This Good Woman Archives

Check out these This Good Woman features from days gone by:

Shashicka Tyre-Hill     Veronica Smith                Lemmonstine Poindexter      Ruby O’Gray
Beverly Robertson      Shay Williams                  Brea Stinson                          Corinne Derenburger
Trenyce Cobbins        Cheryl Perkins                  Johnnie Walker                      Tomeka Hart

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Shashicka Tyre-Hill Knows About Miracles and Blessings

Shashicka Tyre HillThe saddest thing is not living a life without gifts – but living a life with gifts that you never opened.
–Shashicka Tyre-Hill 

Shashicka Tyre-Hill could easily claim that Drake’s lyrics “We started from the bottom now we’re here” are about her. A single mother by the age of 16 and a high school drop out it looked like the odds were stacked against her. But after caring for her grandmother who was dying from cancer, she found her calling and used her passion for helping others to begin a thriving business. At age 21 Shashicka became the youngest person in the state of Georgia to receive a home health care license and from that point on it was full speed ahead. After 12 years in business, she’s a successful business woman who serves as the CEO of Miracle Home Care, a multimillion dollar company with seven locations. Shashicka shares her story of being a single mother and later a young wife and an entrpreneur in her memoir, Miracles and Blessings.

I read her book and it is a most inspiring tale. It made me want to label every excuse I every had for not accomplishing a goal as crap, throw it out the window, slap myself for being lazy and get to working harder on accomplishing my dreams.

Shashicka was kind enough to sit down with IGW and tell us what inspired her to chronicle her journey and the motivation that keeps her rising to the top.

IGW: What made you decide to share your story with others?

Shashicka: I want people to know that you can succeed against the odds.

IGW: How has the book been received thus far? 

Shashicka: The feedback is amazing. Everyone who read the book loved it. Folks that know me had no idea of the journey I traveled to get to where I am today. It has made some dig a litte deeper and push beyond their comfort zones.

IGW: How would you describe yourself? 

Shashicka: I’m a caring person who is willing to do what I can to help others succeed.

What advice do you have for other women who are trying to pursue their dreams but have grown discouraged? 

Shashicka: Never give up on anything you want. Once I set my mind to getting my home health care license I was focused and driven. Even though I was rejected twice, I pushed even harder because I wanted it. I prayed and dug deep because nothing comes easy. If you are pursuing a dream, be willing to put in the hard work.

IGW: In the book, you mention an elderly client, Mrs. Duggins, who showed you how to budget. The book doesn’t mention her again after you leave her employment. To satisfy my own curiosity, did the two of you continue to communicate? Did she give you any business advice? 

Shashicka: Yes I did keep in touch. Before she passed in 2009 she taught me the most important part of business and that was how to budget the money that the business was making.

IGW:  You are very candid about your marital problems in the book. Divorce is extremely prevalent these days. What made you stay even though you knew your husband was cheating? 

Shashicka: At the time my main concern was trying to get my business started and taking care of my kids. I tuned out his infidelity, which I couldn’t control and focused on what I could control, being a great mother and building a business. There were times in my relationship that I felt as his wife I didn’t allow him to be a man. When we got married we were very young and did not understand our duties as husband and wife. When a person feels like they aren’t needed they look to get that feeling from somewhere else. I really don’t believe in divorcing. We all make mistakes, but if you both are committed to working things out, you will.

IGW:  You have accomplished quite a bit at a young age. Do you have any programs that help mentor current or future entrepreneurs or individuals who want to get into the home health care field? 

Shashicka: No I don’t have a program. I do business coaching I will teach both men and women what I’ve learned over my 12 years of being in business. The saddest thing is not living a life without gifts – but living a life with gifts that you never opened. I have helped 8-10 people who wanted to start a business do so. They are doing well.

IFW:  Besides promoting your book, what else are you working on? 

Shashicka: Franchising Miracle Home Care, starting my second location for my Adult Day Care in Savannah, GA as well as doing motivational speaking and business coaching.

IGW:  How can people get your book and connect with you? 

Shashicka: Online via my website www.shashickahill.com, Amazon, Books a Million, and Barnes and Nobles.

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Veronica Smith: Virgin Isn’t A Dirty Word 

Veronica Smith“I believe in my heart that anything you do that is in God’s will He will honor it in an amazing way. Honoring God for me is the utmost I can do because He’s done so much for me……Virginity and abstinence is in His will so that’s what I have to do.”

For some meeting a 28 year-old virgin would be like meeting a leopard with no spots. It is a rare occurrence, an awe-inspiring moment and you wonder how that came to be in a society where sex seems to be promoted at every turn. But believe it or not there are those who have made a vow to remain pure until their wedding night. Ms. Veronica Smith is one of them and not only is she proud to be a virgin but she is encouraging other young people to do the same. For her virgin isn’t a dirty word and abstinence is a way of life. After a trip to Africa, she began the V Movement. Her personal ministry where she uses her testimony to proclaim her love of Christ and her respect for the body He has called her to protect.

IGW: What made you decide to wait until you are married to have sex?

Veronica: When I was young I was a little afraid to engage in sexual activity. I saw a lot of my friends getting pregnant and contracting diseases so it made me a little afraid. That fear led to education. I was told that you are supposed to wait until you have sex. I started reading more scripture and learning why God wants us to wait. I made up in my mind that if I’m supposed to be living for Christ and that’s what God wants me to do then I’ll do it. I know it’s not going to be easy but I’m going to do it.

I got the opportunity to go to Africa in 2008 with my job at the time. While I was there I got to share my testimony with young men and young women.  AIDS and HIV is extremely high there. God was in the atmosphere because those young people said they also wanted to wait. My boss said while I was there the V-Movement was created. I didn’t think much of it but when I got back home God started giving me all these ideas. He wanted me to use the V Movement to reach out to the young men and young ladies. I moved to Atlanta in 2010 and started speaking at events. I’ve had the opportunity to share my testimony with people in my hometown of Memphis and Atlanta. Many of the young people I speak to have never been told that virginity and abstinence is an option. They’ve always been told just to wrap it up. God is using my voice, my race, my age and everything else He has instilled in me to reach out to our youth.  If they don’t know God then that’s my opportunity to introduce them to Him.

Represent!!! Hold Up Your V’s

IGW: How do people react with you give your testimony? 

Veronica: I get a lot of positive responses. I usually get a lot of questions. Actually more boys ask questions than girls. They want to know how do you live like a virgin. They want to know if I have a boyfriend and how you handle being a virgin in relationships.

IGW: How do you deal with it? We live in a very sex driven society?

Veronica: A lot of prayer and I try not to focus on it. When I see a movie with sex in it or hear a song I try to drown it out. You have to choose. If I focus on things like that they will tempt you. I do different things to try to get my mind off of it..different activities like exercise. It’s there and it’s natural. You have hormones so you are going to have urges.

IGW: Do you have a boyfriend and how has your virginity impacted your dating life? 

Veronica: I don’t have a boyfriend but I have met someone and we are interested in each other. We’re currently just taking the time to get to know each other. It’s definitely affected dating in a huge way. When I was younger and I told men I was a virgin they would either stick around for a while to see if I was lying. They would try to test me and see how far I would go or they would say they can’t handle it and throw me the peace sign. They either dealt with it or they didn’t and most of the time they didn’t. It’s a lot of guys who don’t understand. So, I don’t do a whole lot of dating. It can get frustrating.

IGW: Why is waiting worth so much to you?

Veronica: I believe in my heart that anything you do that is in God’s will He will honor it in an amazing way. Honoring God for me is the utmost I can do because He’s done so much for me. I believe with faith that when I do marry my husband that night will be beyond special. It won’t be just sex and that God will honor our union because we waited. Virginity and abstinence is in His will so that’s what I have to do. If I’m downed by this world because of it, it doesn’t matter. I definitely know He’ll bless me for it.

You can find more information about Veronica and the V Movement on Facebook

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Lemmonstine Poindexter: Sing O’Barren Woman

Lemmonstein PoindexterI want to bring more awareness to this in the African American community. It’s not something that’s talked about and when it is it’s not talked about in the right way. You’ll hear people say you’re not holding your legs right or something like that. That has nothing to do with it.–Lemmonstine Poindexter

IGW: When did you receive a diagnosis that you were barren?

LP: For years no one could tell me why I couldn’t conceive. Doctors told me there was nothing wrong with me. I’ve been married twice. I first got married at the age of 21 and after I was married for about four years and we hadn’t conceived I started going to see doctors. Well, in my 20’s they never found anything that was wrong with me. That went on into my 30’s. I got remarried when I was 32 and I still didn’t get pregnant and no one could tell me why. Finally, when I was 41 they did a test and discovered that my fallopian tubes were not only blocked but totally damaged.

IGW: What emotions did you feel?

LP: I felt a lot of loneliness. Although I was married I felt like there was something missing. You feel so many different emotions. Every time my cycle would come on I would be like why? Why couldn’t I have been pregnant this month? Even the Bible talks about it. It talks about the three things that are never fulfilled and the barren woman is one of those things. When you want children and can’t conceive normally happy occasions, like going to baby showers, become very difficult.

Life Still Has Meaning…….

IGW: What made you write Sing O’ Barren Woman?

LP: For over 20 years I wanted to have a child and I couldn’t get pregnant. Back in 2008, I found out why I couldn’t get pregnant AND I was about to go through a really terrible divorce. The reason for the divorce was my husband had been having an affair with another woman and by the time I found out they were getting ready to have a baby. This was my second divorce. I had previously been married for over 12 years and I wanted a child and gotten divorced without having one. I couldn’t believe it was happing again. It was a lot to deal with and while going through the divorce I felt like God was trying to tell me something. I asked him what he wanted me to do. I really sought God for an answer. One thing he showed me he wanted me to do was use my infertility and my barrenness to be a source of hope and healing for other women.

The book not only contains my story, but there are seven other women whose stories of barrenness are in there.

IGW: Do you think that the fact you could not conceive caused problems in your marriages?

LP: Those are the types of questions I’ve had to ask myself within the last 12 months. I didn’t think that it did and both husbands said that it didn’t but now it makes me wonder. And one of the biggest reasons is with this last marriage because after he had his affair my husband had to make a choice between that woman and his wife. He chose to be with her and the baby. He already had two children and he always said that it didn’t matter if we didn’t have more but when we got married we thought we would have more. So, now that I look back I’m sure it did have to affect my marriages in some way.

IGW: That had to be really tough for you. I admire your strength. What do you hope women will take away with them after reading your book? 

LP: The Bible talks about the fact that the barren woman will have more children than the woman who bore a child. I now understand what that means. I have a lot of god children and children who I have mentored. What I want women to realize after reading my book is that their life is not centered around whether or not they can physically bare a child. If you really want a child there are all sorts of ways to have a child. Every woman is not meant to have a child. Maybe God has something else for you to do with your life. Maybe he wants you to take that extra time that you have and do something else with it to be a positive influence on somebody else’s life.

GW: I understand that your support group came about as a result of the book.

The book was released in 2010. After I wrote it, God started dealing with me about starting my own group. In September of last year we had our first official meeting in Clarkesville, TN and since that time I’ve tried to kick off in other areas like Nashville and Memphis.

I want to bring more awareness to this in the African American community. It’s not something that’s talked about and when it is it’s not talked about in the right way. You’ll hear people say you’re not holding your legs right or something like that. That has nothing to do with it.

IGW: How can other women be involved?

LP: Just come to one of the meetings. I do advertisement in places I think that women will take notice, like magazines. We’re getting ready to have another meeting in Clarkesville and then in Nashville. I normally do like a luncheon and then we’ll talk. It’s not a membership. There are no dues it’s free. It’s a group that comes together and discusses issues. It’s not your typical support group. It’s not a place where people just come and talk. I want women with infertility issues to learn to do something while they’re waiting. Whether it be mentoring or gaining information about adoption. Do something besides feel sorry for yourself.

The support group is very helpful in helping women deal with what they’re going through. I brought up baby showers early. We help them realize that it’s okay if you don’t want to go to baby showers. If you just want to get a get a gift and send it you don’t have to feel like you’re a bad person. Sometimes it hurts. You really want a baby and here’s this woman with four or five children. A lot of women who are barren are smiling on the outside but they’re not smiling on the inside at all.

IGW: What is your advice to someone who is newly diagnosed?

LP: My advice is to embrace it. There are so many different levels to finding out. A lot of times doctors can tell you that you can’t conceive but they can’t tell you why. Usually the only definite answer is when you have had a hysterectomy. When they finally say ‘this is why’ I encourage woman to embrace their barrenness. Go on with the rest of your life. Don’t let your life revolve around having a child. Discover the other things you want to do with your life and be happy to do those things. Mentor. There are so many children that need a positive influence in their life. Become a foster parent or adopt. There are many children who need a stable home. I encourage women to do that early. So many people make adoption their last option. It doesn’t have to be.

The advice I give younger women who want to seek infertility treatments, is to do it at an early age. With medical help you may be able to conceive.

If you would like to learn more about the National Barren Women’s Support Group visit, http://www.singobarrenwoman.com or call 931.301.0284 or email her at lemmonstine@yahoo.comClick here to joine their Facebook Fan Page.

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Ruby O’Gray: Producing Plays Is Her Passion

Ruby O“I enjoy writing and watching audiences enjoy and understand my material.  That’s the voyeur in me.  I can sit back and see that I’ve written something that makes them feel.  I learned very quickly that the stage is a feeling medium.”

Ruby O’Gray has been entertaining audiences since she started taking dancing lessons at the age of five.  The actress, producer and playwright has written over 60 plays and in 2006 she and fellow thespians accomplished thespians, Naomi Moody and Andrea Thompson Adam founded Bluff City Tri-Art Theatre Company to provide an avenue for their plays and others to bless audiences in Memphis. The company prides itself on presenting the public with original, entertaining, thought-provoking material and O’Gray is extremely proud that it is headed by three seasoned women.  They’ve done a lot of living, had quite a few experiences and now want to share their wisdom, creativity and wit with others through an avenue they know and love.  “We’re all senior citizens and as far as I know we are the only senior citizens that have started a theatre company and we’re all women.  Here we are late in life doing something none of us thought we would be doing.  It goes to show that you can still do some things when you get a little older,” laughs O’Gray.  Thus far, Bluff City Tri-Art Theatre Company has done thirteen theatrical productions.

When talking to the 60-year-old, it’s not hard to believe that she is a teller of tales.  Her voice is soft and soothing and the manner in which her words escape her lips reminds you of story time many of us experienced as children. You almost feel as if you should slip into your favorite pajamas and settle down for an amazing bedtime story.  But O’Gray’s personal story is reminiscent of a prime-time network drama.  She’s had her fair share of achievements and disappointments but her method of conquering them seems to be to keep going with her head held high, pen in hand and surrounded by love.

O’Gray is a native Memphian with quite a fondness for her city.  She realized at an early age she enjoyed performing in front of others.  Her mother had aspirations of her talented daughter becoming the next Dorothy Dandridge. However, at the age of 16, her mother became terribly ill with cancer and this Hollywood hopeful dropped out of Booker T. Washington High School to care for her.  Soon after, her mother passed away and rather than return to school a year behind her peers, O’Gray opted to get her GED.  Later, she headed to New York and performed in a few productions but returned home and began a family.  It was here her wings took flight.  “Memphis is my Hollywood.  There are so many talented people here.  So many stories that need to be told and some I need to make up,” shares O’Gray.

A phenomenal actress with the ability to take on just about any character, O’Gray has received two Ostrander Awards for her amazing performances in “The Trial of One Shortsighted Black Woman vs. Mamie Louise and Saffretta Mae” and “Shakin’ the Mess Outta Misery.”  She has appeared in and directed plays at local venues such as The Orpheum Theatre, Playhouse on the Square, Circuit Playhouse, Blues City Cultural Center, The Cultural Arts Enrichment Center, Germantown Community Theatre, The Institute for African Youth, The New and Old Daisy Theatre and the defunct Beale Street Repertory Company and Memphis Black Repertory Theatre.

In 1981, she and comedienne/actress Dottie Royston, formed Royston and O’Gray, a duo comedy team.  For 15 years, they toured Memphis and the Mid-South performing their original material for private and public audiences at colleges, churches, clubs, fraternal organizations, hotel openings,summer programs, and more.  This led to their being the first comedy team to promote Memphis in May for WHBQ –TV in the mid ‘80s, and drive time on-air personalities on heritage radio station WLOK.  O’Gray also enjoys working with youth and during the summer she would direct students in her original plays for the Memphis Park Commission.  In 1990, she formed her own production company, O’Gray Productions, and produced plays with southern themes of life—past and present.  “When I first began doing my own plays, theatre companies in Memphis rarely produced independent plays.  I felt the work that I had created was good.  So, when I wanted to do a play I simply rented a place, held auditions, asked actors I knew to come do them and people came to see them,” says O’Gray.

Her plays embrace a variety of subjects that range from love to justice, with patterns of life in between. They all have some comedy and a lesson intertwined within. Out of the 60 plays she’s written, O’Gray says at least 40 of them have been performed.  “I enjoy writing and watching audiences enjoy and understand my material.  That’s the voyeur in me.  I can sit back and see that I’ve written something that makes them feel.  I learned very quickly that the stage is a feeling medium.”  Because of her hilarious sense of humor and the popularity of Tyler Perry’s work, O’Gray says her plays are constantly being compared to his.  Although, her die hard her fans are quick to point out that she has been producing family-oriented comedic plays geared toward African Americans way before TP came on the scene.

However, there’s another story many aren’t privy to.  It has an innumerable amount of acts and the script is ever evolving.  O’Gray is the wife of Mr. Henry Gray.  The “O” was derived from her middle name Olivia.  They have been married for 40 years and have six adult children:  Olivia, Samantha, Victoria and triplet sons, Gregory, Lewis and Edward.  As brilliant an actress and playwright O’Gray is, her years of study and travel did not prepare her for motherhood.  And coping with the shocking diagnosis of her triplet sons is by far the most challenging role she has ever had to undertake. There were no lines she could memorize, no director to tell her what to do and make her do it again if it wasn’t done right and no understudy to take her place if she became too weak to complete her task.  There was only God, her loving husband and her supportive family and friends.

Gregory, Lewis and Edward Gray were born in 1970.  During delivery, Lewis and Edward became breached and did not receive enough oxygen to their tiny brains rendering them mentally challenged.  Fortunately, their mental capacities were such that they were able to attend school and even graduated at 22 years of age.  However, other problems arose and while in their teens Lewis and Edward were also diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.  Unbeknownst to O’Gray, her husband’s mother, whom she had never met, had the illness and it had been passed through the bloodline to their sons.  The children became prone to violent outburst that left O’Gray and her family mentally and physically drained.  “You never knew when it (the outbursts) would happen. The boys would become almost like another person and tear up anything.  I reached a point where I couldn’t handle them and only my husband could.  It was a horrible kind of life for a while and most people had no idea.  Many families have one child that is mentally or physically challenged. We had to deal with three,” shares O’Gray. Yes three.  Later Gregory, the son deemed to be “normal,” began developing schizophrenic symptoms in his early twenties and was diagnosed with the condition as well.  According to O’Gray, it was the act of putting pen to paper and creating a world where people behave exactly as she wanted them to, where she determined the outcome that got her through.  “Writing for me was cathartic. I had to write! It was my escape and if I couldn’t have done it, I don’t think I would have survived.  Sometimes I write and I don’t know where it came from but it’s there and I thank God for that.”

However, the family was determined to live as normal a life as possible and O’Gray continued to pursue her dreams.  With the support of Henry and her grandmother, O’Gray was able to further her education, while caring for her family and writing, directing and performing plays.  She obtained an Associate’s Degree in Speech and Theatre from what was then Shelby State Community College and then after her children were grown, she went on to receive a Bachelor of Liberal Sciences from The University of Memphis in Theatre Production with a minor in African Studies.

O’Gray and Henry continued to care for the boys themselves until they were in their 20’s. Eventually Edward, Lewis and Gregory’s violent outbursts became too frequent and too much for the couple to handle and they had to seek help.  Life suddenly had less distractions and O’Gray had more time to pursue her theatrical endeavors.  Now 38 years of age, Lewis and Edward live in their own apartments in an assisted living facility.  Their violent episodes have ceased and the proud parents are able to enjoy the company of their children in peace. However, Gregory, who occasionally refuses to take his medication, is under 24-hour supervision to make sure he does.

Writing became O’Gray’s therapy again six years ago when she developed severe arthritis in her legs and was forced to depend on a wheelchair for mobility.  “I walk some now, and I need knee replacement surgery but I do well.  I haven’t stopped anything.  I run around in my wheelchair. When I’m directing I’ll use my walker.  I have and will continue to work.”

Don’t Miss Bluff City Tri-Art Theatre’s upcoming play Repast.  It is written and directed by Ruby O’Gray and features thespians Naomi Moody and Kesha Moore-Alston. It will run May 30th and April 1,7, 8 and 9th at TheatreWorks. From more information and tickets call 901.946.6140.

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Beverly RobertsonBeverly Roberston: Revels In Having It All

There are very few people I believe qualify to wear the title of “Superwoman,” and Beverly Robertson is one of them. Her work ethic has always amazed me, and I couldn’t possibly imagine working as hard as she does with a family. Since 1997, she has served as the president of the National Civil Rights Museum. She often works late hours and travels out of town to meet the demands of her career which includes directing the day-to-day operations of the National Civil Rights Museum. Through her hard work, she has enhanced operations, developed a new organizational structure, secured additional deep-pocket sponsors for their annual Freedom Award Banquet, achieved heightened visibility for the Museum as well as expanded its exhibit space, and established an archiving and collections program. She has always been a forward thinker with big ideas. Prior to joining the Museum, she and her husband, Howard, worked side by side daily as the principals of their company TRUST Marketing & Communications, Inc. It was founded in 1991 and continues to operate with Howard at the helm. Prior to that Beverly worked for Holiday Inn Worldwide, where over the course of 19 years, she worked her way from a part-time reservationist to vice president of communications and marketing. Beverly and I have spoken several times about a myriad of topics but rarely have we discussed her husband of the last 33 years. I knew she was passionate about her work but during this interview, I got the chance to see that she is even more passionate about her man and her three adult children Adrienne, Howard III and Ryan. Rather than give you a transcribed interview of our conversation, I decided to break it down. Here are Beverly Robertson’s 8 Rules for Having It All.  Read it and then go get it girls!
1. Choose the right man.

You have to have someone who understands that both of you are working. If you are in an entrepreneurial business you are not working traditional business hours. You are working whatever hours the business dictates. Some people are married to individuals who want that hot meal on the table when they get home, the clothes ironed every morning and want you there just so they can look at you goo-goo eyed. That is not the life Howard and I live. We miss each other coming and going a lot of times. You have to have an individual or a partner who shares your perspective and understands the demands that are placed upon you.

2. Get to know your mate and put important issues on the table early.

Some of the biggest discussions you have when you first get married and throughout your marriage is about money and inevitably somebody is a spender and somebody is a saver. When we first got married Howard was a musician, it was pretty easy for him to go out and buy a clarinet or a saxophone and I would be thinking with the money we were going to do something else with? Or he’d say, “I bought that big screen TV for the house.” We had to have a talk because he was not supposed make decisions like that independent of me. Both of our incomes contributed to the net of our household. So, if one of us wants to buy something that is a significant expenditure that is a discussion point. We also discussed something else. I said I did not want us to be absorbed in each other. We are two individuals, we work well together, but we don’t repeat each other. We both respect what each other is doing. We need time away from each other doing our own things and we need time together. We decided early on to take two trips a year. We took one family trip with the kids and one with just us.  So much happens over the course of a year when you have three kids that are very close (in age) together. You spend your life running around getting them involved and engaging them, and it’s easy for you to get lost in them and not have any time for yourself. We made some very good decisions, and we put the issues on the table early so it was no surprise moving forward. It was plain, simple hard work and we did it together.

3. Prioritize—family first.

For me, it meant as much to be with my kids when they were growing up as it does for me to be with Howard now that they’re grown. Every experience we had with our kids was a rare and rich learning experience. To me, the difference between success and failure for children has a lot to do with the extent of their exposure to things that are different, to things that they wouldn’t normally be accustomed to. So many children are limited by their environment and for us, it was worth it for us to invest in time away that allowed us to stay in hotels, that allowed us to go to the Smithsonian Institute and other places that provided teachable moments with our children. It was difficult when we had to get up in the mornings and get three little babies ready to go and take them to daycare and three different schools when they got older. We were clerk of the course on the swim team and then we had to go to the tennis matches. But you know what? It’s those exposures that made our childrens’ lives very rich and created moments they will never forget.

4. Find balance.

You can’t go too far in one direction without balancing it on the other side.  I might work until 10 o’clock at night all week long but when it’s a holiday we relax or we may decide we want to take off and spend a week or a weekend somewhere. Just as hard as you work you must relax and play and take time for yourself and your family. We had to balance what we did at home with work, a very active spiritual life and a very involved community life. I was on several boards. In fact I chaired the board of directors of Girls, Inc. for about 10 years while my kids were growing up. I’ve been very active in my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. Now, while my kids were really young I did take some time off. I embargoed work with the sorority because it can be so intense. You cannot be a bench-warmer if you are a good committed person because somehow people find you and want you to chair something (LOL).

You can’t do it alone……

Beverly and Howard Robertson

5. Utilize extended family. 

We had a very strong extended family to help us raise our children. I had a pretty intense corporate job and I was traveling all over the world when I worked for Holiday Inn. Howard’s job was anchored here. Plus, my mother and his mother lived here. In addition to that, when we had an opportunity to get together we took the kids with us and the grandmothers. We literally made it a family affair. It was a beautiful thing. Even for those who are married and don’t have strong extended family sometimes your friends don’t mind keeping the kids so you can have some me time.

6. Remember your husband is the man of the house and let him be the man.

I used to run so much stuff. When I was in corporate I ran a department. When I’m at church I tend to be a leader. What I recognize is that men have this thing called EGO and they need to feel that they are not only desirable but they’re needed. I think the extent to which women are strategic and smart and savvy in how we make him feel those things is really important. So many times we feel we have to tell men how things are going to be done. Well that might be fine if it’s not someone that you intend to build a life with because if you really love somebody then you understand and get into their head and give them what they need to keep them strong and to pump their ego and to make sure they feel valued. Everybody has a desire to feel valued.

Always let your man think an idea or a decision is his, but you know it was really yours (LOL)!  Always make the man feel like he is the man. Some young women don’t understand the value of that. What I have come to realize is if you want something, plant a seed, pepper it with comments and let it grow. Then one day he’ll come to you with an idea that you knew was yours all along. Just say great idea! Where’d you get that from! If you’re smart, wise and mature you’ll understand. (LOL) That works in business too.

7. Rely on trust and be committed.

I was often gone, but Howard never gave me any reason to doubt his loyalty and his commitment to me. I guess I would have been a little more scrutinizing and less secure in my position if he had. The foundation of any strong relationship, especially a marriage, is trust. The moment that trust is shaken by an indiscretion it would be very difficult to rebuild that trust again. I don’t have time to run a man down and try to figure out who he’s talking to. I’ve got too much to do.

Howard and I have had issues where we disagreed but we never thought about one of us leaving. We’ve never even talked about that. I’m in this for life.

8. Be willing to compromise and do things your mate likes. 

All relationships require compromise. Howard is a traditional male and he very much believes I need to cook and I need to do this and that. Well, I also believe that if you get home first you need to start dinner and you need to put the dishes in the dishwasher (LOL)! Sometimes women have to work on molding that. Household duties have to be a shared responsibility in a busy household, but I make sure our home is the way he likes it. Howard doesn’t ask for much. He’s pretty easy. He likes a clean, organized house. He likes for me to be available to do things with him when it’s important to him. He would like for me to spend less time working and more time relaxing but it’s really hard for me to do that in the middle of so much stuff that I have on my plate. He loves to travel, and I love to travel. Howard is spontaneous so sometimes I try to surprise him with spontaneity and that works for us. It’s all about how you view it and when you realize that the end result is respect, admiration, love, a long term commitment and affection and all of those things that are wonderful about relationships—you don’t mind the compromise.

Howard is a good husband and father. Around Thanksgiving, I mentioned that we had never been to Paris and suggested we go for New Year’s Eve. I don’t think I was even all that serious, but Howard got to work planning the trip and that’s where we brought our New Year’s in together. That was done out of love and I know it. I’m very blessed.

Explore the male point of view of having it all by visiting with her husband, Howard Robertson.

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Shay Williams: Your Date Diva 

Shay Williams“If you’re a D.I.V.A. and you have learned the psychology of men and the art of dating and you have learned what you need to do to set yourself apart in order to become a man magnet, you will automatically attract men into your life.”

Shay Williams-Garrett started out on a personal quest tofind love and ended up finding a husband and a career she loves helping others find a mate. Her dating and relationship advice is poignant and down to earth. Her focus is on education and self-correction and not what’s wrong with men and how you can change them because the truth is ladies–you can’t. Her books and videos teach women how to recognize dating no no’s–whether it be personal behaviors or men you should avoid in order to attract and keep Mr. Right. I encourage you to read her books “D.I.V.A. Don’t Get Played A Single Woman’s Dating Guide to Catching the Man of Her Dreams In 30 Days” and “D.I.V.A. Mommy Don’t Get Played”. They are chocked full of dating tips for the single woman with and without kids. I especially enjoy her no pulled punches videos. You can find several on youtube.com for your personal instruction.  She will even coach you through the dating process if you enroll in her D.I.V.A. University. Read away, take notes and enjoy!

IGW: How did you become “Your Date Diva”?

Shay: After my divorce I hadn’t dated in over a year and men would walk up and talk to me and a friend pointed out that I was giving them signals that I wasn’t interested. Well, soon after that I got into a relationship and made every mistake possible in love, dating and relationships. So I decided to do an experiment on myself and I dated 100 men in nine months. When I say dates I mean we’re going out and we’re talking. There’s no intimacy. I interviewed over 1,500 men, women and couples. I also read over 60 relationship books. I gained the title of “Shay Your Date Diva” because after all that I became an expert in dating.

I started off learning the information for myself and so I can teach my daughters when they grow up. A friend was like, “You’re going out on dates three times a week and there are women who only get asked out on dates once a year and could use your advice.” So, I started writing a book. It turned into one for single women and one for single moms, and I also have audio versions of each one. I do Youtube videos and teleseminars called The D.I.V.A. University. I also write love and relationships articles for Rolling Out Magazine and Issues Magazine. I stay pretty busy. I’m blessed because I have a wonderful husband, and I am now able to focus full-time on helping women achieve the love experience that they desire.

IGW: How long have you been doing this now?

Shay: The experiment ended about two years ago. I’m married now and I used the pertinent information I learned in order to find my husband. I wrote the book and started doing the videos in May of 2008.

IGW: At IGW we recognize that it is important to find love but it is also important to love yourself. How does loving yourself play into attracting a mate?

Shay: The title of my book is “Diva Don’t Get Played A Single Woman’s Dating Guide to Catching the Man of Her Dreams In 30 Days.”  If you don’t love yourself, then you’re not attracting love because you attract what you are. How can you expect someone to love you, if you don’t love you? Also, if you love yourself there are certain behaviors that you just won’t tolerate. That also gives you the eyes and ears to recognize the type of man who will treat you well .

IGW: A lot of women don’t believe it’s their job to find a man, especially in the faith-based community. They believe they should sit back and wait for God to send them a man. What are your thoughts about that? 

Shay: If that’s the case when you’re unemployed and need a job, you can sit in your house and expect someone to call you. That’s not the way it goes, you need to get off the couch and make it happen. God gives us opportunities. He opens the doors and all you have to do is walk through it. By walking through it you are doing the work it takes to attract a man. You have to make yourself open to receiving love. You should not chase a man, but I believe very strongly in the law of attraction and when you create magnetism to you, you start to attract men into your life with that invisible energy you have. So if you’re doing that, you have no need to chase a man. I strongly discourage that. If you’re a D.I.V.A. and you have learned the psychology of men and the art of dating and you have learned what you need to do to set yourself apart in order to become a man magnet, you will automatically attract men into your life.

IGW: From your research, what did you learn were the biggest mistakes women make while dating? 

Shay: There are several things. One thing is not allowing themselves to be able to attract the person that they want. At lot of women think they can walk around with an attitude and you will attract somebody. You need to wear a smile. Some women think they can walk out of the house looking like “who did it and what” and a man is going to approach them. Men are visual. You need to make sure that you look ready to meet your husband. A lot of women get into a relationship and think that because their type “A” personality has allowed them to rise up the corporate ladderthey can do the same thing in a relationship and dominate or run their man. It doesn’t work like that. Men need to feel needed. They need to be able to contribute to your life. They need to be able to chase you. It’s okay to let him know you’re interested but then step back and let him pursue you. There are certain chemical processes that need to occur for a man to fall in love with you. He can’t fall in love with you if you’re pursuing him.

Another mistake a lot of women make is having sex, giving up their goodies, too soon. When a women has sex with a man she releases a chemical called oxytocin—I’m constantly talking about it—this is the same chemical a mother releases when she is nursing her baby. She starts to bond with that man, but if she does it too soon before she gets to know him she may have bonded with a fool.  Women need to wait for a foundation of a friendship, wait a few months. I suggest they wait until marriage but a lot of women won’t do that. I’m trying to give them something they can do realistically. Let a friendship develop first. Wait until that man falls for you and he’s willing to claim you and give you a title. Wait until you’re HIS woman and you’re in a relationship before you give up the sex because you might be making a bad decision that causes you to bond with someone you shouldn’t be with.

IGW: What advice do you have for women who just seem to be having a really hard time finding Mr. Right?  Date after date, man after man, it doesn’t work and after a while they’re sitting and asking themselves what’s going on here?

My advice to them is when you know better, you do better. Most women are literally only two centimeters from finding the right person for them. It’s a shift of their mindset and it’s a shift in behavior. Women need to take the time to find out what it is that they are doing that’s standing in their way and what they can do to get what they want. They will start to see results of their work. A lot of people let their ego get in the way. Get your ego out of the way. It’s not all about what you want and like. For example, say you are going on a job interview and you get a heads up that your interviewer does not like the color blue. Well, even though blue may be your favorite color it would behoove you to wear a different color—wear brown. With men you have to learn to speak their language and learn how to communicate better with them.

Knowing Is Half the Battle……

Shay: If you are having problems and relationship after relationship you end up disappointed then you need to read my book and join The D.I.V.A. University so I can teach you what you don’t know. This is a ministry for me. A lot of women are settling or giving up on love and they don’t have to. If I can be a blessing to someone else I’m going to. There are a lot of very happy women who will testify that they followed my advice and received the results I predicted. They found love.

To learn more about Shay Williams-Garrett and purchase her books and services visit her website,http://www.lovein30days.com.

I have posted one of my favorite videos by her below.

Video Links

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPhtrXzugXw

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Brea Stinson: She’s Got Stellar Style

Brea Stinson“As a stylist, I get to help people live their dream and be confident. You build a relationship with your clients…. If they look good and the show went well then they feel good. Making people feel good about themselves is never a bad thing.”

Education: Clark Atlanta, BA Business Administration
Hometown: Detroit, MI
Current Residence: New York, New York
Age: 20-something

One of my favorite parts of the fall and winter is fashion. I know as women we are always trying to create that signature look. Especially around the holidays when there are oodles of festive activities to attend and a true fashionista wants to look fabulously stylish at each one. To help me with this topic, I enlisted the help of professional wardrobe stylist and winner of the 2009 Alize Concrete + Cashmere style maven competition, Brea Stinson. Through her company, B*Star, Brea has created fashion masterpieces for several A list artists and athletes. Here, she shares with us how she got started and a few fashion tips to help you create your own look that will turn heads and invoke envy.

Jae: How did you get started in such an exciting career?

Brea: I’ve been designing since I was young. In high school, I designed my friends’ homecoming dresses and prom dresses.  When we went out, I was the one who would get everybody’s outfits together. Then, I went to college at Clark Atlanta and began participating in the homecoming fashion show. It’s the biggest event of the week other than the game. But it all really came together when I took an advertising class and we had to come up with a business so I started a t-shirt line. I named it B*Star and I’ve had it (the name) ever since. I started selling those shirts as a part of the class and it just continued on.  I even opened a little boutique where I would sell my clothes while I was in college to pay for school. I was making scarves, rhinestone belt buckles and denim skirts made out of blue jeans.

Also, a friend of mine introduced me to a stylist named Tameka Raymond (Usher’s ex!!!), who at the time was working with Toni Braxton and Lauryn Hill. My goal was to have her use some of my clothes on them but she liked my eye for fashion and I ended up assisting her—as much as I could while I was still in college. In 2002, I graduated and moved to New York and assisted her full-time for a couple of years. I’ve been on my own since the end of 2004.

Jae: Name some of the people you have worked with.

Brea: Usher, Jay-Z, Ginuwine, Raheem Devaughn, Keri Hilson and Letoya Luckett. I’ve been doing some commercial work as well. I did a State Farm commercial with LeBron James that aired during the Superbowl last year, and I just finished a T-Mobile commercial with Dwight Howard, Dewayne Wade and Charles Barkley. I also won Alize’s Concrete and Cashmere Competition this past June!

Jae: Congratulations Brea!! I saw the shows. It was obvious your competition had no idea what they were up against. What are some of the things you take into consideration when dressing a celebrity?

Brea: I try to zone in on their personality and body type and observe how they dress on their own. It’s a lot to consider when you are trying to dress somebody who is about to debut before the public because a lot of times management has their own idea of what they should look like. Then you have the person, who is just now getting to live their dream, and they have their own idea of what they should look like. You have to consider what type of music they’re putting out and what they’re going to be comfortable in because you’re your most confident when you’re comfortable. You can’t put a Norah Jones in a Rihanna outfit. She wouldn’t make it through the night.  So my job is to key in on their personal taste and what I think they would be comfortable in and then fine tune it.

As a stylist, I get to help people live their dream and be confident. You build a relationship with your clients.  You’re usually the last person they see when they get on stage and the last person when they get off. If they look good and the show went well then they feel good. Making people feel good about themselves is never a bad thing.

B Star Style Suggestions

Brea was kind enough to give us a few fashion tips to help you create your own signature look for the holidays, even if you’re on a budget. Next to each one, I posted an example of her work with her celebrity clients. Don’t Jay-Z, LeToya Luckett and Keri Hilson look fabulous!

1. Select Classic Pieces

Purchase classic pieces instead of super trendy things. The trends don’t work for everybody and in this economy it even makes more sense to select pieces that you will be able to wear for years. A lot of times people get stuck in the trends, and they end up buying a lot of disposable clothes because the next year the outfit looks ridiculous. That’s a question you should ask yourself at the register, ‘Am I going to like this next season?’ Think….embarrassing or an investment?

2. Be Comfortable.

People are more confident and sexy when they’re comfortable. The key is to find great things that fit. So, if there’s a piece you find that you love instead of wearing it all the time and damaging it, get it in several different colors. If it works, it works and you should continue in that feeling.

3. Mix and Layer

I’m into mixing fabrics, textures and colors. I love luxury. Layering your clothing can create a sense of luxury and warmth. Matching colors is over (laughing)! You limit the fun of fashion when you limit yourself to one or two colors. Your outfit doesn’t have to directly match your shoes and belt. Try using simple colors like grey and taupe that you can mix with your outfit to kind of break it up a bit. You can even use multicolored pieces to change things up as well as accessories. But I am not a fan of colored accessories at all.  I tend to stick with metallics.

Also, mix different articles of clothing. You don’t have to wear the same shirt with the same pants all the time.Buying pieces you can change up will make your wardrobe look larger than it is.

With my personal style and with my clients I always mix the cheap with the expensive. If you buy classic pieces that fit you well people won’t be able to tell if they are expensive or not. You can do the same thing with your accessories.

Want More Brea Stinson?

If you would like to see Brea at work, you can catch all 12 episodes of Concrete + Cashmere here.

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Corinne Derenburger: Up For Any Challenge 

Published October 2009 

 Corinne Derenburger“I’ve lived through three strokes and October marked my seventh year as a cervical cancer survivor. If I can live through that I can live through this. All of my doctors say I am a medical mystery, and I should have been dead long ago. God is keeping me here for a reason.”

If I had to pick one word to describe Corinne Derenburger it would be champion. She is a wife, mother of five children and the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ryan’s Ranch International, formerly known as Ryan’s Hope. Their mission is to pioneer innovative inclusive opportunities for those with disabilities and their families. Since 2003, they have done some amazing things to educate and assist families with special needs children and it seems the best is yet to come.

It was the birth of their second son, Ryan, that started Corinne on this journey. Now fifteen, Todd and Corinne Derenburger’s fourth child, was born with his umbilical chord wrapped around his neck. He was originally diagnosed with cerebral palsy and mental retardation.  Then at age two, they were told he was autistic and by three he was having life-threatening seizures. If that weren’t enough, at age nine they were told Ryan had a terminal brain disorder the Derenburger’s can’t pronounce or spell and it was causing his brain to shrink while filling up with fluid-filled cysts. Doctors said they couldn’t drain the cysts because the brain needed the fluid to operate, and Ryan’s brain would shrivel up into nothing and one day he wouldn’t wake up. That was six years ago and by the grace of God Ryan is still alive and doing relatively well. He can’t speak, has profound mental disabilities and must have assistance to complete daily activities. Although he is limited, Ryan loves all things sports, from football to NASCAR. He loves pretty girls and giving hugs to those pretty girls. He also enjoys movies, music and horseback riding.  He attends special classes at Collierville High School, and thanks to his mother, Ryan has become a symbol of hope and the inspiration for an award-winning organization and its programs.

As I tried to wrap my mind around what a day for their family was like, Corinne shared with me some of their challenges. “One of the biggest challenges is not being accepted in the community. We would go to the playground where other children were playing and Ryan would have to sit in his wheelchair and watch. Going to Disney World was a challenge because there was nowhere to change his diaper because he weighed more than 30 lbs. There is no place that has an adult size changing area, so we couldn’t be out in public for that long. He likes to scream and squeal and he laughs a lot so we have to get in and out of restaurants in 30 minutes or else everybody is staring at us. We can’t vacation or do recreational activities like other families.

Taking care of Ryan is very much a family effort. Ryan has a condition called pica where he likes to fling, play in and eat his own feces. We may get up in the middle of the night and there’s poop everywhere. My daughter, Jessica, starts running the bath water, my other daughter, Hannah, gets his supplies, Todd gets out the steam cleaner and I’ll give him a bath. He doesn’t sleep normally. So he’s up a lot and we go many, many nights without sleep. We take shifts staying up with him. The girls have to deal with people picking on him and them at school. They get teased for having a “retard” as a brother,” reveals Corinne.

It would have been so easy to just accept things as they are and focus all of their energy on their family but instead the Derenburgers became spokespersons for other families dealing with similar issues. What began as a support group for families with children with multiple diagnoses has grown into a loud community voice that not only yells for more accessible opportunities but creates them. One of their major undertakings was the erection of Ryan’s Playground, the first universally accessible playground in the Mid-South specially designed for physically challenged children. Whether in a wheel chair, a walker or walking with a limp, all children have the opportunity to play and enjoy the joys of being a child. This monumental achievement was built in Collierville, Tennessee and received a four star recreation award from the state. Since then, nine more have been built in areas such as Jackson, Arlington, Oklahoma and Mississippi. They also have other programs. Ryan’s Haven creates places where caregivers of developmentally delayed children can find respite and stress relief. Ryan’s Miracles are specially trained horses and instructors who offer soothing equine (horseback riding) therapy which has been proven to increase social skills in disabled children. Ryan experienced great success with this type of therapy.  He learned to sit up, balance and walk while riding a horse. There are currently three places in close proximity to Memphis that offer this service, one in Lakeland and two in Germantown, Tennessee.

The most impressive of all their accomplishments will be the completion of Ryan’s Ranch. In 2009, Ryan’s Ranch International was donated 63 acres of land in DeSoto County, Mississippi to house the first resort that specifically caters to families with members with developmental disabilities. It will provide families a place to rest, recreate and rehabilitate together. It will also serve as hometo several horses trained for equine therapy. The organization is busy raising $45 million to make it happen.  Corinne beams with pride while talking about the ranch. “There will be all kinds of recreational therapy for the families. We’ll have two lakes, a welcome lodge, 24 cottages and everything will be universally accessible. There will be medical staff available 24/7, sensory rooms to help calm children when they are upset and a dining area that caters to special dietary needs. The people who did our feasibility study at The University of Memphis and the people at Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality suggest that once the prototype is done, we do 10 -12 nationwide and then go global. It’s a big undertaking.”

However, Corinne’s biggest undertaking may not have anything to do with Ryan or his namesake organization. In June 2009, during an insurance physical, doctors detected that something was wrong.  She was diagnosed with Hepatitis C and quickly began combination therapy to combat the disease, which was already in its progressive stages. Her liver is severly damaged and She has been given a 50/50 chance of survival. “According to the biopsy I must have had this 25 to 30 years undetected, and I also have the toughest genotype to fight.  The doctors say if I live to see this time next year it will be a miracle,” shares the 40 year old.

Corinne doesn’t make such a statement with tears in her eyes or even sadness in her voice. Her behavior is as upbeat as it was the day I met her, five years ago when she won the K97 Peace Achiever of the Month Award. She still flashes a wide grin, cracks jokes and laughs often; even though the illness coupled with her treatment causes her constant fatigue, pain and nausea. The drugs Corrine is taking, interferon and ribavirin, are also used to treat leukemia and AIDS.  Sadly, her doctors have told her the treatment doesn’t seem to be working but for a stroke and cancer survivor, Corinne is up for the challenge and remains optimistic that things will take a turn for the better. She has asked her home church in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, Christ the Rock in Memphis, where her family now worships, and all of the partner churches of Ryan’s Ranch to pray for her. She hasn’t given up hope and has no plans of doing so.

“I’ve lived through three strokes and October marked my seventh year as a cervical cancer survivor. If I can live through that I can live through this. All of my doctors say I am a medical mystery, and I should have been dead long ago. God is keeping me here for a reason,” she laughs. “I’ve had the range of emotions. I went through the why me, the why not me and the if it’s gonna be anybody it might as well be me. I went through the anger and the sadness. Then there are times I’m happy about it. In heaven there’s no more pain, sadness and tears.  I’ll see all these people from my past, and I don’t have to deal with anything down here.”

When I called to ask Corinne to do this interview, centered around gratefulness, I had no idea Corinne was ill. I was floored when she told me, and after spending time with her, I am emblazoned with awe at her strength and her ability to retain and emit ample amounts of joy. She doesn’t want anyone’s pity, and she was more than happy to share why she’s grateful.

“I’ve learned not to take any day for granted, and I’m grateful for each day I have to spend with my family. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad day. I’ve had good days and I’ve had best days. I’m grateful for the food we have. I know that sounds kind of cheesy but I am. Even when my husband lost his job we never went hungry. I’m grateful that my husband now has a good job that has allowed me to be able to focus on Ryan’s Ranch. I’m grateful for my kids. Two, Matthew and Sarah, are grown and out on their own. They are all very unselfish and they’re not self-centered, that comes from helping with Ryan. I’m grateful that people continue to give to Ryan’s Ranch. Most of our supporters are people who don’t have a family member with a disability, which amazes me because they have the compassion to help others who don’t share their same life circumstance. I have an awesome board of directors. They have helped me recruit the right staff and now it’s really neat that I can just oversee things, focus on the programming piece of the ranch and just rest. They’re not happy with the doctor’s prognosis right now. They’re kind of living in denial and so are my kids.”

Their children may be in denial but Corinne and Todd are not. The high school sweethearts are praying for the best but preparing for the worst. They have a running joke that Corinne can’t leave because misery loves company and if Todd has to stay here and suffer she does too. But all jokes aside, Corinne is busy getting her business in order. She has finished the sequel to her first book,Raising Ryan, and it’s currently in the editing stages. This year, she distributed the preview issue of her new magazine, Hope & Dream, and is making plans to release the premier issue next year. It is geared toward the same target audience as Ryan’s Ranch and is designed to raise funds for the nonprofit. She has promised the staff that she will have a year’s worth of articles completed by the end of November. She and the board of directors have selected an executive assistant who is fully capable of taking Ryan’s Ranch International to the next level in her absence. Corinne has even made a bucket list and is carefully checking off each thing she wants to experience before her life ends. As I write, she is lying on a Florida beach with a friend, enjoying a girls getaway she had previously never allowed herself to have.

At the end of the month, if her treatment still doesn’t seem to be working, Corinne’s doctors have said they will take her off the medication and let nature take its course. With her family by her side, Corinne is bravely facing the future–whatever it may be–with her spirits high, her sense of humor in tact and gratefulness in her heart. Perseverance, the true mark of a champion.

For more information or to make a donation to Ryan’s Ranch visit www.ryansranch.org.

This article was originally posted in October 2009 and we are pleased to report that as of now, November 2010, Corinne is still with us and doing relativily well. Please keep her and her family in your prayers. 

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Trenyce Cobbins: Memphis’ Original American Idol 

Trenyce Cobbins“The music industry is probably the most abusive relationship I’ve ever been in. I don’t allow men to kick my butt, but this industry kicks my butt everyday….I’m doing what I love and that’s what makes it all worth it.”

Six years ago Trenyce Cobbins, a nursing student at the University of Memphis, drove to nearby Nashville to audition for season two of a televised vocal talent show called American Idol.  She camped outside for three days to secure her shot and quickly progressed up the audition ladder until she was dismissed from the show during the semi-finals. But Idol wasn’t done with her yet because by a twist of fate, she became one of the 12 Idol contestants when she was returned to the competition by former judge Paula Abdul in a Wild Card round. Trenyce wowed audiences with her ability to be soft and sweet as well as bold and powerful during her vocal delivery. Her hard work eventually landed her fifth place, which was high enough for her to be invited to go on tour. Her rendition of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”was placed on the show’s compilation CD, and she completed the American Idol II Live Concert Tour that summer, singing Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” and Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” The 2003 American Idol tour was a huge success outselling the Justin Timberlake/Christina Aguilera tour that also occurred that summer.  Following American Idol, Trenyce made several national television appearances on shows such as Live with Regis and KellyExtraETFox, NBC’sToday ShowTRL and CNN.  Here in Memphis, she was honored by Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton and former City of MemphisMayor W.W. Herenton with a certificate of achievement and a key to the city.

Immediately after American Idol, Trenyce relocated to Los Angeles hoping to further capitalize on her new-found fame.  She was greeted with new and exciting stage opportunities that have allowed her to add the title of actress to her resume.  Her first play was Not a Day Goes By with Jackee Harry and since then, Trenyce has performed in two Broadway musicals: Dreamgirls in the title role of Deena and Ain’t Misbehavin. She has done several independent projects such as In the Nick ofTyme with Morris Chestnut and Avant, which will be out on DVD November 10th.  She has also starred in Soul Kittens Cabaret with Tatyana Ali, Monifah, and Syleena Johnson and Mama’s Sweet Potatoe Pie. She has even written, produced and starred in a sketch comedy show calledLMAO with her good friend Tiara Williams.

Trenyce’s stream of work has been consistent; thanks to her talent and the positive reputation she has built. Referrals from co-workers, directors and producers, in addition to the hard work of herself and her managers keep the gigs coming, bills paid and her career moving forward. The travel schedule can be grueling, often traveling six to nine months with one production and her independent album has had to take a back seat to her travels.  However,Trenyce is determined to see it come to fruition and has recently slowed down to record. If all goes as planned her debut project will be ready for release in 2010.

Now age 29, Trenyce is stronger, wiser and more focused than she has ever been, and she’ll be the first to tell you that the journey hasn’t been easy. “The music industry is probably the most abusive relationship I’ve ever been in. I don’t allow men to kick my butt, but this industry kicks my butt everyday.  People are going to tell you ‘no’, no matter how talented you are. Yet this is something that when they say ‘yes’, you can later look at those checks and go, ‘Wow, I can pay my rent for six months.’ I’m doing what I love and that’s what makes it all worth it,” says the starlet.

All of the pieces seem to be falling into place. For those who thought she was done, check out the two new videos she released in September and you’ll quickly realize otherwise.  “You Make Me Sick” and “Free to Fall,” were directed by newcomer Dwight Malik, who suggested that Trenyce do something different and release the videos before releasing the songs for radio rotation. Trenyce is more than pleased with the results. “The videos have had a great response. During the first three weeks, they had over 2,000 hits. I know it’s not 2 million but it let me know that there are still people who are interested in what I’m doing. You get to the point where you’re wondering if your light is fading or maybe you missed the boat. The positivity I received just kind of woke things up and reminded me that God is not through with me yet. I owe it to myself to see this thing through. I’m not petrified anymore. I’m just being and the music will reflect that.”

The Memphis native describes her untitled upcoming CD as a “throwback,” reminiscent of the times of old when you had to really be able to sing to get an album deal and the content was suitable for any age.  “I haven’t released anything yet. I’m still fleshing out all the songs that will be on the album. I let a few people listen to it and they loved it along with their parents and their children. It’s just me being me.” That leads one to ask, who Is Trenyce? “I’m pretty eclectic. I’m very unpredictable, and as I progress people will see that.  I don’t like to be confined, restricted or labeled. As an artist, I think I’m very honest with my fans. My live shows are good because I connect with the audience. It should be an experience. People should leave going, ‘That’s the best money I’ve ever spent!’ If you’re not going to give it a thousand percent then why do it at all?”

Trenyce is not where she wants to be but is in no way unhappy where she is. The lessons she has learned on this journey have been invaluable and her ambitious nature propels her to constantly produce new ideas to pursue. Her goals are vast and include music, television, theatre, production, philanthropy, a husband, children and more.

When speaking to Trenyce, nothing but encouraging words and positive energy seem flow from her person. She refuses to go “Hollywood” and act like she is too good to be of assistance to others. “My family keeps me grounded. I am almost promised a butt kicking if I ever change. I have received so many more blessings by giving to others,” she reveals. The day we met, I was devastated that my rental car had been towed by the Los Angeles Police Department causing me to rack up bills of over $350 to get it back.  In an attempt to put a smile on my face she paid for our dinner and suggested we follow it with ice cream. “It’s the least I can do. You’ve had a rough day,” she soothed. “That’s not your welcome to Los Angeles. You’ve got a better one coming.”  I predict a positive future for her as well. American Idol isn’t the only time Trenyce Cobbins’ name will be heard nation wide. Keep your eyes and ears open because the best is yet to come.

 Video Link

See Trenyce’s Video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAVCxdLKPsw

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Cheryl Perkins: Princess of Fitness 

Cheryl PerkinsI know for a fact that everybody with a shape ain’t in shape.  I have had people come in who are fine as wine but could not last 10 minutes in my class. You need to be healthy inside and out. Your heart and lungs need to be right. Exercise is an important part of that process.”

Cheryl K. Perkins is known around Memphis as the “Princess of Fitness.”  As a certified personal trainer, each day for the past four years she has been helping men and women get the body they’ll love.  This mother of two is a former track athlete and has always had an interest in fitness but began to truly dedicate herself after she noticed her jeans weren’t fitting her the way they used to. She began working out regularly and soon her desire to better herself turned into a desire to better others.  After realizing her true calling, she decided to quit her job of 16 years at a local bottling plant and embark on a life changing profession.  Now, each week Cheryl  teaches aerobics, runs a boot camp, conductsstrength and conditioning and total body low impact workouts at Jay Lo Fitness Studio in Olive Branch, MS.  She also spends a large amount of time working one on one with women and men who want to be at their personal physical best.  She LOVES her job and was happy to share with us some insight on the necessity of exercise.

IGW: Is there an easy way to get in shape?

Cheryl: I look at it like this, anything you want is worth working for. If you want that perfect body it won’t come overnight.  You didn’t gain weight overnight and you won’t lose it overnight. I am at work by 5 a.m. every morning helping dedicated people get in shape.  If you really want it, you have to get up and work for it. I believe if you got it real easy you wouldn’t appreciate it anyway. If you work for it, you will enjoy it more.

IGW: What’s the first thing you do when someone comes to you saying they want to lose weight or live healthier?

Cheryl: My initial discussion will be about what you’re putting in your mouth. I need to know youreating habits because what you eat is 60% – 65% of your progress. You can work out all day and then go to the buffet and throw it all away. The next step is working out a schedule.  We have to determine how many days a week can you train and how dedicated you are to losing weight.

IGW:  What are your nutrition tips?

Cheryl:  First thing I say is cut the fried foods.  You don’t have to stop completely, eat them in moderation. I don’t believe anybody is going to stop eating something they love for the rest of their life but you can limit yourself and learn self control. I talked to a young lady today and I told her if you love Oreo cookies and you know if you buy them you are going to eat the whole row then don’t even buy them.  But if you learn self control, you eat two cookies and then put the rest of them away. Or buy the box of 100 calorie packs and eat one pack but don’t eat all six packs (LOL) because that’s 600 calories!

IGW: Do you have to exercise to lose weight? Can you just eat healthier?

Cheryl: You have to do something physical to lose weight. I suggest you do something at least three days a week with a sufficient diet.  You will see results, but you have to stick with your plan. Do some cardio and strength training with weights. Every session I do, I incorporate abdominal exercises. There isn’t a woman in the world who doesn’t want a flat stomach.

IGW:  I know that’s right! How often do you work out?

Cheryl: I personally work out five times a week. I work out when I’m bored. I can be sitting here watching TV and I’ll work out during the commercials. As a personal trainer, I have to be a walking billboard. I can’t tell you to get in shape and I ain’t looking like nothing myself.

IGW: What are your suggestions for people like me who HATE to work out, and know they are out of shape and need to do better?

Cheryl:  I look at it like this. If you make it fun you will enjoy it.  Come to Jay Lo Fitness. My aerobics classes are off the chain! I play all the good music. We are going to dance and have fun but in the same sense we’re getting in shape.   You can also do some things on your own. Find yourself a buddy and go for a walk in the park. I know for a fact that everybody with a shape ain’t in shape.  I have had people come in who are fine as wine but could not last 10 minutes in my class. You need to be healthy inside and out. Your heart and lungs need to be right. Exercise is an important part of that process.

IGW:  Yes ma’am!  Are most of your clients women or men?

Cheryl:I have mostly women. I think the men are kind of scared of me! A lot of the men don’t want to look too wimpy in front of a woman.  Their thinking is I can’t let this woman train me. She might ask me to do something and I can’t do it. I can count on one hand the number of men I’ve trained. The men I do have are in pretty good shape. One of my clients is K97’s Devin Steel.  Yeah, I think the men are a little intimidated by me, but I don’t want them to be. I like training men!

IGW:  Why do you call yourself the “Princess of Fitness”?

Cheryl:  A princess is a ruler of something. Whether it’s a country or whatever and I feel like when it comes to fitness I RULE.

Contact Cheryl Perkins, “Princess of Fitness,” and begin to look your personal best at 901.605.7093 or princess@jaylofitness.com.

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Johnnie Walker: Marketing Maven Heads Music Commission

Johnnie WalkerJohnnie Walker began her career in music in 1978 at a small country station in Mississippi. It was there she discovered her natural ability to concoct creative marketing campaigns that made the masses take notice. Her talent took her from the Mississippi to Memphis, where while working at Magic 101 radio station she caught the attention of up and coming mogul Russell Simmons.  She became Def Jam Recordings regional marketing rep in Memphis and within one year she was promoted from Regional Promotions Manager to National Director of Promotion. She later became the first female Sr. Vice President of Promotion for the Island Def Jam Music Group and the only female to ever hold that position within the company.  Walker was instrumental in launching the careers of Redman, Method Man, Onyx, Montell Jordan and Foxy Brown!

In 1997, Walker continued her “WIN” philosophy with a move toNew York City where she assumed the position of Vice President of R&B Promotion for Def Jam.  Two years later, she restructured the company’s promotion department, created their much sought after “R&B Radio Promotions Guide,” and hired the company’s first national promotions field staff.  This was most significant because the staff was primarily comprised of young, inexperienced field reps that Johnnie molded into a “winning force.”  Together, this force successfully marketed Russell Simmons’ Eddie Murphy comeback movie, “The Nutty Professor,” Jackie Chan’s “Rush Hour” and several #1 Gold and Platinum albums from Jay-Z, Ashanti, Ja Rule, DMX, LL Cool J, Musiq, Dru Hill and others.

After 14 years at Def Jam Recordings, the marketing maven relocated to Los Angeles, CA and took the reins of Head of Urban Promotion for DreamWorks Records, marketing the musical careers of The Isley Brothers, Floetry, Burt Bacharach and many others.

In an effort to make the road less traveled become a smoother journey for those to come, in 1999, Walker founded NABFEME, the National Association of Black Female Executives in Music and Entertainment, Inc.NABFEME is a nonprofit professional organization, staffed by entertainment industry volunteers, whosemission is to raise the profile and increase the awareness of women of color in music and entertainment. The organization accomplishes its mission through activities that foster empowerment, education, mentoring, career development and networking opportunities.  Her many accomplishments were made while being as a single parent to her daughter, Ramona.

It seems that life has come full-circle for Walker and in December of 2008 she accepted a position at the Executive Director of the Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission. She is back where she began using her experience and intense marketing skills to the benefit of the city’s past, present and future musical heritage. Since her arrival several noteworthy events have occurred: on-going educational workshops about the music business, showcase forums to display the rich talent here, public conversations with national recording artists, producers and  executives, free consultations with entertainment law professionals and the Emissaries of Memphis Music Luncheon, where 11 women who have made a significant impact in the Memphis music community were honored.  According to Walker that’s only the beginning.

IGW:  What are some of your upcoming events?

Johnnie:  We try to keep very busy. In addition to our regularly scheduled events (see bottom of page), for the month of June to help celebrate Black Music Month we are hosting free concerts in the park featuring Memphis Music.  But we’re not just featuring African American artists.  We’re pulling the acts from artists who have performed on Memphis Music Mondays.

We’re also working on “A Taste of Memphis,” which consists of three parts: a cook book, a CD and a concert. Right now, we’re soliciting recipes. We ask that they come from studio owners, restaurant owners that book talent, musicians, singers, songwriters—anyone local that’s involved in the music industry.

Also, I know it’s passed but I would like to mention what we were able to do with Lil Rounds of American Idol. We wanted to give her the recognition she deserves and let her know that we appreciate her putting Memphis on the map on a national scale. To do this, we were able to pull in City and County officials to prepare proclamations and certificates of recognition. We were also able to pull in The Museum of Rock & Soul to give Lil the salute she deserves.

IGW:  Part of your job as Executive Director is not only to address issues that are important to local people in the music industry but to change the perception of the MSCMC. How has that been progressing?

Johnnie:  It’s been going along pretty good. I’ve been here since November, a good full six months. In the beginning there was slight resistance and because of the lack of credibility we had in the past people did not fully understanding why the Music Commission was here. We had to take time just to address that, but now we actually have people calling and reaching out to us to be a part of and participate in our events. We also have people sending us e-mails and calling to tell us that they really like what we’re doing and asking to be added to our e-mail database so we can keep them abreast. Just today, we got a compliment for theTri-State Defender newspaper telling us that they really appreciate what we’re doing and the position that we’ve taken to develop Memphis Music. It took a minute but everybody is getting on board. Anybody would want to be a part of positive business and that’s what we’re doing.

IGW:  What is the purpose of MSCMC? 

Johnnie:  Our purpose it to promote and develop Memphis Music while preserving the rich musical heritage that rest within the borders of Memphis and Shelby County. From WC Handy to Elvis to Isaac Hayes, STAX, Willie Mitchell and Hi Records, Al Green–all of that is the heritage that this city rests upon. We want to preserve, build and develop at the same time.

IGW:  Now, let’s talk about you? You were working here in Memphis when you got the call to work with Russell Simmons and Def Jam, right? How did you make that connection? 

Johnnie:  I was an on-air personality and program director of 101 radio station here in Memphis and I went to a conference. Back then the conference was the thing. That’s where you met people, that’s where you found out about the jobs, that’s where you got the hook ups. I was at an Impact conference and met Wes Johnson and Russell Simmons. They were talking to me about a LL Cool J Record I was not playing. We were not going to play that record. Russell and I were going back and forth and ultimately I won the word battle. Well, Russell’s thing was I would rather have you working for me than against me and asked me to consider coming to work for DefJam. At the time I wasn’t interested but they told me I would get $25,000 a year and $20,000 in expenses. So, what that equated to was $45,000.  Well, at the time I was probably making $18,000 at the radio station. It didn’t take long to make a decision.  I didn’t know anything about working at a record label, but I decided to dive in because the money looked good. I gave it a shot and it was a good decision. I was there for 15 years.

Many people tried to talk me out of it because it was a rap label and there weren’t very many women in power positions at that time. You heard all the horror stories of what women were doing to try to crack the glass ceiling. People told me not to ruin my radio career by going after something that was never going to be anything. I prayed about it. Sometimes you have to take things to God and he tells you the way to go.

IGW:  Did you have your daughter at this time?

Johnnie:  I sure did, and Ramona was one of the major factors in my decision. I was not one of those divorcees that was getting child support and alimony. Those were words in the dictionary, not in my life. It was just me and her, and I had to take care of her. I knew eventually she was going to want to go to college. She talked about it often and I was wondering how in the world am I going to send her to college on $18,000 a year! It (the Def Jam position) provided me with the opportunity to prepare a better life for her.

IGW:  What was it like working for Russell Simmons, the “Godfather of Hip Hop”?

Johnnie:  It was like going to college. Everyday was a different learning session and something new. He’s a visionary and someone to consistently learn from and be consistently amazed at. The thing about Russell I thought was absolutely incredible was he was the master at multi-tasking. For example, he could be on the phone and have all 8 lines lit up and be in the process of having conversations with all eight people. He could remember who was on each line and remember what he was supposed to be talking about without missing a beat. I would  be left wondering how did he do that?

He also did things no one thought was possible. Like with Def Comedy Jam, people said it would never work and it ended up being one of the biggest shows on TV.  Russell was just a big educator.

IGW:  What made you create NABFEM?

Johnnie: Coming from Grenada, Mississippi and wanting to be in the radio industry and not having anyone to tell me anything that made any sense. At that time women were not at the forefront—actually we’re not at the forefront now—but now we’re doing more and have more positions. But when I first started trying to find someone female to help me and tell me something was very difficult. Women did not play a lot of roles. As I came up, broke a few barriers and was able to do a lot of things in this industry it came to me that I needed to give back. NABFEM is my way of taking what I’ve learned and sharing it with others. Then it became creating something that’s going to provide mentorship, an opportunity to come together and create things that will educate, motivate and inspire women. It’s also a unit that they can take ownership in and be very proud to be a part of.

The reason for that long name, National Association of Black Female Executives In Music & Entertainment, is because women are rarely referred to as executives. A woman can be at the freaking top of the totem pole and people will still refer to her by her first name,  but a man is Mr. So-In-So. Take Sylvia Rhone, (of Motown and Universal Records) here this woman is the CEO of a major record label and people are addressing her by her first name. There’s nothing wrong with that if people know you and are in your inner circle but other than that she should be Ms. Rhone. Maybe that’s our fault.  Maybe, even though we women had these high profile roles we didn’t see ourselves as executives. I wanted to change that by putting that word in our name. This is who we are we’re black, we’re female and we’re music executives. (For more info visit http://www.nabfeme.org)

NABFEM has 15 networks with 3,500 members across the country.  Right now, the office is in New York. We may move it here to Memphis at some point.

IGW:  After working in Memphis and LA what made you decide to come back to Memphis and head the MSCMC?

Johnnie:  The decision was made for me. It wasn’t something I pursued but it was something that was consistently popping up in my life. There were several people telling me I should consider the position and eventually I did. I was in New York and I was doing great work there but I reached a point where I didn’t want to be involved with a label. The industry was deteriorating, and I was getting older. I no longer cared for that music (rap) anymore or that lifestyle. Here in Memphis, it’s slower and I can make my lifestyle what I want it to be. I don’t have to compete with the Puffy’s of the world. It just started to make sense and that’s why I came. It was just time.  I’ve lived a very blessed life. I’ve been all over the country, the world and seen a lot of things I obviously would have never seen if I had stayed in Mississippi or even in Memphis for that matter. When I look back over my shoulders I have a lot to be thankful for. I feel like now is the time to dream a new dream and have a new vision. That new vision is here in Memphis. If I take the background I have and apply it to what we’re trying to build here at the Music Commission it becomes very significant. I can lend a lot to anyone who is looking to pursue a career in music.

IGW: What is Johnnie Walker’s formula for success?

Johnnie: That’s a good one…probably patience, hard work, discipline and determination. I tell young people all the time you have to know when to leave the party. Just because other people are at the party all night doesn’t mean you have to stay at the party all night. When I went into a party I made sure the right people saw me there, I shook the right hands, I exchanged business cards with the right people and then I went home. You wouldn’t find me there at 4 a.m. dancing and drinking knowing I have to be up and at my best at 9 a.m. because I had an artist going on tour. No, no, no. You can apply that philosophy to other aspects of your life. You have to be disciplined.

You have to be determined and know what you can because people will tell you what you can’t do. You also need patience because there will be things that you want right now but know that if you’re disciplined, determined and work hard they’re coming.

IGW:  Thank you for your time Ms. Walker.

Learn More about the Shelby County Music Commission at www.memphismusic.org.

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The Terrific Tomeka Hart

July 2009

Tomeka HartEducation: Trezevant High School
BS University of Tennessee Knoxville
MBA Kennesaw State University
JD University of Memphis School of Law

Tomeka Hart currently serves as CEO of the Memphis Urban League and President of Memphis City Schools Board of Commissioners.  She is the first woman to hold the position of CEO of MUL, which has been in existence since 1932.  These two roles have put her in a position to spearhead major changes within our city. However, both of these positions are multi-faceted and come with many challenges. It seems that getting people to believe in themselves, their city, its leadership and the immediate need to fully invest in its youth may just be the biggest fight of her life. Ms. Hart shares with us here why she is more than ready for the battle and has every intention of being victorious.

IGW: You are a very civic minded individual. Where does this love for the betterment of your community stem from?

Tomeka: My family. My mom is a very giving person. She’s always doing for others and I grew up with that giving spirit.  When I returned to Memphis for law school I immediately got active with a couple schools and a couple of students who were wards of the state.  That made me see the great importance of helping our youth.

IGW:  What made you decide to run for MCS School Board?

Tomeka: It’s a combination of things.  I love Memphis and I want to see it progress. While I was in law school I started looking at law, policy, politics and the school system.  Once I graduated, I started thinking about what else I could do to serve the community.  Eventually, the feeling ofsomebody needs to do something changed to why don’t you do something?   Then, I realized that the district I would serve is the same one in which I was educated and where my family grew up. My mom and dad were both raised in District 7.  I was like, “Okay, I’m supposed to do this.”

IGW:  We all know MCS needs improvement.  I see good things on the horizon, but it didn’t deteriorate over night so it’s not going to be rebuilt overnight.  You, the other Commissioners, Superintendent Cash and his staff have a huge feat ahead of you.  That job comes with a lot of responsibility.  However, you have another job that also comes with a lot of responsibility.  What made you decide to vie for the position as head of the Memphis Urban League?

Tomeka:  This was not something I planned.  I was practicing law at that time, but I was beginning to feel like public service was what I should be doing full-time.  I was already familiar with the Urban League because I was active in their Young Professionals component.  When Dr. Takufu decided to leave in 2006, I had a couple of people tell me,  “I should think about applying for the position.” After giving it some thought, I realized it would be a good fit. What better way to serve my city than through this wonderful organization that helps people get jobs and further their education?  I am a public servant at heart.

IGW:  Some people aren’t quite sure what the Memphis Urban League does.  Can you give us a quick synopsis?

Tomeka:  We help people become economically self-sufficient.  We do this by helping adults find employment and helping students with academic achievement.  We focus on workforce development, education and youth development through various programs.  We have job placement, computer training, job readiness/employability skills training.  Our educational programsare geared towards our high school students.  We do college prep programs, youth leadership development and adolescent parenting for those who have children.

IGW:  What do you think is your greatest challenge in both positions?

Tomeka:  With MCS the greatest challenge is education reform. The school board has to be the leader in reforming the district.  Public education is very challenging.  Especially, urban public education. We have to get people to recognize the real challenge of educating low-income, potentially disadvantaged students.  It requires more resources.  It requires helping people who are funders, supporters and parents to understand that is necessary we get those resources.  We are trying to bring about lasting, impactful reform that leads to academic achievement throughout the school system.

IGW:  So far what have you come up with in order to make this happen?

Tomeka:  It is an ongoing process, but we are making strides.  What we have learned is that you have to be data driven.  You have to know your students and really be able to identify and target what is challenging them.  For instance, we have a large number of students who are overage for grade. Now that’s not a new phenomenon, but we had to look at how to best service them.  Part of the solution is helping those students identify their individual challenges by putting them in an environment where they can be successful.  This year we implemented the MCS Prep Schools, which are specifically designed for students who are overage for grade.  I hope the data will reveal that, that was the right thing to do and it will help those students to get where they need to be. Some of them will be able to move through the program quickly and catch up with their class.  It will prevent others from dropping out because they are a part of a program that gives them the attention they need.  That is just one example of really honing in and diagnosing what our issues are and then treating it with the right medicine.  We also have the PM schools that are set to recapture those students who have dropped out of school.  We are optimistic and the response from students and parents has been wonderful. The demand for these programs has exceeded our expectations.We also have to create options for our gifted and academically capable students. So, we are expanding our optional programs.  I am so proud of that. I was a victim of growing up in a community where there was a lack of optional programs.  I had to go out of my Frayser community in order to attend a school that could be academically challenging. That inequity has to stop.  Part of academic reform is creating challenging and academically demanding programs in every school, not just a handful.  Every community deserves that. If we are realistic and every year we commit to each Pre-K class that we will do everything in our power to make sure that throughout their tenure they have the best education we can give them that’s when we’ll start to see change.  But that’s long term.  We need people to be patient. We didn’t get here overnight. We are now communicating to people–here’s where we are and here’s where we’re going and in x amount of years that’s when we will start to see tremendous change because of the way we have addressed these issues.

IGW:  What is your greatest challenge with the Urban League but it sounds like your challenges overlap.

Tomeka: Exactly. I serve the same purpose in both roles—making people self-sufficient. With the Urban League the greatest challenge comes with serving as a job placement agency.  With the downturn in the economy, more and more people are getting laid off or terminated. We are servicing more people, but we have fewer positions to place them in.We are doing what we can to educate more businesses about what we do. Companies are learning that if they work through us the 10 people I send on the interview are ready opposed to the amount of job-ready individuals who may respond if they place an ad in the paper.  We don’t send people who are not qualified for the job and companies see value in that.  One of our goals is to get our participants more livable wage jobs.  I would rather get them $10 or $12 an hour jobs but right now it’s more $7 and $8 jobs.  But the great thing is that they are working and the people we have been able to place are grateful to have a job.  Another challenge is many of our clients have very few skills.  They may also have a criminal background.  Companies don’t want to hire ex-offenders, and you have people who genuinely want a second chance.  I am dealing with a company now to try and create some transitional jobs. We are working hard to overcome our challenges.

IGW:  What advice do you have for women who seek to follow in your footsteps?  Women who not only want to be an asset to their community but want to be the heads of organizations and companies?

Tomeka:   I always say to people define yourself for yourself.  Make sure what you have set for yourself is really what you want and not what someone else wants for you.  Then find out how you get there and commit to doing those things.  I generally look ahead 3 -5 years.  This allows you to create a map and follow it.  If you happen to get off on the wrong exit, quickly find a way to get back on your map.  In doing this, you can set yourself up so that whatever you want to do you will have the resources, the skills, the talent and the passion to do it.  If you are prepared and determined, it’s hard for other people to hold you back.

IGW:  Two more questions. Since this site is geared toward women why do you think women are so amazing?

Tomeka:  I’ll speak from an executive position.  I’ve worked for men and women and I believe that good female executives understand the business of what they do, but also have that human touch. My mentor, Kathryn Pascover, is a partner in a law firm.  She is brilliant in her field and was very demanding but she also understood me as a person.  She understood my emotional needs and personal desires outside of my work.  She did not require me to give that up in order to be a lawyer.  She did her best to show me how I could do all of that and be a good lawyer.  There are amazing women who have lucrative careers but are also mothers and wives.  Men often times can focus on one thing because there is a woman there who is taking care of home and raising the children.  Many woman have to do it all so they get the full picture that career is important but so is having a life outside of your career.  Women are strong enough to nurture both.  That is what makes women fascinating.  We are full of heart!

IGW:  What are your hobbies?

Tomeka:  I enjoy politics, fine dining, traveling, and reading. Right now, I’m reading “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell.  It’s about success.

For more information visit  www.memphisurbanleague.org  Memphis City Schools www.mcsk12.net

Parents who have a student who is overage for grade and in need of an accelerated program to graduate can contact the Office of Innovative Schools at 901-416-2200.

 

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