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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