God Is A Much Better Driver Than I Am
What if? That thought comes to mind when I consider what my life could be. What if I didn’t live in a particular city, or attend a certain high school? What if I had chosen a different career path or traveled a different road in life? What if I had never applied action to my dream? What if God didn’t choose me to be paired with His vision?
I will be the first to admit that my life has been anything but simple. For the most part, it has been full of winding roads and quite noisy at times. The love and encouragement of my mother, grandmother, and others surely help to soften me; I surely miss my grandma. Yet, the storms and shortcomings I’ve endured have done their job and toughened me a little.
I have learned that my peace lies in the space between the good times and bad times, and for me to enjoy and experience peace, I must work for it. I have also learned that life will get tough, and when we get knocked down, God doesn’t expect us to stay there. There are lessons in all experiences, and getting up and trying to get it right again is part of God’s lesson.
There was a point in my life when I didn’t know if I was coming or going. With every move I made, it was the wrong one. There were also times when I would move or react to whatever thought came into my mind. Again, that turned out to be the wrong thing to do. My point is everything I had done, I did it without seeking guidance from God beforehand. I was driving my own ship, yet I was going nowhere and fast.
While I made a mess of my life, God was there, like He always has been. He allowed me to make those bad decisions and provided grace to ensure I would survive them. During the times when I continued to make the same mistakes over and over again, God continued to cover me because there was a lesson that I needed to learn.
Despite everything I have experienced thus far, God has been right there with me. When it appears things aren’t moving fast enough, I know that God is governing the speed at which things are happening. When we get in God’s way, we block Him from blessing us. Get out of God’s way and allow God to drive. You might just learn that life is a lot easier from the passenger seat.
My Pain Was PressureBy Dorjea’ McClammey Photos Provided by Roslyn Camper
Originally from Flint, Michigan, the mother of two did not grow up in the best environment. Her surroundings involved chaos as Roslynne witnessed her mother suffer domestic violence at the hands of her father. At the age of four, Roslynne had told herself she would never become her mother; she became an angry black woman instead.
Roslynnee’s childhood trauma began to catch up with her as life progressed. She became aggressive towards some men and experienced toxic relationships with others. Roslynne went from witnessing all forms of abuse to living it herself. Unfortunately, like many others, she didn’t see anything wrong with it because it was the behavior she had learned while growing up.
At age 45, she got into a relationship with someone who resembled the behavior like that of her father. She says, “It came with verbal, physical, emotional, and mental abuse: I was tired. I had been through it all my life. It was very toxic and made me realize I was holding on to the pain from my childhood. I didn’t know that being involved in an abusive relationship only worsened my past issues.”
Roslynne soon decided to turn her life around for the better. She stepped away from that harsh relationship and embarked on a healing journey to pursue the “Naked Truth.” That involved becoming aware of her actions, understanding how they contributed to her hurt, and unlearning many unhealthy behaviors. “I understood that I had childhood trauma and wanted to heal,” she says. “I decided to see a therapist and started working on myself.
As many readers know, therapy can be deemed ‘taboo’ in the black community, but Roslynne wanted to note that this needs to end. From her point of view, she knew that she needed help. She knew she needed help to heal and that a professional had the right tools. “Why wouldn’t you want help and the tools to help you get through what you need to get through? I believe God put therapists on the earth to help us,” she says.
As an author, Roslynne says that writing has always provided her with an outlet. Part of healing included the production of a self-authored book. As expected, writing helped, but it also brought out a lot of pain and trauma. “At first, it wasn’t supposed to be a book. I was writing to heal; then I thought someone needed to hear this, and it grew to something much more than I ever imagined.”
Roslynne knew firsthand how difficult it can be for others to open up and share the details of their pain. That is why her book was necessary. It has helped other victims see that they are not alone in this and show them they have the strength to escape a painful situation. As a significant milestone in her healing process, Roslynne published “Dear Abuser My Pain Was Pressure” on her birthday in 2022.
It doesn’t stop there; Roslynne has continued to help other women and men in her community. She speaks to others individually and sometimes in small groups. Her main focus is to help them realize that not all abuse is physical. It can be verbal, financial, or psychological, as well.
Most importantly, Roslynne understands that healing is often a day-to-day process. “When I was going through my domestic violence, I was going through it alone because I was too embarrassed to tell anybody. Because of that, I want to be available for someone going through, and I want to be a support system for them also,” she says.
Being brave enough to put her story out is what Roslynne loves most about being an author. Yet, not as much as the impact it has and the many people she has been able to help, even if it’s just a little bit. “I have some people that didn’t go through the process fully, but I got them thinking,” she says.
Roslynne offers some advice to others who may find themselves in a similar situation and seeking answers and a way out. She says, “Know your worth. The first thing I want you to do is to heal. Understand that some wounds may run deeper than you think. I had to realize that I wasn’t just healing from past relationships, but the terrible ones I witnessed while growing up.”
In the future, Roslynne plans to open a home for domestic violence victims, a haven to help them get back on their feet. She is also working on her second book. Copies of Roslynne’s book can be found at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If you want to contact Roslynne, you can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Tik Tok. h
The Black Pearl Nail AcademyBy Terry L. Watson Photos Provided by Duriya Smith
Duriya Caldwell is the face and founder of The Black Pearl Nail Academy. Based in Memphis, TN, her company offers full-service manicures and education to individuals seeking to learn the discipline of manicuring. Duriya says it doesn’t matter if you are male or female, young or old; if you are looking to gain your manicuring license, The Black Pearl Nail Academy is the place to come.
Duriya is a current resident of Memphis. She is a proud HBCU graduate and has a masters in Business Administration and Entrepreneurship. She is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Duriya’s love for nails began when she was only twelve years of age. “I started doing nails using the fake nails that were included in my easter basket. They were the stick on nails, but that is how I started. I played with my mom and sister’s polish, and it grew from there,” she says.
Early on, Duriya says she wanted to open her own school, but the process to own one wasn’t available, mainly due to the way the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology classified manicuring. The board required anyone who wanted to own a nail school would have to do it combined with a barber school or cosmetology school. Those two professions didn’t interest Duriya. Fortunately, in 2013, the laws and landscape changed, and the disciplines were able to be split. In 2018, she opened the doors to her school.
“I started doing nails using the fake nails that were included in my easter basket. They were the stick on nails, but that is how I started. I played with my mom and sister’s polish, and it grew from there.”
Duriya says she loves being a nail technician as well as being a business owner. “I love creating ten works of art on the hands of my clients,” she says. “None of the work I do will ever be the same. Each experience is unique. I don’t repeat things. I don’t allow walk-ins, I only offer appointments. They have to set a date, and they have to decide what they want. Am I getting acrylic, gel, polish, or designs? When my clients sit in my chair, they hold my hand. We are on a date. When they get ready to leave, they have to book their next appointment. It’s like setting a second date. It’s a nailationship.” At the school of business, Duriya says she loves the ah-hah moments her students have once they grasp and understand the manicuring profession. “It’s a beautiful moment and everybody has it,” she says.
Duriya credits her mother with inspiring her to become the savvy businesswoman she is today. Her mother, who is also a licensed cosmetologist, didn’t want Duriya to become a cosmetologist. She pushed her to attend college and follow a different path than she did. Well, things have a way of working out. Today, her mother is the current dean of The Black Pearl Nail Academy. Duriya also credits her godmother with having a positive impact on her life. “My godmother is a cosmetologist and owned a hair salon. While I was getting ready for my sixth-grade graduation, I went to the salon with my mom for the first time. When I walked in, my world brightened up. So many things were happening there, but the nail tech was in the front. I was intrigued and my godmother knew it. She asked the nail tech to teach me how to do nails. I would eventually work at the salon while learning, and soon I would get my license, and the rest is history,” Duriya says.
Duriya shares that she is an introvert at heart, something one might find quite interesting, as her chosen profession requires her to interact with people regularly. “Interacting with people is challenging. Learning to be more social has been a challenge for me. I need to get out and share more information about what I do, but talking with others about it is challenging. Not being able to talk to others in some ways holds my business hostage, and I don’t want to do that,” she says.
Looking ahead, Duriya has plans to expand her current operation. Their current location is only 1200 square feet; however, she has set her eyes on a 12,000 square feet facility. There will be a school on-site, as well as office space for students. There will be salon suites for nail techs, laundry and towel cleaning services for the students, and open floor space for events. “Our new facility will be for the community. I am designing this new location for those who have given so much to me,” she says.
To learn more about The Black Pearl Nail Academy, please visit their website.
The W AgencyBy Monica Montgomery Photos Provided by The W Agency
Corrie Wilson is The W Agency’s founding owner and operator, a one-stop shopping experience for entrepreneurs looking to take their businesses to the next level. Whether it be a start-up or an existing business looking to rebrand, The W Agency has what you need.
Based in Conway, Arkansas, Corrie has always been a small-town boy with big-time dreams. Originally from Helena, Arkansas, a lower-income area, Corrie focused on the world beyond his own. “I was always a dreamer. I was from Helena, but I knew even as a kid that the world was so much bigger,” Corrie explains.
Like most kids from the early 90s, Corrie lived vicariously through entertainment magazines and music videos, not for the reasons you’d think.
“I was that kid that paid attention to the details and techniques most people didn’t notice. I would record music videos on VHS and watch them over and over again. I would analyze and scrutinize the video frame by frame. I collected black entertainment magazines like Right On, Ebony, Jet, and Vibe Magazine,” Corrie explained. “But it wasn’t for the articles or to learn about the latest superstar. I was captivated by the artwork. I spent hours pouring over the photography, the lighting, and all the elements that came together to create that one living shot.”
Without role models in arts and culture, Corrie couldn’t explain his fixation with the visual aspects of art and entertainment. He was sure it would somehow become a large part of his identity.
After high school, Corrie gravitated towards the music entertainment industry, but it wasn’t long before he found it wasn’t for him. “Music came naturally to me. I am creative, and it seemed like the right thing at first, but I found that a career out front was restricting,” Corrie shared. “After a while, I lost my taste for the industry but found something I appreciated a lot more.”
Instead of being the performer with the flashing gold chains and latest kicks, Corrie began to look into the man behind the scenes wearing an expensive blue suit. “The real money and power were in marketing. I had gotten into photography and videography and loved it,” he says.
Corrie went the non-traditional route to learn about digital designing, creating web content, photography, and videography. “I started out producing music, but once I got a good look behind the curtain and saw who was really in control, I lost my love for working in the music industry. That’s when I redirected my energy into photography and graphic design to help other artists take their brand to the next level.”
Using the skills he honed as a kid, Corrie’s goal is to give the world a new yet classic perspective. He is not only making a name for himself but giving his clients a unique product that gets them noticed. “There are a lot of marketing firms out there, but what sets The W Agency apart is that we strive to show the heart and soul of the culture. I don’t just take pictures or make a label. Anyone can put on a suit and smile. That’s not advertising. You want to connect with your audience through your marketing. The best way to do that is to let them see the real you,” Corrie shared. By ignoring the mass-produced and over-produced media samples, Corrie is able to draw on the “vibe” that sparked his love for visual art.
“There was something authentic and organic about the visual style of the early 90s,” Corrie explained. “There was something tangible about it that made you feel like you were part of it. That’s what I try to deliver for my clients,” he says.
As Corrie started his career as a designer in 2007, in 2019, he started The W Agency. “It just made sense. I was taking the photos, doing the graphics, producing the videos, and everything else. I had all the components, so I just put them all in one place,” Corrie explained. “It benefits the clients and me when I can provide everything they need in-house.”
Because Corrie works independently, he has to be selective of the clients he takes on, but this allows him to deliver the quality he believes every client needs and deserves. “I can’t take on every project or client. I wish I could, but it would lead to mistakes and someone getting short-changed. Having a good reputation in this business is everything. So if I can’t handle something, I am part of a network of companies I can refer customers to.”
“I don’t just take pictures or make a label. Anyone can put on a suit and smile.
That’s not advertising.”
As The W Agency grows and evolves, one of the issues Corrie faces is navigating the cultural divide in marketing and advertising. As a black male from his demographic, Corrie focuses on elevating the culture but wants to ensure he doesn’t ignore it. “It’s a balancing act. We have been made to believe that professionalism looks one way. Anything else is unprofessional or hood. I find myself working toward that sweet spot—that space where quality and culture co-exist. My clients need a company that markets them as culturally relevant with a professional finish. That’s what The W Agency provides,” Corrie says.
As an entrepreneur whose business is to help others launch their businesses, Corrie knows the importance of image and branding. The W Agency takes on corporate clients as well as small businesses, but Corrie says he currently focuses on start-ups. “Being part of a company’s growth from conception to execution is the most fulfilling part of this job. Not only witnessing someone’s vision and dream come to life but knowing I was an intricate part of it makes it all worthwhile,” Corrie shares. “I understand that how a business is presented, how the visionary is perceived can make or break them. It’s all about mass appeal.”
Corrie is the sole proprietor of The W Agency, but just like his clients, he’s building a brand that will last for generations. “The time and effort I put into this aren’t just to make money. As I explained, I want to give the people who trust me with their vision the quality they deserve. Another thing that motivates me is the reputation I’m building for my children.”
Corrie is a father of three and leaving them a legacy that will outlive him is crucial. “My children have seen me work a “job” where I worked from someone else. Now they see me building a business, and even as children, they see the difference in the energy I put out. My youngest son is already asking if he can take over the business one day. I’m happy that my kids can see the benefit of entrepreneurship while they’re young. You can work a job and make good money. The thing about money is that it will come, and with it will go, but you can’t put a price on fulfillment. That’s the difference my children see in me and what I hope will inspire them to follow their dreams.”
Corrie’s belief about what excellence in branding looks like runs deep, which motivates him to give his clients the best possible experience. “You are your brand. If you want people to trust you and believe in what you put out there, you must be willing to show them who you are and stand behind your name,” Corrie explained.
Way” Latitude Training Center
ThingsBy Terry L. Watson
Tiawna Bryant describes herself as an elite member of the healthcare industry.
The Detroit, MI, resident, and native is a Registered Nurse with over 20 years of healthcare experience. She is a mom, a caregiver to her parents, and a leader in her community. She is also the owner of Latitude Training Center.
Her company educates and trains aspiring healthcare workers in basic nursing services. Her students learn how to properly and safely perform Activities of Daily Living (ADL) for those who are ill or debilitated, need assistance, or can’t perform ADL care independently. ADL care consists of grooming, toileting, feeding, dressing, and helping with ambulation and transfers. Through the American Heart Association, Tiawna is a certified CPR Instructor. Additionally, her students are trained in emergency response care. Latitude’s four-week program equips individuals with job-ready skills, the kind of skills that are transferable and remain with them for life.
Tiawna obtained a degree in Applied Science from Davenport University. She began her journey of teaching CPR in her basement. She later expanded in 2018 with the assistance of an entrepreneurial training program. She continued to grow her professional services to a brick-and-mortar location and added healthcare career training. She says, “My vision for creating the Latitude Training Center was formulated while working as a Nurse Educator at the corporate level. During my tenure, I noticed there was a lack of caregivers to support the growing population of our elders. I also became aware of the idleness of our young adults in the community.” Learning those things propelled her into action.
Tiawna’s love for healthcare happened as a child. “As a teenager approaching high school, my mother frequently showed me the Sunday newspaper. She would show me the classified section and always emphasize choosing a career pathway that was in high demand and offered job stability. Becoming a nurse or an educator would provide that. Both nursing and education struck her interest, and from there, the rest is history.
“My vision for creating the Latitude Training Center was formulated while working as a Nurse Educator at the corporate level. During my tenure, I noticed there was a lack of caregivers to support the growing population of our elders. I also became aware of the idleness of our young adults in the community.”Photos Provided by Tiawna Bryant
Tiawna says she is inspired by the impact she has on her students. “My students look up to me and see themselves as leaders, nurses, caregivers, and educators. When my students ask questions about what direction they should take or how to handle a situation in their personal lives or issues at school, I am amazed and so grateful that I can be a resource. Whether it’s helping someone overcome a hurdle or giving a small nugget of advice, helping with their resumes, or just leading by example on how to conduct yourself and exude professionalism, I am grateful,” she says.
As a new business owner, the challenges never stop, and Tiawna says the one she has faced is learning how much working capital is actually needed to sustain a viable business. “You can have a beautifully well laid out business plan, but without projections and a method for growth and expansion, things can start to look quite different from when your business was just a thought on paper. Working capital is important. Having good personal credit has helped me leverage a lot of the funds that I lacked in my first year of business,” she says.
While the experience has been great for Tiawna, she says she would have done some things in business differently if given a chance to do so. “I would not have put my dreams to the side. When I initially had the inclination to be an entrepreneur, I doubted the timing and ability. The reality is once you have swallowed the idea and it starts to digest in your spirit, it will never go away. I would have started sooner in life and spoken more self-affirming words into the universe to support the thoughts that would have gotten my actions to align with what I knew to be true. Now that I am here and in the midst of it all, I am focusing on the bigger picture.”
Her advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs is to be ready for your circle to change and be ready for the naysayers. “Be ready to sacrifice and fight; your vision is your vision. Things and people will come against you that you may never have imagined. It can get rough, and you will ask if this is what I signed up for. My advice is to do as I did. Do your own research and hire professional consultants to help you polish your brand and get your back office paperwork together,” she says.
In the future, Tiawna plans to continue to encourage young adults to invest in themselves and their community. She also plans to continue expanding her brand and enjoy the opportunities and blessings of owning her company.
For more information about Latitude Training Center, please visit their website.
He is best described as a God-fearing man who loves being a husband and father. Those who don’t know him would probably say Stony is arrogant, but he says that’s far from the truth. “If anything, I try to motivate and encourage people to chase after their dreams and to live life to the fullest and with purpose. Life is already challenging, so I try to offer the advice I want someone to give me during times of adversary,” he shares.
Stony Murphy of Pensacola, FL, reflects on what he was told as a child, how he was treated as a black sheep and would fail in life. He has stood on that skepticism and, in turn, used it as a source of inspiration. He credits his mother, Gloria Murphy, for being an excellent example for him to live by. Stony shares that her strong will and determination to raise him, while being a single black woman helped him learn that anything is possible, just as long as he believed in himself.
Stony is a man of many talents. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and is a certified Master Barber, Chef, and Graphic Designer. He is a songwriter, entertainer, stage performer, and actor, and just here recently, he was blessed to have his own radio talk show.
Again, Stony connects his successes to the direction and example set by his mother. “I don’t know how life would’ve turned out. I was rebellious, but mom never threw the towel in on me. She continuously reminded me that if I wanted better, I had to do better,” he says. Another one of his great influencers was his grandmother, Roxana Caves. She was the first black woman in Pensacola to own and operate a cosmetology school. At the age of eight, Stony shadowed her whenever she was in her salon, which happened to be attached to her house. By the time he turned ten, Stony was allowed to cut alongside her. Years later, he followed in her footsteps and became a Master Barber.
Today, Stony has firmly planted himself as a staple in his community. Along with his “twin flame”, best friend, and my lifelong partner, Renee Murphy, Stony has created the brands, L&L Smoothies and L&L Art Collectionz. “L&L Art Collectionz is an art that is one of a kind. I never paint the same piece, so when you get a painting from me, you know it’s an original, not a duplicate,” Stony says. L&L Smoothies LLC provides all-natural plant-based smoothies that aid individuals dealing with diabetes, high blood pressure, digestive issues, and more. Stony and Renee share love in their businesses and how they live. “We have been together for nearly a decade, and I would do it all over again. She is a great mother, daughter, sister, friend, and fabulous wife. Her support, love, and loyalty keep me thriving and determined to achieve any goal I set out to accomplish,” Stony says.
As for music, he acknowledges his uncle Willie Pritchard for inspiring him. He was a writer also and passed the gift of writing down to Stony. His uncle played the drums, shared the stage with many oldschool legends, and allowed Stony to sit in during rehearsals. Art, on the other hand, Stony says, was more of a hit-and-miss hobby. “I would grab the Sunday newspaper cartoon section and draw the characters just for fun. Never once did I ever think that I would gain the recognition of being an artist years later,” he says.
Art holds a special place in Stony’s life. He shares that as a writer and performer, the art of music allows him to tell his story through stories that transform into songs. “I am very transparent and honest when I write my songs. I want listeners to know they are not the only ones dealing with life’s challenges. It’s my way of exhaling, so I can move on without bottling up. My expression of how grateful I am for overcoming situations.” Being a painting artist is just the same for Stony. “I can illustrate my thoughts on a stretched canvas. Painting takes me to a place of serenity and allows me to shake off the stress of life.”
Like most business owners, having a solid support system is vital. Many entrepreneurs go into business with the mindset that family and friends will provide support. Stony says that is not how it goes. “Walking into the unknown is intimidating, so going into a situation with the backing of your immediate circle helps deal with pros and cons in business. I’ve learned to deal with business challenges by praying and asking God to cover my decisions and to surround me with people with a simpatico mindset.”
The future looks bright for Stony. He has launched a new radio show, “2 Tears in a Bucket……Y’all know the rest!” This show is filled with theories, facts, good music, and fun conversations. He also plans to remain ambitious, innovative, humble and focused. “I will stay prayed up and open to new ideas. Building prosperous relationships is my objective from this point forward.”
Growing Leaders The Old Fashioned WayBy Dr. Marrissa Dick Photos Provided by Snuggs Photography
The Good Book tells us in Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” It also says in Zachariah 4:9, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.” These two verses have motivated James R. Gorham throughout his life. He never forgot the vision and continues to appreciate the humble beginnings of his life.
Meet Brigadier General James Roy Gorham, known by most as J. R. and affectionately known as that curly-haired little boy from the tobacco fields of Falkland, NC. Read on and learn how the sharecropper’s son rose from a boy priming tobacco in his parent’s tobacco field to becoming the first African American Brigadier General in the North Carolina National Guard. J. R. shares, “I was born to Roy and Madie Gorham in 1956. I have five older sisters, so I had six mammas. Since I was the first boy born after five girls, I was the apple of their eyes. I was fortunate to have been born into a loving family, even though we lived in a four-bedroom shack. That shack had holes in the floors and in the walls, we had plastic around our windows in the winter, and we even had an outhouse. That shack had no running water, so I had to draw water from a well. On the weekends, I had to draw 80 buckets of water just so mama could wash the clothes because we had one of those washing machines with rollers so it took a lot of water to do the laundry. I didn’t have any expectations to do anything in particular with my life back then because we were actually po’ with one “o” and we could not afford the “r” that’s just how poor we were. Looking back on it, we were only poor in resources, but in the things that really mattered in life we had an abundance.”
Growing up in an authoritative household can seem daunting to many teenagers, and J. R. was no different. So when the day came to forgo working in his father’s tobacco field and living under his strict rules, J. R. took it by joining the United States Army.
“I didn’t join the army out of any patriotic duty. I joined to get out of that tobacco field and to get from under my daddy’s thumb. I just wanted to live my life. My best friend until this very day, Rick Streeter, and I got our money together and sent in our initial deposit so we could attend NC A&T State University in 1974, but that didn’t happen. Instead of us going to school, we played hooky. After we messed around all day, we went down to the recruiting office to listen to that spill so we could get a note to return to school. When I tell you that the recruiting officer painted a wonderful picture of us seeing the world, we bought it; hook, line and sinker, and we signed up that day!”
Through our lived experience, most people understand everything that shines ain’t gold. J. R. discovered making his own decisions came at a price. He shares, “When I joined the US Army in 1974, I was 18 years old and bringing home $312 a month. That was the first time in my life I had some real soft money in my hand. I didn’t know what to do with all that freedom. When I was transferred to Fort Hood, TX, I got with the wrong crowd and started going out every night, getting drunk, and I was making a whole lot of bad decisions. My defining moment came on Christmas Eve in 1976 when I was at my platoon sergeant’s house for a little party. At that time, The Walton’s came on tv, and they reminded me of my family. A feeling came over me that I cannot describe to you, and all of a sudden, I didn’t want the beer that was being offered to me. I left his place and while I was driving to the hole in-the-wall apartment I lived in, I looked over onto the shoulder of the road and saw that a loaf of bread has fallen out of somebody’s car. Now I want you to understand I didn’t have any bread in my house. All I had was seventy-five cents in my pocket and a fourth tank of gas in my car because I had drunk up my money. So, I pull my car off on the shoulder of the road, get out and walk towards the bread. When I stooped down to pick it up, a story that I learned in St. John’s Baptist Church in Falkner, NC, came to my remembrance, and I said to myself oh my God, I’m that prodigal son! My mamma and daddy didn’t raise me this way.”
When J. R. got back to his place, he called home for the first time in about eight months. As soon as my mother hears his voice she says, ‘Bruh come home for Christmas.’ J. R. told her that he couldn’t because he didn’t have any money. He says, “She tells me that she and daddy would wire me the money but I had enough sense to know that I cannot take that proposition from my mamma. I was 20 years old and I manned up and told my mother that I had gotten myself into this situation and it was up to me to get myself out. I knew if I had taken that money from my parents, I would be expecting them to always rescue me. Instead, I asked her to pray for me. She understood, but then she put my five sisters on the phone, and after hearing them cry, I really felt like a loser with a capital L.”
By the time J. R. got off the phone, he says the thought of checking out permanently crossed his mind. However, something inside of him, what is referred to in the Army as “Intestinal fortitude,” kicked in. “Spiritually, I know it was the Holy Spirit and He would not allow me to check out,” he says. “After I hung up, I went across the railroad tracks into a cow pasture, and I walked, and I walked. I decided in that cow pasture that this would be as low as I was ever going to go.”
Armed with a desire in his heart and a gleam in his eye J. R. went down to the local community college and enrolled in an English and Math course. Afterward, he summoned the courage to confront his Sergeant to atone for his misdeeds. When his Sergeant saw him standing outside of his office door, he looked at J. R. as though he was the last person he ever wanted to see. “He asked me what I wanted and I told him I had a proposition for him. I told him I would pull extra duty every weekend for the rest of my time there if he would take my name off the weekly extra duty roster because I had enrolled in school and needed to attend class. After he finished looking at me he said, ‘You got a deal, Gorham.’ He shook my hand and took my name off the extra duty roster. To this day he doesn’t know that random acts of kindness helped me turn my whole life around. The Good Book says, one plants another waters, but God gives the increase. So, all he was doing was watering what had already been planted in my life by my parents,” J. R. says.
Soon life got better for J.R. He started thinking about one of the many sayings that sharecropper daddy of his would say while they were riding in his old raggedy and smoky Silverado pickup truck. “He used to say, ‘Boy if you’re willing to do what other people will not do, you can go where other people cannot go.’”
J.R. didn’t realize how true that statement was until one day, in the Spring of his senior year the company commander called about 200 soldiers into formation. He asked volunteers to pick up nails in the motor pool because they were causing flat tires. He said he would give anybody who brought him two handfuls of nails a three-day pass. Now 200 soldiers heard that charge, but J.R. was the only person who brought him two handfuls of nails. Instead of him giving J. R. a three-day pass, he gave me a four-day pass. “On my way out, I rolled down my car window and hollered out who’s laughing now! Ya’ll gotta stay here and work while I get the rest of the week off. Like my daddy said, ‘If you’re willing to do what other people will not do you can go where other people cannot go.”
After J. R. left the Army he went home and attended East Carolina University. While there, he joined the North Carolina National Guard and attended Officer Candidate School in Fort Bragg, N.C. where he graduated first in his class. He was grateful that his father, who served in the Army during WWII, had the opportunity to see him graduate. While J. R. was taking pictures with generals, he remembers his father imparting yet another golden nugget in his life. “My daddy said, ‘Boy you are becoming your company. Whoever you’re hanging around with is who you will become.’ So as a Second Lieutenant, I started hanging around with the First Lieutenants until I became one. Then I started hanging around captains, majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels. Eventually, I started hanging around generals and now I’m the first African American Brigadier General in the NC National Guard,” he says.
J. R. shares that his father was a firm and wise man. “I am grateful for the chastisement, ethics, and morals he instilled in me, past the bone into my marrow. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t that sharecropper’s son. He groomed me to be a leader the oldfashioned way.”
J. R.’s progress through the military was not always as sweet as this last memory. He was often looked over for promotions he was qualified to receive, which caused him to consider retiring early. That would only be a thought and he recalls his father saying, “Boy when you get to the end of your rope, you tie a knot, and you hang on but you do not quit.”
According to J. R., “If I had let my emotions get the better of me I would have quit and retired as a major. Instead, I went to Iraq as a lieutenant colonel and was promoted to full colonel while I was in a war zone. If I had quit because of my emotions, I would have never received that promotion from on high. Not only did that happen but shortly after I returned I received a call from a two-star general inviting me to lunch. When I got there, he informed me that he had submitted my package to the Department of the Army to promote me to Brigadier General. I broke down right there at the table. I was crying from the inner part of my soul for two reasons. First, I’m going to be the first African American Brigadier General in the NC National Guard. I’m crying because in this country when you’re a man or woman of color, you become the litmus test for everyone coming behind you. I’m feeling the gravity of that responsibility in my tears.” J. R. says he was also crying because that moment made up for all the times I had been overlooked.” For the record readers, generals don’t cry. Their eyes sweat, so we can be assured that J. R.’s eyes were really sweating that day.
Today, Brigadier General Gorham is a community leader, motivational speaker, and the author of Sharecroppers Wisdom: Growing Todays Leaders the Old-Fashioned Way. He is married to Barbara; they have three children, Tony, Jamie, and Joshua.
Shifting The Culture Gene Blackmon & CJ BrinsonBy Monica Montgomery - Photos Provided by Mykel Media Company
Gene Blackmon and CJ Brinson are two individuals working to make a difference in their community. Each has chosen to use their experiences, gifts, and talents to influence those around them. Their paths have taken them on different journeys but have brought them to a common place where their goals align.
Blackmon & Brinson are both fathers raising their children in a world not designed for their success. With the rise of gun violence, they have decided not just to take a stand but to help facilitate a change. Establishing Safe Cultures Coalition is the collaboration built to shift the culture from the escalating violence we see daily to a healthy community ready to educate and equip its people to inherit the world they live in.
Gene Blackmon is a newly single father of two who is using his platform as a Master Barber and business owner to mentor and elevate the people in his community. Like most black men, he has layers that make him an influential voice in the community. “I am a father, mentor, teacher, businessman, and community activist,” Blackmon said, describing the different facets that come together to make him the man he is.
Raised on the Northeast side of Greensboro, North Carolina, by a single mother, Blackmon’s start in life was as a statistic. “We lived in a lowerincome area, and my mom was a single mother of three. My aunt was also a single mother of three. They brought us all to my grandmother’s house and raised us there. That’s how they made it work,” Blackmon explained. “This was also during the era when your neighbors weren’t just the people you lived next to. They were like family. And family looked out for each other.”
As with most lower-income communities, there are little or no opportunities for advancement or mobility. Children from these areas are considered to be “at risk.” Being labeled “at risk” puts a target on the back of many young black males, and Blackmon was no different. When he was sixteen, he got into some trouble with the law. “I was charged for a crime I didn’t commit, but I was young and trusted my public defender. I pleaded guilty, which gave me a reduced sentence but left me with a permanent record,” Blackmon explained.
After the smoke cleared, Blackmon was seventeen and needed to make a plan for the future. “I left high school because I felt like they weren’t teaching me things useful to me and my future. I got my GED and went straight to barber college.” Having a criminal record made life difficult for Blackmon at first, but he persevered, and now he owns his own barber college and works to help young people from his demographic avoid the pitfalls that tried to trap him. “I am a barber by trade, but my calling is to help elevate and educate the culture,” Blackmon shared.
CJ Brinson is also a native of Greensboro. Although his journey slightly differs from Blackmon’s, he also sees himself as being called to make a difference in the urban community. “I am a minister, a husband, and a father. My wife DraShonta, and I have three children and a fur-baby,” Brinson shares. “I wanted to become an R&B singer but was called into ministry and community activism.”
Brinson earned an undergraduate degree in political science, a minor in social justice from North Carolina A&T State University, and a master’s of divinity from Hood Theological Seminary. “Greensboro is a city rooted in social justice and community activism,” Brinson explains. “Many people don’t know this, but Greensboro has played a part in just about every move of social justice that has taken place in America. There’s the Revolutionary war, the Civil War, the A&T Four, who were instrumental in the desegregation of the Woolworth lunch counter, and the 1974 Greensboro Massacre, to name a few.”
Living around and being influenced by a rich history of social justice in the Greensboro community, Brinson felt it was a natural inevitability that he be part of the social justice movement of his generation. After receiving his undergraduate degree, Brinson earned his Master of Divinity. “It was while I was in seminary that my political thought met my religious thought, and that’s what inspired me to mobilize my community towards social justice,” Brinson explained. “After seminary, I returned to Greensboro and connected with an organization called Beloved Community Centers. It’s a faith-based group that trains community leaders. I’ve been moving forward ever since.”
As activists individually, Blackmon and Brinson worked to effect change in their community. However, they realized they could become more significant if they joined their voices with others ready to address the major issues facing today’s culture. The primary issue the duo is targeting is the rise in violent crimes in their community.
“Today’s culture has been conditioned to see violence as the answer to every situation. They are being inundated with this way of thinking from every outlet. They have constant exposure through music, movies, social media, video games, and their homes. We want to change the culture by reconditioning people, specifically young people, to see that violence isn’t the answer. Especially when we are attaching each other,” Blackmon explained.
The violence Blackmon and Brinson are discussing results from years of systemic racism, disenfranchisement, and a social media campaign to push the idea that to be seen as powerful or in control; you have to be willing to fight for it physically. And the one who can be the most ruthlessly violent will survive. Thankfully Blackmon and Brinson have a plan to turn the tide of inter-communal violence in their community.
“Establishing Safe Cultures Coalition was born out of a deep desire to resolve intercommunal violence here in Greensboro,” Brinson explains. “Homicides were increasing here in Greensboro, and I knew something needed to be done. So I called a community meeting at my barber school,” Blackmon explained. “We had a major turnout, but we didn’t have a solid resolution to our problem. CJ Brinson was in attendance and started researching national programs that addressed our community’s problems. These programs would help minimize violence from a communal perspective that didn’t involve overpolicing. From that point on, we were on a joint mission to shift the culture of our community away from the rising violent crimes.”
“We call it intercommunal crime instead of “black on black” crime because this kind of violence isn’t just happening in black neighborhoods. It’s happening in communities around the country,” Blackmon points out. “We want to get away from the idea that poor black communities are the only ones dealing with this issue.”
Blackmon clarifies that the Coalition is not activism but the community coming together to work toward a common goal. “Activism and Establishing Safe Cultures are two different things,” he explains. “Establishing Safe Cultures is the community coming together to shift the culture from one plagued with violence to a peaceful one that opens the door for more opportunities.”
The Coalition plans to shift the culture through education, mentorship, social and emotional development, and career readiness. “These workshops are designed to arm the community’s youth differently,” Blackmon shares. “We will show them and teach them that there is a better way to handle conflict. They need to know that everything doesn’t have to escalate to violence, especially when the escalation stems from something deeper.”
On February 26th, 2023, Establishing Safe Cultures Coalition held its first set of Culture Shift Workshops. One hundred girls and boys ages seven to twelve were invited to participate in this monumental experience. “The kids are going to have instruction and mentorship in personal development, financial literacy, and conflict resolution,” Blackmon explained. “There will also be group exercises for the body, mind, and spirit.”
The Coalition has been working on getting state funding to make the program sustainable. The desire is to have students meet twice weekly for instruction, training, and social-emotional development. But until that happens, the Culture Shift Workshops will be held quarterly. “Ideally, we want to have regular contact and training for the students, but without funding, that’s not possible. But we had to do something. We couldn’t allow things to remain as they are.”
Because of the efforts of Gene Blackmon, CJ Brinson, and the other members of the Establishing Safe Culture Coalition, the community of Greensboro doesn’t just have a plan of action; they have action. Working to combat years of cultural violence and disconnect won’t be easy. Still, Blackmon and Brinson exude a contagious confidence that will propel this culture shift well into a restored and unified community.
“We call it intercommunal crime instead of -black on black crime -because this kind of violence isn’t just happening in black neighborhoods. It’s happening in communities around the country.”