City Reporter 

City Reporter

Even though the temperature is climbing, Memphians shouldn't pack their earmuffs away yet. Mike Tyson is said to be "98 percent likely" to be coming to town.

"Memphis is currently the front-runner for the fight, ahead of Detroit and Washington, D.C.," says Rep. Joe Towns Jr. "Tyson's people should be in Memphis this week to look at the facility."

Towns says that he initiated the efforts to bring the Tyson/Lennox Lewis fight to Tennessee after hearing that promoters in other cities were facing "turbulent waters." Originally, Towns says, both Nashville and Memphis were considered as host cities, but Nashville is no longer an option.

"Nashville is totally out of consideration," says Towns.

County commission candidate Joe Cooper told the Flyer that he and local developer Rusty Hyneman have also been trying to bring the fight to The Pyramid and only recently learned of Towns' efforts. Both Cooper and Towns say they are now joining efforts. Towns also says that "$12 million to $15 million" has been put into a letter of credit by local promoters interested in bringing the fight to Memphis.

"I won't get too excited until the contract is signed and the fighters step off the plane," says Cooper, "but there have been hotel rooms tentatively reserved."

Shelly Finkel, Tyson's adviser, told The Washington Times on March 1st that chances were "very high" that Detroit would be selected to host the fight. However, Finkel was quoted in Nashville's Tennessean newspaper Tuesday saying that Memphis is currently the front-runner.

Finkel is scheduled to meet with Towns and boxing promoter Brian Young in Memphis this weekend.

The Pyramid has reserved June 8th for the fight, should Memphis be selected. Towns says the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance has already issued Tyson a license to box and that his organization should have received the license Tuesday, March 5th.

"It looks like we're going to bring a major fight to Memphis, and if this works we're already talking about bringing more in the future," says Towns. "We're going to make Memphis a fighting mecca."

According to Cooper, the Memphis group has an added edge over groups from other cities because of the close proximity to Tunica casinos and because Hyneman is on the board of boxer Evander Holyfield's charitable group, the Holyfield Foundation. Through his work with Holyfield, Hyneman has become familiar with executives at HBO Sports, which would broadcast the fight. Cooper says he and Hyneman have already spoken with the officials at HBO Sports about hosting the fight in Memphis.

"Five or six years ago, Memphis never would have been considered. But having the Tunica casinos nearby has been a really big factor in making this happen," says Cooper.

Two Tunica casinos are rumored to be participating in the efforts to get the fight, but the names of the casinos have not been announced.

Boycotting the Bell

Tomato pickers ask for better wages, living conditions.

By Janel Davis

When hunger paNGS hit, scores of Americans think, "Yo quiero Taco Bell," but tomato pickers who supply the restaurants with produce are saying, "Yo quiero more money."

The tomato pickers from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) are asking for a fair wage from tomato growers and want Taco Bell, one of the major buyers of Immokalee tomatoes, to increase their pay rate for the produce. CIW wants the taco chain to pay one cent more per pound for its tomatoes. The average yearly salary for thousands of migrant workers in the Immokalee community of Collier County, Florida, is $7,000-$7,500, which is well below poverty level. If growers would use that penny to pay workers, salaries would double.

"The current living conditions for the pickers are horrible," says Julie Rogers, coordinator of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center. "They live in a two-room trailer with 10 people and no running water. They wake at 4 or 5 a.m. to make it to the fields by 6 a.m. and work till sunset. While still a very low wage rate, [that penny] would really improve their conditions."

After repeated but unsuccessful attempts to meet with Taco Bell Corporation and Tricon Global Restaurants, Inc., the parent company of Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Pizza Hut, CIW organized a boycott of Taco Bell. They also embarked on an 18-day "Truth Tour" through March 17th to spread the word about the boycott and recruit support for the plight of Florida workers and all agricultural workers.

About 70 tomato pickers from the CIW will make a stop in Memphis on Saturday, March 16th. With help from the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, University of Memphis Women's Action Coalition, National Civil Rights Museum, and area churches, the group will hold a rally and parade starting at the museum. They will also picket six local Taco Bells. Rogers says protests have been held for the past four weekends at local restaurants, beginning with the branch at Poplar and Belvedere.

"The Mid-South is an agricultural region," says Rogers. "We hope the rally raises issues like the sweatshop campaigns did. We want consumers to know that they do have power, especially with our dollars, and they should demand accountability from companies. Consumers have the power to change the world."

Taco Bell officials have agreed to meet with CIW representatives when the Truth Tour reaches corporate headquarters in Irvine, California, on Monday, March 11th, though company officials say this is actually a dispute between the tomato pickers and the growers.

Scratching and Clawing

Manassas alumni fight the school board for renovation funds.

By Mary Cashiola

Sometimes, if you're a MANASSAS Tiger, you have to fight, fight, fight.

Manassas High School alumni did just that, and after Monday night, they have a time line for seeing their main goal -- a renovated Manassas -- become a reality.

Memphis City Schools commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the measure that would give Manassas a $20 million face-lift by the fall of 2005. But even a week ago, it looked like the school and all its supporters would have to wait even longer than that.

Clyde Lewis, president of the Manassas Alumni Association, briefly reminded the board Monday of Manassas' two-year struggle, pleading for the system to improve the school's "deplorable" and "run-down" conditions.

"I need not say more," said Lewis. "We're looking for some answers."

In August, the board approved a plan to renovate the school's existing structure if awarded the full project funding of over $19 million from the Rebuild America's Schools program. But alumni were told that if the grant money didn't come through, the system would find a way to fund the project.

Last week, board members and Manassas alumni asked about the status of the project and reminded the superintendent of the promise to renovate the North Memphis school.

"They didn't use the air conditioning in the gym because it had been broken so long no one knew it was there," said Commissioner Sara Lewis. "[Superintendent Johnnie B.Watson] said if we didn't get Rebuild America money, the school system would pick it up."

The money didn't come through and, with the superintendent pleading forgetfulness, Commissioner Lewis threatened to break out transcripts from the last board meeting to remind Watson of exactly what he had said would be done.

Superintendent Watson, who went to Booker T. Washington High School, commended Lewis on her good memory and said he would bring something back at the next meeting. What he brought back Monday proved more satisfactory for the Manassas crowd.

Young and old -- both those long past high school and those far from it -- were dressed in the school colors of blue and gold. After hearing the unanimous vote, they stood and cheered, although not as long or as loud as they did in August.

The proposal would reallocate $15 million originally slated for the construction of a new Whitehaven elementary school. That school was originally projected for children living in the newly developed Diamond Estates, part of the Mayor's Middle Income Housing Task Force. However, only 133 of 600 homes have been built, and system administrators have further determined that the home-buyers for the subdivision tend to not be first-time homeowners and thus have older children. The system does not anticipate a need for an elementary school there until after 2007.

Along with $1.5 million already set aside for Manassas, another $3.5 million would have to be requested from the city. Commissioners were concerned that the project wouldn't include adding an auditorium to the facility -- one of the system's standards for its high schools -- but were assured by the superintendent that if there was money available, Manassas would get an auditorium.

Manassas has a lagging student population but a rich history in the city. It opened as a 16-classroom building in 1918 and was the first accredited four-year high school for African Americans. Commissioners Hubon Sandridge, Lee Brown, and Sara Lewis, as well as musician Isaac Hayes, attended the school.

"We're Tigers," said Sara Lewis. "We fight, fight, fight."

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