March 20th, 2015

Small group of volunteers doing big things

Rebecca Webb couldn’t push aside a deep need to help young people before and after they are snared in a web of violence.
“That stayed on my heart,” Webb said. “I couldn’t let it go or it wouldn’t let me go.”
A retired registered nurse, Webb said she was studying how to start her own business when the rash of violence began last summer. People used social media to blame one side or another, she said, but no one was coming up with any solutions.
“I got angry,” she said. “I said get off Facebook and go out and do something about it. I have a plan. Anyone want to help?”
Mike Thomas, an equine radiologist, stepped forward. He had been asking the same question. He brought along a friend and the three met at the Northside Library for two hours. They agreed they could get more done working together than individually.
From that meeting in June 2014, the seeds for Community Inspired Solutions, Enough is Enough were planted.
A month later, the non-profit organization of concerned citizens, was incorporated to “provide individuals with education and training for employment, assist with job placement; life skills education and training, GED classes, mentoring and tutoring for youth.”

Rebecca Webb, left, is one of the founders of Community Inspired Solutions, and Jane Friedman is a member. The organization of volunteers helps ex-offenders find jobs and mentors children. HERALD-LEADER Buy Photo by Charles Bertram.

Rebecca Webb, left, is one of the founders of Community Inspired Solutions, and Jane Friedman is a member. The organization of volunteers helps ex-offenders find jobs and mentors children.
HERALD-LEADER Buy Photo by Charles Bertram.

“We thought about how we grew up and how our kids grew up, and how we could instill that in this younger generation,” Webb said.
She was referring to old school values, in other words, and old school work ethics and pride in workmanship.
She said horse culture was a big part of the black and white culture in Lexington. Many of the black families who later became middle class, worked in that industry. “There was no shame in that,” she said. “There was good money there.”
With Thomas taking the lead, the first program CIS developed was an equine training and employment program for young adults.
Since the program began in October, 19 people have been trained and employed through the program, he said. Most are ex-offenders, and many are on probation or parole.
Thomas conducts interviews every Thursday in group sessions, pointing out he is an ex-offender and that now is the time for them to change their lives. “It is my man-to-man orientation,” he said.
“I am so proud of those 19 guys,” he said. “I have four more in training. “That is 23 guys off the streets.”
What is even more remarkable, he said, is that CIS cannot afford to pay them while they are in training for four to six weeks. “We would have more people if we could pay them,” Thomas said. “I am so impressed with those numbers.
“It is hard to work for nothing. I use that to motivate myself to work harder, to set aside my activities, to help them.”
The workers start out as grooms but they don’t have to stay at that entry level. Thomas shows them a variety of avenues they could explore after that. They can make what they want of the opportunity.
Still, as grooms, they can travel the world, Webb said.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas

“They may be people who can’t get a job at Toyota,” she said. “They may be re-entering (society) from prison.”
CIS, which now has 15 members, also has programs targeting children. The volunteers take them on field trips to plays and college campuses in the life skills class.
While at an open house at Kentucky State University, the volunteers met a few male student members of Hometown Environmental Restoration Organization (H.E.R.O.) who wanted to get involved.
CIS collaborated with H.E.R.O. and the students have been visiting Winburn Middle School as mentors in CIS’s Project Impact.
Plus, CIS and H.E.R.O. are collaborating on a pilot program called Operation Lex-Up, which will give youth hands-on experience with gardening, lawn care, urban clean-up and basic farm work.
CIS also sponsors a GED class, with certified teachers, that has four students and meets at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. They plan to add an adult life skills class soon.
All of that has happened in less than a year, and all because people became the impetus for change.
Jane Friedman said after she retired a couple years ago, she wanted to give back to the community she has lived in all her life.
She got involved in self-enrichment activities, as well as the Camp Nelson Honor Guard. And when the Peace Walks began last summer as a result of the outbreak of violence, she joined those as well.
“I attended all of them,” she said, laughing. “I just couldn’t walk very far.”
At one of the walks, she met Thomas who urged her to come to a CIS, Inc., meeting that then was held at the Central Library Downtown.
“I met these people during the walks last year and I’m surprised at how much we have got done,” Friedman said. “I’ve got my finger in every pie in town. I love being involved.”
Friedman said all the credit for the success of CIS has to go to Webb, who others described as “a working machine,” “a strong woman,” and who “has a real passion for youth.”
Those comments ring truer when you know Webb has been battling breast cancer since November. Now on her second round of chemotherapy, with three treatments left, Webb visits the office every other week, along with networking with other groups working with youth.
“On the weeks I have my treatments, I’m on home incarceration,” she said last week. “This is my week I get out of the home.”
Meanwhile, CIS needs to raise money for the programs they have now and the ones they have planned.
“We need community support,” Thomas said. “We are not trying to take over. We just want to get in and fit in, do what we can to change things.”
Webb agreed.
“I used to sit back and say, ‘Somebody needs to do something,’” she said, “and then I realized I was somebody.”
I had planned to write that we need to clone Webb and Thomas so we’d have enough people to address the problems in our community. Then I realized we all are their clones. We just have to understand that and act like we are.

If you go
Community Inspired Solutions, Enough is Enough, Inc., has a couple of events planned to raise money for their educational and employment programs and introduce themselves to others who want to give back to this community.
Community Yard Sale: Featuring furniture, clothing and household items.
When: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. March. 21.
Where: 323 Old Virginia Avenue.
Spring Meet & Greet: Featuring free appetizers and cash bar.
When: 4-9 p.m. April 10.
Where: Hyatt Place, 2001 Bryant Rd.
Call: (859) 258-9807
Online: Cisenoughisenough.org.

March 20th, 2015

First 13th Amendment matter of politics, not humanity

In an effort to pacify Southern states that were showing serious signs of seceding from the Union, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate passed the first 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1861 that would have made slavery binding and permanent in many states.
Now referred to as the Corwin Amendment because its ratification was stalled by the start of the Civil War, that first 13th Amendment states:
“No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress power to abolish or interfere, within any state, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said state.”
Fortunately for most of the black people who are living in the U.S. today, that amendment was replaced by the more familiar 13th Amendment, ratified in December 1865, which abolished slavery.
But, what many people fail to realize, what I didn’t realize, is that the Corwin Amendment can still become law if three-fourths of the states decide to ratify it even today. There is no statute of limitations on that amendment, and there has been little movement directed at taking it off the books.
I was living quite happily in my sense of freedom before local history buff Yvonne Giles shared that bit of information with me. It was not something I wanted to hear.
Giles began to take a deeper look into the 13th Amendment because we will mark the 150th Anniversary of its ratification in December, she said. And when she did, she was surprised by what she found.
Some historians believe President-elect Abraham Lincoln was involved in the creation of and passage of the Corwin Amendment. Reportedly, he endorsed it and sent letters to states asking that they ratify it as well.
His desire, he said, was to keep the union intact.
The sponsors of the Corwin Amendment were from Northern states, including the bill’s namesake, Rep. Thomas Corwin of Ohio, and then Sen. William H. Seward of New York, who would later become Lincoln’s Secretary of State.
“The whole Northern faction, of whom I would have thought was against slavery, where most of the states had abolished slavery, threw us under the bus to keep the Southern states in the union,” Giles said.
Apparently it didn’t work.
Only Ohio, Maryland and maybe Illinois ratified that first 13th Amendment. Around that time, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas bid the union farewell and had no desire to get involved with the resolution.
Strangely, in 1965, more than a century after the resolution passed, a faction in Texas, led by Republican Henry Stollenwerck, created a resolution to ratify the Corwin Amendment. It was sent to a committee where it met a quiet death.
Because the amendment is dangling out there somewhere, it can be brought up and ratified at any time. The 27th Amendment was submitted to the states for ratification in September 1789 and became law in May, 1992, more than 200 years later.
No one believes that will happen with the “ghost” 13th Amendment, as some call it. If it does, be assured I will not go peacefully.
Giles, president of the First African Foundation Inc., will talk about the “forgotten” amendment as she introduces Robert Bell of the Kentucky Humanities Council’s Chautauqua program on March 27 at a free presentation. Bell is a charter member of the 12th United States Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment Reactivated and a life member of Camp Nelson Heritage Foundation.
Bell’s presentation of the “Rev. Newton Bush: Freedom at a Terrible Price,” is sponsored by the First African Foundation Inc., and highlights the story of Bush, who survived an ambush of black soldiers near Simpsonville on Jan. 25, 1865.
An 80-man unit of the 5th U.S. Colored Calvary was herding 900 head of cattle to Louisville when they were attacked from the rear by Confederate guerillas. Twenty-two men died in the ambush, some 20 more were wounded and six later died of their wounds. A historic marker has been placed in the area.
After the war, Bush farmed for a while but later became a minister. He died on May 1, 1925, and is buried in Frankfort’s Green Hill Cemetery.
“It is OK to remember Selma,” Giles said. “It’s OK to remember the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. But we should also remember the people who lived 100 years before the modern civil rights era.
“This event will give a picture of what our ancestors dealt with,” she said.
And maybe we all can join in an effort to get the Corwin Amendment off the books completely so there won’t be any need to worry about it being brought up again. That would go a long way in honoring those people who fought for freedom but never fully experienced it.

IF YOU GO
What: The Kentucky Humanities Council’s Chautauqua presentation of the “Rev. Newton Bush: Freedom at a Terrible Price” by Robert Bell, sponsored by First African Foundation, Inc.
When: 10 a.m. – noon, March 27.
Where: Northside Library, 1733 Russell Cave Road
Cost: Free.
Information: Call (859) 367-0525.

March 10th, 2015

Conn. school founder wants to make things happen in Kentucky

Steve Perry, principal and founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., has been in demand as a speaker for several years, mainly because the public school he founded in 2005 boasts of sending all of its graduates to a four-year college or university.
But he also has his share of critics, mainly teachers and educators who find his criticism of them too harsh and unfounded.
He says things like, “if teaching is too hard for you, find something else to do.” And, “it’s not OK for someone to be in the same building as you and they ain’t teaching. The kids can’t get that year back.” And, “if you are not an amazing teacher, you should not expect amazing results.”
Traditional public schools have “failed to meet the needs of all of America,” Perry said last week by phone as he was boarding a flight. School systems are more interested in pleasing “those employed by them, not the children.”
The U.S. ranked 19th of 30 countries in results achieved for investments made, according to “The Efficiency Index: Which Education Systems Deliver the Best Value of the Money?,” a report released in September by GEMS Education Solutions.
That predicament “is not because kids are dumber, not because of money, but because we have a school system that ensures you (educators) can stay there until you are good and ready to leave,” Perry said.

Steve Perry

Steve Perry

“You can’t keep giving children dirty water and complain about them being sick.”
But those who challenge the system or try to change it are attacked professionally, he said.
Perry has had longstanding disagreements with the teacher’s union and more recently with the school board and superintendent in Hartford.
Effective the end of this school year, Perry is stepping down from his position at the magnet school to run Capital Preparatory Schools Inc., his charter management group, as well as a charter school in Hartford and one planned for Harlem in New York.
Perry said he has 4,000 children on a waiting list at the magnet school and no way for them to access the education he offered. He said his school board didn’t want to do anything to change that and he couldn’t watch the children languish.
“I had a comfortable gig,” Perry said. “But our kids need a sense of urgency that they don’t have access to right now.”
The author and former CNN education reporter will speak at the University of Kentucky on March 10. His presentation, “Saving Our Youth: Revolutionizing Education in America,” is free and open to the public.
Lisa A. Brown, director of Student and Multicultural Affairs in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications, which is co-sponsoring Perry’s appearance, said connecting with Perry was timely for Lexington.
With the Fayette County public school system searching for a new leader, with the achievement gap widening, and with growing calls in Kentucky for charter schools and more parental choices, the connection was divine intervention, she said.
“Anyone can give an inspirational speech,” Brown said, “but I want to move beyond that. What are we going to do after that? I want people to walk away (from the talk) thinking ‘what role will I play?’”
Perry said it is time for parents to have more choice in the types of educational opportunities that are made available for their children, especially black, brown and poor children.
“The system is inherently racist and at its core is not ensuring that kids of color or who are poor have access to a quality education,” Perry said. “The system is designed so if your little brown behind acts up, we will lock you up.”
It takes three times as much money to imprison someone than to educate them, he said.
Vouchers or scholarships to attend private or religious schools should be available, along with charter schools.
“When someone you love is in need of emergency care, you don’t ask if it is a Presbyterian hospital or a public hospital,” he said. “You don’t care. You don’t care if the doctor is white or black. You want to make sure whatever your family member needs is what you can get.”
Right, but I have spoken with educators who say that taking children out of public schools would harm public schools.
“That is a lie,” Perry said. “The equivalent would be that if a hospital has an 80 percent mortality rate, you would be doing a disservice to that hospital if you stopped going there.”
Correctly educating our children starts with love, he said, and surrounding them with teachers and administrators who have high expectations.
While we have to make sure parents play a key role, we can’t expect parents who came from the same failed Kentucky schools to be able to help with homework in courses they never mastered, he said. “We keep blaming the parents for the failure of the children,” he said.
When he comes on March 10, Perry said he is going to “light things up.”
“I’m not coming there to do anything but make things happen,” he said.
I hope so. Some of our children need more than what is happening now.

IF YOU GO
What: “Saving Our Youth: Revolutionizing Education in America,” a presentation by Steve Perry, principal and founder of the acclaimed Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn.
When: 7 p.m., March 10.
Where: Memorial Hall, University of Kentucky, 610 S. Limestone.
Parking: South Limestone Garage, 409 S. Lime,  $2-hourly rates apply; Rose Street Garage, 538 Rose St., entrance on Hilltop Avenue, free.
Information: Call (859) 257-3904, or email labrow2@uky.edu.

March 6th, 2015

Ex-felons shouldn’t be made to pay their whole lives long

Floyd Carr, a carpentry contractor in Richmond, has been turned down for work 75 times in the 18 years he’s been out of prison.
“It happens every day,” he said. “I went to Winchester Friday and put in an application. But the company said it was drug and felony free.”
Carr, the owner of Carr’s and Associates with his two sons, does a lot of house framing for other building contractors, and he has customers who call on him all the time. That’s how he manages to keep his frustration level down.
But life would be a lot easier if employers were not still holding his past against him.
“I made a mistake and I’m still paying for it,” Carr said.
I talked with Carr a long time ago and promised I would call him again if I were to write about ex-offenders and their fight to be made whole. The time has come.
Fortunately, Carr requested and received special dispensation from Gov. Steve Beshear to have his voting rights restored when he got off parole. Voting means that much to him.
But so does finding work.
It is time for Kentucky to not only allow former felons to vote, but also to allow them to make a viable living. I cringe every time I see a TV commercial proclaiming a business is “drug free” and “felony free.”
Drug free I can understand. Mind-altering chemicals can produce shoddy work, the last thing I’d want from a repairman. But to inject the fear of having an ex-felon involved in home repairs is inexcusable.
My plumber is an ex-felon and I have recommended him to all my friends because he is good at what he does. He hasn’t proved to be scary, bloodthirsty or worthy of unfounded fears at all.
Why have we in Kentucky felt it necessary to condemn those who have committed felonies to a life sentence of unemployment or stereotyping?
My older son decided street life and drugs was a better avenue to success than the path his parents pointed him toward. He’s paying for that decision behind bars. When he is released and off parole, he still won’t be able to vote without the governor’s OK, according to state law, and he will always have to tell potential employers about his past.
My son will be just fine, though. His father and I will see to that. But what about all the other ex-offenders who are returning to a society that wants to punish them for life?
How are those men and women supposed to care for their families if they can’t find gainful employment? I thought prison was for rehabilitation, hence the teaching of trades. What good is that if those ex-offenders aren’t allowed to work in those trades?
And if those men and women have fulfilled their debt to society, why shouldn’t they regain full citizenship and be allowed to vote?
Ex-felons are all around us. They are laborers, clerks, business owners, skilled tradespeople, neighbors, church members, ministers; they even sing in our choirs. Some might have recently helped push you out of the snow.
They are people who messed up, some more than once, like me and even you. But they got caught and paid their dues.
So now they are asking to be accepted back into society as Americans who have learned their lessons.
A huge part of being American is being able to vote. Another is being able to support a family legally.
It is being allowed a voice in how government is run and being allowed to save enough money to purchase a home. It is rising above living paycheck-to-paycheck, and rising above our past.
Restoring the right to vote for former felons requires a change in Section 145 of the Kentucky Constitution. As it has for several years, HB 70, which would allow Kentucky voters to decide whether to grant automatic restoration of voting rights to most former felons, has passed the state House. Now, as it has for several years, it moves to the state Senate, where it needs a three-fifths majority vote to place it on the ballot in the fall.
Restoring an ex-offender’s right to work without condemnation requires a change of heart.
“I’ve been let go three times after they find out I have a record,” Carr said. “I just turned 70 and work every day.”
That’s thanks to contractors who are willing to overlook or forgive, and to fellow church members who know him as a good man. Come on, Kentucky. We should do better than this.

March 6th, 2015

Festival’s final two films are of historic events; one has been re-scheduled

Since Feb. 1, One World Film Festival has been presenting films which are chosen to challenge how we think about cultural, social, ethnic, political and gender issues. The non-profit organization has been doing that since it was formed in 1998.
This year, only two showings remain, both at the Kentucky Theatre, both this week, and, as usual, both are free.
The first, Anita: Speaking Truth to Power, reminds many of us and teaches the rest the story of Anita Hill, a law professor whose accusations delayed the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991, and nearly derailed her career.
The telecast of that confirmation hearing drew people to their TVs. Hill testified about the sexual harassment she endured from Thomas, who had been her boss, in great detail. She was grilled by U.S. senators who called her character into question and suggested she had been rebuffed by Thomas.
She passed a lie detector test. Thomas refused to take one. And, according to reports after the hearings, there were a few other women who had worked with Thomas willing to support Hill’s claims. They were never called, however.
The film is about Hill’s sudden thrust into public infamy and vilification, and how she survived.
Hers was one of the first examples of sexual harassment to reach public scrutiny.
“We (One World Films) ‘discovered’ the documentary this past summer while we were in the process of selecting films for the 2015 series,” said Annette Mayer, founder and director of the festival. “(We) said to ourselves ‘what a great film to show during Women’s History Month.’”
Anita, directed by Academy Award-winning director Freida Lee Mock, will be shown at 7 p.m. March 12. It was re-scheduled due to the winter storm on March 5.
The final film of the annual festival marks the 50th anniversary of the first of three marches from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala. March 7, 1965, became known as “Bloody Sunday,” as a wall of state troopers and local residents severely beat the marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge who wanted to talk with Alabama Gov. George Wallace about an earlier killing by state troopers, and about their right to vote.
Among the nearly 600 marchers, who were primarily students, teachers and activists, was John Lewis, then Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and currently a U.S. representative from Georgia.
Armed with clubs, bullwhips, and tear gas, the troopers advanced toward the marchers, injuring 58 of them. Lewis suffered a skull fracture.
The hate-filled attack was shown on TV complete with bloodied marchers. It was the start of a national outcry. Lewis said at the time, ‘‘I don’t see how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam; I don’t see how he can send troops to the Congo; I don’t see how he can send troops to Africa and can’t send troops to Selma.’’
Two days later, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., led the second march which ended with marchers kneeling to pray at the blockade and then turning back. On March 25, 25,000 marchers finished the march with National Guard troops and U.S. Army soldiers protecting them.
Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot was produced by the Teaching Tolerance program a the Southern Poverty Law Center. The 40-minute documentary especially targets middle and high school students, and is narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer.
“It is the first time it will be shown in Kentucky,” Mayer said.
In a nod to living history, the film will be introduced by retired Presbyterian minister the Rev. William G. McAtee of Lexington. He worked with black and white ministers and the mayor of Columbia, Miss., in the late 1950s and 1960s to desegregate public institutions and buildings for everyone.
His book, Transformed: A White Mississippi Pastor’s Journey into Civil Rights and Beyond, published in 2011, is his personal account of how those turbulent days transformed him.
Also, the League of Women Voters of Lexington will be hosting a reception following the film and voting registration cards will be available for those who need to register. The showing is at 10 a.m.
One World Film Festival has shown more than 120 films since it was founded. These two seem like worthy additions.

IF YOU GO
What: One World Film Festival’s final showings of its 2015 season
When: 10 a.m., March 7, Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot; 7 p.m., March 12, Anita: Speaking Truth to Power.
Where: Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main St.
Cost: Free.
Information: Visit Oneworldfilmfestival.org, or call (859) 266-6073.

March 6th, 2015

Lift Conference is crash course on college, future for students, parents

I visited with a group of high school students recently, trying to get them to focus on their futures.
Failing to focus is not an option.
Afterward, their advisor became emotional when he talked about a couple of seniors who had not ­applied to any colleges or for any grants or scholarships, and they were asking him for help. It was the end of February.
How can that happen? How can seniors not realize they must make a concerted effort to map out their next moves?
Then I remembered my boys, neither of whom probably would have applied anywhere for anything if I had not ridden them to the finish line. They simply were not self-motivated.
At least one group is hoping to help students and their parents with this. The Lexington Urban League Young Professionals is ­hosting the 11th ­annual ­Lifting and Impacting ­Futures Today, or LIFT, Conference on March 14, which targets middle and high school students and their parents for a crash course on preparing for higher education or job training.Lift(1)
“Education is the tool if they are going to get ahead in anything,” said Stacey Harris, conference committee chairwoman. “You used to be able to graduate from high school and get a good job. Now, sometimes a ­bachelor’s degree is not enough.”
Whether students are headed to a trade school or college, there are a few obstacles or detours the conference can help them and their parents navigate.
Financial literacy skills will be presented to middle school students in one workshop. Presenters “will talk about starting to save their money and being more self-conscious of their money,” Harris said. “If they are getting an allowance, they don’t go out and blow it. Set some back. Think about not spending every single penny.”
Other workshops will concentrate on the courses they should take, on their plans, and on cultural biases that might sidetrack them. There will be team-building activities that attempt to bring students out of their comfort zones and allow them to express themselves.
For high school students, workshops will focus on the effect of social media on their future.
The #Breaktheinternet workshop warns students about social etiquette, Harris said.
“Don’t put all your business out there,” she said. “Businesses are looking and colleges are looking” at ­postings on social media.
Male and female ­presenters will conduct the #Firstimpressions workshop that targets students manner of dress, their résumés and interviewing skills. Other workshops will highlight financial literacy and the need to complete a Free ­Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA, each year; cultural biases and envisioning your dreams.
Plus, #AnimalCSI will feature an animal pathologist and lab animals, and #Behindthelines will focus on life after athletics.
While their children are attending those workshops, parents will receive a valuable lesson on filling out the FAFSA from a Kentucky Education Association member, who will walk them through it.
Other workshops for parents include distractions that can hinder a college career, and information about underage drinking and other activities that might occur when the child leaves home.
Maybe best of all, parents will get help looking for traditional and nontraditional scholarships.
Breakfast will be catered by Waffle House, and lunch will be catered by Le Petite Bijou Catering. Door prizes will be given at the end of the day, along with three book scholarships. Information about various colleges and universities will be available.
The young professionals started the LIFT Conference to give students a preview of the college experience and give college recruiters a chance to develop a relationship with students.
The first two years of the conference were hosted at the University of Kentucky before it moved to Transylvania University for seven years. This is the second year the conference will be at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, and the first year at its Newtown Pike campus.
The preregistration deadline is Friday. Register at Lift2015.eventbrite.com. Students and parents also may register the day of the conference.
“Every year we have a different theme,” Harris said. “This year it is #WeGotNow. We have now to prepare for their future. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.”

IF YOU GO
11th annual LIFT Conference hosted by the Lexington Urban League Young Professionals.
When: 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. March 14
Where: Bluegrass Community and Technical College, 500 ­Newtown Pike
Cost: Free
Registration: Go to
Lift2015.eventbrite.com through March 6 or register day of the conference.
Information:  (859) 381-4234, (859) 381-3532 or (859) 381-4178.

February 20th, 2015

If film starts dialogue about black gay issues, it succeeds

Only three members of Bluegrass Black Pride walked as a gay contingent in the Roots and Heritage Parade last year in Lexington, but Thomas Tolliver put it on his list of 2014 highlights.
The group has been making concerted efforts to raise the visibility of black gays and lesbians locally.
“The white gay community has made so many advances,” Tolliver said. “There are a number of white people elected to public office and serving on influential boards as openly gay people.”
But when it comes to black gays and lesbians, the most memorable person remains James Herndon, better known as “Sweet Evening Breeze.” Herndon, a beloved and colorful character, never shied from wearing women’s clothes while walking down Main Street in the early 1900s.
“Sweet Evening Breeze was way ahead of his time,” Tolliver said. “He was accepted because of his eccentrics. I don’t doubt that we have our own James Baldwin right here in Lexington, our own Langston Hughes, our own Don Lemon, and, yes, perhaps our own Michael Sam right here in Lexington, but the stigma associated with being black and gay prevents them from coming out. That needs to change.”
In the black community, being gay is a negative, Tolliver explained. “It goes against the strong macho man” image, he said. “We hide it rather than deal with the discrimination.”

Thomas Tolliver, center, marched in the Roots and Heritage Parade in September, with John Bentley, left, chairman of Bluegrass Black Pride, and Mark Johnson.

Thomas Tolliver, center, marched in the Roots and Heritage Parade in September, with John Bentley, left, chairman of Bluegrass Black Pride, and Mark Johnson.

Bluegrass Black Pride, comprised of more than a dozen lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender residents, was established in 2013 as an advocacy group to unite the black LGBT community.
“One of the things that Bluegrass Black Pride wanted to do was start a conversation about being black and gay,” said Tolliver.
As a conversation starter, the group, along with JustFundKy, Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, and the Kentucky Department for Public Health, is hosting a free showing of The New Black, a 2013 award-winning documentary written, directed and produced by Yoruba Richen. The film explores how the black community and black churches address gay rights by following activists, families and clergy on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue in 2012 in Maryland. The film begins on the morning of the election and backtracks to fill the viewer in on the players and events that led up to it.NewBlackFilm-Poster_thumb
“We see this documentary as a tool by which we might educate some people, dispel some myths and empower some other LGBT folks,” Tolliver said.
The subject matter is particularly pertinent now because of the battles waging in Alabama and even in Kentucky regarding marriage equality. Last year, a U.S. District Judge in Louisville ruled that Kentucky’s one man-one woman definition of marriage discriminates against gays and lesbians and is unconstitutional.
Gov. Steve Beshear hired a private law firm to appeal that ruling after Attorney General Jack Conway refused to. The 6th Circuit Court, however, ruled against same-sex couples.
That led to last month’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to review two Kentucky cases and four others to decide whether states must recognize same-sex marriages.
“I commended Jack Conway,” Tolliver said, adding that Conway publicly declined to push the issue a few days before the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Frankfort. Tolliver carried a sign in that march that read “Bravo, Jack Conway.”
The New Black will be shown at 2 p.m., Feb. 28 in the Farish Theater at the Central Library, 140 East Main Street.
“I don’t know that just by showing this film that anybody’s mind will be changed,” he said, “and that’s not the point. Our objective here is to start a dialogue in Lexington about being black and gay. We cannot break down the barriers if we refuse to acknowledge they exist.”

 

IF YOU GO
What: The New Black, an award-winning 2013 documentary that follows black gay activists, church members and families as they examine their attitudes about gay rights and marriage equality.
When: 2 p.m., Feb. 28.
Where: Farish Theater at the Central Library, 140 E. Main St.
Cost: Free.

February 20th, 2015

Story of UK’s black football trailblazers subject of CBS film

By the time I entered the University of Kentucky as a freshman in 1969, the football team had been integrated and UK had become the first Southeastern Conference team to have black players.
Nate Northington from Louisville and Greg Page from Middlesboro were the first black players awarded football scholarships at UK after a concerted push from UK President John Oswald and Kentucky Gov. Edward T. Breathitt, who wanted to integrate the football players in the SEC.
When I arrived on campus, Page had died from an accident on the practice field in 1967 and Northington had left the

Nate Northington

Nate Northington

team.
Still Running: The Autobiography of Kentucky’s Nate Northington, the First African American Football Player in the Southeastern Conference, details the time Northington spent at UK. Lexington Herald-leader sportswriter Mark Story has interviewed him a few times in recent years.
What really hit home with me was when I saw Northington struggling, 50 years later, with the death of Page, his friend and roommate, on a documentary that is airing on the CBS Sports network.
Forward Progress: The Integration of SEC Football debuted on Feb. 16, and will be shown at least seven more times during Black History Month.
That film rightfully shows how Breathitt and Oswald moved mountains to push UK ahead of the traditional thinking of the SEC. They wanted black football players to tackle the color barriers in the South and they wanted UK to be the school to move that idea forward.
They hadn’t made much headway with UK basketball coach Adolph Rupp in integrating the basketball team. They succeeded with football coach Charlie Bradshaw.
But no one anticipated Page’s death or the amount of grief that burdened Northington.
Although he became the first black player in the SEC, Northington began skipping classes. He said he had lost his motivation. As punishment, the coaches took away his meal tickets and wouldn’t allow him to eat with his fellow players. In the film, Northington said he thought they would make him run extra sprints or something on that order. But to take away his ability to eat was too much.
He quit the team and later signed with Western Kentucky University, where he became the star running back on the 1970 Ohio Valley Conference championship team.
The documentary has comments from Coach Joe B. Hall; Basketball Hall of Famer Wes Unseld; Houston Hogg and Wilbur Hackett, the first two black players to follow in the footsteps of Page and Northington; UK history professor Gerald Smith; and from Porter G. Peeples, Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County president and CEO.
But by far the most moving moments come when Northington, a minister and the recently retired regional director of property management with the Louisville Metropolitan Housing Authority, was talking about his friend Page.
Tears were never far away despite his nervous chuckle and the smile that was for show only. When he spoke of being lonely, I felt it. When he said Page was his friend, I could almost see their closeness.
The documentary brought home to me the pain of being the first. It also made me realize, had something as devastating as a player’s paralysis and death occurred in this era, more would have been done to counsel teammates.
We have come a long way. A long way.
In the film, Peeples, who was a UK student during those years and who traveled by bus with other black students to Page’s funeral, called Northington and Page “our Jackie Robinson.”
“Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, giving African-Americans all over the country a player on the field they could root for and identify with,” Peeples said Wednesday. “That’s what Nate and Greg did for us at the university.
“I thought CBS did a great job with it,” Peeples said. “I think they told a story that should have been told long ago, 50 years ago.”
I do, too. If you get a chance, watch the film. UK comes out looking pretty good in this one. The strength of Northington and the character shown by Page’s father looks even better.

Showtimes
Forward Progress: The Integration of SEC Football, a documentary on the University of Kentucky integrating Southeastern Conference football, is showing on the CBS Sports network during Black History Month.
When: Midnight and 11 p.m., Feb. 21; 11 a.m., Feb 22; 9 p.m., Feb. 23; 7 p.m., Feb. 24; 11 p.m., Feb. 27; and 2 a.m., Feb. 28.

February 20th, 2015

Women make educating Kenyan girls their mission

Carolyn Witt Jones and Jo Robertson were only casual acquaintances before their mission trip to Kenya in 2011.
“Carolyn was going alone, and I didn’t know her very well,” Robertson said. “I wanted to go on safari. So I said I will go with you if you will go on a safari with me.”
Both women got what they wanted and more.
They spent a month in Ken­ya visiting HIV ­orphanages and churches, and returned with their hearts set on doing something to make the lives of women in Kenya better.

Photos similar to this will be on display at the library.

Photos similar to this will be on display at the library.

“The girls in Kenya are treated just awful,” Robertson said. “They will sell her for a cow or a goat.”
If the girls stay in their villages past age 12, they can end up with 10 children by the time they reach their 20s, Jones said. “About 85 percent are abused in some way. It is staggering.”
Polygamy is still practiced, as is female circumcision, she said.
“These are bright, energetic girls trying to make the best of their lives,” Jones said. “We wanted to do something.”
She and Robertson chose education as their means of helping and formed Kenyan Girls Forward, a nonprofit organization. Robertson is a retired educator in Fayette County Public Schools and at Eastern Kentucky University. Jones heads the Partnership for ­Successful Schools at Georgetown College.
The women connected with Selline Korir, co-founder and former director of Rural Women Peace Link, a grass-roots organization in Kenya that focuses on women’s issues.
Korir had been sold for a cow but was fortunate to become the wife of an Episcopal priest. “He was a good guy,” Robertson said. “That doesn’t happen very often.”
kenyan2Through that network of women, Korir finds girls whose families cannot afford to pay the tuition required for them to attend high school.
Tuition would be $350 a year. The women started out soliciting money to pay for four years of tuition for five students, which seemed manageable.
They started Kenyan Girls Forward, and the women contacted the Blue Grass Community ­Foundation, which receives the donations and then three times a year forwards the money to the ICAN international foundation in Washington, which then forwards it to Rural Women Peace Link.
Sponsors, who are asked to commit to providing four years of tuition, receive a photograph of the girls they are helping, along with their grades three times a year. Correspondence is encouraged, and many ­relationships have been forged.
If they excel on the national exam, the girls can go to college tuition-free, but they have to pay their fees and other expenses.kenyan3
From the idea of ­providing for five girls, ­Kenyan Girls Forward is now supporting more than 50. Some of the girls graduated and are attending college.
Helping girls in Kenya reach their potential is such a strong story, Jones said, that several groups, churches and individuals have pooled money to ­support more than one girl.
“Why wouldn’t we do this?” Jones said. “I can spend $350 a year on ­frivolous things.”
Most of the girls attend boarding schools near their villages, but some families require them to return home daily to help with the chores.
“Many will walk home, help with family responsibilities, study by night with lanterns, and then walk back to school,” Jones said. “Being somewhat close by, the families are counting on those girls for family support.”
kenyan4.Though more than 50 girls are receiving help, many more girls are in need. To get the word out, Robertson will have a photo display of pictures she has taken in Africa at the Central Library beginning March 2.
To sponsor a girl, contact Jones at (859) 333-0944, or Robertson at (859) 333-1940.
“If anyone is interested, call us,” Robertson said. “If any group is interested in hearing about it, we will go and speak.”

TO HELP
What: Kenyan Girls Forward, a nonprofit group that pays tuition for girls to attend high school in Kenya, will have a photography display at the Central Library.
When: During library hours, beginning March 2.
Where: Central Library Gallery, 140 E. Main St.
Information and to donate:  (859) 333-0944 or (859) 333-1940.

February 20th, 2015

Agency’s fundraiser helps refugees re-settle in Lexington

With the help of an interpreter, Joel Rosales, a refugee from Cuba, explained how he came to paint a chair, one of about 16 that will be auctioned to benefit the Kentucky Refugee Ministries in Lexington.
During one of the classes refugees are required to attend to help their transition to America, Rosales said his teacher, Luella Pavey, had the class paint flower pots. His artistry was so well received, months later he was asked to paint the chair.
“It was a good idea for me,” Rosales said, finding the words in English to express his feelings. “Many here need the funds to help other refugees, for housing and food. And, then, I like painting.”

Artists Aous Alnaasree, left, with achair he calls "fire and ice" and Joel Rosales, right, with a chair he calls "Cuba" at Kentucky Refugee Ministries. Photos by Charles Bertram.

Artists Aous Alnaasree, left, with achair he calls “fire and ice” and Joel Rosales, right, with a chair he calls “Cuba” at Kentucky Refugee Ministries. Photos by Charles Bertram.

His chair, which he said is “para el pueblo Americano,” for the American people, includes images reflective of Cuba. We can sometimes forget just how talented some of the people are who manage to make it to America after leaving their war-torn or politically oppressive homelands, said Barbara Kleine, director of KRM.
Rosales, 42, was a telecommunications engineer, artist and photographer before he emigrated to Canada in September, 2013, and then to Lexington in June, 2014 to be with friends.
Now, however, he is grateful to be working at Webasto, making sunroofs. When his English improves, he said, he will try to re-establish himself in the field of information technology.
Aous Alnaasree, 35, an Iraqi immigrant who came to Lexington in July with his wife and 8-year-old daughter, worked as a senior motion graphic designer for a TV station before being forced out of his country. They had spent four years as refugees in Syria and were then forced to move to Jordan for two years.
“There is not enough financial support of an organization like this,” Alnaasree said. “There are so many refugees from all around the world, Africa, Asia, the Middle East.
“They arrive here looking for a better life, better chances, but we start to figure out the truth,” he said. “There is not enough financial support.”

An African themed chair painted by Talizo Kombaki at Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

An African themed chair painted by Talizo Kombaki at Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

He has been looking for a job in his field, but is currently unemployed.
It is sometimes harder for refugees with high qualifications, especially physicians, to start at the bottom, Kleine said. But KRM is there to help and that’s how the money raised at KRM’s Third Annual Rockin’ Round the World fundraising event will be used.
The event on March 6 will be filled with food, drink and performances by the Refugee Children’s Choir, selections by Abraham Mwinda, and dancing to the sounds of Boogie G and the Titanics.
Also there will be a silent auction of the chairs, some of which were painted by refugees and others by staff members and local artists.
“All the money goes directly to client support,” Kleine said, including emergency housing, utilities and medical needs.
The U.S. State Department provides every refugee with $925, she said. Out of that, the deposit and first month’s rent on an apartment is subtracted, along with the purchase of beds, pillows and “everything you need if you are a refugee getting off an airplane with one suitcase,” Kleine said.
Since KRM’s establishment in Lexington in 1998, 2,500 refugees from 32 countries have settled here. “Last year we had a huge year,” Kleine said, with 299 people immigrating, most joining families that were already here. KRM is expecting 250 to 260 this year.
“Most of the refugees now have a U.S. tie,” she said. “A friend or a relative.”
The largest contingent of refugees is Congolese, she said. A lot of Iraqis are still coming, and the number of Afghanis is growing. The number of Bhutanese, however, is slowing as the refugee camps in Nepal are closing down.
KRM’s goal is to find employment for the refugees and help them become self-sufficient. English classes are first on the list, along with classes on cultural adjustment and working in the U.S. It takes an average of 120 days to find work.
Refugees differ from other immigrants, Kleine said, in that “refugees really don’t have a choice,” she said. “Their only other choice is to live in a refugee camp for another 10 to 20 years.”

Barbara Kleine

Barbara Kleine

Worldwide, there are about 15 million refugees, but fewer than 1 percent resettle in countries like America.
“The other 99 percent are languishing,” Kleine said. “The ones that get here are really the lucky ones.”
Alnaasree is fully aware of that. He painted a chair for the auction in abstract design. He also designed the event’s flyers.
“The people at KRM are trying to understand all these different people with different experiences and different knowledge from different cultures,” he said. “Painting the chair is a small thing I can do for them.”

If you go
What: Kentucky Refugee Ministries’ “Rockin’ Round the World,” a fundraiser with music, food, drinks and a silent auction featuring chairs hand-painted by refugees, staff and local artists.
When: 7 p.m. March 6.
Where: The Livery, 238 East Main St.
Cost: Tickets are $65; $45 for age 34 and younger; discounts for purchase of multiple tickets. Price includes dinner and two drinks.
Tickets: Purchase online at kyrm.org/rockinroundtheworld.
Information: Call (859) 226-5661.

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