October 20th, 2014

Candidates forum for the underserved

Sometimes the Kentucky candidates who are vying for elective offices on the federal level seem to think I am overcome with worry about President Obama’s “war on coal,” or about losing my right to walk around Walmart with an AR-15.
And if not those two pressing issues, they seem to think I lose sleep at night about the Affordable Care Act rim-racking hospital budgets.
While highly publicized, those issues aren’t what should keep us on our knees at night.
With all due respect to those who have lost jobs in the declining coal industry, there are millions of other Americans who are unemployed, under-employed or simply struggling, whose plights the candidates haven’t addressed sufficiently. Those people are losing their homes, cars, and any future they had planned for their children because their savings accounts and hope have dried up.
There also are families who have been devastated when loved ones have been felled by bullets from legal or illegal guns that are so accessible. What do the candidates propose to ease their grief?
When fear and gun rights allow ordinary citizens and the police to become judges, juries and executioners, someone ought to be talking about that. Where is that outrage?
And, Lord have mercy, please let someone stand up and say Obamacare has lifted the burden of medical uncertainty and financial ruin from the shoulders of hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians who had been held hostage by the insurance industry.
Can we hear something like that slip from the lips of these candidates?
Well, The Rev. Clark Williams told me we would if we attend the final candidates forum presented this year by Operation Turnout, a non-partisan, grassroots, social justice organization that wants the needs and concerns of the under-represented, poor, or minority voters to be heard. Williams was a founder of the group in 2010.
The group’s 2014 Truth Campaign Forum Series will end with the two candidates seeking the 6th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives — Rep. Andy Barr and Elisabeth Jensen. U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes cancelled on Saturday. Incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell has not confirmed.
When asked if he hoped McConnell would show up, Williams said, “Hope is a strong word. He should be expected to show up. I was told on Thursday that I would have a definitive answer by Friday but I don’t have an answer.”
Unlike other debates and forums, Williams said this one on Oct. 21 at Shiloh Baptist Church, 237 East 5th Street will drill down to the issues that impact the under-served, especially those in Lexington’s East End community where unemployment is at 20 percent.
“That is our biggest distinction by design,” he said. “Obviously, I’m biased.”
He said the questions will center on raising the minimum wage, the stability of social security, and perfecting but not eliminating ACA.
The questions, which will be generated by the moderators, by members of Operation Turnout and by the audience, will be seeking solutions and not just yes or no, up or down responses, he said.
“Whether (the candidates) give solution-based answers is up to them,” Williams said. “But you need to come seeking solutions and noting if you actually heard one. There will be no softball questions.”
In addition to the candidates for federal offices, Williams said the four candidates for the two seats on the Fayette County Public Schools board have also agreed to attend. Second district incumbent Doug Barnett and his opponent Roger Cleveland, along with 4th District incumbent Amanda Ferguson and her opponent Natasha Murray will open the forum with their stances on equity issues in our schools.
This is a great chance to be better informed about the candidates who are courting our votes.
No matter how many TV commercials would have you believe otherwise, this mid-term election should be about the needs of the voters and not the position of political parties.
I have lived through many years of one party ruling both houses of Congress and I have been through years of gridlock when opposing parties ruled each house.
The operative words are “lived through.”
Americans will continue to stand tall no matter who wins and if we don’t like the way our representatives behave, we can vote for changes in two years.
It would just be nice for Kentuckians to progress at the same rate as residents of other states. It would be nice to have better jobs, a better educational system, and better health care, just like other states.
The only way to get that is to vote for the candidates who can deliver what we want.

What: Operation Turnout’s 2014 Truth Campaign Forum Series featuring candidates for U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, as well as Fayette County School Board.
When: 6:30 p.m., Oct. 21.
Where: Shiloh Baptist Church, 237 East 5th Street.
Information: Email operation.turnout.forum@gmail.com.

October 20th, 2014

Mr. Bills has his day at Yates Elementary

Gene Bills, 76, wasn’t very happy Wednesday morning.
A faithful volunteer at Yates Elementary School, Bills had been called into the school by Principal Twanjua Jones for “safety training.”
“He said, ‘I don’t know why I have to go to mandatory safety training at 9 o’clock on my day off,’” said Bills’ wife, Joyce. “I don’t need safety training.”
And he was right. He didn’t need safety training and wasn’t going to get any.
Jones and members of the Yates staff were planning to honor Bills as their first “Yates Volunteer of the Month.”
Wednesday was “Mr. Bills Day.”

Gene Bills was honored as the first Yates volunteer of the month during a surprise ceremony on Oct. 15, 2014. Photo by Charles Bertram.

Gene Bills was honored as the first Yates volunteer of the month during a surprise ceremony on Oct. 15, 2014. Photo by Charles Bertram.

Shortly after 9 a.m., Bills entered the cafeteria to find children cheering for him and Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton waiting to congratulate him for his faithful service.
“I’m the last to find out anything,” he said later after learning that his wife, daughter and two grandsons who attend Yates all were in on the secret.
Bills hauled gasoline around Lexington for more than 44 years, the last 25 while owning his own fleet of trucks. He said he retired 11 years ago, but continued to work part-time for nine more years. “I drove for three million miles accident free,” he said.
Last year, Shelton came to the Wednesday night prayer meeting at Immanuel Baptist Church to ask for volunteers to help out in the schools.
“Joyce was sitting beside me and said, ‘That is a good job for you,’” Bills recalled.
He hesitated because he wouldn’t earn any money. “She said ‘You haven’t worked in the last two years, so it doesn’t make any difference,’” Bills said.
He applied online and four days later he was notified he had passed the background check.
“So I came here and started doing it and fell in love with it,” Bills said.
He claims he was shy when he started, standing back and watching teachers correct children. It didn’t last long.
“After four or five weeks, I said, ‘Turn around and put your feet under the table.’ After a while, I was a little Hitler.”
That’s not how teachers or staff described him. And, after watching him call students by name and offering hugs, it doesn’t appear the children see him that way either.
“You can’t teach a person to love and care,” Jones said. “That is innate. Kids see that through your actions. Mr. Bills’ actions show it, not just for the children, but with the staff. It gives me chills to think about it.
“On these rainy days, he brings sunshine,” she said. “He is a breath of fresh air, the energy that we need.”
Bills helps prepare the lunch room for the children who start coming in for lunch about 10:50 a.m. He works from about 10:15 a.m. to 12:40 p.m., three days a week.
When he’s not doing that, his hobby is working with the American Truck Historical Society, Bluegrass Chapter.  Last week, he and his wife, along with Roseanne Mingo of VisitLex, Lexington’s convention and visitors bureau, and members of the group traveled to York, Penn., where the national group was meeting. They won the right to host the 2018 annual antique truck convention at the Kentucky Horse Park.
“It was between Lexington and Kalamazoo, Mich.,” Bills said, “and we won. (Mingo) presented our side.”
Throughout the trip, Bills was telling everyone he met about how much he enjoys working with the children, said Joyce Bills, his wife of 51 years. “When we go on vacation, he gets homesick to come back to the children and to the staff,” she said.
Fayette County Public Schools would love to have more volunteers like that.

Gene Bills, a senior volunteer, was honored with the first volunteer of the month award at Yates Elementary during a surprise ceremony in the school cafeteria. Photos by Charles Bertram

Gene Bills, a senior volunteer, was honored with the first volunteer of the month award at Yates Elementary during a surprise ceremony in the school cafeteria. Photos by Charles Bertram

“We go to church together and he shares with me regularly on Sunday about how much he loves working with kids,” Shelton said. “Our faith-based community has stepped up but we need more.”
Volunteers can work in a variety of jobs in the schools, from tutoring to clerical work, helping in the library or with computers. Most jobs require little or no training.
“Teachers work really hard with the children,” Jones said. “The volunteers add an extra layer of support for the students. Children want to please. You can see the children’s faces light up when they see people giving of their time.”
A background check is required and the application process can start on the schools’ Family and Community Engagement (FACE) page, fcps.net/administration/departments/family-community.
“If you don’t have anything to do, it gives you something to occupy your time,” Bills said. “You will fall in love with it.”

October 20th, 2014

We have more pressing issues than Ebola

My husband was hospitalized a couple of weeks ago for knee replacement surgery. During his recovery, I spoke with a native Nigerian at the hospital who was more than a little put out about the coverage or lack thereof of the Ebola virus outbreak on her native continent.
While the spread of Ebola in Nigeria has been tamped down, the disease is still spreading in other West African countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Unfortunately, not much coverage was given to the thousands of people who have died in West Africa during this recent outbreak, and this woman couldn’t understand that.
I don’t either.
And now that the epidemic has come into focus because of the American aid workers who contracted and successfully fought off the disease, reports are zeroing in on the first Ebola death on Oct. 8 in the United States, rather than the 121 people who died in one day from Ebola in Sierra Leone, according to daily statistics kept by Sierra Leone’s Emergency Operations Center.
The hospital worker I met during my husband’s surgery said we Americans were blaming Africa for spreading the disease, rather than helping Africa contain the disease.
And now that a nurse in Dallas has contracted the disease, calls to close our borders will only increase. The new case will have TV and radio commentators panicking and hypochondriacs heading for the nearest emergency rooms.
I suggest we all take a deep breath.
Ebola is a scary disease. No doubt. Patients suffer vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, fever and unexplained bleeding. About half of sufferers in Africa die, amounting to about 4,000 people.
Malaria killed 600,000 people in Africa in 2012. Use that for perspective.
I’m not seeing the reason for all the fear in our country. We have far more to fear from the flu than Ebola, and we can’t close our shores to the flu.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 226,000 Americans are hospitalized with the flu every year and some 36,000 die from flu-related complications. Still, only 46 percent of Americans get a flu shot.
Two Americans have been successfully treated for Ebola and, currently, four people are being treated for Ebola in America. Only the Dallas health care worker contracted the disease here.
Those numbers seem really low.
Don’t we have enough to worry about?
Right here in Fayette County, we have students who might be going to school every day and learning little or nothing. We have an elementary school that sank to the bottom of all schools in the state. Shouldn’t we be embarrassed enough about that and worried about the future of the children who are being educated there?
Throughout our state, we have students graduating from colleges and universities with enough debt to keep the American Dream at bay for more than 20 years while they pay it off. Shouldn’t we be worried about that?
And nationally, we have open season on killing black youth not only by police but by average citizens who somehow detect danger when none is present. We want to get them before they might get us.
Why doesn’t that scare us more than Ebola?
As a nation we are creating things that go bump in the night when we should realize how blessed we are. We purport to be a Christian nation, and the Bible I read says “do not be afraid” or “fear not” far more times than it says an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
It also says we should care for the sick, give shelter to the homeless, and feed the poor. Nowhere does it say close your eyes, ears, hearts and borders to the needs of your brethren.
I think we ought to be more afraid of missing those marks of being a good Christian than falling ill to Ebola.

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 Kentucky.com

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 mjamison@lexingtonky.gov 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 Lexsuperherorun.com; 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 Lexsuperherorun.com, 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 Keyassetskentucky.com.

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 jojuana1922@yahoo.com.

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