Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What's your greatness?

I made this video after a run in North Carolina while visiting a friend for the Fourth.

Preparing for the move to Beaufort and the new career teaching high school English has filled me with many questions, including one I mention in the video.

Beyond commenting and sharing my messages and videos, want to go the extra mile to help Mr. Ward enter the classroom? You do? Then click this link to learn about the mission and the challenge.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The next chapter...

I have resisted writing this in recent weeks but feel comfortable enough now with the process to provide an update on my professional and personal journey.

A quick recap first: I resigned from The Greenville News in February 2015 after a brief stint, which helped me move to Upstate South Carolina after visiting the area with a group of public officials and economic developers from Tupelo and Lee County, Mississippi, where I worked as a watchdog and investigative local government reporter at the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. A few months after resigning from the position at the Gannett-owned publication in Greenville, my wife and I mutually resigned from our marriage, which overlapped with timing of me accepting a position at the Upstate Business Journal.

After contemplating my immediate and long-term future, I resigned from the UBJ, choosing to devote time to find personal and professional direction, something I'd lost. I also decided during this period to fulfill a promise to my mother before she died in 2010 after a lengthy, debilitating struggle with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. As I mentioned during the eulogy at her funeral, I promised to take her to Ireland and run the SSE Airtricity Dublin Marathon. I fulfilled this promise on October 26, 2015. Prior to the run, however, I met one of the best Robbie Wards I've ever known, who with his wife Joan Weldon, helped make the experience one of the most memorable of my life. Two days before the run, Robbie, his son Robbie and I walked to the Glendalough Upper Lake, where I had a spiritual experience. It felt as if I'd reached the location where I promised to take my mother. Moved by the moment, I reached into the clear water and took a few pebbles, souvenirs of my travels. I ran the marathon wearing a medical necklace that belonged to my mom and a few Irish lucky charms (pebbles) in my pocket.

I learned so much and gained much insight during my travels, emotional, spiritual and geographic. I lost 25 pounds, symbolic of the emotional baggage weighing me down. I tried to find peace within myself, reconnect with neglected friendships and welcome new friends along for the journey.

Monitoring a depleted bank account, I was blessed that a manager took a chance to hire me to wait tables at CityRange Steakhouse Grill in Greenville, where I remain employed. Serving people at the restaurant provided me with many great opportunities, including regaining humility, confidence and belief in myself. I have also made many great friends.

Life has ebbs and flows, highs and lows, seasons of change. The last 18 months of my life has been among the most turbulent, life-changing and remarkable to date. I feel strong again, ready to take on my next chapter and challenges.

During much of this time of uncertainty and turmoil in my life, I did not know what lie ahead for me. Much of my life remained uncertain. However, kind and gentle souls I've met along the way have reinforced my faith in this world. After much searching and travels, I have found meaning in my life again. I remain committed to contributing to improving the world, as my mind and body allow.
It appears my next chapter will begin in Beaufort, South Carolina, where I will accept a position teaching high school English at Right Choices School, soon to be named Island Academy, an alternative school within the Beaufort County School District. I will work with students already on track to get lost in society's cracks. During a visit a month or so ago, I saw a student whose siblings were all incarcerated and another student who was homeless. Many of these students do not live in the world you and I know. I intend to teach these students more than grammar and literature. I hope to instill in them hope and belief in a better life for themselves and believe that we can help bridge their world of today with the promise of tomorrow. I grew up in the Mississippi Delta, one of the most impoverished places in the United States. I know poverty, lived it – spiritual, financial, and emotional. I know what it feels like to be abandoned, without hope.

But I found it through a process of many years. I feel love from so many great friends I've made through this journey called life. I remain uncertain about what future chapters will bring but also have commitment and focus to do the best I can with the tools at my disposal to make an impact with as many people as possible.

I look forward to this next chapter in my life, even amid the stress and uncertainty of knowing this life is not a rough draft yet knowing I've got plenty of mistake left in me to make. Plus, I don't know yet how I will afford to move. However, I can't afford not to make this step forward in my life.

One last point before I end this post, don't think for a second this writer and journalist will remain quiet just because I change careers. Whether starting a festival to celebrate Johnny Cash's 1965 arrest in Starkville, Mississippi or running a marathon in Ireland, I've never let artificial barriers limit me from doing important things in my life. I will remain a writer. To do otherwise would be as outrageous as to try to remove my beating heart from my very living body. I will remain a storyteller. I have plenty to tell and look forward to gathering more to share.

Moving forward, I look forward to continuing to reconnect with friends to reestablish neglected friendships and find new friends along the way. We've got lots of ground to cover and limited time to get there. School will start in August. Mr. Ward will have a classroom ready to everyone to learn, including himself.
I also look forward to sharing some of these stories I've accumulated along the way, along with others I've yet to find.

Peace, love and happiness to you and yours!


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Father's Day to the Rattlesnake

Happy Father's Day to Rattlesnake Ward from Mississippi Whitesnake Ward! Not all father and son relationships are perfect, most aren't. Father's Day is also about acknowledging challenges of the past but still loving each other and making efforts to be the best people we can today.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

To Dublin with love – keeping my promise to Mama

Granny, Mama and I together in Starkville, Mississippi, in October 2009. Photo by Alan Messer.

I promised Mama in late 2009 we would spend a night in an Irish castle and I would run the Dublin Marathon. 

She died less than a year later at age 58

Five years after her death, I will run the Dublin Marathon on October 26. 

I will spend one night in a castle in Ireland in her honor. She will travel with me in spirit. 

For a couple of months now, I have started eliminating poor eating habits and worked to add more exercise into my daily routine. Marathon training started last week. I commit to whatever it takes to run 26.2 miles in my mom's honor. 

A decade ago, I ran the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, my first and only completed marathon. I feel out of shape compared to 10 years ago but remain determined to run toward this new goal, toward my future. Each day of training advances me closer to the person I must become to reach Dublin and complete this promise. 

I accept this challenge knowing it will change my life. Just as she influenced me during her life, completing this marathon will serve as a symbol of how she still influences me. 

Mama wore this necklace to indicate the vena cava filter inside her to prevent blood clots from reaching her lungs. I wear it now as a reminder to fulfill my promise to her.

An online search shows the geographic distance from me to Dublin right now at more than 3,750 miles. I'm not sure how to calculate differences between me and the person who will run the race under my name. I suspect that person will weigh about 20 pounds less than my weight a Sunday ago. 

Weigh in on May 3.

As I lose a few pounds, I suspect I'll gain a few life insights. Between now and Dublin, I will blog to share my progress, setbacks, victories and frustrations. You'll see videos, photographs and more. Blogging about this challenge will help hold me accountable as I train to conquer this distance between the lifestyle I've had for many years. I've had discipline before and will channel it again. 

I look forward to seeing you along the way. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Southern Miss ends 23 game losing streak in last game of season

Twenty-three losses doesn't make a loser.

The University of Southern Mississippi won Saturday, ending a 23-game losing streak that included a winless season last year and none heading into this final game of the season.

College football challenges isn't anything close to problems facing many middle- and working class families, but it can have symbolism.

Southern Miss' losing streak has such symbolism.

In spite of continuing gains on Wall Street, working families in the United States still struggle. Many pages of news copy has documented their struggles to meet basic needs, people down and out for so long they have to ask why keep trying.

Some people quit. National unemployment figures hide hundreds of thousands of workers who have abandoned their job search.

Lack of skills and limited opportunities plague them, keeping them from employment that pays a living wage. Sometimes sports can remind the down and out to keep trying. Each week that shepherded another Southern Miss loss, I wondered about the psychological impact for players to keep losing games. After so many loses, people can start to feel like losers.

We all have to define what success means to us. For Souther Miss, winning against another team, even a team with only two wins this season, meant as much to them as Auburn University defeating top-ranked Alabama.
We have to define success and build on what we have.

Southern Miss will carry their win into next season with hope for further redemption. If we could all be so lucky heading into the next milestone of our lives...


Sunday, November 3, 2013

David Barrow, a Greenville, Miss., educator, dies at 49

David Barrow, 49, right, poses with students from Volzhsky, Russia
and Greenville, Mississippi, USA, during an exchange trip in 1996.
David Barrow, 49, a public school educator who influenced thousands of students through decades in Greenville, died today.
 He was a loving father, husband and role model to many students. He enjoyed soccer, chess and helping students in poverty stricken Mississippi Delta improve their lives.
 I knew Mr. Barrow as a positive influence during my four years in high school. He accompanied eight other students and me to Russia as part of an exchange program and helped in many extra-curricular activities during his time as a teacher at the high school.
Serving in a number of different roles in the Greenville Public School District, his current position was Greenville-Weston High School athletic director.
 Barrow was playing soccer earlier today near Solomon Junior High School in Greenville.
 "He was out playing soccer and passed out," Washington County coroner Methel Johnson said. "He was DOA on the way to DRMC."
 No information was available on his arrangements. Johnson said she will schedule an autopsy to try to find the cause of death.
 A native of Trinidad and Tobago, Mr. Barrow seemed to always encourage students to make something of ourselves. During my senior year experience at Youth Congress in Jackson, Mr. Barrow taught me how to tie a tie. The closest I ever came to beating him in chess was on the flight back to the United States.
He always had something to share and teach his students. He encouraged me to stay curious.

Mr. Barrow enjoyed traveling, even in cold, snowy Russia. 

If you are a former student or otherwise felt Mr. Barrow's influence, feel free to leave a comment/memory below. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A long way from Tupelo

Time to pack up and drive South with my AARP German Shepard, Posey.

I will retrace my path back to Mississippi in a few weeks, driving along Interstate-81 with my geriatric German Shepard, new perspective and my mind focused on the achieving goals in Tupelo.

When I left Mississippi nine months ago, I had hoped to enhance my journalism skills and learn as much about this foreign place called Scranton and Northeastern Pennsylvania. When I wasn’t writing stories for the newspaper, I spent my time as a cultural anthropologist trying to learn as much as I could about this heritage-rich, great place.

Returning to the South to work at The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, I look forward to visiting people and places I haven’t seen in a while.  But I can't put a value on lessons I've learned in coal country (although the place hasn't produced coal for decades, Borys Krawczeniuk, "dean of Northeastern Pennsylvania political reporting reminds me), lessons that will make me a better person.

Scranton and The Times-Tribune offered me an opportunity to return full-time to journalism. After completing an advanced degree in public policy and administration, working for Reuters in Mississippi and writing about politics for The Jackson Free Press, I felt draw to return to journalism.

I've worked with a good looking group
of professionals in Scranton.
Larry Beaupre, one of the best editors I will ever work for, hired me at The Times-Tribune. He sold me on the newspaper and community when I visited in 2012. Since working here, I’ve covered parents coping with cancer killing a young daughter, city workers watching their pay slashed to minimum wage, a husband and wife coping with dementia and diabetes, and anything else editors threw my direction. 

I have learned from many professionals inside and out of the newsroom and gained much insight from the wisdom this place had to offer. A 70-year-old man who battled pancreatic cancer showed me the importance of never giving up on life, and his wife reminded me of the importance of loving and supporting those closest to us. Another fellow who met his doppelganger in Germany reminded me to embrace life’s adventures and not limit myself to a world that others expect me to live.

This place has been very kind to me, and I’ve tried to return the favor. I didn’t know I’d leave so soon. Heck, just a few weeks ago I made an annual commitment Pennsylvania public radio (which does not receive state funding).  But life has a way of keeping us on our toes.

As I look around with my apartment full of boxes, I think of unfinished business I have in Mississippi, stories waiting for me to write. I have many ideas still tucked away, just waiting for the right opportunity to share them.

Whether through a kindred spirit or some other shared connection, I've met many people I consider part of my family. People in Northeastern Pennsylvania are now included. I feel fortunate to have one of the best families I could have ever imagined, even if it is dysfunctional from time to time.

Nay Aug Park on Aug. 4, 2012
Speaking of family, I feel especially grateful to Scranton for hosting my formal ceremony with the love of my life. Marcela and I married at the tree house in Nay Aug Park. No matter where we go, this place will always remain special for many reasons, including this one. 
Packing my life up here and writing these last stories in Scranton, I think of my favorite Dr. Seuss book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” For many years, I was trapped in a “waiting place,” waiting to go somewhere special to achieve something important. It took a while, but I finally realized that incredible changes and growth happen within, no matter where I wake up.  Places are special because we make them special. With the right attitude, wherever we are is special.

I’ll ponder that for a few minutes as Posey the German Shepard and I head South. 

P.S. The title of this blog entry comes from Tupelo native Paul Thorn, an Americana singer and songwriter called one of the best songwriters around today by Kris Kristofferson. "A long way from Tupelo" is the name of a Thorn song and album.  For anyone needing a little consolation for any reason, here's a Thorn classic that always puts a smile on my face.