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.”

IF YOU GO
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.”
Indeed.
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.

WHOM TO CALL
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?

HOW TO HELP
“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 Tenkids.org.

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.
Pressure.
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.

February 14th, 2014

Goal of PTA program is to make schools less intimidating

I dreaded parent-teacher conferences, especially when they involved my boys.
Sometimes it seemed the teacher and I weren’t talking about the same child. Behavior allowed in the teacher’s classroom was not behavior accepted at home.
And when the meetings started to involve a team of teachers seemingly versus just me, all I wanted was out of there.ufen_228x228
“We are trying to reach parents like you,” said Jessica Berry, family and community liaison for Fayette County Public Schools. Berry is a part of the public schools’ partnership with the 16th District PTA to make our schools less intimidating to parents and other community members.
The National PTA created a program to facilitate that process called Urban Family Engagement Network, and the local district was awarded a $20,000 grant to implement it over a two-year period.
“It is to be used to educate the parents and to get them more engaged in their students’ education,” said James Brown, chairman of the network.
Through a series of nine weekly sessions, parents, guardians and interested community members will meet to learn what makes public schools tick. The hope is that when parents become familiar with how the system works, intimidation will be lessened if not eliminated. They then will become more involved in their children’s schools and with their children’s education.
Organizers hope to add a Spanish component next year.
The next session, which runs Feb. 19 through April 23, will be the second conducted in Fayette County. The first one was in the fall and from that session, one person has decided to run for a seat on the site-based council and another is planning to try for an executive position with the PTA at her child’s school.
The session topics were selected to give parents and guardians a clearer picture of what is going on, Brown said, adding, “It provides an opportunity for them to be introduced to key players.”
For example, he said, Melanie Trowel, who teaches at the Carter G. Woodson Academy and who was selected 2014 Middle School Teacher of the Year, talked about the parent-teacher conferences and acronyms that teachers use.
“Some parents don’t know what questions to ask,” Brown said. “They don’t want to look stupid. She gave them the kind of information they would need and questions to ask.”
Fayette County School Board chairman John Price and board member Doug Barnett explained the schools’ budget in another session, and Superintendent Tom Shelton discussed the various levels of advocacy and the hierarchy of positions in the system.
The network is project-based, meaning each group must think about the issues it has encountered at its school or in the district and devise an action plan that would help alleviate the problem, Brown explained. During the fall session, the projects targeted family engagement, hiring practices and ways to increase faculty diversity, he said.
As incentives, the network can provide transportation vouchers to the sessions and gift cards and gas cards will be given out, and a special prize will be awarded for attendance at the end of the nine sessions, Brown explained.
The network also serves dinner, and the Police Athletic League will provide tutoring and help with homework for children who come with their parents or guardians.
The fall program started with 25 participants and ended with 15. Life sometimes gets in the way. Organizers would like to have at least 30 participants this time around, but they are willing to accommodate more.
Dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. and the session runs from 6 to 8 p.m. Call (859) 381-4176 to register, which is required.
“We have been fine-tuning this curriculum,” Berry said. “We’ve worked hard to really get this down to the nitty-gritty.”
There will even be mock parent-teacher conferences so, with more practice, people like me will have less anxiety. Where was this program when I needed it?

IF YOU GO
What: 16th District PTA’s Urban Family Engagement Network, featuring nine learning sessions to empower parents and guardians and encourage advocacy for children in school.
When: 5:30-8 p.m. Feb. 19-April 23, including dinner and child care. Registration required.
Where: Bluegrass Community and Technical College, 500 Newtown Pike.
For information and registration: Call (859) 381-4176.

February 14th, 2014

Douglass School Alumni Association honors former principal

The Douglass School Alumni Association wants more people to know about the woman who demanded the very best from them by using a rod and a helping hand.
“Many a child did not drop out of school because of her encouragement,” said Alice Jackson, a former student who graduated in 1950. “Girls would get pregnant, but she encouraged them to come back and graduate.”

Theda VanLowe

Theda VanLowe

Robert Robinson, president of the alumni association, agreed, and added, if you misbehaved, you’d feel it “on the back side.”
Former students who met with me all agreed that Theda VanLowe, who served as principal of Douglass School for 32 years, believed education was the key to the success of black people who lived under suffocating segregation at that time.
VanLowe became the school’s second principal in 1930, a year after it opened as the school for black students who lived in Fayette County.
Born Theda Hoskins in Mercer County in 1890, VanLowe graduated from Kentucky State Industrial College, now Kentucky State University, with majors in music and history, and she earned a master’s degree from the University of Denver. She taught in Kentucky schools for 10 years before becoming principal at Douglass.
“She took interest in the children and especially, from what I could remember, the males,” said Mary Crawford, another former student. “She didn’t let those boys drop out of school. Some of those you wouldn’t have believed would have graduated, did graduate.”
Most of the former students I spoke with are nearing 80 years old if they haven’t already passed that milestone, and yet, their eyes lit up and voices lilted when they spoke of VanLowe.
But for all the accolades and fond memories, the first descriptor put forward was always “stern.” From what I can detect, you didn’t mess with VanLowe. In fact, students nicknamed her bulldog.
“She was very stern,” said Tay Seals, 79, and a 1952 graduate of Douglass. “Basically the entire faculty was like that. They took her lead.”
Admitting there may be a bit of exaggeration in his memory, Seals said he recalls sitting in the school’s small gym and turning to someone to say something. Before he could say anything, however, ‘Tay Seals!’ would come out of nowhere.
“I hadn’t even started to talk,” he said, remembering being silenced by an authority figure.

Douglass School Alumni give a scholarship every year in the name of the school's longtime principal Theda VanLowe. Gathering outside the former Douglass School on Friday in Lexington were, from left, Alice Jackson, Robert Robinson, Ella Bosley and Margaret Givens. PABLO ALCALA — Lexington Herald-Leader

Douglass School Alumni give a scholarship every year in the name of the school’s longtime principal Theda VanLowe. Gathering outside the former Douglass School on Friday in Lexington were, from left, Alice Jackson, Robert Robinson, Ella Bosley and Margaret Givens. PABLO ALCALA — Lexington Herald-Leader

VanLowe didn’t give any quarter to her grandson, Robert Shy, either.
A drummer living in Chicago, Shy said he and some other boys lit a “great big firecracker” in the hallway of the school.
“She found out I was involved in it and took me out of school,” he said. “I couldn’t practice or do anything. I had to do chores. I didn’t get any passes.”
VanLowe’s only child, Frances VanLowe Shy, died at an early age when Robert Shy was a toddler. He lived with his father in Michigan for a few years, but then returned to Lexington to live with his grandmother.
When he practiced drums at home, Shy said, VanLowe would close all the doors and let him “hammer” away. It was her way of encouraging him.
She also encouraged Alice Jackson, 80,  who graduated early in 1950 and went to business college. She said VanLowe called and asked her to come back and be the school’s secretary.
“I did everything,” she said. “I had to do bookkeeping, scheduling, banking, bulletins and programs. I did it all.”
But that didn’t mean her education was over. Jackson said she continued with classes at Kentucky State and through correspondence. Jackson said VanLowe insisted on a higher education for the teachers and staff.
Ella Bosley, 92, and a 1940 graduate, became the PTA president at Douglass, a position VanLowe didn’t want her to take lightly.
Bosley said VanLowe sat her down and explained she wanted the parents and teachers to interact and work together.
“She wanted the parents respected,” Bosley said. “A lot of the parents weren’t educated people. She didn’t want the teachers to feel they were better than the parents.”
VanLowe also wanted the children to feel good about themselves. She asked Bosley to start a free lunch program at Douglass a couple of years before the federal government set up its program. There also were clothes and hygiene products on hand for children who didn’t have such a luxury.
“She said she didn’t believe in ‘cheap notoriety,’” Bosley said. “She wanted people to do something from the heart, not to elevate themselves. Do it for a purpose.”
And that’s exactly what Margaret Givens did. Givens, 80 and a 1953 graduate, married in the 10th grade and was pregnant in the 12th. She was going to drop out, but VanLowe told her the other students understood where babies came from.
After giving birth, and while she was in the hospital, Givens called VanLowe and asked her to name the baby.
“Ms. VanLowe said it would be an honor and a privilege,” Givens recalled, and named the girl Theda VanLowe. Now Givens has a granddaughter also named Theda.
VanLowe “was like a mother and an aunt to me,” Givens said. “She encouraged me to stay in school and graduate.”
Not much is known about VanLowe’s private life other than she became a Scientologist later in life and was cremated after her death. Both moves were unusual in Lexington’s black community in those days.
Being fiercely private, Seals said, may have contributed to her running the school so solidly.
“She was your teacher, not your buddy,” he said. “And that was the same way she treated her peers. That was a different day and time when teachers had a lot better hold of the class.”
“She was dedicated to her students and to Douglass School as a whole,” Crawford said.
And her former students still appreciate that. In fact, the reason the alumni association exists is to give out scholarships in VanLowe’s name to continue her push toward a better education.
The group gives out five $200 textbook scholarships, one at each local high school. Every third year, however, when the association hosts its reunion, it gives out two $500 scholarships. The next reunion is in 2015.
Meanwhile, the association is hosting a luncheon and fundraiser for the scholarship on June 14, in honor of former Douglass basketball players and cheerleaders. Tickets are $30. VanLowe is one part of the good ol’ days worth celebrating.

IF YOU GO
What: “Keeping the Spirit Alive” luncheon and silent auction, hosted by the Douglass School Alumni Association, to raise funds for the Theda VanLowe Scholarship Program.
When: Noon, June 14.
Where: Ramada Lexington North Hotel and Conference Center, 2143 N. Broadway.
Tickets: $30. Deadline is May 25.
Information: Call (859) 293-2054 or write to the Douglass Alumni Association, P.O. Box 13002, Lexington, Ky 40511.

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