Issue Archive

  • April 2017 Issue

    Badges and Barbers program cutting through racial tension in Lynchburg

    By Nakesha R. Moore

    It is not an exaggeration to say many minorities, particularly men and women of color, often have a complex relationship with law enforcement. The roots of this tension are webbed deeply throughout history, tangled with stereotypes, lack of communication and mutual distrust. While much of this uneasiness might seemingly be uncalled for, unfortunately sometimes factual evidence lends credence to the apprehension. Due to the wonders of technology, one no longer must wait for the evening news to keep up with current events. Camera phones, live video feeds and social media create instant news. So when someone is injured or dies at the hands of law enforcement, people know within hours and sometimes within minutes. Therefore, many of you will recognize the following names… Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. John Crawford. These are just some of the black men who lost their lives at the hands of police officers in 2014.

    There were many more victims. Often the officers involved in the incidents were not charged or they were found not guilty at trial. People in numerous communities became outraged and rioted in response to what they perceived as a continuous lack of justice. Meanwhile, peaceful protests also took place across the country. On April 4, 2015, Walter Scott was murdered – shot in his back by an officer in North Carolina. On that very same day, Lucas Bryan of the Lynchburg Police Department, announced the creation of Badges & Barbers. While people marched with their hands up, begging not to be shot, the local police officer had the desire to make a positive impact.

    Bryan, along with his barber, Sam Snead, designed Badges & Barbers as an outreach program. Over a period of eight weeks selected youth would not only learn to cut hair, but they would learn other valuable life skills. Snead worked closely with his business partner, Que Watkins, as well other barbers and members of the Lynchburg Police Department to design the program. Despite the racial and civil tension that ensued elsewhere, Lynchburg residents were eager to support a positive program that as a natural consequence, served to nurture a relationship with local law enforcement.

    Bryan has been a police officer for 13 years. He and his wife moved to Lynchburg about 2000. Having grown accustomed to life in the hill city, the couple soon agreed there is no other city in which they would want to live. Bryan always has had a passion for engaging the community, particularly the youth. The vision for Badges and Barbers began to take shape following a candid conversation between Bryan and Snead. Armed with a referral from a friend, Bryan met Snead when he was in need of a haircut. Bryan was so pleased with Snead’s work that he became a regular customer. Throughout those six months, the two got to know each other, often exchanging anecdotes from their pasts. They discovered they had much in common, including humble beginnings and the desire to give back. Somewhere along the way, the relationship changed from that of barber and customer, to that of friends. At a time when the country was in chaos and a revolving cycle of surreptitious racism, blame, anger and pain, they made a choice. They chose to see each other as the men they are and not the labels that would have been easy to hide behind. Bryan said his desire to help probably stemmed from his own childhood. His father was a felon and it took quite a while before society viewed him as anything other than a criminal. So where one might look a teenager as a troublemaker, Bryan sees only potential.

    Bryan’s story resonated with Snead. Now co-owner of Directors Cut barbershop, Snead still remembers being 13 years old and sweeping hair from the floor at a local shop. As the years passed, Snead continued to work his way up. He soon stopped doing chores and began to cut hair himself. Reflecting on that time, Snead still is grateful he was given the opportunity to advance. Mentored by Lynchburg businessman and entrepreneur that most locals affectionately call “Chopper,’ Snead continued to focus on his career. Eventually he felt the pull to be more than an employee in someone else’s business. That feeling was shared by fellow barber Que Watkins. The two decided to take the leap and branch out on their own. Directors Cut was a success. Having benefited from a mentorship, Watkins wasted no time joining Bryan and Snead in their efforts. Amassing a team consisting of more police officers and barbers, they began to pitch their vision for the program. Lynchburg City Schools and Partners In Education were both on board. Thus, Badges and Barbers was born.

    The program ran in 2014 and again in 2015. Sadly, they had to pause for 2016 due to personnel restraints. Yet all involved parties agree the desire to continue in the future is a constant. They are even considering expanding the program to include other trades besides barbering. While cutting hair is a valuable skill, the program was designed to be about more than that. When asked what the most beneficial thing they learned, every graduate had the same answer – punctuality. Being on-time is even a struggle for some adults, so to see that a group of young men understand the importance of respecting time is poignant and will no doubt serve those young men well as they move forward in their lives.

    Note from writer: Arguably, further take-a-ways from the program may vary by participant. As a mother of children with brown skin and the complexity that entails, the feeling is hope. I used to tell my children that if they were in danger, they could trust a police officer to help. Yet in recent years that conversation changed. Instead of encouraging them to run to an officer, I warned them to follow directions, keep their hands up and in sight, and not to talk back. “No matter what happens, don’t argue with a police officer. Don’t talk back. You have to be careful. Stay alive, and I will take care of the rest when I get to you.” It was not easy to watch the innocence leave their eyes as they realized their complexion might one day put them in danger because of covert racism. With so many men and women of color dying in police involved incidents, it became difficult for my family to even watch the evening news. I told them that most police officers are good. I could tell they did not believe me. I was torn between restoring their faith and maintaining their urge for self-preservation. So on behalf of parents of brown babies, I thank Officer Bryan for providing us with palpable proof. Again, most police officers are good people – good people who truly desire to serve and protect. Combine that with a few skilled barbers and anything is possible. As I watch Bryan, Snead and Watkins exchange pleasantries in the lobby of Directors Cut, I did not see two barbers and an officer. I saw three people, smiling and genuinely engaging in an obvious friendship. I see humanity at its best and definitely a cut above the rest.

  • March 2017 Issue

    Children’s Trust of Roanoke spinning wheels to prevent child abuse

    By Linda Pharis

    This spring silver and blue pinwheels will be sparkling and whirling all around town as a reminder you could be a hero to a child in your community. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The source of the pinwheels is Children’s Trust. For 30 years, Children’s Trust has been the premier prevention agency in the region striving “to prevent child abuse and neglect and provide continuous support for children through investigation and court proceedings.” The organization’s ultimate goal is to “help make kids safer and adults better parents through education.”

    The first Virginia Child Advocacy Center opened in Bristol, Virginia in 1998. There are now 15 centers in Virginia with one satellite center. Their multidisciplinary team approach brings together all the professionals and agencies needed to offer comprehensive services:  law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, mental health, medical and victim advocacy.

    ColorsVA magazine visited Children’s Trust of Roanoke Valley to interview staff and volunteers about their vital work. Emotional abuse, emotional neglect, physical neglect, physical abuse and/or sexual abuse are all reasons a child from infancy to age 21, may need rescuing. Child abuse is often a factor in:

    • Permanent physical injury and/or death
    • Developmental delays (physical, emotional and intellectual)
    • Chronic health problems
    • Low self-esteem
    • Poor relationships
    • Substance abuse
    • Mental illness
    • Criminal behavior

    A better future for abused children begins through the work of CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates. Nearly 125 children were rescued from harmful environments last year. “We don’t remove children from their parents,” says CASA Director Judy Jacobsen. In abusive situations, Department of Social Services (DSS) intervenes first; the case is taken to court where a judge determines whether the child/children should be removed from their home. “We come in after that process to determine, working with everyone who has contact with that child, what is the best outcome going forward.” Some children eventually are able to return home. In 2016, 118 abused children found safe, permanent homes.

    CASA has 44 volunteer advocates from the community and needs more. The group is actively recruiting now before training a new group next month. Asked why she donates her time to being a CASA advocate, Corinna Dunn said, “It’s in my heart. I’m a mom. It’s got to be in your heart or you can’t do this work.” Her first case this year involves three children under 12 who have had DSS involvement since 2015. Their mother is a victim of domestic abuse with a relapsing substance abuse history.

    Carla Terry, another mom, has been a CASA advocate since 2008. Dunn recruited Terry, a fellow church and choir member. Terry also influenced fellow Coca-Cola employee Summer Holland to volunteer in 2010. Holland has worked with children since her early teens and hopes to find a job in the Juvenile Justice system when she graduates from Liberty University’s paralegal and criminal studies programs. These three advocates came to the program with personal passion for children rather than specific professional backgrounds. They eagerly recommend the advocate program to others. “If you think you might be interested, don’t be intimidated,” says Terry. “You’ll make a difference! You’ll take a child out of sadness.”

    CASA advocates do not have to possess special degrees or certificates to become part of the program. All they need is a love for children and passion for justice for them. Dunn says her 35 hours of wide-ranging training got her ready and confident. CASA advocate training will take place in April. “I love the training. I learned so much and felt so well prepared,” Holland adds. Never have they felt personal fear while handling a case or feared retaliation. That’s due to the strong support system that exists. In addition, CASA volunteers agree resources available to them are so plentiful they never feel alone. The volunteers and Jacobsen share mutual adoration. “She’s our go-to person,” says Terry. They also give credit for the success of CASA to Kristen Thadlock-Bell, program director, and to lawyer Holly Peters, program supervisor. Janice Dinkins Davidson serves as director of Children’s Trust of Roanoke Valley. Davidson announced the organization has just added a fifth program to their services. That program, she says, provides a complete galaxy of child/family emotional support.

    Including CASA the following resources are available:

    Children First – Speak Up – Last year 3,348 elementary school children learned how to protect their bodies from sexual abuse; Stewards of Children – 90 adults – were taught how to protect children.

    Children’s Advocacy Centers in the Roanoke and New River Valleys are child-centered, community-based facilities where children who have suffered abuse can talk freely and be comforted during the investigation process to reduce their trauma. In 2016 376 children were provided these services.

    Conflict Resolution Center provides the community with innovative, affordable, cooperative ways to resolve differences and transform relationships through mediation. Another 244 families received services through the center, learning how to negotiate for custody, visitation and child support.

    Healthy Families offers screening and in-depth assessment of expectant new parents. The staff to connect them to parenting support that will make them capable of less stressful parenting, raising healthy secure children within resilient, self-sufficient families. Healthy Families Program Director can be reached at lisa.denny@roact.org.

    Children’s Trust is located in the Jefferson Center, 540 Luck Avenue, Suite 308, Roanoke, (540) 344-3579. To find the nearest Children’s Trust of Virginia center, visit http://www.cacva.org/what-is/find-a-virginia-cac/.

  • February 2017 Issue

    Race and race relations following a contentious presidential election

    By Nakesha Renee Moore

    “Maybe by blatantly exposing our differences, the election results will provide us the opportunity to bond over common ground.”

    The United States always has been disjointed. Whether it be by race, gender, or class, the qualities that separate us also have prevented the progression of equality. This divide is not new to minorities. We are constantly aware of that line. We live there. However, on the heels of the presidential election, that divide is now visible to many non-minorities as well. There seems to be a permanent sense of disbelief from voters whose candidate did not win. They are angry. They are afraid. They are nearing the minority side of the line. And we welcome them. Now that they too know what it is like to have no voice, perhaps we can lend ours. Maybe by blatantly exposing our differences, the election results will provide us the opportunity to bond over common ground. All of us have a stake in the future of this country. We have hope.

    To discuss ways of facilitating this dialogue, who better to weigh in than Lynchburg’s social activist Leslie King? As a consultant, King wears many hats, and is especially skillful at working with organizations to bring about change through community development and engagement as well as non-profit capacity building. Most recently, she worked with the Ohio health department on the mortality rates of black infants. In some Ohio communities, the mortality of black infants is the same as in some third-world countries. King says these statistics transcend educational and economic status. Therefore, the problem is not just about education or wealth. “We’re working to figure out why so we can work to change the outcome,” she says. As a strategist, King develops the best ways to implement the needed changes in any given field.

    Q: “Change” is a word we hear often in relation to politics. Candidates tend to use the promise of change in their platform. So let us address the elephant in the room. What are your thoughts about the current political climate?

    A: It’s interesting because I did a presentation at Penn State last year (on this subject). Students were talking about the election and the state of democracy. There seemed to be some disdain. They commented that Trump didn’t represent America. My response was that I think Trump is as American as apple pie. He is a product of this country, of our history, of the truths that people are afraid to wrestle with. In some ways, I wasn’t surprised that he won. I think it illuminated what is going on in our society, and what has been going on for generations. Now we can’t continue to hold on to the illusion of unity, without addressing the difficult issues. Now we are forced to have that dialogue. In many ways that is what I assist communities in doing, just on a larger scale. But those conversations must be in the smaller localities as well. Change is not a one-time push button. It’s going to take time. The process will need to be ongoing to have lasting results. Superficial symbolism needs to be replaced by genuine acts of substance.

    Q: February is Black History Month. Do you think it’s damaging to limit black history to one month a year?

    A: I think Black History Month is vital. Ideally, it wouldn’t be necessary and black history would be woven into the school curriculum all year. However, that isn’t the case. So, it’s important that we take that time to learn about the past. We need to know the contributions that our ancestors made to this country and the future generations deserve to know about the work we are doing right now. I just started working on a local chapter of The Association for the Study of African American Life and History. The national organization was founded by Carter G. Woodson, who also created Black History Month, which was originally only a week. He recognized the value that history plays in one’s identity. To know who you are you need to know where you come from. I think Americans in general don’t really appreciate history. Maybe if we can understand and genuinely face the past, we can understand not only where we are right now, but how we got here as a society. And we do need to expand on what is being taught. There is more to it than the same figures and leaders being referenced every year. There are men and women who are never mentioned. Particularly black women are left out of the narrative. That needs to change. And black history isn’t just important to black people. It’s important to everyone, because it’s also America’s history.

    Q: You are in partnership with Many Voices-One Community. Tell us more about that. 

    A: Originally, it was a partnership between the city of Lynchburg and several community leaders. In 2007 it was formed in response to a specific incident. There was a black man (Clarence Beard) who died while in the custody of white police officers. There also were other events that had racial undertones. People were upset, so a group of them approached the city. The city realized something had to be done. That something was Many Voices-One Community. There were over 1,000 people involved in small group discussions that happened citywide. Many positive initiatives were born of that, namely The Beacon of Hope. The Beacon of Hope works with Lynchburg City Schools offering mentoring. They introduce elementary school children to the path of college and offer scholarships to high schoolers who cannot afford tuition. They also collaborate with local business to offer internships so there is an opportunity to gain real life experience in the workplace. Last November MVOC hosted the Fourth Annual Race, Poverty, and Social Justice Conference. Again, this was another way to continue the dialogue and expand the effort for change. This year there were more college-age attendants than in the past and that is encouraging. They are willing to show up and voice their concerns, and listen to others. We had workshops that not only dealt with racial issues, but also health issues and wealth building. There is a 24-percent poverty rate here. We address that. We have had art-themed sessions. You don’t always see results of your efforts right away, but I know our work is making a difference…connections are being made…collaborations are happening… progress is being made. We do have many voices, but we are one community.

    Q: Are there any political aspirations in your future by chance?

    A: I am not sure what the future may hold. At this point, I'm focused on community building through engagement, education and developing other leaders. That being said I'm not ruling out the possibility.


    To Contact Leslie King email: LeslieKing@POBox.com

     

  • January 2017 Issue

    Using God’s purpose to fight human trafficking

    Nakesha Renee Moore

    A child goes missing every 40 seconds in the United States. That means by the time you finish reading the first paragraph of this article, another child will have vanished. However, reports of missing persons is not limited to children. Every day adult men and women also seem to disappear into thin air. Occasionally these stories have happy endings. Sometimes the victims are found safe. Sometimes they return home on their own. Sometimes, though, their bodies are found, bringing their families a form of closure, although an inconceivable measure of grief. However, for many that is better than not knowing the outcome; not knowing what became of a person you love. The harsh reality is that many of these missing men, women and yes, children, become victims of human trafficking.

    A child has gone missing.

    The State Department reports that globally between 600–800,000 people are trafficked each year. This means that right now there are an estimated 27 million adults and 13 million children around the world who are victims of human trafficking. A large portion of these victims are sold into the world of sex trade. The average price of a sex slave is $90, however the fee varies depending on age and physical appearance. A slave has the potential to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars for their owner in a years’ time. They are broken in by repeated rape, physical abuse and lack of food and water. This torture makes them grateful to their owner for even the smallest gesture, such as a meal. More often than not victims eventually become compliant, appearing to accept the life they have been forced into. Not all victims are used for sex crimes. Some are sold for organ harvesting, manual labor and even terrorism strikes. Pregnant women are often targets because they have the value as a potential sex slave while the baby can be sold on the black market.

    Another child has gone missing.

    Fully aware of the facts and statistics involving human trafficking, Lynchburg resident Kelly Galloway felt a pull to help. Her faith led her decision to travel to other countries to offer aid to people in need. In 2015 she partnered with her church, The Ramp Church International, to create Ramp Global Missions (RGM). RGM is a Christian humanitarian organization that focuses on spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ through serving. RGM has successfully established mission sites in India, Nepal and Brazil. Along with their work overseas, the organization also has much to offer locally. RGM provides free English classes to Spanish speaking individuals living in Lynchburg, along with a state of the art GED and job placement program. Taking a brief break from traveling, Galloway was back in Lynchburg recently, and shared some of her experiences abroad.

    And another child has gone missing.

    Q: What led you to begin missionary work?

    A: Originally I was the church administrator. Then I began to preach in 2006. I felt the call to preach in other places. Hence, the missionary work. At the time I didn’t know it was going to be such a different sort of ministry. I didn’t know that I would literally be preaching from village to village. People walk from miles away, some even following me from one village to the next just to hear the word. Sometimes I had to walk as well. There aren’t always the best accommodations. We weren’t staying in hotels. Sometime we slept in tents. We slept outside. When I felt the call to begin this work, I envisioned the glamourous side of it. I’ve learned that the Lord’s work isn’t always glamorous. There were times where we didn’t have access to electricity; times where we had to bathe in rivers. This isn’t for the faint of heart. You have to be called for this type of work.

    And another child has gone missing.

    Q: Did you ever have second thoughts once you realized your vision wasn’t necessarily the reality?

    A: No. Not at all. It was eye-opening. If you study the scripture, that is how they preached. I felt like this is how it’s supposed to be done. We took the word to the people. We do many things while in these countries. We offer the basics: food, clothing, education, shelter, a safe-haven and other necessities. But the common thread is our mission to spread the gospel – so we preach. We preach and teach of Jesus. It’s an honor.

    Q: I know you had the opportunity to meet victims of human trafficking. Having endured what they have, did you find them to be resistant to your message of faith and hope?

    A: Of course. I didn’t have to travel to find that. There are people like that here. People have lived hard lives and don’t understand. People don’t see why they should trust God. I hear the question: “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” all the time. But we preach a different message. Our message is that of hope. Yes, bad things happen, but God allows good to come from the suffering. The pain is temporary. Faith comes from understanding. We must understand that there is so much more to our stories than the chapters we have read.

    Another child has gone missing.

    Q: Have your work ever put you in a dangerous situation?

    A: Yes. Notably in Nepal. One night I was approached by two men. They invited me to a club. I declined. Then they began to yell at me. I ran and was able to contact some of the local people I was working with. I told them what happened. They told me that if I had gone with those men, I would have never seen my family again. That’s when I realized the image of a human trafficking victim was incorrect. There is no status quo. Anyone can be taken. I saw children. I saw senior citizens. Different body types. It can happen to anyone. It could’ve happened to me. Some people are abducted. But some people get tricked into it. They think they are applying for a job. A woman may think she is dating a man, then he ends up prostituting her. It’s not always the suspicious black truck scooping people up off the street.

    Another child has gone missing.

    Q: Do you think you and the mission are viewed as a target by the traffickers? I can’t imagine that they are happy about the work you do.

    A: Yes, I know we are. I think about that often. I told my family to take life insurance policies out on me before I started this. I knew the danger and I had to decide if it was worth my life. And it is. This is worth dying for. If I lose my life while serving God’s purpose, then it’s ok. It means I fulfilled God’s purpose for my life.

    For more information, contact http://www.therampchurch.com/missions

  • December 2016 Issue

    Struggling to lose weight?

    Nakesha Moore

    Personal trainer Darnell Brown sets out to show Lynchburg residents that losing may be the best way to win. Since creating his fitness group, The Winning Circle, he has helped numerous men and women shed pounds and adopt healthier lifestyles. Brown, who also is a boxing coach, has found a way to channel his love of the sport into tangible results for his clients. Recently Brown and I set down to discuss his view on getting healthy through personal training and boxing.

    Q: What originally inspired your interest in boxing?
    A: Well, I started taking karate when I was 6-years-old. I stopped when I was 10, but then I found a renewed interest about 10 years ago. I decided to pursue a career as a boxing coach and fitness trainer.

    Q: How many boxers are you currently training?
    A: I have four men and one woman right now.

    Q: That’s interesting. I didn’t know they had female boxing competitions in Lynchburg. Are their competitions as well-attended as the male matches?
    A: Unfortunately, no. But we are working to make it more popular. The women are just as talented, and it’s a shame they don’t receive the same recognition.

    Q: What noteworthy recognition have your male boxers received?
    A: Most recently Jessi Hackett won the Muay Thai Bout, Featherweight Division at the Virginia Cage Fighting Championships.

    Q: Do you think boxing is too dangerous for children?
    A: No, not if they are trained properly. I teach them proper form. It’s boxing, so they are going to get hit. But I teach them to position themselves so they can control how and where they get hit. Boxing is as much defensive as it offensive. Once they learn that, the chance of serious injury drops dramatically.

    Q: These days, families don’t spend much quality time together. Do you think the benefits of boxing are important enough to subtract from family time?
    A: Actually boxing can be family time. That way it benefits the family as a whole. It gives them something exciting to do together. When kids see their parents exercise, they are more likely to exercise.

    Q: Speaking of exercise, when you aren’t coaching you work as a personal trainer. Can you tell me about your fitness class?
    A: We are called The Winning Circle. We meet Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.–noon at The Jubilee Center in Lynchburg. The fee is affordable at only $20 a month.

    Q: What does that $20 cover?
    A: You get admittance to every class, where we work out as a group, but I am on-hand to provide individual support, instruction and encouragement as needed. We are more than a group. We are a family. My clients don’t succeed or fail alone. We work together, and that is how we win.

    Q: What do you think makes you a better option than a big-name chain gym?
    A: Humbly, I have to say I’m the benefit. I care about my clients. I’m going to push them harder because I know the potential is there.

    Q: If a client prefers to work one-on-one, is that possible?
    A: Yes. I have done sessions in clients’ homes or even in the park when the weather permits.

    Q: Is that service also $20 a month?
    A: For the one-on-one sessions, I charge $30 a month.

    Q: What advice would you have for someone who wants to get in shape but doesn’t have time?
    A: You must make time. We make time for things that are important to us. Even it’s while you’re watching your favorite television show. You can work out while you watch TV. It’s actually a decent way to push yourself. If it’s a 30-minute program and you watch it 5 times a week, then you’re getting your recommended 150 minutes of exercise. It may be difficult in the beginning, but the more you do it, the easier it will be.

    Q: We know exercise is vital to losing weight. Do you also stress the importance of proper nutrition in your classes?
    A: If you aren’t eating well, then your body doesn’t have the fuel it needs to exercise. Also, drinking enough water is key to a healthy lifestyle. And it can’t just be about losing weight. If you eat well and exercise, then you will lose weight. But that is never the goal. The goal is to be the healthiest version of you possible. We lay that foundation.


    Who better to offer perspective than two Winning Circle members? When asked about their experiences Tamara Hamlett and Tevin Jones were happy to share. “I saw a few familiar faces on the group page and decided I wanted to train with them,” says Hamlet. “Since I’ve been there I’ve gained a lot of self-control, a more positive and active lifestyle and of course boxing! Darnell is great. He's encouraging and definitely always inspiring us.”

    Jones agrees. “I stumbled upon The Winning Circle through social media. So, I reached out and asked if I could come check out his class and with open arms he invited me,” says Jones. “Nine months later here we are. I have always been an athletic person. I train six days a week, strength and conditioning, and three days out of a week I’m in the lab doing pad work and working on technical boxing skills with Darnell. I’m always looking for a challenge in life and looking for a way to better myself. With The Winning Circle I’m getting both.” Jones added: “Darnell is always pushing me, encouraging me, and helping guide me onto the right path to success in the boxing world. But not only does this help me physically but mentally because training with Darnell never gets easier, you just get better. I think that alone says something about what Darnell has to offer to people through The Winning Circle.”

    To find out more about the Winning Circle, contact Brown at Facebook/The Winning Circle Fitness.

     

  • November 2016 Issue

    Colleges and universities seeking to attract and retain a more diverse student population

    Danae Wensley

     

    About 20 million students are attending American colleges and universities this fall, according to the U.S. Department of Education.  Approximately 40 percent of these students are part of ethnic minority groups, reports the ED, with more than 900,000 students who call another country home. The number of diverse college students in the U.S. has risen steadily since 1976, be that from domestic students of diverse backgrounds, or international students who choose to study here. Most institutions now have offices dedicated to serving the needs of their various ethnic and cultural groups. 

    Virginia Tech

    INSIGHT into Diversity magazine recently recognized Virginia Tech as one of 10 Diversity Champion colleges and universities. The magazine said Diversity Champions are “institutions that set the standard for thousands of other campus communities striving for diversity and inclusion. They develop successful strategies and programs, which then serve as models of excellence for other institutions. Diversity Champion schools exceed everyday expectations, often eclipsing their own goals.”

    Virginia Tech’s student enrollment of more than 30,000 is 35 percent diverse, with 11 percent being international students. Two years ago the university launched InclusiveVT, an initiative which shares the responsibility for advancing diversity and inclusion throughout the university community. The effort is led by Menah Pratt-Clarke, who came to Virginia Tech earlier this year.

    “Powerful foundational values guide the work of diversity and inclusion at Virginia Tech,” says Pratt-Clark. “The commitment exists at all levels of leadership … extends to faculty, staff and students through formalized relationships like campus caucuses and college diversity committees, but also informally through participation in diversity events, forums and discussions.”

    This year’s events include a welcome reception for underrepresented students, celebrations of various cultural months (Black History, etc.) and a workshop with diversity master trainer Lee Muh Wah in November. Earlier this year, VT hosted the 2016 Hispanic College Institute for high school students and will host the fifth annual Faculty Women in the Academy Conference in 2017.

    But efforts go beyond events and committees. They spread to the educational level, too. This fall incoming students will take an online video module designed to help them understand key diversity concepts and how to support an inclusive, welcoming and affirming campus climate.

    Moving forward, Pratt-Clarke plans to continue building on the established foundation with a strategic focus on four key areas: working with local communities to create a pipeline for students to Virginia Tech; recruitment and retention of faculty, staff and students; exploring opportunities around diversity and inclusion in the curriculum and orientation structures; and supporting individuals and groups engaged in InclusiveVT work at the university.

    “There is momentum to keep improving and focusing on sustainable transformation, with new initiatives this fall related to increasing the recruitment and retention of diverse students and faculty; reviewing the curriculum; and engaging alumni,” Pratt-Clarke said.

    Radford University

    The Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Radford University is an excellent point of contact for any Radford student, regardless of ethnic or cultural background. Director Crasha Townsend says it’s become a “home away from home” for many students.

    “For some, it’s a place to embrace their own culture; others want to learn,” she says. The Center organizes cultural programming, heritage celebrations and other campus events. Past events include

     

    Dine on Diversity (a series of discussions over lunch), Salsa Night, film viewings and discussions and a multicultural congratulatory celebration ceremony to honor graduating seniors. They also have sponsored off-campus trips to places like the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. In addition to the events, the Center also oversees more than 10 student clubs and organizations, including the Black Student Alliance, Native American Cultural Association and the Highlander Step Team.

    Radford’s student body of 9,000 is about 28 percent diverse, with about 1 percent being international students. Those numbers are up from four years ago, when Townsend began working at Radford. “It’s gone up every year since I came. I get excited thinking about the future,” she says.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Lynchburg College

    Lynchburg College has a much different approach to diversity than other schools. Most colleges have one office devoted to inclusion, diversity, multiculturalism, etc. Lynchburg College has two.

    “About five years ago, we decided to make a concerted effort to diversify. We hired a consultant who recommended we separate the offices,” says Pat Price, director of the Office of Multicultural Services. Now the Office of Multicultural Services works with domestic ethic minority students, while the Center for Global Education works with international students.

    Price says Lynchburg College is “very student-centered” and she and her colleagues work to create organizations and plan events students want. The Office of Multicultural Services oversees many clubs, has sponsored things like Rainbow Week and celebrations of important cultural events, days or months. Martin Luther King Day events is an example of their efforts. The Center for Global Education has sponsored International Student Recognition Week and a food festival. The Center also addresses things like helping international students get acclimated to college life, understand banking needs, and maintain up to date visas. 

    Lynchburg College’s student body of 3,000 is 28 percent diverse, with 2 percent international students. “We have goals of creating a more international perspective, a more engaged and global citizenry, she says. “We look for students that would fit. Just by virtue of the way our (global) population is changing, our (student) population is eventually going to be more brown than white.”

    Hollins University

    At only 800 students, Hollins University is the smallest institution interviewed. Despite that, their diversity statistics are on the higher side, with a student body that is 34 percent diverse and 5 percent international.

    Hollins has one staff member dedicated to recruiting international students. The website says the office of Cultural and Community Engagement (CCE) works to “support an inclusive community, promote acceptance and celebrate difference.”

    CCE oversees several programs, such as the Early Transition Program, designed to assist new students from underrepresented groups, and the International Student Orientation Program, which helps international students adjust to living and studying at Hollins and in the United States. The office also conducts Safe Haven workshops for those who want to advocate for Hollins’ LBGTQ community.

    CCE sponsors many events dedicated to the topics of diversity and inclusivity. Past events include monthly cultural programming to honor and celebrate Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, Black History Month, etc., with film screenings, author readings, art exhibitions and lectures. There is also a diversity leadership series to encourage students to explore their own cultural identity and engage in challenging conversations.

  • October 2016 Issue

    Black Hair: A history with tangled roots

    Kianna Price Wade

    "

    Good hair means curls and waves (no). Bad Hair means you look like a slave (no). At the turn of the century it’s time for us to redefine who we be. You can shave it off like a South African beauty, or get in on lock like Bob Marley. You can rock it straight like Oprah Winfrey. If it’s not what’s on your head, it’s what’s underneath and say…I am not my hair. I am not this skin. I am not your expectations, no. I am not my hair. I am not this skin. I am the soul that lives within.” – India Arie.

    Ten years ago India Arie expressed her hair journey in the 2006 Grammy nominated “I Am Not My Hair.” From her various styles to the ridicule she received for how she chose to rock her hair, the hit song expressed the sentiment of so many women of color. We are more than the locks adorned on our heads, however, our crown of glory catches the attention of others more so than any other cultural group. And understandably so. For centuries women of color have been creative in their technique and expression in the hair care arena. In some cases it has been from vanity; in others, necessity.

    We can look over the course of history and see various styles that were born out of personal creativity or needs of the time. For example the ancient Egyptians pioneered the timeless hairstyle of the bob. Their pride in self-appearance greatly contributed to the beauty industry – from wigs, to cosmetics, to hairstyles and even hair color. (They were ever so resourceful, using the hair off their bodies to make wigs and henna to dye it.) Likewise, across Africa, particular tribes could be identified based on their hairstyles.

    Hair braiding traditionally has been part of the African American culture. Ganda braids that are ever so fashionable today, date back to African tribes.  Due to climate, braids and cornrows became customary for African people looking for ways to manage their hair. Nowadays, hair braiding provides protection from heat and chemicals and is done for the convenience it offers. The Bulu tribe in West Africa is known for wearing Bantu knots or what some term mini buns. Some African American women choose to wear their hair in these same Bantu knots for style or to achieve a curly look.

    Regardless the style or technique, the craft of braiding continues to be part of the present day culture with its intricacy and creativity. The art of hair is a platform for personal expression and the versatility of hair provides a canvas for creative expression. Whether that expression is an updo, straight, curly, permed, natural, braided, locked, beaded or a combination.

    The Taubman Museum of Art seems to agree as it will present Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark, a major mid-career exhibition featuring the work of African-American multimedia artist Sonya Clark. The exhibit runs from Oct. 1through May14, offering visitors the opportunity to see the intricate history of African American hair presented through objects and performances. Throughout her career, Clark’s work has often featured hair and combs in the place of more traditional fibers and art-making materials. She uses them to speak meaningfully about cultural heritage, gender, beauty standards, race and identity.

    Amy Moorefield, Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Collections, says the Museum wants to be more inclusive in diversity, people and materials. The museum wants to project “more of a true reflection of our community,” she adds. “It is critically important for our museum. The strength of the Taubman is that we present new work that focuses on global issues in the arts. Providing opportunities for our visitors to see art work being created ‘outside of the box’ using unexpected materials.”

    Clark explores hair through African American lenses. Her work is deeply connected with ancestry in America. The work is all about story-telling, and Clark says stories have a lot to do with the adornment.  “Hairdressers are my heroes,” says Clark. “The poetry and politics of black hair care specialists are central to my work. Rooted in a rich legacy, their hands embody an ability to map a head with a comb and manipulate the fiber we grow into complex form.”

    Greg Addison of Hair Attitudes in Salem, is an exhibition sponsor. As a stylist for the past 28 years, Addison says “hairstyles are just like fashion, they come and go. They just come back with a different flair. You see some curls and some spikes.  In today’s time you see a mixture of all eras.” Clark has worked with a series of hairstylists using her own head as the canvas. Those who visit this unique exhibit will find her photography, sculptures and site captivating. She has taken a 1970s beauty salon chair and embellished it with beads and other intricate materials. This work of art also will be used during a live performance featuring Sonya Clark on Oct. 8.

    The journey of hair has had a cultural impact. Brandon Hunt, hair stylist and owner of The B Hunt Effect Salon in Roanoke, has been doing hair since he was 11. In his 16 years as a stylist, Hunt says a lot has changed from equipment to technique. “I love black hair,” Hunt says, “because it  is the only kind of hair that can be manipulated however you want. Our texture is unique.  We can make it look wavy or straight. Blow it out. Do anything we want with it. Other cultures cannot achieve the same looks based on their texture.”

    For centuries African American women have been the most creative with their hair styles. This creativity and complexity of hair often has piqued the interest of other cultures and sparked their curiosity. On a personal note I can recall when I was a child getting a straightening relaxer. When I returned to school the next day my white classmates were in awe of the smooth and silky nature of my hair. (Years later I now realize, along with thousands of other African American women, the dangers of such chemicals.) Nonetheless, those classmates were captivated with the new texture I chemically achieved and would put their fingers through my hair because it looked and felt so silky.  Back then I did not understand, but now I realize that they were amazed at how I was able to transform my hair: from braids one day to hair that looked more like theirs the next. As a woman of color I took for granted that doing my hair everyday was more than just grooming myself and looking presentable, but truly a reflection of my personality. Black hair is in fact diverse. To date, I look and treat my hair much differently than growing up. For five years I have chosen not to put any chemicals in my hair and the result has given me stronger, longer and healthier, naturally curly hair.  And I am not alone. More and more women of color have decided to go natural, which means not adding any chemicals to their hair.

    “This natural fad we are going through reminds me of the 70s my black is beautiful movement,” says Hunt.  “We have a million different techniques we can use to rock our natural hair and those looks are now so stylish. I am noticing my clientele is transitioning into healthy hair - taking better care of their hair.  Before no one was too concerned with the condition of the hair. Our job as a stylist is to maintain the health of our clients’ hair.” When he first started doing hair most of his clients wanted little to no maintenance: up-dos, braided styles, quick weaves. Now clients are willing to do the extra work because a lot of them are natural and are more concerned about the health of their hair. Hunt, along with several other stylists, believe that Chris Rock’s documentary, “Good Hair Bad Hair,” opened the eyes of many women (and men) to be more cognizant of what they are putting on their hair.

    Stylist Dawn Roberts of Fusion Salon and Day Spa, also in Salem, agrees. In her 15 years in the business, she has noticed her clients’ willingness to embrace hair as it is, without chemical manipulations.  At first she thought going “natural” was a fad, just to do something different that went against the norm of black culture. She quickly discovered that going natural was simply a healthy option. “What started as a fad has moved into a movement of self-love,” ssays Roberts. “The majority of my clients are natural; half of them were already natural and the others have transitioned.  As a stylist, my overall goal is to promote healthy hair.”

    This movement in celebrating natural hair has been embraced beyond the African American culture. It appears that domestically and internationally, the natural state of African American hair is now trendy and is becoming more accepted.  Many major retailers feature the “look” in their marketing campaigns, including Target, Old Navy and H&M.

    Roberts says: “The fashion industry is beginning to feel it’s (natural hair) beautiful. They accept that it is just as beautiful curly and in some cases wild, just as much if it was silky straight. Good hair and bad hair is changing for black women. A lot of women grew up thinking their natural hair was bad. Now they are embracing their natural hair as good even though the texture is different.”

    Natural hair or otherwise, the creativity and evolution of Black hair has been anything but basic. The ability to transform your hair from one look to another always has been the envy of many and admired by most. There is definite pride in how a black woman rocks her hair.  Both Hunt and Roberts consider their profession an art since “every client is an opportunity to create, to design,” says Roberts, adding “it is how I express myself. I didn’t feel like an artist until I started doing hair.”

    Today we see not just the emergence of natural hair, but embrace its history and symbolism. That symbolism is to simply reveal “the soul that lives within.”

  • September 2016 Issue

    Roll out the runway for Fashionista Roanoke

    River Laker

    What is it about fashion? Garland Gravely, president and co-founder of Fashionista Roanoke, lights up, sits up, and stays like this throughout the interview.


    “Fashion’s about expression. There are seven billion people on the earth. Fashion is a way to express yourself. Your body is a blank canvas. Your clothing is the art. Everyone has their unique way of expressing themselves. Open your eyes and look around when walking, fashion is everywhere, it’s in the air! Coco Chanel said this, ‘Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.’”

    Gravely’s passion for fashion is strong and contagious. Combined with his laid-back and warm conversational manner, it’s easy to see how folks have been attracted to the Fashionista Roanoke. And starting Sept. 29 through Oct. 2, Fashionista Roanoke is hosting its annual Roanoke Fashion Week. Gravely says, “It’s an event promoting and highlighting fashion in the Roanoke area. Also, a portion of the funds raised are going to Center in the Square.”

    Gravely has always loved fashion.

     

    "As a kid I’d read fashion magazines. But what really sparked my interest in it was living in Miami on South Beach in the early ’90s. South Beach was becoming the hot place to be and a lot of designers and models were relocating there. Agencies were opening up there. By being in that world, the clubs, and walking down the beach watching this photo shoot and then seeing it in Vogue magazine, wow! That’s what inspired me. I wanted to be in that world.” 

    The impact was lasting and continues to this day.

    “After South Beach I went to major in fashion merchandising at Virginia Commonwealth University [VCU] Richmond. When I finished school I moved to D.C., then planned to move to New York. But I came to Roanoke instead! I wanted to do something in fashion but with a charitable bent to it. The fashion world is often regarded as exclusive and elitist and I always wanted to break down those perceptions. Which is what I’m doing now. This is how Fashionista Roanoke came about, along with Claudia de Franko, the co-founder, in 2008.”

    I show Garland a video I recently watched, a summary of the Gucci 2017 menswear collection in Paris. “I love it!” he exclaims. And it was terrific for sure. But as much as I’d like to, I don’t think I’m going be walking downtown Roanoke anytime soon seeing anything remotely related.

    “Ah, but no! That’s not accurate!” Gravely jumps in. “Let me explain. You won’t see people wearing the same clothes as in that video, just as you won’t see folks wearing the same clothes in one city as in another. The people of Roanoke dress differently than the people of New York. But this is not a bad on Roanoke, is it? No, I don’t mean it that way at all.”

    “This is what I’m trying to say. It’s all about trends. All cities will be impacted by that Gucci show. By the feel of it, the shapes, attitudes, colors and cut. It will trickle down to the most quaint little city in the middle of nowhere. Trust me.”

    I’m caught up in Gravely’s certainty but am not convinced. Here are some more questions for him.

    Q. What are the current New York and Paris trends from recent fashion shows?

    A. “Velvet! Velvet jackets, velvet shoes. And animal prints! Asymmetrical hemlines. Dark denims and close fits. All-over prints. Sheer sleeves. Wide-legged cropped pants. Really, the ’70s influence continues. And shearling jackets.  And the androgynous ’90s sweats never seem to end!”

    He stops, then throws this out to me, addressing my doubts towards Roanoke’s participation in all this. “Last fall, ’70s fringed bags were a big trend and lo and behold I’ve seen several in Roanoke! I bet shearling jackets are already on trucks to Roanoke!”

    “Here’s the exciting thing. Folks may say they have no interest in the fashion trends, but whether they know it or not, their choice of clothes in the high street stores will be reflecting the clothes that were launched on the catwalks in London, Paris, Milan and New York. Crazy and wild on the catwalk, but toned down, perhaps adapted is a better word, for Roanoke. Roanoke has different people living here than in New York, different attitudes, different lifestyle. Every city is unique. But you’ll soon be seeing clothes at H&M, Old Navy that will remind you of that Gucci catwalk show!”

    “And you’d be surprised, there are people here paying attention to what is happening at those fashion shows in London, Paris and other places. They really are.”

    Q. So who do you admire in the fashion and style world? 

    A. “How many names do you want?! My no doubt number one is Coco Chanel. There is only one Coco! Others include designer Karl Lagerfeld, fashion editor Andre Leon Talley, designer Azzedine Alaia, fashion icon Daphne Guinness, and Tim Gunn, the mentor on Project Runway TV show. These people inspire me personally.”

    Q. Roanoke Fashion Week is now in its fourth year. Where are you looking for the show to go?

    A. “I’d like it to become one of the biggest events nationally and internationally. There’s a Charlotte fashion week, Charleston fashion week; D.C. and Asheville have them. I want Roanoke Fashion Week to be recognized by other cities around the country and at least be on a par with them.”

    Q. I occasionally put events together for the public; they can be challenging in almost all ways. What goes into putting on a fashion show? 

    A. “The team – the hair and the makeup, stylists, photographers, models, designers and more. That is what makes it work. People working together. And marketing, PR, social media.”


    Q. And for you, what makes a fashion show successful?

    A. “The people that come out and support the show. Not simply the number of people. It’s their passion and enthusiasm. The support from the community is very important to me. That determines success to me. It’s open to everyone who wants to watch and who wants to take part. We’re not looking to shock, unsettle, alienate or offend folks. We celebrate the creativity through fashion of Roanokers. This is to support the community, and Fashionista Roanoke reflects the diversity of Roanoke.”

    Fashionista Roanoke has a monthly fashion segment on WSLS Daytime Blue Ridge, the last Wednesday of the month, at 12:30 p.m. Garland Gravely is president and co-founder of Fashionista Roanoke.

  • August 2016 Issue

    Muy Cubano!

    Joseph L. Scarpaci

    Virginia may not seem to be home for many of the 55 million Hispanics in the United States, whose largest members are Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban. Only about 600,000 Hispanics now call the Old Dominion their home.

    But what about Cubans living in Southwest Virginia? Miami’s Little Havana is more often associated with this ethnic enclave.

    Here are the stories of four local residents of Cuban descent who are thriving in Southwest Virginia. The decade in which they arrived reflects the broader political and economic relationships between Cuba, the United States and the rest of the world.

    ‘We build great things’

    Yuri Torres hails from Holguín on the eastern side of the island, a region with high levels of unemployment.

    As his first name indicates, the Soviet influence following the Cuban revolution of 1959 was strong. In any given Cuban family on the island, those born in the 1950s would often use traditional Spanish names (Francisco, Maria, Juan, Amalia). Yuri’s generation got Soviet names like his, or others such as Nuirca, Vladimir, or Boris.

    Yuri was aware of Roanoke because a relative emigrated there in the 1990s.

    While on a trip overseas in 2005, he and his then-fiancée sought political exile status and made their way to the United States, where his grandparents, uncles and cousins sponsored him. He joined their construction business and married his fiancée. Today, both are parents to a six- and three-year-old.

    Yuri owns Towers Construction (no relation to Towers Shopping Center in Roanoke). The name is a direct translation of his last name (Torres), because  — in Yuri’s words —“we build great things, like towers!”

    Yuri has no regrets: “I feel fortunate to live in the greatest country in the world where I can fulfill my dreams, take care of my family here, and send money back home.”

    Never has he felt or heard overt prejudice, he said, or been called derogatory names.

    A hit out of the park

    If cigars, rum and salsa music are synonymous with all things Cuban, so is baseball. Introduced onto the island by Cubans studying at southern military schools after the U.S. Civil War, the game is now the national sport.

    So when 28-year-old Carlos Mesa was vacationing in El Salvador and a recruiting scout saw him hit one out of the park, his life was about to change.

    “I weighed 250 pounds, and the trainer sent me right to the gym for 90 days, without ever once stepping on the baseball diamond.” He shed 35 pounds and was signed to the Pittsburgh Pirates Single-A division team in Bradenton, Fla. in 2012.

    Mesa knows what it is like to live in medium-sized southern U.S. towns.

    “I can honestly say, after having lived and worked with baseball teams in Greenville, South Carolina, and Charleston, West Virginia, the warmth and affection of Roanoke and Salem is striking. And people recognize me when I go into the store: ‘Hey, you’re the player from the [Salem] Red Sox, right?’ ”

    Mesa feels especially at home when he and his Venezuelan and Dominican roommates dine at El Cubanito restaurant in Salem, whose owner turns out to be a relative of Estela González (see below).

    “I love southern pulled pork, mind you, and the barbecue around here is great. But El Cubanito brings me back home in so many ways.”

    From refugees to
    restaurateurs

    In her first trimester of pregnancy, Estela González and her husband Manuel Hidalgo set out for the United States on a rickety boat in 1994, when the loss of Soviet aid made life tough. After five days at sea the Bahamian coast guard, who repatriated them to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo, picked them up.

    After six months of living with 35,000 other refugees in tents on the beach, the Catholic Church resettled them.

    “The migration officer pointed to Roanoke on a map and said, ‘This city is going places, and you and your husband seem like hard workers. In 15 or 20 years you’ll be glad you went there.’”

    Fast-forward 20-plus years. Estela’s daughter, Helen, is now studying nursing at Virginia Western. She and Miguel operate Cuban Island Restaurant on Williamson Road in Roanoke.

    “We tested the waters, first with a food truck. Things went well, so we saved and started the restaurant,” reports González.

    Beaming across the table she tells me, “Roanokers from all walks of life have received us spectacularly well.” 

    Across the dining room I speak with a local mom and her two home-schooled children, an engineer and her husband, and a Dominican family.

    “Is the food good?” I ask the customers. They all smile and give a big thumbs-up.

    ‘A great place to call home’

    Gilda Machín of Blacksburg had three days back in June 1967 to decide whether she wanted to leave the home of her aunt and grandmother — with whom she had lived for seven years — or join her mother in New York City. Unlike Estela and thousands of others who took to rafts to cross over to the United States, Machín was part of the orderly, weekly “Freedom Flights” started by President Lyndon Johnson. 

    From a small town in Cuba’s Camaguey Province, she found herself living on the 26th floor of a Manhattan high-rise.

    “When I reached New York, I was mesmerized by the city lights,” she says.

    Thanks to English as a Second Language classes and a tutor in the first year, she went on to earn a B.A. at Rutgers University. 

    “I have moved quite a few times, but I’ve been in Blacksburg almost 30 years, and it is a great place to call home.”

    Like Estela and Carlos, Cuban food is important to Machín. She blends a little bit of Cuban cuisine in her home cooking in Blacksburg, where she works as an event planner. Her Thanksgiving turkey stuffing, for instance, includes fried plantains to add a bit of sweetness and to absorb the turkey’s succulence.

    Like Mesa, González and Torres, Machín says the New River and Roanoke valleys offer a great place to raise a family. 

    “The slow pace and friendliness of Blacksburg is a welcome change from life in the big city. Blacksburg is a wonderful place to spend my golden years, too.”

    *Joseph L. Scarpaci is Executive Director of The Center for the Study of Cuban Culture + Economy in Blacksburg, VA. He is the author of Pittsburgh and the Appalachians: Cultural and Natural Resources in a Post-industrial Age (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005) and co-author of Marketing without Advertising: Brand Preference and Consumer Choice in Cuba (Routledge, 2012). He is married to Gilda Machín, attests to her good cooking and has visited Cuba 80 times.

  • July 2016 Issue

    House of Laposh makes a statement

    Nakesha Renee Moore

    Lynchburg native India Watson has been creating her own clothing for nearly a decade. What started as a teenager expanding her wardrobe with a needle and thread has become a staple in the local fashion industry. Now known as India Laposh, she has managed to make her designs not only current and trendy, but also timeless and quite stunning.

    Q. What inspired the name of your fashion house, “House of Laposh”?

    A. I thought of Laposh years ago when I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, and it was never intended to be more than just a Facebook name. From the beginning, I knew whatever name I came up with for my brand needed to be something original, something I had never heard before. I wanted this name to scream everything that I stood for, yet I wanted it be bold enough to catch people’s ears. Soon everyone had dropped the India in my name and just started calling me Laposh at that moment. That’s when I knew “House of Laposh” was perfect.

    Q. What statement do you want your designs to make?

    A. Every designer designs for the individual person, but you have to maintain a cohesive look within your designs. Everything that runs through my sewing machines is bold and very me. It can be risky, but what’s life without a little risk. I design for those seeking luxury and comfortability.

    Q. What do you feel are your proudest career achievements thus far?

    A. Each year as the New Year approaches, I set new goals for myself. I’ve set goals that some have thought to be unachievable, but I use that doubt to motivate me.  This year alone has been amazing. Not only did I achieve the goals I set, but I’ve already surpassed them. I was blessed with the opportunity to style a well-known transgender actress, Laverne Cox, of “Orange Is the New Black.” I worked with reality star Erica Mena. I recently styled Shauna Brooks. This was also my second year participating in Richmond Fashion Week. My designs were the finale of the fashion show. As the saying goes, they saved the best for last. Ultimately, the proudest moment of them all would have to be the first time I held my company’s LLC in my hands. Now, it’s official. Laposh is permanent.

    Q.  Obviously you’re a trendsetter, but who are your role models? Who inspires you?

    A. I really don’t have any role models in reference to designers. If you were to ask me to list my top ten favorite designers, I could only name about five because I don’t keep up with anything other than what I’m doing. Just so you know the level of extreme, I stopped watching television in the ninth grade to avoid the influence of other designs. I like to think of myself as my own role model. I inspire myself to be the best person that I can be and to never underestimate myself. I have those who give me support and encourage me to not give up. Mainly, my family, because they are the only ones whose loyalty I’ve never had to question. So when it all comes down, everything I do, it’s to secure a good life for me as well as my parents. I am a reflection of them and they deserve nothing but the best because they did an amazing job with me. They deserve the best in return.

    Q. You mentioned how supportive your family has been. It is a given that growing up and dealing with puberty is hard for all of us. I would imagine it was even more difficult for you, being born with a body that you didn’t identify with.  Was your family involved in your decision to transition from male to female?

    A. I can think back as far as before elementary school. I knew that the ideal life society had chosen for me to live wasn’t meant for me. I always go back to this very clear memory of me in my Grandma’s house, sitting on her living room carpet, thinking that one day I would be able to live the life that I wanted to live and become one with my womanhood. My transition began while I was in college in Atlanta, so I was surrounded by friends who were very supportive and protective of me. Transitioning in Atlanta was a big support in itself, as it’s known to be a welcoming place for African Americans in the LGBT community.

    I was nervous about coming back and facing family, only because it was somewhat unexpected to them. I was living in my truth and felt free when I was away from everyone, but when I came back home during college breaks, I was back to being restricted. So I did downplay the changes for a short amount of time until I couldn’t handle it anymore. I realized that I had to do what was right for me. I had to live for me. I told myself as long as my family knows and accepts me I’m 100 percent satisfied with that, so explaining to anybody else was irrelevant because I didn’t feel I owed an explanation to anyone. Once my family caught on, there was nothing more to be explained. It took a while to get used to, just like anything that you aren’t used to, but soon I found myself shopping with my Grandma for handbags and heels. So, honestly, life was better. My family accepted me. My Grandma told me one thing that I’ll always take with me: “Do what makes you happy, because you don’t want to grow old and living off of shoulda, coulda, wouldas.” That alone was all the advice I ever needed.

    Q. What advice would you give to someone struggling with their own gender identity?

    A. I would say you’re not alone and it’s perfectly fine. For many years, in my younger days, I was under the impression that I was alone and I would have to flee everything just to be able to live how I wanted to — but that wasn’t true. Growing up in a city where being transgender was practically nonexistent, and people lacked the knowledge of what exactly transgender means, can be very difficult. No one can change how you feel on the inside. Until your outside matches your inside, that incomplete feeling will always be there. You have to live for yourself. You have to walk your own path. It’s a path only you can steer. Being transgender has absolutely nothing to do with being gay. Your gender identity doesn’t define your sexuality. Live your life, do what makes you happy, and be the best representation of you.

    Q. Do you feel that disclosure is a must when meeting new people? Dating can be a minefield. Do you think it’s harder for someone who is transgender? Speaking of which, how do you feel about the word transgender? Is it offensive?

    A. Disclosure for me is extremely important. I have always disclosed my past life. Usually when dating locally, people beat me to it. But I always give confirmation, which is why I get a lot of respect. Do I think it’s harder for a trans person to date? Absolutely not. Dating has never been an issue for me. When I meet guys, they want to know me, nothing more and nothing less. They want to know who I am. No, transgender isn’t offensive to me. It is what it is; I’m not super big on categorizing everyone. Society is.

    Q. Thank you for your openness in this interview. I have one last request. Describe yourself in one sentence. Who is India?

    A. India is a force to be reckoned with …

    Visit India’s website to view
    and purchase items from
    her clothing lines at
    www.houseoflaposh.com.

  • June 2016 Issue

    Seeing the Star City Shine

    Kianna Price Wade

     

    A historic election took place on May 3. Roanoke City residents voted Sherman P. Lea Sr. as mayor and Anita James Price as vice mayor. I sat down and talked with each of these multi-term members of Roanoke City Council about their thoughts on the Star City of the South, where it shines and what direction it needs to go.

    Why did you initially decide to run for political office?

    Lea: I have always had the attitude that if you want something done, you have to do it yourself.  And when I moved here from Danville I was in an appointed position.  I was on the board for the Redevelopment and Housing Commission.  After serving there for a couple of years I moved to Roanoke. I served on the PTA and later became interested in serving on the Roanoke City School Board.  I was then appointed to the School Board and served there for five years.  Of course as a school board member, you are constantly meeting with city council. I felt like working on council, which is the governing body of the city, I could have a lot more input in terms of funding and the things we can do for schools. So it was a challenge and something I saw as a move up. There were also things
    within the community that caught my interest – one in particular being Victory Stadium.  And so, I set out to run for council to save Victory Stadium.

    Price: Deciding to initially run came after much soul searching and checking in with my family!  I never really had a desire to run for a public office – however, I have always had a drive to help others and to help where needed.  I served as president of Roanoke Education Association for a number of years and began to truly understand how the political process affects every aspect of our lives. During that tenure, I had opportunities to interact with the school board, city council and Virginia’s General Assembly.  Through those experiences, I was able to better understand that to evoke change, you have to be not only in the room, but at the table.   I was encouraged by several folks to run for city council and was pleasantly surprised when I won my first primary in 2008.

    On May 3, you were elected as Roanoke’s second African American mayor. How does that make you feel?

    Lea: First of all, it is an honor to come behind Rev. Noel Taylor. I am excited for reasons other than the fact that I am the second African American mayor. I hope what my election does is  encourage young African American males, letting them know that they can be mayor or aspire even higher.  Work hard. Stay in school. Become connected in the community, and they can do it. That is what is important regarding the election – that it gives young people hope and aspirations to do things in their community. To become involved.

    It is constantly mentioned that you are the first African American female on Roanoke City Council and now the first African American female as vice mayor. What does this historical fact mean to you?

    Price: To be honest, I am still processing just what that means and allowing it to really sink in.  For a time, I didn’t really want to dwell on the fact that I am the first African American female on city council, because it reminded me of a time when a supervisor told me I was lucky I was black because Roanoke was looking for black teachers.  I took offense to that and told her I certainly hoped she would hire me because I am a good teacher, not for the color of my skin.  I still believe that a person should be evaluated or accepted on their merit – not to obtain some quota.  But I do humbly accept the awesome recognition that I am a first! That in itself is not to be taken lightly and is a responsibility that I accept with great humility.  The fact that I will be recorded in the history of Roanoke is so overwhelming, and I don’t want to allow myself to be caught up in the “hype.”  It is my prayer and desire that my service on Roanoke City Council has recorded that I made a difference for the advancement of our city and its people – it’s not about me, but what I can do to encourage others.

    Do you feel Roanoke is headed in the right direction considering you are only the second African American mayor?

    Lea: I feel it is. I feel we are a progressive city in many aspects, especially when it comes to elected officials.  Roanoke has had a history of having minorities, especially African Americans, in high office.  We have Anita Price my colleague as vice mayor. There’s an elected African American sheriff, we have an African American commissioner of revenue, clerk of the circuit court, police chief and [have had] at least two African American school superintendents. I think we have had a history of being progressive when it comes to local officials, but I would like to see us improve when it comes to that area. But I am pleased with where we are as a city in regards to that, and I feel it is incumbent for us to continue to pave the way to those that will come behind us. To make sure that we are committed in service and conduct ourselves in a way in which people won’t necessarily look at the color of your skin, but look at your character and personality and your willingness to improve the quality of life within your tenure.

    Do you feel Roanoke is headed in the right direction considering you are the only African American female on city council?

    Price: It is my prayer – as I had hoped it would be with this past election – that another African American woman would join me on council, and I certainly hope that will not be much longer!  Progress is coming, but it can be slow to change.  At least there will be one more woman on council this go round and I am thankful for that.  But, as I said before, in order to make a change for the better, you have to be at the table.  The dynamics of council have changed, but additional representation is needed of other minority groups.  We’re not quite there yet, but thank God we aren’t where we used to be.

    What would you like to see improve in Roanoke?

    Lea: I would like to see us improve the poverty rate in our city. I have been concerned with the number of homeless children that we have. We have over 70 percent of our students who are getting free and reduced lunch; that’s a concern. I hope we can work to improve that. I realize that sitting on council, we are not able to do that alone. It is going to take us coming together and partnering with local agencies while collaborating [efforts] in order to make this happen. And I hope that it improves, especially as it concerns the children who don’t have a place to live. We can do better than that. And I am hoping that we will.

    Price: Equity and equality for all – throughout the city.  Unfortunately, we still have poverty in our city.  We are all aware of the impact of poverty not just on the individual but its implications across all lines – economically and quality of life.  I want to see improvements for all of our citizens no matter what quadrant of the city a person lives in.  I would also like to see more racial diversity in our neighborhoods.  A certain area of a city should not be automatically defined as being dominated by one racial group. 

    What would be your first step to combat the above?

    Lea: To make sure we create jobs. To give the parents of those students an opportunity to work, by making sure we have a trained work force, a work force that will meet the criteria of the companies that are coming in the area. We need to do all that we can here in the city to make sure we can create jobs to give people that chance to [regain] self-esteem and to be able to provide for their families. Also, continuing an open dialogue with those agencies like Goodwill and Rescue Mission, which assist those persons with a place to live.

    Price: Somehow we must have an open honest dialogue on addressing equity.  I’m with groups that address this issue, such as Points of Diversity.  The good thing is that it is not still the “elephant in the room” that no one wants to acknowledge.  We are blessed to have organizations that do recognize the need to address poverty.

    If you had a magic wand, what’s one thing you would do for the city – regardless of how much it would cost or how ridiculous of an idea?

    Lea: I would provide all the homeless children a wholesome place to live.  And to also provide those that want to work, a job. And find a means to get them a job.

    Price: That every child had everything they needed to be successful.  That would include good food and fresh produce (a decent affordable grocery store within every neighborhood).  That each child lived in warm, decent housing and did not live with the worry of where they will sleep at night. That all our neighborhoods and streets are well-kept, proudly displayed and beautiful. That magic wand would just do everything to make the entire city clean and maintained. And then for fun, for the younger folks – a Dave & Buster’s!

    What do you think about the diversity in Roanoke?

    Lea: Although we have 105 different nationalities in Roanoke, I think diversity is something we can improve on. [Even when observing city appointments] we have a number of boards and commissions, but we don’t have much diversity on them. It starts with us as leaders. It is something we can work toward, because it is important.  It’s important that citizens see that we are diverse in what we do, especially for our young people. It starts with us as a governing body. There is still work to be done.  I am a little frustrated at times when see a lot of activities that are going on in our community and I don’t see a lot of diversity. For example, on the weekends, in downtown [I notice] sometimes at concerts and other events. I think if it wasn’t for events like the Henry Street Festival we would be lacking in a lot of areas as it relates to different cultures and groups that come into our city. We are working on it and we are doing a good job. I am pleased with what we are doing at the Berglund Center. But I think we can improve. As leaders of the community we have to stay vigilant, to make sure we do what we can do. We decide who is going to be on these boards and commissions.  It starts there. We want that to permeate down into our schools, in our education system. We can improve, especially with African American male teachers.  They need more presence in our schools. For that matter, more minority teachers in general.  I don’t see enough minority teachers in the school system, and there should be.

    Price: It’s exciting to see the changes in diversity over the past 35-plus years.  When I first moved here in the late ’70s, I remember thinking, “Not many folks look like me in this city.”  When I was teaching at Patrick Henry High School, Roanoke received immigrants from Bosnia; then at Round Hill Elementary, we had children from Sudan, Haiti, Mexico and many other places.  So fortunately, the diversity of our city has changed. Local Colors started with a handful of nations – now ambassador Pearl Fu reports over 105 nationalities are represented in the Roanoke Valley!  I think that is a strong testament that we, as a community, are warm and welcoming to people of every race, nationality and creed. 

    What three words would you use to describe Roanoke?

    Lea: Growing. Caring. Scenic.

    Price: Vibrant. Evolving. Promising.

  • May 2016 Issue

    Defining an American Dream

    Vickie Holt

    Krishendeo (Kris) Ramsingh was born in 1972 in the Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago.  Though he is of Indian descent, he seemed destined for America from a very young age.  Even as early as seven years old, Kris wanted to join the U.S. Navy.  He loved the American people, and wanted the American dream.  Young Kris, however, would have to wait.

     

    As the years passed, Kris worked in boat-building, doing fiberglass and upholstery.  Though he was making a life in a place many Americans would consider paradise, he never lost his passion for the United States.  Then one day in 1996, a Christian missionary named Linda Anderson entered his life.  Linda had left America behind with no plans to return, yet she would eventually marry a man who wanted nothing more than to be an American.  Kris and Linda married the same year they met.  Though Kris had been raised in the Hindu tradition, he converted to Christianity, and the two of them spent the next ten years together in Trinidad and Tobago.  It wasn’t until 2006 that they left the Caribbean and headed for the place Kris longed to call home.


    With no more than three hundred dollars in his pocket, Kris and his wife moved to Roanoke.  With a strong work ethic, he quickly found employment working on a boat for a friend of Linda’s.  He then worked in upholstery with Rowe Furniture for three years.  He was a legal resident alien at that time, which meant he was able to work and pay taxes.


    Kris says he thought of moving away several times, but something always kept him here.  Eventually, with only seven hundred fifty dollars, he grabbed one more slice of the American dream.  He opened his own business: Dominion Custom Upholstery on Williamson Road. 


    Today, Kris’ business is a success, with a clientele that includes many of the area’s more affluent citizens.  He has a home and he has a family.  He had the American dream he’d always wanted growing up.  But it wasn’t enough.  Kris has so much love for America within him he wanted to become involved in the clockwork that makes America tick.


    In late 2011, Kris became involved with politics on a local level, in association with the Republican Party.  He began attending meetings, as well as helping with functions and elections.  He was meeting people and doing his part in an organization that shares his values and the goal of smaller government.  Kris said he believes strongly that working hard and achieving on one’s own merit is the only way.  He believes people shouldn’t expect the government to do everything for them.  He believes that the American dream is a job that we must all continue working on.  It is a goal to strive for, and not a handout.


    But even getting involved in politics was not enough.  To Kris, the American dream equals everything, including being an American.  He wanted to begin the process of naturalization earlier, but it does cost, and something always seemed to come up that delayed the beginning of the final step in his journey. In October 2014, however, there were no more obstacles. His business was successful enough to allow him to begin. 


    Kris said the only part of the process that caused him any distress was the final test. Like any student before a test, he experienced fear about how well he would do. Unlike a student in class, however, the stakes of failure were much higher.  After learning more American history than most adult Americans remember throughout their lives, he passed, and on October 23, 2015, Kris Ramsingh became an American citizen.  It was a very proud day for him, as well as for his family and friends.  When asked if he thought naturalization was important for all immigrants, Kris replied, “Out of respect for this country, everyone who wants to come to live in America should go through this process.” 


    Today, Kris Ramsingh provides an example when talking about the American dream.  He didn’t have much money, and had no “in” connections.  He didn’t have formal higher education.  What he did have was a willingness to work hard and to learn skills.  He had a clear understanding of what it means to achieve, and he understood how to prioritize.  In a country that has always prided itself on being a land of opportunity where anyone can become what they want, this man has shown it can be done with hard work and sacrifice.

    Dominion Custom Upholstery
    2914 Williamson Road NW
    Roanoke, VA 24012
    (540) 761-0268
    www.dominioncustomupholstery.com

  • December 2015 Issue

    Examining This Region's Lesser-Known Religions

    Linda Pharis

    Our region is blessed by ethnic richness, having a center for Refugee and Immigration Services plus several medical centers, colleges and universities that recruit talent from around the world. For those who have left their motherland, congregations that share their language and traditions are vibrant, comforting spiritual and social anchors.

    The Southern Baptist Convention has been active in creating ethnic churches. To name a few:

    Korean Baptist Church on Starkey Road in Roanoke County can be reached at (540) 772-4222. Their active congregation’s website features photos of their adorable Vacation Bible School class and of their concert by the Philippines Gospel Choir-“The Miracle Team” in 2014.

    Roanoke Sinai Haitian Baptist Church was founded in 2013 and is located at 2905 Cove Road, (540) 342- 6492. Online, they state: “Sinai Baptiste church is the first Haitian-American in the Roanoke Valley.” The church aims “to bring all the Haitian community together to serve the Lord.” A video shows Pastor Castine Messadieu teaching Bible study in Haitian Creole.

    Lynchburg’s Baptist Iglesias de Las Americas has services in Spanish for its Mexican population. It is located at 104 Wessex Road, and Pastor Rev. Carlos Payan can be reached at (434) 237-5439.

    St Gerard’s Catholic Church at 809 Orange Avenue in Roanoke has served its African American neighborhood since 1946, and from 1996 has included bilingual mass for its Hispanic parishioners. Bishop Francis DiLorenzo celebrated a bilingual Mass for St. Gerard’s 60th anniversary on October 15, 2006, which culminated three days of celebration with the theme of “A House of Prayer For All People.” At the time, the parish had about 350 families comprised of African, African American, Hispanic, Caucasian, Asian and other ethnic backgrounds. Pastor is Rev. Fr. Mark White, (540) 343- 7744.

    Other regional religious/spiritual communities are less familiar to the majority of us. Here’s an overview of some of these:

    Hinduism

    Five hundred families belong to Roanoke’s Hindu Shantiniketan Temple at 7221 Branico Drive in Roanoke County. (There are two additional temples in Salem.) I visited this beautiful woodland setting,with colorful saris and lights, the sound of chanting, and the smell of Indian cooking and incense. The congregational meeting is called Satsang, a gathering for holy discussion and meditation in the presence of a guru, or pastor. Pastor Passad Muttar, from India’s Andhra Pradesh region, is part of a priestly family going back generations. Satsang is on Sundays from 4.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m., though timings can vary during special events, such as Diwali, November’s festival of lights. Member families take turns catering a dinner after each Satsang service. One should ask permission of the pastor to visit; in some temples, non-Hindus are not allowed, but our Shantiniketan Temple is very welcoming. They are praying for all of us, Muttar tells me, “for peace, peace, peace.”

    Hinduism is traceable to India 4,000 years ago. It is also referred to as Sanātana Dharma, “the eternal law” or “eternal way.” Hindus believe that every living being has a soul, and that soul is eternal. Belief in reincarnation is central.

    Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam. They do not point to a founder of their religion; Hinduism is thought of having existed forever, mainly because rituals to worship natural things have existed since earliest human times.

    To western eyes Hinduism is complicated, allowing polytheism (many gods and goddesses), monotheism, and atheism. Hinduism has many named deities such as Brahma (creator), Vishnu (protector), Shiva (destroyer), Ganesh, Krishna and Lakshmi. All these are actually aspects of the singular God force. Hinduism is remarkable for its diversity and tolerance about beliefs. Hindus do not attempt to convert or recruit, they do not have a central religious director such as a pope or archbishop, nor do they have the precept of blasphemy.

    Hinduism’s fundamental book, the “Rig Veda,” was written more than 3,800 years ago. A familiar Hindu concept in the U.S. is Kharma, or as westerners say, “What goes around comes around.” Good or bad deeds done in life come back later in this life or in the next, bringing good fortune or bad, as determined by the gods. Yoga in Hinduism is not merely an exercise routine; it is a sacred path to spiritual growth. There are 16 important holy rites throughout Hindu life that are performed by a priest. Fifteen are held for important passages during life; the final sixteenth is the funeral service.

    Islam

    I was privileged to speak with Dr. Hesham Rakha, whose many honors and titles include Director of the Center for Sustainable Mobility at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. He is one of four Trustees of the Board of Al-Ihsan Mosque in Blacksburg, where 200 to 300 people come to Friday prayers.

    The foundation of Islam begins with God, whom Muslims call Allah, which literally means “the one and only God.” “Arab Christians and Jews say ‘Allah’ when they talk about God,” Dr. Rakha writes, “The Quran declares that Allah is the same God that spoke to the Jews and Christians (29:46): “Tell [the Jews and Christians], ‘We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us [the Quran] and in that which came down to you [the Torah and Gospel]; Our God and your God is one; and it is to Him we surrender.”

    Islam has Six Articles of Faith which take in belief in God; belief in the angels of God; belief in the revealed Books of God-Scrolls of Abraham (Suhuf), the Law of Moses (Torah), the Psalms of David (Zabur), the Gospel of Jesus (Injeel), and the Reading of Muhammad (Quran). Muslims believe in God’s many prophets, from Adam to the penultimate Jesus, to the final prophet Muhammad. There will be a Day of Judgment, and afterlife (Jesus will return to lead this); and, belief in the divine measurement of human affairs and the supremacy of God’s will.

    There are Five Pillars of Islamic faith, to help Muslims achieve God awareness and piety (Taqwa).

    Shahadah: Declaring allegiance to God/Allah.
    Salat: Five daily prayers
    Zakat: Annual obligatory charity
    Saum: Fasting the month of Ramadan
    Hajj: The pilgrimage to Mecca for those who are capable of doing so.

    Visiting a Mosque, or Masjid, requires you wear modest, “well-covering” clothes. Gentlemen may wear shirts and pants, no shorts. Ladies should wear long sleeve, well-covering clothes, and head cover. Shoes are taken off at the entrance. Mosques generally have separate entrances and seating sections for men and women.

    Vandals broke windows, hurled objects and insults when they attacked the Masjid An-Nur of Roanoke last July. Masjid An-Nur is open “all days,” according to its website, so I go as the call to noontime prayer begins. This young man is the Muezzin. It is an awesome sound. I give my name explaining my mission is for goodwill. I am allowed in, but the leader of the mosque is not in today, and no one present is authorized to speak with the public. I ask to attend the prayer service and am led up stairs to the women’s section, a large plain room with carpeting and a row of folding chairs. (Folding chairs, I am realizing, are one of the common features of all sacred places in America.)

    I sit alone until a young woman arrives with her toddler. She is dressed head to toe in a black silk sari-like garment with silver trim. She welcomes me and introduces herself as “Hafsa.” She tells me she is from Niger, Western Africa, by way of Montreal, where she attended Catholic schools.

    Imam begins the prayer. Five verses are chanted, with silence increasing between each repetition. It is meditative, even without knowing the words. Hafsa tells me that strict Muslim men attend all five daily prayer gatherings at the mosque. For women, she explains, it is advisable to pray at home, as “women must be protected.” Marriage is a religious obligation for Muslims, as is fasting during the month of Ramadan.

    Hafsa later walks with me to the parking lot, and asks if I have read the Quran. I admit I haven’t. “When you read it you will find it is beautiful and makes you feel so peaceful inside,” she says. She wants me to know that Islam and Christianity have much in common. The more I learn about it, I agree.

    Masjid An-Nur is at 3718 Salem Turnpike, Roanoke, VA 24017. Corelli Rasheed, leader; (540) 342-7688.

    The Islamic Center in Blacksburg is at 1284 N Main St. Blacksburg, VA 24060. Dr. Hesham Rakha, leader; (540) 961- 5210.

    GLIA Mosque in Lynchburg is at 1105 Airport Road, Lynchburg, VA 24502. Maqsud Ahmad, leader; (434) 841-6829 (cell).

    Buddhism is not a religion, but a lifelong discipline promoting good mental clarity and health. Buddhism is an outgrowth of Hinduism, and Buddha is considered a messenger/prophet of Allah.

    Siddhartha Gautama, founder of Buddhism, lived in India approximately 560 to 480 BCE. Son of a warrior-king, he led an extravagant life until adulthood. Bored with his royal life, he wandered into the world and came face-to-face with an old man, an ill man, a corpse and an ascetic. The suffering of human existence shocked Gautama. He renounced his status, became a monk living without possessions in order to clearly see the world around him. Meditating beneath a tree, he realized how to be free from suffering, and ultimately, to achieve salvation. After this epiphany, Gautama was called “The Buddha,” meaning the “Enlightened One.”

    The Buddha spent the remainder of his life teaching others this revelation, called The Dharma, or Four Noble Truths. Most simply stated: suffering exists; it has a cause; it has an end; and it has a way to bring about its end. This pragmatic perspective deals with the world as it is, and attempts to rectify it.

    The Four Noble Truths enfold a plan for dealing with the physical and mental suffering humans face. First Truth: Face the presence of suffering. Second Truth: Name the cause of suffering. In Buddhism, desire and ignorance lie at the root of suffering. Desire is craving pleasure, material goods, and immortality, wants that can never be totally satisfied, so desiring them ultimately brings suffering. Ignorance, another cause of suffering, is failure to see the world as it actually is. Without developing the capacity for mental concentration and insight, Buddhism explains, one’s mind is left unable to grasp the true nature of things. Vices, such as greed, envy, hatred and anger, derive from this ignorance.

    The Third Noble Truth is the end of suffering: either through death, or through achieving Nirvana. One who has achieved Nirvana is free from suffering, as spiritual enlightenment has been reached. Fourth: the way to the end of suffering is the Noble Eight-fold Path: Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.

    Kharma refers to good or bad actions a person makes during a lifetime: good deeds bring happiness in the long run, bad deeds bring unhappiness. Kharma plays out in the Buddhism cycle of rebirth. To be born human is, to Buddhists, a precious chance at spiritual bliss, a rarity that one should not forsake.

    Kadam Deann Bishop is the founder and leader of Roanoke’s Darmapala Kadampa Buddhist Center. Bishop studied for 20 years in the Mahayana tradition, which focuses on teaching/helping others. The meditation area sparkles with artwork and candles. Classes are open to all for a small fee and group meditation is available most days of the week. The center is looking for a new home but is currently housed at 315 Albemarle Avenue SE in Roanoke. Contact at (540) 521-7989. Resources are at: www.meditationinvirginia.org.

    To read more:

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rigveda
    quora.com/What-is-the-origin-of-Hinduism
    www.quora.com/What-are-the-most-interesting-facts-about-Hinduism pbs.org/edens/thailand/buddhism.htm

     

  • November 2015 Issue

    Spotlight on Public Service

    Sam Rasoul

    "We are bringing down some of those mental barriers."

    At age 34, Delegate Sam Rasoul has the resume of someone twice his age. He has a Master’s in International Business from Hawaii Pacific
    University, has started several businesses, is married with two children and also happens to be state delegate for the 11 th District serving Roanoke.

    His family came to the United States in the late 1960s, fleeing a region in Palestine marred by war. He was born in Ohio and came to Roanoke at the age of three. He started from humble beginnings, as a child growing up in a one-bedroom apartment with his family in downtown Roanoke. Fast forward to today: he’s traveling internationally, serving as chief operating officer of Kissito Healthcare’s international philanthropic arm, as well as garnering a large following of constituents in Roanoke. Currently, he runs a consulting business specializing in strategic planning and organizational change, as he also serves as delegate. He finds many parallels between his professional and political life.

    Q: How did you get involved in politics?

    A: I got involved right after the 2006 mid-term elections when Congress changed hands. I thought that the nation was coming to the center and
    I wanted to bring a different type of politics to the table. Me and my supporters like to focus on millennial values. These are values not of a particular age group, but values that can connect a generation with values of transparency, openness, collaboration.

    Millennials care a lot less about issues and are trying to assess the content of the character of the individual who we are trying to do business with or the candidate running for office. It fundamentally is going to change politics, it’s just a matter of how quickly are the Democrats and Republicans going to change business as usual. That’s the kind of politics that I believe people are looking for.

    It’s been helpful for my supporters for me, someone who doesn’t necessary look like a whole lot of folks in this area, olive-complexion skin, child of immigrants, last name Rasoul. We had to build bridges by bringing a new type of politics that had to bring people together, instead of pitting people against each other. My campaigns were so positive that it drove party people crazy. When we say positive, we’re not sitting around singing “Kumbaya.” We are aggressive, but we all have a stake in the game and we all need to come together and find the solution.

    I went from winning by 44 votes to having no challengers on the Democratic or Republican side, which is a real testament to what we’re doing here in the Roanoke Valley.

    Q: Why do we not see more people of color running for office?

    A: Barriers still exist and I know some would like to think that they don’t, but with that said, the reality is that in our country it is possible. It is tougher for me than for some others, but in the U.S., unlike in Japan for example, I couldn’t run for office in Japan, even though it’s very developed and a “democracy,” but in the United States, this nation built by immigrants, there is the opportunity. There’s a good ol’ boy mentality that is still out there so we need to recognize that, but also appreciate that it’s possible. Who would have thought ten years ago we would have had a black president? That’s what I mean by dreaming and thinking big and thinking things are possible. Now I feel as though we are bringing down some of those mental barriers that have existed for a long time.

     

    Sherman Lea

    "Understand your community and get involved"

    Of the 23 years Councilman Sherman Lea has lived in Roanoke, 17 of those he has spent involved in some kind of public service. His career with the Virginia Department of Corrections brought him to Roanoke in 1992 with his wife and children, and he started his public service career on the Parent Teacher Association at his children’s school.

    Q: How did you become interested in becoming an elected official?

    A: Because of my involvement in the PTA, I began to follow school issues and within a few years I was appointed to the Roanoke City School Board. I served five years on the Roanoke City School Board and I’ve always had the philosophy if you can contribute to your community, do it. I grew up around a father who was very active in community affairs. He was active in making sure local citizens were registered to vote and felt that everyone needed to participate in the voting process, not only from a spiritual standpoint, but also from a civic standpoint. So that really inspired me and stayed with me. After I was on the school board for a few years, which I think is one of the highest civic callings you can have, people asked me about running for Roanoke City Council. I ran in 2004 and had a four-year term. In 2008, I was elected vice mayor and I ran again in 2012. I’m on my 12 th year as a member of Roanoke City Council.

    Q: What are some of the highlights of your career?

    A: One of the highlights of my career was that I was selected to be chairman of Total Action against Poverty [TAP, now Total Action for Progress] Board of Directors for several years and while on the board and being on city council I decided we needed to deal with our dropout rate. Because I was on the school board I knew we had students who were dropping out and in my professional career with the Department of Corrections I knew a lot of young men and women who did not have a high school education. So what I decided to do was to use my influence and ideas to bring the city council, administration, public schools and TAP together to say, what can we do to solve this problem? What we did is we got the Department of Education to say “if kids go back to school, whether it’s through a program in TAP or GED, we’ll give your city credit for that from that program.” We brought over 900 boys and girls back to school and through the Western Virginia Education Classic football games raised over a quarter million dollars for TAP.

    Q: What advice do you have for people of color who want to run for office?

    A: I’m about doing things; a lot of officials get elected and are supportive, but I like to get out and roll up my sleeves and get involved.

    I try to cultivate an environment where my children and those around me get involved to make our community better.

    I think to start small. I see so many young people who have good ideas and they want to serve but they want to jump out and take on a larger office before they’re ready. Please stay involved in your community but get involved with a board or commission and work your way through. Every now and then you see someone elected and that’s their first time in office. Understand your community and get involved. We need people for advisory boards; planning commissions, we get very few people involved, we need more people to get involved. I encourage them to aspire to be on city council, to run for delegate, because it’s needed. They need to prepare themselves and I think they can do that better on boards and commissions to understand how the community operates. Become involved and learn as much as you can.

     

    Anita Price

    "We bring a different perspective."

    Roanoke City Councilwoman Anita Price has passion in her voice. As the oldest of five children and the daughter of hardworking parents, this passion was developed at a very young age.

    “My parents were my first teachers because they instilled love of family, a love of service and a love of giving and in everything putting God first, so those are some of the values that have shaped me for 60 some years. You can edit the age part out!”

    She likes to joke about her age, but it’s very important to her past. She grew up during segregation and remembers seeing the hardships that
    her parents and siblings went through during that time.

    “Having grown up in total isolation from white folks and hearing the slurs and the horrific things my parents went through, we experienced
    firsthand the prejudice and the injustice that racial boundaries created. I mean, my Dad and his brothers wanted to start a small business and
    they were laughed out of the bank.”

    Price, a public educator for 35 years, came to Roanoke in 1977 with her husband Charles Price, who is now the executive director at the Harrison Museum of African American Culture located in the Center in the Square building. In 2008, she gained the Democratic nomination and was the first African American woman to be elected to Roanoke’s City Council. She was elected again in 2012.

    Q: How did growing up during segregation shape how you lead and govern?

    A: My biggest takeaway from growing up during that time is, get to know people for who they are. You can’t paint all black folks the same way, you can’t paint all white, Hispanic and Asian folks the same way. Each individual person has to be met by their own individual merit.

    Q: With racial tensions at a high in our nation today, what is the cause?

    A: We don’t take time to get to know each other. Here in Roanoke I would not go so far as to say those are the kind of problems we have existing here because, thank God, we do have factors that recognize how important it is to have communication, to build relationships and I have seen firsthand how diligently people around the city have worked to do just that. I would say in a heartbeat take our model and apply it to the rest of the country. That’s not to say we don’t have problems, we’re human. I love Roanoke, this is home to me. As a city we are very caring, very supportive of those who are less fortunate and from that aspect we are very blessed.

    Q: What is the current state of the African American community in Roanoke?

    A: It’s important that we have conversations about our past because when I was growing up a sense of black pride surrounded you daily. Even with the struggles my parents went through, they went out of their way to make sure me and my siblings knew that we had so much to be proud of. If families don’t make it a point to really instill that, it’s something we will lose.

    Q: Are there concrete ways that African American communities can continue to build hope?

    A: We are a caring community and there are so many groups and organizations that go about intentionally to instill an important sense of black pride. It can be done by teaching African American history or more subtly like showing examples of black professionals or other role models. The Renaissance Academy for young men and the Alpha Kappa Alphas (http://www.aka1908.com/) and Deltas (deltasigmatheta.org) are doing great things in schools to instill that pride.

    Q: For anyone of color who is thinking about running for office, why is it important for people of color to run for office and to be represented in important political positions?

    A: It is imperative that we have people of color in elected positons because we bring a different perspective when it comes time to make decisions. People may get discouraged sometimes, but you have to maintain that hope and stay encouraged because you may not win the whole battle but you might make an impression.

     

    Ceasor T. Johnson

    "You have to tell your own story."

    Lynchburg Vice Mayor Ceasor T. Johnson is a native of Jackson, Mississippi, but has lived in Virginia since 1989. He has been civically minded most of his life, watching his mother and father support their community through church and other events, so he always had a sense of giving back. 

    His service to his community started in college where he was senior class president and an active member of the NAACP and Alpha Pi Fraterni-
    ty. Soon after college he began his career with the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

    Since he’s moved to Lynchburg he has served on the executive boards of Big Brothers, Big Sisters; the United Way; the Campbell County Chapter
    of the NAACP; and the Jubilee Family Development Center, a year-round facility where at risk kids come after school for activities and remediation.
    He’s also been pastoring the Spring Hill Baptist Church in Brookneal for 19 years. Service is just part of his personality.

    This is his 12th year serving on Lynchburg City Council and his sixth year as vice mayor.

    Q: Who are some of your political role models or people you look to for inspiration?

    A: My pastor Dr. Michael Turner in Staunton, VA; he does a lot for the community. I look to people who have their hands full, but are still willing to take on something else for the little guys or the people who can’t speak for themselves or don’t have the opportunity to be in that kind of leadership role.

    Q: What advice would you give someone of color who is thinking about running for office?

    A: They can do it. We so often now depend on other people to make decisions that will favor us, but the one thing I’d like people to know is that everybody is not racist or against them, they just don’t have the shared history or background. So if you don’t want to be overlooked you have to step up and let your voice be heard. People are not against you, but they don’t know what you’ve been through so you have to tell your own story.

    Q: What are some challenges you face as an elected official of color?

    A: There’s always a challenge that a lot of times people don’t think you have the credibility because you don’t have the background or shared history of others. There are some families, like a dynasty in politics, like the Bushes, the Kennedys and the Rockefellers, who have the background. A lot of times people of color are coming from a place where we are the first people to do this and you have to overcome people not taking you seriously or thinking that you are credible and knowledgeable and that you have the will to make decisions at this level. You have to remind people that ever since Reconstruction we’ve had individuals who are willing to step up to the plate. For example, Hiram Revels was the first African American man
    elected to Congress after the Civil War. If we dig hard enough we can find role models and inspirational people who have done it before, and so we have to be willing to take that on.

    Q: What is your favorite part of being on Lynchburg City Council?

    A: Being able to represent the underdog and represent my community. I like being a part of a project and seeing it at the end of the day and being able to say I was part of that change and seeing people overcome challenges with our assistance.

     

    Trency Tweedy

    "You want a city that promises smart growth."

    Treney Tweedy was born and raised in the Rivermont neighborhood in Lynchburg in a working middle class family. Her dad was a welder and her mom worked on a factory line, and she describes her childhood as “normal,” until she decided during her senior year of high school to enter the Navy as a journalist aboard a naval ship. That was her first introduction to public service and to serving the community.

    After serving three years in the Navy she returned to Lynchburg, got married and started a family. While raising her three children she become increasingly more involved in her neighborhood and began to see how her local government played a crucial role in her daily life. She spent nine years working for Lynchburg Public Schools as the public information officer, where she served as the liaison between principals, teachers, students and families and the media.

    During that time she sat through every school board meeting, so she learned the roles of city council members and how they interacted with the school board when it came to planning and budgeting. This made her aware of community development and how all the moving parts work together. Tweedy also served six years on the school board; two of those years she served as vice chair. She decided she wanted to effect change on a larger scale and was elected to Lynchburg City Council in May 2014.

    Q: Why is it important that people of color run for office?

    A: It’s important because all voices need to be represented at the table of budgeting and policy making and I think it’s important to bring different perspectives. We all live in a community together. We all have to share infrastructure and we pay the same taxes. However, we all also have different needs in our neighborhoods and communities, so we need to make sure everyone’s voice is represented so that we can make improvements. Every culture and demographic needs to be represented. It allows us to hear perspectives from that group, experiences they have in the city, and it’s important that we all work together. Great representation makes for a great county.

    Q: What are some challenges running for office?

    A: Anyone who decides to put their name in needs to know that the public has to have some awareness of who you are, your resume and the type of work you do. Fundraising is important and can be a challenge so you have to network and learn how to be a candidate and the grueling schedule it sometimes has. So you have to talk with your family and campaign team.

    Q: What are your favorite things about being in office?

    A: My favorite things are the ability to serve people and to affect the future of your community, whether it’s short term or long term, and to be able to have a vote on those types of decisions. Whether it is economic development or zoning, you want to be a part of making sure it all works for the quality of life in your community. That it all makes sense for businesses, residents, that it is environmentally friendly and that it works for the education system and for the taxpayer in general. You want a city that promises smart growth, so being able to affect all that by sitting in a seat of leadership, you’re able to have a full view and get all the information about what the city can grow into.

    Q: Who are your political role models?

    A: There are so many individual names that come to mind so it is hard to single out one person. I more look at leadership style, whether it’s local government or state officials, previous or current city council members, it’s the leadership style of engaging people. I think it’s being out there and talking to folks; it’s understanding that people watch your council meetings and want to engage with you when they see you in person and talk about some of the issues. Being accessible and present at events and making sure that the public and those that did and didn’t vote for you know that you are on the job and trying to make a difference.

    Q: What are some things that you hope to leave as your legacy in office?

    A: I hope that I am able to bring the perspective of many residents in our community to the table. When we look in particular in our Lynchburg community, we are looking at the issue of poverty and how it affects our citizens and what does that really mean for our community? How can we create the opportunities to increase our workforce development? Let’s look at our school system and provide resources for students and families so they can be a part of the greater economy in our state. We want them to create lives for their families that they want and help them to come out of poverty and create generational wealth for themselves. So I hope I’m able to look at the system and help the different parts of the system engage to help the most people and enact the change we all want to see happen.

     

    Sharon Brooks Hodge

    "Be free to think outside of the political norm."

    Martinsville Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge’s journey to settling down in Southside Virginia was an evolution of her life experiences. Hodge spent 25 years in journalism and corporate communications before becoming the executive director of the Black Family Preservation Group, Inc. in Martinsville, a national organization that promotes marriage and stable, two-parent African American home environments.

    Originally from Northern Virginia, she and her husband decided to call Martinsville home because of her husband’s deep family roots. His grandfather was Clay B. Hodge, a prominent African American of his time and very involved in NAACP and the Voters League. Hodge decided to get into politics when she discovered the only African American representative on city council wasn’t going to run again. “I said if no one else is going to do it, I’m going to do it.” At first she called herself a “placeholder,” taking the office until they could recruit another African American representative, but she liked it so much she stayed.

    Q: Why is it so important for people of color to be involved in public service?

    A: I have to be careful because I’m not from here and sometimes I have to watch how I say things. Quite frankly though, I have some issues with the black community not taking ownership and leadership. I’m the first black woman on council, and Jennifer Bowles is the youngest person ever to serve on city council at age 25. We are both UVA grads. This is the first time in the city’s history we have two African American women on city council. We can really make a difference on issues that previously may not have been talked about, because when one person says it, it can be taken as an opinion. When two people can agree on an issue, it can kind of start a conversation. We are a community made up of 45% black, 6% Hispanic, 49% white, so we are a city with a majority of people of color and we still have no representation from the Hispanic community on city council. I did have to prove myself because I have Republican ties, and for some in the black community they would ask me, “Am I just pretending to be black?” Well, during my term I’ve pretty much proven my blackness, but not abandoned my political philosophy of fiscal prudence; I’m a tightwad. I am very much black, now it’s what do I want out of government. It’s taken me about a year for people to stop just looking at me as the black person.

    Q: Why do we not see more people of color running for office?

    A: In the past there’s been a feeling that they’re not going to listen to me anyway or the government owes me something. My philosophy is save yourself. It’s taken me three years, but I’ve been working with community development programs and churches to benefit the West End of Martinsville, which is a predominately black community. They’ve received a gift from Wells Fargo on the West End, of two vacant buildings, so they’re going to renovate the properties and instead of flipping them they are going to rent the properties and use the money for future development of the West End. It takes someone to champion it and spearhead it and try to give other people confidence to do it.

    Q: Who are some of your political role models?

    A: I have Republican leanings. I tend to look toward people like J.C. Watts, people who can still be black, but be free to think outside of the political norm and work both sides of the aisles. I don’t have a role model that I emulate so much as I feel like I have my own brand, and I want to have the autonomy to do what people want me to do instead of follow someone else.

  • October 2015 Issue

    Established to Serve

    Linda Pharis

    As long ago as the kingdoms of Egypt, elaborate funeral practices were important to life on the continent of Africa. Their memories of burial traditions traveled with those unfortunate souls who were brought to the Americas as slaves. During their centuries of forced servitude, burials in the slave community were a rare opportunity to congregate, share emotions, dignify and celebrate the life that had passed to the next world — “gone home.”

    During the Civil War, black Union soldiers were pressed into duty assisting surgeons, and embalmed dead soldiers prior to shipping their bodies back to their hometowns from the South. Following Emancipation, their skills became the basis of a business economy, which consolidated during the years of Jim Crow. Funeral directors possessed a circumspect dignity, wealth and high status in the developing free African American communities.

    During the Civil Rights era, their status often placed them in forefront of negotiations with white leaders (and in a unique position to pass important secrets back and forth between blacks and whites). Funeral parlors are considered one of four major business types in African American communities that have survived desegregation, the others being churches, hair salons/ barbershops, nightclubs.

    Lawrence H. Hamlar and Harry C. Curtis, Jr. established Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home in Roanoke on February 3, 1952. Harry’s wife, Marilyn, was formally included in the business incorporation several years later. Michael Hamlar, Lawrence’s nephew, was also an owner of the business. 

    Over the past sixty years this family business has been located prominently on the corner of 10th Street at Moorman Road. It has gone through several expansions. The first happened in 1959 after a fire almost totally destroyed the building. The second expansion built a chapel with seating capacity for 300 mourners, three spacious family rooms and an administrative suite. The business grew steadily in the 1960s, and in 1972 more building expansion was needed. State Sen. (eventually to become Virginia’s first African-American Governor) L. Douglas Wilder, a friend of both families, gave the keynote address at the dedication ceremony.

    “Duke” Curtis attributes much of the business’s success “to faithful employees like funeral service licensee Fred Galloway and funeral attendant Richard Broady, lifelong employees still working in their 80s.” Other dedicated staff include Patricia Curtis, Patrick Curtis, Heather Willis, Byron Hamlar, George Stores, Frank Lynch and Stephen Hughes, and others who consistently ensure the Hamlar-Curtis standard of quality and professional service.

    “It’s really very flattering,” said Duke Curtis, “when we get a call, say, from Philadelphia, that a person wants to have their loved one brought home to Roanoke and Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home is recognized for its good reputation up there.”

    In years past, the most public face of the business, Lawrence H. Hamlar, helped to defuse tension in Roanoke following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. His leadership created the Center for Higher Education in Roanoke. He brought funding and leadership to Center in the Square, Blue Ridge PBS, and many other organizations. Both he and Marilyn Curtis served at different times on the Roanoke City Public Schools’ board.

    The individuals of that founding generation now have all passed away: Marilyn Curtis in 2000, Michael Lee Hamlar and Lawrence Hamlar in 2003, and Harry C. Curtis, Jr. in 2012. The legacies of the founders live on through their second and third generation offspring, H. Clarke “Duke” Curtis and Michael Lawrence Hamlar, who are now the owners of Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home. Duke Curtis says, “I was happy to learn that Mike was joining the business. I’ve watched him grow up; he was a great kid and has grown into a great young man. He’s a go-getter with great energy.”

    Young Michael Lawrence Hamlar, rising star of the third generation of the business, earned a football scholarship to Wake Forest University, where he played in the Seattle Bowl championship for the Demon Deacons. Soon after graduation, at age 22, he inherited his stake in the funeral home upon the death of his father Michael, who had suffered for years with multiple sclerosis, and just two and a half weeks later, the death of his great-uncle Lawrence Hamlar. He returned to Roanoke, leaving a promising football career, to help run the family business as a third generation co-owner of Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home.

    To enrich his knowledge of the funeral business, he obtained an associate degree from Mortuary School at John Tyler Community College while working in Roanoke. He holds an MBA from Liberty University, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in business administration.

    In 2009, Hamlar started a business brokerage firm, Hamlar Enterprises, which has handled multimillion-dollar regional mergers, business acquisitions and more. In 2012, Hamlar and his wife, Katina, established Hamlar Properties real estate firm. Hamlar is also an adjunct faculty member at American National University’s Roanoke Campus. His family includes young children Simone, Michal and Micah. He is a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and the Kiwanis Club of Roanoke.

    Both Duke Curtis and Mike Hamlar were greatly influenced by their paternal role models — fathers and uncles — in their roles as business professionals, community leaders and entrepreneurs.

    Recognized by The Blue Ridge Business Journal as one of the “Top 20 leaders under 40,” Mike Hamlar is energetically campaigning for a State Senate seat in the 19th District, which encompasses part of Roanoke County, all of Floyd County, all of Salem, part of Montgomery County, all of Wythe and Carroll Counties, and part of Bedford. If he is elected, he has said his priorities will be education, Medicaid expansion (which he hopes is accomplished before he makes it to the Senate), and economic development. Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently appointed him to the Secure Commonwealth Panel.

    Hamlar points out that a program such as Marketplace Virginia would create 30,000 jobs while providing necessary preventive healthcare. Though not yet the official Democratic nominee, he is eager to gain that distinction so that he can focus on defeating incumbent Republican State Sen. Ralph Smith.

    Duke Curtis said about Hamlar’s candidacy, “You don’t find too many young African- American men who will accept the challenge of politics, of running for this seat like Mike has. I really admire him for that.”

    H. Clarke “Duke” Curtis, current president of Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home, admits he is looking forward to eventually retiring and fulfilling all that is on his “bucket list.” Born in 1956, he was educated in Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home has built a respected reputation that extends into a third generation of leadership. toSERVE 10 OCTOBER 2015 Roanoke and attended John Tyler Community College in Richmond, where he earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in Mortuary Science in 1978.

    Certified by The Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards of the United States, Inc., and by the Virginia Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers, Curtis has a long history of professional affiliations and awards. He has served as chairman of the board of Virginia Morticians Association, is past president of Virginia Morticians Association and Western District Funeral Directors Association, and is currently a member of numerous national and state professional boards.

    Curtis has served on Virginia Tech’s School of Medicine and Research Community and Diversity Advisory Board, and Greater Roanoke Valley Development Foundation, SunTrust advisory board, Center in the Square board, board of Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Roanoke City Public School Education Foundation. He is a member of the Shenandoah Club.

    He has in the past been chairman of New Horizons Healthcare Center (formerly Kuumba Community Healthcare Center), United Way of Roanoke Valley Board of Directors, Minority Leadership Development Programs Chairman of United Way, University of Virginia Advisory Counsel for Continuing Education, Long Range Planning Committee of the Roanoke City Public Schools, Big Brothers, Board of Directors of the Hunton YMCA, Community Advisor to Wasena Elementary School “Just Say No” to Drugs Camp, Council of Community Service Board of Directors, Central YMCA, Apple Ridge Farm, Better Business Bureau and New Century Venture Council (a business incubator).

    Curtis is a deacon and director of the Anchor of Hope Community Center at High Street Baptist Church, a Mason, and a Shriner. His past honors include Outstanding Young Man of America, Father of the Year of High Street Baptist Church, Business Man of the Year/YMCA Family Center Branch, Western District Mortician of the Year, Outstanding Community Service/Alpha Kappa Alpha, and Omega Psi Phi Citizen of the Year Award.

    He is married to the former Patricia Reynolds, with whom he has two children: Tiffany, a registered nurse in Dallas, Texas, and Patrick, who now works with him in Roanoke. He helped raise his nephew Donte’, who also works in Dallas. Curtis enjoys working out, reading, music, traveling, and spending time with his family.

    Curtis strongly believes in encouraging young people. “Dare To Be Different” and “Pay it Forward” are two quotes frequently used by Curtis with community and family.

     

     

  • September 2015 Issue

    Festivals Weave History with Flavors of Community

    Alexia Stone

    The beauty and richness of our community would not be so without the efforts of the people who came before us. That’s why two upcoming festivals are helping to remind us of the unique culture and notable African American leaders who established the Roanoke and Lynchburg areas more than 100 years ago.

    The Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum in Lynchburg and The Harrison Museum of African American Culture in Roanoke may be two of the best-kept secrets in our region. These two museums help transport us back in time and remember the flourishing African American culture that once abounded.

    The Harrison Museum of African American Culture

    For Roanoke, Henry Street was once the mecca of the black community. From the late 1800s to the early 1960s, Henry Street was the only place west of Richmond that had a concentration of African-American owned businesses and entertainment; it was a hub of arts and culture. Nightclubs, a record shop, pharmacy, hospital and theater all created the community feel that developed on Henry Street over a span of about 60 years. Originally, Henry Street was three city blocks, starting from Gilmer Avenue and the 1st Street Bridge and continuing toward the Gainsboro Library.

    Because of the significance of Henry Street to the African American community, when organizers started planning the first Henry Street Heritage Festival 26 years ago as a fundraiser for The Harrison Museum of African American Culture, the name seemed appropriate. Executive Director Charles A. Price, Jr., explains, “I think it’s important for our heritage not to be lost. If you go back through history books in Virginia there’s just not a lot of information. I think festivals give folks an opportunity to experience that culture in a relaxed atmosphere. And it’s seeing people you haven’t seen in a long time and the fellowship of being together.”

    Henry Street was in decline in the late 1960s when desegregation began and other establishments that were previously unlawful for the African American community to patronize were made available. Through desegregation the rationale of having an area like Henry Street solely for African American vendors went away. More opportunities were made available to the African American community and as a result the Henry Street community slowly disappeared.

    Joyce Bolden is a volunteer with the Harrison Museum and is the Henry Street Heritage Festival coordinator and planning committee chairman. She was born and raised in Roanoke and describes desegregation and the deterioration of Henry Street as bittersweet.

    “When we [African Americans] were segregated we knew our neighbors. We all relied on each other. Once desegregation took place, no one ever thought that as we were fighting for rights for integration that we would lose something. We lost something in the school system when they desegregated the school system, we lost a lot of African American owned businesses and a lot of the black neighborhoods went away. That’s part of the consequences of us fighting for our rights. We fought for our rights, but we did not fight for the continuation of black entrepreneurship or keeping our community together.”

    The Henry Street Festival is meant to celebrate African American culture that has always been a part of Roanoke’s rich history and also serves as the main fundraiser for the Harrison Museum of African American Culture.

    The museum, which is housed on the second floor of Center in the Square in downtown Roanoke, was established in 1985 and was previously located inside the Harrison School Building, which in the early part of the century offered classes for African American students only through the eighth grade. High school diplomas were unavailable to Roanoke’s black students, and by gradually introducing new coursework, an educator named Lucy Addison eventually created a full high-school curriculum. The State Board of Education recognized her efforts in 1924 by accrediting the Harrison School as a secondary school. The Harrison School Building is listed on both the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

    In 2012, the museum relocated from the Harrison School Building to Center in the Square to increase visibility and diversity of visitors to the museum, and today offers a wide array of exhibits and artifacts, including hand-carved wooden sculptures from Africa with photos of the artisans who designed them. There is also an audio booth that is being used to collect oral histories from African American community members to help preserve significant events that took place in Roanoke and the region over the past hundred years.

    “The museum is more or less an avenue to present the culture and historical elements of the African American community. Not just here in Roanoke, but showcasing AfThe Henry Street Heritage Festival and Pierce Street Harlem Renaissance Festival showcase heritage with a modern flavor. Photography by George Warner Charles A. Price Jr. Director of the Harrison Museum of African American Culture and Henry Street Festival Photo by George Warner 12 SEPTEMBER 2015 Photo by George Warner rican American leaders from all over the world. We try to present local information as well as national. All of this is to inspire people to see where we’ve been and to see where we can go,” says Price.

    The Henry Street Festival is a celebration of culture and continues to grow every year. This year’s festival will be held in Elmwood Park on Sept. 19. As in previous years, the 26th Henry Street Heritage Festival promises to be a great community event presenting an array of diverse entertainment, educational forums, and exposure to African-American heritage as expressed through the performing arts, crafts, cuisines, customs, and merchandise.

    When asked about what festivalgoers can expect this year, Price and Bolden say there will be great music showcasing genres of the 1960s and ’70s, plus R&B, jazz and modern hip hop of today. There will be many vendors and wares being sold, and of course soul food will be on the menu.

    When asked to describe soul food, Price and Bolden both laugh. Price says, “It’s a process of tender loving care that is put into the food to make it have that special something and when you eat it, you know it’s not something that you can take just one bite of.”

    And Bolden chimes in with a laugh, “It makes you want to smack your mama.”

    East of Roanoke, the executive director and the board of directors at the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum in Lynchburg also are preparing to offer a very special spread for the fifth annual Pierce Street Harlem Renaissance Festival on Pierce Street. Located on this historic block are several notable landmarks that tell a story of perseverance through life’s hard times and not just overcoming, but thriving in the face of adversity.

    Anne Spencer was a poet, a civil rights activist, a teacher, librarian, wife and mother, and a gardener.

    More than thirty of her po - ems were published in her lifetime, making her an important figure of the black literary and cultural movement of the 1920s — the Harlem Renaissance. James Weldon Johnson discovered her poetry in 1919, and she went on to participate in creative circles with Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, Zora Neal Hurston and the Rev. Martin Luther King.

    She died in 1975 at age 93, but not before making her home a center in Lynchburg for subtle change. Today her home helps people who travel to see the museum understand the span of a civil rights movement from before the turn of the century to the mid-1970s.

    Anne and Edward Spencer’s granddaughter Shaun Spencer-Hester is the executive director for the museum and says she feels very lucky to work so closely with her family history. “To me it’s more like living through history and being connected in some way, so when I read it in history books I relate it to my family and what were they going through during that time and how they were able to overcome the Jim Crow laws, women not being able to vote, the civil rights movement. And I think, how can that help me today?”

    What makes the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum stand out as a landmark of African American history is also the love story between Anne and Edward Spencer that is perfectly told through the beauty of their historic home and restored garden.

    Both of Edward and Anne Spencer’s parents were born into slavery in Virginia and moved to Lynchburg after the Civil War. Edward and Anne met while attending Seminary, which is now known as the Virginia University of Lynchburg. Edward was a postman and Anne a writer and poet, and the Spencer family would go on to own real estate.

    Amidst the troubled, segregated times in which they lived, Edward and Anne Spencer sought refuge in their home, which Edward built himself. While on his postal routes he would salvage used materials and restore them for their home. The home is built in a Victorian style and is filled with antiques of the time as well as the original wallpaper in some rooms.

    The Spencers spent many days in their garden and in the cottage, Edankraal, which Edward built for Anne in the garden behind their home. The name Edankraal combines Edward and Anne and kraal, the Afrikaans word for enclosure or corral. Here she would lose herself in her flowers and creativity, and work on her writing into the wee hours of the morning.

    One of the notable events that happened at the Anne Spencer House was that the Lynchburg chapter of the NAACP was established in their living room in 1918, and documents show that Edward served as the secretary. Because of Jim Crow Laws of the time, Anne and Edward Spencer also opened their home to many notable black leaders traveling through Lynchburg on official NAACP business.

    The President of the board of directors for the Anne Spencer House is Judith Johnson, who before moving to Lynchburg ten years ago was the personal confidante and assistant to Coretta Scott King in Atlanta. With her background and knowledge of the civil rights movement, she is passionate that African American history is not lost and encourages people to continue to learn about their history no matter their race or nationality.

    “My working in the civil rights movement, many people don’t know any more about it than Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, but there was a lot of blood shed, a lot of lives lost, there was a lot of struggle. It’s important for us to know our history and it’s important to know where you’re from. When it comes down to it, it’s good for you to know who you are. This history is not taught in school. There are things that I know that wouldn’t be in the history books, but you can come to the festival and talk with people and learn. We need to keep that spirit of learning; that education is so important.”

    The Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum is just one of several historic homes on the 1300 Block of Pierce Street. Several other notable African American leaders lived on the block including Dr. R Walter Johnson, the first minority doctor awarded practice rights at Lynchburg General Hospital, and Chauncey Spencer, a member of the National Airmen’s Association, which would later become known as the Tuskegee Airmen. He made a historic flight from Chicago to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress on behalf of African American fliers.

    The reason for naming the festival The Pierce Street Harlem Renaissance is that the board hopes to create a renaissance of sorts for Pierce Street in Shaun Spencer-Hester and Judith Johnson Photo by Phillip Barrett SEPTEMBER 2015 15 Lynchburg, where people can rediscover the rich heritage and create a new movement of arts and culture. Johnson explains, “I think it’s important for the African American community to know that they’re important and they’re appreciated. People come from out of town all the way from Washington, D.C., to come to the festival. That’s important; it shows that we have support from one another. We have to lift each other up.”

    The Pierce Street Harlem Renaissance Festival this year is going to feature the dedication of a new historical marker on Pierce Street. There will also be Harlem Renaissance impersonators in full dress and a costume contest, as well as plenty of soul food including Anne Spencer Mint Tea, a secret family recipe. The festival is Saturday, Sept. 26, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. It’s free and open to the public. For more information on The Henry Street Heritage Festival, visit harrisonmuseum.com. For more information on The Pierce Street Harlem Renaissance Festival, visit annespencermuseum.com.