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Sunday, March 29, 2015

East Tennessee Black Schools Closing 50th Anniversary: And The Reunion of the Ages in August!


A few key things were happening during the Civil Rights Movement in 1965.

African-Americans marched for the right to vote.  Their hearts were in it, but their community was not.

Black met white on a four-lane bridge in Selma, Alabama, and although the blood was red that flowed that March day 50 years ago, African-Americans did get the constitutional right to vote.

Almost 450 miles to the northeast, integration meant the end of African-American schools in upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.  It meant the end of segregation, but it also spelled the end of close relationships between black teachers and black students and the relationships those schools had with each other.

It was the end of the Bland High School in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.... Douglass High School in Bristol, Virginia.... Slater High School in Bristol, Tennessee.... Douglass High School in Kingsport, Tennessee.... Langston High School and the associated elementary schools in Johnson City, Tennessee.... Douglas High School in Elizabethton, Tennessee... Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Jonesborough, Tennessee....  George Clem High School in Greeneville, Tennessee.... Swift High School in Rogersville, Tennessee.... Morristown College High School in Morristown, Tennessee.... and Tanner High School in Newport, Tennessee.

The closings ripped the heart out of the African-American communities in those cities.

The void was filled by reunions held every two years between the individual black school alumni associations.  Alumni of the schools came from miles around to get together and reminisce about "the good ole days" and catch up with each other's lives.

But there has always been one resounding message at all of the reunions.

Wouldn't it be beautiful to have one big, giant reunion between all of the former African-American high schools in Upper East Tennessee?  A chance to relive some of the old rivalries, yet celebrate the wonderful friendships and kindred spirits that hundreds of students all shared back in the day.

The summer of 2015 will be the 50th anniversary of the closing of most of the African-American schools, from Knoxville to Bristol... from Newport to Big Stone.

Efforts are now underway to plan for that huge reunion in late August.  The date has been set for SATURDAY, AUGUST 29TH, the location to be announced.
The first planning meeting between members from some of the former schools' alumni associations was very productive.  Efforts are underway to contact other associations, to also get them involved in the planning process, with the ultimate goal... TO SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT THE UPCOMING BIG REUNION IN LATE AUGUST!

"I value the future and the need for people to know where we came from," says Vivian Releford, president of the Douglass Alumni Association, Bristol, VA.  "As a people, we have lost our self-esteem.  Our kids don't know how to stand up and be proud of who they are.  We have not done a good job of teaching them to be proud of their heritage, which includes the education that their ancestors received."

"That's why this big reunion is so important."

"Coming back together to share memories of what we went through back then, is a wonderful idea," said Sue Greenlee Gilispie of the Booker T. Washington Elementary School Alumni Association in Jonesborough.  "All of our teachers at the schools had cherished personal relationships with their students... we all shared that.  This reunion will reinforce that training with the alumni that are left, plus shed some light on what our young people need, as they prepare their own histories."

"I was in the last class at Slater," remembered Lawrence Bell, Jr., president of the Slater High School Alumni Association in Bristol, VA.  "We love our reunions, and we also love the friendships that we forged with other schools through athletic and academic competitions.  The social interaction was undeniably strong.  Integration was great....I don't want to go back.  At the same time, it was hurtful in a lot of ways.  This big reunion is a good thing, to reminisce and fellowship with people we all have something in common with.  It will show our communities that we survived.... we endured.... we perserved.... WE MADE IT WORK."

"We all have a story," relayed Mary Alexander with the Langston Heritage Group of Johnson City.  "Our stories are all interwoven with each other.  Through this big reunion, we need to let people know that our stories are important to our communities.  If we don't tell those stories, they die with us.  When we get together for this reunion, those stories live on.... when we tell those stories to our young people, they will know how special our histories are... how they are part of those histories."

"I see a Tri-State history," she went on.  "It just blows my mind, the potential of a reunion like this.  I think this is so exciting.  We've got something to show off.  It's our histories, our collective histories.  Everybody needs to be a part of this.  I just can't wait.  I love it, LOVE IT.  We are important!  We matter.  OUR HISTORIES MATTER!"

"My grandson came in the other day," remembers Brenda Akins Charles, also with the Langston Heritage Group, "and he says 'Me-me... did you have white friends back then?'  I said, 'of course, I had white friends.  I guess he was expecting me to say 'no.'  This is why the idea of a big reunion is important.  What must other young people think about our history?  This is a chance to show the young people what we did, how we did it, and why it's important to them."

"50 years is an anniversary worth celebrating," said Doug Releford, president of the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Association in Kingsport.  "Our numbers are dropping fast.  Our past is going away just as fast.  If 50 years of celebrating voting rights is important down in Selma, Alabama for the country, remembering our black schools that closed 50 years ago, is also important to us here in our corner of the world."

"My dream has always been to have a big reunion like this," says Barbara Love-Watterson with Langston.  "Doug Releford can back me up on this.. we tried to get the idea of a big reunion going, but it never got off the ground.  Then I spoke to Calvin and he got excited, which made me excited about it again.  Our children have lost their heritage.. they don't know who they are or where they came from, they don't know their backgrounds.  Nobody teaches the importance of family histories in school, so we have to do that job ourselves."

"This big reunion is the first step in doing that."

Jeanette Clark from the Douglas Alumni Association in Elizabethton sees the Big Reunion as bringing together old friends and reinforcing the black communities the alumni all represent.  "By discussing and remembering what our heritages are about, it's a reaffirmation of our values.  Although we have our individual reunions, our children don't seem interested.  It'd be hard to ignore a reunion of this magnitude."

"This reunion takes us to the next level," she says.  "It re-ignites the soul.. it fires us up.  The communities we live in, will see how important this is to us, and they will want to take part.  Our young people will want to join in, because they'll see how important it is to us.  The extra items is, they will see how important it is to THEM.  There's no way to ignore it."

"This big reunion is necessary," the group collectively agreed.

The group went ahead and set a date for the gathering.  It will be Saturday, August 29th, with an alternate date of Saturday, September 12th.  The thought, group members decided, would be a central location easy for people to get to, that has adequate overnight lodging if folks need that.  Specific events that day, will also be decided later, with the thoughts ranging from active displays from each school of academic competitions, to notable speakers from the era.

Discussed locations include places that both allow liquor and those that do not.  They include the banquet room at the United Methodist Church in Blountville, the assembly area at Northeast State, Meadowview Conference Center in Kingsport, the Doubletree Hotel in Johnson City, Freedom Hall and the Millineum Center both in Johnson City.  Ms. Clark pointed out that the event is about unity, not about where it is.. that "we're coming together as a people to fellowship, to reunion and to celebrate our previous pasts.  The Big Reunion itself is the motivating factor for attending, not where it's being held.   Mary Alexander volunteered to scout out several locations and report back to the group's next meeting.

At the close of this first meeting, Calvin Sneed of the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Association, Kingsport, reminded the group of its charge.... to take the enthusiasm from the group and spread it among their various alumni association members to get people to attend, and to also contact and encourage the boards of other black school alumni associations to attend the Reunion organizational meetings, so that everybody will have a voice.  Sneed said the focus of the group is "not what we cannot do, but what we CAN do.  Any suggestion is workable and everybody's ideas count."



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Will There Be A 2015 Douglass Reunion?

That's the question the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Board of Directors  is pondering right now.

Not many people are responding whether or not they're coming to the reunion, planned for the upcoming July 4th weekend, according to board president Douglas Releford.

"For some reason, we just can't get the alumni to contact us to let us know if they'll be coming to the event this summer," Releford says.  "We have heard from a few people, but not nearly enough that would justify even the minimum of what we would plan for.  We've been pleading with folks to let us know.  We can't plan anything unless we get an estimate of how many will attend."

Releford says, PLANNING is the key word, because as in years past, most of the Douglass alumni have waited until two weeks to a month before the reunion to say they're coming.  That, he says, throws a wrench into the planning process.

"Food has to be ordered several months in advance," he says.  "Don't forget... we're talking about the 4th of July weekend.  Food vendors are going to be very busy preparing food for many other events going on at the same time, even trays of cold cuts from the area deli's and grocery stores have to be ordered.. drinks have to be bought.  If you wait until June and tell us you're coming, people we've already called and reserved food, will already have commitments to other people and other groups for the 4th of July.

"If we give the food vendors a set number and more people come than they're prepared for, there's a good chance some folks won't eat," Releford says.

"We just can't wait until the last minute."

An extra treat for the Douglass Reunion this time, is something the event has not done in a long time.  A planned picnic, but this one to Bays Mountain Park, Kingsport's quiet, peaceful, environmental crown jewel, 3 miles from Riverview, that for many people will be a reunion with their childhoods.

No doubt, the 4th of July weekend will be busy for the park.

That event to entertain the Douglass alumni, Releford says, cannot be planned or even booked, unless the folks at the park are given an estimate of how many alumni will attend.

Down in Riverview, there's an even more pressing need to know the numbers.

"There's tents, tables and chairs," Releford added.  "If we have one number and more people come, the tables and chairs they are to use, could have been sent somewhere else already.  Facilities have to be either rented, brought over, or set up, with the number of people you expect.  If the people that provide those facilities have got something else going on that's been booked several months in advance and more people come to the reunion than you've heard from, you're just out of luck."

In that event, he says, people who've waited until the last minute will be mad if they come and there aren't enough facilities to handle them.  And he says unfortunately, they'll be mad at the alumni board for creating the problem of not providing enough.

It's a problem, Releford says, that could be avoided, if everybody who's coming to the reunion, let the alumni board know way in advance they're coming.

Further compounding the problem.. the numbers are slowly dwindling for Douglass alumni.

"Our people are passing away fast," says Releford.  "Every year, we lose many alumni who have always come to reunions, and we plead with folks to come home and fellowship with each other.  Any reunion you go to, could be anybody's last reunion.  It could be the last time you see someone you grew up with, that you went to school with, hung out with, went to church with.  You just never know these days."

Releford says, the board has made many attempts to contact folks to find out their reunion status.  "We've put it on our website, we've put it on Facebook, we've put it in church bulletins, we've asked around at birthday celebrations, we've even tried just word of mouth," he laments.  "As we always do, we sent out a mailer to all of the alumni addresses we have on file, since the last reunion.  Half of the mailings came back with no forwarding address, meaning.... we wasted alumni funds on stamps that went nowhere."

To the alumni base, Releford says:  "We don't know where you are, unless you tell us."

Releford offers a quick, easy solution to the problem of knowing how many to count for at this year's reunion.  "Just let us know," he says.  "I would rather have people let us know right now, way in advance that they're coming.  Then if, for whatever reason they cannot attend, all we have to do is call the vendors and scale back our numbers.  That food and facilities can go somewhere else."

If you are coming to the 2015 Douglass School Reunion, please let the alumni board know at either of these two email addresses: or


You can even call the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni office in Kingsport at (423) 343-9544 and leave a message.

Releford says the 2015 reunion is in dire straits, unless alumni step to the plate, and do the right thing.

"If we don't hear from enough folks," he says sadly, "the 2013 reunion may have been the last one."

New Vision Youth Fundraiser

We will be having a Breakfast Fundraiser on Saturday March 28 from 8-11AM at the Bethel AME Zion Church in Kingsport.

We will be serving Biscuits and Gravy, Eggs, Sausage, Milk, Orange Juice and Coffee.

All proceeds goes toward our educational fun trip to Bahamas.

For more info contact Johnnie Mae Swagerty at (423)429-7553

Friday, March 20, 2015

Douglass Alumni Gifts to Lincoln School: More Than Just Pencils And Paper

"You'd never know to look at school kids, what their real needs are."

That was the message from Sons and Daughters of Alumni president Douglas Releford, as the alumni group presented gifts to the school children of Lincoln Elementary School in Kingsport.  The gifts were in the form of items purchased with a community block grant awarded from the city to the alumni association.

"Since we're a non-profit association," Releford says, "when the city received a community block grant, we applied for part of that and was awarded $2,500.  We decided to use that to give back to children in the community by providing school supplies like pencils, paper, crayons and things like that."

It wasn't until the school provided a list of items the children needed, that Releford was taken aback.

"I was surprised by what was on the list," he remembers.  "It included things like underwear, socks, sweat shirts and pants, gloves and coats.  Most of the time, you think kids need paper, pencils, markers, posters, notebooks, erasers, rulers, things like that.  Those were on the list, too.  But then, items needed that were for comfort, actually touched the heart.  Some of these kids come to school without the basic necessary items to make them comfortable.  Feeling good in your classroom is part of the learning process.  If the child is uncomfortable, has cold hands and feet during cold weather, or on the other hand, wears clothes that generate too much heat when it's warm, they're not comfortable.  It's difficult for families on a fixed income to provide absolutely everything for their child's comfort."

"We just knew we had to do something to help these children."

For 2015, Congress has allocated $2.8 billion dollars to go for community development block grants around the country.  Although that is a reduction of $230 million dollars from last year, Kingsport received $317,466 dollars to be distributed through block grants.

The Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Association applied for and received $2,500 of that money.

"The way community block grants work is, the group that gets one targets a need in their community," Releford says.  "The group then makes the purchases for beneficial goods or services, disburses that in the community, then is reimbursed for what they have spent, through the block grant.  This was the first time the alumni association has ever received part of a grant, so we wanted to target a specific need."

"There's no doubt that we made a good choice."

Together with alumni board members Andra Watterson and Judy Phillips, necessary clothing items were purchased at both of Kingsport's Walmart stores.

"Everything we needed was there," Watterson says.  "We bought book bags, underclothes, shirts, socks, pants, tops, and sweat shirts, along with traditional school supplies.  We even bought deodorants and hand sanitizers for the kids.  The idea was to buy items that they could use at school as well as home.  We purchased a set number of each product to make sure that we didn't miss a needed item."

Releford and his committee worked with the Lincoln principal Mrs. Shelia Newland, the school maintenance employee, and a state social worker, to identify the school children felt to be in the most need and get the necessary items in their hands.

More than 50 children benefited from the items purchased by the Sons and Daughters Alumni Association, at a cost of more than 770 dollars.

"I feel that the school kids may not have gotten this kind of assistance if we hadn't applied for and received the block grant to help them out," Releford says.  "The school was just so grateful."

Why did the alumni association pick Lincoln Elementary?

"At one time, all of the minority children in Kingsport went to Lincoln," Releford says, "having gone to Washington Elementary at first.  When that school moved, Lincoln began receiving the minority and low-income children and today, that is still the case.  We just felt that those kids would need more assistance than other kids in the city.  That's not to say that the other schools don't need the help, too, but with more of the minority and lower-income children going to Lincoln, we felt like those kids could use our help more than some of the other schools could."

This won't be the last time Lincoln gets the help.  Releford says the alumni association will use the rest of its portion of the block grant elsewhere for the kids.  "This experience has taught us that, no matter what you see on the surface, some kids need more than just pencils and paper for reading, writing and arithmetic," he says.  "They also need comfortable clothes, personal hygiene items, even little energy snacks."

"All of that helps make the learning experience in elementary school a positive one."

And the help won't stop there.

"When the city receives another community block grant, we will definitely apply for a portion of it," says Releford.  "We'll be looking for other programs that need funding in our community, and once we find it, identify it, and research them, we will use the block grant to help them along, too."

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Say No... To Tobacco!


Monday, March 16, 2015

Coach Robert C. Deering: A Tribute from One of his Douglass Players



Mr. Robert C. Deering was a terrific classroom teacher and an extraordinary basketball and football coach at Douglass.  Interestingly, the athletes never called him "Coach Deering."  I suppose it was out of respect for the things he did for us off the field.  I always marveled at how he stood before our biology class and rattled off information.  He never looked down at his notes or at the textbook.  And, when someone came up with a wild guess in response to one of his probing questions, he'd always come up with a philosophical statement.  No doubt, my former classmates will remember his remark to the late Jim Nash---"it's better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt."

A good portion of Mr. Deering's half-time speech to our team, can't be printed today.  His sizzling rhetoric fired us up (or scared us) into playing harder.  It always made us a good second half team.  I must say something about his trusted friend, sidekick and assistant Wilbur Hendricks.  'Fess' is what we called Mr. Hendricks behind his back because that's what Mr. Deering always called him.  'Fess' ' favorite line is one that I used a few times with the teams I coached at Oak Ridge High School:  "Sometimes you just can't make chicken salad out of chicken s#!*."  As an adult, I look back and realize that both Mr. Deering and Fess had coaching philosophies that were right for the times.  They didn't try to be someone that they were not.  Their lessons were simple.  "Be on time, accept responsibility for your actions, give your best effort, and be good citizens in the community."

I look at some of the old photographs and marvel at how young most of us were in the early and mid 60's.  As a member of the Douglass Tiger footballt team, I'll never forget two events at J. Fred Johnson Stadium ('J. Fred' as we called it).  Mr. Deering stood there by the dressing room door in the bowels of J. Fred Johnson Stadium... he was wearing those brown wing-tip brogue shoes, nervously clicking his heels together as he always did, and his dress pants leg rolled up just above his ankles.  That was his coaching attire.  (Many will recall that we played our games on either Thursday night or Saturday night.  DB had dibs on the stadium on Friday night.  Frequently, when we played on Saturday night, the stadium was overruning with fans, many of them white citizens.)

That night, frustrated by the play of one of my teammates, Mr. Deering threw his cup of hot coffee against a wall on the other side of the room.  Thirty or more players were in that room trying to regroup.  "Bug" Horton said it first, but anyone who was there that night, will confirm his statement.  Every one of us got wet when that small eight-ounce cup of coffee splashed against the wall!  Then, on a different night, it was my time to be chewed out for throwing a TD pass to James McMiller in the Bluefield game.  We scored, but I didn't run the play that Mr. Deering called from the sideline.  It made him even angrier when I admitted that 'Pookie' McMIller actually called the play in the huddle, demanded that I throw the ball to him, and I didn't have the guts to challenge him.  I learned what "controlling the huddle" meant that night

Some things stay with you forever.

How can I overlook the night against Elizabethton, when 'Pookie' caught a pass and outran the entire Elizabethton secondary.  At the 50-yard line, he made an abrupt left turn toward the sidelines and stepped out of bounds and handed the football to Mr. Deering.  He admitted afterwards--and Mr. Deering concurred--that Mr. Deering wanted to let some of the younger fellows play if we got the ball to midfield.  'Pookie' was merely following instructions.  The younger players played and scored.  That story can be found in a Times-News article if you don't believe my account.

 Mr. Deering always required us to run laps around the Douglass practice field before football practice, to loosen up each day.  I hated that and the 'duck walk' and the 'crab walk' too.  I never complained to him.... no one did.  No drinking water during practice either.  Boy, how things have changed.  Mr. Deering really liked my brother Jim.  I suppose he'd be called a 'team manager' today.  Mr. Deering allowed Jim to sneak water out on the practice field and gave it to players.

How can I forget that first year players had to demonstrate their toughness and desire to play football, by lining up in front of guys like Doug Releford, Ruben Adams, Clifford Lewis and Harry Truelove.  Doug is a really nice guy.. always has been.  But, boy how his demeanor changed in a football uniform!  I suppose that's one reason why he was always a leader of our team.  Poor Butch Hendricks was salivated during one of these drills.  But he never quit... I always admired him for that.

We often scrimmaged against the 'old Douglass vets' who would come by practice from time to time.  I hated playing against those ole timers.  They didn't have to prove anything to us.  We already admired most of them.  All that stopped in about 1964, when Varley Hickman hit one of the old timers and broke the guy's leg (even Skip's dad, Mr. Simp Brown would be out there giving advice.  Thank goodness he was too old to line up against us.  Many of the ole timers told us that Simp Brown may have been one of the best to ever wear a Douglass uniform.  No doubt he passed that on to Skip.)


Mr. Deering allowed me to play quarterback for almost two years.  It was a humbling experience.  One I did not seek.  He made sure that I knew he selected me, not because of my ability.  He jokingly told me I was the only one scared enough to do what I was told and I could remember the plays he called.  I believe I can still tell you how to run a T-3, T-4 pass... and a T-7, T-8, H & E pass.... and an F-2-at-8 from the Douglass playbook.

And who can forget the memorable night  Mr. Deering ordered us out of the Langston High School locker room at halftime of the basketball game.  Some of the schools in the Tri-State Conference in which we played, invented the word 'home cooking."  I still remember the score at halftime that night---54 to 17.  The father of one of the Langston players was calling the game (that's the truth!)  At halftime, Douglass had 5 or 6 basketball players left on our team who had not fouled out.  We were sitting on the bus (the 'yellow hound') when the buzzer sounded for the start of the second half. Someone shouted from the front door "they're not in the dressing room, they are on the bus!"  I was genuinely afraid for my safety that night.  Some of the rowdy Langston fans came outside and started rocking the school bus we were on.  Thank goodness, we got out of there.

I guess you've figured out from my early comments... Mr. Deering hated losing!  He tried to instill that in us, too.  I'll admit that he did other things while he was our coach---but coaches are supposed to be legendary, aren't they?

As the years have passed, I realize he really impacted my life and the lives of many of my teammates and friends in a positive way.  He taught us how to compete.  He taught us how to respect the game. He made us tougher men.  He made us better people---more caring  and more respectful of others. Mr. Deering and 'Fess' were rough on all of us, but they were firm and fair.  Mr. Deering didn't have kids, so I guess that's why he treated us like we were all his children.  My teammates and friends loved and respected him and Fess.

I hope someone in the community is doing that same thing for this generation of young people in Kingsport.

                                                        ---DON HICKMAN

Brickyard Park Opening Postponed: Clay Hill Ballfields Weather Setback


By Matthew Lane

KINGSPORT — February was not kind to Brickyard Park and March hasn’t been much better.
As a result of two weeks of snow last month and days of rain this month, the Eastman Invitational tournament scheduled for the first weekend in April at Brickyard Park will have to be moved to other facilities.

Chris McCartt, assistant city manager for administration, said this was the message that came out of a recent meeting between city officials and Denark Construction, the Knoxville-based company that is building Brickyard Park.


“A meeting took place last week and the consensus was, while they’re working as hard as they possibly can, the weather has left the fields extremely wet,” McCartt said. “We were hoping to be able to meet our goal of having the fields up and ready by the first of April. At this point, that apparently is not going to be realistic.”

Denark Construction has been working at a steady clip since last April to build Kingsport’s new ball field complex, Brickyard Park. The fields are located on a portion of the old General Shale property along Industry Drive and are a replacement for the now gone Eastman ball fields on Wilcox Drive.

Brickyard Park will have four ball fields in a wagon-wheel design, with a centrally located two-story building for scoring, concessions and restrooms, along with 245 parking spaces. Grading has been done for a future fifth field and the property has room for an additional 78 parking spaces if necessary.

Two of the fields will be 325 feet, one championship field will be 350 feet with terrace seating, while the fourth field comes in at 300 feet.

Other than some minor work done to the scoring tower, no earthmoving equipment was on site and in operation since Feb. 16, the day of the first major snowfall.


“February was about a complete loss,” McCartt said. “We knew going into the month of February, if it was a carbon copy of January, we would not meet the objective we set for ourselves.”

Though the weather has not been kind, McCartt said Denark is staying within budget. The cost of the project (including site work and construction) is approximately $6.9 million.

In January, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen received an optimistic update on the project, how construction was moving at a strong and steady pace, and that city officials were holding out hope of meeting the April deadline.

Of course, the construction schedule from the start has been contingent upon the weather, especially given how much of it was to be done during the winter months.

 The fields have been graded and three are ready for sod, the poles around the fields have been installed and the two-story building is up. Kingsport needs about 30 days of good weather to allow the sod to take root and knit together.

Once the weather improves, the first thing Denark will do is the sod work, then the concrete work around the scoring tower and then pave the entrance road and parking lot.

In the meantime, the Eastman Invitational will have to be shuffled to other fields within town, mainly to nearby Domtar Park.

“We met with the tournament organizer and we’re working on some other options. Some games will be played at Domtar Park and we’re looking to move other games elsewhere,” McCartt said.

The Eastman Invitational is a girl’s high-school-aged softball tournament and is now in its 19th year. Brian Tate, an assistant principal at Dobyns-Bennett High School and organizer of the tournament, said he expects 40 teams to compete in this year’s event.

McCartt said the fields at Brickyard Park would likely be ready for a second tournament scheduled at the facility in late April.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Happy 87th Birthday "Mama Jill Ellis!

Happy birthday, Virgealia Ellis!

Of course, she's known to her family, which includes her sons and daughters and also hundreds of students, friends, neighbors and Riverview and Kingsport residents as "Mama Jill."

One of the matriachs of Riverview was celebrated at her 87th birthday party on February 28th.

But is it her 87th?

Mama Jill is a Leap Baby, having been born on February 29, 1928.

Since leap years only come every 4 years, that would make Mama Jill 21 years old this year.

Right now, there are about 4 million people in the world who were all born on Leap Day, and the chances of having a Leap Day birthday are 1 in 1,461.  Leap Day babies are considered to have special talents and abilities because of of their status.  And we all know, Mama Jill is one special lady!

Happy birthday, Mama Jill...... you don't look a day over 21!





New Vision Youth Visits Jonesborough: An African-American Adventure


We never knew this was here."

That was the universal reaction, as the New Vision Youth of Kingsport visited Tennessee's oldest town for Black History Month.

"Most of the kids did not know that Jonesborough was the oldest town in the state," says New Vision Director Johnnie Mae Swagerty.  "We had so much fun learning about Rogersville and the Price Public-Swift Museum and they saw the date Rogersville was founded and just thought Rogersville was the oldest.  It's wonderful that they can learn about both towns."

In Jonesborough, the group visited the jewel of Tennessee's oldest town.  The McKinney Center was renovated from the former Booker T. Washington Elementary School.

From Jonesborough's webpage:

"The McKinney Center is located in the historic Booker T. Washington School, at 103 Franklin Avenue.  The school was originally completed in 1939 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) program and opened its doors in 1940 for the purpose of instructing African-American children in grades first through eight.  The school operated until integration in 1965 and then sat dormant until 2010, when the Town of Jonesborough decided to restore the building."

From the Jonesborough, TN website:

"The building was renamed in honor of the McKinney Family, whose members have made great contributions to the town of Jonesborough.  Ernest L. McKinney served as principal of the Booker T. Washington School, and also served as the first African-American alderman in Jonesborough, voted into office on April 4, 1968.  McKinney's son Kevin McKinney, served as the first African-American Mayor in Jonesborough from April 1988 to April 1996."

"There was a play here about 5 years ago," says McKinney Center program director Pam Daniels.  "It was called 'I Am Home" that was the catalyst that raised community awareness of the building.  It was a wonderful play, with members of the community coming in and telling their own stores.  The town has been instrumental in its renovation and the building became occupied again in January 2014."

The New Vision Youth members toured the historic building, and were awed by little things, such as the two classrooms that Booker T. Washington students studied in, from grades one through eight.

"When the kids found out that all those grades were crowded into those two classrooms, they were astonished," says Swagerty.  "In an instant, they learned that what you have to get educated, is a lot different than what you don't have.  The quality of an education isn't so much about the big things in a school, but it's more about the smaller things.  You can get just as good an education in a two-room school as one that has 20."

"The kids that went to Booker T. Washington took something small and made their education big."

The New Vision Youth questions about detail, caught the attention of their host, who was quite impressed with the kids' discipline and stewardship.

"It was wonderful to have them here and for them to be so attentive," Daniels says.  "They really seemed to want to hear what I had to say about the school.  They wanted to participate.. they asked questions even as we walked through the classrooms."

"They wanted to learn about this place and wanted to understand what was the Booker T. Washington School."

"For that reason," she says..... "I feel like I was the blessed one today."

"I thought I was coming in today just to have a tour," she went on.  "But again, I'm the blessed one. "

"What a wonderful group of children."

Again, from the Jonesborough website:

"Today, the McKinney Center serves as a preserver of its historic building, and is committed to documenting and interpreting the history and stories from the Booker T. Washington School.  The McKinney Center is a devoted community space intended to welcome, and engage, and gring together, all members of its community.  The McKinney Center accomplishes these goals through Jonesborough's Mary B. Martin Program for the Arts.  The arts program is designed to sinpire area residents through appreciation for an participation in, the various forms of art and expression."

For more information about the McKinney Center and reserving its classrooms and banquet room for anniversaries, parties, reunions, corporate and award dinners, meetings, and other events, call the Special Programs Coordinator at 423-753-5097.