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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dobyns-Bennett grad training for 2012 Paralympic Games



Born without legs from the knees down, Kingsport native and 2007 Dobyns-Bennett graduate Blake Leeper has been in Chula Vista, Calif., for almost 18 months now training for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. PHOTO FROM JAMES CASSIMUS/OSSUR US

Blake Leeper may have been born without legs from the knees down, but he has never let his disability hold him back.

In fact, although he has worn prosthetics since he was 16 months old, Leeper doesn’t even think of himself as someone with a disability.

Crediting his parents, Billy and Edith Leeper, with giving him the strong mind-set he still possesses today, Leeper says he learned at an early age to believe he was no different from anyone else.

“They showed me that regardless of my situation, I should never give up. Life is hard, but you can take hold of it and look at the glass as half full instead of half empty. Just roll with the situation and make the best of it,” Leeper said.

And making the best of his situation is exactly what Leeper is doing right now.

The 22-year-old Kingsport native and 2007 Dobyns-Bennett High School graduate has been in Chula Vista, Calif., for almost 18 months training for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

Leeper will head to Indianapolis in late June to compete for a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Team. He will compete in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter races.
“We are definitely in competition level right now. I’m trying to get in as many competitions as I can before the U.S. Trials in Indianapolis. You have to place in the top three in your events to make the team,” Leeper said.

Currently, he holds the nation’s No. 1 spot in all three events.

“So, knock on wood, if I go there and do what I should, it should be a sure thing to make the team,” he said.

Leeper’s current time in the 100-meter dash is 11.23 seconds. His time in the 200-meter dash is 21.98 seconds, which is also the second-highest time in the world. His 400-meter time is 51.97 seconds.

Leeper first discovered his passion for sports when he was only about 5 years old. It was his older brother, Kris, who inspired him.

“Everything he did, I had to do, and do it better,” Leeper said. “My dad always coached us growing up. Anything (Kris) decided to play or even thought about playing — from rollerblading to basketball or baseball — I wanted to do it, too, and I wanted to be just as good as him. I looked up to him and wanted to be on his level, but in the process this was making me a better person and a better athlete.”

At Dobyns-Bennett, Leeper played right field and second base on the baseball team as a sophomore. He commanded media attention by making the varsity basketball team — the nation’s winningest high school basketball program — as a senior. Leeper was selected to the sevenmember Times-News Elite basketball team in 2006-07.

However, Leeper’s interest in track and field didn’t begin until after his graduation from high school. He thought he was done with sports then. But the urge to compete still pulled at him, and he soon discovered track and field.

The major turning point in Leeper’s life came when he discovered a special kind of prosthetic he calls “Cheetah Legs.” Cheetah Legs are manufactured by the prosthetic company Ossur.

Michael and Gilgia Prumbs of Kingsport’s Pro Balance and the Challenged Athletes Foundation helped Leeper land his first pair of Cheetah Legs three years ago.

Today, Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics and Ossur are Leeper’s sponsors. Paul Meyer at Hanger makes and adjusts Leepers “legs” to ensure a perfect fit.

According to Ossur’s Web site, Cheetah Legs capture the running characteristics of the world’s fastest land animal — the cheetah — and replicate the big cat’s hind legs with a foot that extends and reaches out to paw at the ground while the large thigh muscles pull the body forward.

Just four months after getting his first pair of Cheetah Legs, Leeper ran his first race in Oklahoma and found himself at a crossroads. At the time, Leeper was in his fourth year of a fiveyear program in applied physics at the University of Tennessee, but he was presented the opportunity to move to California and train for the 2012 Paralymic Games in London.

Although his mom was upset at first because he was moving so far away, Leeper says he knew the move to California was a once-ina-lifetime opportunity.

“Not too many people are able to get into the program. They only take the lead athletes. If you can get in, you should take advantage of it,” he said.

Kingsport native Blake Leeper will be going to Indianapolis in late June in his bid to make the U.S. Paralympic Team. He will be competing in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter races. Currently, he holds the nation’s No. 1 spot in all three events. PHOTO FROM JAMES CASSIMUS/OSSUR USA

The Paralympic Games were first organized in the late 1940s for injured World War II veterans returning home.

Today, the Paralympic Games are elite sport events for athletes with a disability, emphasizing the participants’ athletic achievements rather than their disabilities.

The Paralympics have grown considerably since those early years. The number of athletes participating in Summer Paralympic Games has increased from 400 athletes from 23 countries in Rome in 1960 to almost 4,000 from 146 countries in Beijing in 2008. The games are always held in the same year as the Olympic Games.

This year’s Paralympic Games will be held Aug. 29 through Sept. 9.

“My birthday is August 31st, and I will be turning 23. If I could bring home some medals, that would be a good birthday present. It would make for a hard birthday to top,” Leeper said.

Leeper admits there is a lot going through his mind right now.

“I’ve dealt with all sorts of challenges in my life, and this is just another challenge. It’s bigger, I would say. I’m about to compete to, hopefully, be named one of the best in the world. It’s a different level and a little more pressure, but I feel like I’ve been trained at a very early age by my parents, and I’ll be able to handle it. I’ve gotten more tips from my coaches on how to handle the situation. But, overall, it’s always the same. Nothing changes, just how you deal with it,” he said.

One concern Leeper does have is the crowd.

“Some of my teammates here went to Beijing in the 2008 Olympics, and they said there were about 96,000 people in the stands. The most I’ve seen was 30,000 in the stands in Belgium last year,” he said. “In a large crowd, you can’t point out faces. One of the things I’ve always done is, when I walk out on the track, I try to find my parents. Just seeing them in the stands gives me a sense of comfort, and I can relax a little bit. But in this situation, I don’t think I’m going to be able to find them. The stadium (in London) holds 80,000 people, and tickets are already sold out.”

Advice from his coach is helping to quell Leeper’s anxiety.

“We work on learning how to run our race, regardless of the atmosphere, regardless of the situation. My coach tells me, ‘You know what you have to do. You know what you want to do. Now, just go do it.’ We focus on that each and every day. I want to strive to be on a level where I know I’m going to win. I’ll do what I need to do. There won’t be any stressing about it, no pushing, no hoping for it — just knowing it’s going to happen,” he said.

Leeper hopes his own drive and ambition will inspire others, especially amputees. He says he wants them to be able to find the ability in their disabilities — just as he has.

“If you fall eight times, you must get up nine times,” he said. “One thing that no one can ever take away from you is the will to never give up. They can put a lot of things on you, but you always have the power to push on and move forward. Once you realize that, anything is possible. You can conquer anything as long as you stay motivated, stay dedicated and stay focused. If you do all this, you can achieve anything in life.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Giving back


Workers deliver a new refrigerator to Kingsport’s Full Gospel Mission Church on East Sevier Avenue recently. The refrigerator was donated by BB&T Bank and KDC Insurance as part of their Lighthouse Project that gives back to the community.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Commemoration


Homoring the memory of Douglass High School soldiers from Kingsport, who served in the U.S Armed Forces in World War II, circa 1944.

Rest easy, sleep well my brothers.
Know the line has held, your job is done.
Rest easy, sleep well.
Others have taken up where you fell, the line has held.
Peace, peace, and farewell...

Negro Green Book offers vivid look at oppressive segregation


When my father took us on vacation to Daytona Beach in the summer of 1956, we didn’t have a motel reservation. This was before and Expedia. He would just drive down Atlantic Avenue, looking for a motel that met my mother’s approval and had a vacancy sign. (I remember this vividly because my 8-year-old brain couldn’t figure out why he was looking for “Bacon,” which is how I heard Vacancy.)

If Doug Releford’s family had traveled from Kingsport to Daytona that same summer, it would have been much more complicated.

I use Doug as an example because it was Doug who introduced me to the topic of today’s column.

We were at an event at the old Douglass High School building, now called the Dobbins Center when Doug leaned over and asked, “Have you ever heard of the Negro Green Book?”

I confessed I hadn’t.

“I’ll send you a link.”

What I found on that link was an eye-opening story. “The Negro Green Book,” technically the “Negro Motorist Green Book,” was an African American travel guide published in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s “to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from difficulties, embarrassments, and to make his trips more enjoyable.”

While my family had the choice of numerous motels, the Relefords would have had only one choice. According to the 1956 Negro Green Book, the only Daytona Beach motel serving black tourists was the Campbell Hotel at 549 2nd Ave. And while my family could eat at our pick of diners and cafeterias, the Relefords would have had one choice: the Little Gypsy Restaurant at 524 S. Campbell St. is the only Daytona Beach eatery listed in the 1956 guide.

The Negro Green Book is a vivid look at how oppressive segregation was.

The book was published from 1936 to 1964, years of intense segregation in this country, when black travelers were barred from entering most public facilities, including hotels and restaurants.

Esso, one of the few gas companies that would sell franchises to black entrepreneurs during that period, was a sponsor of the Negro Green Book and gave away copies at some of its stations. Esso’s Special Representative Wendell Alston wrote in an introduction to the 1949 edition, “The Negro travelers’ inconveniences are many and they are increasing because today so many more are traveling individually and in groups. The GREEN BOOK with its list of hotels, boarding houses, restaurants, beauty shops, barber shops and various other services can most certainly help solve your travel problems.”

The book was the idea of Harlem postal employee Victor H. Green, which is where the book got the “Green” part of its name. According to the New York Times, “Green conceived the guide in response to one too many accounts of humiliation or violence where discrimination continued to hold strong. These were facts of life not only in the Jim Crow South, but in all parts of the country, where black travelers never knew where they would be welcome.”

Green sold the 1936 edition for a quarter. By 1956 he had raised the price to a dollar.

In areas where there were no hotels or motels serving black tourists, the Green Book directed them to tourist homes operated out of private residences.

In the 1949 guide the closest listing to Kingsport is for the A.D. Henderson Tourist Home at 301 McDowell St. in Bristol, Tenn. By 1956 there was a second listing for the Tri-Cities, Mrs. M.C. Brown’s Tourist Home at 225 McDowell in Bristol.

In the introduction to the 1936 edition, Green wrote hopefully, “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal rights and privileges in the United States.”

Green apparently felt that time had come in 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed and the last edition of the Negro Green Book was published.

Two editions of the Negro Green Book are online, the 1949 book and the 1956 book.

Click here to see the 1949 edition of the Negro Green Book.

Click here to see the 1956 edition of the Negro Green Book.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

People Enjoying a Douglass Cafeteria Lunch


People in photo: Standing: ?, ?, Harry Releford, Tim Price, Jackie McLemore, Fletcher Hutcherson, Stella Releford (Cook)
1st Table: ?, Jean Ann Moore, ?, ?, ?, Roy Easley
2nd Table: Loftus Smith, Phillip Cartwright, Jr., ?, :, ". Lionel Gillenwater, ?, ?, C. A. Lewis, Harry Smith Tim Smith, Phyllis Horton, Linda (Miller) Machen

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Big Brother WAS Watching You: So, How Fast Were YOU Driving in Riverview?


If you've got a radar/laser detector on your windshield, you're used to having it go off with shrill sirens and intermittent beeps, signaling the presence of a cop somewhere ahead of you clocking your speed.

But in Riverview?

Oh yeah..

For several days just a few weeks ago, radar detectors as far away as the AGC Flat Glass Plant on Lincoln Street were sounding off. By the time you got to the intersection of Wilcox Drive, Lincoln Street and M-L-K, the radar/laser detector beeps were so annoying, they had motorists looking in all directions, in every nook, cranny, pull-off, driveway and behind every building, every tree.. looking for the cop car with the radar/laser gun supposedly aimed at them.

A closer examination of the area, revealed no cop.. no cop car, and no visible laser gun.

But you've got a radar/laser detector screaming its bloody head off, and nothing to show for it.

Until.. you got to the Riverview Splash Pad.

There, for several days, the Kingsport Police Department, responding to a Riverview neighborhood complaint about speeding on Martin Luther King Drive, had mounted a speed detection device on a pole, directly across from the Splash Pad.

Its direction was aimed at the Wilcox Drive intersection, 2 blocks away.

"Yes, we had some speeding complaints in that area of M-L-K," says John McGhee with the Traffic Unit of the Kingsport Police Department. "There is a large amount of traffic there, a high amount.. probably more than you think. Coupled with the large amount of pedestrian traffic there, we felt that the complaints were valid enough to place a speed detection device there, to measure the amount of traffic and how fast it was actually going."

The city of Kingsport has a couple of these portable units that can be placed in strategic locations on a temporary basis, in response to complaints. They can be set to just silently record traffic speeds, or flash in big numbers, the offending speed that is being recorded. Riverview residents reported seeing no flashing numbers during the time the detection device was monitoring traffic on M-L-K.

"This is what we in the police department would consider a low-end tool that we start with, to measure the speed of traffic in a particular area," McGhee says. "On the high end, if we note speeds that exceed the posted limit fairly regularly in that spot, a police officer is stationed there with a laser gun, clocking speeds and issuing citations to speeding violators."

"We feel that both are effective in protecting lives and property on Kingsport city streets."

The traffic speed detection unit in Riverview was out for about 8 days on a pole on M-L-K, between the Splash Pad and the gravel parking lot beside the South Central Kingsport office, counting vehicles and measuring their speeds.

"During those 8 days, we recorded a total of 15,005 vehicles within the range of the speed detector, from the Splash Pad two blocks down to Wilcox Drive," McGhee says. "That shocked us at the police department.. that was an amazing amount of traffic, despite the fact that most of it was Eastman traffic going to and from the headquarters building parking lots."

How fast were the speeds recorded, including traffic coming in and out of Riverview?

"We were showing an average speed of 24 miles an hour in the 2-block span of M-L-K at the Eastman headquarters," McGhee says. "That part was not surprising, and we did get some vehicles clocked in the vicinity of 30 miles an hour. Those vehicles that were speeding excessively were measured between 30 and 50, and we did clock one vehicle traveling 63 miles per hour in that two-block span."

63?.. Miles per hour?.. On Martin Luther King Drive, a street that, at best is only 4 blocks long?

"That was really scary when we saw that recorded," says McGhee, "considering the amount of vehicle and foot traffic along M-L-K. During the summer with the Splash Pad going and all the children playing in the area, it's real bothersome to know that somebody is traveling that fast on that street. I'll have to admit that just one vehicle going 63 out of 15,000 vehicles doesn't sound like a lot, but if that one vehicle had struck someone, or hit another car or a building, it would have been a really big deal. It only takes one vehicle. To be honest, I expected to have more vehicles going higher than the posted speed limit of 20, maybe late at night, 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. Luckily, that was the only vehicle noted."

McGhee says, the eyes of the community become the ears of the police department.

"Residents need to call us at the police department if they notice speeds higher than normal on their streets," says McGhee, and if we get enough complaints, we'll start off with a speed detection unit placed along the route. The unit is designed to get the attention of motorists exceeding the speed limit by a huge amount. It's also designed to record that speed, without necessarily flashing it."

"Just because you don't see a speed limit displayed, doesn't mean we don't know how fast you were going. The message is 'Hey, you're going over the speed limit and you'd better slow down.'"


Riverview Speed Limits to be Lowered


Some motorists who travel the streets of Riverview frequently, have always noticed a slight discrepancy in the speed limit on the neighborhood streets.

This is the speed limit on Martin Luther King Drive. It reads 20 miles per hour. It was lowered years ago, when Eastman Chemical Company established its corporate headquarters on Wilcox Drive and Martin Luther King Drive, and put in parking lots on either side of M-L-K, with pedestrial crossings in the street. It's right at the beginning of Riverview.

But this is the speed limit on Dunbar Street at Carver Street 3 blocks away, inside the Riverview neighborhood. It abruptly jumps to 30 miles an hour from M-L-K, and it's also the same speed limit on Carver, Wheatley, Louis, and Douglass Street. At one time, it was even considered by the city to be the speed limit on Booker Street, although that street was in the middle of the Riverview Apartments.

According to the city, the speed limit is also 30 miles an hour on James Street in Riverview, beside the old Douglass Auditorium.

James Street does not exist anymore. It's now the parking lot for the V,O. Dobbins Sr. Complex.

Resident Jim Brice is one of several residents who have noticed the different speeds limits in Riverview, and brought the discrepancy to the attention of the Douglass website.

"There's a lot of children on the streets in Riverview," he says, "more on the neighborhood streets, than on M-L-K. They run the streets on their bicycles and wagons, and cross here and there. I first noticed the higher speeds, after the speed limit was lowered on M-L-K after the Eastman headquarters went in several years ago, and more kids started going to the Splash Pad."

"Cars really fly through Riverview," Brice says, "even on Dale Street. Every time I see one flying through, I holler 'slow that thing down!' I just don't want our kids to be hurt."

"It's true there are a lot of pedestrians and much more traffic on M-L-K now with Eastman," says Jim Hensley, traffic engineering technician with the Kingsport Traffic Engineering Department. "That prompted the speed there to be lowered originally from 30 to 20 miles an hour. Honestly, I have no idea why the speed limit in the Riverview neighborhood remained at 30. It should have been lowered a long time ago, but it wasn't for some reason."

Thanks to our bringing the discrepancy to the department's attention, action is being taken to bring the speed limit in line with Kingsport's other neighborhoods.

Speed Limit 25 will now be the neighborhood standard on all streets in Riverview

"We will replace all the speed limit signs in Riverview, including Martin Luther King, to 25 miles an hour," Hensley says. "The 30 mile per hour speed limit on Wheatley, Dunbar, Louis and Carver Streets will be lowered down to 25 miles an hour, and the 20 miles per hour speed limit on M-L-K will be raised up to 25 miles per hour, to make the Riverview speed limits consistent with other neighborhoods in Kingsport."

"The signs on the streets in Riverview will be taken down, and three new "Speed limit 25" signs, will be installed. One will be put up on Martin Luther King Drive as you turn from Wilcox, the other on Wheatley at the Splash Pad, and the other on the lower end of Wheatley at Industry Drive just as you turn into the neighborhood."

Hensley says, underneath those two "Speed Limit 25" will be signs, that indicate that "Speed Limit 25" is a city-wide speed limit on all Kingsport neighborhood streets.

He also says, to eliminate sign clutter, no other speed limit signs will be posted on Riverview's streets, but motorists need to be conscious of the fact that the speed limit is 25.

Several years ago, the old Lincoln Street speed limit was lowered to 20 miles per hour, from Wilcox Drive all the way to the dead end just past Dunbar Street, to accomodate the increase in traffic from the Eastman headquarters. Pedestrian traffic there, as well as the Splash Pad made a lower speed limit necessary.

"Folks need to watch their speed after the new signs go up," says Hensley. "Even though the speed limit signs won't be on Dunbar and the other streets, you will get a ticket if clocked higher than the new 25 mile an hour limit."

And what of Dale Street? The Douglass website has long gotten complaints of people exceeding the speed limit on Dale, because it's a shortcut that parallels, yet bypasses all the traffic on East Sullivan Street and East Sevier Avenue.

"The speed limit of 25 in Riverview does not include Dale Street," Hensley says. "We don't recall any specific complaints about the speed on that street, but that's not to say that speed is not a problem on that particular street. No reports have trickled into our office to request traffic calming on Dale Street, but it is possible to have a traffic study done there."

"It only takes one resident going fast, to hit somebody or somebody's car."

Hensley says, the high speed on Dale Street would have to average 40 miles an hour or higher, for that street to qualify for traffic calming devices like speed humps or raised levels similar to the ones on Watauga Avenue. He says, if Dale Street residents, or any others in Kingsport, want a traffic speed study done on their streets, just give his office a call at 224-2797 and the traffic office would get one started.

On M-L-K, Jim Brice says the city probably meant well, when they lowered the speed limit there to 20, but didn't change the speed limit anywhere else in the neighborhood where most of the kids are all the time.

"They just needed to take into account where most of the neighborhood's kids play, and consider what could potentially be more dangerous. That little stretch of
M-L-K that's maybe a couple of blocks long and the kids are over behind a fence.. or the 3 blocks of Dunbar, the 3 blocks of Wheatley, and the two blocks of Carver, Louis and Douglass Streets, where the kids play more and actually cross the streets more."

"The lower limits could save a young person's life."


Friday, May 18, 2012

Salute to a Kingsport Pioneer: Honoring Jerome Pierce (1861-1944)

"Recently, I realized that some of the younger members of our family ... did not know that our great-grandfather Jerome Pierce was a slave who was born and lived in a lob cabin with a dirt floor."

Pierce-Bond Family Member Anna Coley on the occasion of a bench dedication to Jerome Pierce at Bays Mountain Park, May 12, 2012.


If family patriach Jerome Pierce were alive today, he'd smile in wonderment and amazement at the family that descended from his marriage to Luvenia Brown.

Descendants of the Pierce-Bond family, along with friends, well-wishers, Riverview residents and the city of Kingsport gathered to dedicate a memorial bench in his honor, near the property that Pierce grew up on as a slave, and later purchased to farm and raise his children.


To see a slideshow and pictures from the Pierce bench dedication, click here.

Part of the Pierce property in the valley along the ridges above Horse Creek, adjoined the top of Bays Mountain, and was purchased when the city established Bays Mountain Park. Pierce, his family members, and others harvested trees that were sold to Tennessee Eastman in its early days, and they later hauled up stones that comprised the dam along Dolan Creek that formed the old Kingsport Reservoir, providing city residents water until 1944.


"My grandfather was a large, handsome man," remembers Ann Coley, who wrote a book highlighting the life and times of Jerome Pierce and his family, and spoke at the bench dedication ceremony. "He was left-handed, and always wore bib-overalls.. kinda reminds you of Orvel (Bond). He smoked a pipe, and lived in the house where he raised his 5 children. When you look at his humble beginnings, and then look at where our family has come.. how many contributions he made to help the development of Kingsport and its industries, that, despite the lack of a formal education, he was able to become a successful, respectable businessman."

After the bench dedication, the Pierce-Bond family and friends were treated to a tour around the Kingsport Reservoir that Jerome Pierce had a hand in building. Folks, young and old, marveled at the quiet peacefulness of the setting, seemingly untouched by human nature. Deer were spotted on the bank, munching on water lillies, beaver dams were abundant, and, despite the pristine conditions, no bears were observed (although they have been). At one point, park guide Fred Hilton used his connection with nature, to call out to the grey wolves resting in their enclosure. As his lonely call wailed through the trees, one by one the wolves responded in the native ritual of the pride.

A picnic awaited the group at the Eastman Cabins at the foot of Bays Mountain, where the festivities continued, and most everybody with a new family story to share. "I realized over the years, that the younger people didn't know enough about the family to appreciate the struggles that our ancestors encountered, just to survive. Since there are so many more stories that need to be share," says Mrs. Coley. "I am now satisfying one of my passions, searching, researching and telling my family's history."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

New Vision Youth raising money for D.C. trip



KINGSPORT — Some deserving students want to see the wonders of the Smithsonian, the names of the Vietnam fallen on the wall, and a new tribute to a man who preached on peace. They need your help to reach the capital.

Johnnie Mae Swaggerty has planned a trip next month for New Vision Youth — a group of 40 Tri-Cities children ages 8 to 17 — to tour Washington, D.C. They need sponsorships and donations to reach their goal of more than $2,000.

“We want to enrich their lives, and this can be a life-changing trip for some,” said Swaggerty, who noted one of the main stops will be the newly dedicated Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. “That is something I want them to see, personally. He had a huge influence on a lot of folks, and we tell them about what he had to go through to achieve his place in life. He is an inspiration, and now that there’s a new monument, I think they need to see it."

“You are talking about an investment of $85 per child, and it is tax deductible. Some of these kids have never been out of Kingsport, Johnson City and the places they live. It’s a chance for them to see the world outside the Tri-Cities for the first time.”

The organization has held a series of fund-raisers including fish fry gatherings and a car wash scheduled this Saturday starting at 9 a.m. at Title Max on 1112 E. Stone Drive in Kingsport.

Any church, civic group or other organization that would like to sponsor a child or contribute to the trip fund can send donations to: New Vision Youth, c/o Johnnie Mae Swaggerty, 950 Dale St., Kingsport, Tenn. 37660. They can also make a tax-free contribution to the group's Suntrust bank account at any Suntrust Bank in Kingsport and the Tri-Cities.

Swaggerty can also be contacted at 429-7553.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Harvest of Hope Food Garden Proves that Vegetables Don't Come from the Food City... Yet!


Over the years, many teachers have been shocked by the answer young students give to the question: "Where do vegetables come from?"

As she joined some of her New Vision Youth mates at the Harvest of Hope Food Garden, Zina Huff Taylor laughed at the suggestion.

"I always knew that vegetables come from the ground... after a lot of work," she says.

The New Vision Youth group was invited to grow two plots in the Harvest of Hope garden on Charlemont Street in Kingsport, and New Vision Youth Director Johnnie Mae Swagerty was only too happy to help the kids get the plots started.

"We had a food garden in Riverview back in 2005," she remembers, of which Zina and the other youth participated. "We had a master gardener from Eastman who showed us how to plant, gave us instructions on what to plant and what time of year. We went through a practice growing session before we planted anything, and the kids really enjoyed it."

Click here to see a slideshow of the New Vision Youth Community Garden.

"What's fun about it," Zina says, "is just knowing that once everything is ready to harvest, someone that needs food is going to get it.. that's the fun part. The first food garden was cool to work in. I really like the fact that all that hard work that you put into it, and seeing what it becomes."

That's the idea, says Jennifer Janus, a community volunteer with the Harvest of Hope.

"It's great to have people of all ages taking part in planting the food and the floweres, because this garden is a place where wisdom can be passed through the generations. It's a place where people can get to know each other.. there's a fellowship here. It's a good environment for people to grow plants and grow spiritually, too."

The thought that vegetables have to come from the ground first, to get through the grocery store to the dinner table, is a thought not lost on Janus.

"As fast-paced as society is these days, where food comes from can be lost on young people," she says. "We must pass that on. That's actually what got me interested in gardening.. just making sure that my children know how to grow food and where it comes from. There is something to be said for getting your hands dirty. The slower pace that the garden requires.. it teaches patience, it teaches prayerfulness, it teaches staying in touch with nature."

The New Vision Youth Garden plot will have tomatoes, bell peppers and onions. A lot of it will be donated to the Second Harvest and the Kitchen of Hope, both in Kingsport. Swagerty says, several items will also be given to seniors in the Riverview community.

"It was a good opportunity for us when the United Way invited us to be a part of the Harvest of Hope food garden," she says.


There will be plenty of love going into the New Vision garden. The youth group is reminded of the story of how principal V.O. Dobbins, Sr. would grow food behind his house on Dunbar Street in Riverview, and his sister Leola Allen, Gladys Blye, Reverend Stokley's wife, Mary Charles, Mary Moore, and some of the other mothers of the Central Baptist Church would can the vegetables to be fed to the children of Douglass Elementary-High School during the cold winter months. The canned vegetables would make up for a deficit in food received through the Kingsport Department of Education.

"The generosity and foresight of Mr. Dobbins is a great inspiration to consider expanding the food garden into other areas of the city," Janus says. "I think the more gardens we can get going, the more that people get to benefit, both from the harvest and from the knowledge of growing your own food and the community that a food garden produces."

"Until we can get the food garden going back up again in Riverview," say Swagerty, "we are naming our food plots the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Memorial Food Garden, to honor the legacy of him caring for the children of Douglass and the people of Riverview. He always made sure everybody in the community ate good and got fed. That was important to him."

"When it gets going, it's going to take the efforts of the youth, the seniors, the residents association, and other groups to make sure the food garden in Riverview is successful," Swagerty says. "It'll unite the community in many ways."

"A little sunshine these days, won't hurt anybody," she says, "and it will certainly help the food plants."

Zina Huff Taylor says it's also a good reminder to remember the good things that come from Mother Earth.

"Before the vegetables come from Food City, they come from hard work and the sun," she says.

"And from God."

Eye of the Tiger


Under the watchful eye of a tiger decoration, Dustin Meade — with the Kingsport Department of Parks and Recreation — pressure washes the Riverview Splash Pad in preparation for its opening. The Splash Pad is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends until Memorial Day, when daily operations resume for the summer.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

We have many moms in Riverview to be proud of. The mothers around the neighborhood who kept an eye on us when we were out playing. The mothers who let us eat from their tables, even though their homes were not ours. The mothers who disciplined us when they saw us misbehaving. The Mothers of the Church who gave us the Spiritual Light that only comes from the Holy Spirit. And best of all .... our own mothers, whose instincts are still protecting us, and those moms no longer with us, who live in us. HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY, AND MUCH LOVE FROM ALL OF US THAT YOU RAISED AND HELPED RAISE.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Scholarship Banquet Invitation


Park set to Honor Pierce on Saturday

Dedication ceremony is open to the public, and following the event a picnic is planned at Eastman Cabins.



KINGSPORT — Bays Mountain Park on Saturday plans to honor a man with long-standing roots in the community and who helped build the reservoir dam up on the mountain nearly 100 years ago.

Park officials will hold a dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday on the lake side of the Nature Center, just outside the first floor entrance. A small garden has been created there, and three benches have been placed, with one of the benches bearing a plaque with Jerome Pierce’s name on it.

“My grandfather was a slave who lived at the base of Bays Mountain and was instrumental in building the park so many years ago,” said grandson Jack Pierce Sr. “When the reservoir was built, he hauled the stone for the dam during that time.”

In 1915, the Clear Creek Water Co. purchased 1,000 acres on Bays Mountain and over the next 15 months built a dam for Kingsport's water supply. As the city grew, the reservoir failed to meet the needs of the expanding population, thus the Holston River became Kingsport’s main source of water. The use of Bays Mountain Lake for a water supply was discontinued in 1944.

Jerome Pierce, born circa 1848 to 1850, was a slave for a Kingsport family, but at age 15 or 16 he fled North and eventually joined the Union Army. After the war, Jerome returned to the Kingsport area and built a log cabin on Bays Mountain, near the Southern Baptist Retreat Center, working in logging, hauling and farming. At one point, Jerome worked as a paid employee for the man who once owned him as a slave.

“That’s where my dad and grandfather lived. My dad had teams of horses and would haul logs out of the woods for Eastman,” Pierce said. “I think it’s about time we got a little bit of recognition. Our folks, over many, many years contributed a lot to Kingsport, not only Bays Mountain, but the city as well.”

About five years ago, Bays Mountain Park sought land adjacent to the park, on the outside slope of the mountain — most of which is privately owned — with the intent being to create a buffer zone around the park and prevent development too close to its borders.

Some of the land acquired included 28.4 acres of property, in four lots, owned by the descendants of Jerome Pierce. As far back as 1750, Bays Mountain was home to settlers who built homes, farmed the land and raised their families.

The dedication ceremony is open to the public, and following the event Pierce said a picnic is planned at Eastman Cabins. Pierce said friends and family from Kingsport and as far off as Washington, D.C., Atlanta and North Carolina are planning to attend.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Date Set for Re-naming Ceremony; Douglass Teacher to be Recognized

Everyone please mark your calendars for August 10, 2012. We have confirmed that on that day, will be the dedication ceremony for the Cora R. Cox Academy, 520 Myrtle Street in Kingsport.

The school, formerly the New Horizons Alternative School, is being named to honor the legacy of one of Douglass School's most outstanding teachers.

We'll let you know the time on August 10th as soon as it's announced. Everyone is invited to attend!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Are the Student Opportunities for Learning in Kingsport Good?

Is your Riverview child getting the best education possible? How does Dobyns-Bennett rank among other high schools in the state?

Pretty good, according to the latest U.S. News and World Report survey of the best high schools. D-B is ranked 8th in the state of Tennessee.

Click here to see the report card on Dobyns-Bennett High School.

Click here to see the other schools in the state's Top 10.

New Vision Car Wash & Bake Sale

Help the New Vision Youth raise money for their trip to Washington, D.C. Car Wash-Bake Sale on Saturday, May 19th, from 10 AM to ? Bring your dirty car to the Titlemax, 1112 E. Stone Drive, Kingsport, in front of the Burlington Coat Factory. New Vision Youth Kids will be selling mini-cupcakes and mini-cakes. Proceeds go to the Washington trip on June 1, 2, and 3.. Sponsored by Titlemax.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bethel AME Zion's 75th Anniversary

Friday, May 4, 2012

Survival of the fittest

Heart, family drive Sensabaugh to highest level



KINGSPORT — It was 12 years ago that the world stopped turning for the Sensabaugh family. It’s spinning once again, with a strong gravity pull toward the NFL.
When former Dobyns-Bennett star Coty Sensabaugh was chosen last week in the fourth round of the NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans, he became Kingsport’s highest pick since Hal Miller Sr. was taken in the first round by the San Francisco 49ers in 1952.

Sensabaugh scored well in the NFL Combine and will likely become an instant millionaire when he signs a four-year contract. He will report to the Titans on May 10 and be represented by agent Christina Phillips.

The Sensabaugh family is steeped in athletic tradition.

Kim, his father, was selected most valuable player in the 1975 Class 1-AAA region basketball tournament as a D-B forward.
Older brother Travis played basketball at D-B before going to Walters State Community College and Gardner-Webb College.
Jamaar, a promising 16-year-old Dobyns-Bennett athlete when he died within days after being diagnosed with leukemia, gave brother Coty a lot of inspiration.
His death proved devastating to the family. Coty, five years younger and always looking up to Jamaar, was deeply hurt.

Coty became a standout in three sports at D-B. His determination to compete was remarkable.

In the fourth quarter of his final football game against Farragut in the state playoffs, he suffered a broken ankle.

Team trainer Kevin Trivette recalls the scenario vividly. “When we brought him to the sidelines, I felt the ankle was broken,’’ he said. “Coty insisted on going back on the field. His head and heart said go but his ankle said no.

“Coty had the heart of a lion. One week after surgery, he sat on a stool in the training room and shot a basketball off the trampoline. He did that for about three weeks until he could stand on his foot. He was getting ready for another sport and joined the team in time for the Arby’s Classic.’’
He was set to play at Appalachian State until a last-minute call came from Clemson. It was his only Division 1-A offer, and he made the most of it.

Sensabaugh broke into Clemson’s secondary rotation as a redshirt freshman in 2008. Two seasons later he was a starter. Last year, he set a school record by being in the lineup for 993 snaps, and Clemson won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

“Winning the ACC title was my biggest thrill,’’ he said.

D-B coach Graham Clark said it’s been a success story. “Coty was so smart that they played him at three different positions in the defensive backfield at Clemson.’’

Sensabaugh figured the Philadelphia Eagles would call his name in the third round.

“I’m super happy at being drafted by the Titans,’’ he said. “It’s the last team I thought would draft me. My parents, brother and other relatives will be able to see some games because Nashville is close. Maybe I was preparing myself for the worst, expecting to play far from home.

“It’s a reward for all of us but the family hasn’t treated me any differently. There’s not been much of a change.’’

Gerald Sensabaugh, his second cousin, is the Dallas Cowboys’ starting safety. He gave Coty, a 6-foot-1, 189-pound cornerback, some helpful tips before the Combine.
He had a 37-inch vertial leap, a 122-inch broad jump, a 6.60 three-cone drill, a 4.06 shuttle (20 yards), a 4.42 in the 40 dash (he was timed in 4.31 at Clemson) and a 225-pound bench press with 15 reps. His hand length is 9 inches.

Sensabaugh, who went 115th in the overall draft, had a 15-minute sitdown interview with the Titans after the Combine.

Tennessee is hoping to shore up its defense. Titans secondary coach Brett Maxie, who had been with the Cowboys, saw similarities between Gerald and Coty in savvy and speed.
“We feel Coty is a guy who will come in right away and help us in a lot of ways,’’ Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “He’s been a good player in a good program.’’

Sensabaugh’s game is speed. There is an opening for him to play immediately in nickel packages — outside or in the slot.

He will wear Titans jersey No. 24. At D-B his number was 9 and at Clemson 15. “That adds up to 24,’’ he said jokingly.
This gives the Northeast Tennessee/Southwest Virginia region eight players in the NFL. Others are Thomas Jones and Julius Jones of Big Stone Gap, Heath Miller of Honaker, Daniel Kilgore and Gerald Sensabaugh of Kingsport, Aubrayo Franklin of Johnson City and Jason Witten of Elizabethton.

Coty visited the D-B campus Thursday and gave the football team a pep talk during its spring practice. “Hopefully, I can motivate someone else to chase their dreams,’’ he said.

While at D-B, he was a consensus all-state selection in football after making 48 catches for 915 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior. He was an all-NET basketball choice who averaged 17.3 points as a junior and became team MVP the next year. He stood out in track and field as well.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

New Vision Youth Planning to Visit Washington, D.C.


It is the trip of a lifetime for some of Riverview's bright young minds. They need your help getting to the cradle of our nation's democracy.

The New Vision Youth of Kingsport are planning a trip to Washington, D.C. to see the sites, among them the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Your contributions are needed to help the trip come to life.

"The trip costs 85 dollars per child," says New Vision Youth Director Johnnie Mae Swagerty. "40 kids are going, 20 girls and 20 boys, along with 9 chaperones. 3 sponsors have already paid for 3 children, and while donations are coming in, we still need more to make this memorable trip for the kids."

"Many of them have heard OF Dr. King, but they don't know ABOUT him," Swagerty says. "This visit gives them the opportunity to see what he preached concerning civil rights, and to learn what he preached about non-violence. On the monument, they'll be able to read his sayings and get to understand how to live in society with their fellow Americans."

"3 or 4 of our chaperones grew up in the Civil Rights Movement," she continued, "and can share stories of inspiration while the kids visit the monument."

"It will be a good time for the kids to see and witness history."

A trip to Howard University is also on the itinerary.

"The 85 dollars per child includes a round-trip ticket on the chartered bus," says Swagerty, "plus hotel lodging and snacks on the bus. The trip also includes a sit-down dinner, and supervised swimming at the hotel. Each child has to bring 20 dollars and the New Vision program will furnish the remaining 65 to add up to 85 dollars."

"Some of the kids have never been on a bus trip outside the state of Tennessee, and this also gives them the chance to see different places, meet different people and experience somethings they have never experienced before."

This is where your donations come in.

"We're asking individuals, organizations, churches or anybody who wants to make this trip possible, to send contributions to me at 950 Dale Street, Kingsport, Tennessee 37660. Just put it in care of New Vision Youth. If you don't have 85 dollars, just send what you can.. anything you can do, helps the kids get to our nation's capitol."

Swagerty says, contributions are tax-deductable, through the South Central Kingsport Community Development Corporation, a non-profit agency, and "people who donate will get a receipt to claim the money back on their income taxes."

This coming Saturday, you'll have a chance to make a contribution to the trip, and get a good meal, too!

The New Vision Youth group is holding a fish fry and bake sale at the Splash Pad in Riverview this Saturday, May 5th at 12 Noon, with proceeds going to the Washington, D. C. trip. Fish sandwiches for $3.00, hot dogs for a dollar, mini cakes and cupcakes for a dollar, fried oreo's, 3 for a dollar and fried mini-snickers, 3 for a dollar.

For more information, call Johnnie Mae Swagerty at 423-429-7553.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dimingo Hale: Welcome Home From the Middle East

I believe it was worth it being over there

Capt. Dimingo Hale, US Army, Kingsport

For Riverview's Dimingo Hale, it was a spiritual calling that went with him to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces in the Middle East.


"I always felt it was part of my calling to go out and minister to people," he says. "As long as I'm shining the light, building positive relationships, it's always worth it."

Capt. Hale left Riverview in 2003, he was an enlisted soldier sent to Iraq, and his tremendous work ethic got him promoted to an E-5 sergeant. He went on to become an officer around 2006, and by the time he was deployed to Afghanistan, Hale had earned the rank of officer. Then came First Lieutenant, and by the time he returned home to Kingsport in March, he had been promoted to Captain.

"I worked hard to get the rank of Captain," he recalls. "A lot of people don't make it through for whatever reason. It's a lot of responsibility in a company of about 200 soldiers."

Recently, Captain Hale sat down with the Douglass website, to celebrate his homecoming, at a party organized by his wife Sarah in the Dobbins-Douglass ballfield.

"I feel at ease now that I'm home," Capt. Hale says. "I feel blessed that I am home with all of my limbs, because a lot of people over there are going through a lot of stuff, be it combat stress or some kind of injury from and IED or explosive device. My heart goes out to them, and I pray every day for their safe return."

Capt. Hale's thoughts on being home, are not wasted on wife Sarah or sons 9 year old Malachi, a student at Jackson Elementary, and 4 year old Michael, who is in pre-K.

"Having him home is great for our home life in general," Sarah says. "With all the dangers over there, it's definitely been a faith-increaser. You just lean on God that much more. It was difficult, not knowing what he was going through day-to-day. It was that unknown."

"I praise God every day that he made it back safely."


"They did a study on military spouses," says Capt. Hale, "and found out the spouse at home had a harder time adjusting to the separation, with paying the bills, taking care of the kids, keeping the household, the kids and school, plus after-school, compared to what the spouse is doing overseas. Soldiers are constantly watching their backs when they go out on missions. When we return to base, it's pretty much safe and we can get on the internet and find out what's happening at home, either through our families or through the Douglass website. It's survival on both sides, but the survey showed that spouses at home have more of a hardship than their military husbands and wives overseas."

"I did get to talk to him every day," Sarah says, "but there were some scary moments when a few days would pass and I didn't hear from him. I'd hear about stuff that happened, and it was hard when you get used to talking to him every day, and a few days would go back with no connection."

"I've always been a day-shift nurse at Wellmont, and I had to change my schedule up to do part-time whikle he was away. That way the boys wouldn't miss me AND him. I could work a lot while they were sleeping. There could have been a time when the boys would not have seen either one of us, if I hadn't changed my schedule."

The "Welcome Home" party that wife Sarah planned on April 14, 2012 went off without a hitch.

To see pictures from Captain Dimingo Hale's "Welcome Home" party, click here.

"I love planning parties," she says. "Many phone calls, sending out invitations, a lot of people piecing together things that I delegated. It was definitely a family and friends effort. I couldn't have done it without them."

Dozens of people attended the party, with dozens more just stopping by during the event to welcome Capt. Hale home. There were other family members, friends, church members, former school mates.. even enlisted fellow soldiers. Folks were treated to games like a one-legged race, easy question-and-answer sessions, and a game similar to musical chairs, but was more like musical food.

Speaking of food, one of the party highlights that got a lot of attention were a couple of cakes with military themes. One was a cake with a tank on top of it.. it received rave reviews from the crowd, and the other was a cake baked to look like an American flag.

The cakes were specially designed for the occasion by Karissa Deal, Trippy Deal's sister-in-law (email:

"I started planning those cakes a week before the party," she says. "I looked up stuff online to model them after and found pictures that inspired me to put a little creation together."

Karissa says the tank cake was pretty difficult, taking about 4 hours to make. "The hardest part of trying to figure out how to hold it all together, then get it out here all in one piece," she laughed. "If it wasn't put together right, any little movement and it's gonna all slide apart and look horrible by the time it gets to the destination. Luckily everything worked out all right."

Karrisa makes specialty cakes for birthdays, baby showers and other community events and says, the tank was the most elaborate she'd ever made.

"Oh I loved the cakes," Capt. Hale says. "My wife and her friends did a good job. It's no wonder everybody always wants her to design parties for them."


Captain Hale says he can appreciate life in Riverview now that he has seen what sometimes could be the dark side of human nature.

"Over there, there's war," he says somberly. "Here at home, there's no war. Over there, you watch your back constantly. We had 22 different nations there supporting the War on Terror, but you still had to watch your back. But at the same time, it was rewarding over there, meeting people representing peace and democracy working with the Afghans. The majority of the people over there are grateful that we are there helping them get their country back on track. Only a small percentage of people there wants us out and would do us harm, but we learned quickly they are very determined to carry out their terror missions. Watching your own back and those of your fellow soldiers was essential."


After a distinguished career in the military, what's next for Captain Dimingo Hale?

"I'm going to try and settle down for the next few weeks," he says. "Then I want to go back to my civilian job as a counselor. I work for Youth Villages, helping teenagers and their families cope with everyday pressures. I'm looking forward to actually getting back to that job, because it is so rewarding."

For the Hale family and friends, the welcome home party was the kickoff to a new life of ease and comfort.

"It's great having him home," Sarah says.

"He's the missing link in our family."