Huami Magazine Arizona Sept./Oct. 2023

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Sept./Oct. 2023 Vol. 1 Issue 11 ARIZONA ® Bloolutus Vedayoga
“Healing From The Depths”

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Align Your Assignment With God

Your assignment is not the assignment of everyone else. Once I learned what those nine words truly meant, my focus on life changed. Of course, I have been told that God gives His toughest battles to His strongest warriors, but that memo didn’t include details of when the battles would end. Instead of sticking my chest out during my victories and hanging my head during the moments of defeat, I’ve decided to learn from each circumstance, and by doing so, I am prepared for the next battle with each new day.

The best advice I have ever given myself is to be satisfied in my attempts to be better. When I first launched Huami Magazine, I was presented with a situation that adversely impacted the quality of my relatively new publication. I was frustrated, but I also knew what had occurred and why it happened. The idea of quitting never came into my mind, even while I sat motionless, staring at the balled-up copy in reference. I didn’t know then, but God was preparing me for something greater.

In November of this year, we will begin our seventeenthanniversary celebration of the birth of Huami Magazine. When I think about all of the layouts, the photo shoots, the interviews, and the distributions that have taken place, all I can say is God has been faithful and continues to keep His promise.

Had I given up in the beginning, the stories and testimonies of countless individuals may have never been published. Had I given in to the pressure of operating in the unknown, my mother would have never been able to mail magazines to her friends. Had I not decided to pour everything I have in me into producing something my community would celebrate, the hope that others have in God doing a great work for them may not exist.

All of my assignments have come with a lot of responsibility. What is more interesting is that the same set of instructions has accompanied them all: to seek God first and operate according to His plans. My assignment is not everyone else’s, and I know everything I desire is connected to how it aligns with God’s plan. Learn your assignment and align it with God. He will handle the rest for you.

Howard Gaither Photography Tamara Smith Terry L. Watson Publisher Monica Montgomery Writer Marrissa Dick Writer Terry L. Watson Writer Dorjea’ McClammey Writer Todd Youngblood Photographer 29Eleven Photography Photographer John Jenkins Photographer Email Want To Advertise? Call 336-340-7844 Mykel Media Company LLC Greensboro, NC 2023 All Rights Reserved Scan The QR Code Above To Visit Our Website 336-340-7844 (336)340-7844 A Letter From The Editor
Terry L. Watson
Bloolutus Vedayoga Tashira Mone’ SEPT./OCT. 2023 ARIZONA CONTENTS 6 On The Cover Also Featured 30 34 18 Dannell Marshall Sr. Learn more about he his nonprofit organization is providing hope to men in his community. Men of Faith. Louisville, KY Adrian E. Miller He is regarded as a scholar of soul food. His journey has taken him on some interesting paths. Learn more about him. Denver, CO Verlancia Tucker She is taking BOHEMIA Cares to new heights. Learn more about the changes that taking place, and her move to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Little Rock, AR 5 Ministy and Business S. Kaye Lattimer-Ellerbe Memphis Shelby PAL Craig Littles Brown Sugar Baking Company Nicole Davis 10 14 24 Huami Magazine Cutest Baby Ashton Hairston 41

Bloolutus Vedayoga “Healing From The Depths”

Tashira Mone’, also known as “Shi”, has enjoyed a colorful and thrilling journey in life. She is an Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor, 200 RYT Hatha/Tantra/Vinyasa, 300 MTT Yoga Nidra Meditation, Sound Healer, a veteran, mom, and wife in Twin Flame Union.

Tashira is also an Air Force Veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. She has served as a nurse with a career that spanned over ten years. She has many experiences in various demographics, including being a licensed Tantra/Hatha/Vinyasa Yoga and meditation Instructor. Tashira’s training in this field happened in Indonesia. Additionally, she is an Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor and alumnus of Kerala Ayurvedic Academy.

After high school, Tashira joined the Air Force immediately, unleashing her inner warrior and bravery. She hadn’t even turned 18, but she set off with hope! “With only an inkling of who I was or wanted to be, I started my independent journey as Military Police personnel, which led to a deployment to Iraq and serving in mission Operation Iraqi Freedom. Upon separating from the military and four years of military police work, I sought healing career options,” she explains. “My own healing journey began after separating from the military, divorcing, and embarking on a new journey as a civilian and single mother. So, I studied Nursing and worked in various fields such as psych to rehab and addiction, corrections, and hospice. For the most part, I’ve always possessed a burning passion for acquiring knowledge through self-study and wisdom through my fearless experience and solitude.”

Currently, Tashira owns Bloolotus. Her company offers a unique and individualized holistic approach to health and wellness using Vedic knowledge and practices to support individuals in attaining balance, well-being, and optimal health. Her mantra, “The only way out is in”, and Tashira explains she is committed to assisting others in addressing the root causes of their challenges and ailments. “I structure my personal life and business around this mantra and strongly believe in the power of introspection as the catalyst for radical change. A healthy mind creates a healthy body, and healthy minds create a healthy society!”

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Photos Provided by Tashira Mone’

Her services are designed to guide human beings seeking wellness and health in awakening the healer within, using the powers of the mind, Vedic practices, and through the understanding of the subtle energies in our food, thoughts, and actions. With this approach in counseling, Tashira takes her clients on a holistic journey as they cleanse and reprogram their mind-body-spirit system, bringing optimal health, balance, purpose, clarity, and inner peace into their life experience. “Rather than seeking to heal others, my role is to awaken individuals to their inherent abilities and powers to heal themselves. This approach enables them to walk their authentic path and overcome any obstacles hindering them, ultimately fostering harmony, good health, clarity, purpose, and fulfilling their desires. I intend to create a space where my clients can fully embrace the healing experience and carry it with them long after their program ends.”

Some of the services offered by Bloolotus are 1:1 Yoga/Meditation Path, provided in monthly packages. In Yoga, Tashira says, it is believed that dis-ease results from disconnection between mind, body, and spirit. The path to Yoga begins by monitoring the mental processes, understanding the mental process, and becoming undisturbed by the fluctuations of the mind so you can remain stable amid challenge and change.

They also offer Yoga Nidra + Deep Healing Sound Therapy, which is an ancient, deep meditation practice that facilitates healing from the subconscious mind outwards. It is an ancestral practice that stems from Indian traditions and philosophies grounded in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Tantrism. “This technique uses the body, breath, and awareness to allow you to drop into a deep state of relaxed awareness. Yoga Nidra facilitates awakened clarity and deep relaxation and, with consistent practice, can help one transcend self-created perceptions and limitations, heal psychological wounds, reduce stress, improve sleep, and connect to one’s inner wisdom, which transcends any lineage or guru,” she says.

Next, Bloolotus offers Ayurvedic Counseling. This service emphasizes the food consumption of her clients, which she says is defined by the food they eat, the air they breathe in, and the quality of breath taken in through senses such as sound, visual food, and taste of food. “Ayurvedic guidance helps one identify where disease and imbalance is present, how it shows up, and what triggers it. Based on an individual’s Dosha (mind-body type) we work together to stop feeding the triggers and start feeding the innate healer through changes and management of lifestyle, surroundings, diet, activities, and mental state. It’s all about selecting the right ingredients and combinations to feed the healer within based on which elements support the individual’s mind-body type,” she says. “Ayurveda keeps the body and mind healthy for a sustainable and successful Yoga practice.


Finally, there’s the Ayurvedic Curated Seasonal Cleanses & Packages, which are offered during the Fall and Spring seasons. Living an Ayurvedic lifestyle, Tashira shares means seeing and understanding the nature of the self and the nature of everything the self takes in and making conscious calculations about what to add and what to remove to maintain harmony, balance, and good health. “It’s about understanding Karma, transcending mental limitation, and living in a way that best suits your mind and body. This changes with the seasons, as designed. Seasonal cleansing allows us to shift with this change and live in rhythm with nature. Ayurvedic seasonal cleansing prevents some of your most common and longstanding physical health issues alone.”

Tashira says the vision to start Bloolotus began many years ago, happening along with her own healing and spiritual journey. “I traveled to Peru for an Ayahuasca ceremony in 2016 and had a soul awakening, mind-blowing experience. I experienced a frightening yet beautiful rebirth, faced some of my innermost shadows head-on, and awakened to my unresolved traumas. The ceremony gave me forgiveness, acceptance, a deeper connection with my intuition, and a deeper understanding of nature and the human psyche. My perception of healing and medicine shifted. Shortly after returning home from Peru, I experienced a traumatic event in my personal life: a home break-in and sexual assault at knifepoint. This left me in mental and emotional turmoil. I turned to yoga philosophy and practice to help cope, and I obtained profound healing and enlightenment. With the anxiety and panic attacks resulting from the break-in, I couldn’t find the space to breathe and heal, so I decided to travel to Bali, Indonesia, to earn my yoga teacher certification through intense training and immersive study. I wanted to learn more about Yoga, which led me to the science of Ayurvedic Medicine. At that discovery, I knew I finally found my place, purpose, and path,” she says.

Tashira’s advice to others who may find themselves in places like she was is to let go of what you think your journey should look like because when you do that, you make space for the possibilities. “Any rigid thinking limits you from the infinite versions of outcomes that you can’t even imagine. Your mind only knows what it knows. So have faith, have fun, surrender, and trust the process,” she says.

To learn more about Bloolotus, please visit their website. h


One Accord Ministries, INC

S. Kaye Latimer-Ellerbe’s mission is to inspire and empower others through practical and spiritual guidance. Her favorite life scripture is 3 John 1:2 (Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers), which is always at the forefront of her mind as she challenges God’s people to live up to their full potential.

Born in South Carolina but now residing in Philadelphia, PA, Kaye is married to Reverend James B. Ellerbe, and together they have four daughters. She holds a Master of Business Administration, a Bachelor of Arts in English, and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications. Currently, Kaye is pursuing a Master of Science in Information Technology.

Professionally, Kaye owns and manages One Accord Ministries, INC, and On Point Events LLC. One Accord Ministries Inc., a nonprofit organization, is committed to serving the Lord and spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the truths of God’s word. Their work is done through live drama presentations that consists of dramatization, dance, and spoken word. “Our services are designed to reach the hearts of the lost and encourage Christians toward a closer relationship with Jesus Christ,” Kaye says. “Combining the Gospel with drama helps the audience see, hear, feel, and understand the message like never before, as the word of God comes alive on stage. Our vision is to take these productions to many different churches, conferences, and theaters, and break down religious barriers and speak to the believer’s heart so that people can be healed, delivered, and set free of bondage.”

For the most part, Kaye has always been drawn to the arts. She studied Liturgical Dance under Pastor Kristopher Halsey, founder of the Look & Live Creative Arts Team of Unity Temple Worship Center, Philadelphia, PA, and Minister Carolyn Johnson, founder of Breaking the Barriers Arts Academy, in Pennsauken, NJ. Additionally, she has shared her gift of ministry in dance throughout the United States, Bermuda, and Uganda, Africa, and held many church leadership positions, being ordained to the office of Elder in 2010. At the close of Unity Temple Worship Center, she founded One Accord Ministries Inc.

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Photos Provided by S. Kaye Lattimer-Ellerbe
“Our vision is to take these productions to many different churches, conferences, and theaters, and break down religious barriers and speak to the believer’s heart so that people can be healed, delivered, and set free of bondage.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Kaye decided to follow her passion for decorating and design and started an event design business called On Point Events, LLC. On Point Events was created because of Kaye’s desire never to have anyone look back on their special day and be disappointed by what they see in the pictures. “A picture is worth millions to some and worth nothing to others. Once the moment has been captured in a picture, it can never be changed,” she says. On Point Events’ goal is to take their client’s dreams and make them a reality using decor designs from chairs and table linens, sashes, table runners, and centerpieces. “Our services are for anyone who has a vision for a special event and wants to see it come to life.”

As a Playwright and Director, Kaye says what she loves most is the opportunity to express her artistic vision and ideas through the medium of theater. “My job is to create unique stories, develop compelling characters, and explore diverse themes and emotions that keep the audience engaged and invested in the story,” she said. As an Event Designer and Coordinator, she mostly enjoys creating memorable experiences that reflect her client’s vision and love story. “I want to make sure that every time they think of the day or look at their photos, they experience the same euphoric feeling as they experienced on the actual day.”

Kaye shares that her daughter, Abria Nicole, inspires her to be the best she can be. She says, “Once I found out I was pregnant, I set out to ensure a better life for my daughter. Abria is the reason I have made many choices, stepped outside of my comfort zone, and allowed myself to be stretched in ways I couldn’t even imagine. I’ve done all of this to be the example she could follow as she grows in life. My daughter is a natural-born leader and a go-getter and is making waves in this world.”

Amazingly, Kaye has been able to build her business while working full-time. While doing so, it has been a challenge for her, but still, she has persevered. Kaye is determined, and most of all, she loves serving others in ministry and in business. Looking ahead, Kaye shares her plans for a rebroadcast of the 2023 Production “Already Defeated” which will be held in Philadelphia PA. Her team is also looking for opportunities to bring it to churches in and out of state. Additionally, she has launched a movement called “I’m SICKA Church” which depicts the issue of “church hurt” from all perspectives. There will also be a podcast series launching in the fall prior to the stage production in 2024.

Kaye is also seeking individuals to become a One Accord Ministries Inc. Partner. She says that by doing so, it helps them in so many ways. “It will allow us to cover production expenses and continue traveling the U.S. to preach the gospel. A partnership helps to increase the artistry of drama, helps to create professional scale life-changing videos, and reach people all over the U.S. and abroad,” she says.

Kaye shares her love of God with her husband, Reverend James B. Ellerbe
13 Arizona - Sept./Oct. 2023 For more information, please email Kaye at For On Point Events LLC, please email her at For all things Kaye on social media and to join her mailing list, please visit

Memphis Shelby Police Activities League “A Little Can Go A Long Way”

Over the years, stories of youth growing up in crime-infested areas have become increasingly common. Craig Littles, a military veteran and former law enforcement officer from North Memphis, Tennessee, has a similar story. But instead of giving in to the pull of the role models in his community, Mr. Littles took a different path with the help of his mother and sports coaches. Grateful for the opportunities and help he was blessed to have, Craig has built a community that helps kids like him find a different path. Today, he is the founder and Executive Director of the Sheriffs and Police Activities Leagues. The Memphis Shelby Police Activity League, or PAL, has been a lifealtering organization for the youth of North Memphis for over thirty years.

In addition to being the founder of the Memphis Shelby County PAL, Craig is the National PAL Vice President. Nationally, PAL serves 1.5 million youth, over three hundred chapters, and seven international chapters. Locally, Memphis PALs serve over two thousand youth annually.

Craig’s passion for being an advocate and resource for the youth in his community comes from a deep sense of gratitude and respect for God and those people he believes God sent to help him beat the odds.

“Growing up in an impoverished neighborhood in Memphis, my role models were gang bangers and dope dealers,” Craig explains. “I started this program thirty years ago to be a better role model than our kids see in the community every day.”

Craig, a single parent to three, now adult children understand the importance of good examples outside and in the home. He and his brother, John Littles were raised by a single mother, Carolyn Willis who made sure they were surrounded by strong male mentors who could give them good guidance and sound advice when needed. “My brother and I are a year apart, and our mother ensured we were always involved in something positive. We were really good at sports, so that’s where we focused our energy,” Craig shares. “It made our mother happy because it kept us busy, in school, and away from influences that would distract us.”

A star athlete, Craig, and a fellow teammate were being heavily recruited to play college football. Going to college and getting a degree, all while doing something you enjoy would be ideal for anyone working to change their circumstances. Craig was no different, but he had to look at the bigger picture.

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“I wanted to go to college, but I needed to get out of Memphis. One weekend, a teammate and I were scheduled to be picked up for a college visit. We waited, and they never came. The entire weekend passed, they didn’t come, and no one called. We found out later the coach and the staff of the college’s program were fired,” Craig shares.

Feeling like the college option was closed to him, he did what a lot of young men do. He went to the military. “When the college tour fell through, I signed up for the Army as soon as I was able to. College was my first choice, but in the end, I had to get out of my neighborhood. I saw the military as the fast way to do that at the time.”

After four years in the Army, one spent in the Dessert Storm campaign, Craig came home with a purpose. “While in Dessert Storm, I prayed to God. I told him if he got us home safely, I would do whatever He told me to do! I had no idea of what that would be. I didn’t know if I would be a minister, a teacher, or a chef! It didn’t matter. If God got me out of the foxhole and home safely, I would dedicate my life to doing what he directed me to do,” He shares pointedly. “When I returned home, I kept my promise. I went with what I knew and what had worked for me and my brother as children. Sports.”

In 1996, Craig started the first youth sports program. “When I got out of the Army, God led me to start a youth organization. I gathered several of my high school buddies, and we started with twenty-five football players and five cheerleaders and started our youth football cheer program called Memphis Bears Inc.”

Craig returned home in 1991 and joined the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office in the jail division; later, he became a Memphis Police Officer. “Law enforcement felt like a natural progression for me but not for the reasons you may think,” Craig starts to explain. “I’ve always felt the call to help people. For that reason, I find myself drawn to the jobs and situations nobody wants to do.”

In the thirty years since starting their first sports program, Craig and his team have been strategic and hyper-focused on creating programs that benefit the youth and the community. Continuing to draw from his own childhood, Craig wanted to channel the group’s efforts toward mentorship. “Again, growing up without a father in the home, my mother tried to ensure my brother and I were exposed to good male role models. Whether it was our uncles, the pastor, or our coaches. She positioned us in a space where we had positive examples to help shape and mold us into the men we are today. Our coaches held us accountable and gave us goals. Those things kept us out of trouble. That is what we set out to do for the kids in our community. We wanted to give them good role models to emulate because that is what worked for us,” Craig explained.

Because of the overwhelming response to their initial project, new programs and initiatives Trezevant were started. “We started with the twenty-five football players and five cheerleaders, and we immediately saw the positive impact that it made in our community. As a result, the program grew. We started a track program, a summer program, and on the academic side, we have tutoring and homework assistance,” Littles shared with enthusiasm. “There was such a need; students and families were hungry for the opportunities our programs have brought to this community.” Arizona - Sept./Oct. 2023 16
Pictured above: Craig while serving with the Memphis Police Department Pictured Below: Craig with his children (Eldest, YarKeva Nicolé Littles, and twins Morgan Janay Littles, Branson Marcel Littles).

In the years since Craig gathered a few high school buddies to honor his promise to God, they have not had a shortage of support from the community. “We have a strong volunteer base and partners who provide financial support. We have thirty staff members and over two hundred volunteers that span all programs. Our volunteers include the advisors, coaches, tutors, board members, and booster club.”

Because Memphis Shelby PAL is an independent non-profit, the program relies on financial support from sponsors and partners. “We have been so blessed to have so many people and companies who believe in us and what we are doing here,” Craig explains. “The programs that we create are not based on what I think is needed. We listen to the community and create programs based on their needs. Whether the need is nutrition, mentorship, or help with academics. We work to find a partner that helps us meet that need.” Craig shares. “If a parent says they need intervention for their child, we’ve partnered with the Ford Foundation and the juvenile court. In some cases, in lieu of being arrested, those students attend my training. There are a plethora of avenues that we can access to support our families at Littles or no cost to them.”

The success of the programs that MSC PAL has instituted has been evident in the students who graduate from it. “We have students who go on to complete college and trade school successfully. We have students who come back and volunteer, and we’ve had students come back and teach or join the police department in their community,” Craig said with pride. “That is why our program is so successful. We focus on where the need is. For those reasons, the people of the community respect what we do, and we get to see the success stories that make this all worthwhile.”

If you haven’t caught on yet, Craig Littles loves his community and the people that live there. So, it was only fitting that the program be housed at his alma mater. “The best part is that we were able to host the program at our alma mater, Trezevant High School. That’s where it started for us. Now, thirty years later, we are still there and have been blessed to open an after-school program inside of the school. Trezevant High School and Memphis Shelby County Schools donated a wing inside of Trezevant. With a $300,000.000 renovation, Memphis Shelby County PAL was able to start after-school, summer, and extended learning programs,” Craig said proudly.

Over the years, Craig has been recognized for his labor of love. Craig has received numerous awards, such as the Meritorious Community Service Award by former Mayor W. W. Herenton, Outstanding Community Service by former Congressman Harold Ford Jr., River City Gala, Community Man of The Year, and Community Service Award, Memphis Police Department, just to name a few.

Staying true to his original vision to give kids in the North Memphis community something to emulate, make them proud of themselves, and stand a Littles taller, Craig’s current project is to give the local schools a stadium to hold their sports events. “Right now, the schools must leave the area to participate in sporting events. They don’t have a place in their community built for them,” Craig explained. “The Field of Dreams Project is a state-of-the-art sports stadium where local schools can host sporting events and activities,” he shares passionately.



Taking BOHEMIA Cares To New Heights

As the world moves towards a more trauma-informed society, our eyes are being opened to the hidden wounds we unconsciously carry. Verlancia Tucker is the founder of BOHEMIA Cares, a mental health advocacy nonprofit organization in Pulaski County, Arkansas, that focuses on empowering, rebuilding, reconnecting, and strengthening the entire family. With all of the mental health and wellness gurus that have emerged since the COVID shutdown, it’s hard to know who to trust. What makes BOHEMIA Cares different is that the wisdom and knowledge Verlancia shares come from hard-won personal experience.

“What sets BOHEMIA Cares apart is how the services are presented to the black community,” Verlancia explained. “We know that there is a stigma associated with mental illness in our community. It casts a dark shadow and causes our people not to want to seek help when it’s needed.”

By Monica Montgomery - Photos Provided by Randall Lee

BOHEMIA Cares is a healing ministry that promotes self-love and spreads mental health awareness. Its mission is to inspire individuals to build strong self-esteem, become leaders, and discover untapped talents leading to a prosperous life.

To overcome the barrier of fear and shame that mental illness can impose, Verlancia has chosen to be the face of BOHEMIA Cares. “I share part of my testimony when presenting my programs because I want people to see someone who looks like them who has suffered with mental illness but has come out on the other side,” says Tucker. “The message I want to convey is that you can get your life back and live an abundant life. I am the face of restoration and renewal. God did a work within me, and I am standing as a witness to what is possible.”

As the ninth of ten children, Verlancia’s childhood was typical for a large family living on a family farm. “I’m from Moro, Arkansas, in The Delta,” she said proudly. “Our family farm sat on one hundred acres. We raised livestock and grew vegetables and things like that. My parents also worked in an auto parts factory. They worked hard because it took a lot to care for our family. My parents instilled in us the value of hard work at an early age.”

The struggles we go through as we mature during adolescence are often called growing pains. The importance of knowing the difference between growing pains and trauma is what Verlancia helps her clients understand. “BOHEMIA Cares was born out of pain,” she explained. “It was birthed out of my testimony.”

It’s common for mental illness to go untreated because of misdiagnosis or unidentified trauma. “My symptoms started around age seventeen while I was still in high school. During that time, I didn’t understand what was happening. I just knew that there were some adverse experiences that I had been exposed to,” Verlancia shares. My struggles with mental illness were devastating and at times debilitating.”

Like most of us, Verlancia’s natural coping mechanisms sustained her as she navigated the perils of high school while dealing with undiagnosed conditions. “Not understanding where my anxiety and sadness were coming from, I just pushed through the best way I knew how,” Tucker explained. “I stayed active. I was in the band because I loved music and dancing. I surrounded myself with good friends I have enjoyed calling my “sisters” for over forty-eight years. Looking back, you could say that I unknowingly engaged in self-care by focusing on what made me happy.”

Verlancia finished high school in the top ten percent of her class and went on to college. But even after surrounding herself with positive things, Verlancia could only keep the issues that plagued her at bay for so long. “Like most college students, I made my share of mistakes. My parents were in their 40s when I was born, so by the time I got to college, I was pretty much self-guided,” she explains. “While in college, I became a mother. The stress of being a single parent and a full-time student while trying to work became overwhelming, and I wasn’t giving it my all. So, I left the university and went to barber college,” Verlancia said. “I had always wanted to do it and still love it, but my body was breaking down for reasons I didn’t understand. I couldn’t work in a shop because I couldn’t stand for extended periods.”

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“I want people to see someone who looks like them who has suffered with mental illness but has come out on the other side.”

Because physical illness can trigger or compound underlying mental illness issues, Verlancia struggled as an adult with anxiety, night terrors, and depression. Verlancia believes she was here to help others despite everything she was dealing with, so she became an educator. “I loved working with my students. I was that teacher that all the kids wanted to come to,” she explained. “I loved teaching, but it became overwhelming because I had not addressed the issues that had plagued me since childhood.”

By age thirty-two, Verlancia knew she needed counseling, but still fearing the shame and stigma of mental illness, she was too embarrassed to reach out for help. While in graduate school, Verlancia experienced domestic abuse. “Trying to keep it together, I kept making bad choices. I ended up in a relationship where I was being stalked. I lived in constant fear. I wasn’t sleeping, and I didn’t know what to do. Finally, someone from my department told me to take some time off. I looked like a zombie.”

Verlancia took the advice and went to her doctor, who diagnosed her with PTSD. “I was put on antidepressants. The combination of the time off and the medicine worked… for a while. I took it until I felt better. Then I stopped. That’s where most people go wrong,” she shares.

After getting her Master’s in secondary education, Verlancia worked in a Title 1 school district located in an underserved community. In schools like those, instances of trauma are higher than most. “I loved teaching. I loved my students, and they loved me. I started mentoring young ladies because as someone who needed that outside ear growing up, I understood what those girls were going through,” Verlancia explained. “Remember, my mom was forty-one when she had me. As a result, a communication gap often left me wishing I had someone who understood me and what I was going through.”

Verlancia excelled at being the additional support some of her students needed. But the weight of their trauma started to take its toll. “I was that teacher all the students came to when they needed to talk. As they came to me with their problems and issues, my untreated trauma was triggered,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I remember a student coming to me one morning before school with a handful of Tylenol 500s and saying, ‘Ms. Tucker, I don’t want to live anymore.’ I started to see myself in them and realized that what I’d dealt with, I was dealing with, wasn’t normal. I found myself trying to save them because I couldn’t save myself.”

Verlancia started an all-girl mentorship program called Serious Young Ladies. “We mentored girls between the ages of twelve and fourteen. Our girls came from lowsocioeconomic communities, so our goal was to expose them to something different. We wanted to see that life was bigger than their circumstances,” she explained. “The girls were taken shopping and to the stylist. They got their makeup done and everything that would make them feel special. We tried to pamper them a little. I guess, in a way, I was living vicariously through them. The program was what I wished I’d had when I was their age.” Arizona - Sept./Oct. 2023 20



At the age of thirty-six, Verlancia married, gave birth to her second son, and was divorced by age thirty-seven. This caused her to plummet to the darkest place she’d ever experienced. “It was during the time of the Sandy Hook school shooting that I reached my breaking point,” she explained. “After my divorce, I was fragile, but I refused to seek treatment because I didn’t want anyone to know I was struggling. My eldest son had become the primary caregiver for my infant son and me. When I got home from work, all I wanted to do was sleep,” she confessed.

“After Sandy Hook, my anxiety went into high gear. Most schools were implementing stricter security measures, but my administrator’s solution did not put me at ease. There was a vulnerability specifically in my classroom that posed an unacceptable risk. Add the unchecked mental illness I suffered, and everything came crashing down.”

A month after the Sandy Hook school shooting, Verlancia decided to get help. It was when she realized her frustration was out of control. “When I almost went off on a student, I couldn’t ignore what was happening to me any longer. That’s when I knew I needed to step away.”

Verlancia took essential steps towards her healing. “I researched a therapist to find the right one for me. The most important thing about seeking help is being realistic about what you need,” she explained. “And even after deciding to seek treatment, I was still too ashamed to tell my students I was leaving because I didn’t want them to know why. I saw a student years later, and he remembered me, then said, ‘You had cancer, right?’”


Verlancia spent five years in therapy. “It was hard, but I did the work. I even saw a psychiatrist who prescribed medication because sometimes mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance,” she explained. “While in therapy, I rediscovered myself. I learned to love myself because, before therapy, I didn’t.”

After therapy, Verlancia tried to return to teaching but came to understand it wasn’t what God wanted for her. Then she had a dream. “I can’t remember when, but God gave me a vision. I saw myself speaking at my former church. More people were there than I could count, and I was standing in the pulpit,” Verlancia said with a laugh. “My father was a pastor, but I never saw myself that way. I knew that I was different, and I know I was anointed, but I wasn’t sure at the time what the vision meant.”

Choosing to trust God through her healing journey, she felt led to start a summer enrichment program. “It was for me to activate, and God’s timing is always perfect. Things started happening so rapidly that I knew it was nobody but God,” Verlancia says confidently. “I met a friend of a friend who lived in Warren, Arkansas. We were talking, and I shared my vision with her. She told me her pastor was interested in getting involved with programs like that, so she invited me to church. The name of the church is Union Hill Baptist Church in Warren. The first time I visited, I met Pastor Henry D. Cox. After service, we set up a meeting with Pastor Cox, state representative Jeff Wardlaw, and the Honorable Quincey Ross, tenth judicial circuit judge.”

In the meeting, Verlancia discussed her plans for the program and what she needed to get started. “We talked about location, infrastructure, and what financial support we would need. The group was excited and completely on board. They were happy someone would come to Bradley County, an underserved area, to offer enrichment services.”

A prophecy and several blessings later, BOHEMIA Cares started its first program at Union Hill MB Church. “We ran the program for three years from that location, and we still consider it our home base,” Verlancia said proudly.

As BOHEMIA Cares grew, they could create more extensive and effective programs. “In October 2019, we debuted the Self Love Conference. It was the first time I testified about my struggles with mental illness and the shame that kept me bound for years,” Verlancia shared. “I stood before over one hundred and fifty people as a living testimony of what’s possible if you trust God and do the work.”

Although Verlancia has relocated to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, she still regularly returns to Arkansas. “Warren is the program’s base, and I don’t see that changing. We have online programs and services, and I hope to partner with local schools and organizations in Dallas. After years of suffering in silence with mental health issues, I am open to allowing God to continue to use me. I want the world to know that they don’t have to continue to be tormented by mental illness. There is no shame in seeking help. I want them to know that BOHEMIA Cares.”

Arizona - Sept./Oct. 2023 23
“I can’t remember when, but God gave me a vision. I saw myself speaking at my former church.”

Brown Sugar Baking Company

Her sweetness is as infectious as her smile, and her cookies aren’t too bad either.

Nickie Davis’s life has consisted of dreams, resilience, and creativity. Currently residing in Huntsville, AL, Nickie was born in Arizona but raised by a single mom in Georgia. From an early age, she has harbored an insatiable passion for learning. Her determination to rise above her circumstances, setbacks, and obstacles helped her escape the small-town box. She wanted more, and that drive still exists with her today.

At 28, Nickie owns Brown Sugar Baking, a cottage law licensed home bakery nestled in Harvest, AL. Her company offers a delightful spectrum of scratch-made delicacies, including various cookies— from drop cookies to custom-decorated masterpieces like cinnamon rolls, cakes, brownies, and blondies. “Traditional flavors tug at my heartstrings. They’re my link to those who walked before me,” she says. Take her pound cakes, for example. The recipe is a hushed family secret passed down from her great-grandmother. Then there’s her chocolate chip cookies, jazzed up with a hint of cinnamon and packed with hand-pressed chocolate chips. Nickie says she finds her greatest joy when combining popular flavors with unlikely sweets. A current customer favorite is her Strawberry Lemonade Cinnamon Roll. It’s a flakey strawberry dough with crushed lemon Oreos, harmonized by a drizzle of lemon glaze.

Nickie and Brown Sugar Baking are often spotted at vending events and community markets. Not in the Harvest area, no problem. Her online ordering option is here to help; however, due to local laws, some restrictions may apply. Additionally, she teaches cookie decorating classes and shares her love for the art with others. “I find joy in guiding others as they unleash their creativity on delectable canvases to create edible masterpieces,” Nickie says.

Without question, Nickie knows a lot about baking; still, she says it’s not just about the treats; it’s about crafting experiences that transport you to moments of indulgence and delight. Growing up, she always baked treats for her friends, earning her the affectionate nickname ‘Nickie Crocker’. She quickly became the go-to person for bake sales in high school. Nickie’s love for baking would continue to follow her throughout life.

She officially started Brown Sugar Baking in February 2022, but the roots of her business venture stretch back through the generations of Nickie’s family’s baking legacy. She shares, “Baking has been in my blood for as long as I can remember. My grandmother’s locally famous cakes captivated my imagination as a child. I was fortunate to learn from her, and she passed down the knowledge acquired from her mother as we spent numerous hours in the kitchen. The seeds of my baking journey were sown by my mother, who had a passion for baking that she had yet to fully pursue. Her encouragement and the rich heritage of family recipes fueled my desire to create and share culinary delights.”

25 Arizona - Sept./Oct. 2023
“Traditional flavors tug at my heartstrings. They’re my link to those who walked before me.”
Photos Provided by Nickie Davis

Having been taught by the best, the challenge of creating a business from it all would be her next challenge. Nickie says that during the COVID-19 pandemic, like many others, she found herself limited by what she could do. While giving birth to two children, she also spent a lot of time baking. During her second pregnancy, she developed an intense craving for blueberry muffins. After recovering from a traumatic cesarean, she decided to make her own scratch-made version of them. This pursuit quickly evolved into a two-week-long fascination with various muffin recipes. She shared her creations with friends, family, and her husband’s coworkers, and they welcomed them with open arms and eager taste buds. As the world slowly reopened, encouragement from those who tasted her creations nudged her towards a new path. With a limited menu and even fewer orders, Brown Sugar Baking came to life.

Choosing a name for a new business can be difficult. As for Nickie, she says it was important for her to represent not just the products she offers but also the essence of the experience. “I wanted the name to honor my black heritage while echoing my personality. So, I decided on Brown Sugar Baking. Brown Sugar Baking encompasses both who I am and what I aspire to convey through my baked creations. It’s a name that resonates with the sweetness, warmth, and hospitality. When you indulge in Brown Sugar Baking, you savor a slice of my journey, heritage, and commitment to bringing sweetness to life.”

Art and creativity have always been a part of Nickie’s life. She began as a percussionist in the sixth grade, jumping into theater and marching band soon after. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Auburn University. In 2023, she was nominated for the Queenpreneur’s Plan Dare2Dream Award in the Culinary Arts category, a recognition of her innovation in the kitchen, work as a black female entrepreneur, and involvement in her community.

When asked what she loves most about what she does, Nickie’s response aligns with her love for serving others. “Brown Sugar Baking isn’t just about culinary artistry—it’s a celebration of community and connection and a heartfelt invitation to savor the flavor of life’s sweetest moments. I don’t create these delights solely for financial gain; it’s a genuine love language wrapped in care that encapsulates my spirit, values, and dedication to crafting joy-filled experiences through the art of baking,” she says. Arizona - Sept./Oct. 2023 2626

Nickie shares she draws inspiration from the constant learning that takes place while running her business and the connections she is able to make with her clients. “Witnessing the smiles, hearing stories, and sharing moments with people who enjoy my creations brings an immeasurable sense of fulfillment and a constant reminder that I’m walking in my purpose,” she shared. Additionally, Nickie is inspired by her family and the opportunity she has to encourage others to chase their dreams, take leaps of faith, and believe in themselves.

While most business owners face various challenges, Nickie has produced positives from those she’s encountered. “Dealing with ADHD, depression, and anxiety has been a rollercoaster. To keep my energy and spirits up, I take regular baking breaks, connect with my family, and enjoy the small moments that recharge me. I’ve also taken proactive steps like therapy and medication, which have allowed me to thrive. Honestly, having a neurodivergent brain is my superpower. It allows me to harness my curiosity and channel it creatively into the culinary realm,” she says. Nickie is also a stay-at-home mom to two rambunctious boys just over a year apart, one of whom has autism. This experience, she says, is a dynamic that requires her to wear many hats.

Brown Sugar Baking has brought Nickie many joys, and she shares the only thing she would change about her journey is to start sooner than she did. “At the beginning, I was sure my path led to becoming a veterinarian; it was a dream I had since childhood. To me, any deviation from that goal was a form of failure, so I didn’t allow myself the opportunity to explore other avenues. I want others to know that shifting your focus and deviating from the plan isn’t a sign of failure. It signifies evolving, maturing, and discovering what truly matters to you. Also, don’t wait for the perfect moment— just start. Your journey will unfold in its unique way. Perfection isn’t a prerequisite for starting something meaningful.”

What does the future look like for Nickie and Brown Sugar Baking? She shares she is embarking on a slight pivot with the business, fine-tuning her ideas to determine the best direction. “Slowly but surely, I’m wading into the world of catering and crafting delightful party treats. My clients have expressed interest for a while, and I’m preparing to take the plunge.” Additionally, online classes are also on the horizon. “With each step, my goal is to keep embracing change and innovation, all while staying true to the heart and soul of Brown Sugar Baking,” Nickie said.

To learn more about Brown Sugar Baking, please visit their website.

Arizona - Sept./Oct. 2023 29
Nickie Davis Brown Sugar Baking 435 Lockhart Road Harvest, AL 35749 256-361-9785 h

“We Are All Pieces In The Same Puzzle.”

“Be a pebble to someone else’s path. We must find a way to bridge the gaps within our communal restraints.”

That is a quote taken from Dannell Marshall, the founder and Executive Director of Men of Faith Inc., based in Louisville, KY. Dannell Marshall Sr. attended and Graduated from Shelby County High School. He studied in the Kentucky Union Pipe Fitter Apprenticeship and attended Rowe Bible Institute and the University of Louisville.

Men of Faith Inc., is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with three core principles: Preserve, Empower, and Restore. Along with his vice president, Tim McFarland Sr., this organization has positively impacted countless men’s lives in the Louisville, KY, community.

“We strive to preserve the community we live in, empower every citizen, and restore faith in all,” he says. “Although people associate the word faith with religion, the definition of faith also includes hope. In efforts to achieve our mission, we offer mentoring, do various outreach throughout the whole community, and assist the elderly and the unfortunate. Many call the people we call unfortunate, such as the homeless or displaced. At Men of Faith, we call them unfortunate and acknowledge that everyone is one or two dire situations from being truly unfortunate.”

Dannell’s organization hosts an event called “The SPARK”, which is also free to the community. SPARK events, he says, are embodied around health, wealth, and awareness. They also host an annual breast cancer banquet called, “Fighting Cancer with Faith Banquet,” in which they honor male and female breast cancer survivors and those recently diagnosed with breast cancer. A segment of this production educates its audience that men can be diagnosed with breast cancer. They have partnered with other 501(c)(3) organizations, including Moments Matter. “By collaborating, we present a spring and fall break camp for girls and boys that includes guest speakers, S.T.E.A.M projects, and a variety of extracurricular activities. Our ultimate goal is to assist and share resources when resources are not readily available or even aware for the youth, women, and men.”

Dannell says the idea of his organization was conceived in 2015, but did not become official until 2016. Originally, he wanted to form a group to work with a particular group of churches, but God guided them in a different but parallel direction. Once the mission was formed and event concepts were shared, the idea of Men of Faith was well received by men in Dannell’s community. He says, “They relished participating in the planned outreaches and giving back to their community. The one thing about me is that I am a person of action. A lot of people will talk and never do anything. Men of Faith prides itself in doing.”

Dannell says he finds joy in constructing a group of men from various backgrounds, ethnicities, and even political or religious preferences who assuredly care about improving their community, not only for their family but the overall good of humankind. “To


build and fill the gaps in our broken society and communities, we must overcome our differences and capitalize on our similarities. When you see men banding together to restore and replenish our communities’ social disparities, it exemplifies hope. I get inspired and rejuvenated when I see the smiles of individuals who felt the weight of the world minutes before. It is equivalent to pulling someone to safety. God blesses us in a way for us to help someone else; we should not hesitate to share that blessing,” Dannell shares.

Men of Faith’s core values are embedded in their desire to serve and help others succeed. Dannell leads by example and hopes to create opportunities while doing so. “I heard as a young man the more you give, the more you’ll receive. Serving others is not about receiving something directly. I enjoy knowing someone’s situation; although they are amid an emotional storm, you can offer an umbrella from the pain, if for just a little while. It is also refreshing to know that some genuine people genuinely care about the welfare of others. It is trendy to see people brag about assisting others on social media, but honestly, that comes from a place that is not sincere. Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” We are not doing these things in the community for a show or to be seen. It comes from each man’s heart to progress and sharpen others who may feel dull.”

Understandably, Dannell’s organization has faced a few hurdles and challenges throughout the years. One was sustaining the assistance they provided during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the rest of the world shut down, they were able to continue their operations and meet the needs of those they serve. Such challenges and finding ways to persevere through them have proven Dannell’s effectiveness as a leader of his organization. He says, “I firmly believe that our life and the adversities within form the purpose we must find. Years of uncertainty about personal and professional outcomes molded me into the man or puzzle piece I am today. My journey was never perfect or practical, but with each new day, I became even more convinced that it was all worth it.”

Moving forward, Danell says he plans to expand the Men of Faith Inc. organization to a national level. “Extending past our geographic lines, the expansion would demonstrate an even bigger assembly of more men with faith, more assistance, more resources, and a fervent affection towards humanity.”

“We Are All Pieces In The Same Puzzle. When looking at our logo it explains that everyone has a role in forming this world. We are one piece of the whole puzzle. Regardless of our ethnicity, gender, religion, or political affiliation, we are molded to a particular shape that fits somewhere in fulfilling the puzzle of the world. Some pieces are similar but never the same. Go, find the place where your piece, which is you, fits!” Arizona - Sept./Oct. 2023 32 h

Soul Food Scholar

Adrian E. Miller regards himself as the Soul Food Scholar who is dropping knowledge like hot biscuits. The Dever, CO, native has enjoyed careers in various arenas. He is a recovering attorney, a former Politico, and an author. Currently, he is the Executive Director of the Colorado Council of Churches. In his role, he brings people together across denominational lines in the Christian faith tradition, and they collectively do social justice work.

He focused on commercial litigation as an attorney, but the main focus was employment law. “That area of focus was not what I really wanted to do. I wanted to do corporate law, assist entrepreneurs in building their businesses, and help them develop an exit strategy. But, when you go work for a big law firm, they plug you in where they need you. It just wasn’t for me, and it got to the point where I was singing spirituals in my office,” he says.

As the Council of Churches, Adrian oversees 13 Christian denominations, representing over 800 churches in Colorado. Adrian primarily works with the mainline protestant denominations and strives to get people to connect people outside of their church walls and denomination walls. “Most people only relate to people in their church. I try to connect people in the broader Christian community and collectively do social justice work. We are a lot stronger than we are separately,” he shares.

Adrian’s journey also includes a stint with him working in the White House with former President Bill Clinton. The program he worked on was called The President’s Initiative for One America, an outgrowth of President Clinton’s initiative on race, which the late John Hope Franklin chaired.

As mentioned, Adrian is regarded as the Soul Food Scholar, a self-proclamation derived by Adrian. The books he has written on this subject matter include Soul Food: The Surprising Story of American Cuisine, One Plate At a Time, The President’s Kitchen Cabinet, and Black Smoke: African Americans and The United States of Barbeque.

Adrian says, “I am self-taught, and I arrived at this title due to unemployment. After leaving my stint at the White House, I was trying to get back to Colorado and start my political career. The job market was really slow, and I watched a lot of daytime television. In the depth of my depravity, I decided to read something and purchased a book from a local bookstore titled The History of Southern Food, written by John Edgerton. In his book, John said the tribute to black achievement in American cooking has yet to be written. I found that to be very interesting. I decided to reach out to him and see if he thought that was still true. John said he did and believed that no one had taken on the full story. With no qualifications at all, besides eating a lot of soul food and cooking it some, I started on the journey to answer my own question,” he says.

Adrian headed back to Denver, and upon arriving, he got into politics. In his spare time, Adrian would read everything he could get his hands on about African-American food traditions. This included 3,500 oral histories about formerly enslaved people, 500 cookbooks, half of them authored by black people, and thousands of magazine and newspaper articles and talked to hundreds of people. Adrian shares that because he cares about his subject so dearly, he decided to eat his way through the country; he visited 150 soul food restaurants in 35 cities in 15 states. That exploration lasted about the course of a year and a half.

In regards to soul food, Adrian says his favorite dish is greens. “I love soul food greens. My favorite is mustard and turnip greens without the turkey. My mom is from Chattanooga, TN, and she cooked mustard and turnip greens. I learned there is a regional difference in the preference for greens. If you are from the Deep South, you will most likely eat collards. If you are from the mid-Atlantic, you will likely enjoy kale. I also love bone-in-fried Catfish. I love that,” he says.

In his travels to learn more about soul food, Adrian says what shocked him was learning the narrative that it was created by white people for black people as the food they did not want. “In doing my studies, I learned the Southern food story has more to do with class and place than it is about race. So, pretty much, African Americans of the same socioeconomic class are eating the same foods.”

He also gained a deeper appreciation of the African influences on soul food. “Before, I didn’t know much about African influence. I learned that African’s brought some of their foods to America from Africa and adapted to some things in America. I saw a lot more agency in trying to shape their foods while in the most horrific circumstances.”

Adrian says that due to his research, he has become inspired by the celebration of African-American cuisine. “I observed how the African American food tradition was heavily criticized while others were not. I wanted to know what was up with that. If you investigate the nutritional facts of other cuisines, you can’t argue they are healthier than soul food. I thought that something else must be going on. I learned that it is criticized because it is strongly associated with slavery and poverty. It is also believed to be inherently unhealthy. I wanted to unpack that and sort out fact from fiction. I also wanted to celebrate what we’ve brought to the table in terms of the cooks, the cuisine, and the culture,” he says.

For those interested in venturing on a journey similar to that of Adrian, the Soul Food Scholar, he offers some advice that may help along the way. “First of all, you have to do the work. It is so tempting to take a shortcut, but that often leads to mistakes. You must keep receipts because there are people who will doubt you, especially within the African-American culture. Also, find your bliss and that which sings to your heart and soul, and share your dream with others because that might open new doors of opportunity for you,” he says.

Please visit his website to learn more about Adrian Miller and purchase copies of his books. Arizona - Sept./Oct. 2023 36
Adrian E. Miller Soul Food Scholar h

Antonio & Tonya Tolson AJ and The Cool Kids

We are honored to share the story of AJ and the Cool Kids, a nonprofit organizatioin led by Tonya and Antonio Tolson.

Tonya Tolson: How did your journey begin?

Our autism journey began when our son AJ was 12 months old. He was not meeting milestones on his Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ-3) test that children take at the pediatrician for monthly checkups. Until then, he was hitting all milestones, and I was relieved because, after several miscarriages, we finally had our rainbow baby. We soon found that he was not speaking. I contacted my local Child development office, CDSA, in Charlotte, NC. He was found to be Level I/II autistic. I literally could not believe that there was a problem with my beautiful blessing.

With the proper diagnosis at 18 months, our son started receiving free services through the CDSA department. I soon realized he would age out at three, and I would have to provide services at cost or enroll him in a Pre-K program in which I knew he would not be successful. It was then I decided I would become my child’s best advocate, provide the services privately, and pay out of pocket. With hard work and determination, our child went from being nonverbal to doing math in a traditional public school. This is partly due to our village and community of autistic families. We want to ensure other families have the same access to our child’s services. This foundation was created to educate and alleviate the stress of the diagnosis and life thereafter.

What does the team of your organization consist of?

My husband is the founder, and I am the director, but we have a staff that consists of a Public Relations Director, Asha Ellison, and our events team, Arletha McClelland and Kelly Mosley. With these people in place, we can serve families in the autistic community across the United States. I serve the entire autism population, from one-yearolds to adults. People tend to forget that autistic children become autistic adults, and they go underserved because of that fact.

Where do you and Antonio draw inspiration from?

Our first inspiration came from our son. The strides he’s made from diagnosis through today are not only an inspiration to our family but to many families like ours who hope for new milestones with their children. We are also inspired by the families we have touched with our social media posts and stories. I have encountered several families that are right where we started or who can relate to what we are doing for this community. It is not just the parents we have a direct impact on, it is all communities. In general, everyone’s lives have been touched by someone with autism.

Arizona - Sept./Oct. 2023 39
COOL AJ KI DS AND THE 704-675-0161
Information and Photos Provided by Tonya Tolson

Your story is so amazing. What do you love most about what you do?

We love the lives that we are affecting. We also love how we can educate others external to this community. We have learned so much as an autism family, and we love the connections we’ve made on many different levels. This is what drives us. We want to ensure everyone knows that autism is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. We have seen everything from high functioning to severe autism and learned a lot about the in-between. The love we have for our son and this community keeps us pushing forward in our work to spread education and awareness.

How has your program been received in your community?

We have received some great feedback regarding how our organization has grown. We have gone from helping one family in our first year to helping several this year. We have been told we are doing a fantastic job sharing our experiences. It allows parents and caregivers in the community not to shy away from what is going on with them. They see it is normal to have a child on the spectrum and that you can feel comfortable speaking about the good, bad, and the ugly side of autism. Yes, it is called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but it doesn’t mean your life has to be dysfunctional. We are here to help autism families navigate all those parts. A parent specifically told us that “we see her” and understand what she is experiencing. That’s made all the difference in what we are trying to achieve through this organization.

Your calling sounds like it can be challenging. How are you managing them?

Some of the challenges were getting our name out in the community and actually having people attend our educational sessions. We loved the gala celebration in August, but we want the community to be more informed about what is going on with autism. We also needed some help securing sponsorships and grants because of how new of an organization we are. We will get the sponsorships and grants needed to serve this community. The work that we do requires a certain amount of funding that we were providing from our personal funds. Through the news media and the gala this year, we secured a little more funding and help, but we still have a long way to go. I know we will be blessed to get everything we need to help make the loads lighter for autism families in the community.

What is next for AJ and The Cool Kids?

We are presenting several educational sessions online and in the Charlotte community to make others aware of what the autism community needs. We also want to partner with several businesses and organizations to make sure that they know what autism looks like. In the last year, I have seen many local organizations, businesses, and the arts cater to the autism community. We want to make them aware that they live and exist among us, and we need to know the varying needs of this community. We also want to grow into serving more families’ financial needs. Autism has a high cost medically and can take a toll on families emotionally and physically. We want to be a resource to those families and help them in any way possible. h Arizona - Sept./Oct. 2023 40

Ashton Hairston

The son of Shannon Hairston

“We looked like a wholesome, loving family on the outside, but on the inside, our house was a living hell. I had a controlling father, and my mother was his punching bag. I felt abandonment, fear, anxiety, and depression. I didn’t take care of my childhood trauma, so it showed up in my adult life. I wanted control, and the men in my life were victims of my wrath. My life came full circle when I met a man just like my father.

It is time for my story to be told my way. My trauma. My triggers. My truth.”

Dear Abuser…

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