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Friday, December 31, 2010

Please see your website year-end stats below

Your Douglass Website Year-End Numbers: Around the Neighborhood, Around the Town, Around the Country.... Around the World

In October of 2006, after a meeting with Bert Webb and Donald Hickman in Knoxville, secret plans were laid out, and work began on a project that would eventually bridge the gap in Douglass alumni and members of their community keeping in contact with each other, and keeping abreast of what was going on in Riverview and South Central Kingsport.

Mysteriously, almost overnight two months later on Saturday, December 29, 2006,  nine black-and-white, hand-made signs popped up at selected street corners in the neighborhood, with only one message on them:

Remember seeing those?  By that Monday, 318 people had viewed the link.

The Douglass Alumni Association website had been born.  By the end of the first week of 2007, 879 more people had visited the website.  Word of mouth spread, and the website was on its way.

""It's no secret that people saw those signs, got curious, went to their computers, typed in the link and got connected to the Douglass website," says Doug Releford, president of the Douglass Alumni Association - Kingsport.  "It was the instant link to what the fellow alumni were doing, and what Riverview was doing."

The goal, stated on the website's main page, was to "celebrate the history and tradition of the former Douglass High School of Kingsport, Tennessee, the Riverview Neighborhood and the heritage of South Central Kingsport, Tennessee."

Graduates of all the grades 1 through 12 at Douglass would make that easy... teachers and our parents sent most of their students down the right path.  There would be no bad news on the website.. no arrests of our alumni, no crimes.. news of that nature is what the newspaper is for.  This would be a website that promoted good news about Douglass and its alumni, Riverview and its people, Kingsport and its community,

Releford saw this as an inspiration.

"I have always thought that the website was the perfect opportunity to keep us in the spotlight on, not just what's going on in Kingsport, but also what's going on in East Tennessee, and how all that relates to our community," he says.  "No matter where people are in the area, there's always something going on in Riverview, and not all of it is bad news."

To clear up that misconception, the coverage of news on the website has always focused on the African-American community, and that's when the coverage had to expand past just the alumni association.  Outside news was covered, but only as it related to African-Americans themselves.  On the other hand, news of the African-American community would be written as to how it relates to the entire Kingsport community, so that cultures could be shared, heritages could be learned and histories could be appreciated.
Ultimately through the next four years, there would be stories on the activities going on in the African-American community.  Little things going on that folks would normally take for granted, would be treated with full-blown stories, complete with pictures.   Those activities would be treated with respect, and would therefore be elevated to a level of  importance in the lives of ther residents.  If the newspapers and television could do stories on community activities, the Douglass website, through its various pages, would have the same kinds of stories, only based in Riverview and South Central Kingsport.  Those stories would never be taken down.. they would serve as inspiration to future generations, and when readers clicked on OLDER POSTS at the bottom of each page, they could go all the way back to the beginning of the website.

That goal has never changed. 

The target audience was simple... alumni and their families of the Douglasss High School, Kingsport, Tennessee.  Ultimately, that goal was reached in the Riverview-South Central community, and the alumni, relatives and friends scattered around Kingsport and the Tri-Cities.  As word spread that Douglass had its own website, alumni and friends in other cities around upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, Knoxville, Nashville, Charlotte, and Atlanta became part of the mix.

But then, a miracle happened.

Other people discovered the website.  Others discovered that Riverview had a new, electronic means of covering news of its community, as it relates to the rest of Kingsport and upper East Tennessee:  there's good news going on in Riverview, and somebody's covering it.

The Douglass Website's audience literally exploded.

Thousands of people started visiting the website on a regular basis, all of them friends and neighbors, apparently eager to learn how the spirit of neighborhood family is maintained in what used to be, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city.  That continues today, and research shows, each day, visits increase.

To keep track of this phenomenon, site meters were attached to the website links a couple of years ago, to  track who visits the website, when they visit, what they visit, and what they visit the most.  Below is a sampling from the month of December to both the news and information pages, and the photo galleries, to see the trends.

The most popular page on the Douglass website is, the NEWS AND CURRENT EVENTS page.  From December 1st to the 29th,  75, 161 visits were made to the NEWS AND CURRENT EVENTS page in that one month alone.  The average page view is around 2 minutes per visit.  Statistics on the IP addresses indicate they come right back a short time later.

But check out WHERE they're visiting from.

Tracking indicates in the month of December, most of the Douglass website visits came from the South Central Kingsport area, including Riverview, downtown Kingsport, Borden Village, Cherokee Village, Highland Park, Litz Manor and the Eastman Chemical Company area.

But the website also received multiple visits from Johnson City, Morristown, both Bristols, Big Stone Gap and Norton, Virginia, Knoxville, Nashville, Charlotte, Raleigh, and many visits from Atlanta. 

But then... Mountain View, California.... Lexington, Kentucky... Arlington, Virginia... Cleveland... Chicago... San Antonio.. San Francisco... Detroit... Boston... Pittsburgh... Dallas... Columbus, Ohio... Springdale, Arkansas... Chandler, Arizona... Swainsboro, Georgia... Greenville, South Carolina... West Jordan, Utah... Winter Park, Florida.. Bronx, New York... Queens, New York... Manhattan, New York... Hollywood, California... Miami and Orlando... even Great Falls, Montana.  There are also visits from several foreign countries.

"Yes, it shocks me," says Releford.  "It goes to show you that people that we know, may have relatives or friends who don't live here, but this is their way of checking up on the area.  Our families have many relatives in the military stationed all around the world.  They know what's going on back in Riverview and Kingsport, by checking on the website."

In the past month, one week stands out as the single, most visited week.  During the week of December 11th through the 17th... 2,326 people visited the NEWS AND CURRENT EVENTS page.  That was the week of the article with Andy Seaver, the young man who admitted to spray-painting racist graffiti on the Meadowview I-26 overpass.  That one week also set a record for the largest number of visits in a week EVER.

"That is tremendous, Calvin," says Releford.  "The Times-News only hit the highlights of the story and there's nothing wrong with that.  But we went in depth.. you sat down with him and talked to him about what he was thinking.  I think most people were curious to see what his reason was, and then when he said he told the police about these people who contributed to his crime, we did not see that part in the paper because it was not included in the police report.  I think that was eye-opening for people.  I had people commenting to me that they had read that, and it wasn't in the paper.  Word spread about that, because it gave the other side that we hadn't heard.  Whether people believe it or not is their own choice, but here it is."

The second most popular page on the website, is the PASSINGS AND OBITUARIES page.   From December 1st through the 29th... 13, 153 people visited that page, with the average visit lasting about 2 minutes and 30 seconds per visit.

"That's another thing.. we'll hear from time to time from folks out of town, who say 'I didn't know so-and-so had passed until I saw it on the website,'' Releford says.  "That's a valuable public service.  People out of town and those in town may not know that someone in the community or in the area has left us, if it weren't for our obituary page on the website."

The other pages on the website don't get nearly as many visits as those two, and serious consideration is being made on whether to eliminate them.

The photography department is where the numbers become even more staggering.

Since albums of pictures of Douglass-Riverview-South Central-Kingsport events began on the Webshots photo server, the largest collector of personal photos in the country... 837,850 people have visited the Douglass Alumni Association's collection of albums.  As of December 29th, the Douglass website has 358 albums in one little corner of the millions of photos on Webshots.

The Douglass Website albums are among the leaders in many of the categories in millions of photographs.  Here is how the Douglass photo albums rank in Webshots' various categories:

The Douglass website ranks 592nd out of 2,138,440 members in the FRIENDS AND FUN category, with 171,963 views.
Douglass ranks 9th out of 40,478 members in the REUNIONS AND CELEBRATIONS category, with 136,811 views.
Douglass ranks 9th out of 5,498 Webshots members in the CURRENT EVENTS category, with 113, 783 views.
Douglass ranks 13th out of 30,642 members in the SCHOOL REUNIONS category, with 87,021 views.
Douglass ranks 73rd out of 2,812 members in the PUBLIC SERVICE category, 33,944 views.
Douglass ranks 143rd out of  10,716 members in the HISTORY category with 74, 160 views.

By far, the single, most popular album of the 358 total albums to date, is the PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA INAUGURATION, published on January 20, 2009.  A total of 23,118 people have visited that one single album.

Other albums are popular, too.

11,476 people visited the SISTERLY LOVE: LEGENDS IN WHITE album, published September 16, 2007.

That same year, 7,956 people visited the REUNION 2007 PICTURES from Bert Webb Lanauze, published July 13, 2007, and 7,426 people visited the REUNION 2007 PICTURES from Joy Hankins, published July 13, 2007.

Among seniors birthday parties and celebrations:
 5,544 people visited the MRS. WILLIE KATE BRADFORD'S 90TH BIRTHDAY PARTY, published February 6, 2010.

5,513 people visited the MISS PINKIE'S 82ND BIRTHDAY PARTY CELEBRATION, published March 14, 2009.

5,970 people visited the MRS. BARBARA JEAN CLARK:  HAPPY 75TH BIRTHDAY", published April 13, 2008.

8,114 people visited the VIRGEALIA "MAMA JILL" ELLIS' BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION, published November 25, 2007.

12, 198 people visited the BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR MRS. ETHEL RUTH RUSSELL, published May 13, 2007.

What some people might consider a routine community event, the 2007 KINGSPORT HEALTH FAIR, held in the Douglass/V.O. Dobbins gym, published April 15th, 2007, garnered 11,630 views.

To protect our interests, it has become necessary to license all of the pictures we take and articles we write on the Douglass website, to protect the interests of our community. The license works similar to a copyright, and requires anyone wanting to use the materials, to get permission from the webmaster.

From its humble beginnings four years ago, the Douglass Alumni Association website has grown into a monster, with a million legs, stretching all over the world.   But powering that monster's heart, was, and still is, a commitment to cover news in Riverview, South Central, the city of Kingsport and upper East Tennessee-Southwest Virginia, and then report that news as it relates to the alumni and the residents of those areas.

""It makes people want to go to the website and see what's going on," says Doug Releford.  "We need to invest whatever we can to make sure it is always online for folks to view.  I think the Douglass website puts Kingsport on a different kind of map.. not one where businesses and industry look at the city, but how average people who used to live here and average people who have never been here before look at the city.  It's a great representation of how we live, how we overcame problems, how we adjusted, how things have changed in the city, and the progress that has been made in its neighborhoods.  What's important to people, is a tremendous asset to any city."

"And that's a good thing for Kingsport."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An Interview With God

Eddie Charles sent this to share with everybody:

An Honor for the Honoree: New Vision Youth Up for Award


By Carmen Musick -

If the New Vision Youth had a theme song, it might be Alabama's "Angels Among Us."   In it, the songwriter proclaims his belief that there are angeles among us "to show us how to live, to teach us how to give, to guide us with the light of love."

For Johnnie Mae Swagerty, those are exactly the traits that make the older members of the New Vision Youth so special---and it's why INK is proud to recognize the gorup as one of its 2010 Students Who Make a  Difference honorees.  The older members of the group were nominated by Swagerty, the New Vision Youth director.

Those older members include Zena Huff, Briesha Camp, Diamond Wykoff and Javonte Lewis from Sevier Middle School;  Jessica Sensabaugh from Science Hill High School;  Chris Greer from Sullivan North;  Teiria Blye, Shakary Johnson, Victoria Price, Emmanuel Amaoka, Briasha Russell and Breton Leeper from Dobyns-Bennett;  Darius Davis from ETSU;  and David Lytle from Northeast State Community College.

"Most of the youth have been with New Vision Youth for 10 years," said Swagerty.  "They do outstanding volunteer work in the community."

The youth team up with other agencies to conduct a community clean-up twice each year.  They visit nursing homes and help with the Grandparents' Day Luncheon and the South Central Kingsport Senior Christmas Dinner.  They hand out fliers for Kingsport's Weed & Seed.

"They are involved with churches, they perform every second Sunday at the Bethel A.M.E. Zion Church.  They are partners with the city of Kingsport Parks and Recreation Community Services," Swagerty says.  "They help prepare baskets for Thanksgiving and Christmas to distribute to needy families.  They write to our troops overseas, and are members of DEFY--Drug Education for Youth of Kingsport," she said.

The group also plays a pivotal role in the annual New Vision Black History Month program, and the kids' annual Easter Egg Hunt for which they partner with the Kingsport Senior Center.

They prepare care packages for college freshmen, help with the police department's Prescription Drug Program, and supervise the younger youth at the annual Splash Party.  Each year, they participate in three camps:  Bancroft Bible Camp, DEFY Camp and Path Finder's Camp.

They have served as youth representatives for the Johnson City Drug Coalition at a meeting about its Prescription Drug Program, and for the "Inasmuch Project" in Bristol.

Additionally, they host a halloween program go caroling at Christmas and help with the New Vision Youth Prom each spring.

This year, the New Vision Youth volunteered their time to help Keep Kingsport Beautiful clean up during and following the Dobyns-Bennett band competition.  They also traveled to Nashville to the Governor's Highway Safety Council's Lead and Live Youth Conference on underage drinking and driving and drugs.

The older members of the New Vision Youth program also serve as mentors for the younger children.

"These youth are well-mannered and respect each other and others.  When asked to volunteer to help out, they are always willing to give back to the community," Swagerty says.

"Known as New Vision Youth Guardian Angels, they are always supportive and ready to help anyone or any organization in Kingsport and have gone outside to help others."

Each year, INK accepts nominations from the public and honors at least two individuals or groups of stsudents who "Make a Difference" in their families, schools, neighborhoods, churches, or the world.  The honorees are selected from the nominees by a panel of staff members and INK advisory board members.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

"Miss Tootsie" Comes Home: Happy Return for One of Riverview's First Residents

"I want to thank the Lord for letting me live in Riverview... Such a wonderful place.. Wonderful place to live. Everything was in Riverview.. grocery store, laundrymat, funeral home, Sarge's Place.. It's really gonna be missed because we were the first family to move in the apartments, December 1940.

I love Riverview always!

- Mamie Gillenwater

We got that note from Mrs. Mamie "Tootsie" Gillenwater in the Douglass Alumni Association Website office, right after she was forced to moved from Apartment 79 in the Riverview Apartments. The buildings were demolished a short time later to make room for the HOPE VI Homes Development, planned for the site.

The demolition broke the heart of the neighborhood matriarch everybody calls "Miss Mamie." She'd lived in Apartments 40, then 15, then 79. It was in 79 she got the news that the apartments were to be torn down.

"I had a fit when they came by and told me about what was going to happen here in Riverview," she remembers, "that they were tearing down all the houses. I said, 'you kidding.' They said 'no m'am.. we're telling the truth.' And then they told me when I had to move out. I cried and cried. I didn't know if we'd have a Riverview back or not."

During the two-year time when most neighborhood residents were looking at an empty field that was better suited for Canada geese, Miss Mamie saw nothing. She refused to come back to see the ground where the apartments once stood.

"All that time, I wouldn't come over here," she says. "Period. Somebody said 'come on, let's go over and see what they're doing, what they're building' and I said 'no, I don't want to see it.' You remember Calvin... I was supposed to be with you all that day in the (Douglass School) auditorium ("The Last Great Program at Douglass"). "I said, 'no.. I don't want to see it. It just hurt too bad."

"I imagine there were a lot of tears that day."

She also remembers the opportunity she had to move into her late brother "O.M." Gillenwater's home at the corner of Carver and Douglass Streets, when his wife and her sister-in-law Ann, passed away.

"I didn't take it because I'd have to look over here and see no apartments," she says.

When Miss Mamie moved out of her Riverview apartment, her adventure really began. First stop.. The Washington School Apartments on East Sevier Avenue.

"They got some beautiful apartments there," she says, "but the first day over there, I fell. This ole walker was so slick over there. I fell and couldn't get up, and I had to call somebody on my monitor. I fell a lot over there."
Next stop.. the Holston Terrace Apartments.

"Oh Lord.. I was living between two people that acted terrible," she says. "They started being bad up there, cutting people's tires, cut everybody's tires. Everybody was nice to me, but I was ready to go, ready to get out of there. It was pitiful. I'd go to bed at night, I was so scared, I put a chair against the door. Nice people, but they were just rowdy."

Although unnerving experiences piled up while she was away from the neighborhood she calls home, Miss Mamie says, they didn't compare to the monster that Riverview turned into in the 80's and 90's.

"Riverview was nice back in the day," she remembers. "But when they built that playground over there, that's when all the mess started. One day, them boys shot fireworks in the playground, and it was lighting up Riverview."

She says, it got to where she'd see the police running around "the projects" on a regular basis.

"One day I was sitting on the porch," she says, "and one man was running around, and the police was right behind him. The policeman grabbed him, and I started crying 'oh Lord, what's going on?' The policeman said 'honey, he just sold this boy we got in the police car some dope.' When they caught him in front of my place, they was throwing him around ever which-a-way."

Miss Mamie says, it seemed like every day, there was something bad going on.

"There was this girl who lived downstairs under me," she remembers. "She had done something to some ole man and he was telling her husband 'you'd better tell your wife to...I can't say what he said...'to give me my money back.' Her husband said 'that's between you and her,' so the man said 'I'll be back.' After while, I heard this shooting, and they were hollering to me to call the police. I said 'I ain't calling nobody, you had no business with that man in your house.' It happened right over from where I was sitting, and I hurried in to my house. I looked out the window, and Riverview was covered with police. This man they were after, he was a real good friend of this other man, and that morning, the police knocked on my door. I thought it was the Kingsport Times wanting to come, and I said 'no, I'm not opening the door 'cause I don't want to be in that mess. I don't want them coming in here and getting me.' The man said 'Miss Gillenwater, you have to open the door...if you don't, we have to tear it down.' I said 'well, wait a minute, I'm coming.' So the police came in and said the reason they didn't want to tell me anything was, because they didn't want me to get excited. They finally raided that girl's apartment, and found a bunch of guns in the freezer."

All that is behind us now, she believes. And Miss Mamie says, she thought she would never see the day, she'd get to come back home.

"It was a long, long wait to get back home, but I finally made it."

Miss Mamie now reflects on her time away from the Riverview Apartments as just something that had to happen. She's at home now, in one of the new HOPE VI homes at Riverview Place, counting her blessings and hoping the good ole days of faith, family and friends come back.

Hers was one of the first families to move into the Riverview Apartments back in 1940. "There was so much family, even people you didn't know. We were all family, and everything was good. Only thing.. the keys fit everybody's door," she laughs. "It was all safe, though.. nothing illegal going on."


"When we first moved over here, it was beautiful," she remembers. "Nothing but woods. They had a slaughter pen down in the field, and then there was a great big ole house, a roundhouse that belonged to the Eastman. No streets.. they were all dirt and on up further where they built the other houses, was woods. We paid 9 dollars apartment rent a month. There was just one phone in the whole apartments and we had it..I think it was a dollar-and-a-half to put it in. Since we had the only phone, everybody came by and used ours. There was this girl.. poor little thing, I felt sorry for her. Remember how they used to say 'number, please?' You were pretty young then, I think you were living up on Dunbar. The operator would say 'number, please?' and this woman would say 'one, two, three, four, five,' and my daddy would say, 'go in there and show her how to use that phone, honey.' She would sit there, counting.'

"I also remember that time when Riverview got flooded, Calvin" she says. "Just water everywhere.. went in people's houses, got in the (Central Baptist) church over here. We had gone to see my sister in Atlanta, and we come back, and water was sitting all up in the house. It rained hard down there in Atlanta, and it had to rain hard up here, too. Kids were out there playing in the water, splashing around. Johnnie Mae had a boat going around, checking on folks. She had Reverend Edge's boat, going around."

That sense of family was never forgotten. And "Miss Mamie" believes, that time is coming back. That's based on the warm feeling she got, when she moved back into Riverview a month ago.

"I started saying 'thank you Jesus," she says. "I started thanking and praying, thanking God for giving me a house, and when I got down there, I shouted 'I'm HOME, I'm HOME, I'm HOME!' Oh, it feels so good to be back over here, Calvin, feels real good. When I was in Dogwood climbing all those stairs, they wanted to put a bed on the first floor, and I told 'em 'I don't need one, 'cause I'm moving back to Riverview.' They said 'how do you know you're going?' I said 'honey, I know I'm going.. the Lord done talked to me."

About that time in our interview, there was a knock on Miss Mamie's door.. one of her home help specialists stopped by to make her bed, clean up a little, and help with ordinary household chores. At 86 years old, she admits that she "might need a little help every now and then."

"KHRA (the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority) knew I was coming back, because I was the first one over here," she proudly says. "I am still unpacking stuff, and getting used to everything. I never had a refrigerator with water in the door before... didn't know what it was, when I saw it. We've got a microwave, too, and a dishwasher. I can't imagine having those things back then..people wanting to borrow ice and everything."

There's one former housing feature Miss Mamie says, she can do without.

"Ain't no stairs over here," she laughs. "Thank God.  I got so, I couldn't even walk up those steps, period at the other places. I got on the stairs one night at Dogwood, and I said "de'aris, come here..I can't move my leg. He got behind me, trying to push me up the stairs, but I was too heavy, so I started praying. We finally made it."

These days, Miss Mamie keeps a busy schedule. About THAT time in the interview, the phone rings. It's a friend, whose sister just went into the hospital, and she's asking her good friend in the Spirit to pray for her. In a soft voice, Miss Mamie prays for the sick woman, not forgetting to remember the family.. calling on the Lord to care for the woman and help her feel better..

"In the Name of Jesus... Amen."

"Miss Mamie" is back home.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cruise Reunion Reminder

Ship: Royal Caribbean (Freedom of the Seas)
Sail date: May 1, 2011 (7 days) Western Caribbean
Port: Port Canaveral

You have until Saturday, January 1, 2011 to make your down payment of $250.00 (that's a week from this Saturday).

You have until Wednesday, February 2, 2011 to make your final  payment.

If you have any questions about the cruise, call travel agent Lee Vaughn at 423-392-1111.

Heart Warming: Christmas Caroling in the Riverview Neighborhood


"Deck the streets with songs, by jolly.. fah, la, la, la la.... la, la, la la."

Not quite the words to the famed Christmas song, but when the New Vision Youth Kids sing it, it's wonderful.

The 7th annual New Vision Christmas Caroling event in the evening hours of Monday, December 20, 2010, left the streets of Riverview and South Central ringing with the sounds of the season.  The kids also left their neighbors with the spirit of the true meaning of Christmas.

AT RIGHT:  Sierra Jones and Kiara King sing carols.

"It's one blessing we enjoy giving back to the community every year," says New Vision Youth Director Johnnie Mae Swagerty, "to show them that we can do this for them."

17 kids, led by Swagerty;   Jeannie Hodges with South Central Kingsport Weed & Seed;  parent-chaperone Veronica Camp;  Chassie Smiley, administrator of the V.O. Dobbins Complex; and Kingsport Parks & Recreation program coordinator Jason Wilburn, kept tune despite the chilly temperatures, to bring a little Christmas cheer to many older neighborhood residents, some of whom could not make it to the door, and others who welcomed them with open arms.

Among the visits:  "Mrs. Ethel Ruth Russell came to the door and stood outside, listening to the kids singing.  She's always been out there on the porch for us, in all the years we've been doing this, she has come out to support us," says Swagerty.  "Mrs. Mary Skaggs also came to the door.. she really enjoys hearing the kids singing every year.. We stopped by to see Chi Chi (Kathryn) White.. she came to the door to thank them.  Jennie Hankins came to the door, along with her daughter Michelle and granddaughter Arianna.. so did Sissy Graves.   In Riverview, we went by and sang to Mrs. Ford, although she couldn't come to the door, bless her heart.  She still heard us, though.  Mrs. Pearl Henry also couldn't come to the door, but the kids sang good and loud for her, too.  We also sang to Mrs. Beulah Banner, Mrs. Mamie Gillenwater, Mrs. Betsy Pierce and Mrs. Joanna King..she's a new resident there at Riverview Place."

"We stopped by Mrs. Barbara Bristol's house," she says, "and she has a Christmas tree decorated in every room.  She invited us all in and her house just looked so beautiful.  We also sang to Mrs. Ollie Perry, who enjoyed it, too.  'Punkin' Carpenter came out and gave the singers peppermint sticks to help their little voices, which was so nice.  Jean Ann and Terry Moore and their grandson came out on Dale Street, and one of our New Vision mentors, Emanuel Amarko, a brand new U.S. citizen from Nigeria, came out and listened to the kids"

"It gave us all a good feeling," Swagerty says, "that the kids got to sing Christmas carols on the tour bus in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg this weekend looking at the fantasy lights.  They got a lot of practice.  We wanted to sing to the sick and shut-in, because it's hard for them to get out and for some, to even come to the door.  We wanted to visit the seniors who can't get out much."

The Christmas caroling event is dedicated to a special Riverview resident who loved it very much.

"We sing the Christmas carols in memory of Mrs. Julia Evans," says Swagerty.  "She always told me 'Johnnie Mae,' when she'd come to the door, 'do not stop this.  We always went caroling when we were little.  You keep this going.. do it for me and for the community.'  I remember one year, she came out and put a jacket on, and stayed out a long time listening to the kids.  She always got a joy out of doing that.  We do this in her memory."

The caroling door-to-door capped off several days of Christmas activities for the New Vision Youth kids.  In addition to the Sevier County trip on Saturday, the kids went to the Lamplight Theater in Fall Branch to the play "The Candy Maker's Dream."

All that's left now, is for Santa and his reindeer to make their annual visit to the boys and girls, with lots of presents and good cheer.  Swagerty says, that's icing on the holiday cake for the kids.

"We wish everybody a Merry Christmas, and a prosperous New Year."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bobby Gene Smith Passing

We've been notified of the passing of Bobby Gene Smith, a-k-a "Tucky" of Kingsport.  He was 69.

He passed away at Holston Valley-Wellmont this morning (Monday, December 20th).

"Tucky" was an alumnus of George Clem, Douglass and Swift High Schools..

Friends can offer condolscences at the home of Tish (Swagerty) Hayes at 853 Dale Street in Kingsport.

We will let you know funeral arrangements on the PASSINGS AND OBITUARY page shortly.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action! New Vision Youth Kids Visit Smoky Mountains Christmas Lights

The "ou's and ah's" were plentiful on Saturday night, December 18, 2010, when the New Vision Youth Kids from Riverview and South Central Kingsport visited the Christmas Lights displays in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, known as "Winterfest."  It's the 21st year for the event.

Although many of the kids had been to Sevier County and the Smokies before, never had they been dazzled by the lighting diisplays for the holidays that folks there put on for visitors.

Click here to see a slideshow of the New Vision Youth Kids bus tour of the Christmas Lights in the Smokies on December 18, 2010.

After dinner at the Golden Corral in Sevierville (the tour had to begin after the kids started painting their faces with the food LOL!!!), it was time to take in the holiday spectacle with lights, lights, lights.

The lights played interest games with the camera, and that was equally as spectacular.  It lets the mind wander in a splash of color, lines and dimension.   Although some of them were visible, the trailing images created by the camera were equally as spectacular.  We left some of those images in the photo album in the PHOTO GALLERY.  Please enjoy the wild, wacky display of color.. the kids sure did.

The displays, including various Nativity scenes, Christmas trees, and lighting illusions, dotted the store fronts in Sevierville.

Pigeon Forge is celebrating the season with the lighting display "The 12 Days of Christmas."  From one end of the Parkway to the other, the displays count down from "12 lords a-leaping," to the famed "partridge in a pear tree."

Then, on to Gatlinburg, where different lighting displays lit up the night and dazzled the kids and the crowds.

The highlight of the tour was the spectacular light display at Veterans Park in Pigeon Forge, decorated with thousands of lights. The park is hosting "From Sea to Shining Sea". The Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, Army tanks, fighter jets and a reproduction of the Iwo Jima Monument were formed from Christmas lights.

It was an experience the kids won't soon forget.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Note from the Editor on the Racist Graffiti Follow-Up Story

EDITOR'S NOTE: As a journalist, I came away from the interview below, feeling that the rest of the story had been told. But as a person, knowing the other side of this story left me feeling hollow. After years of taking one step of racial tolerance foward, each instance like this is one step back. The message of racial tolerance still has a long way to go to be understood. That battle is won, one person at a time. Meanwhile, here's another step back that will haunt one young person the rest of his life.

Examples of racial graffiti always startle us and profound us. They make us angry, retaliatory, and lost in sensibilities. But if they do anything, they cause us to re-examine our own philosophy about race relations. When you see or hear about racial graffiti, do you just dismiss it, not wanting to talk about it? Do you have a knee-jerk reaction, usually invoked by the anger reflex? Or, do you see it as an opportunity to have a meaningful discussion on the causes and effects of racial intolerance?

The legal system has passed judgment on this case. The Court of Public Opinion is now gearing up for its social response. Whether you believe what you've heard or not, examine your own soul first. Therein, you will find what the late Paul Harvey used to call.. "the rest of the story."

Calvin Sneed, Editor


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Rest of the Racial Graffiti Story: "I'm very sorry that people were hurt.. I'm not that kind of person"

Editor's Note:  The names and relationships of other people in this story have been deleted, and photos have been smudged to protect identities.  The references are, however correct, as they related to the context of this interview. Questions and comments are in italics.

Andy Frye has a message for African-Americans in Riverview, and others who saw or heard about, the racist graffiti spray-painted on the I-26 bridge at Meadowview in Kingsport in April of 2009.

"I want to publically and formally apologize to everybody about the graffiti," says Frye.  With his trial now finished and judgment rendered, he sat down with the Douglass Alumni Association's Riverview Community Website for the first interview he's done, since the graffiti was discovered in April of 2009.

 Our first question was obvious.

Did you do it?  Did you actually spray-paint the graffiti on the bridge?

"Yeah.. unfortunately," he sighed quietly.  "It was a dumb, stupid thing to do, and it is so not like me to do something like that."

To see the graffiti that was found spray-painted on the I-26 underpass at Meadowview in April, 2009, click here

The next question is the one most asked by people who saw or heard about the spray-painted messages of hate on the bridge.

Why?  Why did you do it?

"It wasn't meant to be hurtful or racial to anybody," he says.  "It wasn't some white supremist thing.  I know it's hard to believe now, but it was all just a joke.   And the thing is, it wasn't even my idea."

From that, comes what Frye says, is the other side of the story.. a side he says, that has never been told, and one that he wants people to know.
"Yes, there is another side to this story," he says.  "The truth is, I myself did not buy the paint, I didn't drive myself down there to do it.. it wasn't like I woke up that morning and said 'I want to go paint a bridge.'  The court knew the other half of the story, but it was never told to the media, to anybody.  Those details never came out.  I have to tell you, I am not a racist.  Not at all.  I am not the racist the media has made me look like."

What is the other side to the story?

"The truth is, and it may be hard to believe, there was this girl, who was friends with a distant relative of mine," Frye says. (Editor's note: the girl Frye mentions in the interview will be identified in this article as Mystery Girl).    "She and this guy were big racists, and it was pretty bad.  Even though I was married with kids, this girl and this guy had always been trying to influence me.  They were all the time saying stuff about black people, picking on them, making racial remarks and jokes, seeing someone who's black out in public, and making something up on 'em, laughing and all this stuff.  This guy has always been like that, and this girl actually wanted to date me at one time.  Even though I was married, and even had a kid, she wanted me to go with her.  I wouldn't, of course, but she still thought I would."


"Mystery Girl was such a racist, that it's pitiful," he says.  "Her Facebook and Myspace pages had pictures of her on there, that were perfect examples of her hatred for blacks, and my lawyer and I even presented that to the court.  In one Facebook picture, she's holding two guns and underneath, the caption says "Kill a..  and the N-word."   

"She's got two or three bridges that she's spray-painted herself, and was proud of doing it.  She talked about it as if it was nothing.  I don't see how she could get away with it, but she did.  None of that ever came out from court."

As an example,  Frye mentioned one location where, if people were familiar with its Hawkins County location, they'd think graffiti artists go there to practice.


"Sensabaugh.. (Sensabaugh Underpass under the CSX Railroad in Hawkins County).. she did that one, and there was even a picture of it.  Of course, everybody does it there.  That's not the only one she's done. Those two bridges she's done and there are pictures of those, are real close to her house.  She never writes anything but racial stuff."


"In another picture, this one on Myspace, she is holding a baseball bat or something that looks like a stick," Frye points out.   "The caption underneath is the N-word, then Wacker.  We told the prosecutor about that, and even showed the pictures," Frye says.  "Of course, she took the pictures off her profile after they contacted her.  The detective who investigated said he was still looking into it and why she was posting this stuff."

But the cops had you dead to rights, though.. you did the deed, no matter what else.

"It was difficult to get around that," Frye says.  "Meanwhile, she got off scot-free."

"I wasn't working at the time, but I had a wife and a baby daughter to support," says Frye.  "I didn't have much money and she lives over in Colonial Heights and had all kinds of money and was just buying stuff left and right.  She said, whatever I wanted, she'd buy, if I painted the bridge."

"They put a big influence on me to hate black people with them," Frye says, "even though I actually had black friends, even one that I worked with."

Frye says, the graffiti was painted on the I-26 overpass at Meadowview at night, around 12 midnight, on Sunday morning, April 19, 2010. with almost no traffic around, except a few cars and trucks on the interstate overhead.  It was a partly cloudy sky and the temperature was cool for that time of year.

"It was this mystery girl's idea to paint the bridge," he insisted.  "She was going to pay me to do it, that's why I did it.  She went to Wal-Mart and bought the paint with her credit card.  There is actual store video of her doing this.  She brought the paint back to my house.  I told her multiple times 'I don't want to do this, I don't want to do this,' but I had seen stuff written on a lot of bridges and it was always just a prank.  Then, she told me she'd buy me anything I wanted, if I did it.  She was friends with this guy who was just as big a racist as she was, and she told me to go down and write something about black people on the bridge.. she even gave me what to write.  She had C-D's, racist C-D's of music about blacks and things on 'em and she would listen to those all the time.  She drove her car to the bridge, dropped me and the paint off, I did it, and she came back and picked me back up."

Did she really buy you something for spray-painting the bridge?

"Actually she did," Frye says.  "She did buy me some stuff.  It was a couple hundred dollars worth of stuff.  I wish she hadn't now.  I wouldn't take 10-thousand dollars to do it now."

"Of course, she got immunity during my trial," Frye says.  "She made a statement against me to the court that it was all my idea, she had nothing to do with it and she didn't want to do it, which was all a lie.  Because I admitted to doing it, they believed her more than they believed me, but there's evidence of her involvement that the court did not consider."

Were you ever romantically involved with her?

"No, no," he says emphatically.  "I'm married.. happily married.  She was just a friend of the family."

In a 'Jerry Springer' moment, it would have made a lot of sense.

"I know it was wrong to let people influence me like that," he says, "but at my age, having something bought for you to do something that everybody thought was a joke, was tempting.  I knew better than that, but back then, it was hard to fight off.  Eventually, I had to get an Order of Protection against her.  When I wouldn't have nothing to do with her, she started driving by my house, tossing out firecrackers.  She tried to flatten my tires when I decided to stop talking to her.  Really to me, it wasn't fair that she got out of her involvement.  If you rob a bank or something, the person who drives the getaway car, is charged with something, too."

Did the thought ever occur to you that this graffiti might be harmful to somebody else, that someone might be offended by this?  Did you ever think about that?

"Yeah, I did.  It wasn't an hour later, I felt sick to my stomach," said Frye.  "I was thinking, 'wow.. I cannot believe I did that.'  I've never done anything like that before in my life, never.. never even thought about doing something like that.   I can't really explain it, it can't be explained.. it was just extremely stupid.. no other way to explain it."

Frye says the mystery girl and the guy thought the spray-painted bridge was hilarious, despite his own misgivings about it.  In fact, he told us he thought the whole thing was forgotten after the graffiti was taken down.  "I didn't hear anything for two months," he remembers.  And then, I woke up one morning with the police at my door, putting me under arrest."


"That guy was responsible for that," he says.  "He went down to the police department and told them I did it, thinking it was a way to get me in trouble.  In fact, as I said, he's a big racist.  He moved out of his house when a black family moved in next door to him.  He flipped out.  Actually moved into a rental house he owns across the street until they moved out.  They never did a thing to him.  Said he wasn't gonna live in no house beside black people."

Concerning the graffiti, are you sorry you did it, or are you sorry you got caught?  It might have been in your HEAD to spray-paint the bridge, but was it in your HEART?  I mean, dude... those are $64,000 dollar questions.

"Oh no," he says quickly.  "It was definitely not in my heart.  I hope people understand that.  That's why I need to apologize to the black community.  That's not the way I think, that's not my point of view on black people.  Yeah, I'm sorry I did it, and I'm sorry I got caught, too, because I got caught doing something stupid.  I'm not some skinhead, racist something that doesn't have anything to do with blacks.  It's not that way with me, at all.  I have African-American friends that I used to work with.  One of them was going to come to court for me, and testify for me if I needed it.  We have been friends for a long time, two-and-a-half years now.  Me and him have actually gone out and done stuff before.  We've played golf, and I've never thought twice about him being any different from me.  He's just like any friend I've got."

What did he think about the graffiti?

"When it came out, he didn't act any different towards me," Frye says.  "He didn't say anything about it.  He just said he couldn't believe that all that was happening to me and stuff.  I couldn't explain everything to him because my lawyer told me not to talk to anybody, but if he were mad, he kept it to himself.  He just didn't treat me any differently.  I don't know if that was good or bad."


Growing up in a middle-class family, Frye went to Sullivan South High School in Kingsport, a school that endured its own serious racial question last summer.  For years, students and supporters of the school have waved the rebel flag to support the athletic teams, who are nicknamed the Rebels.  Recently, the school sought to diffuse controversy over the flag, by suggesting that students and supporters include other flags in their enthusiam for the school's athletic programs.

Nationally and in Tennessee, African-Americans have long complained about the relationship of the rebel flag to slavery in America.

A lot of people associate what you did, with the rebel flag waved by some people at the school you went to.

"To be honest, I never thought that much about the rebel flag and slavery when I went to South," Frye says.  "I just saw it as a school mascot or something.  We learned about slavery and all that in school, and I didn't think of the rebel flag as anything but a flag.   I didn't relate it to African-Americans at all.  That was just my opinion." 

But it connects to intimidation, which is what you did.

"I do remember people putting the rebel flags on their cars and stuff, and going around and doing do-nuts in D-B's parking lot and things like that.  I never did thything like that personaly, but I do remember people doing that.  At the time, I didn't think of (the rebel flag) being anything racial, but if you look at it historically, it does connect to slavery and a lot of bad past references to African-American.  In this day and time, in my age group (late teens, early 20's), I never really linked it personally to anything like that."

"I do understand that, where black people would come from, thinking that it's connected to slavery, because it is.  I do understand that."

Frye says he hoped his case would have been a short term problem.  It was anything but.


He says he'll can't forget his days in court on the graffiti vandalism charge, and how bad he felt when there were postponements in his case.  Those postponements eventually added a year to the resolution of the legal process.

"At most court dates, people would stare at me, once they heard what I was charged with," remembers Frye.  "Sometimes, there were even African-Americans in the courtroom.  The clerk would call my name and would say something like 'vandalism to the bridge at Meadowview,' and give the details out.  You could look around and see the looks on the faces of the other people in the courtroom, like 'wow, it's that guy that was in the paper.'  The stare-downs, the whispering was unbelieveable.   I couldn't explain nothing at the time, because my attorney told me not to talk to anybody.  Everything anybody ever heard about the case, came from the police."

"I told my wife that, sometimes I wish I could go ahead and do jail time, just to get it over with," Frye remembers.

"To be thought of as a racist, is just about the lowest thing you can think about a person."

As Frye found out, being thought of as a racist, was not the only thing he was thought of as.   He was also being eyed by someone else.

"I had the Secret Service coming to my house," Frye says.  "I guess it was because of the Obama reference.  They knocked on my door one day and asked me a bunch of questions, like 'are you a terrorist' and things like that.  I was really scared and told them 'I'm no terrorist."  It was so incredible that I couldn't believe it.  I was 19 years old at the time, young and stupid.  Any other time, it might have been funny, except they were dead serious.  It scared me to death.  I gave them my lawyer information and they left just as quick as when they knocked on the door."

On Frye's court date, he remembers his, was the last case of the day.

"We told our side, which is what I've just told you," he says.  "We showed all the pictures, I testified to what I knew.  But the judge said he thought I was lying, just to try and get out of it.  We applied for pre-trial diversion, which would have taken it off my record after a certain time.  That was denied.  We then asked for judicial diversion, and got denied that.  So we made a plea deal.  The only thing the prosecutor would agree to, was that whatever the sentence was, I would have to do 30 per cent of one year.  The judge granted me a year's probation with no jail time, 120 hours of community service, which was 10 hours of service per month that I have already lined up.... restitution of 900 dollars (the amount it cost to remove the graffiti from the overpass) of which I have already paid 750 dollars.... and, that I should publish an apology in the newspaper."


Frye says, the ad space for the apology almost didn't make it into the paper.  He says, at first, the Kingsport Times-News did not want to print it, and asked him to come in and talk to the manager.  He says, it took a last-minute call to convince the newspaper the content was legitimate, even after he'd paid for the space..

"At first, they were not going to put it in, until my attorney called them," he says.  The ad ran in Saturday's Kingsport Times-News (December 11, 2010) under the "Responsible Notices" column in the classified ads.

Frye also sent the Douglass Alumni Association website the ad, too.  We contacted him, and he was ready to talk.

"My attorney probably would not want me to talk to you," he says.  "But doing this interview, hopefully that will help explain to the black people that I didn't mean to harm anybody, and that I'm really sorry about what happened.  I hope they and everybody else can forgive me."

"I don't want people to think I'm a racist," he says.  "I'm not, and I'm not just saying that because the court says I have to do an apology.  It's more than that.  It was a stupid thing I did, and I get tore up every time I think about it.  It's something I will have to live with the rest of my life."

You've got a daughter and now a son.  What are you going to tell your kids about this when they grow up and start asking questions?

"I'll just have to explain this dumb thing I did when I was a teenager, which may change the way they think of their daddy," Frye says.  I'll have to deal with it.  That's the hard part.  But for now, hopefully folks can forgive me.  I grew up in Kingsport, I've been here all my life.  I went to school with African-Americans.  There weren't many at South when I was there, but I was friends with them."

"Believe it or not, before all this happened, I wanted to get into some type of law enforcement job.  Of course, that won't be possible now," he says.  "I just hope to get a good job like I had, raise my family in Kingsport, and put all this behind me."

"Just a stupid thing to do, really meant to be a joke," he says.  "It was not my joke, but I was the one who did stupidly did it."

"I just hope everybody can forgive me."