Community News

Friday, November 17, 2017

Q & A With MCA President Laura Hine

Debt, declining enrollment, and low endowments create a difficult environment for academic institutions. Memphis College of Art struggled with all three

Posted By on Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 3:02 PM

MCA President, Laura Hine
  • MCA President, Laura Hine
As reported in this week’s Memphis Flyer cover feature "Art of the Deal," the Memphis College of Art was severely impacted by a declining enrollment. But what does that really mean? And was it merely the kiss of death to a small, private college already struggling with a low endowment and debt?

There’s some context necessary for understanding college enrollment and trends in higher education. An institution’s reputation, and the kinds of training programs it offers are meaningful of course. There will always be a Harvard, probably. But enrollment numbers are also aligned with things as basic as birth rates, and one of MCA’s last major economic crises came about in the 80’s, as the last members of the enormous Baby Boomer generation reached the end of their formal education. Enrollment dropped from 246, which was an all-time high in 1976, to 207 in 1980. After losing only 39-students, the school was described as being, “under siege financially,” and it faced faculty layoffs, major changes to academic culture, and an $80,000 shortfall.

When wages are stagnant while tuitions go up colleges are taxed with finding larger and larger amounts of financial aid. Unemployment, on the other hand, can increase some enrollments as displaced workers look to acquire skills, marketability, etc. while a warming economy (conversely and counterintuitively) shrinks enrollment by sucking those potential students back into the workforce.

90% of MCA students have traditionally come from within a 300-mile radius of the school so, in this case, proximity and convenience have driven enrollment.

MCA’s interim President Laura Hine understood that the Overton Park-based art college’s future was tied to smaller, realistic headcounts, a 21st-Century curriculum, and funding models that hedged against the natural ebb and flow of enrollment. She also knew that enrollment was just one part of a three-pronged threat the school was facing — a threat that included crippling real estate debt, and an endowment too low to sustain the school during harder times.

Hine spoke to The Flyer for this week’s Art of the Deal cover story. Here’s a transcript of the conversation. It has been edited for length, focus, and clarity.

Memphis Flyer: I know you’ve been at the school for a while now. But you’ve only been in your current position for what six or eight months, right?

Laura Hine: I came here in the academic year 2014-15 as the VP for Advancement and when Ron retired in the middle of last semester I was asked if I would take the position and I said yes I will.

When you came on as interim President, did you have any idea you’d be the person who’d announce the school was closing?

No I didn't. I've been here, and there’ve been serious economic and financial challenges. Of course I was aware of those. But it wasn't a thought in my mind that it would come to this. Someone asked me would you have taken the job had you known this would be the outcome and that's a really hard question for me to answer because I love the school. But this has been the worst professional experience of my life in terms of the sadness and the heartbreak of it all. You have jobs, and you work hard. I'm not afraid of any of that and I've done that my whole life. But I've never had the same passion and love for something as I have for the school, so I think that's what's made it different from any of the work I've ever done before. The board and Ron had approached me at some point prior to my being asked to take up the job — more or less rather suddenly. Would I have an interest in applying for the president's job at the end of Ron's tenure and I said yes, it's possible I would throw my hat in the ring. Then Ron decided to retire and the college needs someone to step into the position, so I accepted it on the interim basis. We never made it to the process of full National search because we were otherwise occupied .

Looking back at some of the media when Ron Jones first joined MCA — He often seemed like maybe he wasn’t fully aware of what he was stepping into — or that the problems got much bigger, much faster than anticipated.

He inherited some situations I think that probably caught him a little bit unaware and he very quickly had to spring into action and take some steps that would stabilize the college. There were issues related to accreditation, and he stabilized that. So much has been written about the real estate debt. I know the college sold some properties at the time. There were some active layoffs. Your instructional cost is the largest line item in your budget — as it should be. But I think there were some faculty layoffs, and at that time we got to the accreditation problems etc.

It did seem like a lot happening at once.

When I got here people said, “You jumped on a sinking ship.” I said, “Well, it was listing.” But there's always an opportunity for stabilizing a sinking ship.

I think there’s a sense — related to the abruptness of the announcement — that the school wasn’t exploring all its options, beating every bush...

We're running annual campaigns and fundraising. So, to say we haven't been out in the community raising money is just not true. There are various events for fundraising. To say we aren’t beating every bush is just wrong. I would say, within the major donor funding community, there was no stone left unturned. People raised the issue of Sweetbriar, when the alumni came in and saved them. Well historically, if you look throughout the entire college’s history, our alumni are not wealthy people. And they have been asked to give and give. They are part of every campaign to raise money. But to look to them to provide the kind of funding this institution needs, it's just not there. The funding capacity is just not there. They can help in other ways or support the school in other ways. But they don't have the capacity to give on a large scale. The problem with that — Let's say you have a pretty successful campaign and it yields $2,000,000. Well that's that’s one year. But unless you have ongoing commitments, and know you can count on those commitments, what happens here is, you get into a situation — and this was at the front of the minds of the board when they made their vote — you don't know that you have funding lined up to teach them out. Could you have raised enough money to maybe get you through a year? Fine, you've now admitted new students but you have no funding commitments that will sustain the institution over a longer period of years. There is no private college of any kind that doesn't rely on its donors to survive and the major donor community here has been extraordinarily generous to this college over a very long period of years. But the efforts to line up multi-year commitments didn't materialize. So then you have a situation.
I know the teach-out is scheduled to end in 2020. Will you still have students then? Or faculty? Or will they transfer to other schools, get other jobs?


There will be students all the way up till commencement May 2020. We are staging a transfer fair on November 9th. But let me explain to you how this works. We are professional Fine Art and Design School. The way art curriculum is built doesn't translate easily to other environments.The pool of credits that are accrued here by our students are studio credits. So the longer student goes in our environment and uses their federal financial aid, the more obligated we are to see them through to degree completion. When we talked to our accreditors after the board vote trying to get some guidance on accreditation during a period like this, we asked about what would be appropriate for the teach out. They said, “well, we’ve unfortunately had too many of these kinds of conversations because of the failure rate of small private liberal arts and fine arts schools. And the answer is how long can you teach out? There are some schools they just go ‘we're closing the doors tomorrow. We don't have the means to carry on. We don't have the funding in the resources to carry on.’” And that's what happens. In this instance we looked at how long can we carry on if we liquidate our assets and how long can we carry on and teach out students. You know, there's no book or roadmap on how you do this with compassion and understanding for all of the people who are going to be impacted, so in my mind it was imperative that we come out as soon as possible and share the information. The accreditor said, “You can wait till the spring,” and I said, “There's no way we're going to do that because what happens you're going to have students your continuing to accrue credits without in the information that they need? This is something that's going to impact their lives.”

What about faculty?

Decisions about faculty are going to be based on student need. You go back to what's our mission? It's to educate students. So faculty decisions will be made based upon what faculty are needed to serve the students. So you have to look at things like do program analysis. What are the larger what disciplines? What are the largest populations of students that we need to serve? So the faculty that are needed to serve those students are the faculty who will remain. In a general sense there are never any guarantees about faculty saying through four years. Faculty go and come and make career choices and decisions based on their life circumstances. based on student need.

I’d like to talk a little about the real estate debt. I know a lot of it happened before you got here, and I don’t want you to feel like you have to answer questions right now if those questions are better suited for someone else, or feel like you’re putting words in other people’s mouths.

I'm pretty familiar with the history because I've had to become familiar with it. Because it's been a financial challenge for the school. So I'm familiar with a snapshot of the incurred debt. That was in the first decade of the 2000s. And it grew to over $11-million. And I think there's always this notion — and it's human nature to point the finger of blame but 3 fingers always come back — I just don't like to collapse into that. There were some detractors. And these steps were taken during probably what you would say was a more hopeful time. There was an expansive vision. That just frankly didn't materialize. And the folly of it? There's some validity to that. It's kind of a “you build-it-and-they-will-come” versus “there here and what are we going to do about it?” All the while you have the wild ticker tape of nationally declining enrollments running in the background.

I don’t think I realized it was as high as $11-million.

It has been a financial albatross around this institutions neck for many years. When I first came here in there was a board-led fundraiser and the philanthropic community showed up for this institution in a big and mighty way. And we took that money and we reduced debt by 31%. We had multiple loans and the interest rates were pretty high. So what we did was, we found out about a bond issue tax-exempt refinance mechanism. So we can colidated our debt, went through that refinance, and got interest rates down to 3.67%. Over the life of the loan it would save the institution about $800,000 in interest, so it was a very smart thing to do. At the same time we looked at Nissan [Graduate School] downtown, and when you looked at the operational expense associated with having a building that far from where we are, it was about a $230,000 a year expense just operating the shuttle and security down there. So a decision was made to sell the building.

Let’s talk some more about enrollment.

We've seen declining enrollment. The other thing: Recruiting students here is one thing and retaining students here is another. This is something I wasn't really aware of when I started working here. I always had this impression there's a pretty affluent student body of the College of Art. These are kids who can pursue a fine art degree etc. And I want to be careful here because I don't want to disparage any of our existing students — it's important me that that doesn’t happen. There are no shame cooties for this institution that you're serving kids who are largely coming out of poverty. These are talented kids and we change their worldview and they go out and they're different people when they leave here than when they came in. But their financial barriers are considerable and present a lot of challenges. You started to see more and more pressure in the post-recession era on colleges and universities every institution struggles with enrollment, with no exception. There is a fight for every headcount in every college, in every University. In the post-recession era it starts to catch up. With the Disappearance of the middle class normal families the middle class families ability to pay a fine and liberal arts schools tuition. You have things that occur at the state level like Tennessee making the first two years of community college free. It's hard to say no to two free years of school, and that deals a blow to institutions like us.

I’ve heard mentions that there may have been missed opportunities in terms of identifying emerging disciplines and developing curriculum...

I think there were some missed opportunities to build out programs here in areas where you're seeing enrollment upticks… Everything is digital in terms of the interest and demands of students on a national level. They're looking for design programs, user experience, user interface, app development and that kind of cutting edge design program. And we have some classes here, but there wasn’t an emphasis on that in our curricular developments. Due to the generous support of some of our donors we had some consultants come in to help spur thinking and passion for program changes and development but those consultancies didn't lead to any actions in a period where we didn't have any time to waste.

I know Ron Jones wanted to upgrade, or modernize enrollment. And he brought in someone from a different kind of academic environment. From the for-profit environment. Can you speak to what kinds of changes were made? Did they work?

The new changes in enrollment didn't work out as we intended it to. That's clear. The thinking was, we needed to look at the pressures that exist in the macro environment — Like community college, free tuition etc. There was the fight for every headcount and I think that the choice was made to bring in someone who had a very aggressive approach to enrollment. And I think the short answer I'm willing to give is I don't think that person was a good cultural fit here here, and I wasn't shy about saying it.

This happens at a time when a lot of colleges are struggling and failing. I was hesitant to describe it as a trend, but the more I look...

It's a trend. It's an absolute trend.

But is MCA just a statistic? Just part of that trend or it’s story — how we arrived here — unique even inside that trend?

I think it's truly a combination of all of it. You cite the national trends the declining enrollment in the traditional and fine arts. There are three factors that determine the fate of an institution and we had on all of them: declining enrollment, low endowment, and debt. That's 3 combined factors that will sink an institution. If you have a large endowment that sustains you. We don't have that. It's important to note to this institution has maintained the corpus of its endowment. You read about the colleges like Sweetbriar, where they were dipping into the Corpus of their endowment to sustain themselves and to keep their operations going. We haven't done that but when you look at the size of our annual drawdown — we have a 5% drawdown policy. So with an endowment of about 4.7- 4.8 million, 5% comes to $225,000 to $255,000 annual draw down on a 10 or 11 million dollar budget. It doesn't help us. I mean, it does help us, but only to that amount and then there’s no more. I've seen it written over the last week,people saying, “It’s just not that much money. It's onlu 6.9 million dollars right?” We have all three of those kisses of death for an institution of higher education in a post-recession environment. You have to look at statistics. I think closure rate has doubled in the last decade. We're not unusual. We talk to our accreditors, and there is a heartache in higher ed nationally. If you ask a person like me, especially in the political environment we’re in right now, I don't think there’s ever been a more important time for the liberal arts and the fine arts. I think this dynamic is a tragedy at a time when we need people who are educated in this fashion — people can change the world with their worldviews, through their expansive thinking.

You mention conventional wisdom — It’s only $6-million. Which is a lot of money, but I think when other institutions have raised that kind of money, I understand why people might say that.

To go back in address the debt issue, you have several plans for consideration, but we could not secure multi-year commitments and that's what you got to have. Say you raise a million dollars and admit new students then next year you go to the same people who dug deep, and they don't have it the next year. So it really is a process. Will the major donor community sustain this institution for years while we put a plan in place? It's interesting to me that people are telling me, “sell everything south of Poplar. Eliminate your debt. Invest in Rust Hall. Well, that was the plan — go back to what we used to be. Lower expectations on head count. Go back down to a sustainable size. We couldn't line up the commitments.

You sound like an urban planner talking about sprawl…

Right? Forget growing your way out of it. You're not going to grow your way out of it. So that was a plan that we weren't able to line up commitments for. and I think the reason was — there was a feeling, all the while this is going on — we missed our enrollment goals by a lot. Where did we land on enrollment this year? 35% less than we’d projected. Is that the remnants of enrollment is a process or is it truly just a product of the times in terms of the declining enrollment. That resulted in an even greater deficit, and I think it was kind of determinative in a sense, that the model that the school has had just isn't viable.

It’s probably easier to sell the idea of expansion though — whether it’s a good idea or not— than shrinking. You can see expansion in the landscape. Shrinkage? What you see is absence — negative space.

Like, "Can someone just give me a visual on what Rust Hall will look like if we do these kinds of programs?" Because you can go and you can sell that. I think that’s probably part of it. There's a weariness that sets in too. Our donors have been so generous to this institution, and they are called upon to support the community and other nonprofits in ways that are just constant. In fairness to them, it's probably just weariness.

I think I read that the school’s budget model is based on something like 80% tuition and 20% fundraising, is that still accurate?

I would say that's about right. There were striking fundraising years, like the first year I was here.There was a major fundraiser. See, you have these years when the philanthropic community comes on extremely. You'll see that kind of say, “wow that was a pretty good year!” And then you start to see it settling down into just really normal ranges. There's been so many plans and so many projections. Anyway you slice it we are going to need donor support at about a million to a million .5 every year. That's the nut.

Do miracles happen?

I think it was High Ground News that asked what it would take. I think I said it will take a $30-million endowment. Well, why $30-million? Because 5% of $30-million is $1.5 million, and we would need to know we had that kind of resource available to us under pretty much any scenario. And that's where the $30-million amount comes from. So there was a directive from the board to reduce our costs. Cost restructuring is a euphemism for a lot of hard decisions that are made. And I said, “Yes. Okay, we will reduce our costs. I largely come from the for-profit sector so I very much understand when you have a deficit there are two ways to address it. You either cut your costs or you increase the revenues. It's just that simple. It's not even a magic formula, it's very basic. So the board understood that we needed to cut costs. And I think that a lot of hard decisions were made in the cost restructuring that have been demoralizing for the institution on a lot of levels. But where they were a necessary part of a larger plan to create a sustainable future.

How do you mean demoralizing?

I don't know if anybody else has spoken about layoffs. It creates anxiety in the environment that’s almost palpable the minute you walk in the door, you know? Because it signals to the people that there are issues. And they are financial issues Anytime you go through situations like that it’s fear producing. That's what I mean by demoralizing.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Photographs by Justin Fox Burks

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Q & A with Veda Reed, Dolph Smith

Distinguished Artists/Educators Talk Change, Volleyball and the Role MCA Played in Desegregating Overton Park

Posted By on Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 10:29 AM

Veda Reed, Three Black Clouds, at David Lusk Gallery
  • Veda Reed, Three Black Clouds, at David Lusk Gallery
If "Cloud Atlas" wasn’t already the name of a time-spanning science fiction epic, it would make a fitting biography title for Veda Reed, a painter of note who’s always looked to the sky for inspiration.

Reed’s not from around here. She’s also Memphis to the core, having arrived in town before Rock-and-Roll, with no great plans to be an artist. The place spoke to her, inspired her, and showed her the way forward. She enrolled in the Memphis Academy of Arts (later MCA) before its move to Overton Park, and graduated in a class of three. She remembered the school as a place that quietly affected change in the community.

Memphis Flyer: You have a great arrival story, and I know you’ve told it many, many times. Would you mind sharing it again.

Veda Reed: My father was a pipeliner. Do you know what a pipeliner is? They were the crew that laid all the natural gas lines across America. and he work for Williams Brothers out of Oklahoma City. But anyway he was traveling all the time and moving. Laying the gas pipes. and he happened to be in Memphis 1 summer the second year after I got out of high school and I came to visit him. my parents were divorced who they didn't live together and I didn't have anything to do with my dad had a new Studebaker and I would take it out everyday and wander around Memphis. I drove down Adams Avenue.. I never seen a Victorian building. over the door to the Memphis Academy of Arts. So I stopped the car and got out. and I came back out register for the next semester. The woman who was the registrar, I asked her what is this place. She said it's an art school. Would you like to go here? I said yes. And she proceeded to fill out a schedule of classes for me. I had no portfolio, nothing. I just walked in off the street. And I had had one class in life drawing when I was spending some time with my aunt in Salt Lake City. She asked if I'd had any previous experience and I said yes I had a life drawing class. She said oh well you can take Life drawing with Ted Faires. So I had a schedule that was 5-days and 2-nights. And the tuition was $175. And I said, “But I don't have any money.” She said, “That's okay, just have your father write as a check when you come to the first class.” So I did that. I was not allowed to drive a car anymore. But that’s my experience. I knew the minute I saw that side of that building, this is where I was supposed to be.
Did you have any background in art at that point?


I had not had any art training at all, really. My little high school in Oklahoma didn't have our classes. My aunt, my mother's youngest sister, wanted to be an artist and she finally became a fashion illustrator. Back then they had illustrators for newspapers. So when I went to stay with her after I got out of high school, she was teaching at a little school called The Art Barn in Salt Lake City. And she took me with her and I had my first drawing class.

And you took to it naturally?

Actually, I was not very good at it. But I was inspired by her so much that, whatever she wanted me to do, I would do it. It felt good.

Were you always so spontaneous? Or, is impulsive the better word?

I don't think so. But something happened to me when I saw that sign. I needed to find out what this place was.

Can you paint a picture of campus life? The culture of the college?

It was a very small school. It also on the GI Bill, so there were several veterans there. Some of them in wheelchairs. Ted Rust was the director. They didn't call him the president then. He got there in1949, and I was there in 1952. I had a memory of there not being more than 36 students working for a degree. There were many people in the community who came to take classes. And we were just one big happy family. Everybody knew everybody. The first time I ever met Ted Rust, our director, I was sitting out under the wisteria, which was profuse.

It’s beautiful, but it’s a menace!

Oh yes. And I should have been in class too. Ted Rust looked at me and said, “Aren't you supposed to be in class?” And I said. “Yes sir.” And I got up and went. But we became very good friends. Most of the students were friends with the faculty.

I know the school offered paths for fine arts, and design, and also for advertising. Was this a competitive division?

Everybody had to take the foundation course. I think that's been one of the strengths of the school. Everybody had to learn how to see. Which was done through drawing, and design. You had to learn how to think. So everybody took those courses. Fine Arts and the advertising had friendly competition. We called them “the business students.” But there was no putdown of either. And we had very strong advertising classes. Also interior design was taught.
Nightfall: Clouds and Moon 2006 from Veda Reed’s “Day into Night”
  • Nightfall: Clouds and Moon 2006 from Veda Reed’s “Day into Night”
I’m familiar with the big changes. The moves, name changes etc. What are some of the other notable changes over the years, in your opinion.

Of course I'm old enough to proclaim that I hate change. I don't apologize for that. But I do recognize the value of all the changes that have been made. Some, I think we're better than others. I won't continue on that.

But we should talk about some of it. Was the transition into Overton Park a smooth one?

It was a smooth transition. And it was very exciting. Some of us hated to give up the old beautiful buildings though. But the park is so wonderful, and the building was an award winner so the move was very smooth. Everybody at the old Art Academy packed up their cars, whatever vehicle they had, and move boxes into the new building. It was only half the size it is now. Another thing that changed once we got into the new building, is we started offering more liberal studies in house. The old school didn't offer liberal studies. You had to go elsewhere if you wanted to work for the degree. Ted Rust got the college accredited, and we began working on getting all the liberal arts classes required for the degree in house instead of having to have students go elsewhere.

I remember when MCA students would also take classes at Rhodes and CBU. There was a consortium for students interested in classes that weren’t being offered in house.

When we first started that I was a Guinea pig, I guess. I went to Rhodes to take one of the classes Jack Taylor was offering. I think I was not a good person to send. I didn't pass the class. Something about physics. A physics class he thought artists might enjoy.

What else do you remember about the early days in Rust Hall.

The school was actually designed for the courses we were teaching at the time. For the specific courses. The basement area was a very long and narrow studio devoted to fabric design. We had these long printing tables and used to joke about it and call the bowling alley. As Time passed and studios got rearranged, things changed. I believe the original building was only half the size it is now. It was built to hold about 200 students. Often we would have as many as 24 students in a classroom and that never bothered me. Student seem to work off each other. And I hated the name change. it never should have happened. Oh well.

A lot of people hated that, I think, but I understand. It was a response to all the private Christian high schools that sprang up after desegregation. So many of them took the name “academy.” I can understand why MCA might have wanted to avoid confusion in the same way Southwestern at Memphis became Rhodes because there are so many schools with Southwestern in the name, and the name only really makes sense if you’re recruiting in Tennessee only.

Speaking of desegregation, one of the things that happened when the Art Academy move to the park was this. The park was segregated at the time, you see. African-Americans could only come on Thursdays. Ted Rust told the city, “We are a school. We have classes every day and the students must come.” It’s so hard to think about a group of people only being able to go somewhere one day a week. It is just incredible. And I the park was desegregated soon after that.

Are you working on anything special now?

I am. I’m preparing new work for a show in 2018 for my 85th birthday.

——————————————————

A Conversation with Dolph Smith
Dolph & David  at MCA
Dolph Smith was unable to enroll in person, so his mother did all his paperwork at the Memphis Academy of Art. The person helping her was Veda Reed. Smith, a painter, bookmaker, educator, and builder of nifty little buildings, was among the first students to receive a diploma after the school moved to Overton Park. He graduated in a class of seven.

Memphis Flyer: I’ve enjoyed your work for so long I hate that our first extended conversation is the result of such bad news.

Dolph Smith: It's just heartbreaking. There's so many of us that still have our roots in that place. I don't think I'll ever accept it.

I know you at least started when the school was still on Adams.

I was a GI in Berlin Germany. Something happened that told me that I needed to go to an art school. And bless my mother's heart, I woke up in the middle of the night and called her. And I asked her to find me an art school. And she did. She found the Memphis Academy of Art on Adams. When I was at the bottom of a troop ship coming home from Germany she walked up those broken steps on Adams and Veda Reed signed me in. That was in 1957. What’s amazing is that fate’s a big factor in bringing people to an art school. It’s not like you want to be a fireman when you grow up. Things happen to you growing up and you come to it. What a blessing. I’ve loved every minute of it. 
Smith’s Buoyk
  • Smith’s Buoyk

What was student life like when you got there?

It was very intimate then because we were just so close to the faculty. that's when Ted Faiers was there and Burton Callicott and that whole lineup of iconic people. And Ted Rust. It was just a warm little place. Of course every now and then a little bit of plaster would fall out of the ceiling, but that was part of it. We had a little sandwich shop down in the basement. That's where we had our lunch. Ted Rust would come out of his office and walk out to the volleyball court and we’d have a volleyball game every afternoon.

That does sound close-knit.

It was. We were so close. And you know the classes were small. I was there in the last couple of years on Adams, and when they built the new school I was in the first graduating class there in Overton Park. I think there were seven in my graduating class.

What kind of balance was there between classical fine arts training and commercial and industrial design?

We took everything. We had calligraphy, Burton Callicott taught that. That was one of his geniuses. There was a pretty good advertising design department. One of the leaders of that was Jason Williamson. He was a great watercolor painter. I graduated with an advertising design degree and got a job pretty quickly at a small art studio downtown. Of course, over the years I got the urge to pick up that brush. And that led to teaching nights at the college. We had a big community education program. I think it was in the hundreds of people down there at night. It was just a thriving place. I did a good bit of that. And Ted Rust asked me to join the faculty. So I left a day-to-day job and went to the college. Which was then still called the Academy.

What were academics like?

When I went through as a student I had to go to Memphis State to get 30 hours of academics because they didn’t teach any of that. It was all painting, throwing clay, even making mosaic tile as a class, and we all took that. So we had to put things together in two places. We had to have a language class so I took German because I’d been in Germany and figured I could ace that class. But I ended up with a C. I didn’t ace it at all. That’s how we put together the academics, which worked out fine, I guess.

And there was no such thing as campus housing...

I lived on a street called Cowden out there, over towards where the Memphis State campus was. We all had to find places to live, that was just part of it. I had the GI Bill, which was a help. A big help. And I had to have a job. I did some part-time work. One of them was at the Methodist Hospital where I was born. I worked nights at the admissions desk, and I’d go to class the next day. I'd be in life drawing working on a figure and she would pose for 20 minutes, and she’d take a ten-minute break, and I would take an 8 minute nap in a sling chair in the studio, and my friends would wake me up, and then I’d draw for another 20 minutes, and then I’d go take a nap.

A thing that really strikes me about this news. Art and artists are really at the core of Midtown’s identity, and a big part of that is directly related to the presence of MCA. You watched a lot of that grow. I don’t think I have a question here...

So many of us put down roots under that building, and so many of us are still growing from the roots attached to that building, and to that space. I think you’ll enjoy this… We're being cremated. And the first place I wanted my ashes to be thrown was off the balcony at the Memphis College of Art. Outside the room where I used to teach. So many are gone. Burton Ted. Veda And I are the last of this old breed that go all the way back. It's just part of our very physical selves. Not just mental but physical. And I'm not giving up.
Dolph Smith's Fertile Attic
  • Dolph Smith's Fertile Attic
Watch The Memphis Flyer's News Blog and Fly on the Wall for more web extras related to this week’s cover story Art of the Deal:The extraordinary rise and precipitous fall of the Memphis College of Art

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Q & A with Take 'em Down 901 Activist Tami Sawyer

Posted By on Wed, Sep 6, 2017 at 11:46 AM

I interviewed educator and Take 'em Down 901 activist Tami Sawyer Friday, August 25, a week after protests to remove Confederate memorials from Memphis' public parks ended with police action and arrests. In the same week's time, Mayor Jim Strickland pushed back against critics and the public conversation about appropriate means/timetables for removing inappropriate statues honoring Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slave trader, Klansman, and general of the Confederate army. Things got personal and cloudy, as they often do when individual feelings become proxy for public narratives.

The interview was condensed into a profile for a Memphis Flyer cover story — a package covering various aspects of the Confederate monument debate. Soundbites don't always do Sawyer justice, so here's a more complete picture.
Tami Sawyer, #takeemdown organizer and activist - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Tami Sawyer, #takeemdown organizer and activist

Memphis Flyer: How big is this fight over the statues? What does it really look like?


Tami Sawyer: Ursula Madden says 10% of Memphis is on our side 80% doesn't care and 10% is against us. I don't think those are scientific numbers.

Maybe not scientific, but do they sound right to you? There’s always a lot of indifference, whatever the issue is.

It feels like it's probably 30 - 40- 30. And the 40 that don't care aren't necessarily against us or against me. The 30 that cares though, are loud, vehement, and angry.

I suspect almost everybody has some opinion on this. There’s certainly no shortage of comments online.


I can't read it. I haven't watched video of myself because I can't ignore the comments. And the way Facebook works now the comments start automatically. The news stations live streamed a lot of things we’ve done instead of just recording them, so those comments scroll across the screen while you're watching the live video. I just can’t, you know? Because, like today when my flight touched down the first text I get says, “So, I hear you're running for Mayor.” There’s all this conjecture.

Are you running for Mayor? Is this the big announcement story? I don’t think I’m prepared for the big announcement story.


No, I’m not. I couldn't run for Mayor off this. Well, maybe I could. I’ll say I could, but I don't think it would be a smart idea. It would be inauthentic to use this as a launching pad. I do this because I care about it. I am trying to tie politics into it, though because I don't think we’ve had people-oriented leadership in Memphis. I hope that people are paying attention to the possibility of having leaders who are oriented with them, not the East Poplar business community.

So where did the rumor you’re running for Mayor come from? Detractors who think you’re just doing all this for attention or is it wishful thinking from supporters?

I think a large part of it is detractors. They think this is all a political ploy. They say I'm a demagogue who's leading the people into bloodshed for my own political gain. At the end of the day 1% of Memphians vote, so unless I was leading the people to bloodshed via voter registration… You know? There is a feeling or assumption that this is all for my own personal profile — my own political profile. I put my family at risk. My parents are business people. My sibling is a business person. And I put their livelihood at risk daily when I go up against the big guys.
No matter how supportive they may be, that’s got to create stress.

Yes, it creates stress in the family. They're supportive but it's hard not to sometimes say. “Oh I wish you'd just have a seat.”

The same week I turned 50 I posted to Facebook a 20-year-old short story about being caught in the middle of a shootout in CK’s coffee house and noted that it was more or less a blow-by-blow account of a thing that actually happened to me and my wife. 20 years after the fact my mom still freaked out a little — parents wanting their kids to be safe runs deep.

My parents were out of town at the height of everything last week. So, to get a text from your child no matter how old I am — I'm 35 — to get a text from me saying, “Hey here's my new number because I was woken up this morning by white supremacist on my cell phone…”. That's tough. I recognize the stress and I do worry. So we have a little system.They always know where I am and they always know when I'm home. So at this last protest they went to a fundraiser and someone comes up to them and says seven people were just arrested, have you talked to your daughter?

Yes. Exactly. That’s got to be really hard for everybody.

Every time we talk about the impact on the family, the bottom line is “We want you to be safe. Even if you continue this path, we've got to know that you're going to be safe." I'm 35. I'm single. I'm childless. I live alone. My address is public record because I've run for public office. At one point my phone number was public record because somebody decided it was cool to post it on TV.

I remember seeing that. They showed a press release or something and didn’t blur out the number.

Channel-3, in their haste to break news, held a copy of the press release in their hand, took a photo and posted that photo like, “Here's the press release!” Then there was a video. I was so panicked I went off on everybody 3, 13, 24 — “Anyone who's ever said my name never say my name again. I quit.” (Laughter). You know, I never had a plan. I stepped out three years ago doing this stuff because I couldn't believe we lived here and it was so quiet. How are we the home of the end — well, almost the end — of the Civil Rights Movement? I guess that makes sense, you know? Martin Luther King died here and it feels like a lot of hope and a lot of gumption died here too. Now we're really stuck on History, not progress and I think that's what makes me sad.

That reminds me of a long afternoon at Judge D’Army Bailey’s home in Hein Park. He was frustrated because he never wanted the National Civil Rights Museum to be “History under glass.” He wanted it to be a nexus or flashpoint for a living, progressing movement…

I think the museum with its expansion and programming...

Oh sure, I’m not criticizing the museum. It’s really grown and evolved its mission.

I grew up in the museum. My dad was CFO when I was in high school, so I used to walk in the back door. I remember back then it was just a place you went and visited once. You brought relatives when they came to town and there wasn't much else going on.

Exactly. A place to look back at something that happened not a place you experienced something that was happening. That’s what frustrated Bailey — and you just sounded a lot like him.

That’s why MLK 50 can't be just about the remembrance. 50 years later what gains can we say he made? And I have a complicated relationship with that statement because I'm second-generation college educated on one side of my family, and third-generation on the other. I graduated from St. Mary’s. My parents are considered upper middle class in Memphis. I’m considered upper middle class for Memphis. I've never wanted economically for much. So my story is not the story of the average black person or low-income person in Memphis. It's like I told my dad just a week ago, everything they gave me they gave me with a dose of reality. We were never those kids who were allowed to believe we had made it. My mama was like, 'Y’all are one generation from the hood.'

So it’s not the average story, it’s still part of the story.

When Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote The Case for Reparations, he wrote about a family who thought they bought a house in Chicago only to find out they'd been renting the whole time because of redlining and mortgage fraud. And with the loss of that home, the entire family spirals back into poverty. That's the story. There's no such thing as black wealth in our country. Even with people we idolize like Jay-Z or Beyonce — pull the roster of their cousins and family members and you will not find a wealthy generation. For example, Paris Hilton — all of her her generation and her parents’ generation have some wealth. It may be “poor” wealth — a million dollars — or true wealth like Paris. And its wealth because they have enough money for the next two or three generations to never experience poverty. So here in Memphis we have people with money and we have people whose children will have some comfort but, for example, I am probably two or three tough incidents in my life away from going from middle class into being impoverished. There’s a racial wealth gap we're experiencing here, and we refuse to acknowledge it. There's a lot of old white money making a lot of decisions in a majority-black city. And there's no such thing as old black money, so the power structure is skewed. We're looking at a scientific story here — a comedic line up of what Jim Crow and the following racist policies such as redlining and gerrymandering have done — and the impact of that story on people's abilities, not to just survive, but grow.

That story’s never really allowed to have much of a public life. It gets lost in more sensational or ideological content.

We don't have those conversations. The conversations we have are about how black people, poor white people, and brown people are uneducated and reckless, and don't care about their kids, and have too much sex so they have too many kids, and they're killing each other and stealing from each other, and they don't care about anything. We won't talk about everything I just said. We don't talk about what it means to spend more money on cops than education or to build more prisons than schools.

Right. It’s all supermarket tabloid headlines and comment section trolling. Numbers show trends, but, “Let’s talk about personal responsibility.

I had someone ask me about personal responsibility once. I was like, “Yes that's real.” People have to have personal responsibility. You pick up a gun and rob somebody, you made a bad decision. But now let’s talk about what real social social justice looks like. For every crime, there's a story. You know we idolize New York gangs today — the Italian gangs, and the Irish gangs that arose in the 20th-Century because of the sheer levels of poverty the Italian and Irish immigrants were experiencing and because of what prohibition meant for the money they could make off liquor sales. But today we don't talk about “white on white crime” or “Irish on Irish crime” or “Italian on Italian crime.” Instead we watch it on the big screens, and the gangsters get to play themselves.”

Great point. I have three paintings in my house depicting the evolution of the gangs from Jewish to Irish and Italian and eventually Columbian. Organized crime played a real part in moving these groups out of the slums. But before I go down that rabbit hole, let’s talk about the Confederate statues.

Okay.

I’m a big believer that language shapes us. Stories shape us — our identity. So, while taking down a bunch of statues won’t instantly solve crime or poverty, what you want to accomplish here is a real thing that will have real consequences. Critics want to know why you’re putting so much effort into something symbolic when you could be working on the big problems. So is changing the story— that these guys were great men — real, or is it symbolic?

It's both. It's not just symbolic if we are able to continue a movement out of this. If we're able to change conversations and make them about what social, racial, and economic justice really looks like. It's not more than symbolic if the statues come down and everyone goes home and says ‘racism is solved in Memphis’, which is my fear. It's more than symbolic because you're in a 65% black City with a founder of the KKK, or Grand Wizard, or whatever big man he was in the early days of the Ku Klux Klan. And we’ve also got Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. I can tell you all the stories about what they said or what they did, but the bottom line is, they felt they were superior to black people and their treatment of black people was odious at best, no matter what Nathan Bedford Forrest did when he got dementia. Don't Give A fuck, and you can print that. I don't care what you renounce at 85, or whatever.

His defenders prioritize a few incidents that don’t really seem to be in balance with how the man made his money or what he fought and killed for. I keep seeing comment section references to this one particular speech he made when a little black girl kissed him on the cheek, or something like that.

He leaned down and kissed the black woman on her cheek. Do you know how many people have done that for political purposes? Trump's held black babies. He’s held Mexican babies then said he's going to build a wall around our country to keep them out. Who cares, don't print that shit on my [Facebook] wall!

But let’s be generous. Let’s allow, whether it’s true or not, that this version of Forrest was the real true Forrest, not the slave trader or the butcher. That's not how he's presenting in the park. He's presenting as 'The Wizard of the Saddle,' in the uniform of an enemy the United States...

Bearing arms…

Yes, bearing arms to defend the institution of slavery — the institution that made him rich...

Riding his horse...

Yes, ‘the noble warrior.’

There was a meeting in June and we had maybe eight or nine kids from Grad Academy. And one of them said, “All my life I’ve passed that statue and thought that it must be somebody important. So when I talk about this — about how I don't want my niece to play in the shadow of him, or turn sixteen and be driving down Union and that statue still stands. No, it doesn't oppress you everyday. It's not a thing everyday. But anytime it comes into your awareness it's like that's awful. And it’s in my city. I think if we were to pull those statues down — and I don't care where we put them. I don't care what happens to them, and you can print that too. If you pull them down and they turn to dust, I'm sorry. People want me to be politically correct about it, but I do not care as long as they no longer stand in the city of Memphis.What I am interested in, is what we do with that space afterwards to unite Memphians.

Oh, right. What should we do? I’ve seen so many suggestions.

I think public art is good. I think having either a contest or a bid process for people to submit proposals about unifying art. However that works. What does not represent our city in a way that uplifts a majority of Memphians is Nathan Bedford Forrest. Or Jefferson Davis either. And these aren't hidden Parks. These are on major thoroughfares. Their placement is strategic. I think I put an MLK quote on Instagram. It was something about willful ignorance — I'll have to look it up to get it correct. But it was basically about how continuing to argue and say ‘I don't get how this hurts black people or how this oppresses African Americans’ is willful. And that's my biggest concern because, even if the statues come down, the conversation continues: “Y’all are weak. Y'all let a statue bother you.” Those are things I get.
How is tearing down the icons of historic oppression weak? You take action, you capture the flag...

We took action. I can't think, outside of Native Americans, another group of people that are told to just take it. Just take it. Deal with it. I was in Chicago talking about Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. He talks about the waves of immigration that came into our country. Each wave assimilated and were able to uplift their heroes and remove any references to them ever having been the Negro. Right?

Like you were saying about the New York gangs, Luc Sante's Low Life...

Think about American Gods and the waves religion that came with immigrants. Which ones stood? We still have references to Norse mythology and references even to Egyptian mythology even though we never had an Egyptian immigration wave. Where are the [other] African gods? They were destroyed on plantations in the South. I'd be crazy if I stood forth as a future political later and said I practice the Yoruban religion, right?

You would probably have difficulty persuading a key constituency.

Everyone.

Okay, everyone.

Everybody would say, ‘Okay Tami, you've crossed the line now.’ So I don't think it's just symbolic. I think it's pushing or forcing conversations. It’s forcing a lot of people out of a lot of closets. I didn't know we were, but now that I do I'm pushing even harder than before. Don't just wear your Klan hood in the closet, come at me. Come out of the shadows with your racist Facebook posts Terry Roland. And lukewarm white progressives who say, “This is not a real issue,” but can't look a black person in the face and say it.

Well, you told me we were going to talk about white fragility. And this feels like the perfect place to introduce the topic. And maybe, if we’re going to talk about that we should do it in the context of Mayor Strickland’s pushback or meltdown — His comments about all he’s done for the black community — he’s trying to get the statues down, he's tutored a child etc. A lot of people see this and say, ‘Well, you know he has a point.’ But for me, for whatever points he may have made, the takeaway was that you and the other activists weren't grateful enough. That seems like textbook fragility.

I've lost friends over this. Progressive friends. People who were like 'Tami, you know I support you all the way. All the way to the governorship if that's what you want.' Now they're like, “I'm ride or die for Strickland, and you are being unfair to this man who got a quarter of the black vote in Memphis.’ This is a man who strategically split the black vote and then goes forward to further split black people in Memphis because the photo op...

Well, it's Memphis. It's what we do. But whether it's intentional or not, when you look at the last week, delegitimizing the activists does appear to be a more pressing, actionable goal for for the Mayor than getting the statues down.

It’s saying, ‘Hey .Tami Sawyer has lost her mind, these are the real black leaders. Don't go follow that rabble rouser. Everything they've put out in the last month has been racially coded, straight out of J. Edgar Hoover's media playbook.

HA! hadn’t anticipated J. Edgar showing up in the conversation...

Trump did the same thing. Take that photo back in January this year. At the time, black people are in the streets and upset about Trump's inauguration, but Trump gets the presidents of all the HBCUs in the country to come get their picture made standing around him while he’s signing an agreement — the most basic accord. It was like, “I will support HBCUs." There was uproar in the black community, and people were split. Some are like, we've got to work with him so that's good, right? Others were like, “Why are we always selling out when we stand up against him? Well, now it’s August 2017 that was January. So, 7-months later the HBCUs are fighting for federal funding which is frozen. They're boycotting any future HBCU summits. They’re calling for his impeachment, but what will go down in history is the photo op. So anything they may say against him now, all he has to do is tweet that photo of those 25 or 30 presidents of black HBCUs, standing at his desk smiling. Images are so powerful. We don't even communicate in words anymore, it's all GIFs or memes.
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I’ve got to admit, I don’t even fully understand the conflict. Whatever constraints the Mayor may or may not be under in pursuing statue removal, your aim is straightforward — to take the statues down now. It was your goal yesterday, it will be your goal tomorrow. If the Mayor has a plan that MIGHT get the statues down Friday, your role isn’t to say, ‘Hooray, now this thing that hasn’t happened in the past might happen and sing "Kumbaya,” it’s to turn up the heat. Because "Kumbaya" has a pretty well documented history of failing to get the job done. Is that a fair was to characterize the dynamic?

In his mind and the minds of the people who support him, I'm an agitator and I've launched a revolution on Union Avenue. So he can't be seen smiling with me at a table. But he can be seen with the historical leaders of the black community — pastors. So he goes and gets them forgetting that I'm also supported by pastors.
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What do you say to people who believe he’s on your side and you’re being unfair to him? It’s not hard to see how people make the leap from, ‘He has to follow the law’ to the idea that you’re the one being unreasonable.

The law is unjust. Alan Wade said himself  — said the law was built to make sure a Confederate statue was never removed in Tennessee. No other statue in the state is protected like that. Because we're not trying to move any other statues.

And so these photo-ops, these complaints about gratitude...

What's infuriating is using the photo to say ‘We will continue to follow the law and these people stood by and supported me and listened to me and that's that.’ Only, the law is unjust. Alan Wade said himself — the law was built to make sure a Confederate statue was never removed. Never. And then, if you want to, we can talk about the MLK vs. Confederate argument in just a second because that's another ridiculous argument.

Right? It's like a swap meet. Like the things these men stood for and represented were in any way comparable.

It is.

I’ll give you Jefferson Davis in exchange for MLK and Sharpton.

Right! I’ll give you Sharpton…

If you put a blanket over Forrest.

It really is that kind of bargaining and then you have to remind them there is no MLK statue in the city where he was killed.

Well, there is a memorial on Main, on the mall. But it’s abstract — a Sphinx of sorts. It’s ramp shaped and always seems to attract more skateboarders than Civil Rights tourists.

He's not riding a horse, I know that. Even the street names — Forest is one of the most beautiful streets in the city. It runs right behind the zoo. Where is MLK?

Underdeveloped stretch between downtown and midtown...


It's not just Memphis. That’s a running joke everywhere. You know you're in a black neighborhood if you see Martin Luther King Street/Boulevard. And it's not done for racial healing or equality, it's done to shut people up. ‘So I'm going to give the black community an MLK Street in their neighborhood and be like, ‘Have a great day.’’ But if you pull the incomes of the people who live on the street named Forest and then compare it to the income to the people who live on MLK — that's your story.

So what does all the drama with the Mayor mean?

It means now I have to rebuild relationships and talk to folks. And we're all focused on who was in that picture, and why, and who wasn't in the room, and why, and who got calls and who didn't. There was the letter showing the city had withdrawn the petition from the THC agenda in 2016, and that didn't get any traction.There’s a whole letter from a Commissioner of the Historical Commission saying ‘This is not on us, this is on your city because in 2016 the petition was removed from the agenda and no one had attended a meeting in two years.’ And it got buried. Only one station reported on it and that was Fox 13.

And, on the subject of dividing, there was a second petition that emerged and was shared around. It was a Google doc, I think. Said something like, 'If you REALLY support statue removal, sign this.’ Or something like that — it implied there were other things you COULD do, but this was the serious thing to do. In Google docs. But you’d already been collecting signatures via change.org for a long time.

We've got a letter — a petition with 4500 signatures addressed to the Historical Commission, Jim Strickland, and Governor Haslam. And we know Change.org sends notes every time somebody signs. To continuously say we need to focus on the state or the commission is to ignore what we have done that and act like we're just out here without any direction. We did our research. So if you know that, but you won't cooperate with us even though we've done the research, and we’ve found the loopholes… well? You could have let us cover the statue, instead you sent your soldiers in, like we were on a Battlefield. It goes back to the whole unjust law thing.

And if the City Council’s attorney is saying it’s easier to kill a prisoner with a lethal injection than it is to get a wavier on these statues...

And how long is Alan Wade served this city?

Can’t say right off. He’s been City Council attorney for....

Mayors come and go but Alan Wade stays right where he is. So Alan Wade sits there and tells you this. He tells the whole public, knowing what kind of media is there, knowing who's in the room live streaming it, knowing everything he says is going to be reported. He deliberately tells you that it's easier to kill someone with lethal injection in Tennessee than it is to remove a Confederate statue. How can you continue to say, ‘Yes, maybe we'll follow your process’? And if Alan Wade says the statues can be covered, how do you say, ‘We don't think we can cover the statues.’ I'm not saying Alan Wade is the Morgan Freeman of attorneys, but he's close. And I'll tell you, I wasn't expecting half of what he said. I was in tears. I mean, legally our fight is being supported here.

Let’s talk about another thing that confuses people, I think — And I’m sorry for asking because this isn’t good question, but it’s one I’m seeing asked all over. What do you say to people who are like, ‘Why are you picking on the poor white mayor who’s doing all he can for you when African-American mayors like Wharton and Herenton did nothing?”

Well…

Maybe we can do a speed round of questions where you address all the terrible questions that show up in comment sections. All the ‘common sense’ questions ...

Well, Wharton didn't get them down. And Herenton didn’t get them down. I'm like, “Okay, sure, but we're trying to do this now.” Is that stuff something we can discuss when we're talking about the historic achievements of our former mayors? Sure it is. Absolutely. But it has nothing to do with right now, nor bearing on today and what the current Administration chooses or chooses not to do. I don't care what Herenton and Wharton did, because I care about what we want to do right now, and if you continue to block our efforts — if you pit us against the police — if our legal observers overhear someone tell the police over the radio, “Arrest all those motherfuckers right now,” you're not worried about what we really think. You probably wish we'd never brought the issue up, because now we're tainting the history of your Administration. I can't sit in a room and celebrate MLK 50 with an Administration that won't move this statue. It’s like Supreme Court-forced busing. It’s like 70% of white kids being removed from public schools. This is like having to be sued by the NAACP to integrate with just 13 kids — kindergarteners put on the front lines. This is — I'm trying not to use the expression white supremacist because we've got in so much trouble for those comments. Because I'm not telling people, ‘You’re a closet racist.’ What I'm saying is, ‘There's a bias in your awareness and in your policies.’

What you're describing is the functional cornerstone of white supremacy though. Isn't it? Not Nazis or extremists...

I just don't like to use certain words. Like ‘Nazi,’ because it lets people divorce themselves from the idea that this is America and it's happening right now, right here. Our version of hate is home-grown. It's not about people watching what happened in Germany. It's not about that, it's about homegrown hate. Our supremacist hatred does not come from Germany. It come 1608, Jamestown. And on from there.

The Sons of the Confederate Veterans don’t identify as a White Supremacist group but they described the removal the statues as, and I’m quoting, “cultural genocide in the South,” and as, “A blow against the people of Tennessee.” Seems to me that defines supremacy by completely eliminating blacks and black culture from Southern culture. It’s not genocide, but it’s erasure — which is, near as I can tell, the cultural equivalent.


That's my thing. If we’re talking about Heritage not hate, when you say this is about the Southerners’ rights, well I'm a Southerner too. My family were all slaves in Fayette County. We have the bills. We own of the land. We have the land my great-great-grandparents were slaves on. Most of the people in Memphis were slaves in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee. So saying the Confederacy is Southern Heritage and depicting Southern Heritage as being blond haired and blue eyed, doesn’t represent all Southerners. At one point there were more black people in the South than white. Until the Great Migration there were. North Carolina closed its borders to black people. South Carolina practiced Eugenics and sterilization. The black population in the South was destroyed as they saw slavery coming to an end. The zoning laws in place in neighborhoods were for the protection of white families, and not against theft and robbery — against friendship and relationships, which goes to the very homegrown fear of the white race being diluted through relations and African descendants. And here we are.

And here we are.

I said something on Facebook about, ‘Don't tell me my heritage isn’t your heritage.’ I burn in the sun. Gayle Rose had to pull me under a tree at the protest because I was about to die. I was about to die in front of Nathan Bedford Forrest. I was red in the face and hyperventilating, and did not realize I was having a heat stroke. I sunburn as quick as any white person. I overheat. I have freckles. I turn pale in the winter. That's violence in my blood. That's violence in my blood. I'm not that by choice. So yeah, we share the same heritage.

So what do you tell people who think the statues are unimportant compared to poverty or other issues.

There are people who think, “You all just want to tear these statues down why don't you want to solve for crime. Why don't you want to solve for education? And like that. I get that from black people and white people both. But we are not one-note people. People can care about more than one thing. When I say ‘we’ I mean those of us organizing and meeting and participating. This is a multicultural fight. And it's made up of people who are engaged in all different types of things. We've got Free Palestine out there with us. We've got our LGBTQ people. We’ve got Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter. You can go on and on and on. You got the clergy. There was Jewish clergy, Catholic, protestant Christian clergy. White Christian, black Christian. These are people who are engaged in different things. I work in education. I work at Teach for America so my work daily is about making sure that teachers are prepared to impact their kids lives and not to further oppress or enter into classrooms as oppressors. So there's that. I work on black economic freedom. I'm well-versed in the racial wealth gap because I've spent a lot of time learning about, and trying to find programs and opportunities to get on a level playing field, economically. And what that kind of thing looks like in Memphis and nationally. Social Justice. Criminal Justice.
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What does it look like?

We can't solve for Crime with more cops on the street we need to solve for crime with youth programing. My dream would be by next summer we’d be able to open a social justice camp to gets kids out of the street looking for something to do, but educational. Learning about history and their rights. Training people to be future lawyers and future Justice workers and future activists. Getting kids involved and self-advocating for themselves so, when they see what resources they don't have, they don't give up and advocate for their community. The teachers that have shown up and brought their students. Or come on their own are you going to tell them to go focus on education? People can care about more than one thing.

And things like crime and poverty — these are enormous abstract issues that people have been trying to solve since the beginning of civilization. Taking down the statues is so imminently doable.

Yeah, so the statues could have come down. This shouldn't be the issue that it is. Bottom line. Should have been over.

Or, short of that, any clear, active measure by the Mayor to provide evidence of sincerity... Something people can see and understand the same way they understand what it means when you send in the police.

Let's cover them. What makes it crazy is we keep going. And nothing. So if we can't get these statues down, how are we going to get something done about the big issues? It’s like saying, ‘Mr. Mayor, we think there should be more money in the budget for Education,’ and hearing, ‘No, sorry, that’s grandstanding. You should have told me 2-months ago you wanted money for education.’ We've decreased the education budget by $65-million and we’ve increased policing by $75-million. And I don’t know what that’s resulted in except for more black and brown kids in jail. You know “tough-on-crime,” and “Fed Up,” well, it doesn't work. It doesn't. Building more prisons than schools doesn’t work. You take 18-years away from somebody's life and then you put them back on the street? My formative years were spent figuring out what it meant to be adult between the age of 18 and yesterday. What if I had to do that in prison for some petty crime? What would I be to society when you let me go? We're locking kids up at 12 and keeping them for years and expecting them to come home and be a part of a community. Somebody that was locked up 15 years ago missed the advent of the iPhone. You hand them a smartphone and they're like, ‘Oh can I call you at home?’ I haven't had a house phone since 2004. Technology moves so fast causing whole populations of black and brown youth to miss out on being able to support and advance their communities. It goes even further. Think about marriage. They talk about black love and why the average black woman has a higher degree, or better job than black men. This is why. Because black men getting arrested for petty crimes and getting 18 years.

When people think of white supremacy they think of the Klan burning crosses and Neo-Nazi skinheads and all the extreme examples. But isn’t it fair to characterize all of this that you’re describing here as how white supremacy actually works?

People say, ‘Well I'm not personally white supremacist.’ We're saying, ‘But wake up. You're living out white supremacist structures that continue to oppress, subvert, destroy, and destruct a whole culture.’

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Corrections Center Deputy Director Resigns Amid Outrage Over Racist Facebook Posts

Posted By on Tue, Nov 15, 2016 at 1:41 PM

David Barber
  • David Barber
David Barber, Deputy Director of the Shelby County Corrections Center, resigned today amid outrage over a series of racist posts to social media including a Facebook status claiming the Ku Klux Klan was more American that President Obama.

Text from the official announcement:

Corrections Center Deputy Director Resigns After Facebook Post November 15, 2016 David Barber, Deputy Director of the Shelby County Corrections Center, resigned today after derogatory comments were posted on his personal Facebook account. Although Barber’s comments were personal to his Facebook page, his occupation at the Shelby County Corrections Center was evident to anyone who accessed the page. After discussing the offensive nature of the comments and the impact they would have on the corrections center, he offered to resign and it was accepted by Corrections Director William Gupton. “Anyone in a leadership position at Shelby County Government is held at a high standard of behavior, both on and off the job,” said Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell, Jr. Barber had been with the corrections center for 17 years. Before assuming his position as Deputy Director two years ago, he was the center’s Administrator of Finance."

'

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

HUD Announces Job Program For Foote Homes Residents

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2015 at 5:20 PM

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Residents of Foote Homes, the city's last remaining public housing project, were chosen for a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pilot program aimed at helping them find and train for jobs.

The Jobs Plus pilot program was announced at a press conference at Foote Homes on Thursday afternoon. HUD's General Deputy Assistant Secretary of Public Housing Jemine Bryon said HUD will give the Memphis Housing Authority $3 million to implement the program

Memphis is one of nine U.S. cities chosen to receive the funding for its public housing residents. Bryon said 57 cities applied. The funds will be invested into opportunities for public housing residents to increase their income through employment-related services, financial incentives, and community support for work.

There are more than 1,000 people living in 414 households at Foote Homes. Bryon said the program has a goal of enrolling 291 of those residents into the Jobs Plus program and placing 60 of them into jobs.

"Just because public housing residents are of modest means doesn't mean they have modest dreams," Bryon told those gathered at the conference, many of whom were residents of Foote Homes.

City officials plan to submit an application in September to HUD to raze Foote Homes' 57 buildings. HUD denied the city the $30 million grant for the project last year. But city Director of Housing and Community Development Robert Lipscomb will try again this year. Lipscomb is overseeing a plan to tear down the aging complex and replace it with a mixed-income housing development like Legends Park, Cleaborne Pointe, University Place, and others.

Residents of Foote Homes, backed by the Vance Avenue Collaborative, have been fighting the city's plan to tear down their apartment complex for years. They've released alternative plans, calling on the city to spruce up the complex with bigger porches, rain gardens, better lighting, walkways, and more trees.



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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Locals Hold "Die-In" In Solidarity With Victims of Police Shootings

Posted By on Thu, Dec 4, 2014 at 5:19 PM

When news broke Wednesday night that white New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo would not be indicted in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black man who was allegedly selling loose cigarettes, Memphians Naomi Van Tol and Tami Sawyer took to Twitter with their frustration.

The news about Pantaleo came just a little over a week after a Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson, who is white, in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. It was too much for Van Tol and Sawyer to deal with. The pair didn't know one another before the incidents, but they befriended on Twitter over their frustration. Sawyer suggested staging a solidarity "die-in" demonstration similar to those being held all over the country.

Sawyer said they chose the National Civil Rights Museum as the location and quickly organized the demonstration on social media.

"What better way to let America know that black lives matter than holding a demonstration in front of the Civil Rights Museum," Sawyer said.

About 50 people showed up Thursday afternoon to play dead on the grounds of the Civil Rights Museum.
Peter Gathje from the Manna House was there.

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And the Adam and Kristie Jeffrey, owners of Imagine Vegan Cafe in Cooper-Young, showed up with their family.

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Once assembled, the group gathered in a circle and held hands, chanting "Black Lives Matter."

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Then, one by one, the protesters laid down on their backs, continuing their chants of "Black Lives Matter" and "We Can't Breathe" (in honor of Garner, who told Pantaleo that he couldn't breathe as he was being choked). They laid on the ground for 10 minutes.

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Sawyer and Van Tol lay next to one another.

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After the ten minutes were up, the protesters departed. A couple Memphis Police cars parked a few feet away from the protest, and officers watched from their vehicles but didn't approach the protesters.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Department of Justice to Monitor Election Day Voting

Posted By on Mon, Nov 3, 2014 at 3:45 PM

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Tomorrow, registered voters will have the chance to cast their ballots for the nation’s general election.
And to make sure everything goes smoothly, representatives of the Department of Justice (DOJ) will be monitoring polling locations in Shelby County.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee, DOJ personnel will monitor polling place activities to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting rights statutes. And a Civil Rights Division attorney will coordinate federal activities and maintain contact with local election officials.

The Voting Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination during elections.

Voters can contact the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division to file complaints about discriminatory voting practices, including harassment or intimidation. The Voting Section can be reached at 1-800-253-3931.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween in Memphis: Ranked, Watched, and Composted

Posted By on Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at 11:25 AM

Alright, Memphis, here’s what we know so far going into Friday’s Halloween holiday. We’ll update this post as any new information rolls in.

• The cops say have fun but watch out for sex offenders and, also, don’t drink and drive.

• An online list factory says Memphis is among the worst cities for Halloween (because, of course).

• A local group says you can bring them your old jack-o-lantern and they’ll compost it for you.

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The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office is warning parents to be extra cautious of sex offenders this Halloween and the office is telling them where those offenders live.

The sheriff’s office has posted a link on its Facebook page to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s map of Tennessee’s registered sex offenders.

Users can type in any address and the map will show them the addresses of the registered sex offenders as close as a two-mile radius. The site shows the offender's picture and tells why and when they were arrested.

Sex offenders are under strict restrictions during Halloween. Here’s what the SCSO says:

“Sex offenders on state-supervised parole or probation must abide by strict guidelines regarding Halloween and seasonal events. Offenders may not:

• Place any Halloween or fall season decorations inside or outside their homes
• Answer the door or have anyone else answer the door for trick-or-treaters
• Pass out candy, have a party at their home, or accompany any child who is trick-or-treating
• Dress in a costume with the intent to attract a minor or be in the presence of a minor
• Attend any Halloween or fall festival events including hayrides, haunted houses or functions where children are gathered

However, offenders who are parents or legal guardians of children may attend Halloween parties and fall festivals at schools provided their children and school officials are present.

Also, deputies will be taking extra precautions on Halloween night “to help prevent pranks and vandalism.” They’ll be paying close attention to the activities of trick-or-treaters and watching for drunk or impaired drivers.

The Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Unit offers these reminders to the parents of trick-or-treaters:
• All candy needs to be inspected by parents before it is eaten.
• Children should always have adults with them while visiting homes to collect candy.
• Parents need to carry flashlights while out with their children.
• Children need to wear light-colored costumes that do not drag the ground.
• Reflecting tape is also recommended to help make the costumes more visible.
• Face masks may impair the vision of children. Parents need to consider face paint or other costumes.
• Choose costumes that are flame resistant. Keep children away from pets. Pets might be frightened by the Halloween costumes and might possibly attack the children.


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  • WalletHub


WalletHub ranked the top 100 metros for celebrating Halloween.

Memphis ranked 81st on the list. Yep, the bottom 20 and sandwiched in between Corpus Christi and Cleveland. Now that is scary.

How seriously should we take this? Well, WalletHub’s intro to the whole list reads like this:

“It’s that time of year again when everyone gets to play dress-up and devour sweet treats. No, we’re not talking about your company’s annual meeting.”

Oh, boy. WalletHub’s a real cut up, a real card.

So, how did the company rank cities anyway? Cities got points in three categories:

1. Entertainment environment and safety (Memphis ranked 95th)
2. Parties and activities (Memphis ranked 52nd)
3. Weather forecast (Memphis ranked 24th)

WalletHub looked at crime, age of population, prices of Halloween party tickets, number of costume stores and candy stores per capita, and weather, of course.

WalletHub’s best city for Halloween? St. Paul, Minn. The worst Halloween city? Winston-Salem, N.C.

——

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Finally, GrowMemphis is inviting all the frumpy, rotting jack-o-lanterns to its office.

“After Halloween is over and your pumpkin looks sad and not scary, it is time to take it to GrowMemphis for composting.”

The non-profit says anyone can just drop off their old pumpkin at its office at 3573 Southern during business hours (8 a.m. To 5 p.m.) from next Monday to next Friday (Nov. 3 through Nov. 7).

They only ask you to remove any candles from the pumpkin and “please be tidy!”

If you have any big-time Halloween news Memphis needs to know, send it over to toby@memphisflyer.com.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

UPenn Professor to Address Educational Barriers Faced by Minorities

Posted By on Wed, Oct 22, 2014 at 2:51 PM

Dr. Shaun Harper
  • Dr. Shaun Harper

A University of Pennsylvania professor and minority education specialist, Dr. Shaun Harper will enlighten African-American youth about institutional barriers they may face this Thursday.

On October 23rd, Harper will present his "Educating Young Men of Color in an Urban Context" speech at Bridges USA. The event will last from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Harper’s lecture is part of a speaker series being presented by SchoolSeed, a nonprofit working to drive educational excellence and innovation in Memphis.

Sam O'Bryant, deputy director of community engagement and strategic partnerships for SchoolSeed, said attendees will learn about obstacles that prevent young men of color from succeeding in school and thereafter.

“Although personal responsibility is a factor to consider, it is not the ‘end all’ that determines if a person of color is successful,” O’Bryant said. “Even when a child does the right things (good grades, graduate high school, enroll in post-secondary schools, etc.), there exist barriers that prevent them from reaching their full potential. Dr. Harper's speech will speak to how communities can identify these systemic barriers and put new systems in place to make sure every child can reach their full potential.”

The main objective of the event is to provide awareness and spark discussion about race and equity in public education. And SchoolSeed hopes attendees will be motivated to develop a local movement that addresses and combats educational obstacles encountered by minorities.

"Our goal in continuing this speaker series is to facilitate community discussion about timely, relevant education-related topics," said Vince McCaskill, executive director of SchoolSeed, in a statement. “Dr. Harper is a dynamic, intellectually gifted thinker and speaker, and it's truly an honor to have him in Memphis to participate in this series."

Harper is the second lecturer to be featured in SchoolSeed’s speaker series. The series launched earlier this year with Dr. Ivory Toldson. The deputy director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Toldson talked to LeMoyne-Owen College in April about the important role HBCUs play in advancing the educational success of African-American males.

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UTHSC Students Giving Free Flu Vaccinations to Low-Income, Homeless

Posted By on Wed, Oct 22, 2014 at 11:14 AM

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With the flu season approaching, it’s important for Memphians to get their vaccinations, which significantly reduces chances of contracting the respiratory illness.

In light of this, students at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) will be providing free flu vaccinations to the city's low-income and homeless this Thursday. The students are a part of the Operation Immunization Committee of the American Pharmacists Association Academy of Student Pharmacists chapter at UTHSC.

Last year, the chapter was awarded a $3,000 grant to vaccinate Memphis’ low-income population. And the group will use the grant to provide flu vaccinations to 150 impoverished locals. All people have to do to receive the vaccinations is attend Idlewild Presbyterian Church’s “More Than a Meal” gathering.

The event, which will take place Thursday, October 23rd from 5:30 to 7 p.m., will give the city's homeless and low-income a chance to enjoy a free meal and fellowship with church members. During the dinner, UTHSC College of Pharmacy students who are certified to give immunizations will administer vaccinations.

Over a period of 31 seasons between 1976 and 2007, estimated flu-associated deaths in the United States ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During a regular flu season, about 90 percent of deaths occur in people 65 years and older.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mayor Luttrell, Health Officials Talk Ebola Response Methods

Posted By on Tue, Oct 21, 2014 at 4:10 PM

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Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, along with several public health officials, held a media briefing Tuesday to discuss response methods that would be utilized if Ebola spread to Memphis.

During the briefing, which was held at the Vasco Smith Administration Building, Yvonne Madlock, director of the Shelby County Health Department, assured the public that the department is prepared to control and prevent the spread of Ebola.

Madlock said this would be done through identification and isolation of patients who have Ebola, tracing of individuals who have come in direct contact with a sick Ebola patient, and the use of personal protective equipment.

“We’ve been conducting tabletop exercises and drills,” Madlock said. “We’ve been training our agency and staff, and training partner [agencies]. We’ve been in direct communication with the Tennessee Department of Health, [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], and other national leaders and health departments across the nation that are experts in this kind of event. We’ve been working with our hospitals and our EMS providers, [and] communicating with physicians and hospitals and urgent care centers.”

Ebola, a severe, and often fatal, illness has claimed more than 4,000 lives since it’s outbreak in West Africa. The three countries hit the hardest in the continent are Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

To date, there have been no confirmed cases in Memphis or Tennessee. And the only Ebola cases diagnosed in the U.S. have been in Dallas. On September 30th, Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man visiting family in Dallas, was diagnosed with Ebola at the city's Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

Duncan succumbed to the virus on October 8th. Two nurses who treated him, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, were later diagnosed with the virus.

Since Ebola’s most recent outbreak in March, nearly 9,000 people have been confirmed to have the virus. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the amount of people infected is possibly 2.5 times higher than the number reported.

The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals like fruit bats and primates, which are hunted in Africa for food. The virus is then spread through the human population via direct contact with blood or bodily fluids, such as urine, saliva, semen, or vomit, from an infected person. Virus symptoms include fevers, headaches, muscle aches, vomiting, and diarrhea.

According to WHO, the current fatality rate for the disease is 50 percent. However, since the illness first emerged in 1976, case fatality rates have varied from 25 to 90 percent in past outbreaks.

Presently, there is no cure for Ebola. However, experimental drugs ZMapp, Favipiravir, Brincidofovir, and TKM-Ebola have been used to treat individuals who have been diagnosed with the virus.

“Ebola disease is not as easily spread as other viruses,” Madlock said. “Very few people in the United States are actually at risk. And we can contain Ebola disease, just as it’s been contained in other parts of the world, through rapid identification and isolation of cases, [and] identifying and monitoring our contacts. But it does take cooperation, coordination, training and preparedness, and that’s the kind of work that we’ve been involved in.”

Residents can reach out to the Health Department via Twitter and Facebook for more information on Ebola. And check out this week's issue of The Flyer for an additional article on the virus.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Michael Strahan’s Personal Trainer Gives Health Advice

Posted By on Thu, Oct 16, 2014 at 2:09 PM

Latreal La Mitchell
  • Latreal "La" Mitchell

This Saturday, Latreal “La” Mitchell, personal trainer for Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, will provide Memphians with fitness and nutrition advice.

On behalf of Meta, a new line of wellness products created by the makers of fiber supplement brand Metamucil, Mitchell will be hosting “MEMfix: Edge Event." The one-day community event will be held in the Edge District — an area within a quarter-mile radius of the Marshall/Monroe Avenues intersection.

Attendees will be able to enjoy a number of healthy activities, including cycling classes, health screenings, and a wellness lounge. People will also get the chance to meet one-on-one with Mitchell for health and wellness advice and motivation.

“La will help motivate the people of Memphis, and show them how easy it can be to start making small, healthy changes,” said a spokesperson for Meta. “As a personal trainer and health coach, La will be talking to people about their overall health. She will be offering tips and inspiration to [help Memphians] start making small, healthy changes that may have greater effects on their overall health.”

Mayor A C Wharton and representatives from Common Table Health Alliance and other community agencies will join Mitchell for the event. It takes place Saturday, October 18th from noon to 3 p.m. at the intersection of Marshall and Monroe.

MEMfix: Edge Event is among a series of health-centered events occurring this year as a result of a new partnership between Meta, Common Table Health Alliance, and the City of Memphis.

“Meta’s goal is to help provide the community with the resources it needs to get healthy,” Meta's spokesperson said. “We know there are great local organizations already doing this, and our hope is that by partnering with them we can reach more Memphians and have a greater impact on the community’s health and wellness.”

The partnership between Meta, Common Table Health Alliance, and the city is also part of the multi-health wellness line's national initiative and sweepstakes, “Meta Effect,” which encourages people nationwide to make small, healthy changes that can impact them significantly. People can visit here for more information on the initiative.

“[We want] all Americans to experience what we like to call the 'Meta Effect,' which is the simple idea that one small change can lead to good things,” the spokesperson said.

Out of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, Memphis is the unhealthiest, according to the American College of Sports Medicine’s 2014 American Fitness Index. Contributing factors to Memphis earning the top slot were the city's high obesity rate (35 percent of adults in Shelby County are obese), low fruit and vegetable consumption by many residents, and high cardiovascular disease and diabetes death rates.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

U of M Grant Helps Increase Amount of Social Workers in Mid-South

Posted By on Tue, Oct 14, 2014 at 3:44 PM

U of M Master of Social Work students
  • U of M Master of Social Work students

Three University of Memphis professors have been awarded a six-figure grant to establish an initiative for training social work students on violence prevention, behavioral health, and primary care.

Associate professor Dr. Susan Neely-Barnes and assistant professors Dr. Elena Delavega and Dr. Susan Elswick, all part of the U of M’s department of Social Work, collectively received an “Administration Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training for Professionals” grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The award is $473,892 during the first year, with a possible $1.4 million over a three-year period.

The grant will be used to establish the "Mid-South Social Work Professional Development" initiative. Through the plan, 102 advanced Master of Social Work (MSW) students will be trained over a three- to four-year period on six areas of social work: violence prevention; integration of behavioral health and primary care; working with transition-age youth; inter-professional education; engagement with families; and cultural and linguistic competency.

“The grant provides us with things like speaker fees and travel funds, so we would like to bring some national experts into this area to talk to the students,” Neely-Barnes said. “We’re also hoping to link [the grant] to continuing education for social workers and other mental health professionals in the area and other related professionals. We [want to] bring in some people who have national modules around some of these important topics, and also bring more evidence-based practices to the area. We hope that we can raise the caliber of the services that are provided in this region."

The Mid-South has been identified as a region boasting a shortage of mental health professionals. This is a contributing factor to HRSA’s decision to fund the U of M initiative.

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For example, the Shelby County region’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) is the largest public child welfare office in Tennessee with 286 case managers. However, DCS records indicate that only one of the nearly 300 case managers holds a MSW degree.

Considering that statistic, the Mid-South Social Work Professional Development Initiative will help increase the amount of master’s level trained social workers who are able to provide child welfare, as well as mental health work, school social work, and violence prevention in Memphis.

“It’s a critical need in this region for more trained mental health professionals, and by giving this grant to the University of Memphis, the hope is a lot of these folks will stay here and continue to work with transition-age youth and others who have a critical need for services,” Neely-Barnes said.

Students who are interested in accessing the initiative must be advanced year MSW students. They can click here and apply to the MSW program.

Selected program participants will receive a $10,000 stipend. And they will be given experiential training while providing direct services to children, adolescents, or transition-age adults (16 to 25 year olds).

Fourteen community agencies are collaborating with the U of M's Social Work department for the initiative. Amid them are the Church Health Center, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Shelby County Schools, Youth Villages, and the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

The Mid-South Social Work Professional Development program is part of the “Now Is the Time” initiative. President Barack Obama launched the initiative in 2013 after several events of gun violence in the nation, including the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting that left 12 dead and 58 wounded, and the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting, which claimed the lives of 20 first grade students and six staff members.

The “Now Is the Time” initiative’s goal is to reduce gun violence by encouraging executive and legislative action that would abate the chances of illegal firearm ownership, ban assault weapons, limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, and increase school safety and access to mental health services for youth and young adults.

The U of M's Social Work department is holding an open house about MSW admissions Saturday, October 18th from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Prospective students can sign up to attend the event here.

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Man Receives 22-Year Sentence for Murdering Ridgeway High School Basketball Coach

Posted By on Thu, Oct 2, 2014 at 11:23 AM

Dwayne Moore
  • Dwayne Moore

The stepson of slain Ridgeway High School assistant basketball coach Jimmy McClain has been sentenced to 22 years in prison for McClain's murder.

Dwayne Moore, 21, the son of McClain’s estranged wife, reportedly shot his 49-year-old stepfather multiple times with a .40 caliber pistol. On February 22nd, 2013, McClain’s body was discovered by Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies in his home at 7667 Cordova Club.

Moore was convicted in June of murdering McClain. This week, he was sentenced to 22 years in prison without parole for the murder, according to the Shelby County District Attorney General's office.

Prior to being discovered by law enforcement, McClain had been reportedly missing for two days. Aside from being a coach, he was a pastor and former University of Central Arkansas basketball star.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Former MPD Officer Receives 11-Year Sentence for Raping College Student

Posted By on Wed, Oct 1, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Aaron Reinsberg
  • Aaron Reinsberg

A former Memphis police officer has been sentenced to 11 years in prison without parole for raping a Rhodes College student.

In January 2013, Aaron Reinsberg, 32, reportedly met the 21-year-old woman at a Beale Street nightspot, which she worked for part-time. The entertainment district in downtown Memphis was Reinsberg's patrolling beat at the time.

The two exchanged phone numbers, and the victim went home. Reinsberg subsequently used his personal cellphone to access county law enforcement databases to find her home address, according to the Shelby County District Attorney General's office.

The same night, Reinsberg traveled to the victim’s home and was allowed inside by her roommate. He was left alone with the woman in her bedroom.

The woman, who was inebriated, fell asleep while Reinsberg was in her room, according to reports. When she woke up, she was undressed and he was on top of her, raping her. Due to her intoxication, she was unable to resist Reinsberg during the incident.

Reinsberg, who joined the Memphis Police Department in 2011, has been convicted of raping the woman. This week, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison with no parole. The former officer was also sentenced to one year for official misconduct. The sentences will be served concurrently.

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