January 22nd, 2015

Teachers’ union president says charter schools a drain on public schools

Charter schools would be an option for parents seeking the best educational fit for their children, most proponents believe. But those who oppose charters believe the schools will suck money from an already financially strapped public school system.
Last week I spoke with Wayne D. Lewis, board chairman of the Kentucky Charter Schools Association who wants Kentucky to become the 43rd state to welcome charter schools.
This week, I spoke with Jessica Hiler, president of the Fayette County Education Association, the local teachers union, who opposes charter schools.
“Charter schools have not lived up to (the promise of) higher achievement for our kids,” Hiler said.

Susan Hiler

Jessica Hiler

Instead, because federal, state and local money follows the student, a child enrolling in a charter school would take money from the existing system, she said.
Charters are public schools, but independently managed. So, buses to traditional schools would still have to roll even while carrying fewer students, Hiler said. Buildings would still need maintenance and upkeep even though the pool of money to operate them would shrink.
But isn’t that same scenario true for students going to private schools in Fayette County? Aren’t those students siphoning money from the system? Didn’t they leave because the traditional public school lacked something they wanted or needed?
Black and poor kids tend to do better academically in charter schools. In traditional public schools, the achievement gap for black, Hispanic and poor kids is growing. Clearly those kids are not receiving the same education as others in the system. Are they just supposed to stay with the system, undereducated, in order for a building to have a nice roof?
Public school teachers are doing the best they can with limited resources, Hiler said.
“As public school educators, it is our responsibility” to teach all children, she said. “It is every teacher’s want and hope that we close those achievement gaps sooner rather than later.”
Well, it looks as though later is winning.
“I sure don’t know what the magic wand or magic pill is,” she said.
I don’t either.
Some charters are better than traditional schools and some are worse. The rest are about the same.
Besides, Hiler said, Fayette County public schools have already come up with innovative programs to attract students and parents who are seeking a different education model.
“We already do much of the same things that charter schools want to do,” Hiler said.
Students can apply for a variety of magnet schools and special programs such as the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) Academy; the Locust Trace AgriScience Center; The Learning Center at Linlee; and the Carter G. Woodson Academy.
Each of those has a special appeal and many have waiting lists, indicating a student or parental desire for something new.
And if parents want more autonomy for their schools, Hiler said, they could join the site-based councils or advisory councils which are set up to decide the schools’ direction.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of councils that still choose to meet when most parents are at work. I don’t think that is a viable alternative to the autonomy of charters and their governing councils which would be designed to follow a specific path.
Another reason charter schools are a bad idea, Hiler said, is that they sometimes hire inexperienced teachers, or teachers with alternative certifications. And the turnover of teachers in charters is worse than the turnover in traditional public schools.
“It’s really hard to get any momentum with that type of turnover,” she said.
But couldn’t all those requirements be put in the legislation that would allow Kentucky to establish charter schools? Couldn’t the mistakes that have occurred in the 42 states that have already created charter schools be avoided in our state with a well-thought-out and worded law?
Another problem, Hiler said, is that charters can kick out difficult students and send them back to the traditional system. Don’t we have a special school for children who have behavior problems? Isn’t that kicking the kids to the curb?
If the traditional public school has failed to close the achievement gap, if poor and minority students are being underserved in the current system, why should we force them to stay?
If they left, say, and went to a charter school that focused on their needs, that taught them in a different style that clicked, wouldn’t we all benefit? Teachers in traditional settings wouldn’t have to blame the child’s circumstances for his or her failure, and the child might find a place where learning is fun again.
We don’t know because the legislation has been supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, causing it to be bogged down in the General Assembly.
“Instead of dividing,” Hiler said, “we need to get on the same page and move toward the same goal.”
We all agree the gap needs to be closed, so let’s do it. Not in a few years. Now.
I’m not married to the charter school concept, but if the gap doesn’t shrink soon, then the doors ought to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. If that is charter schools, then fine. If there is some other model, then let’s go with that.
What we have, despite the wants and desires of teachers, is not working. Something has to change.
I’ll speak with a third, unbiased party next week.

January 15th, 2015

Mustering the courage to change our world

One World Film Festival is hosting a free showing of the film Red Tails at the Kentucky Theatre in honor of Martin Luther King Day.
The film is about the courage and perseverance displayed by the Tuskegee Airmen before, during and after World War II. Though many in authority doubted their abilities, black pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and other support staff served with distinction despite racial discrimination in the service and at home.
We don’t often see courage like that on display any more. We turn our backs on doctors and nurses who choose to serve Ebola patients in Africa, wondering why they would risk so much for people so far away.
We demonize protesters for their public stance against police brutality.
Even now, some of us in journalism talk boldly about the weekly Charlie Hebdo’s right to poke fun at the Prophet Mohammed and satirize Islam, but have refused to republish cartoons that angered extremists in the past.
It takes courage to effect change.
Susan L. Taylor, the former editor of Essence magazine, and the founder of the National CARES Mentoring Movement, said finding that courage should be our focus on MLK day. Rather than coming together to listen to King’s speeches during the celebrations of his life, Taylor said we should be taking inventory of our own lives.

Susan L. Taylor

Susan L. Taylor

“What I’m doing is looking in the mirror and I’m asking each of us to do the same thing,” she said. “We should muster the courage for all of us to become activists.”
That’s what the Tuskegee Airmen did. But how do we get that type of courage?
Taylor, who is the keynote speaker for Lexington’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Freedom March and Celebration at Heritage Hall, said first we should change our thinking.
“The mind is the destroyer of courage and joy,” she said. We all are innately talented and each of us has what we need to not only make ourselves whole, but also to reach out and become a healing source for our communities. But we have to address our primary responsibilities first.
With mental and physical wellness, with “ensuring our thoughts are right,” we can overcome any fear of taking charge of our lives and our communities, Taylor said.
“The Holy Spirit is calling us, people of all races, to do a mighty work,” Taylor said.
That work would be to “ensure there (is) equity and healing, balance, and fairness in this world. We need to have respect for people of all faiths. We’ve got to be looking in the mirror to see what we can do to ensure peace in the world.”
A good starting point would be with our young people. When children in poverty look around at the opulence that exists just beyond their communities, and hear in the media that “you have to have these things to be happy,” Taylor said, then they become sad and angry.
To break the back of intergenerational poverty, Taylor said, NCMM recruits mentors and deploys them to teach young people about their history, about forgiving those who have angered them, and about a life beyond where they live.
NCMM has launched a pilot program, “A New Way Forward,” in four cities that features intensive workshops and a curriculum that promotes mental and physical healing in black communities. Once the initiative is evidence-based, the program will be replicated in various regions in a “plug and play model,” she said.
“This is my highest calling,” Taylor said. “This is what I’m supposed to do.”
It is not reasonable in the wealthiest country in the world, she said, that students and teachers in some poorer neighborhood schools aren’t as well-equipped as those in richer districts, or that their facilities aren’t as functional.
To fix that, as King would have us do, it will take community. We all have to work together to make things better. And that takes courage. The Tuskegee Airmen knew that. The young people who protest police shooting of unarmed black men know that. King knew that.
It’s time for the person in the mirror to understand that and act on it.

If you go: 
One World Films: Free screening of Red Tails.
When: 2:30 p.m. Jan. 19.
Where: Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main St., Lexington.

The Freedom March at Lexington Convention Center: 10 a.m.

MLK Commemorative Program in Heritage Hall: 11 a.m.

January 15th, 2015

Obama’s community college proposal could help Kentucky

I couldn’t believe the ­proposal from President ­Barack Obama last week didn’t get more traction.
Obama said he wanted to offer two years of community college free to adults who want to improve their chances of getting a ­better job and earning higher wages.
Who among us who have paid mightily for those first two years of college wouldn’t applaud that?
I wasn’t focused during my first two years and had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. And yet, those years cost as dearly as the last two, when I was zeroed in on a career.
In fact, after those first two years, I dropped out, worked, became a single mother and then returned several years later with debt I had to clear before I could enroll again.
Obviously, my venture shouldn’t be used as a glowing example of adult students who want to get ahead. I didn’t consider myself an adult at 18 and definitely wasn’t interested in getting ahead of anything.
But real adults, people who realize they need a certificate or associate’s degree to get a better position, could use that leg up. ­Chances are they’ve been in the work force, already struggled to make a paycheck last longer. They would be ready to focus on their futures. The president calls them “responsible adults.”
Why shouldn’t we be eager to help them?
America’s College Promise, as the president’s proposal is called, has two requirements:
1) Students must attend school at least half-time, earn at least a 2.5 GPA and make steady progress toward completion. They then can go to a four-year institution or take their ­associate’s ­degree and find better employment.
2) The community colleges must offer programs that can transfer to a four-year institution, or they must offer programs with proven graduation rates in areas in which employers are looking for employees.
Kentucky Community and Technical College System President-elect Jay Box hasn’t seen all the details of the proposal but, at first glance, America’s College Promise looks like a winner for Kentuckians, he said.
“What we understand is that it is based on the Tennessee Promise model,” Box said, adding that KCTCS officials have been studying that model for a few months.
Obama’s proposal goes a little further and shows “quite a bit of promise,” said Box, who will take over the reins of the system, which comprises 16 community colleges, after founding president and chief ­executive officer Michael McCall retires Thursday.
The Tennessee Promise covers any tuition or fees that aren’t covered by other grants, scholarships or funds for high school graduating seniors starting this year. Students will be given mentors to help them navigate the admission process, and they will be required to maintain a 2.0 GPA and perform eight hours of community service each semester.
That program is funded by the state lottery, giving about $1,000 to each student annually.
“Obama’s promise is much broader,” Box said. “It is for working adults who need the opportunity to come back and get an education.”
About 90 percent of Kentucky students in community college qualify for some ­financial aid, he said. But that help isn’t always 100 percent of the money needed.
“Many of them have to take out loans,” he said. “We’d like to see that go in the other direction. It would certainly fix that loan issue or deter it a little bit.”
Students who thought higher education was out of their reach would benefit from Obama’s proposal. Box likes the accountability part, putting responsibility on ­students to perform. “It’s not just free money,” he said.
It will also come with a high price tag for the federal government, to the tune of $6 billion annually. And some are complaining that textbooks are not included in the promise, which could be a deal breaker for some low-income adults with families.
The White House estimates 9 million ­students could be eligible. The promise would save each student about $3,800. The cost details will be included in Obama’s 2016 budget.
Some already are predicting the proposal’s demise in a Republican-led Congress because of the price tag.
Obama will offer more information during his State of the Union address on Jan. 20, so we’ll have to wait and see. But if more adults get access to better-paying jobs, that definitely would help Kentucky.

January 15th, 2015

Charter schools: inside the debate

After successfully avoiding the debate on charter schools for many years, I’ve decided it is time to find out what all the fuss is about.
I plan to talk with proponents and opponents of charter schools as well as an unbiased third party. My goal is to gather enough information to form an opinion. I’ll share it with you in upcoming columns.
This week I spoke with Wayne D. Lewis, board chairman of the Kentucky Charter Schools Association, author, and former school teacher who is now an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky.
I know Lewis and his wife, but neither of them has allowed me near their newborn daughter, so I don’t know how much of a friend I am.

Dr. Wayne Lewis

Dr. Wayne Lewis

I chose to speak with Lewis, a proponent, first, because the legislature is once again looking at the possibilities of allowing some form of charter schools to be set up in Kentucky. We are only one of eight states that haven’t gone down that road. Charters would be a change from the status quo that we are familiar with.
With the help of Lewis and “Exploring Charter Schools in Kentucky: An Informational Guide,” published by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence in November, let me try to define charter schools.
A charter school is a public school, funded by taxpayers, and independently operated by a group of teachers, parents, non-profit organizations, or businesses that is contractually obligated to meet student achievement goals. The difference between them and what we have now is that charter schools are allowed more freedom to be innovative. Charter schools have control of their staffing, curriculum and budgets. The amount of freedom varies from state to state.
No tuition is charged and there are no special entrance requirements. The only restriction might be a waiting list or admissions lottery if the school proves successful, Lewis said.
OK. That is what charter schools are. Why do we need them?
“I believe that parents in Kentucky want additional public school options,” Lewis said. “I have never talked with a parent yet who told me, ‘I don’t want additional options for my kids.’ Who would say that?”
A charter school could fill the need for a curriculum option that fits a child’s special learning needs or aspirations, Lewis explained. Some charters specialize in technology, some in the arts, some in teaching at-risk children. Some have extended hours, and some develop special themes.
A charter school is not necessarily a successful learning institution. The 2013 National Charter School Study from the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes indicates charters tend to benefit economically disadvantaged students more than those not living in poverty. Special education students improved in math, but not in reading; and white students overall showed a significant loss of performance.
Seemingly, that indicates charter schools could close the achievement gap for poor and minorities students.
“There is no magic,” Lewis said. “If anyone says there is, they are full of themselves.”
But the assumption is with greater autonomy and governance structure, students in some schools could show improvement. And with the added freedom to be flexible, the schools should have no excuse to fail students.
If a charter school does not hold up its end of the bargain, does not show improved academic achievement after a set period of time, it should be closed, Lewis said.
That should be mandatory.
“A traditional public school can fail until the cows come home and no one will shut it down,” he said.
Charter school parents could remove their child at will because it is the parent who chooses the school and not vice versa. Accordingly, high standards should be in place for those seeking to open a charter school, he said. Many should be denied. And there has to be adequate monitoring to ensure quality.
That sounds like a win-win.
So why is there such great opposition to charter schools?
Lewis said it comes down to politics and money. In Kentucky, Democrats, who are the majority party in the state House of Representatives, oppose the charter school concept. Republicans, who are the majority in the state Senate, support it. Legislation allowing charter schools has been approved in the Senate, but blocked in the House education committee.
Some think charter schools would siphon money from the existing school systems. But, Lewis said, state, federal and local dollars that are designated per child should follow the child, just as they would if the child were to move to a new district in a new county. Each school system would have to adjust.
I will explore the opposition to charter schools more thoroughly Sunday.
But for now, let me say I think the whole point of schools should be to educate our children. Some of our schools are failing that benchmark and some of our children are paying dearly. We cannot continue to tolerate failing schools.
And, if we are saying more flexibility and freedom from the restrictive rules of school boards would allow all teachers to blossom into exceptional educators, why can’t we simply change the governance of all traditional public schools to bring that about now?
I have no school-age children, thank the Lord. When I did, they attended both public and private schools. A lot of people don’t have that freedom. If charter schools, as Lewis thinks, will bring more choice, more options for parents, I can go along with that.

To learn more about charter schools, visit the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence website and read “Exploring Charter Schools in Kentucky: An Informational Guide,” which was published in November.
Also, information is available at the Kentucky Charter Schools Association website, Publicchartersky.com.

January 6th, 2015

Community embraces Wild Fig

Is this what community is all about?

On Dec. 27, The Wild Fig Bookstore was broken into. Usually that notice would be relegated to agate-size words in a newspaper or a two-sentence filler during a slow TV news day.

But that bookstore is more than just any old bookstore because its owners are more than just any old owners, causing that break-in to hit home harder than just any old break-in for many customers and friends.brokein

Ron Davis and Crystal Wilkinson

Ron Davis and Crystal Wilkinson

Ron Davis, an artist, and his partner, Crystal Wilkinson, an award-winning author, own Wild Fig, a new and used books store meant to make reading various genres in paper form quite easy and inexpensive. They’ve kept the doors open despite difficult times for four years.

But then, two days after Christmas, the glass front door was smashed, money was stolen, and hearts were broken.

Davis told a WTVQ reporter he thought the store would have to close.

But that was before community thickened the plot.

Neighboring businesses in the Meadowthorpe Shopping Center stepped up to get the store back in shape and the mess cleaned up.

A Cup of Common Wealth, a downtown coffee shop, urged its customers to “go down to The Wild Fig Bookstore buy a book, give ‘em a hug and a high five, and then stop by our shop, your drink will be on us.”

brokendoorThe shop’s Facebook update continued, saying “if there’s one thing Lexington is good at, it’s meeting someone in their deepest need, dusting ‘em off, and getting them back on their feet again. Let’s show Ron and Crystal some love!”

And many folks have. Is that what community is all about?

Social activist Tanya Torp sent out a media release letting all of us know that Ranada West-Riley and Karin West-Riley, owners of Lexington Diner, were donating 15 percent of their sales on Thursday, Jan. 8 to Wild Fig. Their generosity starts at 7 a.m. and ends when the diner closes at 3 p.m.

So, buy some books at Wild Fig, 1439 Leestown Road, drink some coffee at A Cup of Common Wealth, 105 Eastern Avenue, and then take your friends out for a large meal at Lexington Diner, 124 Upper Street.


Because in parts of Lexington, that is exactly what community is all about.

We all should celebrate that.

January 5th, 2015

Karate instructor with old school values has a waiting list for his classes

With his steely stares, deliberate movements and no-nonsense persona, Charles Fields doesn’t seem like the type of man children would flock to.

Nevertheless, there is a waiting list of admiring young people and their grateful parents eagerly wanting a cherished spot in his karate class.

Fields, a semi-retired licensed electrician, has been teaching martial arts for more than 26 years to children and youth, mostly in the inner city.

“I love young people, love teaching young people for one reason: they are like an empty cup,” he said.

And into that cup Fields pours more than self-defense techniques. He adds dashes of respect, loads of discipline and liberal spoonfuls of honor.

Schools nowadays, he says, are like pats on the head. What children need is structure.

“Children regardless of their backgrounds or social economic status can grow strong with structure. The biggest problem they have is a lack of discipline.”

That concept was drilled into his psyche by adults as he was growing up in the housing projects of Lexington’s East End. He often played at the Charles Young Community Center and willingly answered the call in 2011 to serve on a task force charged with deciding the center’s fate.

He now serves on the center’s board of directors and holds two karate classes a week in the center’s gym. Free of charge.

Charles Fields

Charles Fields

“What I want to do is reinforce support for the community,” he said. “East End is my home and children are our future. We have to provide them a chance to be strong and we have to take responsibility for our community.”

The center and the surrounding neighborhood did that for him and he wants to continue that tradition.

The Kentucky Historic Preservation Review Board recently approved the center for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service will make a final determination in two to three months.

Fields wants similar recognition and honor for the children in the surrounding neighborhood, which includes William Wells Brown Elementary School, a school needing to improve on its test scores.

Fields and others are starting a mentoring group for the neighborhood youth at Charles Young. He wants all of them to have a family-like grouping of support available when they need it.

“If a child has a problem, then we all can come together and talk about it,” he said. Someone who has had the same or similar problem can talk with the child and help him or her get through it.

“It will be a beautiful thing when we get it all together,” Fields said.

But his main focus now is martial arts.

In 1985, Fields had an asthmatic attack that took him to “death’s door,” he said. After three months, he felt so blessed to be back on his feet, he began learning and teaching under karate master William Johnson who had been in the Special Forces during Vietnam. Johnson left and asked him and others to continue the class.

“I owed him that,” Fields said. “I refused to let the school die. He taught my kids for little or no money at all.”

He continues to teach under the school’s original name, Goju Shikwon Ryu.

“My instructor gave us the school and the charge to take the school and teach,” he said. “I’ll quit teaching before I change the name. That shows respect.”

Fields is a grand master, teaching Matsubashi-Ryu (Shorin-Ryu), a style of Okinawan karate which originated in Okinawa, Japan, and is also influenced by techniques from China and Southeast Asia.

By his estimate, Fields has taught between 800 and 1,000 children. His son, Charlton Fields, is his assistant. He has taught in several venues but began teaching again at Charles Young soon after it reopened in 2012.karate2

“It takes a year to build, a year to stabilize and another year to take off,” Fields said of his school. “We are heading into our third year.”

He also helps teach a class at Tates Creek Christian Church on Thursdays.

When he first started teaching, parents were a bit leery. But safety, he said, is a prerequisite.

Once they saw that, the word has spread quickly.

Eric Pfalzgraf’s daughter Kaya, 7, is a student in the class. He said the class helps her to focus as well as release some of her energy generated by attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

“We’ve had her in soccer and she did well,” he said. “She did OK in cheerleading.kayla

“In karate, she has to learn to focus,” Pfalzgraf said. “It is a little more discipline than other sports.”

If the focus slips, Fields may have her doing push-ups, he said.

Sherrie Muhammad has had five children in Fields’ class. She wants them to know some self-defense techniques as well as to have Fields reinforce self-discipline they will need.

“He has old-school values and reinforces what we give our children at home,” Muhammad said.

Never once has she had an occasion to say his teaching went against their beliefs. “It’s always like ‘I love you, but I’m going to tell you what is right,'” she said. “They need to hear that, not just from their mom and dad.”

Fields “is a part of our community and part of our village. He is a very important part of rearing our children,” she said.

That’s fine by Fields.

“One of my biggest joys is watching kids progress,” he said.

January 5th, 2015

Could black and white churches merge and prosper in Lexington?

On Jan. 4, the financially stable Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., merged with the struggling Ridgewood Baptist Church in Orange Park, Fla.

Churches do that all the time.

But what’s different in this scenario is that Shiloh’s 8,000 members are predominantly black and Ridgewood’s 600 are mostly white. Shiloh is acquiring Ridgewood, and a new church will be established where Ridgewood stands called Shiloh Baptist Church, Orange Park.

The leaders of both churches and their congregations have been working out the bugs since last summer.

Shiloh is in the same city where Jordan Davis was killed over loud music. Both churches are not far from Sanford, where Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman.

Both ministers said they hoped their intentional inclusiveness will serve as salve on those wounds. As the economy slowed and as churches began losing members, many churches have either died or merged in order to survive. The push to integrate was stimulated by money or expediency, not love.

Pastors H.B. Charles Jr., left, and Michael Clifford will be co-pastors in a merger of churches, one featuring a predominantly black congregation and the other a white one. Photo by Yiu Ng

Pastors H.B. Charles Jr., left, and Michael Clifford will be co-pastors in a merger of churches, one featuring a predominantly black congregation and the other a white one. Photo by Yiu Ng

In Louisville, predominantly black St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church and predominantly white Shively Heights Baptist Church merged in August 2009, creating St. Paul Baptist Church at Shively Heights.

In the beginning the two ministers, who were longtime friends, worked at the merger to keep the blend intentional. One report said the Sunday schools had one black and one white teacher, and committees were racially balanced.

It is still working successfully.

So, could that situation work in Lexington? I’m not talking about a few members here and there. Could established churches merge in Lexington, blending black and white congregants and survive without falling back to one race or the other?

The Rev. Adam Jones of Open Door Church said it could happen and should.

“I think there are still major divisions in Lexington,” he said. “I would be supportive of the effort, even if it didn’t work. I think it would be worth attempting that.”

The church is the last bastion of segregation although Scripture admonishes us to be of one body, he said. Still, “some of the Christian non-profits have been a better witness to that unity than the churches have,” he said.

But we attend churches voluntarily. We go where we want to go. That often means we avoid the discomfort of crossing racial and cultural lines, despite the God we go to worship.

Services held at the new church in Florida on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015.

Services held at the new church in Florida on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015.

Pastor Anthony Everett of Wesley United Methodist Church said the pastors have to have some competency in understanding both cultures that would merge.

“I think it can happen anywhere,” he said. “I don’t know if at this particular time that scenario can happen in Lexington.”

When Jesus gave The Great Commission to his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, he was telling us to address the different ethnicities of the world, Everett said.

“Until people can really deal with other cultures, (be) respectful of each others’ cultures, I don’t really see it happening,” he said.

The effort to merge and stay merged has to be intentional, Jones said. “Left to our own preference, we will continue the status quo,” he said. “There has to be a couple of groups that decided we are going to work on this and I think we are doing some of that in BUILD (Building a United Interfaith Lexington through Direct Action),” said Jones, who serves as co-chair of that group’s affordable house committee. “Sitting across from leaders in BUILD has helped a lot.”

Jones said he has been awakened to prejudice over the years and now “makes sure those sitting across the table from me are not all looking like me.”

And “if pastors don’t do it, then maybe the people can do it themselves,” Jones said.

But heaven won’t be segregated by race or culture. Why are we so different on Earth?

“Until we can deal with some of the issues of race that segregate us here on Earth, then we are not going to emulate heaven,” Everett said. “This country does not speak to the issue of race. It is not spoken of. It is almost a mute point. But it is real for those suffering racism.”

The church must address that, he said.

Jones agreed, saying maybe a good start would be in small groups, which is what they have found to work at Open Door.

“It’s not just inviting someone to you, but going to them as well,” Jones said.

“It’s kind of like the Christmas story,” he said. “He (Jesus) came to our world.”

He came and suffered in hopes we would learn to love one another.

All we have to do is share a pew.

December 18th, 2014

Class helps families support mentally ill loved ones

We often hear about the “holiday blues,” a condition some people experience around this time of year.
Usually the blues are a sense of sadness that is temporary and caused by stress, loneliness or an inability to meet society’s ideal of a joyous holiday celebration.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that for those with a diagnosed mental illness, however, the holidays can make their condition worse. NAMI urges friends and family to “reach out and watch out for each other in keeping with the spirit of the season.”
I agree, but that raises a couple of questions for me: How do we know when “down-in-the-dumps,” as my mother called the blues, is something more? And exactly how do you reach out without making matters worse?
Tracy Jacobson, director of family services for NAMI Lexington, said if the “blues” persist for more than a couple of weeks, the person might need to seek help.
“There are different levels of severity and different stages of recovery,” she said. “There is no one-size-fits-all method for success.”
Treatment usually starts with the primary care physician and then moves to a psychiatrist if the condition warrants it.
I was glad to read a recent column by my colleague Paul Prather, a minister in Mount Sterling, urging fellow ministers to encourage parishioners to seek professional help as they would with any illness.
“If you’re genuinely depressed, then determination, Bible reading, positive thinking and prayer might not help much. You probably need enlightened treatment from a mental health professional,” he wrote.
A study NAMI quotes found that a diagnosis could take as long as 10 years and three therapists, Jacobson said. And mental illnesses are very difficult conditions to have, Jacobson said.
“It takes a long time to get a diagnosis and then a long time to get medication that works. It is trial and error. There is no absolute.”
Fortunately, thousands and thousands of people have successfully navigated that maze and are productive friends, family members and church goers. “The brain can get ill just like any other organ of the body,” Jacobson said.
And it can regain a healthy functionality.
Which brings me to my second question: How do the rest of us support our friends and family members without making things worse? How do we put the puzzle pieces together to create a new family portrait and new family dynamic?
NAMI Lexington offers a Family-to-Family Education Course, which is an 11-week series to help school friends and relatives in relating to individuals with a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness.
The course touches on the signs and symptoms of various illnesses, the biology and research of brain disorders, and the available medications and treatment techniques. Current information about a wide range of illnesses is discussed including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders.
The materials also offer means of communicating with the relative better, problem-solving skills and empathy, Jacobson said.
“Family members learn symptoms of the illness that are truly symptom-related (to the disease) and not the person choosing to behave this way,” she said. “Ultimately, after taking the class, people report feeling more empowered and more at peace. Their relationships improve with their relatives.”
Special emphasis is also placed on self-care, Jacobson said. Too often friends, relatives or caregivers focus so much on the individual with mental illness that they neglect their own well-being. Take time for yourself. Relax. Do something you enjoy doing again.
The class gives participants a chance to understand others are in the same position, and they learn to adjust their expectations.
“One of the values of the class is sharing,” she said. “Serious mental illness affects 1 in 17 people. Once you can understand and can tolerate the behavior, and once you change your expectations, everything together improves the relationship,” she said.
That understanding, that acceptance, opens the door so that a helping hand is better received. And when one family member is given the necessary tools, wisdom, and collective experience to know how to mitigate difficult scenarios, he or she can pass that knowledge on to others.
That works throughout the year when the relative may have ups and downs. The need for support doesn’t stop after New Year’s Day. Knowledge helps relatives reclaim their lives as a family.
The Family-to-Family class starts Jan. 14 in Lexington, and meets for 11 Wednesday evenings from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Pre-registration is required. The class and all class materials are free. Space is limited.
If you can’t make this class, there will be two more held in the coming year. After taking one of them, you will be better prepared to help not only during the next “holiday blues” season, but all year round.

What: Family-to-Family Education Course, a free 11-week class sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Lexington.
When: 6:30-9 p.m. Wednesdays. beginning Jan. 14. Pre-authorization is required. Space is limited.
Information: Call (859) 536-8278, or email tracynamilex@gmail.com.

December 18th, 2014

Baptist church’s mission a blessing for others

At Total Grace Baptist Church, members are asked to do something kind for strangers. It could be paying for the next customer in line at a drive-through, or something as simple as giving a compliment.
“That is the culture we try to create in the church,” said Pastor Michael Robinson. “It could be anything, anything nice. It perpetuates good deeds.”
And church members “love it,” he said.
“This is probably one of the biggest things we do throughout the year.”
Because this time of year has two big holidays, members are really pushing the concept.
“They are all over the place,” Robinson said of the outreach effort being called “B2B,” or “Blessed to be a Blessing.”
How does it work?
“I love to go to Dairy Queen because the meals are cheap and I can pay for the person behind me,” Robinson said. “I’m safe at Dairy Queen. The most I’ve ever paid is $20.”
Some members leave “abnormally large tips,” he said. “It is the surprise factor. When we do something, we leave the cards.”

Pastor Michael Robinson

Pastor Michael Robinson

The cards read: “Now that you have been blessed, bless someone else and pass this card along with your good deed.”

Members of the church at 1313 North Limestone have also knocked on doors in the church’s neighborhood and handed out $100 utility vouchers. They have approached drivers at gas pumps and given then $25 gas cards.
They have also passed out vouchers for turkeys, which neighborhood residents picked up the Sunday before Thanksgiving. About 250 turkeys were distributed along with boxes of macaroni and cheese and stuffing.
Why? Because, Robinson said, they are blessed, and it is their mission to be blessings for others. “When you do good deeds, good deeds come back,” he said.
One member, Linda Conner, didn’t hand out a card or purchase coffee for the driver behind her. Instead, Conner stepped out on faith and opened her home for six months to a woman with a troubled past whom she barely knew.
“It’s whatever is in your heart,” she said. “Whatever you feel led to do.”
The woman had lost her home and her job, and her credit was a mess, Conner said.  She only charged the woman $200 for room and board.
Still, “lot of people kept telling me she was bad news,” she said. “You cannot imagine the flak I got.”
Although adjustments had to be made and leisure time sacrificed, Conner has no regrets.
“I knew what God had put on my heart,” she said. “I knew it was a matter of trust and faith in God.”
Conner and her husband, Travis, who never hesitated to support the woman, teach a master life course at the church. The woman she helped attended and graduated from that class.
The woman now has a good job, a car and her own apartment. She is also helping other women get their lives together.
“It wasn’t easy for her,” Conner said. “That is what it is all about.”
The blessed to bless concept benefits fellow church members as well, who may not have the financial stability to provide toys for their children at Christmas. They can earn TG (Total Grace) Bucks, which can be used to purchase new toys that other members have donated. Those bucks are earned by caring for children during the service, by working in the community or through other works.1052
“That is our DNA,” Robinson said. “We are a need-meeting church. We handle the spiritual needs and the existential needs of the church.”
Considering the church was established in 2009 with 13 members and now has 1,800, its mission seems to be working. Robinson “casts out the vision, and we work out the details,” Conner said.
If you are ever blessed to be the recipient of one of those cards, please pay it forward. Our society needs a lot more blessings.

December 18th, 2014

Now is the time to confront wrongs and create diamonds

Years ago, I was a member of an intentionally multicultural church. The minister himself was biracial.
In that setting, you would assume we all were in agreement about racism and its negative effects on people in these United States, and our need for reconciliation.
For the most part, we were.
But a fellow white member questioned my desire to shine a glaring light on the racism I had experienced as often as I had combed my hair or brushed my teeth. He said I was too “confrontational,” that I should be nicer about it. Then people might change more readily, he said.
I remembered that when anti-racism activist and author Tim Wise closed his speech a few days ago at the MOSAIIC conference, hosted by the Bluegrass Community and Technical College and several area institutions of higher learning. He said, “Nice people are the problem sometimes.”
“Interrupting traffic is not nice, but necessary,” Wise said. “Interrupting the St. Louis Symphony to protest the killing of Mike Brown is not nice, but necessary. Interrupting business-as-usual is not nice, but necessary.”
I wish I had come up with those words when I was talking to my fellow church member.
Instead, I told him I didn’t think being confrontational was a negative. And I still don’t. Without pressure, a piece of coal would never become a diamond.
Young people in Lexington, in Kentucky, and in the U.S. are trying their best to make their country sparkle like a diamond. Forty years ago, I would have been right in the thick of things.
Young people were the ones who created a movement that would become the “Arab Spring.” Young people gave their lives to end apartheid in South Africa. And, as Wise pointed out, young people led the fight for civil rights in this country.
The young people who are participating in peaceful marches and die-ins should be seen as heroes, Wise said.
I agree.
But, some people have problems with peaceful protests.
JazMene Landing, a UK senior who has been participating in die-ins on campus, said some apparently fellow students are using a social media app called Yik Yak to denigrate protesters.
“There is a pile of mud on the Willy T Library floor,” one post read. “Someone better mop it up!”
“I’m sure a boat ride back home costs less than 5 pairs of Jordans, Polo draws showin’ 7 days a week, and 2 tubs of coco(sp) butter for this cold weather,” another post read. “Pack up and row if you can’t roll in the USA.”
Two other posters liked that one.
Then another poster replied, “OK, the basketball team is coming with us then.”
Landing said that last response came from a fellow protester. “It was meant to lessen the ignorance that came before it,” she said. They wanted to inject a little humor rather than show anger.
It’s a new era in the fight for equality. The digital blow-back is basically as anonymous as a pointed hood, but the hurt inflicted is just as disconcerting.
UK President Eli Capilouto condemned what he called “hate-filled” comments and praised the students willing to protest: “… hate-filled slurs hurled for no reason other than to demean another person have no place here,” he wrote in a campus-wide email in response. “Such language is indicative of narrow mindedness and mean spirit; and what I have read sickens me. It is not who we are or wish to be.”
Regarding the protesters, Capilouto wrote, “I am proud of the leadership of our students who have organized silent protests to express their outrage. These efforts are a demonstration, too, of the unyielding and unbreakable hope that we can finally muster the will and conceive the way to break down the unnecessary barriers that separate us.”
Landing said that is exactly what is happening.
She said there have been three demonstrations and each has been larger and more diverse than the ones before.
“We don’t want people to think it is a black thing,” Landing said. “We are all on the same campus, so everyone is affected.”
She said the negative comments serve as motivation to continue demonstrations that highlight racial inequities in this country as well as on the UK campus.
Thank goodness.
Wise said young protesters “are showing us the way that apparently we have forgotten.
“This is solvable,” he said. “I started listening to black people, and it is amazing what that will do for you, when you actually start believing people of color know their lives better than you know their lives.”
We should be listening to women, the poor, the disabled and the LGBT community as well, he said. They know more about their own lives than men, the rich, the able-bodied, and the straight communities that try to define them.
“Nice can be the enemy of action,” Wise said. “Nice keeps its voice to a whisper. Nice doesn’t get agitated. Nice smiles all the time. Nice does not do sit-ins and does not protest.
“We need less nice and more truth,” Wise said.
Healthcare and medical students at more than 70 medical schools held die-ins on Dec. 10, organized through the hashtag #WhiteCoats4BlackLives. They called the recent deaths a “public health crisis.”
Professional athletes have donned “I can’t breathe” T-shirts, or entered football stadiums with their hands raised.
The police chief in Richmond, Calif., joined protesters last week, holding a sign that read “black lives matter.”
And dozens of Congressional staff members gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Thursday in protest of the recent police shootings.
Some folks don’t see those actions as nice. But they are necessary to keep the issue in the public eye.
Diamonds can’t be too far away.

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