Monday, January 01, 2007

Letter Addressed to Editor of Memphis Commercial Appeal

City Problems Not All of One Color!

The recent tone in many of the letters to the eitor in the Commercial Appeal has left me amazed. I am aware that Memphis has a decided African American majority. However, local black politicians taking bribes and our inner city's gang problems are not the only things in this city that need to be corrected. Very few savvy individuals would believe that recent federal investigations have eliminated corruption in our city.
Our city has a festering race relations problem that needs to be addressed. So often in the letters to the editor I read that various writers are canceling their subscriptions after your newspaper makes an endorsement that many don't agree with, such as your recent endorsement of Harold Ford Jr. in his run for the U. S. Senate. Every problem in this city does not have an African American face tied to it.
Sensational journalism would dictate that a media outlet would scare the dickens out of its readers each and every day until they are so scared that to miss the daily news for just one day would bring the scourge of our city to each reader's front door. I don't agree with the slant of recent articles and the response that those articles have garnered. For every corrupt local African American politician, for every black gang banger arrested at Houston High or Cordova High that our local media always highlights, there are 20 hardworking local African Americans working exceptionally hard to make the American dream a reality. Let's cover some of them more oftem!
By the way, I don't think that Mayor Willie Herenton killed the manatee!

Stephen F. Smith

Ex Gangbanger Turns Life Around!

The right man
The Commercial Appeal
By David Waters
Ex-gangster turns life around, now he's on a mission with a message
January 1, 2007
T.J. spent a lot of years trying to be the man, but he turned out to be the wrong man.

"When I was recruiting for the gang, my first question was, 'Does his father stay with him?' 'Cause I don't need that," said Terrell 'T.J.' Johnson, a product of what he calls the North Memphis DNA -- Daddy Not Around.

"Give me a single mama with four boys by four different men, you know what I'm saying? You know they need money, protection, status, power. They need a strong man in their life. I'm going to supply them, even if I'm the wrong man."

T.J.'s drug-dealing, gang-banging, childhood-robbing days are long behind him. He was released from prison in 1999, freed from his sins in 2003. Now he's trying to be a good man by working for the right man as pastor of -- "take a long breath before you say it" -- the Greater Fellowship Faith Tabernacle Full Gospel Baptist Church in Bolivar, Tenn.

Pastor T.J., a bear of a man with a booming voice and a bone-crushing handshake, talks to kids every chance he gets. He tells them

his story -- how he was bad news before he found the Good News, how he was lost and then found, how he died and was reborn.

"Getting caught and getting punished isn't what turned me around," T.J. said. "It was the grace of God that turned me around. That and people who came into my life and treated me like a child of God. I needed those people with me when I was a kid, when my mama was on crack and when my daddy was not around. It was the O.G. (original gangster) in the 'hood that raised me."

T.J., who will admit to being in his 30s, was born in Chicago and brought to North Memphis to live with his great-grandparents when he was about 3. He attended Caldwell Elementary and Frayser High, but he got his real education in the alleys and empty lots of the Scutterfield neighborhood.

"My mother died a junkie," T.J. said. "She never stayed with us. She was always on the go. She had five children by five different men. ... I don't know my father. My great-grandparents were churchgoers, but they were too old to raise me. It was guys on the outside that took me in, the gangsters who said, 'Hey, this is what a .38 looks like and this is what a .45 looks like. I was taught how to hustle. It's like the mafia."

T.J. said he started running drugs when he was about 9, dealing drugs when he was about 15. He formed his own gang, the Insane Disciples. He had all the money, cars, girls, guns and insanity he needed.

"I found out that crime does pay," T.J. said. "I really couldn't spell and I couldn't read that good, but I could count money. I could use a triple-beam to weigh and measure drugs. I got caught up and fascinated. I got smothered with that type of life. If you don't fight you get beat or killed. You had to be hard. I had a spirit on me to throw gas on you and set you on fire. I had a bad spirit."

T.J. got caught up. Eventually he got caught. He was arrested late in 1991 and charged with possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) with intent to manufacture, deliver and sell. He pleaded guilty in March 1992 and was given an eight-year suspended sentence and fined $4,012. Two years later, he violated his probation. He was in prison until 1999.

When he got out, T.J. found his way to the city's Second Chance program, which helps one-time felony offenders re-enter society. Along the way he met Dr. Rita Dorsey, former head of the criminology department at Southwest Tennessee Community College. In 2002, Mayor Willie Herenton appointed Dorsey to direct the city's new Juvenile Violence Abatement Program.

Dorsey hired T.J. to help. She also treated him like a child of God. She taught him about taking responsibility. She taught him to identify and appreciate his gifts and how to be a role model.

T.J. spoke to hundreds of kids in dozens of city and county schools.

"Programs don't work. People work," Dorsey said. "I tend to be cynical when it comes to cons and ex-cons, but T.J. is sincere and he's effective. Kids listen to him because he keeps it real. He's been there."

T.J. got another second chance about three years ago when he met Bishop William Young and his wife, Pastor Diane Young, co-founders of the Healing Center Full Gospel Baptist Church. T.J. was struggling. His mother had died of an overdose. A month later, his younger brother was killed in a drug deal in Atlanta. T.J. vowed to avenge his brother's murder.

The Youngs taught T.J. about repentance and forgiveness. They taught him about grace. They taught him the Bible story of Saul, the Christian killer who -- by the grace of God -- became the Apostle Paul.

T.J. felt like a new man.

"What you see in T.J. is an example of a transformed life," said Bishop Young. "I've seen a lot of guys who said they've changed, but this guy is genuine. He shows he has changed."

Now, T.J. is pastoring the church in Bolivar, which was founded by the Youngs. He's trying to be a father to his 18-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. T.J. and his wife, Lisa (they were married in 2004), have formed the Wake Up Youth Foundation. They have a van, recently donated by WREG-TV, Dobbs Ford, City Auto and

They also have a mission and a message.

T.J. has taken that message all the way to the Washington. He spoke earlier this year at a conference for the President's Help America's Youth Initiative. In recent weeks, he has spoken to children and adults in Denver and Atlanta and several other cities.

It's a message he used to deliver all over Memphis and Shelby County. Late last year, the city, facing budget shortfalls and shifting away from community policing, pulled the plug on the Juvenile Violence Abatement Program. Dorsey was appointed to another position. T.J. was let go. But T.J. still speaks to kids and adults every chance he gets.

"Most of the kids I deal with today, they say, 'My mama be tripping' or 'My daddy, I don't know where that sucker's at.' They're angry. They're raising themselves. ... No wonder we've got 14-year-old kids having kids. That 14-year-old girl is on her own and she's easy prey for men. That 14-year-old boy has a friend who's 21 and you wonder why you've got a Glock in your house.

"I know. That 14-year-old boy was me. That man preying on the girls was me. We've got to raise our children. They can't raise themselves, and that's where the problem is. A lot of men, especially black guys, we say we're not with our baby's mama because of what that woman did to us ... .

"My point is this," said T.J., taking a long breath before he said it.

"See, it's the black man who has to go back and get his child. We've got to take care of our families. I mean the black man. If you don't raise your child, another man will and it will be the wrong man.

Commercial Appeal Article States Memphis Going Majority Black!

Metro going majority black
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By Jimmie Covington
December 31, 2006
The Memphis metro area is poised in a few years to become the nation's first large metropolitan area with a majority African-American population.

A good indication of what's to come can be gleaned from 2005 U.S. Census Bureau estimates that show the non-Hispanic white population in the eight-county Memphis metro area dipping below 50 percent for the first time.

The estimates show that group at 622,235 residents, or 49.4 percent of the area's 1,260,905 residents. The same 2005 estimates show 568,875 African-American residents, or 45.1 percent of the total population.

The numbers mean that while the non-Hispanic white population is still the largest group in terms of percentage, no single group makes up more than 50 percent of the total population -- for now. If current birth-death and migration trends continue, African-Americans will claim the 50 percent-plus distinction.

When that happens, the Memphis area may draw even more study than it is already receiving, says Dr. Louis Pol, a demographer at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a former faculty member at the University of Memphis.

"Clearly, people will be asking questions about how does a metro area with a predominantly African-American population do with regard to economic development, job growth and that type thing," he said.

"There will be issues regarding political structure and how people vote and whether or not they have been successful in bringing county and city services together. That is always a big issue in lots of places."

The Memphis area doesn't have the largest or the fastest-growing African-American population, but for several decades it has ranked No. 1 in percentage of African-American population among the nation's large metro areas.

The 2000 Census showed the Memphis area's black population at 43.2 percent. In the No. 2 spot was New Orleans at 37.4 percent, but Hurricane Katrina in 2005 resulted in a drastic reduction in New Orleans' population.

The U.S. already has 14 other metropolitan areas in which groups other than non-Hispanic whites make up more than 50 percent of the population, but the Hispanic population is the majority group in all but one of those areas. The Asian population is the largest group in Honolulu.

In the nation as a whole, the Census Bureau projects that non-Hispanic white residents will make up only 50 percent of the nation's residents by 2050. Non-Hispanic white residents now make up about 67 percent of the nation's population. The coming shift is primarily the result of the rapid Hispanic population growth.

Four states -- California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas -- already have groups other than non-Hispanic whites as the population leaders statewide. The Hispanic population is again the key factor in all but Hawaii, where Asians are the top group.

In the Memphis area, the white total was listed as 657,481, or 52.1 percent, in the 2005 estimates. However, the estimates show that 35,246 of the white residents were Hispanics. Under Census Bureau classifications, Hispanics can be of any race and most Hispanics report themselves as white.

Subtracting those who are Hispanic gives the figure of 622,235 for non-Hispanic whites.

Pol said when the Memphis area does become more than 50 percent African-American, it may be at least a decade, and perhaps two or more decades, before another large metropolitan area reaches the same distinction. However, Pol said a few smaller metro areas may have already reached that point or are almost there.

The five-county Jackson, Miss., metro area is nearing having African-Americans as the largest group, for example. But with a 2005 population estimate of 522,580, the Jackson area is not yet considered among the nation's large metro areas.

Rick Schneider, geography instructor at Northwest Mississippi Community College at DeSoto Center in Southaven, said he believes employment opportunities and housing availability are among factors that are shaping the demographics of the Memphis metro area.

"When you look at job growth in Memphis, my reaction tells me, from looking down on Shelby Drive and State Line Road, etc., and seeing those warehouses growing up like mushrooms, that the opportunities are in service industries," Schneider said.

-- Jimmie Covington: (662) 996-1406


Estimates from 2003 show the Memphis area ranked fifth in the percentage of African-American population among the nation's 361 metro areas. The four with higher percentages (all smaller markets) were:

Albany, Ga., 49.2 percent

Sumter, S.C., 48.9 percent

Pine Bluff, Ark., 46.4 percent

Jackson, Miss., 46.1 percent