Saturday, December 26, 2009

Manage Your Mess and Maximize Opportunity in 2010

2010 Holds Peace, Prosperity and Promise

Happy New Year to all of you who log on and tell a friend, who tells a friend about As we step into 2010, I sincerely hope that your New Year is full of peace, prosperity and promise. We all harbor a dream that in some way has been deferred for a number of reasons, perhaps in or out of our control. There are places we'd like to visit but may not necessarily feel we'll ever get a chance to see. There are likely people in your family you really need to talk to and patch up your fragile or ripped communication hole. Let's make this year the year that YOU get some things in order that will help improve your life financially, spiritually, professionally and emotionally.

It is understandable that to accomplish your goals, you will have to eliminate excess baggage or like at the airport,  prepare yourself to pay the price for bringing extra with you. In essence, you have to evaluate your inner-circle and decide who needs to stay and who needs to go. However you decide to move forward in this new year, remember there is a right and wrong way to deal with everything. My advice is that you not only consider the consequences but grab a pen and paper, make a list of things you want to achieve in 2010, how you plan to be successful and draft an outline of your outcome, should you fail to take action.

On a personal note, through, I will continue to work harder on bringing you stories that entertain, educate and encourage you on a personal, professional and practical level.

Maniko Barthelemy

Monday, December 21, 2009

Get to Grandma's House Safely

Road Trip: 101

A heavy snowfall just days before Christmas is a treat to children and animals alike. It offers the perfect opportunity to build one of the best snowmen on the block and allows dogs to a chance to exercise in an
alternative way.

However, snow also brings with it dangerous and deadly consequences for drivers who take a chance on the roads. The recent blizzard that blanketed the East Coast, although meteorologists gave repeated warnings to drivers to stay off the road, left many drivers stuck on highways that were closed because of the snow or accidents. Between Dec. 18 and Dec. 20, Virginia State Police got 3,000 calls, regarding disabled vehicles, stuck in snow. In at least two of the four fatal crashes in the state, as a result of the blizzard, drivers lost control of the vehicles and were not wearing seatbelts. The 68-year-old woman and a 36-year-old man were thrown from the vehicle upon impact. “There’s no one single theory as to why people don’t wear seatbelts but everyone should understand the purpose of the seatbelt,” says Virginia State Police spokesperson, Corinne Geller. “Seatbelts are there to hold you in place, no matter what happens to your vehicle,” she adds.

Even more severe weather is predicted for the next few days across the East Coast and is expected to flow right into the holiday highway rush. According to AAA, nearly 80 million drivers will travel at least an hour or more, during this holiday season. It is without question that a lot of those drivers will have children onboard. While your time on the road may differ slightly more or less than someone else, if you have children in the vehicle with you, there are safety precautions you should not ignore. For some, it’s no big deal to let your child fall asleep on someone’s lap or take a nap on the floor of an SUV or minivan but that’s a temptation you should ignore and use your better judgment, according to Geller. “I can’t tell you how many accidents our officers have investigated, where they have to tell parents their children did not survive the crash,” says Geller.
Wearing a seatbelt isn’t the only safety precaution drivers should consider before taking off to get to grandma’s house for Christmas or the New Year. As you pack your suitcase and holiday gifts, AAA and Virginia State Police recommend a few vital items no one should be on the road without, especially in the winter.

In addition to coats, gloves and hats, your winter road survival kit shoud include;
• Flashlight with fresh batteries

• Blankets

• Booster cables

• Warning device, such as flares or reflective triangle

• Small bag of abrasive material, such as sand or cat litter

• Cloth or a roll of paper towels

• Small shovel

• Cell phone

• Can of de-icer

• Ice scraper

• Hand-warmers

• Cell phone car charger

• Get plenty of rest before the trip

• Bottled Water

• Snow Boots

• Booster/Car seat for children

You can call #77 from your cell phone for help if you have trouble in Virginia. You can also check Virginia road conditions by calling 511 from your cell phone.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Holiday Shoppers on a Budget, Criminals on a Mission

A woman who thought she was just giving directions to someone became a crime victim in a matter of seconds. Reportedly, when 22-year-old Julia Corker of Tennessee started talking to a young man at a busy intersection around 9:30 p.m., another man approached her Chevrolet Tahoe and ordered Corker out. Corker, the daughter of Sen. Bob Corker (R), Tennessee did not move fast enough for the criminals. According to Todd Womack, the senator’s chief of staff, the carjackers grabbed Corker by the neck and dragged her out of the SUV.

Thankfully two things happened that brought about quick relief. The senator’s daughter sustained minor injuries and police say a Global Positioning System led officers to a strip mall in Maryland. The two suspects, 25-year-old Steven Alston, of Northeast, DC and 22-year-old Dewalden Connors of Maryland, were sitting in the vehicle. They are being held in a Maryland jail and await extradition to Washington, DC. Both face charges of possession of a stolen vehicle and unarmed carjacking.
The timing of the crime and technique is a teachable moment for everyone, especially as millions of shoppers hit malls across the country buying holiday gifts. “All criminals look for two things, an opportunity and people they view as easy targets, says Baltimore City Detective, Donny Moses.

The holiday season likely rolls out easy targets with valuable merchandise. The National Retail Federation predicts the average shopper will spend around $682 on family members and friends. Maple Morgan, 34, has a holiday list and a budget. “I plan to spend about $500 this year,” says Morgan. Morgan also has a plan to ensure her gifts safely make it from the mall to her home. “I usually shop with a group of friends because it’s a lot of fun and it also protects you from being robbed,” says Morgan. Her holiday precaution is in-line with a list of safety measures police suggest everyone considers, as they are out and about buying presents.

Just as you scour retail stores, strip malls and outlets looking for a great sale, criminals think the same way. “If you exit a store with a bunch of bags in your hand and you are trying to search for keys and talking on a cell phone, what you’re giving a criminal an invitation,” says Moses. Another way to ward off robbers is to not toss shopping bags on the backseat of your vehicle and make multiple trips to stores. “Lock those gifts up in you trunk,” says Moses. “We have a lot of problems with people getting their cars broken into because they leave valuables exposed,” he adds.

Like many shoppers, Morgan may find herself alone as she narrows down her holiday to-do list. For that she has a plan too. “If I’m alone, I usually ask a mall security officer to escort me to my car,” says Morgan. “I’m more cautious about being safe around the holiday season because I think that’s when criminals are out looking to take whatever they can because they know you have money and gifts.”
“I usually shop with a group of people for two reasons. I have a lot of fun with friends and it also adds an extra layer of protection,” says Morgan.

All of the shopping safety tips seem simple and self-explanatory but with all of the distractions, holiday cheer and energy that consume millions around this time of year, the basics are easy to forget. In many cases, as with the recent carjacking in the nation’s capitol, losing sight of being safe can quickly become costly.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

'Tis the Season to be Careful

Coming up Monday, find out how you can avoid being an easy target for robbers this holiday season.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Leave the Fuss Out of the Food

Thanks for logging on to Newsheels. It's time for all of us to grab a plate and pile it with what we want and honestly, a lot of what we don't need to eat. However, you can't beat some of the best seasoned food and perfectly baked cakes and pies that take all year to plan. Aside from filling your stomach, treasure the Thanksgiving moments, conversations and comedic acts your family is guaranteed to deliver. Of course, we all have that one clown in the family, the one who refuses to get a real job or career, then there's the family know-it-all, the aunt whose food goes untouched because it's bland or just plain nasty, mix them all up and you have the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

Food, fun and family all together, give us a raw peek into our family tree like nothing else. While there are so many ways we desire to change people in our genetic pool we view as educationally, financially or emotionally broken, this isn't the time to remind anyone of their failures. Thanksgiving should be about highlighting God's grace, speaking positively about and to everyone. For many it's a lot easier said than done but it's certainly not impossible. Some of the best ways to keep issues from erupting is to give everyone something to do, take lots of photos but let the kids act as photographers, tell funny stories, eat yourself silly, play games with the kids, watch football and sleep. Once you do all of that, there's no room for fussing or feuding.

Happy Thanksgiving,
Maniko Barthelemy

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Interesting, Intriguing and Pleasing Indianapolis

Midwest City Full of Swagger and Satisfaction

Why are you going to Indianapolis? My four friends and I were asked that question every time we told someone where our 8th annual “Waiting to Exhale Trip” was going to take place. We are a melting pot of cultures, which includes New Orleans, Los Angeles and Jamaica. We brought with us our traditions and expectations for everything from food to entertainment, scenery and shopping. Indianapolis is nothing like Miami, Chicago, New York or Vegas, which are all places we’ve been in the past. However, it should pop up on your radar as a vacation spot because Indy offers everything many popular cities offer but the Midwest twist is at a more relaxed pace. Imagine Baltimore minus terrible traffic and its famous waterfront and you have Indianapolis. There is enough to do in the city to hold your attention, respect your wallet and satisfy your appetite.

The main strip in downtown Indianapolis is South Meridian Street. In a four block radius you’ll find a three level shopping mall, five night clubs, a comedy club and at least ten restaurants, some local and others chain restaurants. Hotels dot the strip as well. The Homewood Suites hotel, however, is likely the best option because the rooms are spacious with two full beds, two flat screen TVs, a mini-kitchen, sofa bed and free wireless connection. The hotel is only three years old. It has a computer room for guests, an indoor pool, laundry room and restaurant, which serves continental breakfast every morning.

Our happy shopping feet took us to The Circle Centre shopping mall. It is directly across the street from Homewood Suites. The mall has three levels and whether you want to splurge or sporadically shop, you’ll be pleased. Flagship stores like Nordstrom, Express, Coach and Ann Taylor, as well as the trendy stops like Forever 21, The Gap and Bakers Shoes are all tenants.

The city’s service industry deserves a salute. During our four- day visit, we noticed at every store and restaurant, staff members embodied the perfect balance between helping customers and doing their jobs in a respectable way. “The clerks in the mall knew how to help you without being overbearing,” says Natalie Bell, a California native. “There’s nothing I hate more than being followed around in a store,” she adds. During a shoe shopping trip at Nordstrom, a store clerk overheard our conversation about finding a great steakhouse. He called and personally made our reservation at St. Elmo. It’s a staple in the city for its Italian roots and steak recipes that are superb.

The white table cloth, brown leather chairs and carpeted private room steakhouse restaurant, where servers wear suits and bow ties could likely battle it out with any Texas steakhouse. The steaks were cooked exactly the way they were ordered, seasoned with the perfect blend of salt, pepper and house secret seasonings and their famous shrimp cocktail is not for tourists with a mild palate. “Oh my goodness that cocktail sauce was good but it was very hot,” says Johnette Dillon, a New Orleans native. If you can’t finish the food, like Dillon was unable to put away her T-bone steak, servers personally box up your leftovers.

Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles is another tasty Indy surprise. The restaurant’s menu, flavor and atmosphere prove you don’t have to have roots southern roots to know how to hit someone’s soul food spot just right. “We usually notice when people are full and satisfied here because they just lean back in their seats,” says Donniece Owens, restaurant manager. “We just put together a bunch of our family recipes in a book and we cook from that book only,” adds Owens. The strawberry waffle, with peach homemade butter and deep fried chicken wings was just as good as the fried catfish and collard greens. Of course, you can’t go to a soul food restaurant without grabbing a serving of homemade peach cobbler.

The crust on the cobbler kept its consistency, even after being reheated twice. The one-year-old restaurant is a family business that prides itself on cooking everything fresh and being able to give customers great tasting food without using pork products, a seasoning kick usually put in soul food dishes. They have a very diverse staff and the restaurant is about 10 minutes away from downtown. “I just love their salmon croquettes,” says Natalie Bell, a California native. “It’s been a real long time since I’ve had that and Maxine’s fried green tomatoes were just excellent. I’d definitely go back,” she adds. We ate at Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles two of our four days in Indianapolis.

After eating at some of the best restaurants in the city, we definitely had to experience Indy’s nightlife. Howl at the Moon is a combination of a piano and karaoke bar. Customers enjoy bar food, drink and give staff a tip to play and sing their favorite song on a piano. There’s nothing like hearing R. Kelly hits and seeing the crowd go wild and keep the energy flowing, when it’s time for a string of hits by the Dave Matthews Band and Lee Greenwood. For some songs, there’s a full band with a guitarist, violinist, drummer and trumpet player who accompany the pianist.

As for actually dancing to music, the Saturday spot as recommended by locals is Blu. The club is setup rather interesting because when you walk in you are essentially on the intimate dance floor. There’s little seating available, unless you shell out some VIP cash for access to one of the two upper rooms. However, for what Blu lacks in traditional club design, its DJ, DJ Limelight makes up for with his ability to mix, scratch and infuse hip-hop, reggae and 70s hits. “I loved the music but I could only stand for an hour,” says Bell. “The DJ was great,” says Tanassa Wilson, a California native. “His (the DJ) mixes of throwback hits and some of the hottest music from Lil Wayne to Jay Z, Beyonce and Ludacris definitely put Indy on the map in my opinion. I enjoyed myself,” she adds.

After every party comes the after party. For our group that meant winding down at a local spa. The Villa is about a 10-minute drive away from downtown Indianapolis. Our one-hour services of body scrubs and massages were comparable to spa treatments in New York, Chicago and Houston. The spa in Indy however, is an old restored Victorian house that also has a quaint restaurant, where we enjoyed their delicious spicy shrimp and pasta dish. “I really like the spicy shrimp dish. It’s the best food I’ve had in the Midwest,” says Dillon.

On a scale of one to 10, Indianapolis gets a nine. “The residents were very nice here and that blew me away because they were a lot friendlier than people in places we’ve been in the past,” says Tanya Evans, a native of Jamaica. “The city certainly had a hometown feel to it and I love that because when you’re on vacation you want to feel like the people in the city want you in the city,” says Bell.

If smoking in public places was prohibited, Indy would be perfect in our vacation book. A souvenir shop in the mall or on the strip downtown is also something we did not find, so we were limited to what was available at the airport.

The group photo appears courtesy of Scott Romer Photography,
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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Small-Business Owners Invest in Big Picture

Eyesore Becomes Center for Education and Entrepreneurs

A building that was once a neglected neighborhood pharmacy, eyesore, as well as a hangout for unemployed men who spent their days on milk crates, is giving a New Orleans neighborhood a needed, new and improved look. The old, beige, dull and depressing building with a tattered roof and crumbling fa├žade has been replaced by a brand new green and yellow concrete building that is part office and part community center. At the intersection of North Galvez Street and Piety Street sits the Entergy Innovation Center. “Small businesses are the backbone of the city,” says Connie Jacobs, owner of Unlimited Communications. Unlimited Communications sells cell phones and serves as a bill-pay center for residents.

Jacobs is filling a gap for many residents who have returned to the Upper 9th Ward neighborhood. “A lot of people who moved back to this area did not have cars or checking accounts, so they had a lot of trouble getting their utility payments out to companies on time,” says Jacobs. Jacobs and her daughter Darryl Jacobs-Lumpkins, owner of Lollipop Boutique are two of the first small-business tenants in the center. There’s room for at least six and the center opened over the summer. “I wanted to help the neighborhood re-establish itself and become a better place for not just residents but business owners as well. A lot of businesses that came back after Hurricane Katrina ignored this area,” says Jacobs-Lumpkins. Her boutique sells children’s clothing and shoes.

The overall goal of the center is to serve as a business connector and provide self-help services like free financial seminars, computer literacy courses and job training sessions. Through a partnership with educators, volunteers and business owners, the center can set a tone of self-reliance in a part of the city where Katrina’s baggage is still ever present. It’s not out of the ordinary to walk down a block and find trees sitting in the middle of the road or see homes leaning to the side, as if they’re waiting for a strong wind to topple them onto the ground. Still, none of it deters or distracts those who believe the community deserves a fair chance at reshaping its image. “We partnered with community groups and activists in the neighborhood to make sure that what was coming to the Entergy Center met the needs of the people, not necessarily the business owners,” says Jo Ann Minor, building manager and business consultant.

A combination of funds from grants and local businesses helped cover the cost of the facelift to the former Galvez Pharmacy. The center’s vision and design were developed by The Idea Village, a local non-profit agency. Business owners like Jacobs, the first to invest in the area received discounted rent for one year. It’s a financial incentive for her that was necessary and one she certainly appreciates. Hurricane Katrina wiped out all four of Jacobs’ telecommunications stores that were spread throughout the city. She’d been in business for more than 20 years. She spent two months living in Atlanta following Hurricane Katrina.

“We got here and nothing was standing,” says Jacobs. These days, she’s reaping the benefits of her decision to return home and is optimistic about the future.“Business is good,” says Jacobs. “I hope the city comes back and more entrepreneurs hire local people,” she adds.

Minor believes business owners like Jacobs’ may shift the focus and serve as an encouraging symbol for those uncertain about returning to New Orleans. To fill the open rental slots and get the word out, Minor is a walking advertising machine for the center. “I go out to the bus stop that’s right outside our door and I tell people about what we have going on here at the center,” says Minor.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Teen Pregnancy Statistics Don’t Curtail Success

Persistence of Sisters Pays Off

How do you go from giving birth as a sophomore in high school to proudly crossing the stage, after earning a doctorate in education? 40-year-old Rhonda Powe, an elementary school vice principal and her twin sister Wanda Powe-Greenwood, a fourth grade teacher, are still perplexed, pleased and jarred by their nearly unbelievable achievement. “We weren’t supposed to be successful,” says Powe-Greenwood. “People had given up on us before we had come of age to prove we could beat the odds,” she adds.

What happened in 1985 is what caused people to doubt, underestimate and marginalize their potential. “At that time, it was the worst thing a teenager could have ever done,” says Powe-Greenwood. At 16, in a small Mississippi town the girls gave birth four months apart. Both say their pregnancies were coincidental and not planned. Rhonda had a baby girl, Kristian. Wanda had a baby boy, Adrian. They found themselves saturated in the grip of statistics, stereotypes and setbacks that are succinctly linked to teen parents.

Statistics don’t encourage anyone to believe teen mothers can prosper. Research shows that teen mothers are at a greater risk of being poor, ending up on public assistance and dropping out of high school. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, in 2002, almost 100 teen girls got pregnant every hour. The CDC reports the United States has the highest level of teen pregnancy rates in the world.
Like a lot of girls who become pregnant at a young age, Powe and Powe-Greenwood believed their high school boyfriends would do the right thing, marry them, help raise the child and live happily ever after. Just like most pregnant teens, their assumptions were wrong. The instant denial and rejection from their high school sweethearts wasn’t the only abrupt dose of reality for the sisters. “My dream of running track was over, says Powe.” “Once my stomach got big, I lost a lot of friends because parents felt like I wasn’t the type of girl they wanted their daughter to hang around.”

However, there was no time to sulk in isolation or even stew in depression. Home life for the girls became stricter, when the babies were born. “I was bitter and I felt like it was cruel but we made the choice so we had to deal with the consequences,” says Powe. Their parents stripped away extracurricular activities and the girls had to get jobs. “We had to stretch that $3.35 an hour salary because my mother made us pay our siblings for babysitting,” says Powe.

The teens could not use disposable pampers because of their mother’s rules. “She really had us washing out cloth diapers,” says Powe-Greenwood. “It’s like having to grow up overnight,” she adds. “There’s no middle ground because this child is depending on you.”

With the basic support of their parents and older siblings alternating babysitting shifts, the and successfully completed high school without dropping out. While they’d crossed one statistical hurdle, at 18, they crashed into two others, welfare and subsidized housing. The sisters grew tired of their mother’s demands and moved into a local housing project with their children. “We lived one floor away from each other,” says Powe.

It didn’t take long for them to realize the independence they thought would come with living on their own, wasn’t really independence at all. “One day my daughter was sitting on the steps and she looked at some children on the playground. She turned to me and said, ‘mommy, tell them to get off my swing,’ ” says Powe. “It broke my heart to tell my daughter that we were on welfare and we didn’t own anything she saw,” she adds.

The disappointment that filled Powe’s heart following her heart-to-heart with her young daughter became the fuel of motivation needed to ignite determination. She enrolled in a local community college, where she majored in education. Her sister enrolled too. “It was not easy. We were not A-students in high school and a lot of times we wanted to give up,” says Powe-Greenwood.


Instead of quitting, they reached out to each other constantly, surpassing the initial bar they’d raised for themselves. “Once we got that associate’s degree, we kept going,” says Powe. “It really felt good to have someone going through with you and you knew they felt exactly the same pain and aggravation you felt,” says Powe-Greenwood. "We did not want our children to grow up and stay in that environment."

The women received bachelor’s degrees in education from the University of West Alabama. They worked for several years as full-time teachers, in Mississippi and Georgia. “When I bought my first home and got the keys, I don’t know how to explain how I felt that day,” says Powe.

Their personal quest to beat the odds and desire to create their own statistics continued as the sisters obtained a master’s degree in elementary education. For one, the pursuit of happiness was reaching a breaking point. “I told Rhonda not to call me anymore about school because after that master’s I was through with books,” says Powe-Greenwood. Powe ignored her sister’s request and on the last day of registration called. “I surprised her when she called because I had secretly registered. I couldn’t leave her hanging,” says Powe-Greenwood.

Their success in the classroom extends beyond the books. Their children grew up and defied the odds as well. Powe’s daughter is pursuing a master’s degree in nursing administration. Powe-Greenwood’s son is attending school to become a dental hygienist. Neither were teen parents.

Their story of surpassing statistical limitations and seizing opportunities shouldn’t be the only one, says Powe-Greenwood. “Sometimes when we talk to people they think we advocate teen pregnancy but we don’t,” she adds. “However, we do think it’s important for ever pregnant girl out there to know that she doesn’t have to hang her head in shame, just do what you need to do to make your situation better.”

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Monday, October 26, 2009

New Orleans Becomes Home, Again

Star Power Helps Residents Return Home

We all remember seeing people rescued from rooftops, homes destroyed beyond recognition, heartbreaking cries for help and the appalling response from the federal government, in the days shortly after Hurricane Katrina. So as New Orleans continues its long road to recovery, why would anyone return to the city, especially to the Lower 9th Ward? Questioning a 9th Ward resident’s motives and desires to return irritates Melba Leggett-Barnes. “I hear people say that and I tell them to mind their business,” Leggett-Barnes says, with an air of aggravation in her voice.

The 52-year-old is one of what can be called “the lucky 13.” Leggett-Barnes lost her that was footsteps away from one of the levees breached by Hurricane Katrina. Four years later, help from a Hollywood A-list star has erased the heartache and frustration that consumed every minute of Leggett-Barnes’ day, as she tried for three years to make North Carolina home. “At first, I wasn’t planning on coming back because there was nothing to come back to,” says Leggett-Barnes.

Today, in the 1700 block of Tennessee Street, she comes home to something new and unlike anything ever seen in the Lower 9th Ward. Leggett-Barnes lives in a single-family home that’s solar-powered, built about 7 feet above the ground and can withstand Hurricane-force winds up to 130mph. “I love it and I feel truly blessed,” she says. Leggett-Barnes’ home and 12 others are the first completed of 150 energy-efficient homes slated to line the streets of the Lower 9th Ward. The “Make It Right Foundation,” founded by actor Brad Pitt partners with contractors to build the homes. Pitt wanted to ensure barriers like affordable and safe housing would not continue to keep 9th Ward residents locked out of the city.

The “Make It Right” homes cost about $150,000. According to the foundation, half of the cost is covered by various grants and loans, homeowners are responsible for the other half. Sixty-five additional families are in the final stages of purchasing their return home through the program.

By some estimates Hurricane Katrina wiped out 275,000 homes in New Orleans. A little more than 25 percent of residents are back in major parts of the city. In the Lower 9th Ward, an estimated 19 percent of the 7,000 families that called the neighborhood home have returned. Contractor Stevie Jenkins of New Look Builders has built at least 11 conventional single-family homes in the neighborhood. At the end of November, he’s closing his 10-year-old business and relocating to Texas. Jenkins says he can no longer financially maintain his homebuilding business in New Orleans. “I anticipated a much faster recovery process for people coming back but the red tape is terrible and some homeowners who planned to come back to the 9th Ward have spent everything they saved,” says Jenkins. “The area is hurting,” he adds.

Unfinished business is probably the best way to describe the hurt you see and feel as you walk through the neighborhood. If you drive through and carefully navigate the pot-hole streets, that cause you to zigzag at a sluggish pace , there’s no way to ignore the numerous eyesores. For every new home like Leggett-Barnes on the block, you can count at least five empty lots. One is directly across the street from her new home. Four concrete steps lead to nothing but a lot full of dry, brown grass, evidence that a home was once in that spot.

Basic services, businesses and anchors like churches, schools and health clinics are essentially still absent. There’s only one beauty salon, no fire station, less than a handful of gas stations and bus service is sporadic. The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology is the only school open. Prior to Katrina, there were four schools serving thousands of children in the neighborhood.

The Army Corps of Engineers’ repair work on levees breached by Hurricane Katrina isn’t exactly comforting to residents. Despite the Corps’ assurances that the levees are safe, there’s still an air of apprehension and skepticism in the Lower 9th Ward. “I got the best house on the block because it’s made of steel and will sway from side to side if the levee breaks again,” says Leggett-Barnes.

What she and returning residents who live in their new homes also have is an emotional void filled and the weight of instability lifted. Every day they walk up the steps and open the door to a place many of us take for granted, home.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

On Her Own

After Zhane', Jean Baylor Continues to Evolve

When a singing group hits the scene and delivers a string of explosive hits that causes you to move your head side to side, turn your radio up as loud as possible or hypnotically snap your fingers at the slightest sound of your favorite song, you have questions when the group splits. Will the sound be dramatically different? Can an artist formally part of a duo stay creative and survive in the music industry? Will fans follow?

All of those questions swirled around Jean Baylor’s head in 1999, when she decided to break ties with Renee Neufville. The two were founders of the group Zhane' (pronounced Jah-Nay). “We own our name, says Baylor. “No one can tell us we can’t use it,” she adds. Baylor says her split was for creative reasons and not one laced with animosity, financial problems or overblown egos, which commonly tear a group apart. “It was a nice decision to leave the group. I have no regrets,” says Baylor.

On her independently produced CD “Testimony: My Life Story”, Norris-Baylor delivers the energy and authentic sound, fans of the group miss, embrace and associate with Zhane'. However, her lyrics, over eclectic beats push mental buttons more than butts and hips to a dance floor. “I have to establish myself as a solo artist,” says Baylor. Her music is motivational, fun and inspiring, produced on the “Be a Light” record label.

From 1993 to 1999, Baylor and Neufville’s hits like “Hey, Mr. D.J.”, “Groove Thang” and “Sending My Love” carved the women a spot in the music industry and the hearts of fans. Their image, lyrics and delivery equaled the total package but not in an industry assembly-line way, where hip-shaking, hair slinging and butt strutting get more attention than talent. How did Zhane' survive? It comes down to just good manners and parenting. “ We were not going to get butt naked to look sexy,” says Baylor. “My mom would have come onstage and beat me down,” says Baylor.

Zhane’s approach was to project sexy with an alternative mixture of talent and class. The group’s name was a salute to themselves. “We just put together our names and put the French connection together,” says Baylor. On their first CD both women rocked short and nearly bald haircuts. “We weren’t really trying to make a statement. We just had short hair,” says Bailey. They shunned tight, short, revealing outfits and flashy looks, to define their sexual appeal.

While there’s surely no cookie-cutter way to break into the music industry, the two Temple University students started out on a bit of traditional track. “We competed in a lot of talent shows around the city,” says Baylor. “A lot of times, we did it for the $50 prize because when you’re in college, you feel like you’re rich with that kind of money.”

They entered and won enough talent shows to get a buzz going in the entertainment industry. “We’d been to five different record labels in New York,” says Bailey. A chance meeting with Kay Gee of the group Naughty by Nature, sprung open a door of opportunity that would change their lives.“We sang acappella for him. He liked us and he was looking for a female group,” says Baylor.

As Zhane’s success took off, Baylor says it was easy for them to avoid the grip and lure of drugs, bad financial and personal decisions that so often grip and destroy entertainment freshmen. “We were kind of grown up. We were 23 and 24 years old with degrees,” says Baylor. Baylor was a Performing Arts student at Temple. Neufville majored in English.

Baylor’s solo project and her longevity in the music is a testament to her preparation, education and desire to learn everything about the industry, from marketing to branding and sales. Those skills, she says, are essential to succeeding in the male-dominated business. “You should have a vision and not just run through the door looking to make hit records,” says Baylor.

Baylor says the record industry is all about business and the more informed you are about other people’s mistakes, the less you’ll make. Her advice to anyone considering the entertainment business is blunt. “Get a good accountant that understands the industry,” says Baylor. “Be organized and conscious of your budget because every dime the label spends on the artist is charged to the artist.”

These days, Baylor’s life and music continue to evolve in a positive direction. As much as she loves music, Baylor loves to make a difference. Her concern for young people is spiraling into a non-profit venture through “Be a Light”. The focus is mainly on middle school students. “Be a Light’ was created not just to do music but we wanted to be able to positively affect communities through a mentorship program,” says Baylor.

Her music gives you a sophisticated blend of neo-Soul, jazz and a sprinkle of rhythm and blues. She fits in perfectly with the style of artists like Jill Scott, India.Arie and Ledisi. All of the women are well-respected artists and are confirmation that there is room for a break from the norm.

Jean Baylor’s story is part of the “She Rocks” series on For more information and to listen to samples of tracks on Baylor’s independently produced CD, “Testimony: My Life Story,” log on to Please forward all comments about this story to Maniko Barthelemy at

Monday, October 12, 2009

Louisiana College Students Bring Solar-Powered Home to D.C.

Can Students Win National Homebuilding Competition?

How much would you pay to live in a one-bedroom home totally powered by the sun, built to withstand Hurricane-force winds and has an aesthetic appeal with a touch of a southern accent? Does a price range of $120,000- $150,000 sound fair? This week, you can tour the home and meet the team of student designers in Washington, D.C.

Team BeauSoleil, a group of University of Louisiana, Lafayette graduate students, is one of 19 other university teams from around the world participating in the seventh annual Solar Decathlon. The annual competition, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy turns the National Mall into a village of solar-powered homes, designed exclusively by college students. Students must meet strict guidelines and can only build an 800-square-foot home. “We approached it as an architecture competition,” says Chris Leger, 26, a UL at Lafayette architecture graduate student.

Team BeauSoleil’s team meticulous design of the rambler home, shows just how they kept the Gulf Coast resident in mind. In addition to the home being able to take on Hurricane-force winds, the wooden fence and wood used as boarders around the windows can be pulled apart and fits perfectly over the windows and doors. It seems like a minor detail but it makes a major difference, during Hurricane season. There’s no need to nail large pieces of plywood around the house. “Taking it from the design phase into reality is an amazing experience,” says Leger.

The home can also be elevated and put on piers to protect it from flooding. The front and back doors open like a vault and can become a functional breezeway, eliminating the need for overuse of an air conditioning unit. “It shows that we have really bright students, compassionate about preserving our culture and they’re innovative,” says Christine Payton, a University of Louisiana representative.

The team’s design is making quite an impression on visitors. Aside from its durability, the house is moderately priced, cozy, appliances are wheelchair accessible and there’s a remote control mosquito screen. “I like the way they used the natural wood. It’s usually on the side but this is very pleasing. I would live in that house,” says Arizona resident, Patty Bensel.

The Solar Decathlon ends on Oct. 16, when judges announce the overall 2009 Solar Decathlon winner. In addition to hopefully winning the competition, Team BeauSoleil would like to see the home go into mass production. “Building this home taught me that we can all live just as comfortable off the things nature gives us,” says Greg Jefferson, 28, an architecture graduate student. Team BeauSoleil plans to display their home on campus and later sell the home in the community.

Getting selected as a competitor was an arduous undertaking. Students had to submit their plans and impress a committee of engineers, scientists and DOE experts. Thousands of teams compete for a chance and must prove they are prepared to start and complete the homes, as they abide by strict structural and safety requirements. The DOE provides selected teams with $100,000 in grants to help cover the initial cost of building the home. Teams are responsible for any additional costs they incur.

All homes are closed Oct. 14, so judges can have exclusive access to the homes and evaluate the design, efficiency and durability of each home. The overall winner of the Solar Decathlon 2009 competition will be announced Oct. 16. In traditional Louisiana style, the BeauSoleil jazz band will play on the porch later that evening. Log on to for more information. For more information about the University of Louisiana at Lafayette team, log on to

Please send all comments about this article to Maniko Barthelemy at

Monday, October 5, 2009

Klymaxx’s Awesome Rise and Turbulent Fall

Original Klymaxx Member Keeps Sound, Changes Faces

Something beautiful and amazing happens to a woman when her hairstyle is vicious, heels are fierce and her outfit causes men and women to pause. One R&B group with a splash of rock and pop in their music knew how to showcase, exude and celebrate a woman’s confidence on a level once overlooked in the music industry. Even if you don’t remember the lyrics, Klymaxx fans certainly know the hook and remember the boost to self-esteem many felt when “The Men All Pause” came on in the club or the radio.

Klymaxx tore through stereotypes and produced a string of female-anthems throughout the 80’s, in a way that’s been difficult to replicate. From the drums to the microphone, Klymaxx’s edgy look, undeniable skills and fan appeal was the dream and vision of Bernadette Cooper. Cooper, longing to fill a void in the music industry, had a hunch in 1979 that an all-female band could rock the charts and fill stadiums.

The name perfectly defined the group. “We wanted something that described hot, talented and exciting women in their 20s but we had to of course change the lettering,” says Cheryl Cooley, an original member and Klymaxx’s guitarist. However, convincing music industry executives to jump on board and finance Cooper’s idea challenged the group’s endurance and commitment. “People were not taking us seriously, when we were trying to get gigs,” says Cooley. “Some people even laughed and said, ‘yeah, an all-female band, that’ll never happen’,” she says.

So how did the six female musicians, crack the music industry’s glass ceiling? Cooley worked at a bank in Los Angeles. A co-worker related to record producer, Johnny Pate, became the answer to Klymaxx’s prayers. “I was bragging about being in an all-female band and she (Cooley’s co-worker) asked me for a demo tape, so she could give it to Johnny,” says Cooley. Pate was a bit hesitant and unsure about the group’s potential but still passed the demo tape on to Margaret Nash. Nash was at the time an executive at Solar Records. “She came to one of our rehearsals and she had a smile on her face the whole time but I’m sure she had to be worried because we sounded rough,” says Cooley, jokingly.

Apparently Klymaxx’s rough edges weren’t enough to scare away the record company. “In April of 1980, Margaret saw us and that August we were signed to Solar Records,” says Cooley. After about a year of fine-tuning Klymaxx’s sound in the studio, the group’s debut album “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman” hit record stores and radio airwaves. It sent a message and set the tone for the group’s image and fan base.

Record sales were impressive but Klymaxx had another important hurdle to cross. Since they were the first, the group had to prove they weren’t straight studio singers. “I remember how the fans looked at us when we went on tour and opened up for Shalamar, says Cooper. “They just couldn’t believe that we were actually playing our own instruments,” she says.

Their talent put skeptics on mute. Klymaxx’s fan base grew substantially and so did interest from executives at MCA Records. In 1983, Klymaxx switched record labels and joined the MCA family, which teamed them up with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, well-respected writers and producers. The match-up led to Klymaxx hitting Billboard’s Hot 100, several times during the mid-80’s with songs like, “Meeting in the Ladies Room”, “I Miss You” and “I’d Still Say Yes”. “I thought I was going to be 75 years old performing with the same people onstage, singing “The Men All Pause,” says Cooley.

The lifetime of success with the original members Cooley anticipated fell apart, as the Klymaxx began to unravel. Cooley says the explosion of fan adoration, attention and the limelight evolved into a nasty mix, once egos surfaced within the group. According to her, Cooper was the first to leave the group. By the mid-90’s there were only three original members and MCA cut ties with Klymaxx. “I began to feel like I was a failure,” says Cooley. Even with Klymaxx’s track record and the fact that Cooley had played the guitar since she was 11, she could not get a new deal. “Nobody prepared me for what would happen if the record company dropped you,” says Cooley.

Realizing she still needed a check and faced with nowhere to go and no backup plan, in a surprising move, Cooley became an electrician. “I had to do something because I had to eat,” says Cooley. The job paid the bills for a few years, until Cooley was laid-off. Thankfully, a phone call in early 2000 turned out to be the financial support and necessary comeback Cooley desperately needed and wanted. “An old manager called me about setting up an old school tour. I called everybody from the group and no one was interested,” says Cooley. Cooley moved on with the original band members. These days because of a dispute and trademark issues around usage of Klymaxx’s name, Cooper and Cooley don’t talk.

Cooley created “Unruly Cooley” to meet the demand and book the venues the manager thought were appropriate for Klymaxx’s distinct sound. Unruly Cooley has the same concept that made Klymaxx successful, an all-female lineup of gifted, attractive and sassy musicians. The band tours West Coast venues, covering many of Klymaxx’s hits, and sings new songs written and produced by Cooley.

Her songs and the funky music that laces the tracks have the intensity, melodic groove twists, with lyrics that stress fun and female-power, all that you’d expect from Cooley. Although the sound and look loosely mirrors Klymaxx’s, Cooley’s learned from her mistakes. “Klymaxx (the original group) could have made a whole lot more money, if we’d known the business end of the industry,” says Cooley. “When you get the record deal, you’re so excited, you don’t even consider what could happen if you get dropped,” she adds.

Cooley hopes young women with the desire in their eyes and the dream in their hearts to break into the music industry, take time to learn about more than selling out a stadium and making a music video. “This business is 90 percent business and 10 percent performance.”
You can listen to some of Cheryl Cooley’s latest music at

Please forward all comments and suggestions regarding this story to Maniko Barthelemy at
Cheryl Cooley’s story is part of the “She Rocks” series on The stories give updates on some of the most popular all-female bands, groups or duos. In sharing their stories, the women featured hope to educate anyone looking to get into the music industry.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Free Suits Foster Confidence, Boost Self-Esteem

Non-profit Ensures Recipients Give Back

In today’s job market, even if you have a college degree and years of experience, competition is fierce among unemployed professionals. Just getting an interview can seem like a milestone of a turning point. When the call comes for an interview, most job seekers own the right suit to at least impress a potential employer.

What if you know what to wear to the interview but look in your closet and hang your head because you don’t even own the basic professional attire? For some, it’s unconscionable to imagine being in such an embarrassing position. However, it’s a heartbreaking reality for nearly 200 unemployed women a month, who visit Dress for Success, in DC. An overwhelming majority of the organization’s clients are welfare recipients serious about stepping into the workforce. Caseworkers refer the women to Dress for Success . “The women get three free suits, a pair of shoes, jewelry and accessories on their first trip, says Melissa Frazier, a Dress for Success counselor.

Dress for Success is a national non-profit organization. The DC Chapter is like a community closet and help center. Through a number of in-house programs, clients give thanks by giving back. Career training seminars, GED classes, as well as a small computer room are all available and free. However, successful clients are rewarded and must pay-it-forward. “If they get a job, they get another free suit and they have to join the professional women’s group here,” says Frazier.

Members of the group support each other through monthly meetings, where they openly discuss issues women new to the workplace may find exhausting. So far, 69 women are members. They volunteer at area homeless shelters and help with school supply drives. “We do this to help the women not only look good in their new suits but it’s also an opportunity for them to work on their inner-self,” says Frazier.

An experience in the late 90s with a welfare recipient encouraged Yvonne Williams to volunteer. At the time, Williams was a State Department employee training a new hire. “She (the new hire) came to the department through the welfare-to-work program and she was a real hard worker,” says Williams. Williams is now a retiree and says the welfare-to-work employee has been promoted several times. “She made such an impression on me that I wanted to do something to help others in her situation,” says Williams.

Like most non-profits across the country, Dress for Success has seen a substantial spike in clients. In 2008, about 100 women a month between ages 18 and 34 came looking for help. This year, the number has doubled and some clients are as old as 50. The increasing demand is constantly a challenge for supply. Several days a week, volunteers try to keep up. They sort out and organize hundreds of used skirts, blouses and women’s suits in all sizes. “As fast as we get donations in, they’re out the door,” says Frazier.

Donations come from residents, small-businesses and some high-end retail stores. Kathy Sheehy, one of a handful of volunteers at Dress for Success, says it’s instrumental for Dress for Success to be able to fill a financial gap. “A lot of people just don’t’ have $300 to spend on a suit,” says Kathy Sheehy, who plans to open a personal shopping business in DC. The organization’s greatest need now is for fall and winter clothing. Plus sizes are extremely difficult to keep in stock, as well as black pumps in large sizes. While Dress for Success is in need of everything from blouses to new pantyhose, Frazier offers a word of caution to anyone considering donating. “If you wouldn’t wear it to a job interview, don’t donate it.”

For more information and to find a Dress for Success center near you, log on to You can call the Washington, DC office at (202) 269-4805.

Please forward all comments about this article to Maniko Barthelemy at