August 2018 Issue

  • Chronicles of an Immigrant

    Zuheil is the youngest of six born to Luis and Maria. She grew up in one of the most populated Mexican cities in the high-altitude desert state of Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez (Juárez City of simply Juárez as the natives prefer) located just south of El Paso in the Rio Grande. Luis and Maria made the best of difficult circumstances rearing their children — four girls and two boys — in Juárez, while dealing with constant distress and concern about their family’s safety. Juárez, one of the major ports of entry to the United States, has been categorized as one of the most dangerous cities in the world with drug cartels and a high level of female abduction and homicides. 

    Zuheil remembers with joy visiting the city market with her mom and siblings and then taking two Ruteras in order to see her grandpa who lived in another part of the city. Ruteras are school buses brought from America that are painted and used for public transportation in Mexico.

    At the Juárez City Market also known as la Marqueta, crafts from all over the country are available, as well as delicious traditional dishes of the region including the famous Burritos, often accompanied by a Cerveza Helada or frozen beer. The market also show cases local performing artists including:

    Musica Norteña (northern music) – a genre that combines German folk and northern Mexican music with accordion, bajo sexto, electric bass and drums. 

    Mariachis, consisting of four or more musicians wearing suits of Charros or Mexican cowboys from the state of Jalisco. The traditional mariachi band consists of at least two violins, a guitar, a guitarrón (large bass guitar), a vihuela (like a guitar but with a rounded back) and trumpets. Mariachis transmit values of respect for the natural heritage of the regions of Mexico and local history in the Spanish language and the different Indian languages of Western Mexico. This genre was recognized as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2011.

    Zuheil’s mom, Maria, always kept in good spirits listening to tunes of Juan Gabriel, one of Mexico’s greatest and most beloved singer-songwriters. He grew up and started his career in Juárez. Maria also found great enjoyment making flour tortillas for family reunions. Her father, Papá Luis, on the other hand, spent his days working at a factory. He was a man of rich culture who enjoyed reading multiple books from his extensive collection. He was interested in learning English and taught himself the language. He and his children spent time playing games and doing activities such as the making of piñatas, a decorated container filled with small toys and candy to break as part of a celebration. This is a tradition in Mexico as well as other parts of Latin America.

    In 1965, Maquila, a manufacturing operation, began to facilitate industrialization on the United States-Mexican border. As a result, foreign manufacturing investment increased along border cities such as Juarez and Tijuana. During the 1980s, more companies invested in Mexico operations given their low cost, especially in electronics, car assembly and textile. The greatest growth of the maquiladora industry occurred after Mexico, Canada and the United States signed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, making it possible to import materials free of tax. Maquiladora refers to manufacturing operations. 

    Zuheil’s family was struggling financially and at age 14, she had to drop out of high school to join her sister and mother working at the maquiladoras. She would work the assembly lines for eight to 12 hours a day, all the while day dreaming of someday returning to school to pursue a better life. She also dreamed of a quinceañera. A quinceañera is a celebration recognizing a girl’s 15th birthday. The event is one of the most celebrated Latin American traditions spotlighting the journey of a girl from childhood to maturity. A reception at such an occasion includes food, music and a choreographed waltz or dance performed by the quinceañera wearing a ball gown.

    A recurrent dream was moving to United States with her family — La Familia. Family is the greatest asset for Latinos and it is the major source of one’s identity and protection against the hardships of life. Despite the concept of direct family members written in books and immigration laws, a family in Latin America consists of parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, cousins and even others who are not biologically related.

    With help from friends and family, Maria and Luis surprised Zuheil with the quinceanera celebration of her dreams. Zuheil’s quinceanera was one of the most beautiful memories and sadly, one of the last she and her family would spend together in Mexico. Since the majority of maquiladora workers barely earn enough income to meet their basic needs, at age 16, Zuheil headed to the United States in search of new horizons.

    Jose was born in the municipality San Juanito de Escobedo, located in the Western Mexican state of Jalisco, at the base of the Tequila Volcano and near the well-known Tequila Town, home of the blue agave plant used to make the tequila drink. He was the fourth child of nine and started working at age eight. His first job was loading ladrillos or bricks in a truck, riding on the back of truck and then unloading the bricks at another location. It became difficult to maintain a large family by just working the cornfields in San Juanito. Therefore, Jose’s parents decided to take their oldest two children to the United States in search of new opportunities. Jose and the rest of his siblings were left under the supervision of their 14-year-old sister. Thankfully, in a quiet, small town like San Juanito with a close-knit community where everyone knows the name of everyone else, other family members and friends kept an eye on the children making sure they were all doing well during their parents’ absence.

    Childhood was a full adventure in San Juanito, and Jose enjoyed those years of collecting unforgettable memories with his brothers and sisters. Jose’s dream as a child was to become a futbolista or professional soccer player and he would often skip the Sunday classes at church or doctrinas, to play soccer with his friends. Jose also remembers with delight some of the common traditions that took place in his town such as the prayer of the native healers, better known as curanderas. The prayers were offered to avoid the culebras de agua (water snakes) coming from the sky, a phenomenon of visible small tornados in the sky resembling the shape of a water snake of Jalisco. The curandera would take a young kid and while holding one of the kid’s hands and a knife with the other, would whisper a prayer continuously while making the shape of a cross towards the sky. To Jose’s amusement, the tornadoes would disappear suddenly. Three years passed before Jose and his parents were reunited. Now 11, Jose and his siblings embarked on a new adventure to America.

    Fate brought together Zuheil and Jose. They met in Albuquerque in 2002 while attending graduate school and it was love at first sight. In 2004, they became parents of an amazing little boy, their first son, Francisco, and a year later the couple welcomed son number two, Gibran “Gibi.”  When the couple attended the ceremony to receive their degrees, each proudly held one of their sons. Zuheil obtained a Master’s Degree in Latin-American Literature and Jose obtained a Doctor of Philosophy in 20th century poetry. 

    In 2006, they moved to Virginia and established themselves in the City of Salem. Jose works at Roanoke College, a private liberal arts school. He is director of modern languages. Both sons were diagnosed with Autism, a condition characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.  It was not easy at first. Zuheil and Jose say. What were the steps to follow now as parents? Where could they go for help? On top of everything, at times they faced hurtful comments towards them from people who lacked knowledge and understanding about Autism.  Zuheil and Jose say folks would think the behavior of their kids were simply a case of lack of discipline. Francisco did not receive an early diagnosis because some teachers and health providers insisted his speech delay was due to both parents speaking Spanish.

    Ten years after their first and second children, Zuheil and Jose welcomed their third son, Gaddiel and their daughter, Zoleil. Gaddiel also has Autism. Zuheil has dedicated herself to learning all she can about Autism in order to best prepare her children for a good quality of life. She has taken several classes online to be able to provide her children with behavioral therapy based on Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).

    Francisco, 13, Gibran, 12, Gaddiel, 3 and Zoleil, 22 months, are extraordinary like Super Heroes, and each of them has different abilities yet to be discovered. From immigrating to other lands, assimilating new cultures and facing many challenges, Zuheil and Jose say they have been blessed and are motivated to now embark in the most important journey of their life – the discovery of powers in their Superheroes.

    “Having three kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has impacted our lives tremendously because it has taught us how to see life in many different angles, appreciate important singularities and learn not to take any moment for granted” — Zuheil and Jose Bañuelos.

    I would like to dedicate this article to my dearest friends with origins in the border cities of Mexico/USA who had to immigrate. Also to all those families of super heroes going through their own journey of discovery, and finally to everyone with a compassionate heart, searching for understanding rather than indifference or judgement towards others. – C.S.

  • At the Feet of Our Elders

    When tourists travel to Roanoke like visitors to many cities, they spend the majority of their time in the downtown area. Visitors come to see the beautiful mountains and to visit the Mill Mountain Star. They come to learn about the important railroad history in Roanoke. Often times they completely skip a tour of one of the most historical sections of the city – Gainsboro. Gainsboro does not get its proper recognition from the city. It is a part of town everyone wants a piece of but only a few want to help make Gainsboro what it was once. Gainsboro is older than the City of Roanoke. It received its name from Major Kenya Gains, the financier of the settlement, after William Rowland established Roanoke in the mid-1800s. 

    Why am I writing about an area since this column’s title is At the Feet of Our Elders? It should be about a specific person, right. However, I wanted to explain to you just in part where those elders and ancestors come from and what helped to make them who they are today. The community of Gainsboro has a wealth of history and importance to Roanoke, Virginia and the United States of America. North of Downtown Roanoke the section of Gainsboro includes streets such as Wells, Gilmer, Patton and Harrison Avenues and Henry Street. It contains institutions such as Burrell Memorial Hospital, now Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare, the Dumas Center, formerly a hotel, Hotel Roanoke, Gainsboro Library, Claytor Memorial Clinic and many others. Urban renewal has changed the look of this area.

    The true greatness of communities, like in other cities, is its people. The Gainsboro community, once an all-white area, began to evolve into a black area in the early 1900s. The railroad started to grow and professionals, laborers, educators started to move to Roanoke. People like Dr. Isaac Burrell, Lucy Addison and Virginia Lee all were from other parts of the country and moved to Roanoke. 

    Due to segregation, African Americans had to depend on themselves to sustain one another because they could not receive service for basic needs anywhere else. A good number of people who grew up in this area always speak about the pride in seeing the creation of Burrell Memorial Hospital. Burrell was a prominent African American doctor who lived on Patton Avenue.  He was born in Amelia County in 1865. He moved to Roanoke after finishing school in 1893 and opened the first black pharmacy in Southwest Virginia on Gainsboro Road. He married a well-respected educator and community leader, Margaret Burnett. In 1914, a committee of doctors led by Burrell that included J.B. Claytor, Sr., J.S. Cooper, S.F. Williams, L.C. Downing and J.H. Roberts was in the process of creating and finding a location for a black hospital. Later that year Burrell became ill with gallstone issues. Due to segregation, he could not receive medical services from white hospitals so he was put in a boxcar and transported to D.C. He died while returning to Virginia.

    In 1915, the remaining doctors on that committee started Burrell Memorial Hospital in honor of their friend and colleague. Here in the Star City an African American family created its own self-sustaining block of a home, pharmacy, clinic and service station. John B. Claytor and his wife Roberta produced eight children and with those children, they built businesses so that their children and father could work together. In 1923, Roberta’s father came from Bristol, and with the help of black men wanting to learn a trade he built a 23-room mansion on North Jefferson Street and Patton Avenue.  Local white businesses did not want to build a black man’s home, so Claytor’s father-in-law put the words Dr. Claytor in the sidewalk on the Patton Avenue side of the home so no would ever forget who owned that block. In the 1940s, Claytor, Sr., and his sons helped to build the Claytor Memorial Clinic in honor of his wife and their mother so they could work together. 

    According to public records during the 20th century, the Gainsboro community had nearly 200 businesses over a period. These businesses consisted of beauty salons and barbershops, can companies, record stores, cleaners, a theater, nightclubs and the Hotel Dumas. Mack Barlow, Sr. and Mack Barlow, Jr. owned the Hotel Dumas. Speaking with Darthula Barlow Lash, youngest daughter of Mack Barlow, Jr.; the Hotel Dumas was the place to be if you wanted great food and if you wanted to meet the famous entertainers of that day, including Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie. All of these great places were in Gainsboro. Many of these businesses were on Henry Street, the connection between the black community and Downtown Roanoke, even though African Americans did not go downtown much. 

    In his book, The Times and Life on Henry Street, David Ramey, Sr., described the area as “A place where blacks could come and dine, dance, and relax; there was always something to do on Henry Street.” When people speak of Gainsboro, it’s always with two emotions – pride and anger.  Pride exists because of what the community offered people of color and anger due to what many see as being taken from them during the 1960s and 1970s. Now Henry Street is a block long consisting of two buildings that are not owned by any one person but rather corporations. 

    We must always know and be proud of who we are as African Americans. We must always remember where we came from and where we must go.  John Henrik Clarke once said, “History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are, but more importantly, what they must be.” My hope is after reading these words you will began to understand who and what helped to produce the great people we honor today. 

  • How I learned to write

    There is no exact formula, no mathematical equation, no metric unit or omnipresent methodology to measure written works. Each piece, like the artist writing or typing, is special within its own pens and keyboards. The study of penmanship dates far back into time around 3200 BC Mesopotamia or present-day Iraq. When you think about it, writing is just a system of created marks within languages that just happen to make sense. It is abstract. It’s interesting how this idea of conceptuality and how it not only relates to all things written but also all things spoken.  In essence, communication is but a concept — a concept of philosophy from our own making. This all seems very meta indeed, but reason and explanation play dramatic roles in defining why we do the things we do. Which in turn, can answer these seemingly theoretical quizzes of writing and communication.

    So, how did it come to me? Simple. Poetry. Poems are music without instruments. They are personifications of the human heart, usually containing a rhythm, a beat, a reason for existing and an entity to manifest. To me poetry is like something I cannot unsee. It flows and ebbs, a river of words, a sea of glee. From adolescence, it guides language, thought — meaning is seen when looked in-between each line. Character develops and presents in holy fashion, a map of understanding, blush in compassion. And when it seems it’s void of logic, the plot thickens, each withdraw a new deposit. Each question a fresh audit. When tangibility matched with mental inquiry becomes accidental then there you have an excellent example of poetry at its quintessential.

    Fraud occurs when people do poetry a misfortune in damning its sister “Rap” in social exchanges. Rap and poetry are both offspring of creative and rhythmic language. The dissonance occurs when Rap is incorrectly tied to social constructs of crime, violence and other misbehaviors. Where a tokenized poetry is deified as a polar opposite of rap in representation of positive moral thought and evocation. Rap is a communicative black sheep. Which should never be the case given the in depth sincerity of rap and hip-hop relative to the raw sharing of human stories and emotions. However, this is an entire conversation worthy of further dissection within its own presentation.

    To know how to write well one must also practice reading. In its tangible form; magazines and books are the iron which sharpen the steels of the human mind. High writing IQ comes from a large portion of looking into the pages of a good literature. If we can understand that not everything we know is explicitly taught to us, then one can also put into further context how reading prepares the hand to write well. Its subliminal. It comes to you with each word you read and just like any practice, works in high quality the more time spent on the study.

    I can recall when I was in grade school all I did was read books. Come to think of it, I’m not truly sure why I read. I spent enough time outdoors to rectify any boredom that made its way up my alleyways. So what was the deal? An honest perspective would suggest that question is still under scrutiny, but what I can say is that once I started I could not stop. My mother will tell you I began reading at the age of four. I will tell you it was earlier than that, even though I have little to no memory of such things. I do remember first grade and the competitions each month on who could read the most books. There was an honor code comparable to the moral compass of a young child barely getting in the swing of school was silly enough. But it was there none the less. All the reading was logged on your notebook and an empty space was placed on the left side to record the date when the book was finished. At the end of the month I gave my teacher my book log completely filled. My reward was a parent-teacher conference later that day for lying. Upon my own ignorance, I had assumed that there was something wrong on my part if Loretta (my mom) had to come up to the school. And since she was here at the school on this day, my assumptions were justified and I allowed myself to believe I had done something incorrectly. So I lied on myself. When asked if I actually read all those books in that amount of time, I said that someone else had read them for me. At the time, I felt it was the only option. Black boy in a white county, in a white school at a much higher reading level than the others wasn’t necessarily a good look, and certainly out of the ordinary. After giving the teacher what she apparently wanted, a confession, the flood gates were open for her to chastise me and go on and on about the code of ethics and how this sort of behavior would not be tolerated here nor in the real world; the usual school to prison pipeline speech. Loretta was not upset with me, and it wasn’t until later that night I admitted to her that I had read all those books and that I lied because I didn’t want to get in trouble. She could tell I was telling the truth and elected to share with me that people would lie on me my entire life because they fear potential from the underprivileged. She paraphrased “Lying on one’s self only perpetuates the stigma.”

    Since that beloved encounter. I can say there hasn’t been many instances where I misled myself. But it was an important lesson that needed to be uncovered even at an early age. Therefore, I continued the assembly line of books into all grade schools. In elementary school, I joined the Book Bowl Team, which summarized was an elite group of nerds who competed on book trivia. In this same school for about four years, I was the leader in AR points, a county program that incentivized book reading and gave points and prizes in exchange for successful completion of computerized quizzes on the book of your choice. A PlayStation 2, a bike, more books and free pizza coupons were among my many rewards. This continued into middle school but then began to die slowly as reading no longer fed my appetite as it once did. Women filled the void.

    It wasn’t until late in my college years that my love for reading resurfaced. Poetry came back to me as I began to write more. I became news editor of my college newspaper and then wrote independently for businesses here and there, just trying to be published as much as I could. The poetry and the rap I listened to fed me words. Vocabulary was brought center stage and watered with interesting academia that stimulated my mind that had once starved itself. Speech also came about in impressive ways, a trifecta. I noticed that talking in front of crowds became easier, I began to enjoy it, the attention and privilege to have their ears for a short time. Scholarship had taken on an entire new meaning and it became more than just knowing how to write, but also knowing how to talk and read well.

    In chronological order rap taught me how to write poems, poetry taught me how to write short stories, short stories taught me how to write articles, articles taught me how to speak efficiently and reading taught me all of them. My hope is that one day it can also teach me to write books, the next stage that’s currently cued up on my agenda. Overall, I believe that the best writers hold their work in high regard but also keep open room for improvement. I do not pretend to be great, I’m good at most, with a long line of improvement ahead. But what I will say is that if I did not enjoy writing stories and imagining different characters and conflict then I would surely suffer. To do this and not be pleased is a torturous idea, one that’s likely subject to change the way you would feel about it. But if you enjoy the imagery you bring to the table mixed with the creativity and language that come simultaneously, you’ve already won. My last piece of advice is this. “The best things to write about are the complications of the human heart.” If you can contextualize and build from that, the imagination much like your progress, will become infinite.

  • Stedman Speaks: Tips for Getting your Household Disaster-Ready

    Disasters like tornadoes, house fires and floods can devastate our lives. What can make these situations even worse is picking up the disorganized pieces when a little preparation could have helped alleviate some of the chaos. I’m here to offer tips on what to collect and how to keep important documents safe if the unexpected happens.

    Q: What documents do you suggest I collect to prepare for a disaster?
    SP: You should gather personal identification for everyone in your household such as birth certificates, social security cards, passports and pet identification tags. Collect insurance policy numbers and the insurance company contact information for each type of coverage. You also will want to store a copy of property records like deeds and mortgage documents, medical information including prescriptions, estate-planning documents and legal and financial records including taxes from the past few years. Record contact information for family and friends in case you don’t have access to your cell phone and need to reach out for help.

    Q: Where should I store all of these important documents?
    SP: Select a way to store the items that’s easy to grab in a hurry. Options include a fireproof and waterproof safe, a binder with sleeves to hold all documents, or a safety deposit box at your local financial institution. You also could opt to store everything electronically on a memory stick, external hard drive, or the cloud. It might be wise to combine a few options — a safe for paper documents plus an electronic storage option so you have a backup. Whatever you choose, place it where it could be grabbed quickly and easily as you head out the door. 

    Q: What’s the best way to keep track of my possessions in case they’re destroyed in a disaster?
    SP: You’ll want to take inventory of your possessions, which is especially helpful if you need to file an insurance claim. Go through your home room by room, and record your belongings. Make a note of household valuables, such as jewelry, antiques, or collectibles and write down their worth. Take photos or videos of your home’s contents so you have proof of your possessions. Store your inventory list and photos or videos with other important documents.

    Q: How much money should I have on hand in case of a disaster?
    SP: If a disaster affects your whole community, it’s likely your local financial institution will be affected as well, making it difficult to access your money. Additionally, merchants might not have electricity, making a quick swipe of your debit or credit card impossible. Set aside enough cash to cover essentials for a couple of days, which might include a few nights in a hotel, food, water and basic amenities such as clothing. Have a mix of large and small bills on hand in case someone isn’t able to break a larger bill.

    Q: What other tips do you have to help my family prepare for a disaster?
    SP: In case you’re stuck at home, have three days of nonperishable food and water on hand. For water, a general rule of thumb is one gallon per person per day for drinking, cooking and bathing. If you must leave town, identify an out-of-town family member or friend you can stay with and count on for support. It’s also good practice to establish a plan for how to reconnect with your family by designating a meeting spot. If something happens while you’re at work or the kids are at school, choose a location that’s easy for everyone to get to. If a disaster occurs while at home, such as a house fire, plan your escape routes and identify a landmark, such as the neighbor’s mailbox or a light pole as your family meeting spot. Panicking during a disaster situation only leads to more chaos, but following these tips could help provide the peace of mind you need to stay calm.

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

  • A Look at Your Health: Swimming Outside the Box

    During the summer months, many parents search online for tips to prevent drowning in backyard pools. But lakes, rivers and open water present additional risks that pools don’t. Here are some tips for families looking to enjoy the outdoors through summer.

    Be Aware
    More children and teens drown in open water than in pools. Watch out for the following hazards when preparing to swim in the lakes, rivers or oceans: 

    Underwater obstacles – Murky lake and river water can hide sharp or slippery rocks, uneven or unstable logs and “strainers” or underwater branches and root systems that can easily catch your feet. These are constantly changing in unpredictable ways.

    Depth and distance changes – Gently sloped shorelines can hide sudden drop-offs farther out, especially at the ocean or in moving rivers, where tides and changing conditions can move the sand and soil underfoot from one day to the next. 

    Currents and tides – Rip tides and underwater currents can be strong, fast-moving and unpredictable, especially for families who only visit lakes and oceans occasionally. Avoid swimming at unsupervised beaches or in areas not designated for swimming, and be sure kids know how to deal with a crashing wave before swimming in open water.

    Water temperature – Open water tends to be colder than the pools where kids often learn to swim. That can affect a child’s swimming ability and even cause panic if they fall in or get in too quickly.

    Weather changes – While a summer thunderstorm makes swimming pools dangerous until it passes, the effects of weather on open water are longer lasting. Heavy rains and flooding can quickly change currents, temperatures and depth.

    Water-borne bacteria – Summer storms can release fertilizers, insecticides and even sewage into lakes and rivers. Open wounds can become infected by bacteria that live in both fresh and saltwater environments.

    Be Prepared
    Just as you would at the pool, keep a watchful eye on your children at all times. The most important safety consideration is to make sure you ALWAYS watch your kids in and around water without being distracted, and be within arms’ reach.

    The following steps also can help ensure that your family remains safe in and around the water.

    Be sure everyone in your family knows how to swim.

    Take a CPR class through your local American Red Cross chapter and keep it current each year.

    Swim only in designated swimming areas and take heed of any posted warnings.

    Avoid stagnant water, and water that has oil or algae on its surface.

    Don’t swim if you have open wounds or un-healed cuts.

    Wear water shoes to prevent cuts from sharp shells and stones.

    Wear nose clips if swimming in warm lakes, especially if the soil is agitated or churning.

    Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature.

    Always wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life vest.

    Consider the risks ahead of time and be prepared with alternative activities, such as board games and Frisbees. That way your family will have a safe, enjoyable vacation no matter the weather.

  • Moms demand action for gun sense in America.

    “I’m a mother without a child, now what are you gonna do about it?” Karen Frye Cobb asked herself these words as she began to mourn the sudden death of her only son. On September 6, 2008, her son Kyle Ellis, 24, and his friend Cabretti Wheeler, 21, were brutally murdered in St. Petersburg, Florida. The two were up and coming rappers. One night, while working late at the recording studio, “Dat’s Right Audio,” gunmen entered and fatally shot them at point blank range. There was no motive other than “wanting to kill someone that night,” says Cobb.  A third victim, who lived upstairs in a loft apartment, also was shot five times, and somehow managed to survive the attack. He had come down to the studio after hearing what he thought were fireworks. He was pistol whipped by a gunman, then shot five times. After playing dead, he was able to make it out of the studio in time to call 911 and to see the getaway car and later was able to identify the suspects. After the incident, however, he went into hiding for fear the killers would come back to “finish the job.”

    Kyle, a 2001 William Fleming High School graduate, was Cobb’s only child. Now, she clings to his daughter, which is all she has left of him. Her granddaughter was only two at the time of Kyle’s death. As a caregiver for her mother and father, Cobb had no time to allow herself to mourn Kyle’s sudden death, as she had to be strong to take care of family. That is why she moved to St. Petersburg in the first place. Wheeler’s mother, Lisa Wheeler-Brown, however, was headed into a downward spiral following her son’s murder. She began to drink daily and wound up in the hospital. While there, she had a vision of her son. In the vision, Wheeler encouraged his mom to take care of herself.  After that, she made a promise to avenge his death by finding their killers. Wheeler-Brown sought out on her own investigation and took to the streets asking anyone questions that would help her find the killers.  However, during this time a “no snitching” epidemic was providing many roadblocks. Nevertheless, Wheeler-Brown remained determined and refused to give up. She joined forces with investigators and worked with them until the killers were found and brought to justice. The victim who survived was stumbled upon and anonymously testified and identified the man who assaulted and shot him – 24- year-old Jerry Tyrone Jones.  In 2013, Jones was convicted of murder in the first degree in the deaths of both Ellis and Wheeler and also was convicted of attempted murder of the third victim. He received three life sentences for the charges. Jones refused to “snitch” on the others involved and actually confessed to the killings to a fellow inmate during the time of the trial, solidifying his guilt. Jones will never be free again. 

    In 2011, Cobb’s father passed away. A year later she decided to take a vacation to regroup and allow herself the time she needed to grieve and heal from all the losses she had experienced – her mother in 2004, son 2008 and father in 2011. She didn’t come out of the house much for a couple years. The death of a close friend in 2014 led her back to the Roanoke area where she decided to stay. During this time, she sought to rediscover her purpose after losing her son. “You’re never really the same,” she says. She read books, watched a lot of news and became disturbed particularly by all the gun violence across the country. In the meantime, her best friend, Wheeler-Brown was still speaking out about gun violence and had become a St. Petersburg City Councilwoman. She invited Cobb to attend a vigil at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, after the school shooting where Wheeler-Brown was asked to be one of the key speakers. During her speech, Wheeler-Brown asked Cobb to stand with her on stage as she spoke about their sons. Cobb was beyond inspired that day, so much so that, Cobb calls Wheeler-Brown her hero. Others also inspired her, including representatives with an organization called Mom’s Demand Action (MDA) who also spoke at the event. 

    When Cobb returned to Roanoke, she learned that the son of another close friend also had been killed from gun violence. Cobb’s anger grew immensely. “I’d had enough! I couldn’t sit back and watch anymore,” says Cobb. She decided to let her anger fuel her motivation and she immediately contacted the woman with Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America that she had heard speak in Florida. “I jumped right in,” she says. She began the extensive training provided by the organization that was necessary to get involved and her life got busy quick.  Cobb now heads the MDA’s Roanoke Chapter, which happens to be the only one in Virginia. 

    MDA’s goal is to put an end to gun violence across the nation. It was organized in 2012 by Shannon Watts in light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The organization works in teams within all 50 states on local, state and national levels to demand action from legislators related to gun violence by creating common-sense gun reforms. Contrary to popular belief, MDA does not oppose the Second Amendment; the organization supports it with common-sense solutions to gun safety. The group works hard providing gun safety education and lobbying for legislators who will push for stronger gun laws. The organization’s overall goal is to stop senseless gun violence and to ensure safety for children and families nationwide. 

    Locally, Cobb works with the Roanoke Police Department and many other civic organizations and community leaders to promote the education of gun laws and safety to save lives. She meets consistently with local area community leaders to brainstorm ideas and keep the issue of gun violence at the forefront so that community officials do not lose sight of the growing issue of gun violence in Roanoke. “It is something that must be addressed,” she says. Cobb also started a blog to raise awareness, called A Mother’s Perspective, where she shares and promotes for justice and awareness to current social issues. Cobb also can be heard every Sunday night on Focused Radio (Facebook) where she does a segment dedicated to eradicating gun violence. Cobb says she is overwhelmed by the immense support from the community and is thankful for the community leaders. Her focus right now is on God, family and community and she hopes to retire in the near future and place all of her focus on community outreach and advocacy full time. Cobb considers all the work that she does for MDA a part of her healing process.  “Every day, I get up and I ask my son, Kyle, what would you have me do today?” – Karen Frye Cobb.

     

    Links

    Moms Demand Acton for Gun Sense in America 

    Karen’s Story

    Focused Radio

    A Mother’s Perspective (blog)

  • A note from the publisher

    Gun violence in America is increasing at an alarming rate. It seems that almost daily the media report on some horrendous act of violence involving guns. Mass shootings, one-on-one crime, gang-related homicides, drug-connected murders – all rage throughout the country and across the globe.  Ever since the beginning of the founding of America, guns have been woven into the fabric of our country. The founders even made it a constitutional amendment – the second amendment – providing the right to bear arms.  The Supreme Court has ruled that the right belongs to individuals for self-defense.

    I think the constitution is a great document that practices the principle of democracy, but I also think the second amendment should not be a part of this special document.  If the founders could have seen the future and the impact of this amendment on our country, I think their perspectives on guns would have been dramatically different and they would agree with me. 

    Consider the constitutions of other democratic countries, the United Kingdom, France and Germany – none of them has anything in their doctrines regarding the right to bear arms. For many years now guns deaths have continued to rise. Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries. Compared to 22 other high-income nations, the United States’ gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher. 

    I don’t have a master solution to solve the ongoing gun violence in our country. I know that it is important that the great work that Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America featured in this month’s edition, is needed to keep gun control in the forefront of our thoughts and actions in our community.


    Robert Jeffrey Jr.
    Publisher


    “You don’t need no gun control, you know what you need? We need some bullet control. Men, we need to control the bullets, that’s right. I think all bullets should cost five thousand dollars… five thousand dollars per bullet… You know why? Cause if a bullet cost five thousand dollars there would be no more innocent bystanders.”
    – Chris Rock

    “We lose eight children and teenagers to gun violence every day. If a mysterious virus suddenly started killing eight of our children every day, America would mobilize teams of doctors and public health officials. We would move heaven and earth until we found a way to protect our children. But not with gun violence.” – Elizabeth Warren

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