Councilwoman McKenzie Stands for Knoxville’s Black Community

After a proposal by Gwen McKenzie at yesterday’s city council meeting, members along with Mayor Madeline Rogero came to an 8-1 vote to ban gun shows at city owned facilities.

Proving herself as a strong ally for East Knoxville and the urban community, Councilwoman Gwen McKenzie remained vigilant and tough on the issue of firearm shows in neighborhoods most impacted by gun violence.

Her stance is important as community members in East Knoxville remain most concerned on the issue of gun violence as a top issue and priority for leaders to address.

“It’s very hard to understand it if you’ve never lived in a community or neighborhoods where gun violence is prevalent, where hearing gunshots is prevalent and having to go to funerals of young people is prevalent,” McKenzie said.

Chilhowee Park which has been well known for hosting large gun shows in Knoxville would be impacted relieving many of its residents.

“It’s quite offensive that we’ve had gun show in a community that has seen it’s fair share of violence in the past … the black community will tell you pretty quickly that they don’t like that they have them in our community in such close proximity to schools and churches, especially in the racial climate we’re in today,” she said.

Representation matters in local government and Councilwoman McKenzie has proven that so. Without representation, it is easy to think that our voices do not matter. Without it our communities suffer because no one is at the table to make decisions which directly impact our lives.

In November there are 3 African-American candidates for City Council on the ballot, Amelia Parker, David Alex Hayes, and Charles F. Lomax, Jr for consideration.

It’s important to push for diversity because having a broader range of people, perspectives, talents and identities can lead to more innovative and productive ways to solve community issues and less public officials making decisions on behalf of a community full of people they don’t know or understand.

Vote on November 5th.

Angela Dennis is a Writer in Knoxville, TN and Editor for Black With No Chaser. Her work has been featured in multiple publications such as the Knox News Sentinel, Blavity, Black Girl Nerds, and many more.

Highlander Center’s 87th Homecoming Honoring Social Justice This Weekend

This weekend the Highlander Center in New Market, TN will celebrate its annual homecoming celebration Friday though Sunday.

This marks the 87th year it has brought in activists and freedom fighters from across the country to take part in celebrating the legacy and work of social justice and the southern freedom fight.

This 3 day event consists of strategic discussions, skill-building and strategy sharing workshops, healing justice, youth-centered space, cultural performances, film viewings and discussions, book talks, and more.

Earlier this year an unknown fire destroyed Highlander’s administrative offices and graffiti associated with the “white-power movement” was found at the scene.

With massive nationwide support the Highlander Center has pushed through and continues to serve as a training ground for community activists across Appalachia and nationwide.

Formerly known as Highlander Folk School, it was primarily known as a training center for labor and civil rights activists from across the United States from the 1930s to the 1960s.  The center which, was  originally located in the town of Monteagle, Tennessee, was founded in 1932 by Miles Horton, a political activist, Don West, an educator, and James A. Dombrowski, a Methodist minister.  Its most famous students include Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, James Bevel, Ralph Abernathy, and current Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

More of Highlander History

Political enemies angrily erected billboards across the South showing Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks attending an integrated event at the Highlander Folk School in 1957. Highlander Research and Education Center.

Given the school’s role in training activists the school faced opposition. By the 1950s, Highlander was often attacked.  In response to the criticism, the State of Tennessee in 1961 revoked Highlander’s charter and confiscated its property. This action led the school’s staff to reincorporate as the Highlander Research and Education center and relocate just outside Knoxville, Tennessee where it has remained. 

Highlander’s mission states:

Highlander serves as a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the South. We work with people fighting for justice, equality and sustainability, supporting their efforts to take collective action to shape their own destiny. Through popular education, language justice, participatory research, cultural work, and intergenerational organizing, we help create spaces — at Highlander and in local communities — where people gain knowledge, hope and courage, expanding their ideas of what is possible. We develop leadership and help create and support strong, democratic organizations that work for justice, equality and sustainability in their own communities and that join with others to build broad movements for social, economic and restorative environmental change. 

If you would like to attend Highlander’s 87th Homecoming you may register here.

Angela Dennis is an Editor for Black With No Chaser and freelance writer residing in Knoxville, TN. Her work has been featured in multiple publications such as Knox News Sentinel, Blavity, Black Girl Nerds, and more.

Chief Justice Cheri Beasley honored as 2019 UTK Distinguished Alumna Award Winner

2019 Distinguished Alumna Award Winner

A legal scholar and proud North Carolinian, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley made history this year as the first African American woman to lead the Supreme Court of North Carolina.

Beasley brings more than 20 years of judicial experience to the role, having served as a district court judge and as a judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals prior to beginning her tenure on the Supreme Court. At the time of her appointment as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, she was only the sixth woman and only the second African American woman to ever serve on the court.

She is a graduate of Douglass College of Rutgers University and earned her JD from UT’s College of Law in 1991. She also earned her Master of Laws from Duke University School of Law in 2018.

Her dedication to the rule of law and administration of justice have earned her many accolades, including the UT Trailblazer Award, the Fayetteville State University Chancellor’s Medallion, the Gwyneth B. Davis Award from the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys, and the Women of Justice Public Official Award. She was a Henry Toll Fellow with the Council of State Governments and has been inducted into the Rutgers University African American Alumni Alliance Hall of Fame and the Douglass Society, the highest honor bestowed by Douglass College of Rutgers University.

Beasley serves on the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense (SCLAID) and as chair of the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission as well as the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism. She is a member of the American Bar Association and has served as vice president of the North Carolina Bar Association.

She enjoys spending time with her husband of 25 years, Curtis Owens, their twin sons Matthew and Thomas, and the family dog, Stanley. She also remains active in her community through leadership in her church, First Baptist Church of Raleigh, her support of hunger relief efforts, and her weekly visit to a local elementary school where she reads with first graders. Beasley is also passionate in her support for young and aspiring lawyers. She is a frequent mentor to students and judges and lectures at the University of North Carolina School of Law and North Carolina Central University School of Law.

University of Tennessee Celebrates Trailblazer Theotis Robinson Jr.

by Brooks Clark

article via Torchbearer Magazine

The Magazine of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

On January 4, 1961, Theotis Robinson Jr. arrived on campus as an undergraduate student. It was his application and subsequent meetings with UT administrators, including President Andy Holt, that led to the change in the admissions policy that barred black undergraduate students. Two other African American students joined him. “I had a sense of excitement,” Robinson recalls, “and a sense of being not quite sure what it was going to be like and what the reception was going to be.”

Robinson had grown up on Houston Street, two blocks from the all-white East High School. His parents, Alma and Theotis Sr., operated Five Points Restaurant at that storied East Knoxville intersection. After graduating from Austin High School in 1960, Robinson had taken part in sit-ins to integrate the lunch counters at stores like S. H. Kress, Woolworth’s, Miller’s, Cole’s Drugstore, W. T. Grant, McClellan’s, and Rich’s, which had a white lunch counter on its main floor and a black lunch counter in the basement. Through June and into July, the sit-ins continued. Some stores closed their lunch counters “for renovation.” Others announced they were closing them permanently.

On July 10, amid the furor, the Associated Council for Full Citizenship, which had organized the sit-ins, ran a quarter-page ad in the Sunday Knoxville News Sentinel titled “An Appeal for Human Rights,” listing 16 areas in which black people in Knoxville were discriminated against. One was the university, whose undergraduate program did not admit black people. “I said to myself, ‘This is something I can do something about.’”

UT had admitted four African Americans to its graduate and law programs in 1952. In 1955, the Board of Trustees voted to adopt a plan by the state Board of Education that would have desegregated all UT undergraduate and graduate programs, but this was met with a backlash by segregationists. In 1956, the state Supreme Court ruled that all state laws on segregation were invalid, but UT had made no move to integrate.

Theotis Robinson Jr.

Theotis Robinson Jr., Charles Blair, and Willie Mae Gillespie were UT’s first admitted black undergraduates in January 1961.

“I sat down that evening at the family kitchen table and wrote a letter requesting admission,” says Robinson, who avoided any mention of race, his segregated high school, or other indicators that might reveal him to be black. His return address was on the envelope, but his area of Houston Street had both white and black residents. Robinson had a scholarship to historically black Knoxville College. He wanted to major in political science, but a major in that discipline was not offered, so he requested admission to UT. He felt it was his right as a taxpayer, and, like other young Knoxvillians, he had an affinity for the university. In the early 1950s his father had been a cook for the athletes’ training table under the East stands of Shields-Watkins Field. His benefits included two tickets to football games, so father and son watched the games, albeit from a segregated section on the north end of the West stands.

“I’m one of the few people who can honestly say they saw Jim Haslam play football,” says Robinson with a chuckle. “I mention that to him every time I see him.”

On July 18, 1960, seven downtown lunch counters were opened to all customers without incident, turning the tide toward desegregation. But the university continued to stick with Jim Crow.

“I got a letter back from UT saying it was sorry, but the university would not accept ‘Negroes’ to the undergraduate school,” Robinson remembers. “I don’t know exactly how they did their checking, but they obviously ran a check and determined who I was.”

Robinson and his parents met with the two deans of graduate and undergraduate admissions, who had signed the rejection letter, and later with President Andy Holt to discuss the application. All the administrators said they could not admit Robinson unless the Board of Trustees allowed it. Holt asked if the Robinsons wanted him to take the matter to the board. They said yes. He then said that he could not guarantee what decision the board would make. Robinson and his parents said they understood. Young Robinson then said that if the board did not change its policy, the family would sue the university.

Holt agreed to present the matter to the board.

The board requested that the state attorney general attend its November meeting to discuss the matter. He was told that Robinson met the admissions requirements but asked if he thought he could win a lawsuit challenging the policy of segregation in the undergraduate school. He responded that given the precedents being established by the courts, he did not have a defense of the system of segregation that could prevail.

After learning that the university was likely to lose such a lawsuit, the board voted to admit African American undergraduates. And so a new era began for UT in January of 1961.

“I had that sense of not quite apprehension, but looking forward to this experience,” says Robinson. “I had never gone to school with white people. I knew a few white students who had taken part in the sit-ins, but that was it. It was peaceful, as compared to the University of Georgia five days later. When they admitted two black transfer students, a riot broke out and a dorm was torched.”

As a married commuter student, Robinson was typically on campus during the day; after school he went to work for his parents at Five Points then returned home to study. His early days at UT were, on the whole, what he expected. There were racist students and professors, and there were friendlier ones. There were incidents that made him feel unwelcome, and there were some that gave him a sense of camaraderie with his fellow students. Playing basketball with football star Mike Lucci serves as an example.

Robinson became involved in civil rights demonstrations on campus and in the Knoxville community. He also became involved in campus politics, planning the elections of black students for Student Government Association offices.

After leaving the university, Robinson went on to become the first African American in more than 50 years elected to the Knoxville City Council, where he served through 1977. He also served as vice president for economic development for the 1982 World’s Fair.

“It was an exhilarating time,” he remembers. “There was no template for what we were doing or certainly for what I was doing. I was advocating for black inclusion in every aspect of the fair.”

This turned out to be smart marketing. “We had large black attendance, and we made money. Other fairs that did not reach out to black attendees lost their shirts.” Robinson taught a class in political science in 1989 and has often served as a guest lecturer at UT. He worked in the purchasing department and later became special projects coordinator in the Office of Government Relations. In 2000, he was named vice president for equity and diversity for the UT System. He held that position until his retirement in 2014.

He is also a regular contributor to editorial pages as a freelance columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel (USA Today Network). At the September Alumni Awards Gala, Robinson was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus. The UT Board of Trustees, at its June 2019 meeting, granted Robinson an honorary doctorate from the College of Social Work. The degree will be presented during commencement exercises in December.

“UT has come a long way,” he says, “and UT has a long way to go. Enrollment needs to reflect the diversity of the state. The black population of Tennessee is roughly 14 percent. The Latino population is rising. Corporations want a diverse workforce. The university needs to be training a diverse workforce.”

Community Voices Coalition to Host Mayor Forum Oct 9th

Mayoral candidates Indya Kincannon and Eddie Mannis will address community issues at the Community Voices Coalition Mayoral Forum on October 9th at Honey Rock Victorious Church in East Knoxville at 6pm.

SEEED and the Community Voices Coalition is a partnership of non-profit, non-government agencies, churches, and individuals based in the Heart of Knoxville, who are working together to empower inner city residents to understand and collectively address issues they self-identify to be priority
concerns in their communities.

This year the Community Voices Survey was developed by the Community
Voices Coalition partners, this survey deemed of 699 low income residents, yields clear data identifying Knoxville’s most critical economic justice and racial equity issues.

Topics raised and that will be discussed at this forum will be:

Gun Violence

Lack of Youth Opportunities

Affordable Utilities

Members of the community of Knoxville are invited to come out and attend this informative forum so that they can understand where the candidates stand on issues most plaguing the urban community.

For more information visit


Community Voices Coalition

Knoxville Activist Screens Film for National Day of Reconciliation with Police

On Tuesday night members of the community gathered at The Avenue in East Knoxville to celebrate National Day of Reconciliation.

Organized by community activist Felicia Outsey, the planning committee included a former Police officer, Calvin Taylor Skinner, Deborah Porter, and Terry Walker Smith who individually work in the community advocating for justice.

Outsey says:

This was a community lead effort to build relationships with the Police that protect and serve us. In my eyes violence is violence and the best way to combat the violence is with love.

National Day of Reconciliation is a nationwide day of communication and healing between police and minorities in the United States. The nationwide event serves as a reset button to improve relations between police and minorities. The historic day is patterned after the “Day of Reconciliation” in South Africa, a public holiday which came into effect in 1994 after the end of apartheid, with the intention of fostering reconciliation and national unity for that country.

As an initiative of the day, organizations around the country hosted events on September 17th and screened the 2017 reconciliation film, “WALKING WHILE BLACK: L.O.V.E. Is The Answer.” by Los Angeles filmmaker A.J. Ali and Errol Webber.

Filmmaker A.J. Ali of WALKING WHILE BLACK: L.O.V.E. Is The Answer (Photo courtesy of Angela Dennis) 

After an interaction with Howard County police in 2012 that he found deeply troubling, filmmaker A.J. Ali says he was motivated to address relations between police and the African-American community. It is a documentary inspired by first-hand experiences of racial profiling. 

The film discusses bridging the gap in police-community relations throughout America. The acronym “L.O.V.E.,” coined by Ali, is to encourage people to “learn about others in their community, open their heart to them, volunteer to be part of the solution in their life, and empower others to do the same.”

The Love is the Answer movement by Ali uses media, events and training to teach people how to love themselves, love their neighbors and even love their enemies into becoming friends. L.O.V.E. = Learn about others, open your heart to them, volunteer to be part of the solution in their life and empower others to do the same.

The Baltimore Sun describes the film as featuring nearly 30 interviews with members of communities across the country. Current and retired law enforcement members — including Baltimore Police Chief Melvin T. Russell, commander of the department’s community collaboration division, and retired Los Angeles police Sgt. Cheryl Dorsey — appear along with community leaders, social workers and psychologists who discuss the effects of racial profiling on American communities and tragic instances in the history of police-community relations, which include the deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and the five members of law enforcement who died in a shootout in Dallas in July.

Felicia Outsey’s own program in Knoxville entitled “Love is the Answer” inspired her to hold the event and bring awareness to her own community.

I seriously believe that love is the answer to the problems we face in our homes, our schools, communities and in our nation. So when Mr. Ali reached out to me to host the event I moved in the spirit to make it happen along with those on our planning committee, after learning about numerous police involved incidents in Knoxville. It was the perfect addendum to what we had been walking in faith to do at our ‘Love is the Answer’ community showcase. The only difference is that with these efforts we hope to prevent the violence that had already claimed the lives of youth and loved ones in our city. I am always inspired when the community works in unity to address issues plaguing us. I am even more eager to connect with KPD to let them know we have a group of citizens who openly welcome them to be a part of the efforts we have to serve and empower our communities. We also are eager to be apart of any initiatives they may have.

All local groups interested in watching the film can contact Felicia Outsey to schedule a day to view it at The Avenue in East Knoxville. She may be reached at or on Facebook.

Angela Dennis is a Writer in Knoxville, TN and Editor for Black With No Chaser. Her work has been featured in multiple publications such as the Knox News Sentinel, Blavity, Black Girl Nerds, and many more.

Knoxville Soul At The Congressional Black Caucus Annual Convention This Week

It’s that time of year as the Knoxville Soul takes on our nation’s capital this week.

The CBCF Annual Legislative Conference (ALC) September 11-15th in Washington, DC is the leading policy conference on issues impacting African Americans and the global black community. Thought leaders, legislators and concerned citizens engage on economic development, civil and social justice, public health and education issues. More than 10,000 people attend 100 public policy forums and much more. Join subject experts, industry leaders, elected officials and citizen activists to explore today’s issues from an African-American perspective.

The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc., is a nonprofit nonpartisan public policy, research and educational institute that seeks to advance the global black community.

The CBC seek’s to advance the global black community by developing leaders, informing policy and educating the public. We bring together subject experts, industry leaders, elected officials, students and concerned citizens to engage in meaningful dialogue and incite postive change.

Stay tuned as we bring coverage from our nation’s biggest and brightest Black leaders such as Illhan Omar, Kamala Harris, Ayanna Yancey, John Lewis, and more.

Angela Dennis is a Freelance Writer and Blogger in Knoxville. Her work has been featured in multiple publications such as Knox News Sentinel, Blavity, Black Girl Nerds, etc

Black and Brown Bodies Pile up in Knoxville But What Are Leaders Doing About It?

Tonight’s regular Knoxville City Council meeting will feature public forum at 6pm at the Main Assembly Room. (400 Main Street)

Among topics addressed will be the issue of body cameras for Knoxville Police Department.

In light of a recent officer involved shooting death many are demanding not only answers but serving swift resistance while an Officer remains on paid administrative leave.

Among these very real issues begs the question

“Is the City of Knoxville doing enough to combat gun violence and police brutality?

Or is this yet another attempt at placing a band-aid over an age old wound?

A wound rooted in oppression, systemic racism, and the vilification of Black people and those of color.

When we look at the facts, Knoxville Police Department has been without body cameras while the Knox County Sheriff’s department has been utilizing theirs since 2015.

While the cameras can be beneficial for police and the public, one question remains: What about officers who turn off their cameras before getting involved in a call?

Why aren’t we discussing the policies that should be enacted with this technology?

Until we do, the idea of body worn cameras for law enforcement is shoddy at best.

We the people are seeking not only appropriate and vigilant gun reform in our city, we are also trying to get our loved ones home alive.

Without proper policy and procedure for body worn cameras it continues to place our livelihood at the hands of rogue officers with misplaced fear of Black and brown civilians.

We will continue to die at the hands of police if what lies between life and death is the touch of a button.

Currently our police department is surrounded by a sexism scandal and our Sheriff’s department is in the headlines after Five sheriff’s employees were engaged in a drunken scuffle between off-duty detectives.

Can we really rely on these two entities to carry out credible investigations much less count on their morale and dignity in the process?

We have a right to be skeptical.

If you are interested in the push for justice for victims and want to be a part of stopping bodies from piling up let your voice be heard.

We hope Mayor Madeline Rogero, KPD Chief Eve Thomas and City Council members of Knoxville hear us.

You will no longer be able to use our lives and victims to create hysteria, a false sense of attention, or a media storm.

You will have to follow through.

We have too much at stake. With a poverty rate souring above 40 percent in our urban community we don’t have time to play around with those who are paid to serve and protect us.

Photo: Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel 

Angela Dennis is a Freelance Writer and Blogger in Knoxville. Her work has been featured in multiple publications such as Knox News Sentinel, Blavity, Black Girl Nerds, etc

Moms Demand Action Hosts Knoxville Candidate Forum on Gun Violence Today


KNOXVILLE- Moms Demand Action Hosts City of Knoxville Candidate Forum on Gun Violence Prevention, Sept. 10

KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE – On Tuesday, September 10, 2019, the Knoxville Mayoral and City Council candidates will share their positions and plans for gun violence prevention in the Moms Demand Action Candidate Forum. Community participants will ask questions and have an opportunity to engage with the candidates. 

“In order to #EndGunViolence, we must be gun sense voters — we must prioritize gun violence prevention at the polls,” say Jodi Scheer, co-lead of the East TN Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.


Community residents will have an opportunity to hear the city of Knoxville’s Mayoral and City Council candidates’ ideas on gun violence prevention, if elected. 

WHO: Knoxville Mayoral and City Council Candidates

WHERE: Tribe of Judah Center4101 Holston Drive Knoxville, TN 37914

WHEN: Tuesday, September 10, 2019 6:30 pm


Jodi Scheer, or (646) 373-3876

This Labor Day, Remember MLK’s Last Campaign Was for Workers’ Rights

Most Americans today know that Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968, but few know why he was there. King went to Memphis to support African American garbage workers, who were on strike to protest unsafe conditions, abusive white supervisors, and low wages — and to gain recognition for their union. Their picket signs relayed a simple but profound message: “I Am A Man.”

As we celebrate Labor Day on Monday, let’s remember that King was committed to building bridges between the civil rights and labor movements.

Invited to address the AFL-CIO’s annual convention in 1961, King observed:

“Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth. The labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who today attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.”