Page 1

A University Press magazine April 2017

Fighting for a Dream Page 12

Inside: People, Zena Stephens, Tourette’s, and more




Haley Bruyn MANAGING EDITOR Tim Collins



Baylee Billiot

Marissa Bonner Noah Dawlearn


Karisa Norfleet Marcus Owens Aspen Winn


Taylor Phillips COVER DESIGN

Trevier Gonzalez


© University Press 2017



April 2017


Bottled up Darrin Ford

Coca Cola has been a beverage in high demand since its creation, in 1886. Even though Darin Ford’s soda of choice is Dr. Pepper, the Beaumont-native has purchased a large amount of Coke to support his love for the glass bottles. Darrin, who is director at the Lamar Baptist Student Ministry, started collecting coke bottles in the early ’90s. “I probably have about 50 bottles here in my office,” he says. “I have more at home. I have one from the Los Angeles Olympics and The 2004 Final Four. I think my first ones were The Christmas

Story and photo by Marcus Owens

Santa Coke Bottles, they started my collection.” Darrin even gets his prized possessions from foreign countries, with his most recent being from Belize. “It has sand from one of the beaches that we went to,” he says. “I have a couple I brought back from Egypt that have Egyptian writing all over it.” Darrin says he doesn’t get many from the United States anymore because they only make them in plastic. “If I see an interesting one, I’ll pick it up, but I’m kind of running out of room. I consider the Coca Cola bottles as my babies.”


Continuing to Fly

April 2017


LaTridia Byrd

When LaTridia Byrd’s knee burst open during a routine in high school, her gymnastics career was over. “I’ve always been a dancer, though, and I am still able to do most things I did before, but If you ask me to do a backflip now, I won’t do it,” the Houston native says. Four years later, the Lamar alumna has found an alternative — acro-yoga. “It’s like acrobatics and yoga had a baby,” she says. “You have a partner and you work together to create stability. It’s a mental and physical workout, because this person is holding you up themselves — nothing else, just you and your partner.” She got her boyfriend of three years involved as well. Whenever she is not working one of her two jobs, LaTridia is in the gym or a dance studio, or outside enjoying the sun. She makes sure to meditate at least once a day. LaTridia says trust plays a big part in acro-yoga. “I have to know that you will keep me safe,” she says. Eventually, LaTridia hopes to open her own acro-yoga studio. “Right now, acro-yoga is a hobby but it gives me that adrenaline I crave without all the ‘extra’ that gymnastics brought into my life,” she says.

Story and photo by Marissa Bonner

Freedom Replicas Roland Wolfford Lamar University alumni Roland Wolfford collects bald eagles. “It’s one of the icons that represents the freedoms of our country,” the 80-year old says. With 30 years worth of collections, Roland says it’s his greatest treasure. “I have 41 eagles now, and I would hope to have at least 50 by the time I’m gone,” he says. His collection includes calendars, pictures, figures, and replicas. Not only does he have an interest for the memorabilia, Roland, who graduated with a degree in Applied Science in Diesel Mechanics in 1985, admires the actual birds, too. “I can’t stand to hear that someone has killed one of the birds,” he says. “I believe the penalty for killing one is $150,000 and 15 years in federal prison.” Roland, a retired plant worker, says he gets truly upset because he feels that when someone kills a bird, they are killing a piece of our freedom. “Someone shot one two months ago around the Winnie Marshes, injuring the bird’s beak and it had to be put down,” he says. “It broke my heart.” Roland says his greatest hope is for more people to recognize what the eagle represents. “It’s such a beautiful bird,” he says. “The way it flies freely in the air represents how free we are allowed to be as Americans.”

Story and photo by Baylee Billiott




April 2017

SHERIFF Story by Tim Collins

Photos by Noah Dawlearn


Zena Stephens breaks

Last year, while then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump was upsetting expectations and slowly climbing his way to an electoral victory, Nov. 8, Zena Stephens was experiencing a similar victory in her bid for Jefferson County sheriff. She won the county with 51.4 percent of the vote, a county Trump won by 424 votes, defeating Ray Beck for the post previously held by 20-year veteran Mitch Woods. Stephens is the first black female sheriff elected in the state of Texas and one of only two currently serving in the United States. Since the election, she has been a guest on “Harry,” the one-hour daytime television show of singer Harry Connick Jr., has been interviewed by Texas Monthly and has been approached by the BBC. She said her newfound fame reflects Jefferson County’s positivity. “I’m excited that our community is getting some notoriety for doing something positive,” she said. “Our community crossed gender, racial and even political party lines to elect its first African American female sheriff in the state, so that’s special.” Law enforcement wasn’t Stephens’ first choice for a career — she originally wanted to be a lawyer. She joined the police academy only after graduating from Lamar University with a bachelor’s in political science. She said this was due, in part, because she didn’t see many black, female law enforcement officers growing up. “We did see attorneys on TV,” she said. “You thought, coming up, that was a profession back then that you could make a good living at, and use the ability to argue points and the idea that you could go help people that weren’t getting the benefit of our system. I always wanted to do that, and I am doing that now, just from a different (viewpoint).” For that reason, Stephens said representation is important for

I never wanted to be the first anything. I just wanted to be good at my job. — Sheriff Zena Stephens

April 2017



UNREPRESENTED racial barriers, glass ceilings to inspire others For that reason, Stephens said representation is important for young people who are deciding what they want to be when they grow up. “I think if that means that I’m a role model, if young ladies see me and now believe that they can become sheriff or have careers in law enforcement, I think that that’s wonderful,” she said. “For me, I never wanted to be the first anything. I just wanted to be good at my job, but if it can be used for a positive message for females or for African Americans, I think that’s special.” Stephens has been a law enforcement figure for 28 years, both in Beaumont and as police chief at Prairie View A&M. Adjusting to the life of a politician was different, Stephens said, because she ran to be sheriff, not a politician, so that she could effect positive change. “I’m serious about that in terms of I’m an African American, and I’m a woman, and I’m a cop,” she said. “I’ve heard what people have said on both sides, and all sides concerning that issue, and so I really am trying to fix it.” Stephens said one way a police department can change how the community views law enforcement is through diversity. One way to change how a community views its police force is for its police force to look like the community. “Since I’ve been elected I’ve been trying to hire more people from the LGBT community, I’ve been trying to make sure we hire more minorities — whether it’s women or Latinos or African Americans — because I think when people know that they may get stopped by a person who thinks like

them or looks like them, they’re going to be treated fairly,” she said. “People who are not progressive thinkers, who are not inclusive — I want to make them uncomfortable. What I’m doing is, I’m using that ‘Good Ol’ Boy’ system, only I’m kind of reversing it — where you make sure there are more people who think like I do in the sheriff’s office or the police department, than think the other way, and that’s how you begin to change a

culture.” Part of reshaping the police force begins with keeping rules consistent so that officers know what the expectations are, Stephens said. “If the expectation in a sheriff’s department or a police department is that you can get away with violating use of force policies or all that stuff, you can’t discipline people,” she said. “For me, one of the first things I went in when I took over — and it’s not even

an indictment on my predecessor — but I made sure everybody understood what my mission statement, what my culture is. We’re going to obey the law.” One way a sheriff can maintain a consistent, professional culture in their police force is to recognize that some officers are not meant for law See STEPHENS page 15

Zena Stephens broke political, racial and gender boundaries to become the first female African American elected sheriff of Jefferson County, TX.



m o r F

April 2017

tap... TIC to

Young dancer with Tourette’s finds friendship, community, confidence through dance Story by Haley Bruyn

If you ask 12-year old Haden Blanchard to describe himself in four words, he will say he is a “funny, kind, caring dancer,” and he will probably do it in some sort of Australian/Scottish accent. He might tell you about how he dances almost seven days a week in every style from hip hop to ballet (which is his favorite). What he won’t mention is that he has Tourette’s syndrome — a neurological condition that causes him to move involuntarily, or “tic,” and is often combined with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and/or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) — both of which he also has. “To actually receive the diagnosis they have to demonstrate both physical and verbal tics,” Kim Blanchard, Haden’s mother, said. “Some kids will say words or repeat things that people say — echolalia — they echo the speech of others or what they hear somewhere, like on TV.” Blanchard is a graduate psychology student at Lamar University. She said she returned to school to fill a gap she saw in the research on Tourette’s and similar disorders. “I could read academic articles but I kept thinking, ‘I really don’t feel like there’s enough here. I think there needs to be more information.’ They can look at characteristics of things all day long, but how much does it actually tell us? So I came back to school to work on research on kids with developmental disorders. It’s sad that a lot of people with Tourette’s have reports of a childhood spent feeling bad about the way you behave and the way you move, and how everybody perceives you. “Their brain’s are literally not working the way that their peers’ are, and to ask them to do everything the way their peers do is like asking a child in a wheelchair to catch up with the class. That’s what I would tell people when they didn’t understand what I was asking them to accommodate for. To teachers, specifically, I would say, ‘Its like telling a child on crutches to walk faster.’ It’s not fair and it’s not something that the child necessarily can help.” Haden and Kim are involved with Tourette Texas, a non-profit organization that advocates and spreads information about Tourette’s syndrome. “Tourette’s is rare enough that most people know someone with Tourette’s, but most people with Tourette’s don’t know another person with Tourette’s,” she said. Kim said the Tourette Texas events help Haden socialize with people who have similar experiences. “It gives him a way to verbalize what he’s experiencing and that helps him work through whatever challenges he has,” she said. “He doesn’t exactly know, from a

p i h Jazz, op h

April 2017



ballet &


“When we saw him on stage at the recital for the first time, my husband and I teared up. We said, ‘This is it. This is what he needed.’” — Kim Blanchard child’s perspective, if his thoughts and his actions are normal — that’s the only experience he knows.” Haden said living with Tourette’s is all he’s known. “It’s just something I was born with,” he said. “It can make things difficult. I don’t think I would tell new people I have Tourette’s. I’d just say, ‘My name is Haden,’ and they’d figure it out eventually.” Haden’s condition makes it hard for him to attend regular public school. His constant energy can be a distraction and some teachers are less than accommodating. Haden’s tics often meant he would bump into other children and he was forced to stand at the front of a line, separated from the others. “All of the kids would look at me like, ‘Why is Haden doing that?’ I didn’t mind going to recess first, but it was kind of embarrassing,” he said. Kim said she was terrified that Haden would look at education as something that he was just terrible at. “I pulled him out of public school and I homeschooled him myself — I had multiple teaching certifications at that time,” she said. “My mother would work with him on the work I set up each day, and we kept him on task. When he benchmarked to get into one of the public online programs this year, they said he had one of the higher scores. “He can do it, it’s just the setting he’s in — and if you’re willing to modify to allow him to do what he needs to do. He does his work some-

times with his leg behind his head because he’s flexible — he’s a dancer — and he needs to be able to move.” If there is one thing Haden does well, it’s moving. He is in the company of the iRule dance studio in Beaumont, where he spends upwards of 20 hours a week practicing and taking classes. After his Tourette’s manifested, Haden’s parents wanted a way for him to expend his extra energy in a positive way. Soccer didn’t hold his interest, so Kim decided to give dance a shot. “It was the first time I had ever seen him come home and focus and work on something,” she said. “They had to use hula-hoops, and all the girls in the class could hula-hoop and he couldn’t do it. He would practice for hours going back and forth from our shop to our house doing the hulahoop — he could walk while he did it. He got to be one of the better hoolahoopers in the class. It was funny to see this little kindergarten kid, who got in trouble for not paying attention and never focusing, really focus on something. “When we saw him on stage at the recital for the first time, my husband and I teared up. We said, ‘This is it. This is what he needed.’” The dancing also came with an interesting side effect — no tics. When Haden is dancing, his physical symptoms disappear almost completely. “I don’t have any tics, apparently,” he said. “Really, I just dance and don’t tic — and that’s

See TOURETTE’S page 14

Courtesy photo

Haden and Kim Blanchard at the Tourette Texas Gala in January 2016.



April 2017

Grappling onto a dream


potlights paint the ring, bringing color to rivalries ignited by narratives of vengeance, resurgence and the desire to win. But after the finishing blow and with cheers fading, the combatants step back into another life of comrades fighting the same battle. “Every wrestler is a brother or sister,” said cruiserweight Aston Jacobs. “One wrong move — they’re gone. We put a lot of trust into each other that we’re gonna beat the crap out of each other and then we’re gonna go hug and drink beers later.” The Sanger native said wrestling is his escape. To get into the business, one needs to be a little abnormal. “It’s kind of something (where) I feel like I belong,” he said. “I’d hate to say most people that want to be wrestlers are not normal people. We just keep falling and falling, and we


keep wanting to do it — so it’s kind of a weird pain and love with it.” Referee Said Abumusa is set on becoming a wrestler. He said getting into the industry was, and still is, a long road. “I never was an athlete,” he said. “That’s kind of how I got put in this ref position. My philosophy on life is, whatever job you give me, I’m gonna do the best at it. You want me to shovel shit? I’m gonna be the best shit-shoveler you’ve ever seen.” The New Orleans native isn’t disappointed to be a ref. By learning all aspects of the industry, he said he understands the art of wrestling. “It’s a show, to an extent, but you don’t know how much of an extent it is ‘til you actually are behind the scenes,” he said. “Yeah, there’s a physical aspect of it, that was hard enough, but it was really the mental aspect that I was

Referee Said Abumusa, top, watches as Ryan Davidson puts Terrale Tempo in a knee-driven arm stretch. Abumusa, above, watches Hurricane Pro Wrestling practice.

April 2017 struggling with. The storytelling, making everything make sense, entertaining the people.” Jacobs has had his fair share of injuries. He can barely turn his head to the left and has contorted his spine from the vibrations of falling down in the ring. He said wrestling is more than oily guys in tights moving around. “A lot of people just don’t understand what the pain and the art we have, through telling a story,” he said. “You should look at it as an art form, it’s like violence with ballet. It’s an art form. You’re watching these guys be incredible athletes, but showing you a story you can immerse yourself through.” Jacobs, who’s fulfilling a childhood dream, encourages everyone to do the same. “It’s not even wrestling,” he said. “I just want people to be successful

See GRAPPLE page 12

Clockwise from above: Ashton Jacobs, “History’s Greatest Monster,” eyes his opponent; Hurricane Pro Wrestling heavyweight champion Masada struggles to get out of a hold; Inferno Tiger plays his role as a wrestling hero; and Terrale Tempo prepares for his match.






April 2017

from page 11

everywhere they go. Everything is going to be hard in life. There’s gonna be stuff that’s gonna just come at you like a brick wall, and you don’t know what to do. But the best thing to do is, just keep going.” Abumusa got the opportunity to wrestle when somebody didn’t show up, and he just so happened to have a pair of tights. “My whole gimmick was, I went out there as the ref, and since the guy’s partner never came out, I ripped my ref shirt off and I had the tights on, and the fans went nuts,” he said. “At the time, I had been doing this for four years. I never stepped into a ring in front of a crowd before — and I did it.” Jacobs said the sound of the crowd at the end of a match makes the pain and sweat worthwhile. “When you hear that — you could be tired, and you go out there — it feels like a breath of fresh air just hits you,” he said. “There’s no more pain, just that moment. You don’t feel anything, you just feel like everything is just gone.” He smiled. “I’ll be doing this until I’m dead in the ground.”

April 2017







April 2017

from page 9

kind of cool.” Still, there are other aspects of his disease that Haden has to deal with. “People should be aware that Tourette’s is more than just tics,”Kim said. “That’s definitely just the tip of the iceberg. They usually have behavioral symptoms, emotional types of problems, because they’re dealing with a lot during the day, just trying to control tics. “My son’s tics are very subtle, but his ADHD and OCD are pretty tough to work with.” Luckily, the Blanchards found more than just a dance studio in iRule — they found a safe place for Haden “They’re amazing. They’re positive,” Kim said. “The

director, Charlee Rule, treats him like her own son and watches out for him. He has been thriving since then. Nothing is ever going to be perfect, he’s still a child with a disorder, but he is probably getting the best experience that he could. “I talk to the other parents when I go to the Tourette events, and sometimes I think it’s tough for us, but then I hear some of their stories and realize he’s probably in one of the best scenarios of the kids I know. “Charlee has seen Haden when he’s at his low points and she still loves him and treats him well. She is always looking after his best interest, and I always know that.” Dance is also where Haden spends time with his clos-

“I’m kind of teaching my little brother, and he has this little friend, Alex, and I’m probably their role model. But the older guys — they’re probably mine.” —Haden Blanchard

See TOURETTE’S page 18

UP photo by Noah Dawlearn

Courtesy photo

Haden Blanchard practices his dance moves to a Bruno Mars song, April 11 at iRule Dance Studio, above. Haden dances, left, during the VIP Dance competition, left.

April 2017


from page 7

enforcement, Stephens said. “There are some things that are deal breakers,” she said. “I believe if you’re a police officer, you should be a professional. If you make a mistake and it’s a mistake that isn’t malicious, if it’s not going to hurt anybody, those are maybe things that we can do progressive discipline on. But some of the things that I’ve seen, excessive use of force, some of those issues, we’re not going to do progressive discipline. I’m going to get rid of you, because everybody who wants to be a police officer doesn’t necessarily deserve, nor should they, be a police officer. “I don’t want you to work for me if you don’t have enough common sense or people skills — you probably shouldn’t be in this business because we’re going to be answering very volatile calls and volatile situations. When we show up on scene, most people aren’t happy. They’re already very emotional, so if we’re going to participate in inciting those emotions and causing more problems, I’m not going to do progressive discipline.” Stephens said police officers have to meet certain criteria to be good at the job, and that lowering standards of hiring only leads to an increase in liability for a police department. “To me, you’ve got to have some great communication skills to be a good cop, you’ve got to have a high level of patience and understanding, you have to have some compassion, but you’ve also got to have good character,” she said. Despite her early desire to be an attorney, Stephens said she showed the characteristics of a law enforcement officer even at an early age when she would play with her cousins. “None of them are surprised today that I’m a sheriff or that I’m in law enforcement because they said, even as a kid, I was the one who always made sure that everybody did the right thing or followed the code, which I find funny because looking back, it’s kind of true,” she said. “I had 13 other cousins and we were all really close in age, and we all played and spent a lot of time together.” Teachers can often make a difference in children’s interests, which Stephens said was exemplified in her early education. “I had some really good government teachers for one, I’ll tell you that,” she said. “I loved history and government classes — watching, studying how that worked — so I had some interest in that. I was a part of speech and debate in high school and I was pretty good at it. You kind of choose careers — I don’t know if you choose them or they choose you based

on your interests.” Stephens said nothing is more important than family, which, she said, is reflected in her organizational philosophy. “Parenting put a lot of things into perspective,” she said. “You figure out what’s important. If you talk to any of the individuals who work for me, I’m constantly reminding them we come to work to take care of our families, so I make sure that they’re wearing their vests and that they do certain things to make sure that they go home to their families at night. I think that that’s important.” Stephens’ family is originally from Louisiana, though her parents grew up in Beaumont. “My mom graduated from Hebert High School, my dad from CharltonPollard, so if you know anything about the history of Beaumont, those were two historically black high schools in Beaumont,” she said. “My mom had just been born when her family moved here looking for work, and the same thing with my dad.” Stephens said she and her husband are avid sports fans, routinely attending Dallas Cowboy games, and that she played plenty of racquetball, tennis, volleyball and basketball growing up. In fact, her daughter, who graduated from the University of Texas last May, has been drafted to play professional softball. Stephens said her history with sports prepared her for her career in law enforcement. “It helped me more psychologically, I think, than the physical aspect of it because I’m a



competitor,” she said. “I hate to lose. Even if you go to the sheriff’s department right now, every one of my guys will tell you I’m constantly talking about how I was never a ‘B Team’ player. And if I was on the ‘B Team,’ I would work really hard to get moved on to the ‘A Team,’ and I tell them, ‘We’re not going to be a “B Team” sheriff’s department.’ We’re gonna be the best.” Stephens’ election broke glass ceilings and racial barriers at the same time, but her overall message is that there are more stories like hers in Jefferson County than people realize, and that she hopes her story will be an inspiration to others.



April 2017

Jumping into ‘Action’ Brian O’Bonna

Lights. Camera. Action. Three words Brian O’Bonna knows all too well from acting in Canadian films and commercials. Brian took an interest in acting at the age of eight in Toronto. His sister did commercials, films and music videos in Toronto before Brian made his debut in “Plan Canada,” a non-profit poverty organization. “I signed up with an agency and started doing background extra work and from there, more principle work,” he says. Brian says his most memorable acting experience is a campaign for United Way in 2014. “The film premiered at their kickoff event on the big screen,” he says. “Watching myself on a big screen along with a theatre filled with people was pretty cool.” Brian has appeared in more than 20 films, commercials and plays, including “Ben 10 Blast N Launch,” “True Voodoo” and HBO’s “The Yard.” Brian is a long jumper on the Lamar University track team, and competed in the Canadian National Championship where he placed third. The event doubles as the Olympic trials but Brian was just short of qualification. After he graduates with a business management degree, Brian says his ultimate goal is to work on Paramount or Disney productions. “

Burning Soul Brooklyn Williams

Story and photo by Karissa Norfleet

Brooklyn Williams starts her day at 7 a.m., gets dressed, eats breakfast, and then makes her daily drive down to Fannett road. Six days out the week and twice on Sunday’s, the Lamar alumnus ends her days at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. “It’s literally always something to do here,” she says. “As Pastor John Adolph’s assistant, he has me running, talking and meeting people with him from sunrise to sundown and when he can’t make it, guess who’s there to fill in his place?” One of Brooklyn’s primary jobs is as director of “Lamar Cru,” a late church service for Lamar students followed by a meal. “I was once a student. I know how stressful school is, I’ve been there,” Brooklyn, who graduated in 2011 with a corporate communication degree, says. “I just want those students to know that we care,” she says. “Away from home, you still have a family here and, yes, we will give you free food.” Although she has little time to herself, Brooklyn says she loves the position. She makes herself accessible to all of her colleagues and church members. “I love talking to people, reaching out to people. It’s my passion,” the former communication major states.”

Story and photo by Aspen Winn

April 2017






April 2017

from page 14

est friends. “There’s Christopher — and the teacher has twins where the girl dances and the boy doesn’t dance, but he’s my friend,” Haden said. “And there are a lot of older guys. I think I’m kind of teaching my little brother, and he has this little friend, Alex, and I’m probably their role model. But the older guys — they’re probably mine.” Last year Haden competed in his first solo competition “He actually won in his lyrical division, and it was one of the largest categories,” Kim said. “He did a piece called ‘Electricity,’ from the musical ‘Billy Elliot.’ Everybody cries when he does it — it’s about a little boy loving to dance — and he was chosen out of all the children to perform that day for a scholarship. He’s one of those kids — he pulls out the surprises.” Haden’s favorite type of dance is ballet, and he prefers to perform in groups, even though he’s comfortable solo. “I like doing group performances because I get to

dance with other kids, and if I forget something I can always look over my shoulder,” he said. Haden is just like any other 12-year-old boy — he wants to play video games and eat popcorn at the movies, and sometimes he gets himself in trouble without the help of Tourette’s. “We were at nationals in Florida and it was a pool accident,” Kim said. “He hit his head on the side trying to do a flip — he’s a teen boy.” “He actually had a pretty major head injury. He avoided a concussion, but he had to have 60 stitches — it did make a huge cut all the way across his forehead. His dance teacher comes into the emergency room and she’s crying because she’s worried about him and he goes, ‘Oh, no! I’m still going to dance tomorrow!’ and he did. “He wanted to dance and I told him, ‘Well, if you’re swollen you can’t.’ He didn’t complain once. I got him up every hour and iced his head. “We have videos of him competing with a giant bandage around his head.” Kim said that life isn’t perfect. Haden has times

when he still struggles. “He has times still where he may not be the kid that every kid wants to be best friends with, because of his OCD — when somebody argues with him, he doesn’t know when to let it go,” she said. “Sometimes, he is so impulsive, and because he repetitively does things, it can be very annoying. Even when kids understand it can be hard, because that’s not who they want to play with. So that’s something he struggled with. “He’s getting older. He’s at the right place. His studio advocates for him. If they see anybody not being sensitive to him, they try to include and help teach each other, and talk about including everyone so they all get the same experience.” With a disease like Tourette’s, there are good days and bad, and months that are better than others, but with the support and encouragement of his friends and family, Haden can be his funny, kind, caring self, and focus on his taps, not his tics. For more information about Tourette’s Syndrome visit or

April 2017



UPbeat Spring 2017  

The semesterly magazine for the University Press newspaper.

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