July 3rd, 2014

PFLAG offers nurturing sounding board

Audrey Linville slipped a note under her parents’ bedroom door when she thought they would be asleep. The note was to inform them that she was bisexual.
But Audrey’s mother wasn’t asleep. She saw the note and went to talk with her 13-year-old daughter.
“She came into my room that night,” Audrey recalled. “She didn’t cry. I cried. She wasn’t mad. She expressed concern. She said, ‘people are not going to accept you and you will have a hard time.’”
“I thought of all of the problems she would have with the gay jokes,” said Sandy Linville, Audrey’s mother. “Gay people were excluded. She might possibly lose friends.”

Audrey Linville and her parents, Sandy and Mike Linville, are members of PFLAG Central Kentucky, a support group for family and friends of gays.

Audrey Linville and her parents, Sandy and Mike Linville, are members of PFLAG Central Kentucky, a support group for family and friends of gays.

After all, at that time, Audrey was in middle school, not the best breeding ground for compassion. Plus, there were the ever-popular teen-age sleepovers Audrey might miss out on if she were to publicly announce her sexual leanings.
So Sandy asked her daughter to forgo coming out until she reached high school. But never once did Sandy stop loving her daughter. Never once did she feel shame.
But accepting her daughter’s bisexuality was something Sandy didn’t know much about, and, like many parents, she wanted to make sure her actions were more beneficial to her young daughter than damaging.
PFLAG Central Kentucky wants to be that supporting guide, if not GPS system, for family and friends who want to learn more about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues while nurturing their loved ones.
Debbie Rickerd of Lexington said she attended her first PFLAG meeting because she had heard there would be a panel discussion with religious leaders.
“There were some parents there I could tell were in a lot of pain about their children being gay,” said Rickerd, who is a PFLAG board member and a lesbian.
One of the women at the meeting asked the clergy why God had done this to people, why God had allowed her children to be gay. Rickerd wanted to tell those parents that there is hope.
“I almost felt guilty about it,” she said. “I’ve never had anyone not accept me.”
Rickerd knows there are Central Kentucky parents who are struggling to come to terms with their child’s sexuality. She wants them to come to a PFLAG meeting and see that they are not alone.
Pronounced “pea-flag,” the national organization began in 1972 when Jeanne Manford joined her gay son in New York’s Pride Day parade.
When other gay youth asked her to speak to their parents, the support group was started. She was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal for her advocacy in 2012.
The PFLAG Central Kentucky group meets monthly for two hours. The first hour usually features a speaker and the last hour allows time for sharing and support.
The group welcomes parents with LGBT children, and siblings and LGBT youth who have not come out to their own parents.
The meetings are confidential and non-judgmental.
Members of the local chapter will also provide information and presentations to any group seeking to learn more.
“If someone wants to speak, they can,” she said. “If they want to sit and listen they can. Everything is completely confidential like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous). We don’t talk about it.”
Discussions can include how parents have come to accept that their child is gay or how parents have dealt with particular issues that have occurred.
“Some parents are fine that their child has come out,” Rickerd said, “but are worried about how to talk about it to others and at church.”
Sandy Linville said a lot of parents have established a relationship with a particular neighborhood or with a particular church and changing those dynamics can be disconcerting.
“I didn’t mind if I lost something or someone,” she said. “I had become confident in that role and in the role of a parent of a gay child.”
Still, she did leave her church and has yet to find another that hasn’t tried to change her daughter.
“My relationship with God has become stronger,” Sandy said. “I don’t go to church, but I actually believe I am closer to God because of the challenges and the negative things I have heard people say.”
Because of PFLAG, however, Sandy said, “I’ve gained normality, acceptance and a place where I can speak about Audrey and not worry about people shaming me, asking what did you do wrong?”
Audrey is 20 now. She and her mother have evolved and grown closer. Audrey now recognizes that she is lesbian, not bisexual, and Sandy is “much more out there,” serving as an advocate and guide for parents of LGBT children who are just embarking on that journey.
“We went to hell and back,” Sandy said. “We went through a lot of hoops of fire. It has a traumatic effect. You build a bond with that person.”
Audrey said her parents have shown unconditional love for her throughout this journey.
“If they ever struggled, they never did it in front of me,” she said.

July 3rd, 2014

Children’s books reflect author’s life, aid charities

The featherless little bird was alone and welcomed the nurturing offered by a group of ostriches. They attached some of their feathers to him to help him blend in with the group, to be more like them.
It worked out just fine. He was warm, he fit in, and he was loved.

Two books written by Shannon Barnes

Two books written by Shannon Barnes

It took a horrifying event, however, for the little bird to realize that all those borrowed feathers had hidden who he really was.
That is a synopsis of Little Bird Gets His Wings, a children’s book by Shannon Barnes. It is also a synopsis of Barnes’ life.
“It was a huge metaphor for my life,” he said. “I remember seeing myself as a tree with no leaves on it and the environment around me gluing its leaves on me.”
Barnes, 34 and an advertising account executive for the Lexington Herald-Leader, sought affirmation or definition from those around him, including his wife at that time and his employer.
Then he heard an audio of former World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali saying, “I’m going to show you how great I am.”
Barnes listened to that audio over and over again for weeks, he said, until he gathered the strength to set himself free from his reliance on the opinions others had of him.
“I was going to show me how great I am,” he said. “The feeling I felt when I let go, I can’t describe it.”
Once he did that, once he shed the feathers that had been placed on him to reflect those around him, Barnes and the little bird discovered they had the wings to fly.
Barnes has designated some of the proceeds from Little Bird Gets His Wings, self-published in 2013, to victims of domestic violence.
Evie Finds a Way, his newest self-published children’s book which will be released next month, is the story of Evie White of Lexington who was diagnosed with hemiplegia in 2008, the result of a stroke she suffered before she was born.
Barnes, who is always looking for new stories to tell and little-known causes to support, wrote the book after talking with Evie’s mother, Jana Smoot White, the board president of the national Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association.
In the book, Evie struggles with every step because of paralysis and the brace she wears.
“Hemiplegia is the land
“That Evie has to cross.
“And getting to her dreams is twice as hard,
“While fighting Neon Foot Drop Moss.
“Because it grabs onto her legs,
“And tries its best to pull her down.
“It nags her with negative thoughts,
“Trying to turn her hope into a frown.”
For the book’s illustrations, Barnes connected with Herb Moore, a native of Cynthiana who is an illustrator and post-production director for Disney and a comic book artist.
Portions of the profits from the sale of Evie Finds a Way will benefit the hemiplegia association.

Shannon Barnes, with his children Abigail and Cameron at Jacobson Park, is a Lexington Herald-Leader advertising account executive by day and a children's book author by night

Shannon Barnes, with his children Abigail and Cameron at Jacobson Park, is a Lexington Herald-Leader advertising account executive by day and a children’s book author by night

Barnes, who writes poetry for adults as well, has written four other children’s books that may be published.
Born in Cynthiana but reared in Lexington, Barnes is divorced with two children, Abigail, 10, and Cameron, 7. He says he thinks a bit differently, seeing the vibe around him in patterns of movement and geometric forms, or cymatics.
“I see in cymatics, kind of, and translate it,” he said. “When I feel love or anger coming from someone, I see it as a pattern. What I had to learn was that I would no longer let them change my pattern. I determine my frequency.”
When he was a sophomore at Henry Clay High School, he was sent to the SAFE program for being tardy to class. He used that time to write a two-page letter to Diane Woods, the principal at that time, complaining. He signed his name and put it in her mailbox.
In his next class, Woods called him to her office.
“She said, ‘You are going to change things one day because of the way you see things and your opinions and the bravery you had to do this,’” Barnes recalled.
He is free now to do that again and, through his books and his poetry, he is willing to take us along for the ride.

IF YOU GO
A book signing for Shannon Barnes’
children’s books, Little Bird Gets His Wings and Evie Finds a Way.
When: 1-3 p.m. July 26.
Where: The Wild Fig Bookstore, 1439 Leestown Rd.
To purchase a book: Visit Amazon.com or Littlelightrelay.com.

June 19th, 2014

‘World Refugee Day’ a chance to welcome international diversity

In December 2004, Carine Malekera and her mother arrived in Lexington, their new permanent home.
They had escaped the violence of war and resulting disease, hunger and unsanitary conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that have killed hundreds of thousands since the late 1990s.
They could not speak English and knew little of the new culture they were coming to.

Dawa Sherpa, left, a refugee from Bhutan, spoke with caseworker Anne Marie Vaughn during an orientation for refugees with children going into public school at Kentucky Refugee Ministries on Friday. Photo by Pablo Alcala.

Dawa Sherpa, left, a refugee from Bhutan, spoke with caseworker Anne Marie Vaughn during an orientation for refugees with children going into public school at Kentucky Refugee Ministries on Friday. Photo by Pablo Alcala.

“For me, learning English was a struggle,” Carine said. “And I had to adjust to growing up where I didn’t feel comfortable.”
But with the help of English as a Second Language and other school teachers, by finding a friend who taught her about the culture, and by watching a lot of cartoons on TV, Carine has exceeded expectations.
She just graduated from Tates Creek High School and will attend the University of Kentucky with several scholarships including the Presidential Scholarship and the William C. Parker Scholarship.
She will be majoring in biosystem and agriculture engineering with an eye on going to medical school.
There was a lot of pain and distress in her early life, she said, but “being welcomed somewhere and truly feeling welcomed goes a long way.”
Carine will talk about that transition at the “World Refugee Day Summit: Lexington’s Bridge to the World” at the Central Library June 20. It is Lexington’s celebration of the rich, overlooked pockets of diversity throughout this community.
World Refugee Day was established by the United Nations in 2001 to pay tribute to the courage and strength exhibited by those forced to flee their homelands and familiar routines to escape conflict.
Lexington’s celebration has a twist, however.
“Unlike New York … and many larger cities with a rich history of immigration, Lexington is not yet used to helping new neighbors resettle,” said Lindsay Mattingly, multicultural liaison at the Lexington Public Library. “We do not yet have a well-developed infrastructure that can support nonnative English speakers.”
While the Kentucky Refugee Ministries does a great job, she said, that organization has to adhere to time limits set by the federal government of up to six months. “Some of the refugees have lived in refugee camps for possibly half their lives,” she said. “It is not possible to be self-sufficient in six months.”
Folks in the faith community have traditionally been the people bridging the gap, Mattingly said, but more needs to be done by those of us who will be enriched by the cultures the immigrants bring with them.
But, as is the case when confronted by the unfamiliar, the general public may not be sure what that help looks like.

Carine Malekera

Carine Malekera

So Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Lexington’s department of social services, the Lexington Human Rights Commission, Lexington Fair Housing Council, the Maxwell Street Legal Clinic, staff from the Fayette County Public Schools, and the public library have joined forces and created a conference that will give us a clue. Mattingly hopes it will become an annual event.
“World Refugee Day Summit: Lexington’s Bridge to the World” begins with a conference at the Central Library, 140 East Main Street, from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
It then moves to the Fifth Third Pavilion for food and cultural entertainment.
“We know that helping our neighbors achieve self-sufficiency will make our whole community stronger,” Mattingly said.
After the opening ceremonies that will include Carine and Mayor Jim Gray, there will be two sessions each with three breakout groups featuring areas of concern for refugees. Participants get to choose one breakout in each session.
The topics in the first session include health care, featuring the struggles of language and cultural barriers to treatment; employment and workforce development with a panel of employers discussing available services and the dependability and enthusiasm of refugee employees; and K-12 education, with teachers discussing strategies and programming that have produced success stories.
The second session includes adult education classes, some for people who don’t read or write in their native languages, but who are expected to do that with English; housing barriers and personal testimonies from landlords who have rented to refugees; and, finally, government and community services that build the infrastructure needed in Lexington to respond to our growing number of immigrants.
Then it’s on to the Fifth Third Pavilion. Artwork and crafts made by refugees will be on display, and there will be information tables about the various refugee groups that have resettled in Lexington. And there will be a performance by the Refugee Children’s Choir.
The registration fee is $25 and covers the conference, parking in the library parking structure and lunch at the pavilion provided by food trucks.
“Lexington has the third-largest population of resettled Congolese immigrants in the country,” Mattingly said. Phoenix and Houston are ahead of us. And there are more than 90 languages spoken in the homes of students in Fayette County schools.
“We are only as strong as our most vulnerable population,” Mattingly said.
Carine agreed, saying some people think refugees only need “a place to live and food and they will be happy.
“But I was truly happy when we didn’t have all those things,” she said. “Happiness comes from love and appreciation. Having someone there who first supports you with food and shelter and then becomes a friend, that goes a long way.”

 

IF YOU GO
What: “World Refugee Day Summit: Lexington’s Bridge to the World.”
When: 9 a.m.- 12:30 p.m. for the conference, and 12:30- 2 p.m. for lunch and cultural entertainment. June 20.
Where: Central Library, 140 E. Main St., and Fifth Third Bank Pavilion, 251 W. Main St.
Cost: $25, includes conference, parking and lunch.
Information: Email lmattingly@lexpublib.org or call (859) 231-5514.

June 19th, 2014

A fresh idea for making sure kids get fed in the summer

Vernessa Carter ­corralled children so she could give them hand sanitizer, and Joan Bolton was busy sweeping the concrete under picnic tables to ensure a cleaner place to eat.
Both women were volunteering in Douglass Park with the Summer Food Service Program in Lexington, which is sponsored by Employment Solutions Inc./ Fresh Approach. They are a part of a group of nearly 30 members of First African Baptist Church who are taking turns serving free lunches to any child in the park who is 18 or younger.

Lillian Bunton and Mary Ely of First Baptist Church, severed children in Douglass Park.

Lillian Bunton and Mary Ely of First Baptist Church, served children in Douglass Park.

“We really want to impact the community,” said Rev. Nathl Moore of First African. “Our church motto and theme is: ‘The church in the community for the hearts of the community.’ With that, we have to be in the community, and this was a wonderful opportunity extended to us to do some hands-on things during the summertime and impact the kids in the community.”
Volunteers like those from First African and the three local agencies that distribute free summer lunches to children were lauded by federal, state and local leaders Wednesday as true investors in the future of the commonwealth.
“We believe so strongly that our children are the most important asset that Kentucky has,” first lady Jane Beshear said. “If we invest in these children, in their future, then it is a ­better tomorrow for all of us.”
Beshear was joined by Janey Thornton, deputy undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services; Lexington Mayor Jim Gray; and Cathy Gallagher of the Kentucky Department of Education’s School and Community Nutrition division to kick off the summer feeding program in Castlewood Park Wednesday.
Thornton said 33 million children a day eat school lunches, and of those, 21 million are free or reduced in price. But that number drops dramatically during the summer to 3.5 million a day.
Fortunately, Employment Solutions Inc., Fayette County Public Schools and God’s Pantry are making a coordinated effort to provide nutritious meals to any child this summer.
Michelle Coker, director of child nutrition for the schools, said hot meals will be provided at 15 schools June 16 through Aug. 4, with no service on July 4.

Rev. Nathl Moore and Vernessa Carter of First African Baptist Church.

Rev. Nathl Moore and Vernessa Carter of First African Baptist Church.

More than 150 children were fed last year on the Tates Creek campus, she said, and 100 or so at Booker T. Washington Elementary.
God’s Pantry focuses on six centers in Fayette County and several sites outside the county, said Mya Price, a Child Hunger Corps member working with the food agency. One of their sites, Village Branch Library, served more than 80 hot meals daily last year.
Walt Barbour, director of Fresh Approach, a division of Employment Solutions, said the federal government, which finances the summer feeding program through the Department of Agriculture, has made a concerted effort this year to serve more lunches.
Fresh Approach is a program that provides jobs while teaching skills to intellectually challenged adults. Those workers assemble the free lunches that are distributed at 35 sites throughout Lexington.
That free lunch distribution started June 9. Last year, Employment Solutions served 125,000 meals.
There is no income limit for any child being fed. The only requirement, other than age, is that the food be eaten on-site.
Barbour said he is always looking for new distribution sites, and that’s why he was glad to have volunteers from First African take Douglass Park.
He said he called Moore because of the proximity of the church to Douglass, and Moore asked for volunteers.
“They had a meeting,” Barbour said, “and he asked anyone interested in helping with the summer feeding program to stay after, and 30 people stayed. Everyone was interested and asked questions. It was very, very overwhelming.
“The key to having the kids enjoy the program is to have people who are really vested in the neighborhood,” Barbour said. “We were looking for somebody that wants to make a difference with these kids.”

Walt Barbour and Joan Bolton

Walt Barbour and Joan Bolton

The volunteers from First Baptist fit that bill.
“During the summer, some of the kids may not have that nutritious meal,” said Lillian Bunton of First Baptist. “I want to make sure I do my part.”

Learn more
For a list of free lunch sites,
call 1-866-348-6479, or go to
FCPS.net/media/934727/
summermeals.pdf.

June 19th, 2014

Young men, boys of color need more mentoring, attention

The president’s task force charged with finding ways to improve the lives of young men and boys of color ­released results of what it had learned in the 90 days since it was established.
The My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, set up in ­February by President Barack Obama, released the report May 30; it was a combination of data and practices that work in locales nationwide.
The release didn’t make front-page news.
I’m hoping the lack of publicity was because there weren’t any earth-shattering revelations in it. We already know young males of color need more mentoring, more attention, more leeway to fail and get back up again.
I prefer a lack-of-news reasoning for the lack of interest in the welfare of a population perceived to be of no value.
A young black male, wearing a hoodie, was shot walking home from a store because he looked ­suspicious.
A young white male drove drunk, killed four people, paralyzed another and was excused because he lived a privileged life.
That inequity cannot continue.
The 60-page report said 23.2 percent of ­Hispanics, 25.8 percent of blacks and 27 percent of Native ­Americans and Alaska Natives live in poverty, compared to 11.6 percent of whites.
Plus, the report said, Native American, black and Hispanic children are six to nine times more likely to live in concentrated areas of poverty, compared to whites. And about two-thirds of black and one-third of ­Hispanic children live with only one parent.
“While the report ­highlights the unique ­challenges of black men and boys of color, it also ­recognizes the structural barriers that all youth of color face in society,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national ­organizations that lobby in favor of civil and human rights in the United States.
“We cannot expect our country or communities to prosper if this reality ­persists,” Henderson said.
That’s true. As long as someone has his foot on your neck, neither of you can move.
To end that stalemate, the task force offered ­recommendations that should serve as reminders of what we all should be ­doing, with a special focus on ­communities of color.
Those ­recommendations include emphasis on early childhood education, ­achieving reading level by third grade, being college-ready upon graduating from high school, completing skilled training or ­college, finding employment, and keeping children on a ­positive track and giving second chances.
“By focusing on these key moments, and helping our young people avoid ­roadblocks that hinder progress across life stages, we can help ensure that all children and young people have the tools they need to build successful lives,” the report states.
Some of the suggestions are already at work in ­Lexington.
The Community Action Council has established state-of-the-art day-care centers for low-income families. The problem is the agency’s budget allows for only ­limited enrollment.
For high school ­graduates being prepared for ­college, Black Males Working, a program at First ­Baptist Church, Bracktown, has enriched the lives of young black males for nine years through Saturday ­enrichment courses, college tours and even travel abroad.
Could that program use more volunteers and money? Of course.
Juvenile Restorative Justice works with young offenders. They are given a chance to recognize and acknowledge their mistakes and then correct them. If necessary, parents or ­guardians have sessions, too.
The mediation and ­resolution program stands in the gap between the ­Cabinet for Health and Family ­Services and the ­Department of Juvenile Justice. It also operates in the schools to work out problems among students.
Despite numerous success stories, the program director pays the rent for the offices out of her own pocket more often than not, and no one receives a paycheck.
Why aren’t we shoring up that program financially as we do our jails and prisons?
This is the first report from the task force, with more to come, including more details on how we can make all this happen.
But we already know what’s needed. We already know that whole groups of people have a harder row to hoe and that they must do it without a mule or a tractor.
Life provides a ying and a yang.
The longer we sit on the sidelines criticizing how crooked their furrows are, the longer we will be sitting on the sidelines.

June 5th, 2014

Young men, boys of color need more mentoring, attention

The president’s task force charged with finding ways to improve the lives of young men and boys of color ­released results of what it had learned in the 90 days since it was established.
The My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, set up in ­February by President Barack Obama, released the report last week; it was a combination of data and practices that work in locales nationwide.
The release didn’t make front-page news.
I’m hoping the lack of publicity was because there weren’t any earth-shattering revelations in it. We already know young males of color need more mentoring, more attention, more leeway to fail and get back up again.
I prefer a lack-of-news reasoning for the lack of interest in the welfare of a population perceived to be of no value.
A young black male, wearing a hoodie, was shot walking home from a store because he looked ­suspicious.
A young white male drove drunk, killed four people, paralyzed another and was excused because he lived a privileged life.
That inequity cannot continue.
The 60-page report said 23.2 percent of ­Hispanics, 25.8 percent of blacks and 27 percent of Native ­Americans and Alaska Natives live in poverty, compared to 11.6 percent of whites.
Plus, the report said, Native American, black and Hispanic children are six to nine times more likely to live in concentrated areas of poverty, compared to whites. And about two-thirds of black and one-third of ­Hispanic children live with only one parent.
“While the report ­highlights the unique ­challenges of black men and boys of color, it also ­recognizes the structural barriers that all youth of color face in society,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national ­organizations that lobby in favor of civil and human rights in the United States.
“We cannot expect our country or communities to prosper if this reality ­persists,” Henderson said.
That’s true. As long as someone has his foot on your neck, neither of you can move.
To end that stalemate, the task force offered ­recommendations that should serve as reminders of what we all should be ­doing, with a special focus on ­communities of color.
Those ­recommendations include emphasis on early childhood education, ­achieving reading level by third grade, being college-ready upon graduating from high school, completing skilled training or ­college, finding employment, and keeping children on a ­positive track and giving second chances.
“By focusing on these key moments, and helping our young people avoid ­roadblocks that hinder progress across life stages, we can help ensure that all children and young people have the tools they need to build successful lives,” the report states.
Some of the suggestions are already at work in ­Lexington.
The Community Action Council has established state-of-the-art day-care centers for low-income families. The problem is the agency’s budget allows for only ­limited enrollment.
For high school ­graduates being prepared for ­college, Black Males Working, a program at First ­Baptist Church, Bracktown, has enriched the lives of young black males for nine years through Saturday ­enrichment courses, college tours and even travel abroad.
Could that program use more volunteers and money? Of course.
Juvenile Restorative Justice works with young offenders. They are given a chance to recognize and acknowledge their mistakes and then correct them. If necessary, parents or ­guardians have sessions, too.
The mediation and ­resolution program stands in the gap between the ­Cabinet for Health and Family ­Services and the ­Department of Juvenile Justice. It also operates in the schools to work out problems among students.
Despite numerous success stories, the program director pays the rent for the offices out of her own pocket more often than not, and no one receives a paycheck.
Why aren’t we shoring up that program financially as we do our jails and prisons?
This is the first report from the task force, with more to come, including more details on how we can make all this happen.
But we already know what’s needed. We already know that whole groups of people have a harder row to hoe and that they must do it without a mule or a tractor.
Life provides a ying and a yang.
The longer we sit on the sidelines criticizing how crooked their furrows are, the longer we will be sitting on the sidelines.

June 5th, 2014

YMCA’s free swimming lessons could save lives

For two or three years during my early life, my mother ordered my sister, brother and me to walk a couple of miles to Douglass Park in Owensboro for summer afternoon swimming classes sponsored by the Red Cross.
I don’t remember how many days the classes were offered, but I managed to learn how to float and do belly flops without drowning.
But we didn’t get to practice those skills very often, because the only pool black people were allowed to use was so far away. Exhausting daily chores came first.
In other words, I’m an adult and I still can’t swim.
I’m not alone.
According to the American Red Cross, about 33 percent of blacks and 50 percent of whites say they could pass a water competency test that involves floating, entering water above their heads, and swimming for 25 yards.
What’s worse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black kids ages 5 to 19 drown in swimming pools at a rate that is five times higher than that of white kids.
That’s why the YMCA of Central Kentucky is taking third-graders at Arlington, Booker T. Washington Academy, Cardinal Valley, Harrison, William Wells Brown and Russell Cave elementary schools out of the classroom and into a swimming pool to learn basic safety skills.
Through Lexington Swims, for two hours on Thursday, those students will learn how to float, how to spot a person in distress and what to do if they find themselves in danger in the water.
Instructors at each of the Ys will include members of the University of Kentucky swim team.
It is a pilot program by the local Y, the public schools and Bates Security, which is sponsoring the event as well as footing the bill for swimming lessons during an eight-week course at the Y.
“It is a new initiative for us,” said Julie Balog, vice president of marketing and communications at the YMCA. “It has been done in other places, but we haven’t done it locally. The YMCA has taught more people to swim than anyone in the country.”
Balog said statistics from the YMCA noted that 70 percent of black kids and 60 percent of Hispanic kids cannot swim and that swim lessons could decrease the likelihood of drowning by as much as 88 percent.
So the Y came up with Lexington Swims as a way of targeting young children who are at risk of fulfilling that statistic. The students will be bussed to a Y facility close to their school for morning or afternoon sessions.
“We want the kids in our community to learn safety skills and how to be safe around water,” said David Martorano, president and CEO of YMCA. “Many don’t get the opportunity to do that.”
Follow-up swim lessons will be offered through the fall, he sad.
I probably should look into adult lessons and try again to learn. My sister did, and so did my brother, who spent about six years in the Navy.
By learning, I would at least save money spent on giant inner tubes for myself.

Check your skills
How water competent are you and your children?
About 54 percent of Americans cannot swim. Just 40 percent of parents say their children ages 4-17 can perform all five basic swimming skills, yet 92 percent say that their child is likely to enjoy water activities this summer. Below is a list of the five basic swimming skills. Can you or your children pass the test?
■ Can you jump or step into water above your head and return to the surface?
■ Can you float or tread water for one minute?
■ Can you turn around in the water and find an exit?
■ Can you swim 25 yards or the length of a pool?
■ Can you exit the water without using a ladder?
Information: To learn more about adult or child swimming lessons at the YMCA of Central Kentucky, visit YMCACKY.org.

June 5th, 2014

BMW idea redefining image of black men

Fifteen high school seniors walked to the podium one by one donning caps etched with the initials of a college or university they plan to attend.
Friends and relatives captured the moment in photos and on video while the 200 in attendance cheered.
You’d think the young men were announcing their intentions to take their athletic skills to a top NCAA school.
Instead, the celebration honored young black men who will be attending a college or university based on their academic prowess.
Wow.
The announcements came during the Academic Signing Day & Luncheon for the graduating seniors who had attended the BMW Academy at First Baptist Church Bracktown.

Rev. Frederick Haynes speaks at the Senior Academic Signing Luncheon at Lexington Convention Center in Lexington, Ky.  Photo by Matt Goins

Rev. Frederick Haynes speaks at the Senior Academic Signing Luncheon at Lexington Convention Center in Lexington, Ky.
Photo by Matt Goins

The schools were Eastern Kentucky University, Middle Tennessee State University, Morehead State University, Northern Kentucky University, the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, North Carolina State University, Ohio University, Western Kentucky University and the Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program (AMT) at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.
Founded in 2005 by longtime Fayette County public schools educator Roszalyn Akins, Black Males Working (BMW) is a private academic enrichment program for black boys, meeting from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. They are taught math, literacy and foreign languages, and they are tutored in preparation for the ACT and SAT tests. Additionally, they tour various college campuses during the summer months.
The program has been so successful that BMW academies for younger boys have been spawned at the church, as well as the Carter G. Woodson Academy, an intense new program for boys in grades 6-9 at Crawford Middle School.
More than 200 elementary, middle school and high school boys attend the BMW academy. Akins said the average ACT score for black males in Kentucky is 15.8. For BMW participants, ACT scores average 22.4.
The keynote speaker for the luncheon was the Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III, senior pastor of the 12,000-member Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas.
Referencing the Trayvon Martin shooting death, Haynes said too often black boys are labeled as suspects for no other reason than their attire.
“They are labeled, limited and eliminated,” he said.
But black people should light a candle instead of continuously cursing the darkness.
“Start a movement,” he said, “a movement like BMW. Make a difference.”
He called on churches to do as Bracktown has done: change the statistics that place black males “on the top of everything negative and the bottom of everything positive.”
Waving to the young men sitting on the dais with him, Haynes said, “They represent a movement where you make up your mind to refuse to be a negative statistic.”
“There is power in knowing who you are,” he said. “Don’t discover who you are; define who you are. Then spend the rest of your life living up to that. Redefine what it means to be a black man.”
In Dallas, Haynes helped create THR!VE Intern & Leadership Program, a summer internship opportunity designed to provide male students with employment opportunities. The program hopes to equip high school students with skills they need to gain professional experience in a variety of career fields.
The program will employ boys and young men at a minimum rate of at least $10 per hour providing experience in fields such as law, health, technology, architecture, aeronautics and business.
Students in the BMW program must have good school attendance, good conduct at home and school, attend Saturday sessions, maintain at least a 2.5 grade-point average, and be willing to improve class work. TV and video game time is limited, replaced by reading.
They have toured various colleges, and some have even toured Europe in recent years.
Those tours broadened one former student’s view of the world. George Livingston IV, who graduated from Louisville this spring after attending on a full scholarship, said he was one of the first students to attend BMW in 2005 as an eighth-grader.
After taking the college tours, he said, “I remember how big the world got.”
BMW and Akins “gave him the support, exposure and mind-set to succeed,” he said.
As they donned the caps and had African stoles draped on their shoulders, each student was handed a copy of Oh, the Places You Will Go! by Dr. Seuss, a book that has become a favorite graduation speech.
Inside, Akins had written a special note to each young man.
“They are special because they have been with us since middle school,” Akins said. “Most of them are very grounded. I got them when they were still young and could mold them. And they have a special bond with each other, too.”
Haynes said, “The only way black males will rise up is if we all know we have a stake in their success.”
I’m willing to do that: Congratulations, young men. Go make me proud.

May 29th, 2014

Maya Angelou: “Poet is much too small a word”

I don’t think many people my age, or nearing my age, heard the news of Maya Angelou’s death without gasping.
The woman who transformed herself from an intentional mute into the voice of a people, a generation and a movement, was found dead in her Wake Forest, N.C., home Wednesday. She had been ill in recent days, forced to cancel a visit to the Major League Baseball Civil Rights Game ceremony, but, true to her desire for privacy, her illness was never revealed.maya
Angelou, born Marguerite Johnson and raised in Stamps, Ark., and San Francisco, was a rape victim at 7, a single mother at 17, a stripper, dancer, calypso singer, street car conductor and actress long before writing her first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, at 40.
The story about living in the American South in the 1930s and 1940s, of being raped and oppressed, is considered an American classic.
“There is no way an obituary can say poet and stop there,” said Frank X Walker, Kentucky Poet Laureate and winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry. “Poet is much too small a word.”
Angelou took risks by unveiling so much of her past, a life filled with tragic events early on. After she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend and he was later found dead, “I thought my voice had killed the man,” Angelou said years later. “And I thought if I spoke, my voice might just go out and kill anybody, randomly, and I stopped speaking for six years.”
That eloquent voice and poetic words of wisdom are now quite familiar. Both command respect.
“She could tell and sing a story in the same sweet dazzling breath,” said Nikky Finney, 2011 National Book Award winning poet who taught at the University of Kentucky for 20 years before returning to her native South Carolina.
“It didn’t matter who or what you were, when she walked in the room, even the silverware got quiet. She was a queen. She was majestic. She was our great humanitarian.”
Finney said she learned about survival, struggle and the resilience of the human heart from Angelou’s example. “In this moment of stunning loss, it feels like a great human library has burned to the ground,” Finney said.
Finney recalled the time she opened for Angelou about 20 years ago at a black women’s film festival in Denver. The 300-seat venue was packed with Angelou lovers, she said. Finney’s job was to read her work until Angelou arrived.
During the last 15 minutes of her reading, she noticed Angelou standing stage right, arms folded with her left hand on her chin, listening intently.
“I wondered how long she had been standing there,” Finney said.mayaangelou
After her reading Finney was ushered to a seat to listen to Angelou, whom she had never met. When Angelou finished  — after singing and reading for two hours — a man approached Finney. He was Angelou’s chauffeur and he asked Finney to have dinner with Angelou.
On the way to an Italian restaurant, Angelou told Finney, “‘You are a poet and your words link home to family,’” Finney recalled. “‘You tell the stories and the family hears you,’ she said. I will never forget that.”
Angelou knew Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, and was very active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Although she dropped out of high school to support her son, she read hungrily and was self-taught in various disciplines and several languages. She was awarded more than 30 honorary degrees.
“She was that rare human that not only saw the importance of self love, but found a way to praise and savor life while still acutely acknowledging its overwhelming darkness,” said Ada Limón, a renowned Mexican-American poet who lives in Lexington. “In her example, I not only see the definitive guide on how to be a writer, but how to be a woman, a human, a teacher, a giver, a lover of the world, a practitioner of forgiveness and a champion of truth.”
Neil Chethik, author and director of Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning, agreed. “Ms. Angelou believed writing was a sacred act, and she seemed to appreciate writers in the best possible way: she believed everyone had talent, everyone should be heard, and everyone should be forgiven.”
Angelou was also a passionate teacher and longtime professor at Wake Forest University. “I realize that if I had taught before I had written a book. I might never have written a book. I love to teach. I am a teacher,” she said.
Contacted as she was leaving a speaking engagement at Raceland-Worthington High School in Raceland, Ky., poet Bianca Spriggs said Angelou is the reason she is a poet.
“I was a freshman at Transy (Transylvania University) when I saw her speak at the Singletary Center,” Spriggs said. “I was 18. It was the first time I had ever heard a poet live.
“She said people need to go and read and write poetry and I thought she was talking directly to me,” she recalled. “So I went home and started writing these little things I thought were poems.
“We just lost a very, very great person,” Spriggs continued. “The world is grayer.”
The high school students she spoke to in Raceland weren’t familiar with Angelou’s work, Spriggs said. She took time to explain, to teach.
“What I’m doing today is her legacy,” Spriggs said.
Another part of that legacy is Angelou’s ability to take the frightening and uncertain aspects of life and make them less so just by telling her own story of survival and success and connecting with ordinary people.
Young black girls are transformed when they recite her poems, And Still I Rise, or Phenomenal Woman. Walker said his sisters would not call themselves readers, but each of them had read at least one of Angelou’s books.
“She was the people’s laureate,” said award-winning author Crystal Wilkinson who teaches at Morehead State University and Louisville’s Spalding University. “Her poetry was simple but not simplistic. Accessible. A person could read it on a street corner or in a classroom.”
“She has earned her place with the ancestors,” Walker said. “I don’t know anybody anywhere who didn’t speak of her in regal terms. She commanded that.”

May 29th, 2014

Lexington students forging new bridge to government

A group of high school students will take over the city council chambers Friday, and they mean business.
The group, with a designated mayor, vice mayor and 14 council members, will debate and vote on ordinances and resolutions they have devised as part of Youth in Government Day.
The event was conceived as a means of introducing the government process to young people — in this case, members of the Mayor’s Youth Council — while familiarizing government officials with the ideas and opinions of young people.
“I am so excited to be able to show the city of Lexington what we are capable of and that we have a voice,” said Meghana Kudrimoti, 17, who will serve as mayor. “We are going to be the future of Lexington and carry this on for generations to come.”
Meghana came up with the idea of the special day after reading the mission statement for the MYC, which the faux elected officials joined when school started last fall. That statement said the group was formed to open a bridge between youth and the government and release the untapped voice of Lexington’s youth, she said.

Ross Boggess and Meghana Kudrimoti, the youth vice mayor and mayor, respectively, for next week’s Youth in Government Day, met with real Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.

Ross Boggess and Meghana Kudrimoti, the youth vice mayor and mayor, respectively, for next week’s Youth in Government Day, met with real Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.

“That was the one thing we had not addressed,” she said. “I was thinking about what we could do to fulfill that.”
Meghana met her council representative, Harry Clarke, 10th District, and asked how the youth could be more involved in the work he does. They, along with Jodie Koch, community partners coordinator for Partners for Youth, the parent agency of the MYC, settled on the takeover.
The youth elected their own political leaders and then met with the real officials and their aides.
Ross Boggess, 17, the group’s vice mayor, said the youth have met with several civic leaders throughout the year. “We got content we won’t learn in public school,” Ross said. “We had a pizza dinner with the mayor and (Superintendent) Tom Shelton from Fayette County Public Schools. That was something special even if it was just pizza.
“And Mayor Gray asked us how we would make the Rupp Arena project more youth-friendly,” he said.
Partners for Youth was the brainchild of former Mayor Pam Miller who founded the agency in 1995 a few months  after the shooting death of Tony Sullivan, a black teenager, by Sgt. Phil Vogel, a white police officer in 1994. The shooting revealed the need for more interaction with the city’s youth and the PFY was formed to give resources to organizations focused on young people.
Miller later created the MYC to give young people leadership skills and guidance from mentors and city leaders.
Koch said the group averages 20 to 25 students each year from both public and private high schools. This year, she said, the goal was to have more community service ventures and to connect with government. The takeover is “a great foot in the door,” she said.
The government day will begin at 10:30 a.m. and feature both the youth and their elected counterparts. There will be time for commissioners to comment as well as the general public, just like regular council sessions. Fayette County has given students permission to attend the event as well.
“It is part of a civic education,” said Stephanie Hong, director of the Division of Youth Services. “You start them out young and plant those seeds that their opinion matters.”
While the council chamber takeover isn’t hostile, it will be informative and quite serious.
Meghana said the group has written ordinances concerning prohibiting smoking in cars when children are present; the formation of citizen advisory committees for each council member; and creating three $10,000 college scholarships for graduating seniors. And there is a resolution honoring Vicki Reynolds, world languages department chair and Latin teacher at Tates Creek High School.

Meghana Kudrimoti, left, worked with 10th District Councilman Harry Clarke to set up the youth takeover.

Meghana Kudrimoti, left, worked with 10th District Councilman Harry Clarke to set up the youth takeover.

“At least for myself and, speaking for most of the rest of the council, (this experience) has helped me in becoming more active and in knowing how to advocate,” said Ross, who voted for the first time in the recent primary because he will turn 18 this year. “It has been good being able to reach out to council members. I didn’t know the difference between an ordinance and a resolution before.”
Meghana, Ross said, deserves all the credit for getting the project started.
“I’ve always been interested in helping people,” Meghana said. “Both my parents are doctors and they save lives. But you don’t have to be a doctor to save a person’s life.
“You can be a politician and make their life better,” she continued. “I’ve definitely taken a turn in what I can do in the future.”
After watching Koch and Laura Hatfield, PFY executive director, working with community programs, Meghana has been inspired. “I want to do something like that,” she said. “I just want to be like them.”
If the members of MYC are examples of our next generation of leaders, then a youth takeover is exactly what this city, this state and the country needs.

 

IF YOU GO
What: Youth in Government Day, a mock Urban County Council meeting conducted by the Mayor’s Youth Council.
When: 10:30 a.m. May 30.
Where: Council Chambers, Government Center, 200 East Main St.

« Previous PageNext Page »