Elders provide wisdom, experience

By Cierra Duncan
Defender

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
Defender

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.

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

Jackson Lee calls for end to violence

by Cierra Duncan
Defender

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.”
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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.