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You Had Me At Hello: ‘It’s easier when your spouse is your best friend and has your back’

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — “You Had Me at Hello’’ highlights married couples and the love that binds them

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By Anita Debro

“You Had Me at Hello’’ highlights married couples and the love that binds them. If you would like to be considered for a future “Hello’’ column, or know someone who would, please send nominations to Erica Wright at ewright@birminghamtimes.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.

SAMANTHA AND TONY WILLIAMS

Live: Calera

Married: November 2, 2013

Met: Tony and Samantha met virtually in 2006 on MySpace. They were both high schoolers in Tuscaloosa who had friends in common on the social media website. One of Samantha’s friends was dating one of Tony’s friends. The two started messaging on MySpace for about a month before they made plans to meet in person.

First date: A group date to the movies was set to be the couple’s first face-to-face meeting. “He didn’t show up.” Samantha said. “I was nervous,” Tony countered. “I wasn’t sure she was who she said she was.” Samantha said she was stuck on the group date with no date, but she would decide to give him another chance.

Take two: Tony called Samantha after standing her up and “made up some excuse,” he recalled. But the two agreed on a second “first date” this time at University Mall in Tuscaloosa.  This time, Tony showed up with a cousin in tow. “I actually didn’t like him when we finally met,” Samantha said.

“I was shy and awkward,” Tony said.

“I was outgoing and energetic,” Samantha said.

But on the telephone, Samantha recalled, Tony was a different person.  Sparks didn’t fly for the two, but a friendship did.  That friendship eventually became a relationship. Tony invited Samantha to the Tuscaloosa County High School JROTC Military Ball and that night they kissed and made it official.

“She was my first girlfriend,” Tony said. “I just got lucky.”

College years: Tony graduated from high school one year ahead of Samantha and went to Shelton State Community College.  Samantha finished high school the following year and went to Auburn University.  Tony followed her to attend Southern Union State Community College in Opelika. During this time, the couple said they laid the foundation for a strong relationship built on friendship and “having each other’s backs.” When Samantha graduated from Auburn, the couple moved to Birmingham for work.

The proposal: May 2013, Tony told Samantha that he had won a gift certificate to Flemings Steakhouse Restaurant. That night, Samantha said Tony was acting strangely. “He kept getting phone calls,” she said. “I am a very inquisitive person, so I eventually figured out something was going on.” After the dinner, Tony took her back to their apartment complex’s swimming pool, put a blindfold on Samantha and when she took it off family and friends were around the pool shouting “Surprise.” Tony then proposed.

The wedding: The couple wed at Hilton Perimeter Park hotel off US 280 in Birmingham. It was a day Samantha said she would not forget for various reasons. “Nothing went the way I planned,” she laughed. “Our wedding coordinator was late, she forgot to put out the aisle runner, there were issues with the florists. It was a mess.”

Tony saw it differently. “It was one of the best days of my life,” he said. Both said they were one of the first in their families to marry, so for many family members theirs was the first wedding they had attended. Samantha said she was thankful that her grandmother was able to be there since she passed away shortly afterwards.

Words of Wisdom: The couple dated for about seven years before marrying and said marriage made their bond stronger. “When you are dating and you have an argument you can just walk away,” Samantha said. “But when you are married you have to commit to work on those issues.” Tony said couples should consider seriously whether they are prepared for marriage which should not be taken lightly, he said. “Make sure that you are going to marry your best friend.”

Samantha agreed. “You need to be more than his wife and he needs to be more than your husband. Marriage is work and it makes it easier when that other person is your best friend and has your back.”

Happily ever after: Tony works at Motion Industries and Samantha works at Innovation Depot in Birmingham for Bio GX. The couple has an 8-month old daughter Raegan Grace. Currently, their favorite thing to do is stay home, watch movies and relax.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times

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Advice

From the 1800s to Today: Empowering Veteran Business Owners

Amid the success of the family business, the McKindras never lost sight of the support they had been given—and the importance of passing it on to others in their community and society. Generations of McKindras have dedicated their lives to the military, including his grandfather, father, and brother (pictured right), and subsequently to their communities when they returned home.

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Three generations of McKindras pictured from left to right: Alex Jr. (West Point, Air Force), Q.R. McKindra (Alex Jr.’s grandfather, WWII veteran), Alex Sr. (career Army officer), and Marcus (Alex Jr.’s younger brother, Air Force Academy) (Courtesy photo)
Three generations of McKindras pictured from left to right: Alex Jr. (West Point, Air Force), Q.R. McKindra (Alex Jr.’s grandfather, WWII veteran), Alex Sr. (career Army officer), and Marcus (Alex Jr.’s younger brother, Air Force Academy) (Courtesy photo)

From JPMorgan Chase

From his years of service in the military to his current work helping former soldiers build their own businesses through JPMorgan Chase’s veteran initiatives, Alex McKindra Jr. is a veteran success story.

Moreover, as we celebrate Veteran’s Day this year, Alex’s story is a uniquely American one that veterans and members of the military community across the country can relate to. But, as he is the first to admit, his success story, like many, has a long history tracing back through generations of his family in the small town of Union Chapel, Arkansas.

Becoming a Cornerstone of the Community

In the late 1800s, Alex’s great-great grandfather, Reuben Frank McKindra, moved his family to Union Chapel, a town originally settled by freed Black slaves.

Working on their family farm, the McKindras made a name for themselves by demonstrating their resourcefulness and aptitude for hard work. Namely, the family utilized mentorship programs, as well as public and private funding, to not only start but grow their family farm.

Amid the success of the family business, the McKindras never lost sight of the support they had been given—and the importance of passing it on to others in their community and society. Generations of McKindras have dedicated their lives to the military, including his grandfather, father, and brother (pictured right), and subsequently to their communities when they returned home.

“I would not be in the position I am today if not for the opportunities that mentorship provided,” says McKindra. “The farm my family was able to start, through the support and mentorship of others, has helped to educate and put clothes on every generation of my family since the 1880s.”

Honoring a Legacy

McKindra chose to honor his roots by joining the service himself. He graduated from West Point in 1993 and then completed a tour of duty serving across the U.S. as Captain in the United States Air Force. He worked as a procurement officer, including on the B-2 Bomber Program, which allowed him to travel across the country, learning from and serving others. During that time, he also spent his nights and weeks pursuing an MBA from the University of Southern California.

Armed with the life experience and knowledge he gained from the service—and a freshly-minted MBA and banking internship under his belt— McKindra dove into the world of corporate finance. Quickly building a reputation for his intelligence, reliability and kindness, he rose through the ranks. Today, he works as a Managing Director for JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking in San Francisco

Paying It Forward

Alex didn’t want the chapter in his family’s story to end with commercial success.  He wanted to help those who—like his great-great-grandfather Reuben—had risked their lives for the country and were now seeking to put down roots as civilians. With that in mind, he decided to co-lead JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking’s veteran initiatives alongside Army veteran, Terry Hill. Alex, Terry and their team across the firm share a passion for mentorship and community building. Through various programming, they tap into their military backgrounds to connect with aspiring and current military-connected entrepreneurs to help them access the resources they need to be successful over the long-term.

For example, McKindra worked with JPMorgan Chase to partner with Bunker Labs, a national nonprofit that supports the ventures of veterans and military spouses, to build programs to help veteran business owners.

Today, JPMorgan Chase is powering Bunker Labs’ CEOcircle, a monthly peer accountability group for growth-stage companies looking to scale. Through this program, veteran business owners and their families gain access to the guidance and resources they need to succeed, including education, networking, and one-on-one financial coaching. This year, CEOcircle welcomed 71 new individuals to the program including Office Libations from Alameda.

The program uplifts businesses that will support military families for generations to come — businesses like the McKindra farm.

“If I’ve learned one thing from my family’s history, it’s that hard work and preparation aren’t always enough. Sometimes we need to create our own opportunities as well,” Alex says. “That is what we are hoping to do with CEOcircle, to create the opportunities and provide the support veteran entrepreneurs need to help them overcome systemic obstacles to business and professional growth.”

Generational Impact

Less than an hour north of Little Rock, the McKindra’s family farm still stands in Union Chapel. Today, the manicured green fields and trees remain a testament to the effort, determination, and community it takes to create a successful business.

“If my great-great-grandfather were here today, I would want him to know that what he built didn’t just support our family, it also instilled the values in us that would seed the acceleration and growth of hundreds of other veteran-owned businesses in the future,” McKindra says. “I know he’d be proud of that.”

If you are a veteran or know someone who is and want to learn more about how JPMorgan Chase support veterans whether through career advancement or small business support or anything in between, please visit: https://www.jpmorganchase.com/impact/people/military-and-vets

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Bay Area

A Labor of Love, Daughter Gifts Kidney to Her Father

After sharing the news of possibly going on dialysis with his wife and children, Rev. Chambers was moved and relieved at the show of support, love and sacrifice that his family, and his community, was willing to give in order to ensure his health. After well over a year of doctor’s appointments, testing and consultations, prayers and support, Rev. Chambers received a successful kidney transplant from his living donor, his daughter Candase Chambers on Friday, Aug. 26 at UCSF Medical Center.

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Rev. Chambers hopes his family’s experience encourages other families to support each other and always work together. “Working together works,” he said.
Rev. Chambers hopes his family’s experience encourages other families to support each other and always work together. “Working together works,” he said.

When Rev. Ken Chambers, Sr. first received news from his doctor that he may need to go on dialysis, it felt like a knot in his stomach after having gone through his share of health challenges in the past. He had experienced congestive heart failure, kidney failure, and in 2014, he successfully fought cancer.

After sharing the news of possibly going on dialysis with his wife and children, Rev. Chambers was moved and relieved at the show of support, love and sacrifice that his family, and his community, was willing to give in order to ensure his health. After well over a year of doctor’s appointments, testing and consultations, prayers and support, Rev. Chambers received a successful kidney transplant from his living donor, his daughter Candase Chambers on Friday, Aug. 26 at UCSF Medical Center.

“It has been a long journey with my health declining and having fought cancer three different times in three different places of my body,” Rev. Chambers said. “Not only were my kidneys failing but I was slated for dialysis. Once I got confirmation that a transplant was possible, I had seven people offer to be my kidney donor. What a blessing that all of my kids were willing to be a donor but in lieu of all the efforts, my daughter Candase matched up and moved aggressively to go forward with the transplant. It’s all been a part of God’s plan.”

For a year before the surgery, Candase had gone through multiple tests and doctor assessments to make sure she was healthy enough to be a kidney donor and to confirm she was a match to give her father one of her kidneys — the greatest sacrifice one can make.

“Once I knew I was a match, there was nothing else to consider. If I could save my dad’s life, I knew that was a choice I was going to make,” said Candase. “Recovery has been uncomfortable and a process, but seeing my dad regain his strength and energy makes it all worth it. It feels nice to at least be able to give back to a parent when they have already given so much to me.”

The journey for them both was not free of its challenges and possible setbacks. The surgery had been scheduled and postponed twice before, once when Pastor Chambers tested positive for COVID-19 and another when his heart test raised some concerns for doctors to ensure he was healthy enough to undergo the intensive surgery.

Rev. Chambers said, “Praise God the surgery went forward, and the transplant has been a success. My kidney started working immediately and I will be preaching my first sermon on Sunday, Sept. 18, three weeks and two days after the surgery. God is so good! My wife, family and community organizations all have been so supportive, I’m forever grateful.”

Friends of the Chambers family started a donation fund to support them with additional medical costs and care throughout the recovery process.

Rev. Chambers hopes his family’s experience encourages other families to support each other and always work together. “Working together works,” he said.

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Activism

Protesters Demand Further Investigation After Alameda County Grand Jury Report Ignores Flagrant Probate Abuses

Cathy Rodriguez was denied the conservatorship of her aunt, 88-year-old Mildred Rodriguez, despite sharing ownership of the mobile home they lived in. Mildred’s estate was handed over to a public guardian because of a dispute between Cathy and a cousin, Rose Rivera, who had placed the mobile home and Mildred’s retirement and assets in her name.

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Samantha Durrell shows before and after pictures of her mother under the “care” of her court-appointed guardian.
Samantha Durrell shows before and after pictures of her mother under the “care” of her court-appointed guardian.

By Tanya Dennis

The release last month of Alameda County’s Grand Jury report charging deficiencies in the Alameda County Probate Court system has set off a firestorm of activity by probate reform groups that say the report did not go far enough.

Affected family members and activists gathered outside of the Alameda County Supervisors Administration office Aug. 11 to protest the failure of the Grand Jury to address the families’ losses of their loved ones and their estates.

According to the protesters, the Grand Jury report failed to address the ongoing enrichment of court-appointed guardians or conservators to the detriment of conservatees and their families.

“Protesters want the presiding probate judge, Charles Smiley, the Grand Jury and the County Board of Supervisors to genuinely consider their complaints of guardianship abuse and reopen the Grand Jury investigation,” said Venus Gist of California Justice.

Samantha Dussell and Cecily Dussell were among those outside the courthouse. “I’m out here protesting today because my mother’s civil rights were violated,” said Samantha Dussell. She and her daughter, Cecily Dussell, had filed a verified petition to remove the public guardian from their mother/grandmother, Rosalie Hope Sifuentez.

“In every aspect of my mother’s life, there has been a lack of common sense and integrity and contempt for her that has been used in making decisions for her daily care, health care, emotional and spiritual needs and living environment,” Samantha said.

Also protesting was Doris Lilly who alleges that the estate of her aunt, 97-year-old Christine Williams, was taken and sold by the man who prepared Williams’ taxes.

Lilly said that Williams’ tax preparer utilized his access to Williams’ documents, changed her will, her power of attorney, placed his name on her accounts, then sold her $800,000 home for $605,000, gave $100,000 to two nephews and has not been held accountable by the court to report what happened to the $405,000 balance of her estate despite requests from the family.

Cathy Rodriguez was denied the conservatorship of her aunt, 88-year-old Mildred Rodriguez, despite sharing ownership of the mobile home they lived in. Mildred’s estate was handed over to a public guardian because of a dispute between Cathy and a cousin, Rose Rivera, who had placed the mobile home and Mildred’s retirement and assets in her name.

Rather than assist Cathy in returning the assets she shared with Mildred, the conservator reported to the court that Mildred did not trust Cathy, despite a hand-written note by Mildred that she did not like the care facility she was in and wished to live with Cathy.

Rivera, the Public Guardian, filed a complaint claiming Cathy’s behavior was disruptive and prohibited her from having any contact with her aunt.

“The system is abusing my auntie and keeping her in prison with no contact with the outside world,” Rodriguez says. In a video recording, Mildred states “I want out of here. I want out of this place. I don’t like staying here and being with these people, I want to live with Cathy.”

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