Jena: The Forgotten Six?

Two years ago, in the summer of 2007, we were all concerned about six young African-American men from Jena, Louisiana who had been charged with attempted murder after a schoolyard fight. Through the efforts of activists and bloggers, their situation became a national cause celebre, and, perhaps through those efforts, they were saved from having the rest of their lives ended by a juvenile decision made in high school. There was even an unprecedented national march in the fall of 2007 that some analysts called the start of a “new civil rights movement.” But then charges were lessened, judges and prosecutors were replaced, plea agreements were reached, and by the time everything came to end as far as the criminal charges, it was hardly even news, buried on the back page of some morning newspaper. Now I have to wonder if the six youths who were the central reason for it all feel a little used and abandoned. After all they were really just ordinary youngsters, thrust into the limelight through a cruel accident of history-the accident of hung nooses, burned schools, a private party at a fairgrounds and a bad decision on a school campus. And now, when perhaps they need us more than ever, where are we? Mychal Bell’s suicide attempt last year made headlines, but what I found far more poignant was his statement that it all got to be too much pressure on him. They have now been freed from physical jail, but they may never escape the scars and damage that these tragic events have caused. Pray for these young men on a regular basis- Mychal Bell, Theo Shaw, Bryant Purvis, Carwin Jones, Robert Bailey and Jesse Ray Beard. Ask that God would heal their hurt, uplift them and give them peace.

Justice for Bernard Monroe and Kevin LaDay

The police killings of two African-American men in Louisiana and Texas this year have not garnered much attention outside of the region, but are disturbing and deserving of higher scrutiny. 73-year-old Bernard Monroe was shot to death by police in Homer, Louisiana in February in front of his own house during a family cookout, after police had chased his son Shaun to the home. The son was tased, but not charged with a crime.
In April, Kevin Jabriil LaDay died in Lumberton, Texas while in police custody, after he had driven his automobile into a ditch. Although an autopsy was “inconclusive” as to the cause of death, people in the Black community believe he was beaten to death. The Homer case attracted Al Sharpton, who led a march there in April, and the Lumberton case came to the attention of Quanell X of the New Black Panther Party, who staged a tense rally in front of the Lumberton Police Department, also in April. Even so, only continuing national coverage will keep these incidents from being swept under the rug like so many more have been.

Tragedy in Paris, Texas

The national news reported on a near-riot situation that developed in a downtown Paris, Texas park after competing rallies by out-of-town Black activists and white supremacists. The trouble stems from the mysterious death of 24-year-old Brandon McClellan, whose mangled body was found beside a highway in September 2008. Two white men, who claimed to be friends of the victim, were the last to be seen with him, and were, for a time, charged with his death. But evidence was scant, and, after an 18-wheel trucker claimed he might have hit something on the road that night, the two suspects were freed, much to the displeasure of the victim’s relatives, as well as Black community organizers from Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston. Their rallies led to counter-rallies by white groups, also from out-of-town, displaying Nazi and Confederate emblems. Paris has already been having economic problems, with plant closings, and has been desperately trying to recruit new industry, but new factories are not likely to choose a town that is nationally potrayed as racially torn. Brandon McClellan’s death was a tragedy, but so is the racial division encouraged by people who do not live in Paris, and won’t have to daily witness what they helped stir up.

7/8/09: Mobile to Gulfport Along Highway 90

After checking out of the hotel, I drove to Dick Russell’s Bar-B-Que in Tillman’s Corner for breakfast, then headed west out I-10 to Escatawpa.
In Moss Point, I stopped by Misty’s Urban Apparel, and then by Byrd’s Music, where Mr. Byrd told me that he had had to add a deli to his music store to stay open, and that if it weren’t for the food he was selling, he probably would have had to close. I then drove over to a new record store on Chicot in Pascagoula called Rebel Muzik, and spent some time with the owners there, putting up some of my posters and talking with them about their projects. I suggested that somebody needs to make a movie about Pascagoula and Moss Point in the early 90’s during the Carver Village era, and they told me they had been talking about doing that. But Carver Village was gone, I learned, as I drove down Mobile Avenue. All of the projects have been torn down since Hurricane Katrina and replaced with housing for the elderly.
Ocean Springs seemed prettier that it used to be, and the old Biloxi restaurant McElroy’s Harbor House had relocated to a nice waterfront setting at the approach to the Biloxi bridge. Biloxi is beginning to look like Atlantic City these days, with a new Margaritaville casino under construction almost next door to the Hard Rock Casino, but as I headed westward past Edgewater Mall, the weather turned grey and threatening.
By the time I got to Lil Ray’s Po-Boys on Courthouse Road in Gulfport, the rains came with a fury, and I got drenched to the bone. But a Lil Ray’s shrimp po-boy and Barq’s root beer brought comfort and memories, and the food was every bit as good as it had been in my childhood. Gulfport’s hip-hop store Da Shop on 34th wasn’t open, and neither was Fox Hollow Coffee (it was out of business), so I drove downtown to PJ’s Coffee of New Orleans on 13th, where I grabbed a latte before starting the long drive back to Memphis.

7/7/09: Day 2 of C & M Record Pool in Mobile

Woke up to rain and thunderstorms that never seemed to let up. Ate breakfast at the Spot of Tea on Dauphin, and then made the rounds of Mobile record stores putting up Alex King posters and asking everyone about the Prichard song I had heard last night on WBLX. Nobody seemed to know who it was.
Driving down Michigan Avenue, I had hoped to inquire about the old Uptight Records building to see if there were still any vinyl records in it, but the building seemed boarded up and abandoned.
By the time I got out to the Prichard area, the sun had come out, and it was hot. In the late afternoon, I drove over to Fairhope to check out the Down By The Bay Cafe, but it had already closed for the day, and the Yardarm out on the pier wasn’t open either, so I headed back west on the old causeway to the Original Oyster House, which my mother and stepfather had enjoyed when they were in the area a year or so ago. From my table, I could see dark ominous stormclouds rising in the west behind the Mobile skyline, but it was still sunny here. I tried the grilled shrimp, which were very good indeed, and ended my dinner with a peanut butter chocolate chip pie, which was also very good.
Then, running late for the start of the conference, I began driving back west into Mobile, but as I headed up I-65 from I-10, I could see a funnel cloud begin to descend from the black line of clouds above the horizon. It apparently never touched down, but as I arrived at the Roxy, where the event was being held, the storm sirens began to go off. The conference was a couple of panel discussions, and a lot of performances, and I felt it went fairly well. DJ Sammy Sam played the Alex King single “What If I” just before the first panel, and although people weren’t familiar with it, I saw some heads bobbing to it. There were a lot of notable Mobile personalities present, including C-Nile, Kalinski, Hittman and Choppa T, who turned out to be the artist responsible for the song “Raised Off 45”, which was the Prichard anthem that had caught my attention the night before. The rain ended about the same time as the conference, but afterwards, the challenge was to find a coffee bar open. Serda’s had closed at 11 PM, but I found one in West Mobile called Biggby’s that was open until midnight. I recognized the place as a coffee house that had been called Beaner’s the last time I was in Mobile, but the girl behind the counter explained to me that the company changed the name when they began expanding into the southwest, as they had learned that “beaner” was an offensive term for Mexicans. Even after a cappuccino, I had no trouble sleeping.

7/6/09: C & M Record Pool Conference in Mobile

Drove down to Mobile for the C & M Record Pool’s Mobile Music Conference. DJ Bull got me checked into my hotel room, and then I drove over to the new Eastern Shore Center in Malbis to meet up with the Pensacola rapper Big Bone at California Dreaming restaurant. I went by two different Starbucks on the eastern shore and found both closed, but I finally found a coffee bar called Serda’s that stayed open until 11 PM. It had been raining in Mobile, and the streets still seemed wet as I rode back out west toward the hotel, listening to WBLX as they played some rap song about being from Prichard.

7/3/09: Visiting with jazz drummer Aaron Walker

My friend Aaron Walker, the jazz drummer, was in town visitng his mother, so I picked him up and we rode downtown to the Westin Hotel to check out a jazz gig with pianist Steven Lee and drummer Renardo Ward. Aaron and I both got to sit in for awhile, and then we walked around on Beale Street to Alvie Givhan’s gig with Lynn Cardona at the King’s Palace Cafe. Aaron couldn’t hang out late, however, because he had to fly back to Wilmington, Delaware early in the morning, so I took him back to his mother’s house and went home to bed.

6/27/09: Breakfast in Knoxville’s Market Square

Finding breakfast had been a problem for me in Knoxville on past trips, but with the iPhone, I was able to locate several places open for breakfast, and most of them were on Market Square, a charming part of downtown Knoxville that I had never seen before. Not only had people come out of this Sunday morning to eat, but to sit, people watch and walk dogs as well. I had a rather delicious breakfast from a place called Trio, and then I started the long drive back, stopping in Dickson for a cappuccino. Finally arrived in Memphis late in the afternoon, thoroughly tired.

6/26/09: From Cincinnati to Knoxville

The Westin had a self-service breakfast cafe called Ingredients, which really was quite good and not as expensive as most hotel breakfasts. Then I checked out and headed south into Kentucky to make the long drive through the mountains and into Knoxville.
Arriving fairly late in the afternoon, I went first to JK’s Records on Western Avenue, and then drove out to Hamp’s Music in Oak Ridge. Then I went and checked into my hotel at Alcoa, before heading back up to the Cat’s Music on Kingston Pike. The manager there let me put an Alex King poster display on one of the hanging boards on the wall, and after that, I headed downtown to Calhoun’s on the River for dinner. Knoxville had apparently been hosting the US Wakeboarding Championships, and the event was just winding down for the day as I ate dinner from a table overlooking the Tennessee River.
Afterwards I called the famous jazz pianist Donald Brown, who arranged to meet up with me so we could go hear one of his sons play at a club in downtown Knoxville. I picked up a late from a coffee bar near the UT campus on the way out to Donald’s house, and then he, his brother Graylon and I rode downtown. The group playing was more of a smooth jazz/R & B type group, but it was still fun, at least until they started playing nothing but Michael Jackson songs, but, given the recent events, that was probably what most of the crowd wanted. Later, back at Donald’s house, we were up until nearly 3 Am discussing music and listening to discs. It was very difficult driving back to my hotel room at Alcoa.

6/25/09: RIP Michael Jackson

I checked out of the Kingsgate Resort, and ate breakfast at a First Watch near Florence, Kentucky so I would already be on that side of the river to head out for Louisville.
I arrived at the Coconuts Music at the Summit in Louisville a little too early, and they weren’t open yet, but there were already people waiting for the store to open so that they could buy Michael Jackson CDs because he had died yesterday. People couldn’t seem to talk of anything else.
At Ear X-Tacy, one of the local TV stations had set up cameras and was interviewing customers and store employes. Better Days Records had experienced a run on Michael Jackson albums and had completely run out. After a stop by the FYE in Jefferson Mall, I headed east toward Lexington.
The promotional runs to record stores there took longer than I had intended, so it was about 7 PM before I was able to head out toward Cincinnati. I decided to go straight to my hotel, The Westin, and get parked and checked in, which all went much easier than I had feared. The hotel sat directly across from Fountain Square, and there was some sort of festival going on in the square with food vendors, beer and a live band on stage. I walked over there and checked out the happenings for a minute, then ventured into the Rock Bottom Brewery for a late dinner. The hot weather had brought a large crowd into the nearby Graeter’s Ice Cream, but I decided I really didn’t want ice cream, so I walked around downtown for a bit, passing the Contemporary Art center and a trendy bar called Nada, stumbling upon a new restaurant called Bootsy’s, named for Bootsy Collins and featuring a cool exhibit of King Records and Bootsy Collins memorabilia. They were a sushi place however, and didn’t seem to have much of a dessert menu, so I kept walking until I came to a Starbucks that was still open, where I got a latte.
The bands were still playing in the square, and I thought about going to the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, but decided not to, and went upstairs to my room and to bed instead.