No hurry toward uniformity

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

April 26, 2013

Schoolkids are uniform enough in any old thing

The new unified school district has asked parents to imagine how next school year might look. Specifically, how our children might look, whether dressed in uniforms or just any old thing. Currently, Memphis City Schools students wear uniforms, and Shelby County students do not. An online survey has been circulated asking the input of parents.

Uniforms. No uniforms. Neutral. Those are our options.

I can’t pay attention to the minutiae of the goings-on within the battle for supremacy over the schools next year. There are budget concerns, building concerns and personnel concerns ad infinitum. But the debate over uniforms caught my eye. It’s a very real, very practical issue for parents who will need to gauge their mornings and budgets come August.

I attended private Catholic schools through the ninth grade and was made to wear a uniform that included dress shoes and a tie. Nothing amuses my kids more than picturing their scrawny 8-year-old father with a tie cinched up beneath his chin. When, in the 10th grade, I switched to a public county school and was allowed to wear anything — anything at all — it was as though a veil was lifted. It was a denim veil, and a freedom I had not known before.

As a parent, I see both sides of the issue. I know how much simpler mornings are when there are no questions as to what to wear to school. Arguments are limited to where shoes might have been left or who has overslept, while what to wear is a nonissue. I appreciate both the individuality and personality expressed by a wardrobe, and the one-size-fits-all ease of uniforms.

I don’t know whether this survey will be considered, or whether it will become just one more sheaf of paper in what must be a Jenga-like stack of paperwork the new unified board must consider. But just in case, I took the debate straight to those most affected: my own kids. No surprise that they were overwhelmingly in favor

of no uniforms. When I tried to explain to them how much easier it is when you just wear the same thing every day, my preteen son put it best, I think, when he shouted, “I’m going to wear the same thing every day, anyway!” Indeed, I’ve been that preteen when laundry day consisted of a favorite T-shirt being pried, and peeled, from my body.

Our kids are currently immersed in the one-size-fits-all week of TCAP tests. They’ll be tested to find out how they measure up with the students in the seats next to them, an adjoining classroom, a school across the city and one on the opposite side of the state. Sameness. If our children look the same, perhaps they’ll learn the same.

There will be time enough as adults to wear the uniform of the banker, the doctor and policeman, the Windsor knot and pantsuit of the lawyer. They’ll be uniformly kept within the gray fabric of cubicles and tagged with the ID badge of an employer. So in the end, I suppose I sway away from the idea of uniforms. Kids will find their own uniforms to go along with their own groups and their own personalities. They may not look exactly the same, but they are more alike than we realize. They, more than we, realize this as well. They’re kids. They’re the same as the kids in the next classroom over, the school across the city and the one across the state. We don’t need them to act just the same, or look just the same, to see that.

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Public defender role lets Bell help others

Law Talk profile for The Memphis Daily News

April 26, 2013

For assistant federal defender David Bell, the urge to be a lawyer was precipitated by the urge to help people.

“I always thought I wanted to do something where I could help other people, certainly people less fortunate than me, and I decided on law,” Bell said. “I knew that whatever I did with a law degree I would be able to help people and … I realized that whether I loved the law or whether I didn’t love the law, I could make a living doing it as well.”

As it turns out, Bell loved the law since his first days at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. Before becoming a student there, though, he graduated from White Station High School and studied politics, legal studies and religion at Earlham College, a small, liberal arts school in Richmond, Ind.

A spiritual man who has served as deacon for Idlewild Presbyterian Church, Bell considered the seminary before deciding on law school where, as a student, he met Robert Jones, the Shelby County chief public defender at the time.

“He asked me to come over there and interview with them for a summer clerkship,” Bell said. “I liked their office and I liked the idea of the mission of what they did there, so I went over there and I clerked that first summer after my first year in law school and I just kind of fell in love with the place and the people there.”

That mission, Bell says, is to help the indigent who are seeking justice. Problems in society such as lack of education and substance abuse, he said, all tie back into the issue of poverty … (read more)


Corporate contribution

Centerpiece story for The Memphis Daily News

April 22, 2013

FedEx employees volunteer for Wolf River cleanup

On a beautiful spring morning last week more than 100 local FedEx employees came together along the banks of the Wolf River to do a beautiful thing.

It was the 40th anniversary of FedEx, whose employees volunteered with the Wolf River Conservancy to pull up invasive privet, plant wildflowers and trees, paint sewer vents and build nesting boxes for indigenous birds.

Stewart Austin, board president of the Wolf River Conservancy, called the river an asset, and “the backbone of our community.”

It begins in Benton County, Miss., and then wends its way through Fayette County and among neighborhoods of East Shelby County to the Mississippi River. The Conservancy is in dogged pursuit of a paved greenway, a 22-mile park that will make the river more accessible to cyclists and pedestrians.

Paul Young, administrator of the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Sustainability who was on hand for the cleanup, spoke about a “quality of life incentive” needed to attract and keep larger companies in the area.

“Building up these assets is going to help Memphis and Shelby County, and the region, in the long term,” Young said.

If the Wolf River is an environmental backbone, then FedEx is an economic backbone of the community. Begun on April 17, 1973, with just 186 packages and 25 cities, the carrier now handles 9 million packages per day and employs 30,000 in the Memphis area … (read more)


Butler Sevier’s Mead helps clients craft new realities

Law Talk profile for The Memphis Daily News

April 18, 2013

Attorney Anne Mead is not in Kansas anymore. Recently named partner with the firm of Butler Sevier Hinsley & Reid PLLC, a family law practice, she said, “We have some pretty incredible people working for us, I’m really, really lucky.”

The Kansas native attended Washburn University there and moved to Memphis to attend the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphries School of Law after she and husband, Jay, considered living in other places such as Georgia, South Carolina and Kansas. Her family had moved to Memphis during her time in college, though, and it just felt right to be near them again.

Though she’s ended up in the legal profession, her undergraduate degree is in English literature. She says she thought at the time that she wanted to work in the media but, “realized pretty quickly that I probably wouldn’t be satisfied either simply writing an article for a newspaper or being on a television broadcast or something like that.”

She began thinking realistically about her career options, about how to continue writing yet pay the bills, when a friend suggested she explore the moot court and mock trial team. “I absolutely loved it, loved every single part of it,” she said. “To this day I love litigation and I love trial. When I’m litigating something, it’s the only time that I ever forget I am something other than a lawyer.”

She took the LSAT, what she calls a “horribly scary experience,” and then took two years to make sure the decision was the right one. During that time, Mead traveled across the country managing different chapters of her sorority to help them improve, and worked for a law firm as a legal assistant … (read more)


Elmwood’s McCollum honored to be part of city’s history

Memphis Standout profile for The Memphis Daily News

April 12, 2013

Kim McCollum is at home in the company of Confederate generals, musicians, politicians, murderers and civil rights leaders.

As executive director of the 161-year-old Elmwood Cemetery, McCollum is in charge of the 80 acres that serves as the final resting place to many of the city’s famous, infamous and notorious, as well as thousands of yellow fever victims known and unknown.

Despite such a portentous workplace, McCollum believes she is “working at the most beautiful place in Memphis.”

Indeed, the cemetery is home to almost 1,500 mature trees that bloom throughout the year and, she says, “I’m surrounded by angels in the cemetery, and the statues. How could you not want to come to work here? This place is breathtaking.”

Raised in Southaven, where she still lives with her two children, McCollum attended Southaven High School and then the University of Memphis for a degree in English. Not quite sure how her degree would translate into a career, she hoped to work in the nonprofit sector as a grant writer or in marketing.

“I felt like I just wanted to do some good on some level, or try to,” she said.

Not only does she now run the sort of organization she’d hoped to work for, but her job has her in charge of one of the oldest nonprofits in Tennessee.

While a college student, she went to work for the Memphis Botanic Garden and as an intern for the Pink Palace. Just before graduation it was suggested by a friend that she apply for the position of receptionist at the cemetery and she went to work for the former director, Frances Catmur … (read more)


Keep ‘Welcome Back’ sign ready for empty nest

Because I Said So column for The Commercial Appeal

April 11, 2013

Keep your ‘Welcome Back’ sign at the nest

My youngest daughter found a bird’s nest on the ground the other day and collected it. I can see it from my office window where she left it on the front porch. It puts me in mind of the term “empty nest” as it pertains to a house whose children have left, flown off into the world to make their own lives in their own way.

I wonder if that nest on the front porch would hold me and this computer.

There must be a thrill that comes with standing at the door and waving your child goodbye, his car laden down with furniture and books and clean laundry on his way to college, or a second marriage, or for whatever reason it is that children leave home. Don’t get me wrong, I want them to visit, and often, but I wonder about that sensation of seeing them go and then turning back to your empty nest and breathing air that is all yours, tasting the food in the fridge that is all yours and knowing that if you turn off the television, it will stay off. Does Nickelodeon even exist if there are no children to watch it?

We get a taste of such solitude early on. It’s called the sleepover, and it’s a rite of passage as meaningful as anything else — driver’s license, graduation, that first marriage. My youngest daughter, Genevieve, the nest collector, had her very first sleepover a couple of weekends ago. It did not go well. She was excited, of course; sleeping at a friend’s house is an adventure. It might as well be a trip to the moon with new foods and sounds, a different place to watch television and way of doing things.

Somewhere around 10 p.m., though, there was a text followed shortly by a knock on the door and there was Genevieve, standing where that empty nest rests. Her friend’s parent was kind enough to bring her home, and kind enough to comfort her before that. Sometimes, these rites just don’t take the first time.

I told her not to worry, that it happens to all of us. At least you made it past dark, I said. I was in the first grade as well for my first sleepover. The boy lived in a large home in Central Gardens and I couldn’t have been more excited about the chance to stay in such a grand palace overnight. I remember little of it, other than he had a dozen or so siblings if memory serves, and they were a rambunctious bunch who, I see now, loved their little brother. They chased him around and grabbed him up by his ankles, lifting him as high as they could. I might have been next and it terrified my 7-year-old self. My mother pulled back onto that tree-lined street before darkness fell.

We give our children the things they’ll need in life — manners, confidence, a sense of right and wrong, a toothbrush wrapped in a baggie they’ll probably never use and then leave behind. After that, all we can do is stand on the porch beside whatever trash they decided at one time to collect and wave goodbye, knowing that, if things get rough, they will be back and they will be welcomed.

© 2013 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. 

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Probate Judge Gomes chose legal career to help others

Law Talk profile for The Memphis Daily News

April 11, 2013

It was no joke when, on April 1, Kathleen Gomes was appointed by the Shelby County Commission to take the seat being vacated by retiring Probate Court Judge Robert Benham.

Gomes will run next year when the position, an eight-year term, comes up again for vote, but the recent appointment was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream that began when she was a child growing up in Chattanooga.

“My mother was a social worker, so I was raised around the idea of trying to help people,” Gomes said. “But after seeing that she didn’t really have a lot of authority to help people other than what she was restricted to do, when I was in college, I decided that the only way to really help people was to be a lawyer.”

She studied political science at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and then ventured across the state to the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

After the first semester, however, she moved to Washington for the opportunity to work for a new congresswoman from Chattanooga for a year. She returned, finished the first year of law school, and then was asked by state treasurer Harlan Mathews to work for him in Nashville.

She finished her stop-and-go law student career in 1980 and went to work for the law firm representing the William B. Tanner Co. media empire … (read more)


New School Media blends film, music into “funky”

Small Business Spotlight for The Memphis Daily News

April 8, 2013

In 2007, Sean Faust and business partner Brad Ellis came together with Memphis music icon Doug Easley to create a company offering full-service audio and video recording and mixing services.

Both Faust and Easley had recording studios that burned in 2005 and New School Media is the Phoenix that has risen from those ashes.

“We had all the ingredients,” Easley said of their new project.

And indeed they do. Easley has recorded music heavyweights from Sonic Youth and Wilco to Jack White, Loretta Lynn and Jeff Buckley.

Faust earned degrees in theater and documentary film production from Syracuse University, has more than 15 years of experience and grew up running sound with his father, saying that his Saturday mornings were full of cables and amplifiers as opposed to cartoons.

Ellis is a writer and director with 10 feature films under his belt, including “Act One,” which claimed Best Narrative Feature, Hometown Award in the 2005 Indie Memphis Film Festival.

The studio is a 3,300-square-foot complex swathed in grass cloth walls, swag lamps, retro seating and original Lamar Sorrento artwork. To take a tour of the facility is to walk through a museum of vintage styles and scenery, ending in a top of the line, 5.1 audio mixing suite, something more akin to mission control at NASA with dim lighting punctuated by bright LEDs and computer monitors … (read more)


Bass striking right chord as Curb Institute director

Memphis Standout profile for The Memphis Daily News

April, 5, 2013

John Bass earned a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Memphis.

Specifically, the degree is focused on 16th century music compared to modern jazz pedagogy and how musicians then might have been taught improvisation.

Where does one go with such a degree?

Bass has taken it across Midtown to Rhodes College where he is the director of the Mike Curb Institute for Music. The Curb Institute was established to preserve and promote the distinct music traditions of the South, as well as research its effect on history, economy and social systems.

What better place than Memphis, the genesis of so much in popular music? And what better place for a musician from Mobile, Ala.?

Bass’ father was a physician by trade and also an after-hours banjo player, so Bass grew up with music in his ears and, eventually, a guitar in his hands.

After a typical adolescence spent playing in garage bands around town, Bass took the not-so-typical turn of seriously studying jazz. His high school band director suggested the University of Southern Mississippi, where Bass majored in jazz guitar.

He and his wife, Johnnie, considered Memphis for their respective pursuits and programs. She is an audiologist now with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and he received his master’s in jazz guitar from Memphis before pursuing his doctorate.

While working on that advanced degree, Bass began teaching guitar as an adjunct professor at Rhodes College, which doesn’t offer a degree in music, per se, yet in the liberal arts tradition students can graduate with a Bachelor of Arts and a major, or emphasis, in music … (read more)


Bankruptcy lawyer Coury joins Glankler Brown

Law Talk profile for The Memphis Daily News

April 4, 2013

It’s been a long time coming, but Michael Coury has made the move to Glankler Brown PLLC.

The attorney, whose practice is in bankruptcy and creditors’ rights law, business reorganizations, workouts, and business and commercial litigation, nearly made the switch when previous firm Waring Cox disbanded in 2001.

A client conflict kept that from happening, however, and he stayed with the firm that would become Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada PLLC. When an opportunity with Glankler Brown became available last month, he moved his office across Poplar Avenue in East Memphis.

“The idea of coming to Glankler is not a new one,” Coury said. “If things worked out right 12 years ago, I would have come here.”

Coury was raised in Memphis and attended Rhodes College, where he graduated in 1977 with a degree in political science – and a fervent interest in the law.

“While I was at Rhodes I took a constitutional law class and I think that was one of the things that got me interested,” he said. “They had some practicing lawyers that were part-time faculty that would come and lecture, and it was just something I always had an interest in.”

Laughing, he added that a sibling rivalry also may have contributed to his three decades-long career … (read more)