Elders provide wisdom, experience

By Cierra Duncan

Spirits are high each week when members of the Elders Institute of Wisdom gather for their weekly meetings at SHAPE Community Center.

Each gather begins with a word of prayer. The elders then participate in a moderate exercise routine, listen to a guest speaker or performer, and discuss current events and how they can improve issues in the community.

Members of the institute come from various backgrounds and occupations, including activist, teacher, minister and poet.

Members of the Elders Institute of Wisdom and supporters gather at Shape Community Center. (Photo: Cierra Duncan, Defender)

Members of the Elders Institute of Wisdom and supporters gather at Shape Community Center. (Photo: Cierra Duncan, Defender)

“The institute is extremely important in terms of getting the wisdom of the elders, what they’ve been through and what they can help you with,” said Sister Valerie Mawiyah, a member of the National Black United Front and former development worker in Haiti. “They can do mediation and give you a perspective of many years.”

A key part of belonging to the Elders Institute of Wisdom is being able to provide guidance to the young.

“We speak openly,” said Milton Randle, an ordained minister and leader in the elder’s institute. It is not uncommon to see Randle or another elder being a mentor to a SHAPE youth.

Randle said the Institute of Wisdom is derived from an African concept where elders are the leaders in a community. Elders make the final decision when an issue is brought before them and that decision is honored and carried out by younger members in the community.

SHAPE executive director Deloyd Parker and Elder Milton Randle emphasize the contributions that older adults make to the community. (Photo: Cierra Duncan, Defender)

SHAPE executive director Deloyd Parker and Elder Milton Randle emphasize the contributions that older adults make to the community. (Photo: Cierra Duncan, Defender)

“An elder is someone who’s old and wise,” said Deloyd Parker, executive director at SHAPE. “You don’t have to have a Ph. D. Your wisdom, knowledge and understanding make the difference.”

“As a collective, SHAPE is healing,” said Mother Jean Dember, founding member of the National Black United Front.

She said people have come into SHAPE disoriented and lacking focus due to the disrespect they’ve encountered in their everyday lives. However, once spending time at the center, interacting with the elders and being respected, they gain a new outlook on life. “That’s what gives them dignity,” she said. “They are respected here.”

Dember became involved with SHAPE shortly after she moved to Houston. She was encouraged by a doctor at Riverside Hospital to become active in the community.

“We do not need a list of the problems,” she recalled the doctor stating. “We need a list of solutions. What are you going to do about the problems you see in the community?”

Dember has been a long-time activist in Houston. Most recently she has fought in support of keeping the Southmore Station Postal Office open. She has also been vocal about HISD’s decision to repurpose Jones High School and close Dodson Elementary.

She said some political and community leaders have lost their reverence for elders.

“They are supposed to come to the elders and find out what we have learned in life and what we can transmit to them,” Dember said. “Then they can put them into the laws, customs and services that we need.”

The Elders Institute of Wisdom has made a vital impact on SHAPE Community Center. It has not only reenergized and enhanced the lives of its members but the institute has also been a source of knowledge for younger generations.

Elder Ade leads the elders in a moderate exercise routine during each meeting.  (Photo: Cierra Duncan, Defender)

Elder Ade leads the elders in a moderate exercise routine during each meeting. (Photo: Cierra Duncan, Defender)

“The community would not be if it weren’t for SHAPE,” said Lillie Starks, a retired City of Houston employee.

Starks came to SHAPE after retirement to continue working with people. She said she enjoys the center and the elders because of the community and interacting with people close to her age.

“If their life is enhances and extended then that means we benefit more because they are here for us,” Parker said. “It’s like a circle of interdependence, when they grow we grow. Then they can teach us, we can learn from them and they can continue to learn.”

“They are active,” he continued. “They are not elders sitting down, lying down and waiting to die. They are elders who are making a difference. They are still making a difference.”
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 26 (May 1, 2014) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX. (http://defendernetwork.com/)


Post office supporters won’t back down

by Cierra Duncan

Third Ward residents continued to rally to save the Southmore Post Office on Almeda while commemorating the 54th Anniversary of Houston’s first sit-in.

In March, 1960, Texas Southern University students marched to what was then the Weingarten’s supermarket on Almeda. Their objective was to be served at the lunch counter like their white counterparts.

TSU students sitting at the lunch counter at Weingarten's supermarket on March 4, 1960.

TSU students sitting at the lunch counter at Weingarten’s supermarket on March 4, 1960.

Today the post office is one of six still being considered for closure or repurposing by the U.S. Postal Service. Supporters refuse to stop fighting to keep it open, and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is urging residents to write letters of support to a postal executive by March 26.

Jackson Lee also asked residents to inform others who may be unaware of what is going on.

“Everyday people are using the post office and they don’t even know [it could close],” she said. Jackson Lee added that the facility remains busy and is needed by the community.

“This post office may seem like a small issue,” said Assata Richards, a Project Row House board member. “But it is an opportunity to galvanize our community and say that our community is not for sale, that the history of our community is valuable and that we are valuable.”

Serbino Sandifer-Walker, a journalism professor at TSU, reflected on the facility’s history. She played an instrumental role in getting a historical marker commemorating the sit-in placed at 4110 Almeda.

Texas Southern University professor Serbino Sandifer-Walker talks about the Southmore Post Office's history.

Texas Southern University professor Serbino Sandifer-Walker talks about the Southmore Post Office’s history.

“The students did something in this city that had never happened before,” she said. “They stood up and they said change would have to happen… They wanted justice and equality for African-American people who had been treated like second-class citizens for years.”

Letters of support for the post office can be addressed to Vice President of Facilities, c/o Sandra Rybicki, Southern Facilities Service Office, P.O. Box 667180, Dallas, Texas, 75266-7180.

The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 19 (March 13, 2014) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX. (http://defendernetwork.com/)

Bank robbery trap, Black men recruited for crimes

In recent years, violent bank robberies have become a cause of concern. According to the FBI, 112 bank robberies have taken place in Houston since Jan. 1, 2013, and an alarming 82 percent were committed by African-Americans.

During a two-month period, 27 African-American men were sent or sentenced to federal prison for their roles in the robberies.

“The FBI is concerned about the level of violence,” said Assistant Special Agent Carlos Barrón. “We’ve seen an uptake in it in the last four months. These are not just ‘note jobs’ anymore, they are getting violent. There are groups of individuals committing these robberies opposed to a lone person walking into a bank.”

Almost half of this year’s robberies were “takeover” bank robberies. They are typically committed by two or more individuals who are usually armed and wearing dark clothes to conceal their identities.

“They will literally take over the bank for a certain period of time during a robbery,” said FBI Special Agent Shauna Dunlap. “The chances of violence are much higher when a weapon is being displayed or pointed.”

Both Barrón and Dunlap said that bank robberies have become more organized in the recent years. Older individuals will often recruit younger males to participate in committing robberies through the promise of “fast money.”

“This organized recruitment is something different than we have ever seen before,” Barrón said. “I think there must be some sense of these individuals looking up to these people for some reason and believing them.”

Dunlap said new recruits are oftentimes “groomed” and “manipulated” into committing violent crimes. Barrón agreed and said it is a misconception that criminals are an unorganized group of men.

One group, for example, exclusively robbed banks located inside grocery stores. The robberies were extensively planned and included several layers of lookouts. The robbers would typically steal a car, and abandon the stolen car after the robbery.

“There are individuals deliberately identifying those in the community that they believe would be susceptible to being a part of a group,” Barrón said. “It doesn’t matter how violent the group has been.”

Recruitment efforts

According to Dunlap, when new recruits commit nonviolent crimes and get away with it they gain confidence. They then recruit more individuals to commit more crimes. “They get the taste for the crime and then go back and recruit more people,” she said.

One group of men recently sent to prison for committed armed bank robberies in Houston planned and executed between 20-30 bank robberies from 2007-2011.

Reginald Mosley, 37, shot an off-duty officer during the group’s last robbery and received the longest prison sentence of 525 months, or nearly 44 years. He was also convicted of conspiracy, three counts of bank robbery and discharging a firearm during commission of a violent crime.

Two men in their twenties were each convicted of one count of conspiracy and will serve the next five years of their lives in federal prison.

Dunlap said many recruits assume that because they are not directly involved in robbing a bank they will get a lesser punishment and can possibly avoid federal prison time.

However, this is not the case. Anyone involved in committing a federal crime, such as a bank robbery, will be charged in a federal court.

“If you have any role in the crime, you will do federal time,” Dunlap said. “You are charged the exact same way.

“Federal time is not like state prison where you can get time off for good behavior. You are going to do most of your federal sentence.”

Dunlap said robbers do not inform new recruits of the dire consequences associated with committing federal crimes. She says they offer a “low-risk, high-reward” scenario, offering the recruits large sums of money without mentioning the consequences.

“It does not pay to commit a bank robbery,” Barrón said. “The amount of money that you will get in the robbery is probably less than the amount of time that you will do in prison.”

“Eventually, you are going to get caught,” he continued. “The FBI will investigate these crimes. We will find these individuals and they are going to go to jail for life.”

“The risks are too high,” Dunlap said. “There is no turning back once you make that one wrong choice.”


The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 6 (December 5, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX.

The online version is available at http://issuu.com/defendermediagroup/docs/12.05.2013_e-full.

Thomas reflects on music, growth of KTSU

For more than 60 years, George Thomas has played the trumpet and loved jazz music. He has played with highly acclaimed artists such as Kirk Whalum, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and the Pips and Joe Sample.

In 1995, Thomas became general manager at KTSU radio station, which broadcasts from Texas Southern University. He helped influence Houston’s perspective on jazz and transformed the radio station into a nationally known and respected company.

In 2005, under Thomas’ leadership, KTSU opened an 18,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility. It now houses multiple production rooms, an announcer’s room, newsroom, multi-purpose center, internet studio and administrative suite.

Thomas has retired from KTSU and was recently honored during a celebration at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church. Here he reflects on music and radio.

George Thomas

George Thomas

Defender: How did your career in the radio industry begin?
Thomas: I started in radio as an account executive at KYOK. It was one of the first Black radio stations in Houston.

Defender: How has KTSU provided exposure for up and coming musical artists?
Thomas: KTSU did not have the same restrictions as commercial radio stations. Public radio stations have a freer range to play different music. In public radio we get to play the music people don’t hear all the time whereas in commercial radio you may hear the same music repeated. That’s the difference between public radio and commercial radio. One is driven by money and the other is driven by audience support.

Defender: What are your hopes for the future of KTSU and other Black-operated radio stations?
Thomas: The paradigm of radio is changing so rapidly. You don’t pay for the services you normally get on a radio station. You get in the car and cut on the radio. However, you also have things like satellite radio and internet radio and other places where you can get the same service. Radio, especially public radio, is going through a real change now because not only are you competing with commercial radio but also competing with getting the audience to contribute to the station. The future is complex because there are so many other media companies competing for the same audience.

Defender: What are your plans post-retirement?

Thomas: I plan to continue promoting and being involved in music. I plan to continue playing with my band, George Thomas & Friends, and promoting jazz music.

Defender: Which artists influenced your music?
Thomas: I’m a Miles Davis fan. He was a trumpet player I admired coming up during the 1950s and ‘60s.

Defender: What have been some of the highlights of your career?
Thomas: KTSU would be a main highlight. When I came to KTSU it was just a radio station. We managed to get the radio station affiliated with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio and Public Radio International. We were also able to get a grant from Corporation for Public Broadcasting and get the station certified. This meant that we could get programming from NPR and Public Radio International. We created programs that were specifically designed for audiences of color. That was a great achievement in getting the powers that be to fund the African-American public radio consortium and to present programs to audiences of color.


The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 1 (October 31, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX.

The online version is available at http://issuu.com/defendermediagroup/docs/10.31.2013_e-full.

Summit stresses smart choices for Black males

By Cierra Duncan

Black males of all ages recently convened to receive advice on making intelligent choices, acquiring needed life skills and planning for success.

The fourth annual Smart’n Up Black Male Summit organized by activist Deric Muhammad took place at Lone Star College North Harris. One of its goals is to help change the mindset of Black males.

“You’ve got to know where you are going,” Muhammad told participants. “If you don’t know where you are going, somebody is building a place to put you.”

Black Male Summit organizer Deric Muhammad and three young participants make a point. (Photo: Cierra Duncan)

Black Male Summit organizer Deric Muhammad and three young participants make a point. (Photo: Cierra Duncan)

The summit included workshops on various topics. In “Chess for Success,” Cliff Campbell taught that life skills and strategies could be taken from the game of chess. He is the owner of K.I.N.G. Chess League and a world-class chess player.

“Chess is strategy,” Campbell said. “Your life has to have strategy and planning too. If you’re going around doing what you want to do with no plan, someone is going to lead you where they want you to go.”

He said Black males should focus on having a “good name, good appearance, and good word” and reevaluate their definition of success.

“Success is being the best you can be,” Campbell said. “It is knowing your purpose in life, mastering it, and completing your goals.”

Iman Khalis Rashaad discussed “Run Toward Fear: How to use Faith, Work Ethic and Goal Setting to Get What You Need.” He is the spiritual leader for Ibrahim Islamic Center, a CPA, entrepreneur and mentor.

“If we go to work and are only seeking money, we are in for a life of severe difficulty,” Rashaad said. “If we choose our careers thinking about the service potential and not the profit potential, we begin to become fulfilled and see more value in our work.”

Rashaad said “old-school values” should be brought back. “When I look at the way our youth are going today, it is evident we value playing more than serious work,” he said.

Pastor E.A. Deckard of Greenhouse International Church led a workshop titled “Wake Up! Sounding the Alarm.”

He said young Black males should be aware of the obstacles they will inherently have to face.

“There is a major attack against you,” Deckard said. “There is somebody that would love nothing more than to destroy your future. This is your life; it’s not a game or a video.”
The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 5 (November 28, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX.

The online version is available at http://issuu.com/defendermediagroup/docs/11.28.2013_e-full.

Jackson Lee calls for end to violence

by Cierra Duncan

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee asked Houstonians to unite to help prevent the gun violence taking a toll on area young people.

“It is time that law enforcement and the community take immediate action to stop these senseless crimes on our youth with these guns,” she said during a press conference held in Third Ward.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is joined by youths in calling for an end to gun violence.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is joined by youths in calling for an end to gun violence.

Jackson Lee encouraged the community to come together in support of a strategy that addresses the causes and effects of youth violence. “We must begin discussing common-sense steps we can take right now to combat gun violence,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an average of 13 young people between the ages of 10 and 24 are victims of homicide every day. Jackson Lee said such statistics are “shocking” and “unacceptable.”

“What is further disturbing is the fact that homicide is the leading cause of death for African-Americans between ages 10 and 24, and the second leading cause of death for Hispanic-Americans,” she said.

Jackson Lee recently introduced HR 65, the Child Gun Safety and Gun Access Prevention Act, and has co-sponsored other gun safety legislation while in Congress.

If passed, HR 65 will prevent children’s access to firearms. It will also do the following:
• Increase youth gun safety by raising the age of handgun eligibility to 21 and prohibit youth from processing semiautomatic assault weapons.
• Increase punishment for youth possession of handguns and semiautomatic assault weapons and for the transfer of such weapons to youth.
• Require gun storage and safety devices for all firearms.
• Make adults responsible for death and injury caused by child access to firearms.
• Require that a child be accompanied by an adult during a gun show.
• Authorize the attorney general to provide grants that enable law enforcement agencies to develop and sponsor gun safety classes for parents and children.
• Allow each school district to provide or participate in student firearms safety.

Jackson Lee said communities must take on the challenge of changing the violent culture among young people, a task that won’t happen overnight.

“We collectively fail our children when we fail to teach them to resolve their problems in a nonviolent manner,” she said. “While we can act now and pass legislation to ameliorate some causes of the youth violence epidemic, this problem is larger than our laws. We must work tirelessly to create an environment in this country that lifts the psychological burden of violence off the shoulders of our kids.”
The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 4 (November 21, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX.

The online version is available at http://issuu.com/defendermediagroup/docs/11.21.2013_e-full.

Did candidate fool black voters?

by Cierra Duncan

Bruce Austin, a longtime member of the Houston Community College Board of Trustees, said he lost the recent election because of deception on the part of his opponent.

Small business owner Dave Wilson beat Austin by 26 votes on Nov. 5. Wilson received 50.1 percent of the vote for the HCC District 2 race. Austin, a 24-year incumbent, received 49.9 percent.

District 2 is a predominantly African-American Democratic area that covers parts of North and Northeast Houston. Austin believes Wilson was able to get so many votes because he deliberately deceived voters into thinking he was black.

Wilson, a white Republican, did not have his picture on his website or campaign materials. His direct mail pieces featured only African-Americans and one mailer advertised he had the support of Ron Wilson, the same name of a former African-American state representative. In the fine print it stated that “Ron Wilson is Dave Wilson’s cousin.”

Dave Wilson (Photo: GA Daily News)

Dave Wilson (Photo: GA Daily News)

“We learn in a democracy it depends on honesty and transparency so that voters can make an informed decision,” Austin said. “In the case of Wilson, fraud undermined the integrity of our political system.

“If you look at the problem, he plotted from the very beginning to deceive voters. He sent out pieces that had lies and misinformation in them. This is the relationship he has established with the constituents of District 2.”

Bruce Austin (Photo: Houston Community College)

Bruce Austin (Photo: Houston Community College)

Austin said Wilson’s campaign tactics could damage his reputation with HCC students. “You are telling students one of their board members has deceived them for political gain,” he said.

“Since I have been on the board my concern has been about creating economic mobility for the people that I serve,” Austin said. “The bottom line was to get them in line for a higher wage job. I don’t think that is the intent of Mr. Wilson.”

Wilson could not be reached by the Defender for comment. However, he told KHOU-TV that he was surprised by the victory.

“I’d always said it was a long shot,” he said. “No, I didn’t expect to win.”

When asked about his cousin’s endorsement, he said, “He’s a nice cousin. We played baseball in high school together. And he’s endorsed me.”

Wilson said on his website he is “uniquely qualified” to be on the HCC board because of his business background and his commitment to education. He also said he is committed to keeping “our” money for “our” children.

Austin encourages voters to pay attention to who is running during elections and their campaign platforms. He said he will request a recount after the narrow loss.

“I haven’t finished the election,” Austin said. “There are things that are yet to be done in terms of checking the process. I don’t know what the future holds but I hope the best. What I’m doing is what I can to make sure justice is served.”

The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 3 (November 14, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX.