May 2016 Issue

  • Defining an American Dream

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

     

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

  • Art Spot

     

     

    What is it to be political, or politically correct?

    Once the White House parted doors for the black man, then for all walks of man those doors protect.

    Now, the man who nurtures the womb, with fine hair and eyes that glow,

    this man they refer to as woman, those doors may part also.

    I think back on the words of my elders…

    My mother, to be exact…

    Six months before cancer claimed her, she swore the next president would be black.

    So long ago it seems that was, but really not long at all,

    To think those doors could part as well for businessmen with less tact than gall.

    What a world this is we live in where majority decides one’s fate,

    Where we the people, of, for and by the people can still form a more perfect state.

    So to answer a simple question, on one thing we can surely all bet,

    It’s far better to be political, than politically correct.

     

  • There

    It’s as if a dark storm cloud settles over the room, turning Carmen’s sunny demeanor mournful. After answering questions about her life here in Roanoke, it is Carmen* who begins to divulge the story of her life there, in Mexico.

     

    Although Carmen left her country more than a decade ago, she sometimes doesn’t feel like she has completely left. With many memories and her family still there, her thoughts often drift to home. “There are more bad memories of Mexico than happy ones,” she says with tears in her eyes.

     

    These bad memories forced her parents to bring her to the United States when she was just 14. She remembers traveling with her parents to the border. “We walked for three days,” she says, day and night, without much food or water. Carmen still remembers drinking water from the ground and picking worms out of it.

     

    Once they crossed the border into the United States, Carmen’s family had arranged for people to pick them up and get them to a safer place. It was one o’clock in the morning and pitch dark when they met them.

     

    “They had stolen a truck,” she recalls. “[But] we didn’t know, so we got in.” The moment they got in the vehicle, Carmen’s family realized the police were chasing them. The drivers tried to outrun the police before jumping out of the truck while it was still moving. The truck crashed with Carmen’s family inside. Carmen’s family, unsure of what else to do, ran.

     

    They sprinted into the woods, with no idea where they were going, but knowing they needed to get away. In the chaos, Carmen slipped through a barbed wire fence and one of the barbs pierced her. “It lodged in my foot,” she says. “But we had to run, so I went with my foot bleeding.”

     

    When things calmed down, they found themselves with a larger group of migrants, including six men who argued with Carmen’s father. They wanted him and his family to follow them, but Carmen’s father did not trust them. “They got angry at him,” Carmen remembers. “My dad said we could not risk going with those men.” The men tried to fight, but Carmen and her family were able to get away safely.

     

    Realizing the urgency of the situation a distrustful group coupled with the darkness of night in an unfamiliar place Carmen’s father made a decision. “He said it was best if we went to immigration.” So that’s what they did.

    Carmen and her family walked back to the car accident, where police were still processing the scene. “We went to turn ourselves in,” Carmen remembers. “It was safer than sleeping in the woods.”

     

    Carmen says with a little smile that her night in immigration was not so bad. “They told us so few Latinos turn themselves in.” She adds that they were given clean water, food, and were able to rest for a few hours. “They looked after us.”

     

    Immigration, though, did have a job to do, and Carmen’s family was returned to Mexico a few hours after they turned themselves in. She said her mother was the most upset, because she wanted her children to get out of Mexico. “Her goal was for us to get to the U.S.,” she says. “She didn’t want us to say in Mexico. She wanted to save us from what was happening.”

    A short while later, Carmen and her family attempted to cross the border again, this time successfully.

    Carmen’s story does not end there. After she settled in the United States, her brother was deported, returning to the city in central Mexico where they grew up. Riddled with cartels and drug violence, Carmen’s brother resisted the gangs for as long as he could before being forced to join. “The day after he got there, they tried to make him join, and he said no.”

     

    They beat him. Over and over he rejected them, and each time he was beaten. “They said he had to join,” Carmen says, and eventually he did. “He didn’t want to be there.”

     

    He was so desperate to get out that Carmen began to save money to bring him back to the United States. Just one day before his planned return, her brother was murdered by gang members. “He was going to come on Friday, and they killed him on Thursday.”

     

    Carmen’s mother decided to seek justice. She filed a lawsuit against the government, demanding to know who killed her son and that they be held responsible for his death. “They covered up [the murder],” Carmen says, adding that the government protects the cartels. “The criminals and the government are the same.”

     

    The moment she filed the lawsuit, Carmen’s mother was told to leave. Police expected retaliation, she explains, “and my mom knew it was true.” She left the house for the night for her own safety.When she returned the next day, her home was ransacked. “They beat down the door,” Carmen says, before tearing through the rest of the house. Carmen’s mother knew she couldn’t stay in their hometown anymore, so she decided to leave permanently. Since then, Carmen’s mother moves every few months, and now it is only “with a gun” that she opens her door.

     

    Through this ordeal, they have kept in touch over the phone, but Carmen is not convinced that even that’s safe. “The [Mexican] government is listening to everything you say,” she says soberly. “You can’t say so much.”

     

    These are the sacrifices that Carmen has had to make talking to her family over wiretapped phones, mourning the loss of her brother from hundreds of miles away, and trying her hardest to remain essentially invisible in the United States so she is not sent back to what she worked so hard to leave.

     

    Carmen left her home, her culture and, ultimately, her family. Despite leaving so much there, though, she has also found her strength.

     

    Carmen pursued a way out and a path to a better life. She works to learn English and obtain U.S. citizenship. She ensures her daughters do not experience the violence and crime she saw growing up. She is growing her life here and doing all she can to make it enough. Every day, she grapples with the trauma she has suffered and the worry that weighs on her heart. This is her story. Carmen wants you to know all she left there, and why she fights so hard to stay here.

    *Carmen’s name has been changed to protect her
    identity.

  • Understanding Your Health

    Bringing home a newborn baby is one of the most joyous moments in a parent’s life. Providing a safe home environment – especially a safe sleep environment – is important to the wellbeing of the child.

     

    Tragically, sleep-related infant deaths, such as accidental suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), are the leading causes of death in babies one to 12 months of age. Moreover, babies two to four months old are at the highest risk for sleep-related deaths.

     

    Fortunately, there are some steps and guidelines all parents can follow to make sure their baby is sleeping safely. Simply remember your ABCs:

     

    A – Alone

    A baby should always sleep alone in their crib, whether at night or when napping. Your baby should never sleep in a bed, on a couch, or in an armchair with adults or other children.

     

    A good alternative for those who want to maintain close contact is room-sharing. You can place your baby’s crib, play yard or bassinet in your room. Just be sure to place your child back in his or her crib when you’re ready to go back to sleep.

     

    B – Back

    Babies should always be placed on their backs when sleeping at night or for naps. Do not place them on their side as they are more likely to roll onto their stomachs.

     

    C – Cribs

    Cribs should have a firm, tight-fitting mattress that is covered by a fitted sheet. Cribs should not have a drop side and railings should be no more than 2 3/8 inches apart (can’t fit a soda can through them). Do not use pillows, blankets, quilts, sheepskins, positioners or bumper pads. Also, do not place stuffed animals or other toys in, or hanging on, the crib. Babies should never sleep at night or for naps in infant carriers, baby swings, or anything other than a crib, bassinet or portable crib.

     

    A few other tips: If you are worried about keeping your baby warm on colder nights, try using a sleepsack (wearable blanket) to provide another layer of warmth.

     

    Also, while new parents already have their plate full, they should try to make learning CPR a priority. It is an important skill that contributes to a child’s safe home environment and a parent’s peace of mind.

     

    For more information, visit CarilionClinic.org.

     

  • Paving the road to college

    Most kids have their eye on that cool new pair of sneakers, the hottest beats, or the latest video game or gadget. Kids in The Renaissance Academy want blazers and gold bowties.

     

    Started in 2011, The Renaissance Academy is not a school, but a leadership initiative for African-American young men in grades 3 to 12 from throughout the Roanoke Valley. The academy offers participants a wide variety of activities, including service projects, college tours and job shadowing.

     

    Founder Jerel Rhodes, a native Roanoker, has spent nearly twenty years as a guidance counselor. He says he once had a student who, despite a 3.86 GPA, had no plans to attend college. And that student wasn’t alone.

     

    “You have kids who are geniuses and kids who are wrecking the classroom. There are a lot of programs for them. It’s that kid in the middle they never get the attention. This kid is standing on the edge, waiting for somebody to push them so they can fly,” Rhodes said.

     

    Those “middle kids” are the ones The Renaissance Academy aims to reach. The primary goal is to “cultivate vision and to develop successful, productive young men who are servant leaders.” Under this goal are four cardinal principles family, education, community and perseverance. The motto is “We exist, therefore we succeed.”

     

    The only requirements for participation in the program are school attendance and desire. However, Rhodes is adamant that the desire must come from the student, not just the parent. This year, there are sixty-two students, and they have expanded to grades 3 through 5.

    Academy members meet twice monthly at either Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine or American National University. Activities vary, but they might include hearing a guest speaker, watching and discussing a film clip or mock interviews. Students have also done a “reality check,” a simulation in which they choose a job, are given money and must live off that money for the rest of the evening. A grab bag produces true-to-life challenges, such as children (one student drew triplets!) or car repairs.

     

    Between group meetings, students have some homework, but Rhodes described it more as “life work” things such as figuring out personal likes and dislikes or working on a relationship issue. If a student expresses interest in a particular career, job shadowing is usually arranged.

     

    The academy also places strong emphasis on giving back, generally doing at least one service project per month. This year the young men have served at the Salvation Army, the Rescue Mission, completed two clean highway projects and helped with a water bottle drive for Flint, Michigan.

     

    “If you can go out and pick up trash, if you can clean a window, you’ll be less likely to want to throw something on the ground, to allow your friends to throw things on the ground, or to dismantle and destroy property,” Rhodes said.

     

    In addition to the group meetings and service projects, the students also go on college tours during their spring break each year. They travel to an elite school, a historically black college and a “middle-of-the-road” school. Last month, the students toured Duke University, North Carolina Central University and North Carolina State University. They also visited Cisco Systems, Inc.

     

    “We never have to tell them which is the elite school or any of that. They pick it all up. Kids get a lot more than adults think they do. Some parents wonder about their third-grader going on a college trip. But they’ll call me and tell me it’s all they’ve been talking about,” Rhodes said.

     

    Every activity is carefully chosen for age appropriateness and maturity level. And it is all based on the four principles and what Rhodes believes are the ten tenants of success character enhancement, community service, college prep/tours, career exploration, concerted cultivation, challenging belief systems, critical thinking skills, cultural exposure, civic leadership and crisis management.

     

    The Renaissance Academy holds a celebratory banquet near the end of each school year. In the past, city officials such as Roanoke Mayor David Bowers have been in attendance. This year’s banquet will be particularly special because ladies from the new ELLE (Elite Leadership Life Education) Academy, which opened in September, will be participating.

     

    At the banquet, participants who have completed a year in The Renaissance Academy are given their blazers, and college scholarships are awarded to graduating seniors. Funds permitting, non-Academy students are given scholarships as well. The scholarships are courtesy of Rebounding Roanoke, the umbrella organization Rhodes founded over The Renaissance Academy.

     

    To date, four seniors have graduated from the academy and another will graduate this year. All of these men have gone on to college, and the fifth will start in the fall.

     

    Academy members who’ve been accepted into a four-year college or university get to exchange their purple tie for a gold bowtie. It has become a coveted item and a status symbol that is indicative of the cultural shift Rebounding Roanoke is seeking to achieve.

     

    “My guys are not looking for gold chains; they’re looking for gold bowties,” Rhodes said.

     

    For more information about The Renaissance Academy or Rebounding Roanoke, visit www.reboundingroanoke.org or “The Renaissance Academy” on facebook.

  • Publishers Note

    As we near our first anniversary, the one thing I observe within our
    community, and in this country, is an overall lack of respect for one another. Now, there are others here that clearly contradict my observation, but I do notice the lack of mutual respect for people. As we look at the Democratic and Republican primaries, our leaders clearly demonstrate this notion. The quote by Maya Angelou, “If we lose love and respect for each other, this is how we finally die,” resonates with me. As a community, if we don’t truly value one another and understand that we need everyone to be successful in order to make this a great community and country for us and our children, we will die. There’s a Bible verse that says, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” I’m not a minister, nor do I try to be; however, I do believe in the simple demonstration of compassion, understanding and love for our fellow man.

    In this month’s issue, we read the second part of our story with “Carmen” and learn about the life she left behind. Her story is an example of how this
    community should provide compassion and support as she tries to reach her American dream. We also focus on the story of Kris Ramsingh, an area businessman who believed in the American dream, and his path to become a naturalized citizen.

    Respect for our country, our community, our culture and our people is essential to make Southwest Virginia a haven for our children.

     

     

     

    Enjoy!

     

     

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