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 ( and Deltas ( 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.

  • Preschoolers Learn Police Aren't Robots

    Officer Eric Adams had no idea what he was walking into. He wasn’t answering a call to break up a fight between two angry people. He wasn’t
    on his way to some unknown 911 call. It wasn’t going to be a case involving an unruly drunk. It was a class of rambunctious preschoolers! And Officer Adams left with a smile on his face and warmth in his heart.

    “It makes you feel really good about the work we’re doing around here,” Officer Adams explained. As part of a program called “RPD Reads,” Officer Adams, and other officers, read to dozens of pre-school children affiliated with TAP’s [Total Action for Progress] Head Start and Early Head Start programs. RPD Reads visits six TAP preschool centers on a monthly basis. Since January 1, 2015, RPD Reads has made a total of 43 visits to city preschools.

    The program is designed to teach kids the importance of literacy, as well as promote positive interaction between officers and the community. “We want these children to learn early on that police officers aren’t robots,” said Scott Leamon, the department’s community outreach specialist. “They laugh when they see something funny out in the community. They hurt when they see the neighborhood they regularly patrol hurt. I knew that, once I could get these officers interacting with these kids on a consistent basis, we could really lay a foundation to build some stronger relationships.”

    The program also has a crime prevention component. Statistics show that 66-percent of children who cannot read proficiently by the 4th grade will either have trouble finding a job that keeps them out of poverty or in jail. Statistics also show that a young person drops out of school in America every 26 seconds, which is a path to low wages, ailing health, and, if they continue to make poor choices, prison. “It seems clear that the more we can keep these kids interested in reading the less of a chance we’ll see them getting into trouble when they get older,” Leamon said.

    Leamon said the department could not have done this without the help and support of administrators, teachers and staff at TAP and its Head Start locations. “It’s just been great!” Leamon exclaimed. “The teachers and staff have been so supportive and willing to bend their schedules when they need to so we can come in and read.”

    The department also uses the program to introduce children to different facets of law enforcement. The kids are always very inquisitive about the officer’s radio and how it works. Officers often bring along “junior officer” badge stickers that the children love.

    Officer Morgan Crawford handed out a couple of dozen of those stickers recently at a RPD Reads at Indian Village Head Start. “What’s your name,
    pretty girl?” Officer Crawford asked one of the children before asking her where she wanted her sticker. The girl said her name softly and then told Officer Crawford she wanted her sticker on her forearm. Officer Crawford laughed, put the sticker on her forearm, and said, “That looks good!”

    As Officer Adams was finishing his read at Marmion Head Start in the Rugby community, one of the children asked him for a hug. The next thing he knew every child wanted a hug! “It just goes to show that there are a lot of good people out here,” he said.

    As Officer Adams drove away to patrol his district, children at Marmion were on the playground, with “junior officer” stickers on their chests, shoulders, and yes, even their forearms.

  • news website connects Spanish and English speakers in Southwest Virginia

    “How do we reach the Latino community here in Roanoke?”

    Gene Marrano asked me this question in a WFIR radio interview earlier this year. He hadn’t been the first to ask. It was a good question, and it was the reason I launched, a bilingual news website for Southwest Virginia, earlier this year.

    La Conexión means “The Connection” in Spanish, and the connections that would form to make possible at all would be incredible to watch. At certain times, I’ve felt a bit like a detective or an explorer in uncharted territory finding those con- nections, which I suppose is probably true for many entrepreneurs.

    Initially, I thought that there had to have been others who had thought of this before me. Yet, aside from a Harrisonburg-based Spanish newspaper that had some circulation in Roanoke, there wasn’t any Roanoke-based Spanish news covering our Span- ish-speaking community. So I started asking some questions.

    Dwayne Yancey, an editor at The Roanoke Times, told me it was a niche they were interested in serving for many years, but due to the language and cultural barriers, it was just plain hard. They were unable to do as much as they wanted to, but did have a Spanish column for about a decade.

    A Chilean named Ricardo Valdivieso and Yolanda Puyana, whose organiza- tion H.A.C.I.E.N.D.A. is the current organizer of Roanoke’s annual Latino Festival, were the Spanish columnists at The Roanoke Times before it was bought by Berkshire Hathaway. Valdivieso also started his own newspaper called La Adelita a few years back, but it was hard to find enough support through advertising to keep it up.

    Juan Urrea, a Colombian who now operates the Noke Truck, is a talented videog- rapher who used to work as an independent local news reporter, traveling around the area and recording his own stories in Spanish and distributing them on DVDs to Spanish-speaking house- holds. He also struggled to find enough support and stopped.

    So, the Spanish-speaking community has gone un- derserved, but certainly not unnoticed.

    According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Southwest Virginia is home to about 20,000 Hispanics, which in reality is probably a much larger figure, especially five years later. It warrants thinking about what kind of gap there is in connecting Virginians of all ethnicities.

    With a few changes, I believed LaConexionVa. org could be different. To stay on track with technology, “La Conexion” would be web-based, like the Huffington Post. With the quickly rising numbers of Hispanics adopting smart phone usage, according to recent Pew Research, this would make sense for the long term and also keep production cost low.

    Further, we’d use a non profit model similar to NPR — because under served immigrant populations should have free access to community news, and news organizations should be focused on news.

    Lastly, Spanish-only news is exclusive to Spanish-speakers and there are plenty of English-speakers interested in knowing their Spanish-speaking neighbors. So, I thought bilingual news would be critical in bridging the language and cultural gap instead of reinforcing it.

    Dan Wensley, the CEO of Roanoke-based Visual Creative Marketing Group, loved the idea, so he and his team produced the cur- rent website pro bono and we launched it in April.

    Just before launch, WDBJ7, who had also recognized the need, approached me about working together. After connecting them to a translator, which they had struggled to find in the past, they began producing regular Spanish news that now runs through a feed on

    Shortly after launch, Blue Ridge Literacy offered to bring onto their team to combine resources, identifying the compatibility of the missions. As of September 2015, is now a program under Blue Ridge Literacy, which should contribute to its strength and sustainability.

    In addition to rolling out a podcast component in the future, part of the broader vision is to see the model replicated in every major immigrant language, as many of the English learners that come through our office at Blue Ridge Literacy are from Africa and the Middle East.

    Existing Latino community leaders have been hugely supportive. Puyana said at a meet and greet of Latino leaders at the Governor’s Mansion earlier this month, “There is nothing else quite like this going on in Virginia that I know of,” regarding

    Through Roanoke-based Salsa Noke, Edgar Ornelas and his staff teach Salsa and other Latin dance all over the region. He held a successful “Caribbean Rooftop Dance Party” earlier this summer on the Center in the Square rooftop, employing the help of Jonny Sublett (“DJ Jonny”), which
    resulted in the largest fundraiser to date for

    Since its conception, has had the privilege of publishing a variety of highly localized community news about Roanoke’s Spanish-speaking community. We hope to expand this coverage more to other localities in Southwest Virginia. Stories have included personal submissions from members of the community, profiles of local leaders, faith columns, event coverage, and more. It also provides an ever-growing directory of
    local Spanish-friendly services, and job opportunities that require bilingual ability or low-literacy.

    Emerging alongside as a new resource for the local Spanish-speaking community is a faith-based organization called Casa Renacer, also referred to as “The House of the Latinos,” which seeks to be a centralized physical hub for the Latino community. It has made a variety of classes and programs accessible and free, partially through partnerships with other community stakeholders.

    It is exciting to see new — albeit grassroots — resources become available for Southwest Virginia’s underserved populations. My team and I are really proud to be part of that movement. We see a bright future for the Blue Ridge, one that celebrates the immigrant legacy that is what the United States of America is known for.

    After all, we are all immigrants.

  • Understanding Your Health a Look at the Flu

    The fall is known for its crisp weather and rich colors. Something else that begins in the fall, however, is flu season.

    Every year, up to 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized because of it. While the statistics can seem intimidating, knowing about the facts, the symptoms and the vaccination can help you and your family to best prepare for this year’s flu season.

    The flu is a contagious respiratory illness resulting from influenza viruses. It spreads when a person with the flu coughs, sneezes or talks, causing droplets containing their germs to land in someone else’s mouth or nose. The virus can also live on surfaces and spread when someone touches it and then touches their own mouth, eyes or nose.

    Children younger than 5 years old, adults of 65 years or older and pregnant women are at the highest risk for developing flu-related illness.

    Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms can last one to two weeks.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people with the flu may be able to infect others starting one day before symptoms begin until five to seven days after being sick. Children and people with weakened immune systems, however, can have the virus present in their body for longer periods of time and are more prone to being contagious even after being sick.

    While it typically peaks in January or February, flu activity starts in October. The best protection against it is the flu vaccination. Because it may take
    about two weeks for the vaccination to start protecting against the flu, individuals are encouraged to get it as soon as possible.

    Additionally, infants and young children who have not had the flu vaccine in the past need two doses of flu vaccine one month apart for maximum

    The vaccine is available in a shot or a nasal spray, and under the Affordable Care Act, many insurers are required to cover preventive services such as the flu vaccine at no cost to the individual.

    The vaccination is recommended for everyone six months and older. Care givers of young infants are always advised to get the vaccination, but
    especially when around children who are under six months or children who have health problems that make them more vulnerable.

    It is also important to note that the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu.

    In preparation for this year’s flu season, the CDC recently published a list of precautions to take, in addition to getting the vaccine, that can help to
    prevent against the flu:

    - Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Throw the tissue in the trash after using it.

    - Wash hands often and with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

    - Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

    - If someone in your house hold is sick, try to keep him or her in a separate room if possible.

    - Keep surfaces like bedside tables, bathroom surfaces, kitchen counters and toys for children clean by wiping them down with a  household disinfectant.

  • Art Spot: Art 101 Context, Qualifications and Touchdowns

    I put out a call for "artists of color." I know the readership of this magazine knows what I meant by "of color." I was clearly too ambiguous. I received responses from several artists who "use color." A natural mistake of context, perhaps. It is always great to find opportunities for local artists, and there are so many artists in this area. Now, opportunities specifically for artists of color, not so much. And as artists of color come from minority populations already, there really are not that many of us locally.

    Thus far the pool of artists I have been referred to is quite small, which makes sense. We live in a Southern state in America, which for this dwindling moment in history is dominated by Caucasian history and culture. This is not a problem for me. here are other entire continents where it is not so important that Caucasian culture get equal billing. Regardless, this is a magazine devoted to the local communities of color of Southwest Virginia. The work we do, where we stand in our communities, and how that work is received and address by our communities are just some of the topics I will explore with the local artists of color I interview. I look forwared to spending time with them and it will be my great pleasure to share their stories and their work with you. And if we are going to have that kind of relationship, dear reader, if you are going to trust my assertions and critiques, I feel it is important for you to then understand my Art 101. I will qualify this by pretending you know nothing about art. Though I am certain many of you are well-educated art aficionados and critics, humor me. Pretending has such possibilities.

    For me, art is communication. A visual artist has a vision or something particular to say and they utilize a medium/material to communicate that vision. The Mexican artist Frida Kahlo wanted to share her intimate life stories of pain and love with an expert use of visual symbols, metaphors and paint. In drawings and paintings that reflected the colors of her culture, her images lovingly welcomed you into her life. Some artists have a lot to say and some have very little. Some are very good with their medium and others are not. Like any profession or language, it requires a certain amount of education, experience, practice, and time to become proficient and skilled. In the case of art making, I would reiterate it also takes a unique vision and a willingness to expose one's interior.

    Regardless, in the world the visual art we call all our practitioners artists. There is no single test for artists. The bar is generally set by universities, galleries and museums. The critique is called subjective, because there is this gross misunderstanding that artistic human expression is too complex to “judge.” “But this velvet cat painting is so perfect!” one person might say. And it may be, but is it art? “Oh art is subjective; everyone likes what they like,” some might argue. Well, that is  true about many things, such as ice cream flavors, but art is not ice cream. And art does require education and does require all the things I just outlined above, at least in my world. So welcome to my world.

    As an educator and practicing artist for the past 15 years, I have had the job of introducing children to the history of cultural and visual expression through art, and teaching them how to understand and use this language. For many adults, your art education began in elementary school, and whether because you assumed you “lacked talent” or you didn’t like art making, your education ended there. Thus the “language of art” truly is a
    foreign language to many. Many people, when at a museum, are like folks who know nothing about football, attending their first football game. They may recognize a celebrity and they may easily grasp the basic facts: there are people playing a game with a ball and specific rules. Without time and tutelage many will have no idea of all the rules, what positions each of the players have and what they need to do. What is readily understood is that
    each team needs to make touchdowns. Thus many people rely on the touchdown. “This looks beautiful! I like this color.  That’s the Mona Lisa! This looks exactly like a (insert person, place or thing).” Touchdown! That’s okay. I am not making fun of you. Well, I am a little, but it is wholly not your fault. We can look to the defunding of art programs for that; a discussion for another day. My purpose is to speak to your desire for knowledge and to introduce you to the educated appreciation of art and artists. We are a baffling bunch, but at our best we do bring thoughtful, inspiring, challenging, heartbreaking, wonderful and, yes, beautiful images to life.

    In a way a museum is a hall of fame documenting decades of someone’s touchdowns. Art is personal, and your estimation of it will be subjective. You may go to the local museum or gallery and see what a hopefully educated someone thought was a touchdown, but knowing why something is declared a touchdown is what I am most interested in showing you. For me there is no question that the quality of art is dependent upon an informed of art is a visual doorway to an experience that you have with, the material, the content, the artist, your perception, your history and your present moment. It is a sensory and intellectual experience when it is true, and when it is art, it will change you. The change may be great and may propel you to revolution, or small and may mean you never look at an apple the same way. The best art in my estimation is transformative. If and when you know this, you will know why I believe you cannot afford to live without it.

  • Local Businesses Support Community – and You

    Why Support Local Business?

    We all know someone who owns a business in the Roanoke and New River Valleys. You may occasionally – or even frequently – buy food at a small market, eat at a family-owned restaurant, have a monthly appointment at a salon or barber shop, purchase a gift at a boutique, and bank with a local credit union. While you may not have put a lot of thought into choosing a local business for your purchase or service, there are significant reasons why doing just that is the better choice.

    Customer Service.

    Your satisfaction in making a purchase from a local business is likely to be much higher when compared to national and international companies. Since you are the owner’s neighbor, you may know them or their family, or maybe your kids go to the same school or play on the same team. Having a personal connection increases the likelihood that you will have a good experience. On the occasion you have a poor experience, your issue can be resolved quickly because the owner is here – no corporate bureaucracy and waiting to hear back from an executive in another state.

    Good for the Local Economy.

    Small businesses employing ten people or fewer actually make up the majority of jobs in the area. Also, business owners are more likely to purchase their supplies and services from other local businesses. When it comes to supporting local charities and non-profits, local business owners reach out and support the community; it is their community, too. Studies have shown, for every dollar you spend with a local business, at least two to four dollars are in-turn generated for more local economic benefit in income, jobs, and local tax revenue. 

    Environmentally Friendly.

    Since local businesses buy their supplies from other local businesses, the amount of time and fuel to transport these products are significantly
    reduced. Small boutiques and markets are located in your neighborhood, reducing the fuel you require when shopping. Infrastructure requirements, like parking lots, are reduced as well.

    Choosing to support local businesses is a choice for good.

    About Freedom First: When considering where to bank, locally owned and operated choices are now even more limited. Freedom First was founded in Salem in 1956. While their service area has extended to the Roanoke and New River Valleys, Freedom First continues to be locally based and focused. With nine local branches, a network of thousands of surcharge-free ATMs, and state-of-the-art mobile and online banking, they offer the convenience and service to which you are accustomed. Being a credit union, they offer very competitive rates on everything from CDs to auto loans and home equity lines of credit. Freedom First believes in reinvesting in their communities and helping their communities thrive, as has been demonstrated in some of their award-winning programs such as revitaliza- tion of West End and Responsible Rides. Learn more about Freedom First’s personal and business banking products as well as community development projects on their website at

  • Taste Buds

    Abrakababra owner Youssef Saleh has always cooked and had a passion for food; it comes through in each dish he prepares. Originally from Cairo, Egypt, Saleh moved his wife and five children to New York City in 1985. They decided to move to Roanoke when one of his children was accepted into Radford University. 

    The first thing that comes to mind if someone tells you to try Abrakababra may be, “does it have to do with magic?” Well, in a way, absolutely, because how else can food so delicious come out of a place so small? Saleh says that the name is a play on words; the magic of the kabob.
    This Greek cuisine restaurant is located at 1501 South Colorado Street in Salem on a corner that you may very well drive past if you aren’t looking for the signage with large, red block lettering.

    The interior is cozy. Four bar stools are at the counter, which allows you to see your food being made on the flat top grill, and there is also one high top table with two bar stools. There is a cooler containing drink options to go with your meal and a refrigerated cart that holds the toppings for the gyros. These toppings include: black olives, giardiniera, pickles, banana peppers, onions, pickled eggplant, tomatoes, lettuce, and chickpeas that are in a citrus garlic marinade.

    While the three-year-old restaurant may be modest, the flavors are big and their specialty is definitely the gyro. A gyro (pronounced yē-rō) is a Greek sandwich made using pita bread and usually made with lamb or beef that has been prepared on a rotating spit. The meat is special-or-dered from a supplier in Chicago and is halal, which means that it is prepared according to Islamic law. Saleh tells me that the true name for a gyro is döner kabob. Based on my research, döner is a Turkish word meaning “turn.” The name was formerly used in Greece and was criticized for being too Turkish, so the word “gyros” replaced it.

    On my visit I decided to take two bored teenage girls (one being my daughter) and my husband. As soon as we arrived and stepped into Abrakababra all of my companion’s eyes lit up and I heard, “It smells delicious in here.” The girls ordered the gyro with lamb meat, my husband
    ordered the gyro chicken special and I ordered a chicken gyro. We also decided on pita and hummus to share and the falafel. Falafel is prepared with ground vegetables and fava beans and then lightly fried.

    We had the intentions of taking our entire order “to go” but the smell got the best of us, so I must admit that a few bites (or more) were had before we left the restaurant. Everything is made to order, which ensures that when you get your food it will be fresh. The girls received their gyros first, and the preparation is reminiscent of street food, as it is served in cut off brown bags. This makes it easier to add whatever toppings you desire from the condiments bar. While the girls prepared their meals to go, Saleh instructed them to “eat it, eat it, eat it while it’s hot” and so they did. The lamb was well seasoned, not overly salty and tender. The pita had plenty of meat and was “delicious,” one of the girls stated, saying that she “never had one that tasted like this.” I was lucky to have a taste to review because they both finished the whole thing before we stepped out of the restaurant.

    Next, the falafel was handed to us in the same manner that the gyro was, stuffed in a pita, then topped with lettuce and tzatziki sauce and placed in a brown paper bag. The falafel is lightly fried and somewhat reminded me of a little hushpuppy. It was topped with tzatziki sauce and I was very pleased that it was not dry like so many others I have had at other establishments. The tzatziki sauce is lemony, like a “citrus punch on your taste buds,” says my husband.

    We nibbled on bits of the falafel and decided which toppings would work best for our meals while we waited for our chicken to finish cooking on the flat top grill.

    Saleh soon handed me the chicken gyro, served in a pita, stuffed full of chicken, and as you may have guessed by now it was topped with tzatziki sauce. I made a beeline to the condiments bar to fill it with my selections. After tasting a bite of the chicken I opted for the marinated chickpeas and lettuce because I did not want to overpower the flavor of the chicken. The chicken is tender and well-seasoned and the addition of the chickpeas added the pleasant tanginess of citrusy lemon and garlic.

    Almost directly after I finished adding condiments to my meal, my husband was handed his gyro chicken in a Styrofoam “to go” container. This dish is served with the same chicken that filled my pita, rice, and a salad of tomato, cucumber, red onion with Greek dressing. The long grain, yellow rice is dense and has muted flavors which help in not overpowering any additions you want to make to your meal. My husband chose to add eggplant,
    olives, and house made hot sauce. The olives add brininess and the eggplant an unexpectedly dense texture that makes it hard to stop eating.

    Even though we were unable to try the homemade baklava that day, as he was out, we will certainly go back to have some. Another individual stopped in while we were there to order four pieces and thought Saleh was kidding about not having any baklava to sell. He was very disappointed when he had to leave bakla-va-less, and that speaks volumes.

    Saleh previously owned an Italian restaurant in Salem, but is looking in the future to potentially open another Greek cuisine restaurant in Roanoke (pending the right location). Until then, you can visit Abrakababra Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. to enjoy an authentic Mediterranean meal. The menu is simple, but a lot of times that is all you need. Feel free to call ahead to (540) 389-0383 and have your meal ready for take-out.

  • Editor's Note

    “One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
    - Plato

    In this month’s issue we are introducing a financial section in ColorsVA to provide information toward financial self-sufficiency. Our vision is to provide useful information for you to provide options for you and your family to maintain financial security. Please let us know your thoughts by emailing me at
    In this issue, we have profiled individuals who have taken the mantle of public service to their communities. These elected officials were selected because of their work and their mission toward improving their communities, and each happens to be a person of color. These individuals demonstrate that all communities need to be involved in the political process. We look at the choices of why they have chosen politics, and the
    challenges and victories they share. Politics, whether we like it or not, is a necessity. The most important tool that every citizen has in the country to define our politics is our vote. Politics defines how we raise our children, how we make financial decisions for our family, and how we want our community to be.
    Yet, many people, including people of color, do not use this tool because they don’t think their vote will count, they are too busy, have apathy, or believe that the government is run by a few big interests rather than for the benefit of all people. Since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the numbers of people of color who vote are declining. We must use the power of the vote to really start change in our community.
    I applaud the tireless work by the elected officials profiled in this publication. These public servants showed how they want to make a difference. America is a free country and voting is an important part of that freedom. Unlike other countries where dictators and monarchs make decisions on behalf of the people, Americans get the right to decide who runs the country and what laws should govern citizens. I encourage you to use this privilege.
Purchase Photos from this Issue