Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Besides slang's tendency to completely bewilder older generations, what would contemporary culture be without colloquialisms? One of the most beautiful things about slang is that it seems to eventually embrace those things initially interpreted as derogatory. The word chick is the perfect example. There are numerous entries for "chick" in The Urban Dictionary—yes, there is such a thing—and they're all fairly consistent. All the definitions allude to the fact that the term used to be derogatory, but is now actually a compliment. And for those of us who are completely naïve, the definitions even take care to point out the fact that the term rarely refers to a baby chicken.
Characteristics of a chick are simple ones to rattle off: independent, empowered, creative, sassy, chic, clever, inspirational, heroic—perfectly imperfect. Everything a woman is—and is not—on her best day can be her proudest day as a chick. Until the next day, of course. One doesn't study to become a chick; if you did, quintessential chickness would never come. Each day a woman becomes more comfortable in her own skin, matures mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, stands with her shoulders a little further back with pride in who she is becoming, she takes another step toward chickdom.
The chicks featured on the following pages lead the pack of women who are taking their feminine virtues and extending them to the community around them to improve it—that's what draws the line between women with chutzpah and chicks. In addition to the women, the pages include DIY tips for you to improve your chick walk and of course, plenty of chick must-haves from stores around the metro area.
—Natalie A. Collier
Averyell Kessler is a lifelong Jacksonian who quit practicing securities law 10 years ago to work with her husband, William, to bring the lights and stars of Broadway to Jackson. The couple, who have been together since they were 16, own W. Kessler Ltd., which so far this season has brought national tours of "The Producers" and "Aida" to Thalia Mara Hall. Kessler now handles all the marketing and publicity for the company.
"I have been involved the whole time," Kessler said. "Even when I was practicing (law), I would come home and put my PR hat on and take my lawyer hat off." Despite such a seemingly large career jump, Kessler said things aren't so different these days: "I think the legal profession and show business are the same profession. You could make a good case for that."
Kessler lives with her husband in Fondren, and the couple has two sons who live in Louisiana, two "lovely" daughters-in-law and five grandchildren.
Deciding which shows to bring to town is "kind of like putting a puzzle together," Kessler said. "We have to know what's touring, and we have such a diverse audience. We try to select things occasionally that will appeal to younger patrons—the latest and greatest stuff—and to our older patrons, maybe something that is more traditional Broadway. We try to mix it up."
W. Kessler Ltd. will bring "Wonderful Town" and "Man of La Mancha" to Thalia Mara in late March and early May, respectively.
"Everybody can't fly up to New York," Kessler said, "and we're delighted to be doing this for our community."
"I used to draw stick figures," Latoriya Phillips, 23, says, standing beside a Tony Davenport painting of a little girl with a teddy bear and the saddest eyes. "But one day I decided to really attempt to draw, and I could. You can't let fear stop you from trying."
Phillips wrote her first book of poetry in the third grade, promptly lost it and vowed never to write again. Until the six grade, that is, when she picked up a pen once again, and has never looked back. A poet, writer, artist, photographer and the new curator of the Smith Robertson Museum, Phillips doesn't let anything hold her back from life. With bachelor's degrees in public relations and art from Jackson State University, she's the perfect candidate to build a connection from the museum to the community.
"I hope to have my own cultural community center one day. It's such a blessing to build my foundation here," she says with a grin.
One of the Renaissance woman's hopes is to teach younger generations the importance of the African-American experience. Beyond that, Phillips desires to inform the public of the importance of Smith Robertson as a museum and cultural center with a rich, historical legacy in the Jackson community.
"I want to tear boxes down and do something different," she says. "The world is so huge, and there are so many ways to do and view things. We can't let fear stop us from building better things for ourselves and our communities."
Those who have been patrons of Rainbow Co-Op for a while probably remember a little lady who would dance carefree in the plaza. One day, general manager Steve Whitlow, the man Irene Rosenfeld—dancer extraordinaire—called "The President" for most of her time at Rainbow, walked over to Rosenfeld, and informed her that it was not OK to drink on the job. She put her beer away, and continued on with her day, greeting patrons and folding plastic bags. Anyone chancing to have eye contact with her was likely to be greeted with a heavily accented, friendly voice, "You say something to me. Do I know you?"
Before this part-time gig, though, Rosenfeld's life was already full. Walking through a parking lot in Jackson in the 1970s, she spotted a weed in a crack—a classic symbol of nature growing through human construction. The sight of this weed pleased her, and she plucked it out of the ground. After realizing she'd disturbed a scene that made her happy, Rosenfeld decided to magnify the weeds' message with a photogram and thus began Weeds For Peace, Unlimited.
An activist for peace and justice all of her adult life, she is a testament to living a life of conscious choice, and of releasing desire and control to a universal One. Rosenfeld accomplishes her specific goals by allowing them to happen: She desires an opportunity, makes room for it in her life, and there it grows. A testament to patience, this woman has cultivated her humanity and spirituality for some 88 years. She radiates the optimism of an early activist, and the serenity that comes with the cultivation of tolerance, acceptance and non-judgmental love. Rosenfeld embodies the emancipated ideals of the flower children of the '60s and '70s. She is conscious of the manner in which her beliefs and actions affect her life and the lives of those around her. She walks and talks like she is living the life she dreamt, or that tomorrow her dreams will see dawn. She is a believer in the holy and healing presence of people working together for a common cause.
Rosenfeld is simple, yet concise, undemanding, yet energetic and highly educated—ying and yang. Isn't that just like the woman in all of us?
Attorney Patricia Ice has been working with Mississippi Immigrants' Rights Alliance since 2001. After graduating with a law degree from Wayne State University, the Detroit native spent several years in the Peace Corps, teaching English as a second language to refugees in West Africa, Haiti and Honduras. Afterward, the world traveler obtained masters' degrees in linguistics and library science and moved to Jackson in 1998 to work as a reference librarian at the Mississippi College School of Law.
At the library one day, Ice met a nun who needed an immigration lawyer. The rest, as they say, is history. Ice's background in languages and working with people from all over the world made immigration law a natural progression. She began attending meetings with MIRA shortly after its inception in 2000 and immediately got involved in the work MIRA was doing with immigrants on the Coast and with immigrant poultry workers in Scott County.
Post-Katrina, Ice has spent much of her time focusing on immigrants who came to the Coast to clean up and rebuild. She has since filed numerous EEOC complaints because of labor violations on the coast. One of the stories that still resonates with her is about 24 immigrants who all shared one tiny trailer in Pascagoula. "Most of these workers are here legally on work visas, but the housing is just not appropriate for many of them," Ice said.
Ice is an adjunct professor at Mississippi College of Law and taught the first immigration law class in the fall semester of 2006. She also meets often with state and federal legislators to promote "positive, comprehensive immigration reforms," she said, such as a path to residency for immigrants who have been in this country for many years and wish to become citizens.
I scan Mrs. Kim Hubbard's fourth-grade classroom walls at Flowood Elementary while she helps four boys with math during an after-school tutoring session. The far right-hand corner is filled with awards she has won during her 17-year teaching career, and includes her National Board Certification. The focal point of the room, however, are two ideas Hubbard repeats to her students, "It's okay to make a mistake" and "True learning requires risk." This teacher holds the learning and character of around 40 boys in her hands each day as part of an experimental gender-separated classroom. Risky, indeed.
"I teach toward the learning styles of boys. They want more hands-on experiences; they want interaction," Hubbard said. She also reinforces character traits such as compassion, positive conflict resolution and respect for one another—traits that are often missing in teenage popular culture. Hubbard's boys learn that they do not have to use fists to settle a dispute, they don't have to verbally insult each other to impress their peers and that understanding the feelings of others is not a weakness. Most importantly, Hubbard teaches by example; she never name-calls or yells, even on the rowdiest of spring-fevered days.
The poster on her doorway says it all:
Watch your thoughts, they become your word. … Watch your words, they become your actions. … Watch your actions, they become your habits. … Watch your habits, they become your character. … Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
Hubbard grew up with five brothers. Now she is mom to two daughters and one son, while her husband finishes his tour of duty in Iraq. She never shares with others how overwhelming her life must be; perhaps her consistently positive thoughts have become her destiny. She is every woman, teaching boys the way they should go, and for that, we love her.
Elizabeth "Pippa" Jackson, a Sweet Potato Queen, has a heart for saving the lives of innocent pups. In 2005, after rescuing dogs for years on her own budget, the animal lover noticed that most of the shelters she called were already full. "If you're a 'no kill' shelter, room is only available when an animal is adopted out," Jackson says.
Out of this need for more shelters grew the opportunity for Jackson to open the Animal Rescue Fund. ARF is located on Flag Chapel Road, in a space leased from Community Animal Rescue Adoption Inc. Jackson cleaned and set up the shelter on her own, and has only one full-time employee. Their ultimate goal is to find a larger space—preferably in Rankin County, because the county lacks shelters.
ARF has 40 dogs ready for adoption, but there are other ways to help out. Jackson says the biggest need is volunteers to help with feeding and to clean cages, and to give the dogs a little love and attention. They can use cleaning supplies, especially bleach (ARF uses up to four gallons a day), Animal Health Products or PetSmart gift cards, dog pens and even old socks. "You can ball up an old sock, tuck it into a larger one and tie a knot in it—instant dog toy," Jackson says.
ARF's Web site has success stories like the one about Magic, a black lab who went from being thrown from a car on County Line Road to becoming a little girl's best friend and biggest fan. Who knows? You might just find your new best friend in the process … diamonds are overrated, anyway.
Rabbi Valerie Cohen
One evening, Rabbi Andy Hillman asked 14-year-old Valerie Mittleman's mother, Louise, what her daughter wanted to be when she grew up. Mrs. Mittleman said Valerie was interested in a lot of things, such as public relations, writing, politics and travel. Little Valerie simply couldn't decide on a single vocation. "Sounds like she should be a rabbi!" Rabbi Hillman said with a laugh. When Mrs. Mittleman returned home, she shared Rabbi Hillman's joke with Valerie. The teenager didn't see what was so funny.
Now 35, married to Jonathon Cohen and a mother to two children, Rabbi Valerie Cohen is one of many female rabbis across the country. "In the mid-'80s, when I became a rabbi, it was unusual to have a female rabbi," she explained, "but it never occurred to me that I couldn't do it. Now there are plenty of them." The exceptions to this are orthodox strains of Judaism, which, because of their more traditional interpretation of Jewish ritual, still limit rabbinical ordination to men. Rabbi Cohen practices Reform Judaism, which promotes egalitarianism in Jewish religious observance. For instance, before Reform Judaism, men and women used to sit separately during service—women were partitioned from the men or were seated in a balcony.
After she earned a B.A. in public relations and took a lot of Hebrew classes, Rabbi Cohen attended seminary in Israel, Cincinnati and New York City before finally being ordained in Manhattan at Temple Emmanuel, which she described as "a beautiful, ornate building, almost like a Jewish cathedral." Rabbi Cohen then served at a large synagogue in Memphis before moving to Jackson. She believes that there is something special about Southern Judaism: "Being Jewish in the North is easy. You have a lot of support, and your cultural and religious identity is embraced. But in the South when everyone around you is strongly Christian, it is more challenging to be Jewish, you have to work harder for it. … You have to be intentional about your religious identity. You have to start over and figure out how to be Jewish."
Rabbi Cohen said that she wanted to work in the South so that she could help Jewish people meet such a challenge, one that is not only spiritual, but cultural and practical. Rabbi Cohen currently works at Beth Israel in Jackson, where she has been since 2003.
Kirti Naran & Rina Patel
Kirti Naran, 34, and Rina Patel, 28, saw a gap in the Jackson area and stepped in to fill it.
"We wanted some culture in Jackson. It was something we needed," Naran says. "So we decided to give it a shot and see how it went."
They opened Incense Salon and Boutique on Highway 80 in 2003, moving to their current location on Lakeland Drive in 2005. By all accounts, their business venture has been a thriving success. The sisters have customers who travel from Meridian, the Coast, Louisiana, Hattiesburg and Memphis.
The shop appeals to all ethnicities and budgets, with women flowing in and out like a rainbow of humanity. Threading, the removal of hair with a thread, most popularly to arch eyebrows, is a practice common among the Eastern Indian community, and it is the salon's biggest draw. But they offer plenty of other services. The boutique also offers clothing and a myriad of jewelry.
Jackson has grown on the sisters, who married into the state. They were born in Coventry, England, and raised on the outskirts of Dallas, Texas. They have high hopes for the future here. "Jackson has a lot of growing to do. We can get as many new restaurants and nice new buildings with shopping strips as we can build," Patel says. "But it will all be a facade until people change their mentality. A little shade of gray can be really refreshing."
Courtney Chinn Peters
"I knew I wanted to do this every since I was in high school," says Courtney Chinn Peters as she sits behind the desk in her quaint, modern store, Mosaic in Fondren. And the 23-year-old has already made her dreams come true—at least one of them.
Her life has been a pleasant whirlwind. After graduating with a bachelor's in art from the University of Mississippi in May 2005, the entrepreneur married in January, 2006, during the winter break when she taught elementary-aged children art for a year. Her summer days were filled renovating her store's home right under New Vibrations on State Street. "My husband found the spot, and he let me know that it was going to take a lot of work before I even saw it, but when I did, I knew that it was the perfect place to get my start," Peters says.
Besides selling home décor, the artist uses the back of her store to paint and make pottery. "Venturing out and starting your own business is a challenge. You definitely have more room to grow, but there's a lot of risk, so I have a lot or pride in what I'm doing," she says.
Aside from the many successful women business owners in the Jackson metro area, "Women here are doing some really cool things," she says, Peters cites her mother, an interior decorator, as her main inspiration. "I hope to one day be as good as she is. She does it all."
—Natalie A. Collier