen Danser at


August 12th, 2014

Would-be King assassin found in nursing home

In September, 2007, I wrote what little I knew of Izola Ware Curry, the woman who stabbed and nearly killed Martin Luther King Jr., some 10 years before James Earl Ray succeeded in assassinating the civil rights leader.
Curry was 42 when she plunged a letter opener into King’s upper chest as he was autographing copies of his first book,  Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, in a New York department store.
He was rushed to Harlem Hospital, where doctors later would tell The New York Times that had King, 29, sneezed or coughed, his aorta would have been cut, causing him to bleed to death internally.
Later the chief surgeon, Dr. Aubre de Lambert Maynard, said having a patient of King’s stature with such a severe injury put Harlem Hospital in the world’s spotlight. “You see,” Maynard said in 1996, “it was a city hospital and it was looked down upon. It was up to me to show the world that it could be done there.”
Dignitaries and famous physicians observed the procedure which, obviously, was successful. King left the hospital less than two weeks later and continued his work.
Curry was interrogated, charged, and found to be incompetent to stand trial. She believed King and members of the NAACP were stalking her and trying to kill her.
Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Curry was committed to Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in upstate New York on Oct. 20, 1958.
I was shocked at how little was known about Curry and about her whereabouts after that. She seemed to have faded away like smoke with the wave of a hand. Even a librarian I called at The King Center in Atlanta said the center had no record of Curry after she entered the asylum.
While recovering in the hospital, King, who refused to press charges against Curry, wrote a two-page statement, part of which said, “First let me say I feel no ill will toward Mrs. Izola Currey (sic) and know that thoughtful people will do all in their power to see that she gets the help that she apparently needs if she is to become a free and constructive member of society.”
Until recently, not many people knew if she had received or been helped by medical treatment.
But a reporter at The Smoking Gun, a website that contains legal documents, arrest records and mug shots and other information about criminals and celebrities, found a voter registration for Curry that listed an address for a nursing home in Queens in 2012.
According to TSG, “During a 30-minute conversation, Curry spoke haltingly and, at times, mumbled answers that were hard to decipher. At one point, she directed her visitor to fetch a chair from her room so that he did not have to stand over her.
“While Curry described her daily routine — up at 5:30 a.m., bed around 10 p.m., and not much going on in-between — and how she ended up in the nursing home, she met questions about King and the stabbing with a furrowed brow and a blank stare. While offering no recollections of the attack, Curry referred to “1958” and said that she was placed that year in a “hospital for the criminally insane.”
Through investigation, the website learned Curry had spent 14 years at Matteawan, another year at a facility in Manhattan and then the rest of her life, before the nursing home, in at least two certified residential care homes.
“On the eighth floor of a nursing home in Queens, N.Y.,” the report said, “a 98-year-old woman sits slumped in a wheelchair in the hallway outside her room. She is sleeping, oblivious to the roar coming from the television of her next-door neighbor, who is watching The Price is Right at an ear-piercing volume.
“Though the corridor is uncomfortably toasty on this July morning, the woman has a knitted shawl over her shoulders. She is wearing green sweatpants, a green T-shirt, and black shoes with Velcro closures. The remaining wisps of her hair are gray and tangled.
“As she naps in the hallway, it is hard to imagine that frail Izola Curry was once a would-be assassin, a woman who nearly changed the course of U.S. history with a seven-inch steel letter opener.”
Both King and the state of New York realized then what we seem to have forgotten now. Those with mental illness need to be treated differently even if they commit criminal acts.
The reporter in me wanted to know what happened to her. The human being in me is glad her illness was understood and she has been cared for.
If society back then could treat a very sick woman with compassion and medical expertise after what she did, surely we can find more humane ways to treat the mentally ill now. has a lot more on Curry’s history and the years leading up to her criminal act, including pages of police interrogation and her background. It is a good read about a piece of history that has almost been forgotten.

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