March 26th, 2014

Sponsors seek Legos, T-shirts, hard hats to expand construction contest for kids

What would you build using 100 toy building blocks of various sizes, 12 inches of string, an 18-inch square of aluminum foil, an 18-inch square of poster board and a rock?
Ralph Bright, 9, a third-grade student in the Quest Program at Meadowthorpe Elementary School, built a “house with an aluminum foil covering that protected it from the environment,” said Melissa C. Bright, his mother.
“The rock was the moon and the string kept the moon in orbit.”

Anthony Lewis, center left, a construction management student at Eastern Kentucky University, volunteered to judge the Block Kids Building Competition in February. Ralph Bright, 9, center right, a student at Meadowthorpe, explained his creation to Lewis as part of the judging process. Bright won first place.

Anthony Lewis, center left, a construction management student at Eastern Kentucky University, volunteered to judge the Block Kids Building Competition in February. Ralph Bright, 9, center right, a student at Meadowthorpe, explained his creation to Lewis as part of the judging process. Bright won first place.

Well, of course. That makes perfect sense.
Bright was the overall winner in the Block Kids Building Competition in February, sponsored by the Bluegrass Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction. Juliann Hyatt placed second and Rebecca Carlson was third. Thirty Meadowthorpe students participated.
Photos of Ralph’s creation and judging notes were sent to a regional contest and, had he been successful there, to the national competition.
Melissa Bright was drawn to Block Kids because it gave her son an opportunity to use his imagination to build something and then discuss it with someone in construction, she said.
“He was excited that he had someone who wanted to talk about it and who understood,” she said.
The contest was open to students at Meadowthorpe, but Bright and Diana Hagan, president of the Block Kids program for the local chapter of the association, want it to be a citywide event for elementary students.
“I am an enthusiastic parent,” Bright said. “I have pledged funds toward growing this project to a citywide competition.”
Hagan is hoping to reach more people like Bright.
“We are trying to get 100 to 150 or more students next year,” she said.
That will require sponsorships for T-shirts, prizes, construction-themed goody bags, hard hats and Legos, as well as volunteer judges from the construction field, and a space big enough to hold all those students.
“During our event, many children hear for the first time about different areas of construction or ways they can be involved from office work to field workers, architects and planners, engineers, managers, suppliers and more,” said Hagan, a project engineer with Messer Construction Co. “This is just one way we can open their minds to the endless possibilities of a career in construction.”
Hagan joined the association when she was in college. The local chapter has 30 members and welcomes women in the construction industry to their monthly meetings on the third Thursday of the month at the Griffin Gate Marriott Resort and Spa. Visit for more information.
In addition to Block Kids, the group also hosts the Ms. Fix-it Fair, which teaches basic information about plumbing and electrical repair, how to work with tile, drywall repair, home weatherization, gardening and home decorating in 45-minute classes throughout a one-day event.
This year’s fair will be in the summer, Hagan said, and there will be a new format. Details are still in the works. Keep checking for more information.
But back to the Block Kids. The program was created in Biloxi, Miss., by Erma Lamousin, a member of the Greater Mississippi Gulf Coast chapter of the association. In 1989, it went national.
The program is open to children in elementary school, which ends at fifth grade in Fayette County, but extends to sixth grade in other regions of the nation.
“Even if we don’t get enough sponsorship next year for a Lexington-wide event,” Hagan said, “we plan to switch elementary schools to give different schools the opportunity to participate.”
I love this idea. I don’t think I would be as traumatized by this competition as I was with my children’s science fair projects.
There is nothing for parents to provide, no need to push for weeks for the child to complete the project, and no fear of failure by the child.
The children walk into the competition and allow their imaginations to take over.
This is an idea worth supporting.

The Bluegrass Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction needs help to expand the 2015 Block Kids Building Competition to more elementary students in Fayette County.
Contact: Diana Hagan at (859) 230-3150 or by email at

March 14th, 2014

Lafayette choir’s event to feature a high note in history

In the summer of 1988, the Soviet Union canceled a scheduled rock concert in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
The small country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe was first occupied by the Soviet Union in 1939, then by the Nazis and again by the Soviet Union. It had been under outside control for more than half a century. It had no army and no weapons with which to fight the oppression.
By the end of World War II, more than 25 percent of the Estonian population had been deported to Siberia, executed or had fled the country.
Having a concert ­canceled seemed minor compared to what the Estonians had been through.
But something was changing. Beginning in 1987, the small country had been testing Soviet resolve by singing rock songs that called for independence. So when the concert in Tallinn was stopped in 1988, the crowd walked three miles to a familiar field where ­festivals were held and began to sing.
For six nights they sang Estonian patriotic songs and waved Estonian flags that had been stored away.
Thus began a peaceful rebellion that would lead to the Republic of Estonia’s independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. The rebellion was known as the Singing Revolution.
“It is a really fascinating story,” said Ryan Marsh, director of the Lafayette High School Choir. “They have a 150-year-old tradition of gathering every five years on the song festival grounds. The stage is built to accommodate 30,000 singers, and there are another 200,000 people in the audience. It gave them the solidarity to push forward.”
That series of protests and the change it brought nonviolently is retold in a 2006 award-winning documentary film called The Singing Revolution.poster
Filmmakers James and Maureen Castle Tusty, who learned of the revolution while teaching at Estonia University in 1999, began interviewing Estonia leaders and residents in 2001. After four years of filming and editing, they created the documentary. They have made it available to ­Lafayette as a fundraiser for the choral program, Marsh said. The choral program will get 75 percent of the proceeds from ticket sales.
“We are raising money for the equipment fund,” Marsh said. “Our boosters provide a lot, but we don’t have enough funding to support the program, so we are building a fund.”
One item on his list of needs is a piano, he said. Other items are acoustical shells, or panels that reflect sound toward the audience, and risers and platforms for performances.
The Lafayette choral ­program has 200 members in its 75th season, Marsh said.
With the Russian ­occupation of Crimea, an ­autonomous pro-Russian republic within Ukraine, students can get a better historical perspective on those current events by viewing the film. Russia is again thrusting its might on smaller nearby countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.
To see that threat unfolding now and to realize a small country pushed back through music, is a lesson everyone can appreciate.
Marsh became more familiar with Estonia’s story while working on a world music project at the University of Kentucky. His desire to know more led him to get in touch with the Tustys, who offered the partnership to the choral program.
The Singing Revolution will be shown at 7 p.m. March 15 at the Lexington Christian Academy, 450 Reynolds Road. Tickets are $10 and are available online or by phone.
The film allows us to honor another country’s courage and resolve against oppressive power, he said. “They literally changed the world.”
To reinforce that ­history, the choir will sing two patriotic Estonian songs as the credits roll.
“Part of what we are called to do as educators is help students understand the connection between music and culture,” Marsh said.

What: The ­documentary The Singing ­Revolution, to benefit the ­Lafayette High School Choir equipment fund.
When: 7 p.m., March 15.
Where: Lexington Christian Academy, 450 W. Reynolds Rd.
Tickets: $10 online at ­, or by phone at 859-687-6100.

March 14th, 2014

North side finally gets breast-feeding support group

There wasn’t much talk going around about breast-feeding when my daughter was born in the 1970s. So I never considered it.
But when my youngest child was born prematurely in 1990, there were no ifs, ands or buts about it. He had to be given the best opportunity at optimum health and weight gain. The neonatal nurses, his pediatrician and I all knew breast milk was the best option.
There were difficulties and a disconnect in the beginning while he was hospitalized. Pumping to provide milk for him was no fun. But weeks later, when he squirmed around and worked his way over to my breast during kangaroo care, a skin-to-skin technique for preemies, I knew everything would be fine.
Since then, I try to talk about breast-feeding to all the pregnant women I know and even some that I meet for the first time. I didn’t see many young minority women heeding my words, however.
That’s why I was happy to get an email from breast-feeding advocate Doraine Bailey, of the Lexington Fayette County Health Department, announcing a new breast-feeding support group that would meet on the north side of town.
Finally, there will be a breast-feeding support group on the north side of Lexington.
“That is part of what is so exciting about this for me,” Bailey said. “It will be more accessible to folks who live downtown and on the north side.”
Two other groups, hosted by the La Leche League of Greater Lexington, meet at Baby Moon off Richmond Road twice a month. But many of the women Bailey wants to reach may not have transportation to that location.
The new group, Breast-feeding Moms Club, will meet at 1 p.m., March 21 at the health department’s Public Health Clinic North, 805A Newtown Circle. It is supported in part by the Frankfort/Lexington Chapter of The Links Inc.
“We are right off New Circle Road and on the bus line,” she said.
When I asked why this group is necessary, Bailey said there are new mothers who may be the first in their families to nurse.
“Sometimes the easy community, our families or the people we associate with, may not be the best sources of information, or provide a positive pat on the back,” she said. “For those who choose to breast-feed, we want to be there to help them meet their goals.”
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 Breast-feeding Report Card, about 75 percent of mothers in the United States start out breast-feeding. At the end of six months, 43 percent of babies are breast-fed, 13 percent exclusively.
For black babies, 58 percent start out breast-feeding, with 28 percent still breast-feeding at six months, and only 8 percent breast-fed exclusively at that point.
Breast milk is what human babies are designed to have as their food, Bailey said.
“You can call that evolution or God’s design. That is how we as humans are designed to feed our babies. It is an extension of the perfect nutrition the baby got during gestation.
“Babies who are not breast-fed do not get the same quality of vitamins, minerals and nutrients to protect their health and their brains,” she said.
Mothers who do not breast-feed miss out on some of the subtle aspects of growing into motherhood, she explained. For example, they lose the personal immune boost and reduced risks of breast and ovarian cancers.
There is also supposed to be a reduction of weight for the mother, but I missed out on that one.
Bailey, an international board-certified lactation consultant, said there will be knowledgeable people at the meeting who can walk mothers through uncertainties and problems. Scales will be there for those with questions about their babies’ weight, and healthful snacks for the mother. Private space will be provided for nursing.
Although breast-feeding is the best method for feeding newborns, it is not easy. And if no one supports the new mother, she might give it up too quickly.
“Any time we are faced with change, either to lose weight or quit smoking, it helps to have like-minded people with you,” Bailey said. “Every new mom, even if it is her third or fourth child, craves community.
“We constantly have new moms,” she added. “We are not banging a drum to make people breast-feed. But for those who choose to breast-feed, we want to be there to help them meet their goals.”

Breast-feeding groups
Breast-feeding Moms Club: 1 p.m. every third Friday of the month, beginning March 21. Public Health Clinic North, 805A Newtown Circle.
La Leche League of Greater Lexington: 7:15 p.m. every second Tuesday of the month, and 12:30 p.m. every fourth Monday of the month. Baby Moon, Suite 103 Shelton Place, 2891 Richmond Road.
Call the Breast-feeding Warm Line: (859) 288-2348.

March 14th, 2014

Non-whites’ optimism about U.S. took root, flourished with Obama

According to a January Gallup Poll, the gap between how white people and non-white people view this country’s current situation has grown wider than ever in recent history.
I didn’t think that was all that surprising.
Since the economy’s nose-dive, many non-white citizens are forced to survive on less money and fewer jobs in neighborhoods with substandard housing. Many see more violence in their streets and they watch politicians puncture social programs designed to keep them afloat.
Add to that scenario stand-your-ground laws that make cannon fodder of their youth and laws that try to make it harder for them to vote.
What you end up with is a group of non-white citizens totally dissatisfied with their country.obama
That’s what I thought, anyway, before reading further and discovering how wrong I was: The people dissatisfied with their country were the white citizens.
That blew my mind. It blew the minds of pollsters as well who struggled to find out just what was going on.
The Gallup’s Mood of the Nation poll, conducted Jan. 5-8, asked people to rate the present standing of the U.S., on a scale of 0-10. A rating of 5 was considered neutral. Six and above was positive.
For non-whites, 57 percent of the respondents had a positive view of this country. For whites, the number was only 33 percent.
Thinking those numbers might be a fluke, I found another survey, released by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in August, 2013, that said the same thing. Blacks and Hispanics, despite being hit hard by the economy, reported high levels of optimism.
In that poll, 46 percent of whites said they had a good chance of improving their living standards, while 71 percent of blacks and 73 percent of Hispanics believed their lives would improve.
The pollsters said it was the biggest gap with whites since 1987, and, in both cases they credited President Barack Obama for the optimism. It seems that blacks and Hispanics could look at the most powerful leader in the world and see someone who looks like them, someone who wasn’t necessarily supposed to achieve such success. Obama became a symbol of hope.
I think that bears some truth.
But I also believe watching Obama suffer the same sting of racism as non-whites experience on their jobs has something to do with the unexplained optimism, as well.
For example, when my mother sent me to fifth grade at a previously all-white school, she told me I could not be as good as my fellow white students, I had to be better than them.
It was her way of saying a bunch of stuff was going to happen to me, but if I just did my best, worked harder, everything would turn out fine. Other mothers of color have said similar things to their children.
It was the “keep your eye on the prize” philosophy and not “keep your eyes on the dogs chewing at your heels.”
Blacks or Hispanics have never seen that confirmed on the national stage until Obama was elected president. He has been labeled incompetent, unintelligent, and a usurper of the presidency. And yet, when he worked hard and stayed focus, he was re-elected.
There was hope again, a hope that had been fading for many, many years.
Show of hands: How many of you black people thought Obama would be president? I know I didn’t.
Now, there is no reason to say it cannot be done.
Motivational speaker and author Wayne Dyer has said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” How true.
The problem is not your external circumstances, not your lack of a paycheck or how people perceive you. Those situations may always be there. The president, after all, still has to deal with being black in a country that has not fully embraced that.
Our problem is cultivating enough hope to create a better future for ourselves and our children. According to these two polls we are doing just that.
In this season, when Christians are celebrating the resurrection of the promise, we must keep in mind how our mothers told us to live.
When it all boils down, that lesson was for us to walk by faith, not by sight.
Living like that is always filled with hope.

February 27th, 2014

Affordable housing apparently is not a priority for city leaders

In January, Facebook friends helped a familiar homeless woman find shelter for the winter.
They feared Dorothy — who pushed carts filled with plastic bags around Chevy Chase and Woodland Park — might come to great harm in the frigid temperatures.
Led by Debra Hensley, an insurance agent, former council member and co-chair of the Mayor’s Commission on Homelessness, the group — with help from the local police — found a motel room for Dorothy and she agreed to stay there.
Hensley said she would not have been comfortable going home to her warm house while a woman she didn’t really know, but whom she cared about, could be left in the cold to die.
That’s called talking the talk and walking the walk. Helping Dorothy was important to Hensley.
I bring that up because, yet again, another report has been presented to our local government officials that says Lexington is a prosperous city that is not caring for the least of its residents.
The latest report, from czb consultants, said we need to invest $3 to $4 million initially to address the city’s $36 million affordable housing problem.
It’s basically the same recommendations offered a year ago by the homelessness task force. Back then, Hensley said the city had a housing crisis.
And that followed several years of pleas from BUILD, a faith-based group that for years has been challenging city leaders to address the issue of a shortage of safe housing for lower income families by establishing an Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Still, at the council work session Tuesday, a majority of Lexington’s leaders were unwilling to walk the walk. The council voted to delay the establishment of the housing fund that so many advocates have said we need.
Mayor Jim Gray, whose vote broke the tie and postponed a decision until April 15, said everything is going according to plan. “I intend to do what I said I would do,” he said, and that means including affordable housing in the budget he will propose on April 8. “I have a lot of questions, though, still.”
Why are there still questions after all this time? Had our mayor hoped this report would come back sugar-coating the housing crisis we have? None of the others did.
Had he hoped that somehow the problem would just go away? Well, it didn’t. The consultants said it is getting worse.
Chris Ford, first district councilman, said he was disappointed with the lack of action by the mayor and his fellow council members.
“I was very surprised,” he said. “I don’t know why they are opposed to it. The issue is just not important.”
Well, it is to Hensley, who posted this question on her Facebook page: “Would you buy a ‘membership’ to help create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund since it seems our elected officials keep kicking the can down the road?”
She was referring to reports that city leaders were trying to find new ways to fund the $310 million renovations to Rupp Arena, including selling memberships to the Big Blue Nation fan base.
We can devote time to coming up with innovative ways to pay for a revamped Rupp, but we have questions about paying for affordable housing.
“I believe in examining these issues carefully,” Gray said. “Three years ago I was urging caution about (Rupp Arena) expectations. Even today we are only at step five.
“I believe the same thing about this (affordable housing),” he said. “I didn’t suppress any of this report.”
True. In fact, as the report was about to be unveiled to the public, Gray said, “After looking at the report, it is a demonstration that we are not afraid of the unvarnished facts.”
I don’t think our government has ever been afraid of the facts, no matter how many times the same data have been presented. What our government is afraid of is         action.
So, like so many others, I will wait to see how much money the mayor has in his budget for folks like Dorothy and the low-wage worker who is struggling to avoid becoming a Dorothy.
“We really should be thinking about what the people want,” Ford said. Tuesday “was a rough day, but we are going to keep fighting.”
I am, too.

February 27th, 2014

It’s past time to get rid of the shame of mental illness

Evelyn Morton has been working through depression all of her life.
In the past, when the mood swings came, she isolated herself, choosing to hide her condition rather than reveal it. That may have been a good thing.
The black community has not been very supportive of those with mental illness, even though we experience rates of mental health issues similar to those of the general population. Blacks sometimes consider mental illness a weakness, which is why only about a third of those in need of treatment seek it.

Evelyn Morton

Evelyn Morton

Labeled by some in society as the weakest link in all humanity, blacks don’t want to admit a personal frailty, supposedly diminishing that link even more.
Fortunately, Morton is over all of that silly thinking.
She has been working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Lexington, earning certificates in mental illness first aid, in suicide prevention and in advocacy, so she can help educate others.
“I have lived in Lexington all my life, 63 years,” she said. “My family is very prominent. I can make a difference.”
Morton’s sister, Lula Morton Drewes, was the first black student to enroll at Transylvania University in 1963. Drewes became a clinical psychologist and wellness coach practicing in Germany and the United States.
Still visiting in Lexington since she was honored in September by Transylvania on the 50th anniversary of her enrollment, Drewes wrote a message to NAMI Lexington, which is posted on its website.
“We gain power and open up possibilities for help and healing when we stop hiding our mental health problems and start to talk about feelings like sadness, depression, fear, anxiety, panic, helplessness, nervousness, guilt and stress.”
The headline on her text is the African proverb, “We cannot heal what we conceal.”
“In general, rather than focusing on the problems and what’s not working, more and more people are finding that courage,” Drewes said. “It’s OK to talk about it.”
And that is how NAMI is helping her sister, she said.
“What NAMI has been for her is an organization that is a proactive initiative that helps people feel they are not alone,” Drewes said.
That’s because they aren’t alone.
About one in four Americans suffer with a mental health issue to a varying degree.
In the minority community, poverty, racism, illness and violence are contributing stressors, according to mental health experts. And blacks relied on friends and family members who told them their issues would blow over, or they sought the counsel of pastors, who often supplied a stock answer for them to pray.
Education and awareness of mental illness are changing that.
Morton, who said she had been unaware of NAMI until recent weeks, is now in training to take the reins of the  Multicultural Action Council, which reaches out to minority communities with information and education.
“God places you in places you need to be,” she said.
Drewes said working at NAMI is a perfect fit for her sister, who is a natural, intuitive psychologist.
“Her personal experience and her gifts” will serve her well, she said.
Even Washington is getting in on the act. Last year, at a White House National Conference on Mental Health, President Barack Obama said, “You see commercials on TV about a whole array of physical health issues, some of them very personal. And yet, we whisper about mental health issues and avoid asking too many questions.
“There should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love,” he said. “We’ve got to get rid of that embarrassment; we’ve got to get rid of that stigma.”
Kelly Gunning, NAMI Lexington director of operations, agreed. “We cannot continue to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. It’s got to stop.”
Morton is ready to do her part. “I hope my new position will allow me to get out, not just to the black community, but to all communities to tell people about this organization.”
In honor of Black History Month, reach out to someone who is hurting and help them find the professional help they need.

In a crisis: Call the hotline, staffed by professionals, 24 hours a day, at (800) 273-8255.
Need to talk: Call the warm line, staffed by peers, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 5-9 p.m. Saturday at (877) 840-5167.

February 27th, 2014

A Lexington man is wiping out a need by giving away diapers

I often hear folks say they want to give back to the community or help those in need, but they just don’t know how to go about it. And often, though they want to help, they also want assurance that their money or time will not be wasted.
I haven’t been as sympathetic toward those people as I probably should have been because, to me, their hesitancy has the ring of another excuse to avoid getting involved.

Timothy "Gip" Gibson, co-founder of Ten Kids, Inc. is surrounded by the seven Haitian children his non-profit is directly supporting in that country.

Timothy “Gip” Gibson, co-founder of Ten Kids, Inc. is surrounded by the seven Haitian children his non-profit is directly supporting in that country.

I say, if you have doubt about the intentions of others, do something good yourself.
Timothy “Gip” Gibson is an excellent example of that. In 2009, Gibson and his wife Kim co-founded Ten Kids Inc., a non-profit foundation based in Lexington that provides a safe home, food, water, clothing, medical care and education to a small number of children in Haiti.
Currently, the foundation is supporting seven children who have experienced physical, mental or sexual abuse. Ten Kids is also helping 21 other children and is working with organizations that strive to rid the Haitian population of intestinal parasites, caused by drinking unsanitary water.
Gip and Kim’s trips to Haiti have slowed recently because they have adopted a daughter, Irie.
“I’m trying to do more here because with a little one it is harder to get over there,” he explained. “I felt like I needed to do something in the community.”
His something? Last week Gibson bought boxes of diapers and wipes and headed for the Chrysalis House Inc., a recovery program for women.

Lisa Minton, executive director of Chrysalis House, and Sherry Jackson, office manager, show off some of the diapers and wipes donated by Gip Gibson for "Cover Our Butts." He started the project with a goal of gathering 5,000 diapers and wipes for the woman's substance abuse recovery program by March 1.

Lisa Minton, executive director of Chrysalis House, and Sherry Jackson, office manager, show off some of the diapers and wipes donated by Gip Gibson for “Cover Our Butts.” He started the project with a goal of gathering 5,000 diapers and wipes for the woman’s substance abuse recovery program by March 1.

“I thought they would be able to use them,” he said. “I also wanted to see how they would handle it when people bring them things.”
That’s when he met Sherry Jackson, office manager at Chrysalis, who was warm and appreciative, he said.
“Whenever I look at partnering with somebody, I want to test to see the response before I ask my friends and family to support them,” Gibson said, explaining that he talked with the women before telling them about the diapers he was donating.
Jackson and executive director Lisa Minton were surprised they had been tested but grateful they had passed the test.
“They picked us out of the blue,” Minton said, “and Sherry struck up a conversation.”
“I really did like him,” Jackson said.
Chrysalis House is the oldest and largest licensed substance abuse treatment program for women and their infant or toddler children in Kentucky. Older children can spend the night on weekends.
The program has a professional therapist specializing in the treatment of substance abuse and mental health disorders. Minton said 70 to 80 percent of the women have co-occurring disorders.
“We treat the woman as she comes to us,” Minton said.
The Chrysalis House also offers domestic violence programs and a child therapist.
A new facet is a mentoring program for women re-entering society from prison and some jails. The mentors begin relationships with the women while they are incarcerated, Minton said, and continue that program after their parole.
“When they get here, they have the mentor here to help,” she said. “It is different than an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. The mentor is a friend to talk to and work through issues with.”

Lisa Minton, executive director of Chrysalis House, and Sherry Jackson, office manager, show off some of the diapers and wipes donated by Gip Gibson for  "Cover Our Butts." He started the project  with a goal of  gathering 5,000 diapers and wipes for the woman's substance abuse recovery program by March 1.
Gibson talked with Jackson for a while during his visit and Jackson said she appreciated his interest in Chrysalis House.
“I had no clue who he was or why he was here,” Jackson said. “We had an instant connection.”
Gibson then told Jackson he had some diapers in the car he wanted to donate, and they went out to get them.
Minton Tweeted a photo of the diapers, saying, “Thank you to Ten Kids, Inc. for wonderful donations for our babies. We are so grateful for community support.”
Twenty-six babies were born to women at Chrysalis last year, so donations of diapers and wipes are appreciated.
Jackson sent out a thank-you letter within 24 hours of receiving the gift.
“That is just what I do,” she said.
Since then, Gibson has been sending out requests on his Twitter account and Facebook asking people to help donate 5,000 diapers and wipes to a campaign he’s calling “Cover Our Butts.” He has already received about 500 diapers from friends and people who follow him on social media.
Want to help? You can. Chrysalis prefers diapers sizes 1-6. The newborn size is outgrown too quickly. Diapers and wipes can be brought to the Ten Kids offices at 517 Southland Drive, Suite B. Or if you need it, Gibson will come and pick them up.
Monetary donations can be made on the Ten Kids website through PayPal, or by check. Gift cards are also welcome. One hundred percent of what is donated will go to the Chrysalis House.
“If you give me 20 bucks, I will buy $20 worth of diapers,” Gibson said.
Gibson’s generosity got me thinking: Can you imagine what this community, this state, this country or this world would be like if we all just picked one need and met it?

“Cover Our Butts” is a local campaign created to donate 5,000 diapers and wipes to Chrysalis House Inc., the oldest alcohol and substance abuse treatment program for women and their children in Kentucky.
To mail checks or drop off gift cards or diapers: Ten Kids Inc., 517 Southland Dr., Suite B, Lexington, Ky., 40503.
For pick-up: Call (859) 229-4536.
To donate online: Visit

February 27th, 2014

Danville’s Black Business District rescued from oblivion

Michael Hughes remembers, as a boy, leaving the segregated balcony of the Kentucky Theater in Danville and walking with his sister and cousin to his grandfather’s parked car down the street.
There, he watched, wide-eyed, all the bustling activity along Second Street until his grandfather returned.
“There were a lot of women going into one building where there was a lodge on the top floor,” Hughes said. “Another door would open and you could hear a jukebox playing. And there were white people pulling up on the street, probably buying from bootleggers.”
The activity impressed him so much, he ­couldn’t wait until he was old enough to be a part of all that. He didn’t realize that he was witnessing the heyday of Danville’s black business district, where blacks from Boyle and nearby counties came to spend their money and their time.

Marthetta Clark, Victoria DiMartile and Michael Hughes in front of the African-American Business District marker on Second Street in Danville. Photo provided by Danville Boyle County Economic Development Partnership.

Marthetta Clark, Victoria DiMartile and Michael Hughes in front of the African-American Business District marker on Second Street in Danville. Photo provided by Danville Boyle County Economic Development Partnership.

When he returned from Vietnam in 1970, change was evident. “When I hung out, it was dying,” he said.
Within three years, the buildings that so many people remembered fondly were razed and replaced with Constitution Square Park, a beautifully landscaped park on Second Street.
As with so many other urban areas after World War II, the Urban renewal Program came through Danville in 1973, and much of the city’s black business district that had stood for 100 years was demolished.
The federal program was meant to replace older, deteriorating buildings with parks or new construction that would reflect a new start.
Many positives resulted from that program, but a sense of history, neighborhood and unity sometimes occurred as well.
Gone were the black-owned barbershops, poolrooms, restaurants, hotels, doctor and dentist offices, and social and entertainment magnets that had thrived during segregation but had fallen on hard times when integration allowed blacks to spend their money elsewhere. When the money left, businesses failed. When businesses failed, repairs were hit-and-miss.
Hughes, 65, a musician and DJ, has researched the history of Second Street, and the black hamlets and settlements in and around Boyle County that sprang up after the Civil War.
His research was a hobby at first, but in December, it blossomed into the Danville-Boyle County African American Historical Society.
“I knew two or three other people who were working on history, too,” said Hughes, who is the president. “I contacted them. I thought it could be done much better if we formed our own organization and let it grow from there.”
Adding to the renewed interest in Danville’s black history was the work of Victoria DiMartile, a Centre College junior and an anthropology major, who interned with the Heart of Danville Main Street Program. It encourages historic preservation and vitality in downtown Danville.

Taxi stand on South Second Street in Danville around about 1947. Photo courtesy  Danville-Boyle County African American Historical Society.

Taxi stand on South Second Street in Danville around about 1947. Photo courtesy Danville-Boyle County African American Historical Society.

Hughes accompanied ­DiMartile, who is now studying abroad in France, on several interviews during the fall 2013 semester with residents who remembered how the area used to be.
More than 160 hours of her interviews and research culminated in a brochure produced by Heart of Danville called “You Don’t Ever Want to Forget Second Street: A Retrospective Guide to the African-American Business District.”
It recounts the vibrancy of the area and its decline beginning in the 1960s.
“From the get-go, we knew we wanted to produce an accessible brochure retelling the story of Second Street, allowing people to relive the difficulties as well as the success of this area, the injustice of urban renewal, but also the perseverance and spirit of the black community,” DiMartile wrote in an email.
Fortunately, there are folks who remember the business district firsthand.
Charles Grey, 71, used to be a dispatcher for the Elite Cab Company and was a member of Doric Lodge No. 18 for more than 30 years. He remembers when pool shark Minnesota Fats came through town, hustling games.
For decades, Grey has put together information about the old Bate School, the segregated school in Danville that closed in the 1960s, and he has compiled as much information as he can about the blacks who helped make Danville what it is today. He plans to put the information on a CD and give it to anyone who is interested.

The State Theater, the Henson Hotel and the Greyhound bus station on West Main Street.

The State Theater, the Henson Hotel and the Greyhound bus station on West Main Street.

“I feel the need to do this because I see how hard it is for me to find this material,” he said. “Generations after me won’t even know what to look for.”
That’s already happening.
Hughes interviewed a 92-year-old woman who ­remembered working at a restaurant in the district that no one else could recall. Then, while looking at a photograph of the 1939 dedication of the Ephraim McDowell House, he saw the restaurant in the background.
It’s because of those kinds of memories, and that kind of history, that a project like this matters.
“I want to inspire other counties to not let their history die,” he said. “I want the kids to know the significance of the people.”
At least one student knows already.
“This project has made me see cities with new eyes and with a more curious mind,” DiMartile wrote. “It has given me social and cultural awareness and understanding beginning right at my front door in Danville.”

To Get a Brochure
Visit the Heart of Danville Program offices in the Alban Goldsmith House in ­Constitution Square Park, at Walnut and Second streets.
If you go
Meeting of the Danville-Boyle County African American Historical Society
When: 6:30 p.m., March 4.
Where: Christ the Head ­Missionary Church, 845 East Main St., Danville.

February 27th, 2014

Still, gays hope visibility fuels progress

As I listened to Mark A. Johnson talking about his life, I wondered why the man has not caved under the stress of being gay in our society.
Johnson, a health equity and gay rights advocate, recalled having a crush on a male classmate in elementary school and sending love notes to him.
“I knew I was different when I was in elementary school,” he said. “I just never called it gay.”
He preferred reading a book to playing sports, which was not what society expected of a boy. The name-calling started as did Johnson’s many failed attempts to appear “normal.”

Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson

“All I wanted to do was read,” he said. “But the rumors started. I was effeminate, still am. People started saying I had sugar in my knees and calling me a sissy.”
He tried his hand at a couple of sports but failed, finally settling on playing in the school band, where he found refuge.
Still though, his voice was high-pitched and he was attracted to boys. No matter what roles he tried to play, those characteristics never changed and it was tiresome and stressful trying to be something he was not.
That may have been one reason Michael Sam, the former University of Missouri football star, publicly announced he is gay prior to the upcoming NFL Draft. Maybe he was just tired of hiding who he is. Maintaining a facade is draining.
Some in sports think Sam’s honesty will be detrimental to his future in sports. Others say it won’t.
“I hope and pray he gets in the NFL,” Johnson said softly.
Many gays are forced to hide their sexuality fearing negative reactions from friends, family and others.
“During high school,” Johnson said, “I had to play the role. I had girlfriends. I never had sex, but I kissed a few. It was like kissing a wet rag because I had no emotions, no feelings behind it. I felt I had to do the same thing everybody else did.”
A lot of pressure to conform comes from religious factions, especially in the black community.
As often as religion is given as the reason behind or the credit for laws that legally discriminate against gays, you’d think another’s sexual orientation is the only thing blocking the world’s entry into heaven.
At least 36 of 55 countries in Africa have made same-sex relationships illegal because of that country’s religious and cultural beliefs.
And last week, the House of Representatives in Kansas passed a bill that would allow individuals and businesses, because of their religious beliefs, to refuse service to same-sex couples. The measure now goes to the Senate.
None of that is surprising to Johnson. He and his partner of 17 years, John Moses, were made to feel so uncomfortable in a church service on Mother’s Day, they had to leave.
“I still have not gone back and spoken with that minister about gays,” Johnson said. “I’ve done that before and we do have some progressive ministers. I think we ought to invite all people into the church. That’s what Jesus would do. Then, when they listen to your sermon they can figure out their own relationship with God.”
There are signs of positive change, however, even in Kentucky.
Wednesday, a federal judge said Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, overturning a portion of a 1998 state law and a 2004 state constitutional amendment. And on Friday, two gay couples sued the state hoping to have Kentucky issue same-sex marriage licenses.
“We are making strides forward,” Johnson said. “Itty-bitty steps, but we have a long way to go.”
The black community has a reputation for being more anti-gay than other cultures because of religion, and a new documentary explores the validity of that claim.
The New Black, a 2013 documentary written, directed and produced by Yoruba Richen, explores how the black community and black churches are addressing gay rights. Richen said the film will be shown on the Public Broadcasting System in coming months.
In an interview, Richen said the traditional black church was a refuge from racism during the civil rights movement.
“The traditional black church still has that moral sway among us,” she said. “It is the repository for the civil rights movement.”
The film shows, however, how diverse the black community is and how families there are grappling with ways to meld the church and gay rights.
Johnson said tradition and a strong sense of masculinity in the minority community also play roles in how gays are treated. That aura pushes some married men to secretly have sexual relationships with gay men, Johnson said. The term is called on the down low or DL.
“Men are on the DL because they don’t feel free to be who they are,” he said. “In some focus groups I’ve conducted, they don’t even think they are cheating. They don’t think they are gay even though they have sex with a man.”
Were it not for his spiritual belief, his mother, siblings and his partner, Johnson said he doesn’t know what he would have done.
“My rock has been my faith and my mom,” he said. “I get emotional when I talk about that.”
He recognizes, however, that other gays in Lexington may need support as well.
Johnson and more than a dozen others including lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender residents have formed Bluegrass Black Pride, an advocacy group that is trying to unite the black LBGT community through a series of educational and entertainment events.
“We are tired of being invisible,” Johnson said. “We have contributed a lot to society and we do a lot for society. People take us for granted.”
Johnson said the group will be hosting an event at the Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center during the Roots & Heritage Festival in September. Mandy Carter, a founding member of the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBT people to end racism and homophobia, will speak, and the 2003 documentary Brother Outsider: the Life of Bayard Rustin, will be shown.
Rustin was an openly gay strategist, activist, mentor to Martin Luther King Jr., and the architect of the 1963 March on Washington, who remained in the background for the sake of the movement.
Johnson believes it’s time to come out of the shadows.
“If we keep it quiet, they love you,” he said. “But when you start advocating for yourself and for your community, then it is over.”
I hope not. Surely by now we know speaking out for fairness cannot be silenced.


February 14th, 2014

Car-buying process keeps my backside cold

Despite the extreme chill of the recent winter months, I’ve been out on car lots looking for a new car.
The car I drive, which technically is a truck, is a 1999 Toyota 4Runner I bought when it was two years old. My husband, son and daughter are all driving newer automobiles than mine. Until this winter, I couldn’t have cared less.
My car is paid for, it runs smoothly and looks good, and it manages to get up the hill that leads to our garage, even on snowy days.
I bought it after my previous SUV was squashed between two very large Mercedes-Benz sedans in Atlanta as my daughter sat in it. She was fine, but it was totaled and I was forced to get another ride.
For me, buying a car is traumatizing. I just don’t like it. But in 2001, I was forced to endure that trauma. This time around, as selfish as this sounds, I am buying an automobile, preferably another SUV, in order to have butt warmers.
There. I said it. I am shallow enough to admit that I am looking for a ride that has heated seats. If there are no heated seats, I will not consider it.
My sister recently bought a new car that has butt warmers, and my husband owns an SUV that has butt warmers. I am feeling left out, not to mention numbed by cold leather.
A couple of weekends ago, I neared a decision about a particular SUV. It was bigger than I really wanted, but the warmers were there as well as four-wheel drive.
Then came the negotiations and the trauma.
Why can’t the salesperson I’d been talking with make me a deal? Why does a sales manager, someone I haven’t established a relationship with, have to come in the picture?
And why is the “best” deal they can give me, not really that? Why can’t I get an interest rate on a car loan that matches my credit score?
I had my mind set on a 1.99 percent interest rate, which I knew my credit score warranted. But it took negotiating the rate down in slim increments over the next half hour or so before we all finally agreed on what I had asked for.
Then the finance man insisted I had to sign on the dotted line right then and there.
I work under a deadline on a regular basis, which is ripe with pressure. But I never sign contracts that way.
I left the car dealership.
And my rear end is still cold.
Recently, I read new research from the Center for Responsible Lending which said blacks and Latinos have to make more of an effort to negotiate their interest rates on dealer loans than do whites, and that even then, they may walk away with a higher rate.
According to the center’s report, “Non-Negotiable: Negotiation Doesn’t Help African-Americans or Latinos on Dealer-Financed Car Loans,” 39 percent of Latinos surveyed and 32 percent of blacks reported negotiating interest rates, while only 22 percent of white buyers did.
Now I’m even more afraid of buying a car.
What if I had taken the first rate offered to me, which was about a half of a percent higher? Over the life of the loan, how much more would I have been paying?
The center offered these tips for anyone, regardless of culture, who will be buying a car soon, maybe with his tax refund as a down payment:
■ Get pre-approved financing from somewhere else before going to the car lot. I had gotten approved by my credit union before going shopping, but I still hoped I could get a better deal.
■ Don’t listen to conversation about what your monthly payments might be. Sometimes salespeople talk about that as a means of making a car loan look more affordable. Look at the entire cost of the loan.
■ Check out how much the insurance will cost you and how much license registration and maintenance will take out of your household budget as well.
■ If the budget is tight, consider saving more money before making a purchase. That will lessen the amount of loan money you will need.
I thought I had prepared well enough to bargain from a position of strength. I had gotten tips from my boss and friends, and I thought I had all my ducks in a row. But I still was turned off by the process.
I’m going to try again soon. I’m hearing that we can expect a hot summer this year. That means not only do I want seat warmers, but now I want seat coolers. Yes, they do exist.
So, dealers beware. I’ll be back and better informed. Please be kind.

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