There is so much wrong with our criminal justice system when it comes to handling officer-involved shootings and much of the needed reforms are hard to get in place. But body cameras are a straightforward, non-controversial solution that would go a long way towards making clear what’s happened in the context of an officer involved shooting.
In a study done in California last year, cameras resulted in a 60% reduction in use of force, and an 88% decline in the number of complaints against officers. We can also channel the energy and passion of this moment into this straightforward and real solution.
Join us in calling on federal, state, and local authorities in Knoxville and across the country to mandate the use of body cameras for all police officers.
Here’s the letter we’ll use to pressure federal, state and local authorities.
In the wake of the tragic police killing of Channara Tom Pheap, one thing is clear: if officer Dylan Williams had been wearing a body camera, we would have a much clearer picture of exactly what happened. Every police officer in Knoxville and the country should be wearing a body camera. Body cameras help ensure proper justice and accountability when officers use force. Cameras protect citizens from unjustified force at the hands of officers, and protect officers who are doing their job properly. Such transparency and accountability will help transform the relationship between police and communities. A study in California showed that cameras resulted in 60% reduction in use of force, and an 88% decline in the number of complaints against officers. The community has called for the use of body cameras, and law enforcement across the country is increasingly embracing them. Now is the time to implement this straightforward and common sense solution in our city.
WE ALSO NEED CLEAR POLICY ON THIS ISSUE ALONG WITH THE BODY CAMERAS AND MEASURES TO INSURE DEVICES ARE ON AT ALL TIMES WITH DISCIPLINARY ACTION FOR OFFICERS OBSTRUCTING THE LAW.
Angela Dennis is a Freelance Writer and Editor of Black With No Chaser residing in Knoxville. Her work has been featured in multiple publications such as Knox News Sentinel, Blavity, Black Girl Nerds, etc.
FAMILY ISSUES STATEMENT IN THE OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTING DEATH OF CHANARRA TOM “PHILLY” PHEAP
KNOXVILLE—The family of Chanarra Tom “Philly” Pheap has released this statement regarding the officer involved shooting death of their son on August 26, 2019. They mourn their sudden loss while remaining vigilant in their pursuit of justice. Here is the statement from the Pheap Family:
“Channara was a very kind person with a good heart and soul. He was protective of his family with a loving personality. Anyone who spoke with him was instantly drawn in and naturally gravitated towards him.
He stepped up to take care of children that were not biologically his but you could never tell him they were not his kids. He would do anything for them. He was dedicated to his family as a provider and caregiver and worked hard daily to take care of them.
He was a great man, positive no matter what he was going through. He uplifted others daily with his light. No matter what he was by his family’s side and there to guide them through anything. He encouraged his family to finish school, prepare for the future, work hard and treat each other with kindness.
Losing him means losing the backbone of our family, he kept everyone connected and would be the mediator when needed. We have lost a son, brother, uncle, and most importantly his children have lost their father. This loss has truly devastated us”
On Monday, Chanarra Tom Pheap was killed in an officer involved shooting at the block of 1716 Merchants Drive in Knoxville.
Pheap was of Cambodian decent, and had a young daughter with his girlfriend, and also was helping to raise her two young sons.
Officer Dylan M. Williams was identified as the officer involved in the altercation at Clear Springs Apartments.
Authorities have yet to release any details in the case as calls for action and body cameras for KPD are being demanded by community members.
Activists are mobilizing to demand answers to their questions about his death.
Imani Mfalme, of Community Defense of East Tennessee says the community and local organizations have been very supportive.
“First and foremost we must not forget the family in our anger as we fight for justice in this case”, she said.
As Knoxville is now front and center on the issue of excessive use of force by law enforcement many local citizens remain outraged at the lack of transparency within the police department.
“Accurate and comprehensive data regarding police uses of force is generally not available to police departments or the American public. No comprehensive national database exists that captures police use of force.”
That means that the federal government doesn’t even know how big the problem of excessive police use of force is, making it difficult, if not impossible, to craft and measure effective solutions.
Without that information, lawmakers and the public are left in the dark about the reality of force used in police encounters fueling distrust and anger within communities. Lack of community support means that police have an even more difficult time doing their job, ultimately making communities less safe.
The family of Channara Tom Pheap will be holding a vigil for him at 1716 Merchants Drive behind apt 1202 today at 7 pm. Please bring flowers cards or anything to show love in this time of grief. The family has chosen the color gold to remember him
For more information on this case or media inquiries contact:
Community Defense of East Tennessee
Angela Dennis is a Freelance Writer and Editor of Black With No Chaser residing in Knoxville. Her work has been featured in multiple publications such as Knox News Sentinel, Blavity, Black Girl Nerds, etc.
In the month of August Hillary Clinton gave her support along with Run for Something, a grass roots collective effort to support young diverse progressives in this month’s class of 55 candidates. Included in their endorsement is Knoxville’s very own David Alex Hayes.
Run for Something’s mission states:
Run for Something helps recruit and support young diverse progressives to run for down-ballot races in order to build a bench for the future — the folks we support now could be possible members of the House, Senate, and maybe even President one day. We aim to lower the barriers to entry for these candidates by helping them with seed money, organization building, and access to trainings needed to be successful.
As we look forward to 2019 and beyond, our mission remains singularly focused — not just on building the bench, but on changing the face of progressive politics by quite literally changing the drivers of progressive policies: local candidates are who making peoples’ lives better right this very minute.
David Hayes is an activist and working-class Knoxvillian who is committed to building a Knoxville for All; a Knoxville where all families, workers, and communities can thrive.
David is running for office and building a progressive majority on city council to work with Black, Brown, and working class communities to make the institutional changes needed for all people to survive and thrive. His experience in politics and community organizing informed his belief that Knoxvillians deserve new political leadership that is accountable to communities. David is committed to improving the daily lives of Knoxvillians and fighting for good jobs with living wages, affordable homes, safe and healthy communities, and real democracy in our local government.
For polling information for today’s City of Knoxville Primary visit Here
Angela Dennis is a Freelance Writer and Blogger in Knoxville, TN. Her work has been featured in multiple publications such as Knox News Sentinel, Blavity, Black Girl Nerds, etc.
REP. RICK STAPLES STATEMENT ON SCHOOL WATER TEST RESULTS
KNOXVILLE—Rep. Rick Staples, (D-District 15) has released this statement regarding the results of recent water testing at Knox County Schools. Rep. Staples passed legislation (HB0631) in the 110th General Assembly designed to keep parents better informed about what their kids are drinking in schools. After the new law took effect this year, Knox County Schools sent letters home to parents last week saying 14 schools had certain faucets, taps and water fountains that tested above the state threshold for lead. Here is Rep. Staples’ statement:
“I applaud and appreciate all LEA’s that have taken steps to be in compliance with HB0631. The purpose of this historically significant piece of legislation was to safeguard the health of our children, support safer schools and to promote shared information. Prior to this bipartisan bill, Tennessee had no mechanism in place that would test lead levels in the water used during meal preparation and drinking fountains. Since January 1st, 2019, we now have in place measures to do just that. I’m grateful to have sponsored this bill and thankful that the process in now working.”
Rep. Staples added that the letters sent to parents prove that the new law is being taken seriously: “Obviously, Knox County cares about our young people and will take action on this issue.”
City Council Movement Reaffirms Support for Amelia Parker, David Hayes, and Charles Al-Bawi
Knoxville, TN — On Monday morning, Steve Hunley of the Knoxville Focus published a piece attacking City Council Movement candidates Amelia Parker and David Hayes with degrading, false criticisms, and bigoted stereotypes. The City Council Movement is a grassroots movement doing politics in a way that is new and different because we are weary of business as usual and tired of politicians who do not represent everyday Knoxvillians, and we support Amelia Parker for Knoxville City Council At-Large Seat C, David Hayes for City Council At-Large Seat B, and Charles Al-Bawi for City Council District 5.
Our candidates may not be rich and powerful like so many others who are running for City Council, but the experience they have is far more valuable. Our candidates understand how hard it is to get by as a working person in Knoxville, and when they talk about the change our city needs, they speak from their own experiences: one has worked as a custodian, another a fast food worker, and another a grocery store clerk. Today, Amelia Parker is an accomplished human rights advocate, David Hayes is an experienced community and labor organizer and a dedicated parent, and Charles Al-Bawi is a Guardian ad Litem attorney who protects the most vulnerable children in our community. Our candidates have chosen to dedicate their lives to building a world that is more equitable and just. We are proud to stand by our candidates and our values, and we think there is nothing radical about the idea that all people should have food, shelter, education, and dignity. Together we are fighting for a Knoxville for ALL.
REP. LOVE FILES RESOLUTION TO COMMEMORATE 400 YEARS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN ACHIEVEMENT
NASHVILLE- State Representative Harold Love Jr. has filed a resolution to be considered in Friday’s special legislative session that would honor the 400 years of contributions that Africans and African Americans have made in this country. The resolution is tied to the anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in colonial Virginia in August 1619. The U.S. Congress and several states have established a “400 Years of African American History Commission” to commemorate the anniversary. The Commission is carrying out events across the country designed to celebrate the contributions African Americans have made since 1619, despite the debilitating effects of slavery and Jim Crow laws. Rep. Love (D-District 58) says, “Despite the inequity that still remains among African-American populations with many families net worth being less than a late-model car; Africans and African-Americans have contributed to all aspects of American life, from politics to popular music and from sports to scientific innovations. These achievements need to be celebrated, honored and reported.” The resolution (HJR7009) is sponsored in the Senate by Raumesh Akbari (D-District 29). Sen. Akbari added: “While 2019 marks 400 years since the first African was brought to America and forced into slavery, this enslavement is not our only story. Since 1619, African Americans have contributed to the very fabric of our nation, and in all facets of life, you can see and feel the impact. Through this resolution, we want to remember our dark and painful history, while also celebrating the achievement and the resiliency of our people.”
How a Difficult, Racist, Stubborn President Was Removed From Power—If Not From Office
The president of the United States was both a racist and a very difficult man to get along with.
He routinely called blacks inferior. He bluntly stated that no matter how much progress they made, they must remain so. He openly called critics disloyal, even treasonous. He liberally threw insults like candy during public speeches. He rudely ignored answers he didn’t like. He regularly put other people into positions they didn’t want to be in, then blamed them when things went sour. His own bodyguard later called him “destined to conflict,” a man who “found it impossible to conciliate or temporize.”
But the nation’s politicians simply had to interact with Andrew Johnson, for he had become the legitimate, constitutionally ordained chief executive upon Abraham Lincoln’s death by assassination.
Their path for managing this choleric man reveals that a president need not be kicked out of office to be removed from holding a firm grip on the reins of power. It also shows that people around the president, from Congress to the Cabinet, have many more tools at their disposal than, say, writing an anonymous New York Times op-ed to stop a leader they consider reckless or dangerous.
This is true even though Johnson’s vice presidency remains historically unique. For his 1864 reelection bid, Lincoln had dumped his first-term vice president, Hannibal Hamlin. To appeal to non-Republicans and show he wasn’t just a Northern leader in the middle of the Civil War, the president instead ran on a new “National Union” ticket. He picked Johnson, a lifelong Democrat from Tennessee who had been the only senator out of 11 Southern states to remain with the Union in 1861 instead of walking out of the Senate and leaving a vacant seat in protest.
But Johnson turned out to be a poor choice, and the new vice president couldn’t have started his term much worse. Feeling ill, Johnson threw down three glasses of whiskey right before his swearing-in ceremony and inaugural speech. “I need all the strength I can get,” he told Hamlin,who was there to hand off the office Johnson would soon assume.
The audience noticed, and not just because Johnson’s face had turned bright red and his planned five-minute address stretched to three times longer. Shouting, gesticulating wildly, stumbling over his words and shaking his fists, he went into stump-speech mode, declaring violently that he was a man of the people and that Tennessee had never left the Union. Hamlin tried to shut him up and pull him away but failed in both. Johnson stammered and had to ask assembled officials nearby who the secretary of the Navy was. During the spectacle, the attorney general leaned over and called it “a wretched mess” to Gideon Welles—who happened to be the secretary of the Navy—who in turn said, “Johnson is either drunk or crazy.”
Johnson finally stopped his meandering and allowed Hamlin to administer the oath of office. Unfortunately, he bungled that, too, stumbling through the words and adding his own befuddled commentary along the way. After putting his lips to the Bible he’d just sworn on and yelling, “I kiss this Book in the face of my nation of the United States!” officials moved him on and asked someone else, on his behalf, to perform the new vice president’s traditional duty and administer oaths to the new senators. Lincoln took it all in stride, denying that his new vice president was a drunkard while acknowledging his “bad slip.” Johnson did the noble thing and kept himself mostly out of the public eye for the next 10 days to let the scandal subside.
That, combined with the tradition of the time that presidents didn’t consider their vice presidents part of the inner circle, meant Johnson and Lincoln didn’t interact much in the six weeks between inauguration and Lincoln’s assassination on April 14. Johnson thus started his time in office without a strong sense of exactly how Lincoln planned to ensure the final surrender of all Confederate forces in the Civil War and rebuild the war-torn nation.
Although Congress had already put in place some features of the post-war period that would serve as flash points with the new administration—like the Freedmen’s Bureau, charged primarily with feeding and caring for former slaves—Johnson came to the top job with a very different conception of post-war reunification. He questioned the federal government’s right to do much of anything in the formerly rebellious states until they had representatives back in Congress, even if those officials were former Confederates.His vision, of course, clashed with the so-called Radical Republicans in Congress, intent on reconstructing the South from Washington in order to guarantee the freedoms of those who had been enslaved for so long.
Johnson rankled most legislators, and the vast majority of Northerners, almost immediately. He released leading members of the Confederate Cabinet from government custody, up to and including the former Confederate vice president, Alexander H. Stephens.He appointed governors in Southern states and allowed their legislatures to meet. Dominated by secessionists, these governments passed “black codes,” allowing slavery in all but name to continue in many areas.
Johnson also made his racist views clear in statements like this one to the federal commissioner of the Public Buildings Service: “Everyone would, and must admit, that the white race was superior to the black, and that while we ought to do our best to bring them . . . up to our present level, that, in doing so, we should, at the same time raise our own intellectual status so that the relative position of the two races would be the same.”
“Is there no way,” declared leading radical senator Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania just months after Johnson’s inauguration, “to arrest the insane course of the president in Washington?” He even mused that by taking actions more properly lying with Congress—like treating southern states as legitimate entities, even as most legislators considered them still occupied territory—thenew president was setting the stage to be “crowned king.” Leading legislators urged the president to call Congress into a special session, or at least delay controversial moves until it was scheduled to convene in December. Johnson obstinately ignored them. By the winter of 1865–1866, the president had proved himself “already more disposed to be the political partisan of the Southerners than the ally of those who had elected him,” according to Adam Badeau, a confidant of Army General Ulysses Grant.
This stubbornness and refusal to cooperate with even moderate Republicans escalated once Congress came back into session in December of 1865,still without Southern representation and still dominated by Republicans steadfastly opposed to the leniency the new president was offering to the former Confederate states. Johnson vetoed both a civil rights bill designed to fight back the dreaded black codes and another measure to expand the functions of the Freedmen’s Bureau. His message to Congress about the latter veto included condescending language, like urging legislators to take “more mature considerations.” The vetoes enraged Capitol Hill, especially the author of the bills, to whom Johnson had raised no objections when he’d sought the president’s opinions during the drafting process.
The legislative branch, as a consequence, did something that was then unprecedented in American history on a major piece of legislation: They overturned a presidential veto. Then they did it again. Ultimately, they turned back the president’s rejections of bills a stunning 15 times—a record to this day, even though Johnson served a shorter term than most presidents. The Civil Rights Act’s veto override in the House prompted a spontaneous outburst of applause among both representatives and spectators; the speaker found it impossible to restore order for several minutes.
Also in early 1866, a congressional Joint Committee on Reconstruction developed a constitutional amendment, which presidents have no power to either approve or deny. It sought to prohibit states from depriving citizens of fundamental rights or equal protection under the law and to rescind the constitutional formula by which states had gained the benefit of additional representation in Congress for slaves within their borders, without letting those slaves vote. Both houses of Congress passed it in June, but behind the scenes Johnson obstructed its ratification. The measure would ultimately become the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868.
The president also saw his judicial appointment powers curtailed. When a Supreme Court vacancy came up, Congress eliminated the seat rather than confirm Johnson’s nominee. As a hedge against a potential future Johnson appointment, they went ahead and legislated in advance that the next high court vacancy, too, would not require filling.
In August and September of 1866, Johnson tried to rally public support around him in a multistate 19-day road trip, during which he gave more than 100 speeches. Typically frosty audiences greeted the president, often drawing him into unseemly shouting matches or forcing him to cut short his visit. In Bloomington, Illinois, one heckler yelled that traitors weren’t welcome in the land of Lincoln; the ensuing uproar made it impossible for Johnson to complete his planned speech.
“For the first time in the history of our country,” wrote the New York Independent, “the people have been witness to the mortifying spectacle of the president going from town to town, accompanied by the prominent members of the Cabinet, on an electioneering raid, denouncing his opponents, bandying epithets with men in the crowd, and praising himself and his policies. Such a humiliating exhibition has never before been seen, nor anything even approaching to it.”
Pushback wasn’t just coming from Congress and rally crowds. From summer 1866 on, both General Grant and War Secretary Edwin Stanton were resisting—often all but openly defying—Johnson’s orders from within the executive branch.
The president had declared the Southern rebellion over in 1866, seemingly ending the army’s primacy over local law enforcement there. ButGrant later sent confidential instructions that commanders should continue martial law as needed and resist any presidential attempt to curtail the Freedmen’s Bureau’s actions. In October, Grant twice refused Johnson’s request that he join a diplomatic delegation to Mexico—the president’s ploy to get the war hero out of the way. Then, in a full Cabinet meeting, Johnson pretended that Grant had never objected to going to Mexico by having the secretary of state read to the general detailed instructions for the diplomatic mission. When Johnson condescendingly asked the attorney general to lecture Grant on the duty to obey presidential orders, the general stood and declared, “I am an American citizen, and eligible to any office to which any American is eligible. I am an officer of the Army, and bound to obey your military orders. But this is a civil office, a purely diplomatic duty that you offer me, and I cannot be compelled to undertake it. … No power on Earth can compel me to do it.”
Grant feared being away from Washington if, as he thought increasingly likely, the beleaguered president were to decide that disbanding Congress and using force to take total control of the government offered him the best way through the impasse. Badeau recorded that the general, while looking to the general public like a faithful follower of Johnson and his policies, “was in reality doing more than all the country besides to thwart Johnson’s designs.”
Stanton, despite his steadfast opposition to the president’s approach, stubbornly remained in Johnson’s Cabinet because he felt he could delay or even prevent some of Johnson’s worst actions. The secretary favored Reconstruction legislation in early 1867 that provided for military government in the South, which was passed over the president’s veto. He watched as successive bills from Capitol Hill received presidential vetoes, but became law anyway over Johnson’s objections. “The situation was unprecedented in the history of the country,” wrote Badeau. “A Cabinet Minister and the General of the Army were doing their utmost to thwart the President. . . . They then more than once discussed the means by which they too could apparently obey the directions of a superior and yet neutralize his intent and purpose.”
Particularly distressing to Grant, Stanton and many others around them was the increasing violence in the South between emboldened former Confederates and former slaves asserting their rights. Already by the end of 1866, the president “became, if not treasonable in intent, yet unpatriotic in action,” Badeau noted, probably representing Grant’s views. “He fostered a spirit that engendered massacre, and afterward protected the evil-doers. He spoke, both with Grant in private and openly to the public, as if the Congress elected by the faithful States was an illegal body. He suggested to men’s minds that he might be plotting to allow the Southerners to return to their places in spite of the North.”
Johnson faced a dilemma. He couldn’t easily get rid of Grant, the most popular living American, who had won respect even from Southerners for his gracious treatment of Robert E. Lee after the Confederate general’s surrender at Appomattox Court House in 1865. Plus, Congress wrote language into the military appropriations bill for 1867-1868 that both denied the president’s right to directly control the military—all orders had to go through the general of the army (Grant)—and prevented Grant’s demotion without the Senate’s consent. Stanton also gained protection from Congress in the form of the Tenure of Office Act of February 1867, a constitutionally unsound measure that nevertheless prohibited presidential removal of certain executive branch officers, including Stanton, unless the Senate agreed.
Johnson’s veto of the Tenure of Office Act got the usual treatment from Congress: a prompt override. “He is of no account,” one senator said bluntly. “We pay no attention anymore to what he says.” Virginia’s Republican governor wrote to a prominent congressman, “I fear there will be no peace in the country as long as Johnson is in the Presidential Chair.” Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles reported in June 1867 that the president was “nervous and apprehensive,” all but trapped in the White House “in constant dread of impeachment.”
But Johnson just couldn’t leave things well enough alone.
After suspending Stanton until Congress reconvened, the president ended up firing his war secretary outright in February 1868. Stanton refused to leave his office—literally moving in and hunkering down, day and night, for the duration of the crisis—giving representatives the excuse they’d been hoping for to try to kick the president out of office. Johnson that same month became the first president to be impeached by the House.
The failure of the Radical Republicans to convict him in the Senate (by one vote) and thus remove him from office didn’t stop Congress from keeping Johnson boxed in. He remained something short of a full chief executive during his final 10 months in office, with effective restrictions on his power, like the Tenure of Office Act, locked in. General Grant, by this time a candidate for the presidential election that November, believed that “Johnson had been taught a lesson which he would not forget.” Johnson’s leading biographer Hans Trefousse calls him, for the remainder of his time as chief executive, a “president in limbo.”
Before the trial, Congress had passed a new Reconstruction bill, which became law when Johnson didn’t even bother to veto it. He did, however, issue a veto against a bill denying appeal rights in some cases, but Congress overrode that. Legislators in June also rejected new presidential vetoes, on the very days they were issued, against bills readmitting several Southern states with new constitutions. The following month it happened again on bills excluding electoral votes of states that had not yet been reorganized and extending the Freedmen’s Bureau another year.
“Somehow I expected that there would be a change in Mr. Johnson’s position after his victory over the Radicals,” wrote the president’s bodyguard, William Crook, who had an inside view of the whole situation. “If I had thought of it, I might have realized that the two-thirds majority was still against him. The only difference was that when they passed measures over the President’s veto it was without debate. There was no longer the need for discussion.”
Senators also turned down Johnson’s nominees for lesser diplomatic posts so often that, exasperated, he announced he would only put forward a prospective nominee able to prove to him in advance that confirmation would come.
One power he still held was that of the federal pardon. And pardon he did, issuing many more of them than all other presidents to that point, combined—overwhelmingly for those who participated in the rebellion against the Union. Johnson even pardoned a few of the men convicted in the conspiracy to kill President Lincoln. He anticipated his old party would show some appreciation for the pain he had caused to Republicans by giving him the presidential spot on the Democratic ticket for the coming election against Grant. The party convention dashed those hopes by instead choosing Horatio Seymour, a man who didn’t even want the nomination.
Why wait until the end of a term to remove a president? Methods ranging from the deft to the downright unsavory have undermined presidents’ authority, seen so clearly in Andrew Johnson’s case. Most of the same mechanisms used to undermine him remain in others’ toolkits today, which means it’s equally true now as it was under Johnson: You don’t have to formally eject an unpopular or unfit president from the White House if you can use various other means to limit the damage he is causing to the country.
Cyntoia Brown who was granted clemency by former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, will be a free woman today.
She will be released to parole supervision on Wednesday August 7, 2019. This comes 15 years after her arrest in 2004 for murdering a Nashville man when she was 16 years old.
Brown was a victim of sex trafficking when she killed Jimmy Allen during an exchange at his home while in bed.
Pleading self-defense as the reason for killling Allen, she was still given a sentence which would require her to complete 51 years before being eligible for release.
Many local organizers and activist groups such as Black Lives Matter Nashville over the years have championed for Cyntoia’s release citing that the sentence was too harsh for someone who was a juvenile.
“It’s the right thing to do.” said Haslam. Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16. Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life. Transformation should be accompanied by hope. So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions,” .
She has proven rehabilitation while incarcerated earning her associate degree from Lipscomb LIFE program with a 4.0 GPA and is expecting to soon earn her bachelors degree.
Brown released a statement prior to her release today stating:
“While first giving honor to God who made all of this possible, I would also like to thank my many supporters who have spoken on my behalf and prayed for me. I’m blessed to have a very supportive family and friends to support me in the days to come. I look forward to using my experiences to help other women and girls suffering abuse and exploitation. I thank Governor and First Lady Haslam for their vote of confidence in me and with the Lord’s help I will make them as well as the rest of my supporters proud. “
Cyntoia’s parole supervision will continue until August 7, 2029.
Conditions of her parole include an approved release plan, maintaining employment and/or educational enrollment and counseling sessions on a regular basis. She will also be required to complete at least 50 hours of community service which will include working with at risk youth.
It’s quite rare that we see summer programs in our communities that not only teach Black children about the basis of entrepreneurship and financial literacy, but sewing and life skills seem to have become a thing of the past.
From home economics, cooking classes and all of the skills taught to many of us in our youth in schools over the last couple of decades we have seen drastic change and a decline in these areas needed most.
The skills that our grandmother’s and ancestors used to thrive have been replaced with automation and technology.
But let’s face it, as Black people we need every avenue possible in order to achieve economic sustainability, empowerment and progress and it starts with our young people.
Dr. Enkeshi Thom El-Amin, a native of Guyana a small Caribbean country off the coast of South America and a recent doctoral graduate at the University of Tennessee seeks to change the narrative.
Migrating to the United States at twelve years old and growing up in Atlanta, Georgia Enkeshi says that sewing has always been in her blood.
“My paternal Grandfather was a tailor and my maternal grandmother who I grew up with was a seamstress”, she said.
Enkeshi launched a pilot sewing program for children this summer in Knoxville, Tennessee entitled
Sew It Sell It.
Its mission is to provide a free opportunity for African American, low-income and other children of color to learn to sew and acquire the skills and ability to start a home-based sewing micro business. The program is for children ages 10 to 17 and it aims to accommodate up to 15 children.
With the loss of vocational and many art education programs in schools, many children, particularly those in African American and low-income neighborhoods do not have access to creative and vocational skill building programs. Furthermore, in these communities there are limited productive opportunities for generating income for kids and teens. The program, Sew It Sell It, is a sewing and entrepreneurship program that will give children in these communities the opportunity to express their creativity, learn a vocational skill and develop a sense of self-reliance by sewing and selling a product.
The project based approach of the program is designed to be both appealing to a target population, and linked to real and immediate economic pathways. Students began the 3 week camp style program by conceptualizing their business and designing the products they wished to sell. They then developed a budget and purchased materials, created and priced their products. In addition to learning the basics of sewing, students learn about business planning, branding and marketing, and retail/wholesale selling.
They are also exposed to faculty in the area of Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management and local entrepreneurs in their community. They go on field trips to fabric and craft stores and retail shops, have the opportunity to pitch their product and business idea to community members and organize a community market day to sell their products. The camp culminated with a closing ceremony during which students were presented with their own sewing machine and supplies to launch their micro business.
The key is to not only educate young people on the process but also help launch their entrepreneurial spirit.
Marcus Hall owner of Marc Nelson Denim , a men’s boutique that specializes in handcrafted denim jeans collaborated with the program by offering his East Knoxville workshop and showroom, as the site for the program.
The Sew it Sell it program received a mini grant from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Office of Community Engagement and Outreach.
Also, Tyvi Small, Interim Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Engagement at the University of Tennessee also offered the Haslam College of Business to sponsor the closing ceremony where children showcased and sold the items they crafted during the camp in a market style exhibition.
I got a chance to talk to Enkeshi about her background and inspiration.
ANGELA: What brought you to Knoxville and can you give a little background on yourself for our readers?
ENKESHI: Yes. I am 32 years old. I attended Agnes Scott College, a small liberal arts women’s college in Decatur GA, a suburb of Atlanta. I majored in Africana Studies and after college I moved to Syracuse NY to pursue graduate School at Syracuse University. There I earned a master’s degree in Pan African Studies. I left Syracuse and lived in Brooklyn New York for about a year and a half. At the time I was torn between non-profit work and joining the academy as a professor. After much consideration and the advice of loved ones and supporters, I decided to continue my education at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville to start working on my PhD. The research I conducted was concerned with the Black Knoxvillian (Appalachian experiences) at the intersection of race and place. I recently graduated from the University and live with my husband and 1 year old daughter in northeast Knoxville. I also have 2 step daughters.
ANGELA: Wow. That’s amazing. So how long have you been sewing and how did you break into it?
ENKESHI: Well actually my paternal Grandfather was a tailor and my maternal grandmother was a seamstress. I grew up with my grandmother. The sound of fabric being cut on a wooded table was always a familiar sound to me and I remember playing on the foot pedal of my granny’s old-school sewing machine. She taught me and my cousins how to hand sew but her sewing machine was a tool she used to earn a living. Over the years I tried to teach myself and often stopped out of frustration. The first Christmas that my husband and I were together in 2013 he bought me a sewing machine and I started tinkering with it. The first thing I made was table runners for our wedding. I have been sewing ever since.
ANGELA: How did you start your own sewing business?
ENKESHI: I wanted to learn to sew because I wanted to make my own clothes and accessories. Before I started sewing clothes, I thought I’d make something simple and so I started with clutches and I would make them out of place mats, and then vinyl. Proud of my creations and excited to show off my accomplishments, I began posting them on Facebook. People reacted well to my work and started offering to pay me for them. So my sewing business began as a clutch business with the name Klutch Queen Collections. The more I posted about my work on social media, the more people would ask me to sew for them. With Ankara prints and African inspired fashion becoming more popular nationally and locally, people started requesting my clothes more than purses. I also started teaching people how to sew clothes at my sip and sew events. I also began offering classes to children as well as adults. My interest in sewing was not to start a business. However, as graduate student living on a stipend, it was quite difficult for me to turn down this opportunity to earn an extra income. There was a demand, little overhead cost and it allowed me the flexibility I needed as a full time student.
ANGELA: What was your inspiration for the Sew it Sell it Program and working with children?
ENKESHI: The idea behind the Sew It Sell It program was something I started thinking of early on when I started my sewing journey. My initial idea was for an after school program. I had worked at several after school programs and youth camps while in college and even after graduating. So I was familiar with those types of programs and had over 10 years of experience working with youth. I proposed the idea to a few organizations but could not secure the funding to get it off the ground, so I put it on pause for some time. I did began teaching sewing classes sporadically as my schedule permitted, first as Sip and Sews in my garage and later I started offering classes at community centers, especially after I started making clothes I realized that there was a need for people who could sew and that it was a great way to earn income while working on something else like school or another job. I started to realize that it was something different populations of people could benefit from, not just kids, but formerly incarcerated people, immigrants and other vulnerable populations.
ANGELA: What are your goals and visions for the Sew it Sell it program going forward?
ENKESHI: My hope is that this program has made sewing and entrepreneurial skills fun and accessible for children. For some children this can be an introduction or to jumpstart a career in fashion and various business industries. It’s also a great way to earn income while in school.
The Sew it Sell it Program has bridged a gap where our global culture of outsourcing labor, funding cuts in public schools to vocational and creative programs has diminished. These valuable programs inspire entrepreneurial quests and during a time where post-secondary education is out of reach for many it is a much needed trade which promotes self-sufficiency as a business owner and for those who are often left to precarious employment options.
Children can learn many hard and soft skills from these types of actives. From problem solving, physical and mental stamina and communication, learning a trade can provide interpersonal skills that children can use in their personal and professional lives, regardless of their career choices.
“I think this can be very affirming for students, allowing them to see that this University believes in them and their futures”, says Enkeshi.
Additionally I hope that this program can be an avenue to further close gaps between the university and the community, through more involvement and support.
I hope to further develop this program, offering it to kids and adults more frequently. I would love to develop an umbrella organization that would offer complementary programs around sewing, entrepreneurship, job training and community building and development”
If you would like more information on sponsoring or donating to the Sew It Sell it program you may visit their donation site HERE
Angela Dennis is editor for BWNC and Freelance Writer and Blogger residing in Knoxville, TN. Her work has also been featured in multiple publications such as Knox News Sentinel, Blavity, Black Girl Nerds, etc.