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Attendees on What They Thought of City’s Inaugural Freedom Fest

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — The festival offered a balance of entertainment and education. Performers included Birmingham talents Ruben Studdard and Alvin Garrett as well as Huntsville hip hop artist Translee. Others included gospel artist Kristen Glover, neo soul artist Love Moor, soul group Midnight Star, hip hop soul artist Musiq Soulchild, and hip-hop duo 8Ball & MJG.

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From left: Kenneth Marbry II; Kenneth Marbry III; Amariya Marbry and Patrice Marbry during Freedom Fest (Photo by: Ameera Steward | The Birmingham Times)

By Ameera Steward

Local resident Marie Dixon got exactly what she was looking for when she attended the inaugural Birmingham Freedom Fest last weekend in Kelly Ingram Park.

“As a vegan I was worried I wasn’t going to find anything to eat,” said Dixon. “I had a …black bean burger it’s so good…[and] amazing.”

Dixon moved to Birmingham from Maryland 17 months ago and said the festival gave her a chance to interact with the community.

“I don’t come out as much as I should, so this has been a great opportunity to mix and mingle…,” she said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to be a part of the civil rights [institute] and all of the history that Birmingham has.”

The Freedom Fest drew thousands of people for a day long series of entertainment and empowerment in the heart of the Civil Rights District in downtown.

The festivities began at noon beneath a bright sun that illuminated colorful tents and food trucks that sold goods to the diverse crowd around Kelly Ingram Park.

The festival offered a balance of entertainment and education. Performers included Birmingham talents Ruben Studdard and Alvin Garrett as well as Huntsville hip hop artist Translee. Others included gospel artist Kristen Glover, neo soul artist Love Moor, soul group Midnight Star, hip hop soul artist Musiq Soulchild, and hip-hop duo 8Ball & MJG.

There was also an online contest where the residents of Birmingham voted on “Birmingham’s Emerging Artist” – Chrinway, a Bessemer city rapper.

The fest also gave attendees a chance to hear leaders and innovators in business, technology, beauty, the arts, and urban planning during seven empowerment sessions held in places like the historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Panel discussions included the “Justice, Empathy and Advocacy” panel with Mayor Randall Woodfin, U.S. Senator Doug Jones, and Prison reform advocate Anthony Ray Hinton.

Visitors came away pleased by what they saw and heard. To some the festival was reminiscent of the past and for others it was a look into the future of Birmingham.

“I think this is a great event and it being the first year, I just wanted to come out and show some support,” said Dixon, who added she was glad to see the diverse crowds. “It’s about all of Birmingham and not just the African-American portion of Birmingham.”

“I was really proud to be in Birmingham on Saturday,” she said. “I was touched by the history of the Civil Rights District and proud to see how far Birmingham has come.”

LaTonya Roy, 47, originally from Anchorage, Alaska and who now lives in Birmingham said she was attracted to the fest because of the word “freedom…freedom of expression, freedom to connect with a diverse group of people.”

Roy said she was looking forward to “the entertainment, the panels, and the good weather that we’re having.”

“I love it,” said Jeremy Scott, 24, of Birmingham. “It’s brought out everybody in Birmingham, I hope they continue doing it so we can do this for years to come. I know it’s the first annual, I want it to be annual.”

Scott said he and his friends saw the event on Facebook and seeing a music festival in Birmingham was something different.

“We haven’t had a festival here in a long time,” he said. “The last time I came out for a music festival was [City Stages] so it’s been a while since I’ve seen…live talent in Birmingham but it’s been amazing.”

Scott said his favorite part was seeing Midnight Star, “I’m a big funk musician fan so I’m digging it right now.”

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Panel Discussions

Patrice Marbry, 39, of Chelsea, Ala. said she enjoyed the empowerment sessions.

“I like the idea of having the musical artists as well as the informational sessions,” she said.

Marbry is a board member of STREAM Innovations, a nonprofit organization that helps students develop and explore their passion for Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STREAM).  She attended the “Cracking Codes: The Power of STEM” panel discussion, held in St. Paul United Methodist Church to support the organization’s CEO, Dr. Adrienne Starks.

One thing she learned was the challenges faced by people of color who drop out of their PhD programs.

It was encouraging for young people to see people who look like them on the panel with PhDs  in front of their names, she said.

Another favorite was the “Justice, Empathy and Advocacy” panel, said Marbry, a regional middle school instructional coach at the University of Montevallo.

“Anthony Ray Hinton (was wrongly convicted of the 1985 murders of two fast food restaurant managers in Birmingham, sentenced to death, and held on the state’s death row for 28 years) called a lot of things the exact things that they are. As an educator I have been inclined to believe that education should be at the forefront of the Social Justice Movement.”

Scott attended the “She Decides: A Courageous Conversation about Women’s Rights” panel held in Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and said it was informative and it opened his eyes.

“I was kind of in the dark about everything but…I’m looking around and seeing what we need to change in the state, in the country, everywhere,” Scott said.

Jay Williams, 25, of Birmingham, also attended the “She Decides” panel. “We get to see what happens when women empower each other,” he said.

“I have been encouraged by seeing the turnout…I think that opportunities like this should come more to Birmingham [because] it’s just an opportunity for us to show what we have,” said Williams.

Leah Parker, 39, visiting Birmingham from Atlanta, Ga. said she enjoyed both the panels and the music.

“It’s nice to see everybody come out and just enjoy great music; everybody has been so friendly and positive,” she said. “And seeing what our city can really do . . . it’s great energy out here.”

“The music is great, you can’t beat it, live music, outside everybody is up dancing, everybody is having a memory when a song comes on, it’s been great,” she said. Her favorite part was “running into old friends and meeting some new friends.”

Vivian Davis, Alabama State Senator, said on the “She Decides” panel that women need to support one another.

“The more you share with others and you give up yourself to others the more your blessings will repeat the light onto you,” she said.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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IN MEMORIAM: Cheryl Hickmon: National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Dies

NNPA NEWSWIRE — THE BURTON WIRE — Hickmon, a beloved and celebrated member, served the organization for 39 years. The Connecticut native was initiated into the Alpha Xi Chapter at South Carolina State University in 1982 and was an active member of the Hartford (Conn.) Alumnae Chapter. The national office of the sorority released a statement announcing Hickmon’s  death which reads as follows, in part: “It is with great sorrow that Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. shares the passing of our beloved National President and Chair of the National Board of Directors, Cheryl A. Hickmon. President Hickmon transitioned peacefully on January 20, 2022 after a recent illness.

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Cheryl Hickmon, national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, the nation’s largest African-American sorority.

By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D, NNPA Newswire Culture and Entertainment Editor

The nation is mourning the passing of Cheryl Hickmon, national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, the nation’s largest African-American sorority. Hickmon was elected president of the organization dedicated to sisterhood, scholarship and service  November 21, 2021 at the 55th national convention held in Atlanta, GA.

Hickmon, a beloved and celebrated member, served the organization for 39 years. The Connecticut native was initiated into the Alpha Xi Chapter at South Carolina State University in 1982 and was an active member of the Hartford (Conn.) Alumnae Chapter. The national office of the sorority released a statement announcing Hickmon’s  death which reads as follows:

“It is with great sorrow that Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. shares the passing of our beloved National President and Chair of the National Board of Directors, Cheryl A. Hickmon. President Hickmon transitioned peacefully on January 20, 2022 after a recent illness.

President Hickmon was a devoted member of Delta Sigma Theta since 1982 and served in various capacities at the chapter, region, and national level before being elected National President. She is remembered not only for her role as a leader but for being a colleague, friend, and most of all, sister.

The entire sisterhood of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated mourns the loss of President Hickmon. During this difficult time, we ask that you respect her family’s privacy and keep them in your prayers.”

In addition to serving as the national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Cheryl was employed at Montefiore’s Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Health in Hartsdale, NY where she supervised the In Vitro Fertilization Laboratories for Andrology and Endocrinology. A licensed Clinical Laboratory Technologist, Hickmon worked in the Reproductive Medical Laboratory for more than 30 years.
Members and supporters have been offering remembrances and calling for prayers in response to Hickmon’s death. Florida representative Val Demings,  who is a member of the sorority, shared her thoughts via Twitter:
Organizations including the NAACP and fellow Black Greek Letter Organizations like Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma and Alpha Kappa Alpha have issued statements about Hickmon’s passing.

Cheryl Hickmon is the daughter of the late Dr. Ned Hickmon of Hartford, CT and Bishopville, South Carolina and the late Consuella Anderson Hickmon of Hartford, CT and Cincinnati, Ohio. She is survived by her two older brothers Ned and David Hickmon.

Hickmon’s bio reads, “Cheryl lives her life by the motto … ‘Don’t measure life by the number of breaths you take but by the number of moments that take your breath away.’” She was 60.

This obituary was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Instagram or Twitter @TheBurtonWire. 

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Parents Raise the Alarm About Violence in Schools, Say Their Votes Depends on Improvement

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.

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NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.
About 52 percent said student mental health after coping with the pandemic is a significant issue, as well.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

A new poll revealed that parents continue to express “legitimate concerns” about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources.

Alarmingly, the poll released by the National Parents Union found that 59 percent of parents are very or extremely concerned about how schools are teaching race and diversity.

“Many Black parents are worried that schools are being harsher on students of color compared to white students,” researchers noted in the poll.

The National Parents Union counts as a network of parent organizations and grassroots activists committed to improving the quality of life for children and families in the United States.

Conducted from November 19 to November 23, the survey included 1,233 parents who also count as registered voters.

Researchers found that 84 percent of parents are concerned about how schools address the threat of violence, and 59 percent identified increased bullying or violence in school as a significant issue.

About 52 percent said student mental health after coping with the pandemic is a significant issue, as well.

“Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.

“Now, it is incumbent on schools to do something about these issues, especially given the federal funds available. It’s not rocket science. Rather than repaint a football field, first, make sure that there are enough counselors to help students cope with mental health issues,” Rodrigues asserted.

The poll also asked the parents who responded that they were concerned about the threat of violence, which worries them the most.

The top three most pressing concerns remain:

  • 44 percent: schools not having enough counselors, psychologists, or social workers to work with students
  • 42 percent: schools not having resources to keep weapons out of schools
  • 39 percent: schools not having school resource officers or police accessible on campus
  • 59 percent of parents are extremely or very concerned about how schools are teaching about race and diversity; Among Black parents, 69 percent share this sentiment, which drops slightly to 67 percent among Hispanic parents.

Of the overall number of parents who are at least somewhat concerned (79 percent):

  • 48 percent say what concerns them the most is schools are not teaching accurate information about the issue of race.
  • 42 percent are most concerned about schools pushing a progressive agenda onto students
  • 56 percent of GOP parents who are concerned say this is their top concern
  • 32 percent are most concerned that schools aren’t focused on the issue enough
  • 46 percent of Black parents who are concerned say this is their top concern
  • 78 percent of parents are concerned about how schools are handling disciplinary issues
  • Nearly half (46 percent) of Black parents who said they are concerned about how schools are handling disciplinary issues are worried that schools are harsher on students of color compared to white students
  • 38 percent of parents trust Democrats to do a better job of handling education; 31 percent trust Republicans; 14 percent trust both equally; 11 percent trust neither

Among parents who identify as Independents, 28 percent trust Republicans and 20 percent trust Democrats.

“These findings underscore the importance of the very thing we have been imploring school leaders across the country to do – listen to the parents in your community,” Rodrigues stated.

“It also reinforces the need for those running for office to take the concerns of parents very seriously or risk losing elections.”

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COMMENTARY: Telling Our Family Stories Keeps Black History Alive

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of our favorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.

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Dr. Margaret Fortune, Fortune School, University of Southern California (USC), football, USC marching band, marching bands, drumline, public charter school, Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School, family stories, life in the Carolinas, parents, grandparents, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, children’s book, Rex and the Band, grandma, Dr. Rex Fortune, retired public school superintendent, little Rex, spirited young boy, high-energy marching band, North Carolina A&T football games, sister’s beautifully illustrated book, Telling our family stories, African Americans, history, Griots, storytellers, grandparents, ancestors, passed on, Black press, clearinghouse, many stories, Black community, Ebony Jr., elementary school student, high school, Sacramento Observer newspaper, Cocoa Kids Books, engaging, authentic, uplifting, inspiring
Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

Let’s Talk Black Education

By Dr. Margaret Fortune, President/CEO Fortune School

When we were kids, my dad would take us to football games at the University of Southern California (USC). I didn’t care much for football, but I loved it when we’d stay after the game to hear the USC marching band play. His love for marching bands is why we have a drumline at the public charter school I founded and named after my parents — Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School.

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of ourfavorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.

As the story goes, one day back in 1947, my grandma sent little Rex to the corner store to get some eggs so she could bake a cake. My dad bought the eggs and put them in his pockets. On the walk home, he encountered a marching band high-steppin’ down the dusty road to his mother’s house. Little Rex got so excited that he followed the band, beating on his legs like drums all the way home and, yes, breaking all the eggs.

“Rex and the Band” explores a day in the life of Rex, a spirited young boy who dreams of one day playing in a high-energy marching band like the ones he enjoys watching with his father during North Carolina A&T football games.

Reading my sister’s beautifully illustrated book, I cried tears of joy. Telling our family stories is such an important way for African Americans to keep our history alive. Griots, or storytellers, are the reason why we know the truths that we do know about our family history and ancestors.

I believe all of us can think back to when our grandparents would tell us stories about our ancestors who may have passed on before we were born. It was their way of making sure our stories were not only told but preserved.

The Black press has been the clearinghouse for many stories that have impacted the Black community over time. My sister published her first poem in Ebony Jr. as an elementary school student and then in high school she interned at the Sacramento Observer newspaper.

Gwen founded Cocoa Kids Books to publish books like “Rex and the Band” that encourage Black children to dream, aspire for more, and soar because they see themselves reflected in stories that are engaging, authentic, uplifting, and inspiring. I’m so proud of my big sis! You can buy Gwen’s book at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/rex-and-the-band.

Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

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