Duke graduate shares advice about college life

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Levi Brice Edouna Obama, a 2017 graduate of Duke University, at Duke Chapel. Photos by: Mahnoor Nazeer.

Four years ago, Levi Brice Edouna Obama was a newly-minted graduate of Osborne High School in suburban Atlanta.  One of my church members, Danice Wilson-Bates, suggested I write about Levi in this space because he was such a dynamic and driven young man.  While at Osborne, Levi led recycling drives and encouraged his classmates to be good stewards of the environment. He was class valedictorian and made his parents — who moved here from Cameroon in West Africa — very proud.

A few weeks ago, Levi graduated from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina with a degree in biology. He’s taken the Medical College Entrance Test (MCAT) and plans to attend medical school after completing a year of clinical research.

Duke presented its share of challenges,  but Levi loved his experiences there and has some clear ideas on how to be successfully at an academically rigorous university.

One of his biggest adjustments involved the intensity of the coursework.  “You have three classes a day but they are jam-packed with so much information,” he said.  “Students shouldn’t wait to ask their professors for help, they should seek it immediately if they don’t understand something.

Learning to ask for help when you’ve never had to in the past is a huge change. But your success at a school like Duke depends in part on checking your ego at the door.

“Do not wait until a week before an exam,” he said. “Seek out people to help. Form a study group. You gain so much more through learning from others than you do by yourself. It took me about eight weeks in chemistry class to find the courage to raise my hand.”

Levi made an easier transition to the social and intellectual community at Duke.  “I loved to sit and talk to everyone and hear about their experiences because it was so far removed from what I had experienced. Duke’s student body is largely white and upper class. I didn’t realize how much wealth played a role in education so that was a huge thing to wrap my mind around.”

He worked as a resident assistant, served as a volunteer at Duke University Hospital and studied tropical biology in Costa Rica during the summer before his senior year.

His experience studying abroad was, “the first time i went anywhere by myself to a place outside of the United States.  I got to study with Duke students and students from other universities. Learning together and getting to know each other was amazing.”

Levi marched with others on campus when a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo. decided not to indict the officer responsible Michael Brown’s death.  During his sophomore year, he was stunned to learn that an international student had hung a yellow noose from a tree on campus as a joke.

“For every black student, there will be a race incident,” he said of life on a predominantly white campus. “And you will have to come to terms with the fact that some people in your college community do not care about the issues you have to deal with.”

In his last semester at Duke, Levi’s father died of prostate cancer after a four year battle with the disease.  His father didn’t want his son to worry about his illness.  “He just told me to focus on what I had to do and that’s what I did. I did what I could for him when I was home. I tried to do right by him.”

Reflecting on his time at Duke, Levi says: “I honestly don’t know if i could have gone to any other place. It is so integral  to who I am now.”

For students heading to college in the near future, Levi offers this advice:  “Pick an institution based off the faculty and the opportunities provided to you.  You may have a faculty member who is a Nobel Laureate in literature or engineering. Or pick a college that has the major you like or that has a really great theater department.”

 

 

Talladega College band should march for America, says civil rights dean

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Dr. Bernard LaFayette led Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s campaign to fight povery in 1968. He was a 1961 Freedom Rider and one of the leaders of Selma’s voting rights efforts, which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Dr. LaFayette has taught Kingian nonviolence all over the world. He lives in Atlanta and Tuskegee, Ala.
     Back in the day, when ministers, maids, college students of all races and Jewish sympathizers boycotted buses and staged sit-ins at lunch counters, department stores and movie theaters, they had a plan.
     Part of that plan was disarm their detractors and win over their would be oppressors, says Dr. Bernard LaFayette, who led Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Poor People’s campaign in 1968 and the Selma voting rights movement among other social justice efforts.
     Dr. LaFayette makes a strong argument that the Talladega College band —  which accepted an invitation to march in Friday’s inauguration parade before Donald Trump was elected president — should take part in the parade, rather than boycott it, as some alumni have suggested.

“We have to work on teaching our young people that we have to win people over, said Dr. LaFayette. “If they disagree with what we stand for we don’t alienate ourselves from them, we need to engage them.”

         In a recent interview on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,”  Talladega College president Dr. Billy C. Hawkins said several individuals and groups had stepped forward to donate money to help the band pay for the trip to Washington, D.C.  Students at the small private college in Talladega, Ala are anxious to show the world their musical talents, Hawkins told Joyner.

Joyner established The Tom Joyner Foundation, a Dallas-based non-profit organization which raises money to send students to historically black colleges and universities.

         According to Fox News, more than $620,000 had been raised for the band. Several donations came in after Hawkins’ appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

When considering a boycott, Dr. LaFayette said the debate should always be, “What can one gain by not going and what do they accomplish if they do go.”

“We need all the support we can get for our black colleges,” he said. “If they are invited, they should accept the invitation and look at it as the presidency rather than the president.”

“You don’t have to agree with the president, but we agree that we need the presidency. It doesn’t mean they agree with everything Trump stands for.

During the protests of the 1950s and 1960s — which led to major legislation such as the Voting Rights Act — “we demonstrated the non-violent approach to dealing with adversaries. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. got on the phone and talked to President John F. Kennedy and went to see President Lyndon B. Johnson. That’s the only approach we can use with Trump.”

The 3:30 a.m. wake up call

jamonAustin (left) and his cousin Jamon

This time, it wasn’t a tweet in the middle of the night about a former Miss Universe. Instead, it was a 3:30 a.m. Facebook post from my daughter Carmen:  “Austin just woke up. He’s crying. I’m crying. Eek this is tough to explain.” Austin is my 10-year-old grandson. Like many of us, he was feeling the aftershocks of our new reality: President-elect Donald Trump.

Austin is a fifth grader in Cobb County, a mostly conservative Atlanta suburb. His school is predominantly white, but thankfully, he hasn’t experienced the sting of overt discrimination.  I pray he never will. His post-election tears, and the tears and fears of other young people are real. His concerns are for some of his Hispanic classmates. He’d heard Trump promise to deport people who are here illegally. Already, in schools across the country, Hispanic and Muslim children have been the target of bullying because of Trump’s campaign rhetoric.  After Trump’s win, Austin worried that his classmates who supported the president-elect would tease those students who wanted Hillary Clinton to win.

We were driving home from skating on Election Day when he told me that some of his classmates wanted Trump to win because he is a millionaire.   That doesn’t mean he’s a good person, I offered.  “My friends say Hillary Clinton had an affair.” No Austin, it was her husband who had the affair.  “Well why did she stay married to him? ”  Whew, this wasn’t a conversation I was prepared to have. But as parents and grandparents, we must always be ready to listen, explain and sometimes correct errors of fact.

The political and religious views of children are shaped largely by their parents. Austin’s classmates were parroting what they’d heard in their homes. Politics are often discussed in our home so Austin is very aware of how nasty this election cycle had become. He said early on that he didn’t like Trump because he was a bully.

This week, as I’ve listened to parents and teachers talk about the election’s effect on our children, I can’t help but feel sad. Our leaders are often role models for our children. Say what you will about President Obama’s policies, he has been an outstanding example for our children. He loves and respects his wife and daughters and has shown an unwavering commitment to education and mentoring.

Now comes President-elect Trump, who built his campaign on a lie about President Obama’s citizenship and has continued to sow seeds of racism and sexism. He has ridiculed women and disabled people, threatened to ban Muslims and created a culture of fear and anger.

My friend Charis, a teacher in suburban Washington, D.C. posted this on her Facebook page Wednesday.

Today was a hard day to be a teacher. In my literary magazine class I asked students to journal their feelings about America, the Election, and the president-elect. While there were definite varying opinions, so many of their responses hurt me to the core. This one came from the sweetest little girl, who also happens to be a Muslim and who proudly wears her hijab. Her last sentence moved me the most. #kindnessmatters

“I am really scared,” the student wrote. “America should have a better and kinder leader.”

As we endeavor to put this election behind us, let’s remember our children and listen to their fears and concerns for our country’s future. They are wiser than we know. And they soak in everything they see and hear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A ram in the bush

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Lap three. We are sweating, talking and laughing. I’m thinking it’s time for a rest, my legs are sore. Then a stranger, a beautiful brown woman with headphones and an i phone in hand, casually breaks into our conversation.

“I like your jacket,” she says cheerily.  This is the third time since we’ve been walking that someone compliments my jacket.

Several months ago my daughter gave me a bunch of cancer gear: T-shirts, jackets, a shawl, a head wrap, a tote bag — about 15 pieces in all. She picked up these items in the course of her work and gave them to me.  My plan is to donate them to an organization that is promoting cancer awareness or research.  I decide to keep the purple jacket  I’m wearing on the track this morning. It is adorned with colorful ribbons and the words “Hope for a Cure For All Cancers.”

The beautiful stranger tells my friend and I that she has just been diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. We stop our walk and turn to embrace her as she melts into tears. She is afraid. Because her mother is a breast cancer survivor, she has taken a test to see if she carries the gene that causes the disease. The test was negative, making her recent diagnosis all the more confusing. Her doctor has given her medicine to shrink the tumor, her hair has fallen out. She is in her 30s and is the mother of four young children.  Her brother tells her that her diet may be the cause.  She is working out in hopes of losing weight and improving her health. She tells us she suffers from bi-polar disorder and eats to ease her pain.  Sonya and I listen, then do the only thing we know  to do. We stand on the track and pray with her. We touch and agree that while cancer may be the diagnosis, God has the final say.

Then we tell her our cancer stories. Sonya’s husband has been battling cancer for six years. Last year, he received a bone marrow transplant. There are dark days to be sure, but they are survivors, she tells her. I tell her about my father, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer last May.  He survived and thrived for more than a year relying on his faith and aggressively seeking treatment.

Our new friend has four children. She pulls up a family photo on her phone. She has much to live for.  She tells us that God put us in her path. Often when we are at the end of our rope, God places a ram in the bush — something or someone to remind us all is not lost.  As the three of us parted ways on the track, we felt God’s love and presence in our exchange. It’s important to remember that he never leaves us, especially in our darkest times.

 

Mabel Jean Lockhart: a woman of quiet strength and dignity, now at rest

Mabel Jean Lockhart

Heaven gained an angel on Sunday, and our church family lost a dear friend and quiet leader.

I’ve known a lot of first ladies in my time, but Mabel Jean Lockhart was different. Sure she wore the beautiful church hats and suits that most first ladies are known for but what stood out about her was not her outer beauty or regal bearing.  This woman was a nurturer in every sense of the word. She possessed a quiet  strength that may have caused some people to underestimate her power. Sister Lockhart didn’t preach alongside her dynamic husband. In fact, it was rare to hear her speak in church.

But get her alone and she would give you an earful. A devoted, wife, mother and grandmother, we shared some special conversations over the years. In most of those chats, she was encouraging me in my journey as a wife and mother. I’m sure she did that for countless women, men and children in our church and beyond.

We became grandparents around the same time nearly 10 years ago, meeting the birth of our grandsons with great joy and pride. Whenever we talked, our conversations always turned to our children and grandchildren. She loved her family in a way only a mother can.  Her love for her husband, Pastor Benjamin Lockhart, and his love for her, was a great example for our church family. He often called her his peacock, but she was his partner in every way.  Her strength and passion for the word of Christ girded him for servant leadership.

From her pew on the center right side of the church, she watched everything that happened. Fiercely protective of her husband, particularly as he dealt with his own health challenges, she was always quietly directing. When he went a little too far, or did a little too much in worship, her expression told him it was time to calm down —  to take his seat and rest for a while. In those times, a smile would cross my face. Like me, she wasn’t good at hiding her true feelings. You always knew where she stood.

I will always remember our last conversation, which took place about a month ago when my husband Joe and I stopped by to visit her at her home. We talked about the return of her cancer and my father’s recent cancer diagnosis. She made it clear to us that she was doing just fine because her soul was anchored in the Lord. We looked at old photos, chatted and laughed. We prayed for peace and strength. That day, as always, confidence and assurance radiated from her being.

While Illness may have taken over earthly body, her soul was at rest. In times of trouble, our faith is what grounds us. Our dear first lady knew that well and spoke it boldly.  She is safe in the arms of her father now. No more pain, no more suffering.

When cancer comes a calling, nothing else seems to matter

#teamduerson #psalm27 #everydaywefight

#teamduerson
#psalm27
#everydaywefight

Three people died in a Louisiana movie theater tonight. The actions of another crazed gunman are being analyzed on CNN.

A black woman died in a Texas jail cell under some very strange circumstances. People want to know how and why. I’ll leave those questions for others to ponder.

I am sad about these things, but I can’t fully process them.  My mind is consumed by the cancer that is consuming my father. It is moving fast and he is standing strong. Me? Not so much. I cry at the drop of a hat. In a store. On the phone. In the middle of the night.

My prayer is that God continues to strengthen my parents, my siblings, the grands and our spouses for this journey. We are in this together; but some days I feel so alone.

I thank God for friends — old and new — who have been amazing in every way.They have recommended treatments, doctors, brought casseroles, peaches, watermelon, cake, you name it. They have prayed with us and for us. They have delivered flowers and fruit to my parents’ doorstep. They have delivered flowers to me. They have listened as I wailed into the phone. They have texted, sent Facebook and Instragram messages, sent scriptures, books and frames. I am overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness.

Two weeks ago, I had surgery to remove a tumor that turned out to be benign. Once the doctor saw my CT scan, he informed me that part of my thyroid would need to be removed as well. An old friend from college called just as my surgeon was breaking the news.  He stayed on the phone with me, asking the doc a few questions on my behalf.  When Dr. Wilson asked if I wanted to do the surgery in two parts, my response was quick. “No, do it all at once so I can get it over with. My father has cancer. That’s all that matters.”

Thankfully, he is not in pain and his spirits are good.  Like Job, he will trust God — just as he always has.

“Angela, God’s got this,”  he tells me daily. “I’m not worried.”

When our family gathers in Atlanta this weekend for our 57th annual reunion, it will be bittersweet. For the first time in decades, my parents won’t be there. But their grandchildren have hatched a very cool idea.  So get ready Mom and Dad. We will have a great reunion and you will be a part of it.

Family love and unity. Nothing else matters.

Faith: The substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen

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By EMILY MCMILLAN, guest blogger 

I will never forget that rainy, cold day in October, when my then 3-year-old son and I arrived from Atlanta to the Memphis VA hospital purposed to drive my father back to Mississippi from a doctor’s appointment.The ride was unusually quiet as we always had great talks whenever we were together.

The silence was finally broken when I asked, “So what brought you to the VA hospital?” He turned and looked at me as though I suddenly made an animal-like metamorphosis back to childhood when children were seen, but not heard! “Well you know these doctors tell you things, but they really don’t know,” he responded. Then the silence resumed. Neither of us really said anything further as I actually began to take on the child-like transition during the remaining 90-minute drive. Even my normally  precocious son remained quiet.

We arrived at my parents’ house and quickly, yet nervously, exited the car and made our way to the door, almost in a daze. My Dad asked that I unpack his things while he freshened up. Still wanting to know more, but not sure how to approach the subject, I began unpacking the small bag he had carried with him. Carefully tucked away in a suitcase pocket was a small green pamphlet titled, ” How to Live with Colon Cancer.”

Immediately, my heart sank in disbelief as I nervously thumbed through the brochure. How could this be? Why is this happening? When? Is this his way of telling me this news? All types of emotions raced through my mind. My return to Atlanta began with a new spiritual change in my life. The thought of this “Daddy’s Girl” losing the first MAN she’d come to love and admire was quite devastating.

However, God intervened and let me know that my first love should always be the Love of Jesus Christ. Our carnal hearts and minds would have us to rely on man for consolation and even place our dependency on things or people that we can see or touch.God let me know that His unconditional love will see me through even the hardest things that I will face in life — even Daddy’s colon cancer diagnosis!

Here I am 26 years later still trusting and knowing that God is the author and finisher of our Faith. I still believe Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen.”

God is still in control.

Emily is a wife, mother and writer living in Atlanta. She is a native of Mississippi and a graduate of University of Mississippi journalism school. Her father, James  A. Gelleylen, died of colon cancer in 1988.

emily's dad