October 2016 Issue

  • Black Hair: A history with tangled roots


    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.”

  • Heritage Elementary’s Kenneth Burrows Jr. is Teacher of the Year


    In August Kenneth Burrows, Jr., began a new school year. His first day was not any different than any of the other six, except this year Burrows is Lynchburg City Schools’ 2016 Teacher of the Year.

    The award came as a complete shock to Burrows, a Bahamas native who teaches English Language Learners (ELLs). Superintendent Scott Brabrand made the announcement during a surprise assembly in April.  A representative from Lynchburg Nissan also attended the assembly to present Burrows with a car – lease paid for one year – courtesy of the Mabry Automotive Group.

    Burrows was first nominated and selected as Teacher of the Year at his school, Heritage Elementary School (HES). Factors contributing to his selection included colleague appreciation, working well with team members, student success, being able to motivate and empower students and involving parents in the school. Once at the district level, he also had to submit an essay, a letter of recommendation from his principal and answer questions directed to him by a panel of interviewers.

    August marked the start of Burrows’ seventh year of teaching and his sixth at HES. Since his arrival at the school, Burrows has restructured much of the ELL program, moving from a “pull-out” method to a more inclusive one that utilizes team teaching, small group instruction and one-on-one coaching. As a result, the SOL pass rate for ELL students at Heritage rose from 30 percent to 80 percent between 2012-16.

    Burrows said he typically has 30-40 students each year and customizes lessons for each one of them.

    “Anytime I get a new student I spend time researching and learning,” he says. “I ask parents or other students about their country. I might reach out to professors who’ve lived or taught there. I research the school system to see what learning gaps or strengths they might have. I don’t have to do it. But I do it because it helps to me understand the students and teach them better.”

    That extra effort makes a big difference, he says. He has a student from the country of Georgia (near Russia) who was extremely shy and culture shocked when she started school. So Burrows incorporated pictures and music from the country into her lessons, which allowed her to relax, open up and engage more in class.

    Burrows does more than one-on-one coaching. He also team teaches with the other instructor at HES. Sometimes that means working with a small group of his ELL students while the grade level teacher works with the rest of the class. Other times it means leading the whole class in an activity while the other teacher works with a few.

    Regardless the group size or grade, Burrows always tries to make learning hands-on, creative and fun. The activities can be as simple as having students act out the meaning of vocabulary words or as complicated as having groups work together to write an entire song. Break dancing and rap often are used, too.

    Burrows said what keeps him motivated to teach are the personal connections he is able to develop with students. Incorporating superheroes into a particular student’s lessons has allowed him to connect and engage the language.

    “There is nothing better than cutting across language and cultural barriers and being able to connect with students to find things we have in common,” he says.

    Besides his classroom work, Burrows also has created several programs, including a district-wide Cultural Game Night; an afterschool program called R4 (Rap, Rhymes, Reading and Writing) that teaches literacy through songwriting; and a program called Pride Promotions that gives students who struggle with behavior, academics or attendance the opportunity to choreograph performances for the district-wide Culture Night.

    In case his school responsibilities don’t keep him busy enough, Burrows is married with four young children, including a set of twins born this year.

    “A lot of people are shocked that I still do all this,” he laughs. “And it is a lot.”

    This school year Burrows will go on to try for the regional and state Teacher of the Year awards. Regardless of the outcome, Burrows makes it clear it’s not really about him. As he said at that surprise assembly: “It’s not about me being Teacher of the Year. Our students teach us things every day. Everybody’s teaching us something and we’re all learners. We, through our teamwork at Heritage Elementary, are Teacher of the Year.”

  • Stedman Speaks

    Stedman Payne is an experienced financial professional who serves as Member One’s Market Executive in the Lynchburg area. His financial educational series offers tips for making smart decisions when it comes to managing your finances. Home ownership is still referred to as the “American Dream.” But how exactly do you achieve that if you don’t know where to start?  In this edition, Stedman shares his tips for smart home buying and how you can financially
    prepare for home ownership.


    Q: What are the benefits of buying a home versus renting?
    SP: One benefit is that your monthly payment is going toward an investment, not into someone else’s pocket. Additionally, homes usually increase in value, which then builds equity. You can use this equity to take out loans for home improvements or even a dream vacation. Another benefit is that your monthly payment will remain the same (with a fixed-rate mortgage), regardless of inflation. The personal property taxes you pay are tax deductible. Paying rent does not afford you the same luxury.

    Q: How do I know if I’m ready to buy a home?
    SP: There are several things to consider before determining if homeownership is right for you. You will want to think about if buying a home makes sense for you financially, if it fits your lifestyle and if it will meet your needs. If you feel comfortable with the monthly mortgage payment while still being able to save for emergencies, you might be ready. This is a personal preference and varies for each individual. Look at your finances and talk to a trusted lender to see if home ownership is a wise next step.

    Q: How much cash do I really need on hand to buy a home?
    SP: While traditionally 20 percent of the house cost is needed to purchase the home, it is no longer necessary. There are a variety of mortgage loans out there that allow people to buy a home with little to no money down. However, it’s important to note that there are closing costs involved (these depend on the cost of the home), home improvements, repairs and furniture, so you will need to have some money saved for those items.

    Q: How do I figure out how much house I can afford?
    SP: Start with an online mortgage calculator. You can enter your financial information to see what kind of house you can afford. From there, create a budget for yourself to determine how much of your paycheck would be going toward a mortgage payment. If it still allows you to live comfortably and save, you should look into purchasing a home. Many times, it’s less than your current rent payment.

    Q: How much does my credit score really impact my chance to get a mortgage?
    SP: While your credit score is important, it’s not the only thing lenders look at when determining to offer a loan. Also look at your assets, income, and job history to get a better overall picture of your finances. If you’re shopping for a home loan and don’t have perfect credit, don’t worry. A good lender is willing to work with your current financial situation and help get your credit where it needs to be. If you don’t get approved for a loan initially, try again. Just because you’re not approved right now doesn’t mean you won’t be in the future.

    Q: I owned a home but lost it in the recession. Am I destined to rent forever?
    SP: While home ownership won’t be easy or immediate, it is still possible. Depending on the loan, lenders require anywhere from a two- to seven-year waiting period before lending to someone with a foreclosure in their history. However, use this waiting period as an opportunity to rebuild your credit and save, making it easier to get a loan in the future. 

    Q: Who do I meet with if I’m ready to start shopping for a home?
    SP: A mortgage lender. I suggest asking friends and family for recommendations. Once you’ve found a lender you like, you can obtain a pre-approval and begin looking for a home. Something to keep in mind when shopping for a home is that a pre-approval interest rate is only good for 45 to 60 days, so be ready to make an offer on a home during that time or you’ll have to reapply.

    Watch out for Stedman Payne’s column in the next edition of ColorsVA for more useful financial tips.

  • Community Policing Remains a justifiable program to building relationships


    Now more than ever police look to bond with communities they serve.

    Most Americans know what these words have meant over the past few years, especially when it comes to the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the public. When communities of color are thrown in the mix the following cities come to mind -- Ferguson … Baltimore … Staten Island … and more recently, Dallas, Baton Rouge and Charlotte. Encounters between civilians and police officers have led to tragic results; officers being ambushed, shot down in cold blood.

    Never has the need for community policing, and the training required to become a member of a law enforcement agency that is sworn to protect, been greater. Giving lip service to the notion of “community policing” just will not cut it anymore.

    Recently retired Roanoke City Chief of Police Chris Perkins made community policing almost a mantra for his department.  It was not unusual to see cops staffing the grill at neighborhood cookouts, reading to youngsters at inner city schools, coaching and refereeing at the Lea Outdoor Youth Basketball League over the past two summers.  Newly installed Police Chief Tim Jones, a 35-year veteran of the department, has vowed to keep the momentum going.   

    In his first week as the permanent chief (mid-July), after assuming that role on an interim basis in March, Jones spoke at two community meetings in Northwest Roanoke, addressing the crime, violence and guns that have plagued that quadrant of the city. “As we move forward we have to address the issue of violence, and a lot of that violence relates to the use of firearms,” Jones said on the day he officially was promoted to chief. “We’re going to look at some creative ways to educate …(and) more creative and unique ways to respond to it as a profession.”

    Jones, who earned undergraduate and master’s degrees while studying criminal justice at Radford University, says the city is ahead of the curve when he compares their work to a report issued by the Obama Administration on modern law enforcement methodology. The report evaluated the use of community policing techniques, de-escalation through transparency and procedural justice, fair and impartial policing tactics. “That’s a good place for any police department to be,” he says. “Recruiting a police force that looks like the city is important,” he adds.  Jones called a recent graduated class “the most diverse in the department’s history. We’re making great strides.”

    Listening to the community is a must and Jones declares he will lead that charge. “Roanoke is a unique community…we’re very diverse,” says Jones, who attended William Fleming High School in northwest Roanoke shortly after integration in the 1970s. “We’re going to have dialogue with the community and work through issues and concerns.” Jones wants to see young people become more “engaged” with the police department and hopes to focus on youth “on the crest of committing a major offense,” keeping them on a straight and lawful path. “Black Lives Matter starts the dialogue … and is a catalyst for the continuing conversation,” notes the chief.

    In contrast to Roanoke City’s in-house hire of Jones, last September Lynchburg brought in Raul Diaz from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to replace the retiring Parks Snead. Community policing has been around for decades says Diaz, but recent examples elsewhere of the distrust between law enforcement and residents “points to the fact of how important (it is). It’s about us getting back with the community, making sure … there is good bridge-building going on.”

    Bringing more diversity to Lynchburg’s 174-member force is a major goal for Diaz, who has Hispanic roots and has lived in diverse communities. Right now about 10 percent of the city’s force is African-American in a city that is 35 percent black, Hispanic or other ethnic groups. Diaz says there is room for improvement.  Right now, he laments, “Not a lot of young people want to be police officers, (especially) people of color.”

    While in Fort Lauderdale, the force there created Neighborhood Action Teams. In Lynchburg, a Community Policing Advisory Group that began just before Diaz came aboard has proven to be a vehicle for creating dialogue. “It’s been very successful since then – getting input from different areas within the community.”

    In many ways he feels blessed by the situation he walked into last year. “We have such an incredibly supportive community,” says Diaz, “and we have a reputation in this community of being fair and impartial. That falls on the men and women who do this job on a daily basis.” Diaz calls it Constitutional Policing. “We still have bridge-building to do,” he says.

    Roanoke County is not immune to recent controversies that have plagued the nation, including names such as Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and Eric Garner.  In late February, county police fatally shot 18-year-old Kionte Spencer after he would not put down what turned out to be a defective BB gun. Several groups including local Black Lives Matter and NAACP chapters asked for an independent U.S. Justice Department investigation after the Roanoke County Commonwealth’s Attorney determined the officers were justified in shooting Spencer, who may have had mental health issues.

    Roanoke County Police Chief Howard Hall, who came to the valley from Baltimore County, says the county has employed an officer for years whose primary focus is reaching out to the community. Roanoke County is not nearly as diverse as adjacent Roanoke City. That officer’s duties include going to neighborhood watch meetings and speaking to civic leagues. “We work very hard with the communities of Roanoke County on a continual basis to have dialogue about the issues that are affecting people in the county,” says Hall. “That’s been an ongoing process for many years before I came here.”

    The City of Salem is much smaller, more homogenous perhaps and more easily governed than its neighbor Roanoke. Police Chief Mike Crawley, named Salem’s chief in January, cautions that his city might be more diverse than many believe. 

    The 16-year veteran of the department is the first African-American to hold the chief’s spot.  He says community policing in Salem with a force of 64, does not involve the type of formal programs seen in Roanoke City. In a town where everyone seems to know everyone else, an officer is someone who also shops in neighborhood stores, worships at the same churches, coaches a Salem recreational team or is involved in a school activity. Just like everyone else.

    “We all are one community and we’re not divided by residential districts,” says Crawley. “It’s probably easier for our officers … to get involved with community policing. It’s being a good neighbor, being visible at Little League games and things of that nature. Being seen as more than just a uniform – being seen as a person.”

    Crawley also says recent tensions elsewhere between law enforcement agencies and the public did not call for enhanced community policing efforts in Salem. “This is something that we have preached about for years,” he adds. Preaching about community policing – about forging a genuine, improved two-way relationship with residents of every stripe – is bound to be heard again and again in the future.



  • THE LISTENING filling a void in Lynchburg that no one knew existed

    There’s nothing to do in Lynchburg. For years this had seemed to be the consensus among many local residents as well as ever-growing number of college students. Nicholas George was one of those college students. He was born and raised in Newark N.J., so Lynchburg was quite the change of scenery.  After graduating from Liberty University in 2009 he chose to remain in Lynchburg. A qualified mental healthcare professional specializing in youth, Nicholas pondered using art as a way to reach troubled children. With the heart of a poet he also yearned for a place to share his own art. However, he found there was nothing to do in Lynchburg.  Surrounding himself with fellow artists, it became obvious to Nicholas there was indeed a creative community in Lynchburg.  He set out not to fill a void, but prove the void did not exist. Nicolas founded The Listening. Since its creation The Listening has continued to showcase the diverse talent of local residents. 

    Q: What made you decide to put down roots in Lynchburg?

    A:  I originally left Newark, because I wanted to experience something different. Lynchburg was definitely different, but not in the way I expected! The decision to stay is an on-going one. While living here is incredibly different, this is where I became a man, a husband and a father. If my children are to grow up here I want to have a hand in crafting their environment.

    Q: You currently work with children. Is it rewarding to know you make a difference in their lives?

    A:  I work with middle school children who are struggling with behavioral issues during the school day. Honestly, it is not always evident that a difference is being made in their lives. There are issues that some of our children face that cannot be solved solely by my presence. I’d like to think there is a way for the community to be a part of making an even more substantial difference. That being said, I have faith that my presence is serving a purpose and is a part of a bigger plan.

    Q: How do you manage a full-time job, responsibilities of being a husband and a father and running a business?

    A:  It’s not easy, but I am incredibly blessed. In addition, my family in South Carolina and New Jersey are part of our support system. As far as managing these different hats, being a husband and father is the most incredible, unexpected journey. Marrying Brittney and creating two amazingly magical brown babies, Naomi and Noah, are my proudest achievements. For me, being present and caring for my wife and children is paramount. Success means nothing if my home is in disarray.  Right now this season of my life is a lesson in balance and community. I wouldn’t be able to do anything without the support of my wife and my support circle encouraging me to trust others with this vision.

    Q: Tell me more about what inspired you to create The Listening.

    A:  I’ve known for years I wanted to do something that would unite my love for creativity and training in the mental health field. That something began to take shape as I listened to the debut album, “The Listening,” by the hip-hop group Little Brother. The title track discusses the state of music at the time of the song’s release, which was around 2002-03, and seemed to woefully lament the fact that people weren’t listening to music anymore. As a culture, we seemed to no longer search for anything deeper in our music than something to party to. It was more about a nice beat that lyrical content. When the time came to give this idea a name, The Listening seemed natural. There in an implied invitation, not only to say something worthy of being heard, but to also listen to words of others even if you don’t agree. Lynchburg can be a somewhat divided city, but there is unity to be found at the place where listening starts. 

    Q: How do you think The Listening has been received by the community?

    A:  It’s always hard to tell because this community is much more broad and nuanced than it appears from any one vantage point. I’m not comfortable with it looking good through my eyes alone; the reception of The Listening is reflected in the attendance and participation at our events. If there are different people showing up and stepping to the mic or stage, then that tells me the vision is being received beyond my circle of friends. If one poet speaks on social justice, a songwriter performs an original piece about their childhood home, and an actor reenacts a scene from a movie, then we are doing something right. 

    Q:  How has your vision evolved over the years?

     A:  At first I just wanted to do something I grew tired of complaining. The Listening was originally conceived as a group of lovers of arts and culture who would get together and share ideas and passions with each other. It’s grown into a bigger idea with the hope of reaching more people and showing what happens when arts are used to change lives for the better. I’ve said it over and over: I don’t have a problem with entertainment, but “fun” cannot be the only pursuit; there has to be a greater purpose. As far as long term, I see The Listening being an organization that represents a new standard for the performing arts and youth development in this community.

    Q: You’ve created quite the buzz on social media with the #SpencersVanguard. But it seems be very hush-hush. No one knows what it means.  What is “Spencer’s Vanguard?”

    A:  “Spencer’s Vanguard” has been a long time coming. Since becoming aware of the local legend of Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer, it has been a bewildering experience for me because I felt that her legacy needed to be celebrated and recognized in a more relevant context. She contributed to a movement in this country that, in my eyes, changed the very landscape of expression, creativity and academia. The Listening wants to contribute to that story by attempting to change the culture of the performing arts by presenting “Spencer’s Vanguard.” It is a collection of artists whose lives have been changed by the arts. We aim to do the same for everyone who witnesses what we do. Every poet or musician who is a part of this group has their own identity and professional trajectory, but we unite with the motive of presenting something greater to the community. Simply put, we want to raise the bar. 

    Q: How has poetry personally impacted your life?

    A:  As a young kid I struggled with the idea of suicide. Unbeknownst to my parents, I actually made a few attempts, but was fortunately unsuccessful. My middle school guidance counselor suggested that I read something by Maya Angelou. Up until then I felt that I was the only one in the world who used my language. Things began to improve the more I read. The more I read, the more I wrote. To be a writer you also have to be a reader. The two are inherently connected. Poetry granted me the license to use words to craft an experience that was uniquely my own. 

    Q:  How does it feel when you share your poetry?

    A:  Like I can finally exhale.

    Q: So can you quote yourself? Share a stanza with us? Exhale?

    A: “Aren’t you ready for something new? Let the shake with your anticipation Look to the horizon for that glimmer of hope
    O’er the battle-blasted desert and these desecrated plains
    Dig deep
    Search now
    Begin the move for something new…

    For booking please contact:
    Visit The Listening’s website at:
    Read more of Nick’s writings at:


  • Understanding your health

    Did you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Did you also know breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women, right behind skin cancer?


    Scheduling annual exams and screenings are often overlooked because people are busy. We all have different priorities and there is only so much time in a day. However, it is important to remember that the goal of screenings is to save lives. Making time to actively participate in your health is essential to staying well.


    Screening for breast cancer should be a part of your regular healthcare routine. Having self awareness of what is normal for you and your breasts can be beneficial in the prevention of this type of cancer.


    Regularly performing breast self-exams is an easy way to learn what “typical” feels like for you. If you experience breast changes – nipple discharge, breast lumps, dimpling of the skin, swelling, etc. – a healthcare provider should be notified immediately.


    With early detection breast cancer has a high survival rate. Risk factors associated with breast cancer include:

    Females over age 50

    Personal or family history of breast cancer

    Changes in breast tissue

    Radiation therapy before the age of 30

    Overuse of alcohol

    Increased exposure to estrogen over a lifetime

    Early onset of menstruation

    Late onset of menopause

    No childbearing or late childbearing

    Absence of breastfeeding

    Taking hormone replacement therapy for more than four years

    Increased breast density



    Other key factors influencing breast health include diet, exercise and healthy lifestyle choices. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising frequently, limiting alcohol intake and breastfeeding, if possible, are all examples of good behaviors that encourage better breast health.


    While most people associate breast cancer with women, men can also get diagnosed. There is an increased risk for men whose mothers had breast cancer, and the symptoms for men are very similar to women. In fact, they may notice symptoms, like a lump or cyst, earlier than women because their chests are smaller.


    Mammography screening is an important health procedure in addition to self-exams that should be performed regularly. A mammogram is a safe, low-dose X-ray of the breasts, which can show changes and tumors too small to be detected by touch. The procedure itself only takes15-minutes and is the best way to detect breast cancer early, when it’s most treatable.


    Breast health begins with breast awareness. Speak with your doctor and create a plan that is best for you. For more information, please visit CarilionClinic.org.

  • EDO GRILL and SUSHI on a roll in moneta

    After taking a sushi making class several years ago, I learned it is not as easy as it looks. Now we look for restaurants in the area that specialize in the dish, you know, leave it to the experts. The first thing that comes to the minds of most people when they hear “sushi” is raw fish. However, there is so much more to it. It’s not all raw, either.

    Let’s start with a vocabulary lesson.

    Teppanyaki is a style of Japanese cooking meaning to grill on an iron plate. There are numerous menu items available cooked this way.

    Maki is sushi cooked or raw with raw vegetables wrapped in a seaweed sheet. It contains rice.

    Sashimi or raw fish is sliced and consumed without rice.

    Umami is basically a pleasant savory taste, so indescribable it was given its own name.

    On the busy Labor Day weekend, my family and I visited Edo Grill and Sushi in Moneta, the third restaurant Shawn Lin has owned. It has been open for about seven years. The first thing you notice upon entering is the sushi bar, and soothing music playing in the background. The restaurant is filled with lots of windows, Asian artwork and dark wooden tables and booths.

    You may be thinking, a sushi restaurant in the mountains. How does that work?

    “It is...the locals who are willing to try something new and then tell other people,” that makes it work, says Lin’s wife, Jenny. “Moneta is kind of a retirement town. People come here searching for what they may have been missing.”

    The Lins chose to open in Moneta because they noticed there really wasn’t any restaurant like theirs in the area.  It’s all about supply and demand, they say. Since the restaurant is very close to Smith Mountain Lake, their busiest months are June through August. Business slows down after Labor Day.

    The Lins are from the same village in China and have been married for almost 20 years. He arrived in the United States in 1997 and initially lived in Roanoke where he opened his first restaurant.  “The family business always has been the restaurant industry. It is this way because family is supportive; they are always there for one another,” says Shawn.

    And family is indeed important to the Lins. With three active daughters, they decided last year to sell their Roanoke location and focus on their Moneta restaurant. “It was getting harder to maintain two restaurants while having family time with their three daughters...especially as they get older,” says Shawn.

    Readers’ Note: As I move on to explain my family’s experience in more detail, I definitely want to issue a disclaimer. I am no food expert, especially not in sushi. Therefore, if I get something wrong please don’t hold it against me.

    We tried a few appetizers. The ones we particularly liked were the hot and sour soup and salmon skin salad. The hot and sour soup is served with crispy wontons, almost like Japanese potato chips. The stock is a rich broth that contains bamboo shoots and green onions. The broth was less salty than most hot and sour soups, which I found to be a good thing, especially for those who desire to add soy sauce to get it to their preferred salt level. My favorite was the salmon skin salad. I’ve had a version of this salad before, and the salmon skin has been crispy, served over lettuce. Edo’s version has a good bite, with a crispy outer skin, not the least bit crunchy as there was meat on the skin. It was served over a seaweed salad. The flavor was not fishy, and the seaweed was a bit sweet with lots of umami. On the plate was Edo, spelled out in an eel sauce dressing. A spicy mayonnaise dressing provided an alternative.

    Our server was extremely personable and ready and willing to answer any questions about the menu and even offered up suggestions when asked. We all settled on sushi items, which are clearly designated on the menu with the use of an asterisk. Jenny says when people come to visit and want to try sushi, she recommends the California roll. “There is nothing raw in it – it’s usually a safe bet. If they like that, then I recommend one of the tempura rolls – again nothing raw but a good way to ease them into more adventurous things.”

    My husband ordered the Maki lunch special with two rolls – California and spicy salmon. The California roll is filled with artificial crab meat, crisp cucumber and topped with black sesame seeds. Cucumber adds crunch and freshness. Unfortunately, though, for a roll this mild, sesame seeds with their earthiness overpowered the sweetness of the crab. Most spicy salmon rolls are filled with chopped raw salmon, mixed with the sauce and then rolled. At Edo the spicy salmon is not chopped. Instead, it is a normal salmon roll with cucumber, topped with black sesame seeds and a spicy sauce drizzle. I enjoyed this because you get the texture of the salmon you would otherwise miss.

    At Jenny’s suggestion, my daughter also opted for the Maki lunch special, selecting the spicy tuna roll and eel avocado. The mildness of the avocado complemented the spicy tuna. Black sesame seeds added a good crunch, and the earthiness this time, was not distracting.

    Edo’s special rolls were calling my name, so I veered over to the red dragon roll. Sounds pretty fancy, right? It contains shrimp, cucumber and avocado topped with spicy tuna. The shrimp is cooked tempura style and cucumber adds a needed burst of freshness. The red dragon is pretty large, tightly rolled and does not fall apart when picked up with chopsticks.

    Everything we ate was nicely presented. While we focused on sushi, there are numerous offerings on the menu. There is a kids’ menu with American food, such as chicken nuggets and corn dogs, as well as a small Chinese food selection featuring the popular General Tso’s chicken.

    Edo Grill and Sushi is a great place to enjoy lunch or dinner anytime of the year. Grab a bite at 1035 Mercantile Street, Suite 104, Moneta or call 540.297.6888 for takeout. The off-season hours are 11:30 a.m.- 9 p.m. every day, except Tuesday, when the restaurant is closed.

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