August 2017 Issue

  • Girls on the Run: Setting the pace for good health and confidence

    For centuries, asserting you’re doing anything like a girl is an insult. Throughout history, men have used the phrase as a jab at other males. When a male states that another male performs an activity like a girl, it is an attempt to question that male’s manhood. Unfortunately, this behavior is not limited to adults. Visit a playground or school and you are likely to hear boys using similar language. For many, it’s just a matter of boys being boys, no harm intended. However, there are many who disagree.

    The mere implication that women are not able to complete a task with the same efficiency as men is a key component of sexism. Not only is this harmful to women, but also to men themselves. When a boy is raised in an environment that belittles the strengths and contributions of girls, it shapes his view of the opposite sex as he ages. As for the young girls who also are subjected to such comments, one only can imagine the impact it will have on their developing sense of self-worth.

    Dating back to the establishment of this country, and arguably prior to that, women have not been treated as equals to their male counterparts. Strides have been made, however, during the past century. Women can vote, have careers outside of the home and are more independent than ever. Yet there are still those who use “like a girl” as a derogatory jab.

    In 1996, Mary Barker founded the organization, Girls on the Run to provide an experience for young females to separate their identity from the stereotypes that far too frequently capture their spirits around middle-school age. The program originally consisted of 13 girls in Charlotte. Now, more than a million girls participate with a chapter in all 50 states, as well as Washington. Girls on the Run currently has two subsets – one for elementary-age girls and another for middle-schoolers. The program also welcomes back former participants as volunteer mentors. While the core program centers on physical fitness, as a whole the focus is on well-being. Running is known to have therapeutic effects, which ties in the mental health portion. The preteen and teen years can be filled with stress and anxiety. Running can help alleviate that stress. Other topics include nutrition, proper etiquette, effective communication and developing social skills. Consisting of 20 lessons, each session culminates in the girls running a 5k.

    Mary Hansen, who oversees the Central District chapter of Girls on the Run, has been an employee for 11 years. Her genuine love of her job has kept her with the chapter. She says she witnessed the transformation of so many girls throughout the years. I spent some time getting to know the members and coaches of one of the groups Hansen oversees – the Robert S. Payne chapter. Hansen works closely with Diane Stratton, often serving underprivileged youth. Stratton says that is why it is important transportation is available for the students.

    Riverside Runners, a sporting goods store in Lynchburg, donated a pair of brand new running shoes to each girl. There is a fee for the program itself, but parents may request a scholarship, thereby making the fee affordable. As the 21st Century Grant Coordinator for the school, it was also up to Stratton to select coaches for the girls. She chose LaKerria Carouthers and Rabbiea Manzoor. Before I chatted with the girls, I had a couple of questions for the coaches

    Q: What is the biggest benefit you see to the girls you coach?
    A: I’d say the growth I’ve seen in them. At the beginning, some of the girls were not that nice to each other, nor were they mean. They just did not really know how to talk to each other. Now they have better communication skills. They can offer their opinions without being negative. That prepares them for social interaction next year and even builds a foundation for their adult lives. – Carouthers

    Q: Besides the benefits for the girls, have you noticed any positive changes in your own life since you became a coach.
    A: Initially I underestimated the time commitment I was making. So, it took some getting used to. It made me more conscious of my schedule and the need to adhere to the schedule I set, which will be helpful in the future. – Manzoor

    Our conversation would not be complete without talking to the girls.
    Q: What has been your favorite part of Girls on the Run?
    A: Running. Definitely running! And making new friends to run with me. – Azaria Jackson

    Q: What has been the hardest thing for you?
    A: Sometimes it’s hard to run outside because of my allergies. But the worst part is having to wait for the running part. It’s fun when we talk at our meetings too, but I’d rather go ahead and run. – Justice Kemper

    Q: What is the most important thing you have learned?
    A: How to avoid conflict. I learned it is ok to walk away from stuff sometimes and it can help you avoid getting in trouble. – Teshaunna Johnson

    Q: What do you think makes the program special?
    A: Playing games that help us learn. We learned things that are going to help me when I go to middle school next year. – Precious Fleshman

    Q: How does it feel when you hear someone say “You run like a girl”?
    A: It used to hurt my feelings. I couldn’t understand why doing something like a girl was a bad thing. Not anymore. Now if someone says that I do anything like a girl, I’ll say, “Thank you.” – Savannah Hicks

    For more information on Girls on the Run:


  • Diane Speaks – She’s International all the way!

    Diane Speaks with warmth and authority developed over 33 years as a flight attendant for U. S. Airways. “Welcome to She’s International! We do a lot of our shopping in Italy, Croatia, Amsterdam…” You enter a sophisticated boutique that could just as well be in San Francisco or Milan. Speaks gives the same introduction to each inboard customer, quickly orienting them to the store’s international merchandise, contents and layout. Lovely young support staff often model for photo shoots that appear on the She’s International FaceBook page and in ads.

    One truly feels a sense of an adventure – Oh, the eye candy! Leading up to the 2017 Kentucky Derby weekend there was a display of whimsical fascinators – small head decorations famous at upscale events in Europe and Great Britain. “I think Roanoke women are pretty fashionable and not as conservative, not so inside the box,” says Speaks. “They love that our selections are from Mumbai, Dubai, Amsterdam, and that they will not see themselves walking down the street. I do personal shopping for some clients.”

    Speaks says the trend in Europe are clothes with an architectural feel… “Boxy jackets, pleats, elements that are more structured. We’re even seeing bell-bottoms coming back.” She’s International currently offers a line of “jeans from Brazil that will make you look like J Lo,” she says. Speaks smiles and then comments: “I like to make women feel sassy” and she strives to offer beautiful clothing and jewelry in a range of prices from affordable to expensive.

    Why the name? As a flight attendant Speaks says she was referred to as “She’s International” when groups of airline professionals were making introductions. Speaks especially loved making trips three to five times each month to Rome, Italy, where she could visit the upscale stores on the Spanish Steps. “After my children were raised, Gianni Versace got most of my discretionary money,” she laughs.

    Speaks is a self-described “military brat,” raised in London, England. She graduated from Johnson High School at Yakota Air Force Base, Japan. She then lived in New Jersey. For the past 45 years, she has been married to Arnold Speaks, originally from Baltimore and whenever she mentions his name, she smiles sweetly. They have two adult children, Arnold, Jr. “A.J.” and Tiffany Speaks. After a drunken driver killed Speaks’ sister, two nephews, Vaunche and Jamar Staples, came from New Jersey at the ages of 9 and 12 to live with them.

    The events of September 11, 2001, caused Speaks to focus on establishing a retail business. The airline cut salaries by 40 percent when after suspending their “bread and butter” shuttle service out of Washington. Speaks continued to work for the airline on international flights.

    Moving forward with her business plan, Speaks turned to the Roanoke Regional Partnership for assistance in establishing her boutique. The Chamber of Commerce’s Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), a nonprofit association dedicated to entrepreneur education and assisting in the formation, growth and success of the region's small businesses, also assisted. Retired business professionals donate their time to coach new entrepreneurs. (SCORE and other valuable Business counseling opportunities are listed on online at One can also contact the Chamber of Commerce of the Roanoke Valley 540-343-1550.)

    How did she afford the start-up costs? “I used a lot of my own money and had an aunt who was very generous. My husband helped, too.” She’s International Boutique successfully spent the first 10 years in Salem. In May, Speaks celebrated her first anniversary in Downtown Roanoke across from Billy’s Ritz on the historic Farmers Market. Her boutique resides in a lovely space formerly a fine arts gallery. “I would love the community to come downtown more, so I’ve set up free parking validation at the Wells Fargo Tower Parking Garage. If you bring your parking stub and make a purchase, I’ll pay for your parking.”

    Speaks is passionate about contributing her resources to improve lives around her. “I love the store but I also love working in the community, helping build connections that will make positive change.” A fashion show in May at Hotel Roanoke raised scholarship funds for after-school care for the at-risk children who attend the West End Center for Youth. She previously worked with Roanoke’s Haitian community, donating clothing to Haiti after the earthquake. A local parishioner delivered the donations to Haiti. For little girls in Kenya, Speaks organized other flight attendants for a “Pillowcase Project,” teaching them to create 1,200 simple dresses from donated pillowcases.

    Right now, she is deeply involved in raising money for Rehousing Youth through Support in Education (RYSE), a local United Way project to improve lives of the 600 homeless children attending Roanoke City Schools. She contributes 30 percent of sales of special star jewelry representing the Roanoke star in earrings of all sizes, in colors of silver and gold. “RYSE and stars” has a goal of selling 1,000 star earrings to support homeless students and their families by putting them on the pathway to self-sufficiency.
    108 Market Square, SE/Roanoke, VA 24011
    (540) 985-4885

  • Stedman Speaks: Back-To-School Financial Checkup

    Stedman Payne is an experienced financial professional who serves as Member One’s Market Executive in the Lynchburg area. His financial education series offers tips for making smart decisions when it comes to managing your finances.

    Back-to-school season is here. Whether you have little ones to tend to or you’re just trying to keep up with your own busy lifestyle, this time of the year means a return to our routines. It’s also a great time to check in with your finances and get them back on track. Read on for tips about what you should be focusing on.

    Q: What’s your best tip for getting back in gear after a hectic summer?
    SP: I suggest that you take a good look at your overall financial health. Are you on course to meet that savings goal you set in the New Year? Have your spending habits gotten off track over the past few months? Take stock of where you stand financially and pinpoint areas for improvement. Maybe it’s time to recalculate your monthly savings or scale back on eating out. Set a new goal to check in with your finances every week. You’ll rest easier knowing you’re more in control of your money.

    Q: What exactly should I look at when I do my weekly financial check in?
    SP: Examine your assets and debts to make sure you’re not overspending or missing out on maximizing extra funds, such as paying down debt or investing. If you don’t yet have an established household budget, now is a great time to sit down and make one. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Start out by making a list of your income. Then, list your recurring expenses in order of importance (housing should be at the top, for example). Compare the two and make adjustments as needed, such as cutting back on unnecessary costs.

    Q: What’s the best way to store financial information?
    SP: It’s a good idea to keep all financial records and documents in one place. While many things can be stored digitally on your computer, having hard copies of important documents is still a wise move. Consider investing in a box or cabinet that stores hanging files and label them according to the type (bills, insurances, taxes, receipts, etc.). If you’re storing important records and documents on your computer, be sure to back it up regularly.

    Q: What should I do to plan for the future?
    SP: One of the best things you can do is save. One way to do this is to open a secondary savings account to help fund upcoming expenses. For example, many financial institutions offer a special account that earns interest and helps you save for vacations or the holidays. In addition to saving for the immediate future, think long term, too. If you’re looking to invest, compare rates and terms for money market accounts or share certificates at several financial institutions for an easy, low-risk way to grow your money. Now is also a great time to open a checking and savings account for children. Encourage family members and friends to gift your child money at holidays or birthdays instead of toys to show your child the importance of saving and investing for the future.

    Q: How can my financial institution help me with a back-to-school financial checkup?
    SP: Many financial institutions offer products and services to help you stay on top of your finances. Utilizing online banking or your financial institution’s mobile app are both great ways to gain quick access to account information to keep you informed. Some of these products even have built-in budgeting tools and financial calculators. Most financial institutions also offer financial planning and investing services or can direct you to a partner who can help. Some will even work with you to help build your credit so you can qualify for a mortgage, for example, or assist you in paying down debt by offering a product that meets your needs. Whatever your situation, look for a financial institution that’s community-minded and interested in helping you achieve financial success, rather than just taking your money.

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


  • Annette Lewis, president and CEO, invites you to TAP into hope

    Annette Lewis started at Total Action for Progress 29 years ago as a Summer Youth Counselor. She joined around the time the Department of Labor granted large sums of money across the nation for young people to learn workplace skills. Lewis said when she started at TAP they helped many people pick up basic job skills, establish or improve their work ethic and made sure they were all paid. Her position was temporary, but she made an impression on her supervisor who found a way to keep her for more than a year. In that time, she was in the classroom assisting students with preparing for their GED and helping TAP coordinate programs. Lewis’s work ethic and business savvy helped her rise through the ranks from Head Start supervisor to Director of Education and Employment Services, Senior Vice President and now President and CEO.

    When Lewis began developing programs for the growth of TAP, there were two departments: Youth Services and Education and Employment Training for Adults. With the onset of welfare reform, funding from the Department of Labor began to decrease, which meant there was less money for TAP programs. The training programs were in danger of ending and that meant individuals in those programs would not move beyond training. Therefore, in 1994, Lewis and TAP leadership decided to merge the training departments and name it “This Valley Works.” By combining education and employment departments, TAP grew from five programs to now10 that focus on training and improving staff practices.

    Lewis’s responsibilities are many, and include such areas as employment fairness, work environment, client success skills and employment safety. She also is responsible for making sure TAP has safeguards for their operating budget in order to manage their finances ethically, wisely and according to regulations. Other responsibilities include managing discretionary funds for programs and making executive decisions related to the many services the organization offers.

    TAP’s mission is to help individuals and families obtain financial economic independence through education, employment and housing (healthy environments). The organizations own programs adhere to that mission. For example, the Head Start Program provides jobs for teachers, cooks, food aid, managerial staff and counselors. Lewis says there are wide and diverse opportunities through TAP for everyone.

    Lewis says everyone deserves to live a decent quality of life and with a strong support system. “There are individuals out there who have a stronger support system than others,” she says. She wants to help those who struggle to achieve their dreams by contributing experience, knowledge and encouragement. The most important thing for TAP now, is to build discretionary funds. That need, she says, must be communicated to the public.

    “The future of TAP is not secure in grant funding. TAP does quality work and makes the difference in the lives of the people in the community,” she says. “TAP needs the help of the people financially and needs ongoing contributors. TAP won’t be able to grow or sustain if we don’t get ongoing discretionary dollars to help.”

    Her hope is that TAP continues to grow and to fill gaps in services as well as remaining a strong partner to other non-profit organizations. She also wants to continue to work closely with businesses, helping them meet their workforce needs while providing clients of TAP opportunities.


  • Brenda Hale, working to be the change she wants to see, as the leader of Roanoke's oldest & boldest civil rights organization

    On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pulled Brenda Hale’s pigtails during the March on Washington. That day she decided to become a leader who would generate change. Hale was born December 22, 1945. Growing up as a young black woman in what she describes as a corrupt environment of racism and segregation, she chose to educate herself on the issues around her by reading.

    Being a “SYT” aka “Sweet Young Thing” of her time, she deeply valued her education. Hale graduated high school in 1964 then attended Chaminade University of Honolulu where she became a licensed practical nurse. She joined the Army and moved oversees to the Tripler Army Medical Center in Wurzburg, Germany, where she spent four years before returning to Roanoke in 1982 to care for a sick relative. After returning to Virginia, she was encouraged to further her education, so she attended Roanoke College to become a registered nurse. Soon after moving home Hale met Rev. Charles Green, who urged her to join the NAACP. By 1993, she was a gold life member and soon was positioning herself to take on a higher role.

    Hale also is a life member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She was not happy with simply supporting both organizations financially, so she decided to run for president of the Roanoke Branch NAACP. Hale’s platform was integrity, credibility and professionalism. She has spent countless hours volunteering in the community. “If you truly love the people in the community and you know them, you can help them,” she says. Even though she gives a great deal of time to her presidential responsibilities, she remains invested in herself and her education. As president of the NAACP she says, “You can only win cases by knowing the people and knowing the facts to back up your cases, because knowledge is power and the mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

    Discrimination, she says, is segregation of race, age, disability, color and gender. “Discrimination comes in so many forms and I’m here to help.” Being a “no-nonsense person,” she once drove all the way to Las Vegas to attend a national convention. “I will represent community and do whatever I need to improve it,” she says.

    Hale describes herself as courageous. Influential people in her life: Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, President Barack Obama, and most of all, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “As an individual you can never have enough knowledge,” she adds. The singer Sam Cooke once said, “I know change is going to come.” Those words have influenced her throughout her life.

    On January 21, 2017, Hale was the only African-American speaker to address the crowd of about 4,000 at Roanoke’s Elmwood Park during the Women’s March. At the Roanoke Christmas Parade in December 2015, she nonviolently stood up to folks who were intimidating and aggressively approaching her on their horses holding a confederate flag. Hale says, “I stood up to these people who don't even know what the flag means.”
    Her most valuable reference tool is the Bible. As a youngster, Hale sung on the junior choir and to this day, she attends Sunday school. “You should never turn away from the word of the Bible,” she says. Her favorite Bible verse is Matthew 17:20: “If you have the faith of a mustard seed, you will say this mountain, move from here to there, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” Still to this day, Hale feels she is a “Christian 72 years old and under construction.”

    Many challenges remain, she says, including public schools being at risk, lack of healthcare for senior citizens and young people, the possible dissolution of Obamacare, single parenting, minimum wage not at $15. Being the Roanoke branch president and one of only two gold life members, she says, “I want our branch to be the best that it can be and you can't call yourself a great branch if you don't involve the youth. Our future is bright, we’re doing what we should, embracing our youth.”

    Everything Brenda Hale has done is her legacy!


  • Dumas Center legacy about to turn another page

    The Dumas Center was at one time an iconic cultural landmark for the African-American community on Roanoke’s Henry Street. That was when the area was a bustling center of entertainment and commerce. In the days of segregation when it was the Dumas Hotel, music giants such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton and Lena Horn performed there and often stayed in the hotel. With integration, the Dumas fell into disrepair and went dormant.

    Roanoke City’s first African-American Mayor, Noel C. Taylor, in large part, saved the Dumas from the wrecking ball when he encouraged the organization, then knowns as Total Action for Poverty (TAP), to take on the renovation of the decaying property. The Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority gifted the property to the non-profit and by the early 90’s the road to transformation was being paved. Almost $6 million later and in several phases of construction, the Dumas Center for Artistic and Cultural Development was born in 2006.

    The Dumas Center (technically on First Street, Northwest) features a 178-seat auditorium, offices and space for community events. Over the years it also operated at times as the home for the afterschool Music Lab program and Roanoke Children’s Theatre, both of which have now moved on to the Jefferson Center. It will soon have new ownership apparently. Total Action for Progress CEO Annette Lewis said in July when announcing the pending sale, “Throughout TAP’s ownership of the Dumas the facility has operated at a loss decreasing the amount of funds TAP has to address its mission to help individuals and families achieve economic and personal independence.”

    Regarding the rich history of Henry Street and the Dumas Hotel, Lewis noted that “the decades after World War II were not kind to Henry Street, which suffered greatly due to the decline of the railroads [as an employer], changing demographics and misguided urban renewal. Redlining and disinvestment hindered the survival of a once-thriving neighborhood.”

    Built in 1917, the Dumas became a destination point over the next few decades and the hub of a Henry Street entertainment district known as “The Yard.” It hosted integrated crowds to see black performers, one of the few such venues in the region where that took place. “Aside from the entertainment, the hotel was one of the only lodging establishments in the area that accommodated black travelers during the Jim Crow era,” said Lewis. The district also included restaurants, a barber shop, pharmacy and other businesses frequented by African-American residents in the surrounding Gainsboro neighborhood.

    Lewis also believes the rebirth of the Dumas as a cultural center has led to “a renaissance of residential, institutional and commercial redevelopment in the area,” singling out the former Ebony Club, once a popular nightspot on Henry Street. It is now the Claude Moore Education Complex, which houses the Virginia Western Culinary Arts program and recently announced an expansion that will add to the footprint of the building. A stone’s throw away is the Martin Luther King Jr. statue and the renovated bridge bearing the civil rights leader’s name.

    The sale to a party not yet made public by TAP at press time has not been without its share of controversy after a community-based group called the Dumas Hotel Legacy Inc. had begun to negotiate a price (somewhere around a million dollars) and a time frame to raise those funds. The group already had held a fundraising event when a day or two later TAP announced a sale was pending to another party. “It is our desire to sell the Dumas to an individual, organization or group whose mission aligns with the purpose of this beautifully renovated facility,” said Lewis two months before the pending sale was announced at an undisclosed price. “We are confident that the Dumas will continue to be a reminder of the rich history and culture of its community.”

    In mid-July, Shmura Smith- Glenn with the Dumas Hotel Legacy Inc. said they would continue to “raise the funds necessary to purchase the Dumas until all options have been exhausted,” and until any sale to another party had been finalized and made public. “We have many people writing thousand dollar checks,” Smith-Glenn noted in early July, “so that we can buy it outright.” She grew up near Henry Street.

    TAP did a “great job” of establishing the Dumas as a cultural center after its rebirth said Smith-Glenn, “what [it] can be for the community. Our plan is to just carry that through to completion. We want to pick up where they left off. A key to that is giving us the time [to raise money]. We will raise it – we just need the time.” Smith-Glenn noted that TAP had spent more than a year quietly trying to sell the Dumas Center without success. She added that the effort by the Dumas Hotel Legacy group was a “joint community effort, it is also a black community effort in particular [but] not exclusively. There are many white people from the city that have joined in with us.” There are more details about the group on their Facebook page.

    Dr. Perneller Chubb-Wilson, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference chapter in Roanoke, supported the group’s bid. “We are concerned that the black community is being treated differently and perhaps even unjustly,” Chubb-Wilson declared in a mid-July statement. “TAP chose to accept an anonymous offer for purchase in the middle of negotiating with The Dumas Hotel Legacy, Inc. group representing the black community. This decision by TAP is inconsistent with its mission and with the promises it made to the city and the black community.”

    Meanwhile, Annette Lewis said “the decision to sell the Dumas Center was not an easy one,” adding however that the sale “would allow us to focus our attention and resources on programs that are vital to the community and fall in line with our mission.” During a later interview Lewis also sought to reassure those worried that the history and legacy of the Dumas Hotel/Cultural Center would be erased by the prospective buyer: “I would say the new owner will keep the rich history of Dumas alive.”


  • Children Vaccinations: Fact vs. Fiction

    As the school year approaches, so do the yearly check-ups and vaccinations for children.

    Going to the doctor for immunizations is important to prevent children from getting sick from diseases you may think are extinct but still exist, such as measles and whooping cough. In recent years, there have been breakouts of each. Vaccinations protect children when old diseases surface.

    Vaccines build up antibodies in children to fight diseases they may be exposed to during school or while they are out doing daily activities. A vaccine is an inactive or weakened virus. It allows the body to detect the virus and build a system that knows to fight the disease if the child ever comes into contact.

    Many parents worry about vaccinations because of the associated myths that links autism, children’s immune systems being overwhelmed or children being too young for vaccines. It is important to understand why these are just misconceptions.

    A British doctor, who has since lost his medical license, proclaimed vaccines could cause autism. His claim that measles vaccines lead to autism has been dispelled through many replicated studies, which have found no link between the two.

    Second, children have strong immune systems, which vaccines only help to improve. Their bodies are constantly working to build up antibodies to make them stronger. Their immune systems are not compromised by the vaccines. Rather, the vaccines help their bodies to fight diseases.

    Lastly, some believe they should wait longer to give their children vaccines. However, immunizations are on a set schedule to prevent children from getting sick before coming into contact with the disease. The vaccine schedules are in place to keep your child and the children around them safe.

    There are many vaccines today that have different names, dose sizes and possible side effects. I recommend parents get to know more by talking with their physician.

    For more information, contact your doctor or visit

  • Their Brothers’ Keepers: Rosenwald Schools still have lessons to teach

    The verse I John 3:17 reads, But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? History does not indicate whether Booker T. Washington or Julius Rosenwald had this particular verse in mind when they collaborated to form one of the most important, yet one of the least-known educational initiatives for African American southerners during the turn of the century, but the verse certainly exemplifies the grand endeavors of these two worthy individuals.

    “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else” is one of Booker Taliaferro Washington’s famous quotes. His many deeds illustrate that this educator, author and orator was not merely a man of talk, but one of action. Born into Virginia slavery on April 5, 1856, Washington worked to put himself through school, and became a teacher following the Civil War. He founded the then Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama, a school that we know now as the prestigious Tuskegee Institute. Leading a life of as much standing as an African American could during that time, Washington easily could have looked the other way and totally ignored the plight of black southern education, but he did not. Having himself endured the battles of the day, Mr. Washington determined to lend a helping hand to those who would follow in his footsteps.

    Julius Rosenwald was born six years after Booker T. Unlike Washington, Rosenwald dropped out of school, instead growing a name for himself in the garment industry. He soon found himself President of what was the Amazon of that time, Sears Roebuck & Company. Rosenwald was a millionaire, yet his faith-based rearing urged him to answer the call to philanthropy with as much vigor as he put into the business aspect of his life. Rosenwald gained respect for not what he had, but rather, what he did. His personality and character toward the less fortunate, in particular African Americans, always shone through.

    It was an extraordinary culmination of resolute faith, mutual intelligence, respect and concern for humanity that allowed two men with entirely different life histories to join for the good of what was at that time, the most desperate of our nation, the African American child of the rural south. No vast expanse of imagination is necessary when contemplating the types of segregated schools these children attended. Immensely underfunded public education left children lagging years behind their white counterparts. On average, an African American child born around the turn of the century would reach only the fifth or sixth grade, whereas a white child born during the same time could expect to reach the eighth or ninth grade. Recognizing this trend needed to change Mr. Washington and Rosenwald became partners and established what we now know as the Rosenwald Schools.

    Rosenwald Schools sprang up throughout roughly 15 southern states for the education of African American children. The country was in the Reconstruction Era and the aim of these schools was to provide universal instruction for the disenfranchised. Mr. Rosenwald committed funding as well as other private and public donors. Even families whose children would attend contributed, making it possible for about 5,000 schools, shops and teachers’ houses to be constructed.

    The schools were built between 1910 and the mid to late 1940s. The Rosenwald Fund allowed for vanguard architectural planning. Two of the Institute’s professors, Robert Taylor and W. A. Hazel, provided expertise in the planning. Sizes varied from one-room schools with a single teacher, to larger 10-room schools with as many as 10 teachers. Schools had large windows that allowed light to enter as the day progressed. The windows were important because the schools were mostly void of electricity.

    About 300 Rosenwald Schools sprang up in Virginia, including localities such as Pittsylvania, Halifax and Campbell Counties and numerous cities. Sadly, not many schools still stand as nature has claimed many. Very few people realize the level of historical significance lost whenever one of these schools falls to time.

    The Sonans School in the Sonans community of southern Pittsylvania County still stands. Located on Chalk Level Road, the school is now a freshly painted seven-room white house with a black roof. Flowers adorn the manicured lawn. A conversation with owner, Rosa G. Hodnett, takes you back in time to the early 1940s when she was a student there. Hodnett and her six siblings attended the Sonans School. Hodnett fondly speaks of the good times they had and the invaluable lessons they learned. The children did their best to learn because they understood what a marvelous thing they were being provided… They recognized education is a key to success, Hodnett says. She is thankful for the education she received at Sonans School. “It was a blessing from God that we live in the school we attended,” she adds. However, getting the Sonans School wasn’t easy. After it closed and went up for sale, her father, the late Henry Giggetts decided he wanted to purchase the school for his family. During that time, he as a black man was not viewed as a legitimate bidder. Not disheartened, Giggetts had a white acquaintance bid for him, and he got the school. For decades the Giggetts/Hodnett family has, through both learning and living in the Sonans home, contributed to history.

    Another local Rosenwald School is the Lipford School, located on Yeatts Store Road in Java. Seventy-eight year old Harry Kates attended first through third grades in this school. His school, then known as the Riceville School, included about 10 children per class. Standing outside his former school that also has been transformed into a house, Kates says he is thankful for the instruction he received.

    You’ve most likely heard of Henrietta Lacks and her immortal cell line. Before scientists worldwide ever knew Henrietta, she attended the Clover Rosenwald School in Clover. The school itself is in ill-repair, but it, much like Henrietta’s cells, is still in existence.

    Efforts are underway to save and repair as many Rosenwald Schools as possible. Sonja Ingram, Field Services Manager of Preservation Virginia, explains the Rosenwald Schools became a part of the state’s Endangered Sites Program in 2014. That inclusion garnered needed attention and community interest and has culminated into an actual program that has recently received a grant allowing formal surveying of the schools in Virginia. Thus far, six of the 15 schools built in Pittsylvania County, have been located. They still stand.

    Rosenwald Schools are an enormously significant segment of our country’s history; and, they should be acknowledged and valued as such. Had it not been for these schools, many of us today would not be where we are. Respect is due.

    For more information on Rosenwald Schools, go to For more information about Booker T. Washington, go to



  • Editor's Note

    Last month a couple of friends and I attended a conference in Winchester. As we walked around Old Town in the heart of downtown, we came across a couple of confederate statues. We just read the information detailed on plaques attached and walked away. There was no discussion, just one comment. “That’s history,” one of them muttered. My friends are white and I figured they were being cautious.

    A day later, we passed the same statues. Still no conversation. It wasn’t until the drive home, when we were in the car with three hours ahead of us, that the subject came up. “So Melinda, how do you feel about the confederate statues and the monuments,” the other friend asked. “I really want to know because I have my opinion as well.”

    Do I dare go there, I thought to myself, because if they say the “wrong thing” this is going to be a mighty long trip back to Salem. I took my time to answer, because I wanted to convey fully the emotion that emanates from the heart of a person of color when describing feelings about anything that glorifies slavery and the degradation it still instills.

    Well ladies let me tell you a little about what I’ve endured during my life. While I was not a slave, sometimes I was made to feel like one. I went to segregated schools for two years, traveling more than 50 miles a day on a cold rickety bus handed down from the white schools. The bus was so cold mom would warm a brick in the stove for my sisters and me to keep our feet warm as we traveled. The white school was just a mile and half down the road. When integration occurred, I was the only black child in a class of more than 25 kids. I was taunted by a boy I’m sure is in prison now. He sat in front of me and every day he would sing a ditty he had made up: N_ _ _ _ _ , N_ _ _ _ _, ole black N _ _ _ _ _ , you need to go back to Africa. It was a catchy tune. Actually other kids liked it so much, they would join in on the playground. I was eight years old and it took all I could muster to keep from crying. Alex didn’t learn that racist behavior on his own – he was taught it. So ladies when you ask me how I feel about the confederate monuments, you gotta realize my perspective is colored. I see those statues as glorifying a past that deserves very little glory. I’ve lived in this brown skin a long time and I know I’ve faced some things that would make YOUR skin crawl. I don’t know…it appears to me that we’ve forgotten the Golden Rule and that has created a malaise in race relations, and has put those stone-faced members of the confederacy who were in the fight to preserve slavery on the chopping block. There is no blanket rule that easily applies to the proper course to take with these symbols. You now you know how I feel.

    The other friend said, “I’m glad you shared that because I agree all the way.” Her concluding statement went something like this: “One does not have to be black to grasp the fact that they were wrong.”


Purchase Photos from this Issue