Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Douglass Alumni Scholarships: Generations of Continuing Education


"Don't forget where your help came from, and in turn, don't forget where you came from."

That was the message for graduating African-American high school seniors more than 30 years ago from the Douglass Alumni Association of Kingsport, and it's the same message the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Association still has for black seniors furthering their education.

Although the alumni association for upper East Tennessee's largest black high school changed its name two years ago, its focus to provide scholarships to the school's descendants has not changed. "We have always thought that trying to help black seniors heading off to college, would give them an incentive to make something out of themselves," says Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni president Douglas Releford, "and in turn, they would come back in some way and help the community that helped them."

Back in 1982, members of the Douglass High School Alumni Association in Kingsport first wanted to recognize graduating African-American high school seniors, whose descendants attended Kingsport's African-American high school.

"To be recognized by your own people inspires you to do more," says Byron Williams. According to a plaque recently discovered at Dobyns-Bennett, Williams was the first honoree of the V.O. Dobbins Scholastic Memorial Award. At that time, financial scholarships were not fiscally possible, but recognition of academic achievement among black students going to college was absolutely necessary.

Williamson still remembers the day of the awards ceremony at his DB graduation 32 years ago.

"I had no idea I was getting a scholastic award," he says. "When they called my name, I went up on stage in from of all those people. They said I was being honored with the V.O. Dobbins Scholastic Memorial Award, and I was very suprised. I knew about Mr. Dobbins and Douglass High School.. my mother Mabel and my aunt Jesse Dennis both went to Douglass, and I remember they telling me how he used to grow vegetables in his garden in the summer so the students there would have something hot to eat in the winter. My folks always told me about the good education that they got, so the fact that I received an honor with Mr. Dobbins' name on it meant a lot."

"It made a powerful impression on me."

After that first one, recipients of the V.O. Dobbins Scholastic Award were Angela Maxwell in 1983, Delbert Davis in 1986, Rhonda Kincaid in 1987, Shana Wright in 1988, Deeya Dobbins in '89, and Chad Machen in 1990. The award faded away after that year, and the plaque disappeared into the historical archives of Dobyns-Bennett, never to be awarded again.

Eleven years later, Douglass alumni who had been holding reunions every other year since the early 70's, begun to realize the importance of financial support for young African-American descendants of the school. In 2001, the alumni group began providing $500 dollar scholarships to black seniors who met the criteria set forth by an appointed scholarship committee of the alumni association.

"A lot of places won't give out a scholarship unless the graduating senior has a 4.0 grade point average," Releford says. "That's great, but not everybody has a 4.0 GPA.. some have GPA's of 2.8, 3.4., maybe even 3.8. We wanted to reward those seniors who were still going to college, but not necessarily in the top 10% of their class."

"The kids in the lower 90% who were still going to college, deserved a shot at financial help, too. It was our way of saying 'we love you just the way you are. If you try hard, we will reward you for giving it your best shot."

"So far, no one has disappointed us," he says. "It's been very rewarding to see the results."


Scholarship availability was always open to Douglass School descendants, but requirements to receive awards tightened up a bit over the years.

"Two years ago, our alumni board decided to help more of our school descendants and give out more money," Releford says. "We did that by requiring, not only that the recipient be a descendant of a Douglass graduate, but also that the descendant be a member in good standing of the alumni association. That year, 2012, we gave out a total of five scholarships, the most we've every given in a year, and we have averaged at least three every year since then."


To qualify, scholarship applicants have to write a short essay on why they think the financial aid is important to their particular education needs, what course of study they plan to engage in, how they plan to make an impact on society, and also provide a high school transcript. Applicants also have to provide an acceptance letter from the college or university they have chosen. On approval, the Douglass scholarship will then be deposited in the student's name in the financial aid office of the school.

Financial scholarships began in 2001, and were given at Douglass alumni reunions.  The first college-bound students to receive Douglass alumni financial aid were Tia Lanauze and Michelle Hankins. In 2005, Kristopher Leeper was awarded the scholarship, and Terrance Maxwell, Blake Leeper and Courtney Wolfe were the recipients in 2007.

Previously, scholarships were considered and presented to recipients during the Douglass Alumni reunions every 2 years. Upon a rules change in 2010, even more college-bound Douglass descendants benefited from the financial help.

"Our board decided to award scholarships every single year, instead of every other year," says Releford. "Some of our alumni correctly pointed out that students graduate every year, not just every 2 years. They felt that everybody should have a chance. By changing to every year, there is no way that we would miss the opportunity to reward a student with help to continue their higher education."


Since the change, Jessica Williams and Darius Davis received Douglass scholarships in 2010. At right, Briasha Russell, Chris Sensabaugh and Brenton Leeper were the recipients in 2011. The next year 2012 saw the largest number of scholarships in alumni history: Sierra Evans, Todd Gilmore, Courtney Alexander, Kelsie Dulaney and Justin Long were the honorees. Last year, Devanun Swafford, Hunter Muller, Cyndee Morrisette and Jessica Cherry were the winners.


For 2014, the recipients of Douglass scholarships are Evan Wilmer, Akeyia Arnett and Dontae Johnson.

"Often, our winners are already in school when the scholarship names are announced," says Releford. "When they are not present to accept the honor, friends, family, even grandmothers proudly accept in their absence. Those friends and family members remember the Douglass tradition of recognizing educational talent and are just as proud of getting the scholarships as the people who get the award."

Releford says today, the scholarships are funded through dues from Douglass alumni. Periodically, the group holds golf tournaments, the proceeds from which, go directly into the scholarship fund.

Only a few months ago, the long-lost V.O. Dobbins Scholastic Memorial Award plaque was found and presented to the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Association by Dobyns-Bennett High School. The alumni group's board then decided to combine the Scholastic Memorial award and the Douglass alumni scholarships, creating a new V.O. Dobbins, Sr. - Sons and Daughters of Douglass Scholarship Memorial Award.

"This award IS the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Association," says Releford. "It is our hopes, dreams, education and community, all wrapped up into a financial package. We do other programs in the community and partner with several organizations in Kingsport, but our main purpose is scholarships for our school descendants. It is our heart and soul that we honor the education that we as alumni received from a school that meant a lot to us. The newly combined scholarship award honors the teachers who gave their heart and soul to make sure we were prepared for life. That's the V.O. Dobbins Sr. part. We cannot give our descendants an education, but we can help them financially, when they chose to get one. That's the alumni association part."


The new focus continues the legacy of the Douglass School of Kingsport through its many descendants, including Byron Williamson. He went on to ETSU, earning a degree in computer science.

"It's a good feeling to know that the community encourages you to go to college," he says. "The feeling that you have done something further than the generation before you, but that generation fully supports you financially and spiritually. If you achieve, give back to the community.. if it's time, give that back.. if it's money or expertise, give those back."

"Always give back to the next generation coming along, simply because the previous generation gave to you."

Monday, August 18, 2014

Kingsport's 4th of July Parade: "Gets Bigger and Better Every Year"


"It really does. It gets bigger and better every year."

Everybody loves the Mack Riddle American Legion Fourth of July parade in Kingsport. At every intersection, Center Street is packed with spectators, many of them young children. They enjoy the pagentry of floats, bands, marchers and just plain ordinary citizens in formation, celebrating the birth of our country.

Among those spectators.. Gwan Hill and his family of Kingsport.

"I like the old cars," he admits, "those really old cars and the way they have them fixed up. The cars get older and nicer every year."

Hill says the organizers really do a good job.

"It's great that you can line up along the parade route, and the bands and the cars drive right up close to you," he says. "You can see everybody's face that's happy to be in the parade, and since I like the old cars, I get to see how they've fixed 'em up.. every little line, every coat of paint."

Everybody else has their little Kingsport parade favorites. For Hill's wife, Tameika, she comes to see lots of parade floats, but there's one thing that makes her proud.

"The DB band," she says, emphatically. "I love the band. I think DB's band is just unbelieveable. It's the best band around.. when they're on their A game, you just can't beat 'em."




It helps that Tameika is a Dobyns-Bennett graduate, class of '96.

Gwan Hill says, his family has been to many Kingsport Fourth of July parades, too numerous to count.

"We do notice that every time we come, there's always something new.. something we haven't seen before," he says. "That's what makes it so much fun.. you never know what you'll see that you've never seen before. There's more involvement from different people. You can be in the parade and be an individual, instead of being in a group."

"That's people just supporting the Fourth of July," he says "People here do that in the parade, both as groups and people as marchers."

He says, his hometown of Johnson City needs to sit up and take notice, because there's nothing like a Kingsport parade.

"We don't have these kinds of civic parades in Johnson City celebrating the 4th," he says. The '83 Davy Crockett High School graduate has a suggestion for the powers-that-be in that city. "I would recommend that some committee come over here to Kingsport and take a look at what they're doing here and how they're doing it."

"They should take that back, and either duplicate it or do it better."

Kingsport’s Fourth of July Celebration & Parade began at 10 AM Saturday the 4th, kicking off from the Renaissance Center and rolling through town to its end point at the intersection of Eastman Road and Fort Henry Drive.

It was the 56th Mack Riddle American Legion Fourth of July Parade in Kingsport.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Umoja Festival Stories, Pictures and Videos Posted

Stories, videos and pictures from the recent Umoja Festival in Johnson City are now posted.

You'll find them at the Langston link on the main page of the website.

The stories include a feature on the Young Adult Stage, with videos and pictures from the Gospel Fest and the performances later on Saturday.

Also, a story on the Main Stage, with videos and pictures on the festival's main headliner, the Faze II Band.

There is also a feature story on the Umoja Festival parade, with videos and pictures from the African drummers and stilt walkers.

And finally, a history of the Johnson City festival, with this year's festival committee chairman, Ralph Davis.

Go to the Douglass website's main page, scroll over to the links underneath the TV screen, and click on the one that says "Langston Tigers - Johnson City."

Friday, August 15, 2014


Central Baptist Church, 301 Carver St., Kingsport, will celebrate its homecoming Sunday.

The morning service will begin at 11 a.m. with Minister Lamar Gordon of Friendship Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., preaching.

The afternoon service will begin at 3 p.m. with Pastor C. Danny Johnson of Thankful Baptist Church in Johnson City preaching.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What's Next for Holston Valley Hospital & Medical Center? Letter From the Mayor


On Monday, August 18 at 5:00 p.m. there will be a community forum concerning the future of our area hospitals. This important meeting will be held at the Kingsport Center for Higher Education auditorium, 300 W. Market Street, downtown Kingsport.

Please plan to attend. Our medical profession has been our employment growth leader for the past several years and the loss of any or both of our hospitals would be very critical to our City. The Wellmont Board of Directors intend to make a decision on the future of Holston Valley and Bristol Medical Center by December. They need to hear your comments and concerns. If we do nothing, there is, in my opinion, a very good chance that both Wellmont and Mountain States will look at out-of-area mergers, acquisitions or outright sell.

It is imperative that the industry leaders, business people, civic groups and all citizens learn as much as possible concerning the current Wellmont situation. There would appear to be three options for Wellmont.

a. Remain independent as they are now (the board does not feel this is a possibility).

b. Merge Wellmont and Mountain States in order to become a larger (approximately $2 billion) medical facility.

c. Merge / sell to an out-of-area large medical facility where local control would be in question. This action would be permanent and irreversible.

We all know there will be changes within the medical profession caused by several factors including Obama Care. For the sake of our City, County, and Northeast Tennessee, we must insure that we get this decision right. Your input matters.

WHEN: Monday, August 18 at 5:00 p.m.

WHERE: Kingsport Center for Higher Education Auditorium, 300 W. Market Street Kingsport, TN 37660


Dennis Phillips, Mayor
City of Kingsport

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Vols present Swafford with challenge of playing safety


Knoxville News Sentinel

KNOXVILLE — Few fans knew who Devaun Swafford was until the first quarter of the 2013 Tennessee-Florida game.

Swafford, then a walk-on true freshman playing in his fourth game, intercepted Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel and ran 62 yards to give UT a 7-0 lead.

By the time Bob Kesling found Swafford’s name on the roster and shared it with Vol Network radio listeners, the defensive back stood in the end zone, ball in hand, and offered a quick head nod to a silent Swamp and a CBS national television audience.

Speaking with the media Tuesday for the first time in his UT career (actually, Swafford has spoken several times with the Douglass website), the former Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett High School standout recalled the gesture and said it was “just to let them know I’m out there.”

Now everybody knows.

Despite an influx of talented defensive backs, Swafford earned a scholarship after spring practice and received first-team reps at safety alongside Brian Randolph through the first week of fall camp.

The lead he gave the Vols against Florida did not hold, but Swafford’s playmaking ability lingered throughout the 2013 season. He rounded out his freshman campaign by returning a blocked punt for a touchdown against Georgia and forcing a fumble against Vanderbilt. He earned his second start of the season at nickel back in the finale against Kentucky.

Swafford finished his freshman campaign with 17 tackles while splitting time with JaRon Toney at the nickel position.

Now tasked with learning to play safety at a relatively pedestrian 184 pounds, the 5-foot-11 sophomore said his agenda is simple for year two in orange.

“I just want to stay real low key,” Swafford said. “I want to make plays and let people know, ‘Hey, he was overlooked coming out of high school.’ Hopefully my play will take care of itself and I’ll move on to the next level.”

He added that he feels more comfortable at safety because he can see the whole field.

Head coach Butch Jones complimented Swafford on Tuesday and hinted that he will at least continue to contribute on special teams in 2014.

“Devaun is one of those individuals that has put a lot of weight on and he’s really done exceptionally well in the strength and conditioning area,” Jones said. “And we’ve challenged him playing safety now. Swafford brings it every day.”

Following a recruitment in which FCS schools showed the most interest, the 247Sports two-star prospect committed to UT in late December of 2012 under an initial agreement that he would sit the 2013 season as a grayshirt with the expectation of receiving a scholarship in 2014.

But he changed his mind after arriving in Knoxville and elected to walk on and play immediately.

“We’ve asked a lot of him,” Jones said. “Here’s a young man that didn’t play much defense in high school and here he is your starting nickel in games, going into the Swamp, playing at Florida and having a big interception.”

Devaun's big dreams


By Patrick Brown
Chattanooga Times-Free Press

At one point, Devaun Swafford wasn't sure he was going to be part of Tennessee's football team for the 2013 season.

The Vols' new staff had flipped Malik Foreman, his teammate at Kingsport's Dobyns-Bennett High School, from his commitment to Vanderbilt, and his "initial agreement" with Tennessee was for Swafford to grayshirt and join the program the following January.

Instead, he decided to join the Vols as a walk-on and shortly thereafter found himself taking an interception back 62 yards for a touchdown at Florida and running a blocked punt back for a score against Georgia in addition to starting two games.

"I always hoped for the best," Swafford said. "I dream about big plays all the time. I was just blessed enough to have the opportunity to make those plays, and I ran with it."

Now the 5-11, 184-pound Swafford is on scholarship and working with Tennessee's first-team defense at safety after playing nickelback last season.

"It was a big accomplishment," he said. "I've been working hard all my life, and I kind of figured I could compete with the best. I came here as a walk-on and then tried to earn my way and finally earned it."


Swafford was at the beach earlier this summer when Vols cornerback Cam Sutton sent him a congratulatory text message. He hopped on Twitter and saw that Jones had awarded him a scholarship. The coach actually met with Swafford privately in his office previously to tell him he was going on scholarship.

"He kind of played a little bit of a joke on me. Then he told me at the end," Swafford said. "I can't remember honestly, but he had me on edge. When he told me, I was relieved."

Swafford's days as a starting safety may be numbered considering the number of freshmen the Vols brought in at that position, but for now, it's his spot to lose.

"Swafford brings it every day, and we're going to need him on special teams," Jones said. "He's continuing to evolve in terms of his football intelligence. We've asked a lot of him.

"Here's a young man that didn't play much defensive back in high school, and here he is, your starting nickel in games. He's done a great job, and we really need him to step up, especially in our special teams game."

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

New Vision Youth Visit to Atlanta: Experiencing the Life of Dr. King


For years in school, members of the New Vision Youth of Kingsport have only read about the dream of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

For one weekend in late July, the young people got to live the dream.

Members of the New Vision Youth visited Atlanta from July 24th to 27th, 2014 where they toured the King Library and Archives in downtown Atlanta, and also the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King served as pastor until he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

"If it weren't for Dr. King," says New Vision Youth director Johnnie Mae Swagerty, "we as a people would not have the right to travel the way we want, stay where we want, and be who we want to be. We would also not be able to learn the way we want to learn."

"This is one of the trips that these kids needed to take."

After a big breakfast at the hotel that hosted the group, New Vision Youth members, chaperones and guests, about 50 people total, boarded the Maxwell Coach piloted by Charles "D.D." Maxwell, and took a trip to downtown Atlanta, and the Auburn Avenue community, where Dr. King spent much of his life.

Historically know as "Sweet Auburn," the name "Sweet Auburn" was first coined by African-American civic and political leader John Wesley Dobbs, often referred to as the unofficial "mayor" of the Auburn Avenue neighborhood district in Atlanta. The Auburn Historic District is one of 242 officially recognized neighborhoods in the South's largest city.

Although many of the New Vision Youth reside in the Riverview community of Kingsport, the visit to "Sweet Auburn" opened their eyes to the true meaning of "community." At one point, Auburn Avenue was thought to be the "richest Negro Street in the world, surrounded by the all-black businesss district.

First on the tour for the group was the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. Also known as "The King Center," it is said to be "the largest repository of primary source materials on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American Civil Rights Movement in the world. Began in 1968 by Mrs. Coretta Scott King, the year of her husband's assassination, the center serves as a center is an informational center for visitors looking for resources on activities and gatherings, particularly those with a Civil Rights background.


Center personnel told the New Vision Youth that they were among the one million visitors who come to the center, many of them coming to pay respects to the crypts of Dr. King and Mrs. King. After he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th, 1968, the body of Dr. King was first taken to the Southview Cemetery, an all African-American cemetery in Southeast Atlanta. In 1970, his remains were moved to their current resting place, on a riser in the middle of the King Center's rising polls. When Coretta Scott King passed in 2006, she was interred in a crypt alongside her husband.

Elsewhere on the grounds of the King Center was the Eternal Flame, which, according to the plaque in front, "symbolizes the continuing effort to realize Dr. King's dream of the 'Beloved Community,' which requires lasting personal commitment that cannot weaken when faced with obstacles."

Inside the center, New Vision Youth were witnesses to photos and audio recordings of many activities of the Civil Rights movement that touched the lives of Americans, both black and white. The center was envisioned by Mrs. King to be not just a "dead monument," but a living testimonial to her late husband's teachings and doctrines. Center personnel also say, the building is undergoing a renovation that will update much of the information to a digital format, ensuring its preservation for future generations.

The "I Have A Dream" of Dr. King was not lost on the adult chaperones on the New Vision Youth visit.

"'I Have a Dream' will always be true," says Swagerty. "You can take a little bit of what Dr. King said, and make a lot out of it because the 'civil rights and equality for all people' is still true today. We still have a long way to go, despite many people thinking black people are already there. The center helps us get there by showing us struggles along the way that keep us mindful of the non-violent teachings of Dr. King and his humble beginnings that every black person can identify with."

Martin Luther King was born on January 15th, 1929 in this home on Auburn Avenue that is still standing today. Several of the New Vision Youth commented on how much room the house that belonged to his mother's parents seemed to have. When reminded that black families back in the 1930's, 40's and well into the 50's and 60's always hosted more than one family under one roof, visitors, many of them remembering their own family upbringing, could understand why the home must have seemed like a mansion to black families back in the day. For the first 12 years of his life, young Martin was surrounded by his grandparents, his parents (his father a minister), his siblings, other family members and many boarders needing a place to rest their heads.

New Vision Youth members took the tour of the King birthplace with silent reflection, imagining what the home means to African-Americans. The home is owned by the National Park Service, and is governed under the same reverence as the home of President Andrew Johnson in Greeneville, Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a National Historic Site, and is one of several highlights on the tour. An NPS spokesperson conducted the tour for the Youth members, as well as many other visitors who have come to see history.

In the heart of the "Sweet Auburn" district, is the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. Dr. King's grandfather, Reverend A.D. King (who owned the house up the street where young Martin was born and spent his early years) was the church's second pastor beginning in 1893 until 1933. Dr. King's father, Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. became pastor in 1933, and served as the third church pastor until his retirement in 1975, 7 years after his son was assassinated.


Dr. King was pastor at Ebenezer in 1947 until he left to attend the Crozer Theological Seminary in 1948. After ministrial assignments in Alabama, Dr. King was co-pastor of this church along with his father beginning in 1960, but by his own admission, spent little time there during the Civil Rights movement of the 60's.

During the week, the Ebenezer Baptist Church is a beacon of light for visitors to the King cultural district of Auburn Avenue. They can listen to recorded sermons delivered by Dr. King from the same pulpit in the church that has been renovated and restored to its original appearance from the 1960-68 time period. Among the New Vision Youth visitors, were many older visitors, who remember vividly the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement. The older ones seemed to get a spiritual lift from hearing Dr. King's voice they have heard in person at one point, while the younger visitors were in awe listening to the spirit of the man they have only read about, whose mere presence gave so many millions encouragement back in the day.


The historic Ebenezer Batist Church still has an active congregation, serving the community even to this day. Sunday School commences at 9:30 AM, with Sunday worship services at 8 A-M and 11 A-M. Special services for the children also begin at 11 AM, and the church Youth Group meets at 11 AM on the third and fourth Sunday's. Wednesday evening church is at 7 PM.

The New Vision Youth was in for a treat for lunch. Guided carefully through the streets of downtown Atlanta, the Maxwell Coach bus passed by numerous big-name stores and hang-outs, passing Centennial Park, built by the Atlanta Committee for the 1996 Olympic Games. The park plays host to millions of visitors a year and several events.

At the Phillips Area, many people don't realize it, but the steel girders in front, actually spell out the word "Atlanta." It takes a little imagination, but the letters can be seen if one looks closely enough.

 The bus then reached its destination.. the huge complex known as the CNN Center, that houses the news network's world headquarters. But inside the center, is probably its main attraction. 14 fast-food places and 4 restaurants delighted the visitors, which were surrounded by anything CNN.. from the news studios, to the souvenir shops, it's a place where thousands of visitors basically in a nutshell, join downtown Atlanta workers for lunch. Everyone is brought up to day on world events courtesy of several big-screen monitors and loudspeakers scattered around the huge atrium, all set on the main CNN channel. Tours are available at a nominal price, but the New Vision Youth preferred to enjoy lunch in the big atrium.
And what would a visit to Atlanta be, without a little shopping?

On the southside of Atlanta, in the predominately black neighborhood, is a little-known shopping complex called the Discount Market on Godby Road. It is housed in what used to be a department store of the K-Mart variety. Inside are individual stalls resembling a virtual flea market atmosphere.. a gathering of people of many nationalities, selling clothes, electronics, shoes, jewelry, trinkets and items not found in major department stores, at prices that are reasonable for what you get.

The result was a shopping paradise.. if you had 10 dollars, you could walk out with 10 different things.

And many visitors did.  What a busy Friday!

On Saturday, it was on to one of the largest amusement parks in the South.

Way back in 1964, developer Angus Wynne began looking around the country for a location to built a second amusement park.  His first one, Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, had proven so successful, the amusement entrepreur wanted to spread the fun, while spreading the wealth.  The result was Six Flags Over Georgia, a 366-acre combination of rides, food, water, and other attractions, with a Warner Brothers Studios' theme, feature a cast of characters including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the Looney Tunes, along with Batman, Superman, and the Justice League.
The New Vision Youth did what they could, to ride every ride and sample every attraction in the park.

Before returning home on Sunday, members of the Youth's Praise Dance team performed at the Woods Memorial Baptist Church, hosted by current Atlanta resident and former Kingsport resident Teresa Russell.

The New Vision trip to Atlanta was indeed a fun one, both educational, spiritual, informative, enjoyable, and economical.. one that the members will never forget.