Inspiration, Lifestyle of Learning, Profiles

Teen Scientist wins $100k

Loft beds are a space-saving solution to any room. Floor space is freed up for all sorts of uses…like a science lab? Pictured in her home science lab, this young lady won a coveted prize. Successful decor, discovery, and deposit into her college fund!

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Profiles, Service

True Love

Elderly couple walking across footbridge Photo GETTYIn an instant age where dating sites are prolific, investing the time it takes to build friendships is overlooked as  people rush to fill their own needs. Having journeyed through two marriages, and looking ahead toward the hope of discovering a friendship has quietly grown into the beginnings of a deep and lasting love relationship, I study those who have achieved success. I wonder what qualities they possess which combine to make a relationship so strong, it weathered into something beautifully valuable over the course of time.

Here’s a poignant view, so touching. When you look beyond the daily challenges, you see two very giving, very grateful people:

A Marriage to Remember <–click here

Progress

Grinding Progress in an Instant World

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The best friendships are based on the character of the individual, without regard to skin color. Pictured: I’emari Grace , Tyler Nelson. Photo Credit: Debbie Nelson

For two years, I debated whether to write my own experiences as a young woman who moved to Mississippi for high school, stayed for college, and left for thirty-five years before returning to the same college.  My transition from the cosmopolitan culture of the Air Force Academy community into the coastal Mississippi environment was far more difficult than I imagined. Of course I knew the Civil Rights movement achieved great things to bring equality.  I did not know racism up close and personal – that was history.

Mississippi in 1975 was very different than I expected. I felt like I might drown, the air was so full of water. I learned to tie a chicken bone to a piece of string tied to a stick and lower it into water. Within moments, the former delicacy called crab came crawling up the string and more latched on. A fancy dinner was free! I learned about flies the size of quarters which flew in swarms and bit worse than bees sting. And I saw people in eerie white hoods who marched in town parades. Much to my dismay, the police did not intervene. I thought it criminal, though locals suggested neighbors wore the disguises. I saw racism, up close and personal.

Today I balk at terms thrown in accusation by people of every color when it comes to racism. I silently cheer when I hear Morgan Freeman being interviewed by a handsome news reporter who asks about racism, and Mr Freeman says it’s a non-issue because both are African-American who achieved success through hard work and determination.

I am tired of being lumped into a category of “not being able to understand” simply because my skin is a different color. Isn’t that the point of racism? Someone else making judgements based on color of skin?

Alysia Burton Steele’s Facebook post inspired me, commenting on the December 5, 2014 article “Everyone deserves acceptance and happiness” written by a female college student at Penn State.  Ms. Charley Ukwubiwe, shared her personal experience as an African-American, who feels unwelcome at a college with 3.87% black population. In Ms. Steele’s post, she shared her personal experiences with acceptance in the late 80’s through mid-90’s as well as her thoughts today. Having voice is crucial in dealing with topics and effecting change.

As someone who enjoys showing others hospitality, as someone who cares about people, not skin color, I’ve struggled with whether this caucasian woman would speak into an atmosphere where my words might easily evaporate or be dismissed because I was born white.

I don’t think there’s anything more uncomfortable than not feeling welcome. I moved every year as an Air Force brat,  always new to school, community and neighborhood social circle. Rarely was I welcomed in public schools. Most kids had been friends since kindergarten. I was mocked for unusual clothing styles and once had a code name assigned to me so that in conversation, I laughed along with others, unknowingly laughing at myself.  But the most unique experience was being in high school on the Mississippi coast during 1975 through 1977.

My racially diverse Colorado friends did not find mixed race dating unusual.  We read about racism in history class. Moving to the South was like stepping through a time warp. I wanted to write to someone in authority, to ask if they knew the KKK was still marching in their sheets in community parades. But the police were there, so I just studied the anomaly to my world. When I asked a male classmate to stop by my house so we could study for an important test, I was stunned at the reason he refused — because his family wouldn’t have him befriending a white girl. People were living such strange choices. To me, Civil Rights happened a “long time ago”, and it took me quite a while to see the relativity of time in this issue.

My newly divorced mother became an activist, requiring my siblings and I to join the NAACP.   I was as welcome in their midst as the young woman in the Penn State article. My sister was entered in the Miss Black Teen Biloxi pageant. She won first runner up. I was incredulous – what on earth was going on? The words didn’t match the reality. What an outlandish attempt at living up to the circle of crossed hands, embraced as we sang “We Shall Overcome” while being on the receiving end of looks that could kill. We learned to hold our heads up and be pleasant even though others were unpleasant to us. My mother didn’t give us a choice and I rarely speak of those times. But they made a profound impact on me and how I raised my own five children.

I’ve realized real change happens after the older generation passes on. No wonder there is grinding progress. People and their prejudices are living much longer now. About a decade ago, my children and I were new residents to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. My youngest son came home asking what it meant to be called cracker and vanilla. I laughed, thinking, “Really? That’s all you’ve got?” Absurdities of prejudice. How ridiculous people are to one another. We focused on good behavior and bad behavior, not skin color.

One day I wrestled a shopping cart from a jammed line of carts at the grocery store. I turned to see an elderly African-American man walking toward the carts and offered him mine. He scowled, saying, “Oh no. I don’t take anything from your kind.”

Taken aback, I paused, then continued from a different perspective. “Oh.  Well I’m not from around here. Where I’m from, you help each other,” I said sincerely. My boys nodded in agreement, and again I offered the cart.

He tilted his head inquisitively and repeated, “You’re not from around here?”

I replied, “No, Sir.”  He mumbled a thank you as he pushed the cart into the store.

Our next door neighbors wouldn’t allow my son to befriend hers – she was a single African-American mom, working hard, protecting her family. My son, undeterred, respected her rules and stood along the property line chattering away, day after day, until they allowed him to be on their lawn. Months later he was allowed into their house. Eventually he came running home, breathlessly asking where his Bible was because he had to write a sermon! He was all of 11 years old. His new friends agreed to let him lead Bible study. My son always looked for opportunities to tell people about God’s love, the kind people are supposed to show each other and often fail miserably.

I can’t change what happened in the past. What I can do is live with respect toward others today and all my tomorrows and teach my children to do the same. I can share my experiences, risking all the words that people hurl when you’re different or you dare to speak up. I can befriend people based upon their personality and behavior, not their skin color, like I’ve done all my life. Moving to Mississippi didn’t stop me from viewing people for who they are, not what they look like.  I just can’t make other people behave well. But I can’t make them behave badly either.

I heard a term recently has been unpopular for nearly a decade: Personal Responsibility. I’ve lived coast to coast and yes, 45 years after the end of the 1960’s I think it is about time to say this is a sin problem, not a skin problem. We all know how we are supposed to treat others. The color of the skin does not determine the quality of person.

We don’t choose what we will look like when we are born, who our parents are, nor where on earth we are born. However, each of us is personally responsible for our own behavior. We will influence others, and we may inspire others, discourage others, or intimidate others. But the fact is, we are only responsible for our own choices and our own behavior. How will we use that responsibility to influence or inspire others?

Ms. Steele has written a glorious tribute to African-American grandmothers, honoring the matriarchs of their families, called Jewels in the Delta. Ms. Ukwubiwe has written an article for her school newspaper. Although I do not match and my life has not shared the same kinds of racism, I’m posting a glimpse of my story here on my blog.

I don’t know what the fallout will be, whether my words will be ignored because I was born white, or whether my words will be respected, from one human experience to another. I have a voice, too, and I am just tired of people telling me I have no idea what it’s like not to be welcomed nor accepted because of my skin color. If we all were expected to behave with respect or face consequences, what would we do?

If we woke up tomorrow with a different skin color, would we continue to treat people the same? Choosing to behave with mutual respect and personal accountability plus a whole lot of persistent kindness will continue to lead the way as we grind toward progress in this instant world.

Profiles

The Nordic Connection

by Debbie Nelson

IMG_5442Rounding the curved drive of The Peabody, famed Memphis hotel, two Norwegian gentlemen waited curbside as planned. Both waved, noticing my red sedan’s front plate, “Rebel Girl, Best in the World.” I’d be their tour guide for the ACT 5 Experience, a truly unique magazine conference led by Dr. Samir Husni at Ole Miss.

The air felt crisp (as it can be) for an autumn day in Memphis, perfect welcome for a first-time visit down South. Espen Tollefsen, CEO, and Tommy Engvik, IT pro, at Norwegian magazine and book distribution company Interpress, typically travel to coastal American cities. I hoped to learn about the country of my own ancestry as much as I wanted to make certain they experienced true Southern hospitality.

We were immediately on a first-name basis chatting with ease during the drive through rural Northern Mississippi. We shared briefly about ourselves before delving into the wonderful world of magazines, and what it’s like in Norway. Both were surprised downtown Memphis has little shopping and was much smaller than expected, so I wondered how they’d find our charming town of Oxford and most beautiful campus in America. Both expected to do a lot of walking, since their hometown’s name translates to English as “steep hill.”

Before long, Tommy remarked in Norweigan how many churches he’d counted in just a brief portion of the drive. Espen laughed and translated for me. Whenever they’d lapse into speaking their native tongue, the melodic sound of the language was peculiarly comforting to me – surely my Norwegian immigrant great-grandparents had spoken it to me before I last saw them at age five.

I wondered what explore career opportunities might await me in Norway, but before we reached the Lafayette County line, my hopes dwindled alongside their shrinking industry. Without a major paradigm shift in single copy sales of magazines, the future for me packing winter clothes and heading to the home of my ancestors was bleak. Both my guests hoped the conference would be a positive source of ideas and inspiration. I’m still tumbling ideas in my head.

With a brief stop at their hotel, I sped toward Memphis to transport another guest. Fortunately we arrived just in time to join my Norwegian guests for conference opening dinner. Truly, the top leaders in the magazine industry treated Dr. Husni’s students as close to peers as one can be, for this incredible space of time.

Mr. Tollefsen’s presentation closed next day’s morning session. An engaging video introduction to Norway evoked many rounds of laughter. Culturally enlightened, the audience relaxed, reminded frequently of Norway’s love for bedtime stories, fish and potatoes. We have the insider scoop on the world’s highest availability and lowest prices on Playstation. We know geographically Norway’s length – if laid on its side – would span the width of the United States, but the population would only fill half of Manhattan.

Espen Tollefsen, CEO Interpress, speaks at ACT 5 Experience, University of Mississippi, October, 2014.
Espen Tollefsen, CEO Interpress, speaks at ACT 5 Experience, University of Mississippi, October, 2014.

Espen shifted gears and focused on the topic at hand – magazines. Interpress splits the entire book and magazine distribution market of Norway with one other company who holds 80% of the 4.5 million dollar market. Published weekly, Norway’s 100 magazine titles are purchased by stores, then refunds issued for unsold returns. Interpress also handles 1500 international titles. Unlike the U.S., oil drives the prosperous Norwegian economy. Property sales are up 10%.  Easy to see why the average price per copy is $10.

Challenges for Interpress include reduced magazine display space by new management at stores. Food and beverage space diminish importance for magazine sales. Compared to 2012, the market fell 7%. Reading has declined 5% annually despite the culture of one bedtime story book on every nightstand in Norway. Inspiring a return to reading, versus other activities, also remains challenging.

Book sales are stable, offering less than 2% on digital platforms compared to the U.S. > 30% digital. Development cost for digital is high due to relatively small population. Increased number of available platforms resulted in an inconsistent supply. Sales are down 10% across the board, yet growth in Food, Health, and Hobby themed magazine sales increased 23%. As CEO of Interpress, Espen Tollefsen showed how a rich country with a relatively small population faces challenges similar to those of the United States magazine industry.

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Jens Henneberg of Denmark’s Bonnier Group shared a return ride to Memphis and return flight to New York. On our way, Espen graciously read aloud my interview questions, answered them smoothly, recording on my smartphone. Reminiscing over the week’s events, I discovered all three men were disappointed not have a stopping point during the excursion to tour the Mississippi Delta region to photograph the cotton in full bloom. Two stops and many photos later, contented guests chatted further.

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I asked if anything surprised them about Mississippi.  Espen’s answer surprised me.

Mid-week, Delta Magazine led a tour to the Mississippi Delta region. First stop, Shack-Up motel in Hopson. As the group quickly ushered through the blues bar in order to view the shotgun houses-turned-motel rooms out back, Espen chatted with staff.

Seems the Blues Express, Norwegian blues band on stage – preparing  to  shoot a music video – stayed over at the motel.We all kept exclaiming, “What are the odds? What are the odds a first visit to the South would result in listening to a band from home?”

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Clinched my goal – true Southern hospitality.

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L-R: Tommy Engvik, Jens Henneberg, Espen Tollefsen