Jena: When the Cameras Disappear

Civil Rights, Jena, racism

The situation for the Jena Six that was such a concern for people nationally last summer and fall has been largely forgotten, even though most of them still face serious charges. The huge march came and went, and then the media left, many (not all) of the bloggers seemed to lose interest, and the case moved to the back burner, which is unfortunate to say the least. Perhaps people thought that fair treatment for the Six was guaranteed after the huge march and accompanying national attention, but that is a naive hope at best. What’s more interesting, however, is that since February, a revival has been developing in Jena, involving both white and Black churches, including the L & A Baptist Church, where the first meeting was held to protest the noose-hanging back in 2006. The revival began at Midway Baptist Church, a church that was struggling and didn’t even have a pastor, but it is continuing today, and yet, there has been no major media coverage. I wrote last summer that ultimately there is no answer to racism except people turning to Jesus Christ, and it appears that people in La Salle Parish have been praying, and God is working there. There are serious problems that remain, but it is encouraging to read that at one revival service, whites and Blacks apologized to one another and asked each other for forgiveness. This is what happens when people turn their lives over to God. The question is, where are the cameras now? Why is this not national news? The town’s bitter racial conflict was front-page news all over the United States, but this unexpected, unlikely revival apparently warranted only a series of articles in a couple of religious journals. Does the media run from stories that lead to places they would rather not go?

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Putting the Children Last

Consolidation, Education, Integration, Memphis, Memphis City Schools, Schools, Shelby County

The problem with the Memphis City Schools is not that the school board is elected. The problem is not that this elected board chose a superintendent. The problem is not even that some members of that board felt that the primary qualification of the new superintendent should be Black skin. The problem is not simply money, although that is part of it. Even if Mayor Herenton got his way, and now had the right to appoint both the school board and its superintendent, and even if an anonymous donor gave or willed a billion dollars to the Memphis district, we would be faced with the fact that the Memphis City Schools, being nearly all-Black, cannot prepare its students for a world that is increasingly diverse. Add to that the problem of crumbling, outdated buildings and Memphis’ declining tax base, and you get a recipe for educational and social disaster. There is an answer far better than Herenton’s power grab, and it is simple. There should be only one school system in Shelby County, and it should be the Shelby County Schools. Memphis will never again have the tax base to adequately fund a large, urban school system, and even if it could, it is unfair to African-American children to shunt them off into all-Black, segregated schools, even under the pretense of separate school districts or “neighborhood schools.” Just because the neighborhoods are in awful shape should not consign the young people there to a hopeless future. It is time to put responsible people in charge of all public education in Shelby County and to start worrying about children and not politics or skin color. For those who constantly worry about race, it happens to be Black children who are bearing the brunt of the leaders’ irresponsibility. If we don’t do something soon, our whole region faces a very dark future.

6/15/08: Fathers’ Day at the Flat Iron Grill

Restaurants

My stepfather Larry’s truck was in Jackson, Tennessee at the truckstop, and I also thought it was likely that restaurants in Jackson wouldn’t be as crowded as Memphis, even on Father’s Day, so after church, we headed out I-40 into Jackson. Larry had wanted to try a diner called Gunther Toody’s, named for a character on an old TV series called Car 54, Where Are You. I had eaten there in the past and found it to be really good, but, unfortunately, when we arrived there, we found it out of business, and had to make other plans. I knew about a new place called the Flatiron Grille, so we headed there, and found it to be incredibly good. The restaurant was dark, with modern art and furnishings, and the menu was diverse, ranging from relatively inexpensive sandwiches and burgers to expensive steaks and seafood. Larry and I chose burgers, while my mother chose an open-faced prime rib sandwich, and then, for dessert, we all chose slices of chocolate-caramel pie. We were extremely impressed with the food and service, and the restaurant’s owner and chef both came over to our table to talk with us. Afterwards, Larry had to drive some that day, so we left him at his truck and headed back to Memphis.

6/13/08: Young Jeezy at the Atrium

Coffee, Coffee Bars, entertainment, events, Hip Hop, Memphis, music, rap

Lil Larry of Hot 107 was sponsoring a Young Jeezy concert at a new club called the Atrium in Hickory Hill, a building that was formerly the Martini Room. I had thought about going, but decided not to, and headed down to the Grove Coffee Shop in Southaven for a breve latte instead. On the way home, I began seeing dark, low clouds and bolts of lightning to the northwest, and once I was home, the storms began in full force. My mother had gone to pick up her husband in Jackson, Tennessee, and they were driving back to Bartlett in the severe weather, so I called them, but they said they were all right. Even so, I was relieved when they got to the house.

6/11/08: Alcy Park, Summer Evening, Crepuscule

Basketball, Memphis, Sports

A sunny, warm evening in Alcy Park, with kids everywhere, some on basketball courts, others running around on the grass, and the members of a pee-wee football team going through drills and workouts on the grass east of the courts. Young people were walking to and from the park and apartments across the road, checking each other and laughing, with the beat of rap coming from cars passing by. Tune and I were on one of the courts playing a game of one-on-one with an underinflated basketball that kept sticking in the net. One neighborhood youngster came over and asked if he could take a shot with my basketball, and he proved to be a pure shooter. I asked him who he played for, and he replied “Nobody.” The kid wanted to play me or Tune for money, but we had almost finished our game, and soon we headed out, to the other side of Airways for cold slushes at Dixie Queen.

6/05/08: Atlanta to Memphis by Way of Chattanooga

Atlanta, Chattanooga, Huntsville

I checked out early from the Hyatt Regency, and had decided not to eat breakfast there because of the high prices. Instead, I used my iPhone to locate a new place called Rise N Dine in Emory Village near Emory University, so I drove there and enjoyed an outstanding breakfast. The coffee they were serving was Ethiopian Yergacheffe, so I purchased a pound of that, and then sat outside on a park bench calling stores around Atlanta looking for a used copy of Season Three of The Wire. Nobody had anything until I called the FYE in Union City, and they had a used copy for $45, but I suddenly remembered a store called Grumpy’s in Chattanooga that was full of DVD’s, so I called up there, and they had season three for $35, so I decided to drive home to Memphis by way of Chattanooga. The weather was really hot as I headed north on I-75, and when I got to Chattanooga, I stopped at McKay’s Used Books and CDs. I didn’t find any books to purchase there, but I did find some choral music scores for our church, and then I drove further north across the Tennessee River into Hixson, where Grumpy’s was located, noticing that a new waterfront restaurant had opened on Lake Resort Drive north of the river. At Grumpy’s I purchased The Wire DVD, and then I headed around the riverfront drive toward downtown, but I soon found it closed off for something called the Riverbend Festival, so I had to follow a detour in order to get to I-24. The drive from Chattanooga to Huntsville seemed to take forever, and at Huntsville, I decided to stop at Cheeburger Cheeburger in Providence, where I ate a bacon cheeseburger for dinner. Next door at Sweet Dreams Cafe, I ordered a latte to go, and then headed west on Highway 72 toward Corinth. At Corinth, I wanted more coffee, but the only coffee bar there, KC’s Espresso, wasn’t answering the phone, so I settled for something out of a convenience store, and headed on into Memphis.

6/04/08: Fort Myers to Atlanta

Atlanta, Breakfast, Desserts, entertainment, Hip Hop, music, Restaurants, Travel

It was another beautiful sunny morning when I awoke, and checking out of the Carousel Inn was not particularly a happy occasion. I would have liked to have stayed for another day or two, but I had a room booked in Atlanta for the night, so I checked out, and again headed south to Lover’s Key and Bonita Beach for one last time. In Bonita Springs, there was a Mel’s Diner, and I stopped there for a breakfast, and then headed on to I-75. Still hoping to find something by A-Lee, the new Fort Myers rapper, I used my iPhone to call TJ’s CD’s in Port Charlotte, but while the owner said he had a lot of mixtapes, he didn’t have anything by A-Lee, nor had he heard of him. The drive to Gainesville took longer than I had expected, and it was nearly 3 PM by the time I arrived. C. Wakeley met me at Calico Jack’s, and we ate lunch there before I headed further north, stopping for a breve latte in Lake City. Crossing over into Georgia in the early evening, I could see the smoke from several fires far off into the distance, but I wasn’t sure whether they were wildfires, or if they had been set to burn farm fields. Beyond Macon I called my friend Fort Knox, Willie Joe’s manager, and he agreed to meet me at Harvey’s, An American Grill in the Perimeter Mall area, since the Piebar had closed back in December. It was about 10 PM when I finally got to the Harvey’s, and Fort Knox and one of his partners arrived soon afterwards. The restaurant served food until 2 AM, so I had no problem in getting dinner, and then Knox had a meeting, and I headed across the street to Cafe Intermezzo for a dessert and coffee. My room was at the Hyatt Regency downtown, so I headed back down 75/85, exiting at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and heading to the hotel on Peachtree. I discovered that parking was valet only, and $25 per night, but I didn’t have much choice, so I turned my car over to the valet and checked in. My room was very small, but sleek and modernistic, with a city view. Before I got to bed, though, the phone rang, and it was the valet saying that he couldn’t start my car, so I had to explain to him that the ignition key was the one with the logo on it, and then I went to bed.

6/03/08: Down to Everglades City/Dinner in Naples/Sanibel Jazz

Breakfast, entertainment, jazz, Restaurants, Shopping, Travel

The early morning was quite sunny despite the predictions of rain, and already quite hot. I had used my iPhone to discover a place called the Island Pancake House back down the beach toward Times Square in Fort Myers Beach, so I stopped there and ate breakfast. Then I parked down at the beach park and pier at Times Square, and walked around the area snapping photos. Few of the restaurants and shops in that area were open yet, but there were a number of people already on the beach. I drove back to the hotel, changed into swim gear and got into the water for awhile. Unlike Destin, the Gulf here was pleasantly warm, like a warm bath, and took no getting used to. There was also no seaweed, there were no visible jellyfish, and if there were any stingrays, I didn’t see them. After an hour or so in the Gulf, I moved up to the motel’s pool, and spent another 15 minutes or so there, then went to the room and dressed for the rest of the day. I debated whether to do some shopping, then return to the beach for an afternoon session, or to go further south and explore Everglades City and Naples. Fearing that with the high cost of gasoline I might never get back down that way, I opted to go south to Everglades City. But first, I wanted to do some shopping in the Fort Myers area, so I headed first across the bridge into Cape Coral, where there was a store called One For The Books. I didn’t find any music or movies there, but I unexpectedly found a book about the American occupation of Haiti called Black Haiti by Blair Niles. I also stopped by Rainbow Records, which didn’t have much, and then came to Highway 41 at North Fort Myers. In Fort Myers, I stopped by both FYEs, and didn’t find anything at all. Because there was no local or ‘hood record store, I couldn’t find any local Fort Myers rap albums. I ended up having to drive back out to my motel room to get my iPhone, which I had left in the room, and then I headed back across Lover’s Key to Bonita Beach, noticing in daylight the beautiful, tall blooming red trees, and wondering what they were. I knew there was a Fatburger in Naples, so I headed south on Highway 41 rather than going to I-75, but as I passed through Naples, I didn’t see the restaurant. Instead, I headed on through Naples to Carnesville, and then drove south on Highway 27 into Everglades City, noticing a line of threatening black clouds to the east that must have been over Miami. There was a store next to the post office at the north end of Everglades City, so I stopped there for an icy slush, but the town itself seemed to be practically empty of people. I knew that the town had been completely planned and laid out by a Memphian, Baron Collier, for whom Collier County had been named. It was planned with broad boulevards lined with palm trees and traffic circles, including a big one at the very center of the town. The town was also an island, surrounded by rivers and passes on all sides, and had in early days been the county seat of Collier County. But at some point, the town had lost the battle with Naples, and now the vacant streets testified to a town’s death. There were, to be sure, a number of airboat tour companies for the Everglades, several bed-and-breakfasts, the legendary Rod and Gun Club where I seemed to remember Ernest Hemingway staying as well as a former president or two, and a handful of restaurants. But almost everything was closed for the season, as I soon found that Everglades City was a winter resort. The island further south, called Chokoloskee, was no different, and even though the RV park was full of tourists, everything was closed, even the coffee bar and art gallery. Driving to the southernmost point of the island, I found a historic landmark called Smallwood’s Store, which had at one time been the only business on the island. It was now a museum, but it too was closed. It was past 5 PM, and the weather seemed to be deteriorating, so I headed back north on my way back to Naples. To the north, toward Immokalee, the black clouds were roiling, with visible lightning off in the distance. When I arrived in Naples, however, the sun was still shining, and I parked near an entertainment district called Tin City, which had been built in old warehouses along the western bank of a river there. I checked out the shops and restaurants there, but decided to walk across the bridge to a restaurant on the river’s east bank called Miss Kelly’s Seafood Dining Room. I got a table overlooking the harbor, and the fresh Gulf grouper there was delicious, if a little expensive. From there, I drove into downtown Naples onto 5th Avenue, and parked in one of the city garages to better explore the city’s legendary shopping street on foot. The buildings, palm trees and flowers were beautiful, and I took a number of pictures, but the storm seemed to be approaching from the east. When I came to Abbott’s Frozen Custard, I stopped in there to get a chocolate concrete, but, as I was in there, the rainstorm broke out in a fury. People scrambled out of the patios of nearby restaurants and ran down the sidewalks to get to shelter. An elderly Naples couple agreed to give me a ride back to the parking garage, and the woman mentioned to me that the beautiful red trees were poinsettia trees. It later occurred to me that she might have meant poincianas. Driving back to the north on Highway 41, the weather was really bad, with heavy wind, rain, lightning and thunder. Driving through the Harlem Heights area again, I headed across the causeway and bridge to Sanibel Island, and down to Ellington’s Jazz Club. This time I ordered chocolate lava cake, and some coffee, and I got to sit in with the musicians on piano. Then it was late, and though I could have tried to find something to get into, I went instead back to the room and to bed.

06/02/08: From Tampa to Fort Myers on the Tamiami Trail/Boca Grande Interlude

Breakfast, Hotels, jazz, Restaurants

I checked out of the Hampton Inn in Tampa early in the morning, and decided to drive down to a breakfast restaurant called the Broken Egg in the new town of Lakewood Ranch, just outside of Sarasota. It was a large restaurant with a large outdoor patio where a surprising number of people were eating, considering the hot weather. Evidently, the place was also connected with Dick Vitale in some way, since they were selling his autographed books and golf shirts. After running by the FYE in Bradenton, I drove back down into Sarasota, where I was captivated by the beautiful aquamarine color of the bay. I stopped at the civic center park to take pictures, and then drove over the causeway to St. Armands Key, where I parked and walked around the circle. The community had been planned by John Ringling (yes, the circus guy), but hadn’t been fully realized until recently. The community was centered around a circular park, with statues of the Greek gods and other figures representing the beauties and advantages of Sarasota. Around the circle were a number of businesses, mostly cafes and restaurants with streetside tables, and a number of ice-cream shops. One in particular bragged that their ice-cream was homemade, so I stepped in there and enjoyed a chocolate-peanut butter ice-cream in a cup to cool off before the walk back to my car. I drove down to the beachfront, and saw that there was a Holiday Inn there (that would be a fun place to stay in some future year), and then I drove back across the causeway to Highway 41. Further down was the Sarasota marina, and I stopped there to take another set of pictures. There was a dockside restaurant there, but I decided against eating there, and headed further out to another FYE in South Sarasota. Beyond that was Venice, another planned city that had been conceived in the 1920’s as a retirement community for the Brotherhood of Railway Engineers. The Great Depression had delayed the plans, but the main street through downtown was characterized by palm trees and beautiful Italainate architecture. At Venice, I left Highway 41 and proceeded down the state highway through Englewood and finally across a toll bridge onto Gasparilla Island. The water at the causeway there was a beautiful green-blue, but as stopping was prohibited anywhere along the causeway, I could not take any pictures of it. The island was fairly long, but at the center of it, I came to the town of Boca Grande, a small, old town with no stoplights at all. It was laid out around an old tile-roof railroad depot that now housed a restaurant called the Loose Caboose. Nearby were shops and restaurants, such as PJ’s Seagrille, Hudson’s, the Temptation, the Boca Grande Outfitters and Boca Grande Baking Company. Summer is the off-season in Boca Grande, and some of the businesses were closed, although there were some people on the streets. Walking down to the beach, I found that it was both beautiful and practically deserted, and I took several photos there. There was some sort of private beach club near where I was, maybe affiliated with the venerable old Gasparilla Inn hotel. After I took a picture of two old white frame churches surrounded by palm trees, I drove further down the island road past a tall white lighthouse and down to the island’s southern tip, where there was another, more-historic lighthouse that is a state park nowadays. The museum in it was closed, but there were some other tourists walking around, and I managed to take some photos of the pass, and the white seagulls flying around, and the island to the south (North Captiva perhaps?) Yachts had anchored off to the southwest of the island, and I shot more photos there, and then headed back up into the town, noticing a subdivision where the streets were Damfino, Damficare and Damfiwill. I took pictures to prove the streetnames (who would believe it otherwise), and then, not finding any ice-cream place open, I headed back north up the road to the small shopping village on the Charlotte County side of the island, and got a fountain drink there. The Island House Inn nearby looked like it would be a good palce to stay if I ever craved for a longer visit, but I continued north across the bridge to El Cajon and Rotonda, headed for Port Charlotte. Port Charlotte had been planned by the General Development Company beginning in 1959. It was planned to be a city on a truly massive scale, and somewhere I read that there were more miles of paved streets and roads in Port Charlotte than in any other town in America. Unfortunately, most of those streets and roads were completely uninhabited even today, and eventually the General Development Company, who had sold lots through newspaper advertising to people who had never seen the town, was found guilty of real estate fraud and collapsed. While North Port Charlotte found a modicum of permanence and success as the city of North Port, Port Charlotte never fared quite as well as the large-but-unincorporated metropolis of Charlotte County. With large square miles of vacant paved streets tracking through wilderness, cocaine cowboys found it an attractive place to land their planes and offload shipments in the 1980’s. More recently, it had gained a reputation for gangs and violent crime, and this was before Hurricane Charlie scored a direct hit on the hapless community. As I headed northward, I passed street after street that was vacant, with the occasional house here or there. I was told that many who had purchased their lots were unaware that water and sewer lines had not been run out to the sections of Port Charlotte were they had purchased. Also, large quanities of the lots were purchased by investors who never intended to build on them. At the Port Charlotte Town Center, I stopped by the FYE, but didn’t find any of the DVDs I was looking for, so, resisting the temptation to eat dinner in Port Charlotte, I headed south on Highway 41 toward Fort Myers. Below the Town Center, Port Charlotte had the look of a typical ‘hood, with the road lined with old, run-down shopping centers. The look had not been helped by Port Charlotte’s unincorporated status, which meant that the residents had no ability to control zoning or enforce codes. Across Charlotte Harbor, Punta Gorda was the county seat, and had grown considerably since the last time I saw it, but the town had suffered damage from Hurricane Charlie as well. At North Fort Myers, I began to notice rain and dark clouds gathering, and as I passed across the Caloosahatchie River bridge, I noticed an island off of downtown Fort Myers that had a pier or dock at both ends and for sale signs all around it. It appeared to be overgrown and wooded, so I wasn’t sure why the piers were there or what it had been intended for, but I couldn’t help thinking what a great restaurant/nightclub that would make. Imagine having to park on the mainland and ride the boat out to the restaurant/nightclub and back. Of course, boats would have to run every 15 minutes, but that would be half the charm of such a place. The drive from Cleveland Avenue to Fort Myers Beach took forever, and there were no roads other than city streets, loaded with stoplights, but when I crossed the bridge onto Estero Island and into Fort Myers Beach, I had the most beautiful vista of aqua waters and sunshine. It was not raining here, and as I headed down the island, I soon came to the Carousel Beach Inn, where I had my room reserved. The motel was quite old, built in the late 1950’s, but it was directly on the beach, had a swimming pool and was impeccably clean. As soon as I had gotten everything unpacked into my efficiency, I stopped to consider dinner. There was a good restaurant across the street with a lot of cars, but it looked expensive, so I decided to eat at a steakhouse called Sam Seltzer’s in Fort Myers. Not wanting to face the traffic nightmares of Summerlin Road, I decided to head south from the motel and catch Highway 41 in Bonita Springs instead. At first, I thought this had been a good choice, as the road crossed from Estero Island to an even lovlier one called Lover’s Key. The sun was setting, and there were only a few boats out on the water and a few people on the beaches, and it was truly a pretty scene. But I had not realized that Bonita Springs was almost 30 miles south of Fort Myers, so the drive north on Highway 41 took awhile, and the rain was back, truly heavy at times, with thunder and lightening, and seeming to come in from the east, which struck me as unusual. Sam Seltzer’s Steakhouse turned out to be in a hotel, and had an outdoor tiki bar, but I chose to sit inside. The atmosphere was formal, like really expensive steakhouses, but the prices were like Texas Roadhouse or Outback. Furthermore, the food was incredibly good, and they were playing good jazz music on the speakers. After dinner, there was a jazz club called Ellington’s on Sanibel Island, so I drove down Galdiolus Drive through the small ‘hood of Harlem Heights and across another bridge ($6.00 toll) onto Sanibel, which was pitch-black dark. I could hardly see a thing, and it was raining heavily. I later learned that lights have to be kept away from the beaches on Sanibel during the summer because of bird nesting. The club was above a restaurant at the Sanibel Island Inn, and a jazz trio was playing there. I ordered a slice of key lime pie and coffee and enjoyed the group’s last set before heading back into Fort Myers. I drove down Fowler Avenue because there was an establishment on it called the Reggae Cafe, but it was not open, so I headed east on Martin Luther King Boulevard into the Dunbar neighborhood, but once again, nothing was going on. I had expected that I might see a record store somehwere along that route, but I didn’t. Hot 105.5 had played a local artist called A-Lee that the DJ had said was the next big thing to come out of Fort Myers, and I had hoped that they would be broadcasting from a rap club, but instead, they were broadcasting from a strip club in Port Charlotte. So I gave up trying to find anything to do, and headed back to Fort Myers Beach. Even the clubs there seemed dead, so I returned to the room and to bed.