Saturday, November 15, 2014

JC Schools Settle Racial Discrimination Lawsuit


This story courtesy the Kingsport Times-News

By Matthew Lane
mlane@timesnews.net

GREENEVILLE — The Johnson City Board of Education has agreed to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by an African-American mother who claimed her son suffered from mental and emotional distress while attending class at Indian Trail Middle School.

   Danniele Madison, on behalf of her son Hilton, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in October 2012. Among other things, the lawsuit claimed her son was routinely led to the cafeteria by a rope and tied to a desk with an extension cord.

   According to court documents, the Madison family and the board agreed to a $7,000 settlement in October, with two-thirds of the money going to the family and one-third to Madison’s attorney.

   Lee Patterson, the attorney for Johnson City Schools, said the settlement was covered by insurance and no money came from school funds.

   The settlement agreement does not constitute any admission of guilt or wrongdoing on the part of the board or the school system and the board continues to deny all allegations in the lawsuit.

   According to the lawsuit, Hilton suffered a stroke at birth resulting in his right hand and arm being unusable. The young man also has difficultly walking, has been afflicted with learning disabilities, and is prone to breathing difficulties and seizures.

   Eight years ago while enrolled in the sixth-grade special education class at Indian Trail, Danniele Madison claimed her son’s teacher routinely tied him to his desk with an electrical extension cord during the school day, and when lunchtime came, the teacher led her son to the cafeteria with a rope tied to his good arm, “much like a person would lead a goat.”

   The lawsuit claimed the teacher, who is Caucasian, did not similarly mistreat the Caucasian special education students.

   When Madison learned of these actions and called the middle school, an employee informed her the teacher only used the strap to keep Hilton from getting lost.

   The lawsuit claimed that the school sent a letter home with Hilton explaining that he had been tied to his desk for reasons Madison “would not understand.”

   After reading the letter, Madison contacted the Johnson City Police Department and the Department of Children’s Services, along with the school system’s special education director and Director of Schools Richard Bales, who reportedly told her he would “get to the bottom of it.”

   However, no school administrator ever “got back” to Madison, and eventually Hilton became a homebound student for the next two years.

   The lawsuit claims that Hilton’s teacher was allowed to retire.

   Madison claimed the actions taken against her son were deliberate and malicious, and as a result her son suffered humiliation, stress and anxiety, which aggravated his pre-existing disabilities and caused more severe medical problems.

   The lawsuit claimed Hilton was hospitalized and became comatose for three weeks, and upon returning home actually died for a brief period of time before EMS revived him through CPR.

   Hilton had to undergo five surgeries at the Fort Sanders Children’s Hospital in Knoxville and underwent therapy to alleviate the stress and anxiety caused by the school system’s race discrimination, the lawsuit states.

   The lawsuit did not specify an amount of damages, but asked for compensatory damages for the mental and physical distress caused to Hilton.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

2014 Umoja Festival: "Uniting" Upper East Tennessee's Communities


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"Umoja."

In Swahili, it means "unity."

On the weekend of August 8th and 9th, the 2014 Umoja Festival "united" hundreds of people along the streets of downtown Johnson City.

It's the 18th weekend of people learning African-American culture, and the diversity of East Tennessee diversity. The festival encompasses most of downtown, and gave visitors a chance to experience the social forms, beliefs and excitements of other ways of life. Umoja brings those experiences to people in upper East Tennessee.

Its beginnings were a lot more modest.

"It all began one weekend 18 years ago at the Carver Recreation Center," says Umoja Festival chairman Ralph Davis. "We had just finished a clean-up of the black community.. some of us were members of the local NAACP and the Concerned Citizens Group, and we were trying to save the center itself. At the end of the weekends, we would have a picnic there on the grounds, mostly just fun and games.. It was always a good time, and folks in the community would come in or stop by, to meet up with friends and a good time."

Davis says, the get-togethers went on for two or three years.

"We decided to expand it a bit and have some music, because more of the community were wanting to get involved," he says. "We noticed all the festivals around on the East Coast and around, and we decided to try and have a full-blown event here ourselves.. just a neighborhood gathering, so we started one down at Carver."


Unlike other Umoja festivals around the country, Johnson City's celebration of African cultural arts has always been held on the second weekend of August, as close to August 8th as possible.

"That's the date of the Emancipation Proclamation in the state of Tennessee," says Davis. "We knew the Greeneville community celebrated freedom for the slaves in the state on that day, and we wanted to commemorate that date, too here in Johnson City. The festival just kept growing and growing, and it was beginning to outgrow the Carver Rec Center."

FLOODING ON BRUSH CREEK IN JOHNSON CITY - PHOTO COURTESY WJHL-TV

A huge flood along a branch of Brush Creek that flows alongside West Market Street in Johnson City, soon put an end to festivals at Carver Rec.

"Folks kept saying 'why don't you have it at Freedom Hall (Civic Center)," Davis remembers. "That did seem to be a better place for us, so we started holding the festival there. Still, it just kept getting bigger and bigger. All of a sudden, folks started asking 'well, why don't you just move downtown where all the other festivals are held?' We approached the city, and the rest is, as they say, history."

This year, the Umoja Festival is celebrating its 5th year downtown of celebrating cultural arts.

"I would say we're probably more music and crafts-oriented, for the most part," says Davis. "We try to have every thing from bluegrass to rap.. we cover the genre. Only a few years ago, did we try to appeal to different crowds who attend the festival, and we did that by having an adult main stage, and a young adult stage. That way, we could have crossover between the generations."

Between the stages, visitors were able to stop many booths along Market, Main, and Roan Streets.  Most of them were food vendors, featuring everything from barbeque pork ribs, the always-popular whiting fish, tacos and brats, to funnel cakes, pastries and other carnival-type foods.  Soft drinks, including water, tea and lemonade were also in high demand, because of the rising heat of the day.

A special event of the festival was a storytelling booth.  Tucked in one of the several alcoves between streets in downtown Johnson City, was the Majestic Park Gazebo, where storytellers held the crowds spellbound with tales of interest, some of them made up, others taken from real life.  The storytelling booth was sponsored by East Tennessee State University, in conjunction with its ETSU Storytelling Program.  According to the school website, potential students who pursue the school's Master of Arts degree in storytelling,  may "concentrate on performance skills for the sake of their present or intended professional storytelling career, or they may focus on aspects of applied storytelling, to enhance their roles as teachers, ministers, counselors, community workers, corporate trainers, healers, parents, grandparents, or any combination thereof."

"The addition of the storytelling booth is unique to our festival," says Davis.  "The ETSU storytelling area adds a dimension nobody else has.  The school builds its program around our festival, and they bring in national storytellers that we would never see, unless we go over to Jonesborough during the National Storytelling Festival they have every year."


Friday's activities featured the traditional "Call of the Drums," and a 5-K run.  Other than the parade, Saturday's event were geared mostly towards music, and of course, the food  (EDITOR'S NOTE:  SEE THE OTHER ARTICLES BELOW FOR ACTIVITIES AT THE MAIN STAGE AND THE YOUNG ADULT STAGE).

As the Umoja Festival grows in size every year, Davis says plans for the future are clear.  The event has grown into a full-blown festival.

"We are slowly getting to our goal of being multi-cultural," he says.  "There are still have some things to improve on.  We would love to have more Hispanic participation and we could really use some Asian participation.  We actually have those in spurts from year to year, but we always strive to do more in those areas."

"I would also like to see our attendance double in the crowd participation in the next few years," says Davis.  "We always try to get entertainment, booths, and participants that we know everybody will like, especially family-oriented activities.  Blending everything together is what helps us grow even further."

"It just all works together."


SLIDE SHOW OF THE 2014 UMOJA FESTIVAL, HELD AUGUST 8-9, 2014 IN JOHNSON CITY, TN -- IF THE SLIDE SHOW DOESN'T START AUTOMATICALLY, CLICK ON THE ALBUM NAME BELOW


The 2014 Umoja Parade: Marching to Many Different Drums


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The Umoja events on Saturday always begin with a parade on Saturday morning.

The 2014 celebration was no different.

The parade began as it always does at the festival's beginnings, the Carver Recreation Center. As the various vehicles lined up, there was a fun, festive atmosphere. Many participants had not seen each other since the last parade.

Participants in the parade included the Shriners led off the group, then cars loaded with dignitaries made their way on Main Street back towards downtown Johnson City and the main Umoja stage at Fountain Square.

MARCHING BAND IN 2014 UMOJA FESTIVAL PARADE



All along the way, folks lined up to wave and grab candy thrown from some of the parade participants, sort of like the area Christmas parades. Except in this case, Santa had a distinct tan. And there were many of them. Not just one.

The elite of Johnson City's African-American community was on display during the Umoja parade. Rain the previous day, lowered the morning temperature, resulting in a huge turnout of people lining the street.

Waves were as prominent as the smiles, and each corner was packed with people.

The highlight of the parade was the African Stilt Walkers, put on my the Kuumba Waoto group from Knoxville. They dazzled the crowd simply by maintaining their balance while parading down the street.

AFRICAN STILT WALKERS AND DRUMMERS IN 2014 UMOJA PARADE




These high walkers and accompanying drummers had earlier attended the Kuumba Kamp, which includes, according to the group's website, "intensive workshops that focus on the development of performance skills, knowledge of African and African American culture, self discipline, proper nutrition and individual goal setting that are reinforced during the camp. (The) purpose is to provide a supportive environment that facilitates the development of the individual physically and emotionally."




"Kuumba Waoto" means 'creative children' in Ki-Swahili.

The stilt walkers and drummers are sponsored by African American Appalachian Arts, Inc., Kuumba Watoto Urban Youth Institute (KWUYI) of Knoxville.

Obayna Ajanaleu was once one of the young ones, learning the art of African drumming.

He now leads the group.

OBAYNA AJANAKU ON THE IMPORTANCE OF PASSING AFRICAN CUSTOMS DOWN TO YOUNG PEOPLE



The high walkers in native African dress were a crowd favorite, taking the crowd back to African times of celebration.
DRUMMERS AND STILT WALKERS ENTERTAINING THE 2014 UMOJA FESTIVAL CROWD



At the end of the parade, the crowd was treated to a native African drum chant, which drew the parade crowd into a circle around the activity. The audience were mesmerized by the artistic dancing and drumming, especially the children. Squeals of delight were heard from the younger kids, while their parents just watched in amazement.

STILT WALKERS PERFORMANCE AT END OF 2014 UMOJA FESTIVAL PARADE



The annual parade is sponsored by the Umoja Arts and Cultural, Inc.

The 2014 Umoja Festival: The Young Adult Stage Events



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The Young Adult stage is a relative newcomer to the Umoja festival scene in Johnson City.

It's only been around just 4 short years, but it has already established itself as a "happening" place, where young people can hang out, be themselves, and be one with their types of music.

For the younger crowd, a full musical stage was set up on Market Street right beside the Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church, near the intersection with North Roan Street.


"After the Umoja Festival moved downtown from Carver Rec and Freedom Hall, we were talking about how good it was to get people together," says Young Adult stage coordinator Vicki Briscoe, "but then we thought 'what about the youth? We need something for the youth. They need their space, their area.. something that interests them. So then, we got to thinking 'well, what do the youth like?"

"We came up with this stage," she says, "that was set aside for the youth to come and express themselves, and have clean, wholesome activities just for them. Umoja has areas for people of all ages really, but this area is for the young people to come and sing and perform if they want to. We've had poetry there, we had the dance things, we had DJ Sterl the Pearl there, so the young people could have something they could call their very own."

Briscoe says she remembers well, the first year of the Young Adult stage.

"We were standing there, myself and one of the other workers," she says. "One of the young adult teenagers came up to me and hugged me, I didn't know him. He came up to me and hugged me and he's like 'thank you for this. Really, it touched me.. it really did. I made me feel like I, as well as my co-workers were making a difference, that we're touching someone's life."

2014 RAP BATTLE AT UMOJA

She also remembers a touching moment in this year's Rap Battle held on the stage.

"The Rap Battle is the contest where anybody from the audience can get on stage and just rap to the crowd," Briscoe says. "They don't get to practice it, it's live, spontaneous, right off the top of their heads. I was listening to one particular child and what he was saying. I could immediately tell from what he was rapping about, that he was coping with something.. something in his heart, and it wasn't good. I could tell from what he was saying that there's a problem in his life.. there's a situation that's painful. It shocked me because from what he was rapping about, I could just tell that he was hurting inside from something at home and he was putting it out, you know. He was talking about something wrong at home and this was his way of coping with it, putting it in a poetic way. It touched me deeply. What I heard him rapping about, was really sad. I'm like, 'this child is hurting, and in his own way, he's dealing with it through rapping."

"By voicing it, that may have saved him from doing something about it that is bad. Maybe somebody out there heard it and could help him with it."

"It brought tears to my eyes."


By far, the one surprise every year is the Gospel Fest, held on the Young Adult stage every year. Surprising, because it's growing rapidly every year.  This is also the 4th year for the collection of inspirational singing individuals and groups.

"Kelly Coley managed the Gospel Fest this year," says Brisco. "He brought in people and groups from all over the area. We did advertise it a lot more this year and it paid off. We've had Gospel Fest as long as we've had the Young Adult stage, and it is something that I insist upon. As long as I have anything to do with the Young Adult stage, we will have gospel. We scheduled it early, starting it around 1 o'clock on Saturday, because not a lot of kids are out then. That's just me though.. I know we're catering to the younger people, but I feel like God needs to be in this, you know.. we have to bring Him in. There are kids who participate in that."

"As long as I have something to do with that Young Adult stage, there will be a Gospel Fest."


MISSIONARY KIMBERLY PETE, WORD OF GOD MISSION, BRISTOL, TN, PERFORMING AT 2014 UMOJA FESTIVAL



WITNESS GOSPEL GROUP FROM KINGSPORT, PERFORMING AT 2014 UMOJOA FESTIVAL




One of the Gospel performers this year was D-Higgz from Knoxville, a third-year veteran of Umoja's Gospel Fest. He's a Christian rap artist, and his real name is Darren Higgins.

"I love this kind of festival," he says. "This kind of environment is great, because it is out in the open. Everybody can hear it, the focus is right up front. People bring different elements to an outdoor gospel rap concert. A lot of my venues are Christian audiences, and if I can get out there and bring their attention in, this is where the real ministry happens. It's where the people are. That's important in getting the message of Christ out there."

D-Higgz says, he can tell if that message is reaching a receptive audience when he performs.

D-HIGGZ OF KNOXVILLE, PERFORMING AT 2014 UMOJA FESTIVAL




"Sometimes, it's a hit-and-miss," he says. "You can see some people getting the Word in the back and then on up towards the front. I try not to focus too much on the crowd. Once I get started, I'm into the music and the message. That's what I'm all about. The message could be moving through the crowd and I not even know it."

"My prayer is that there is just liberation in the Spirit of God. It doesn't matter what I rap or what I sing, as long as the Spirit comes through. It's just that freedom. That's really my goal."


Later, the young adult crowd was dazzled by dances from the African Dolls. They're a group of young ladies based in Johnson City, from several different area churches.

"What they brought to the table," says Vicki Briscoe, "was a little R-and-B and some Liberian African dances. That's the first time we have had that type of dance, and this was their first performance ever."

"They're a new, up-and-coming dance group, and we were glad to have them. The crowd loved them."

AFRICAN DOLLS, PERFORMING AT 2014 UMOJA FESTIVAL






The Shaka Zulu Stilt Walkers paid a visit, and once again the crowd, especially the young people were mesmerized by the delicate balancing act of the dancers. Hovering several feet above the ground, many folks marveled at the way the dancers maintained their balance, including when the walkers incorporated dance steps in their stilt routines.

SHAKA ZULU STILT WALKERS AT THE YOUNG ADULT STAGE, 2014 UMOJA FESTIVAL




On both Friday and Saturday nights' DJ "Sterl the Pearl" entertained the crowd with a great selection of music. He is based in Knoxville, and has spent many years in radio, television and the world of entertainment.

"Sterl the Pearl is a great asset to the Umoja Festival," Brisco says. "He's been with us since Day One of the Young Adult stage. He relates to the young people and he really looks out for them. One of our requirements is that we only play 'clean' rap songs.. you're not going to hear the dirty versions. We are a family festival, family-oriented. Sterl has held true to that.. keeping it clean. Some kids have come up and requested the dirty versions of a rap song, and he's like 'I can't do that, you know.. I can't do that, this is a family vestival. No matter -- the kids that asked for the dirty stuff stay anyway and danced and had a good time.

"Sterl the Pearl's" real name should ring a bell for UT football fans.

Sterling Henton is a former UT quarterback, playing in four bowl games and winning back-to-back SEC football championships. He continued his sports career in professional football for four seasons. Henton, a.k.a. "Sterl the Pearl" has an MBA from the University of Tennessee, was once the Vice President of Marketing for Warner Brothers in the Southeast Region, and, in addition to DJ'ing on the side, is a local senior business analyst in Knoxville.



The future of the Young Adult stage is as bright as the smiles on the faces of the young people who claim it as their own.

"I would really like for more young people to be on the Young Adult committee," says Brisco. "We need their input on who to invite and who to consider. The first two years, we had bands from Nashville, Knoxville, a reggae band from North Carolina. We're a non-profit organization, and we would also like to get more sponsors so we can bring in bigger names, bigger acts, bigger name bands that you hear on the radio and the TV."

WITNESS GOSPEL GROUP FROM KINGSPORT, PERFORMING AT 2014 UMOJA FESTIVAL


"Support from the community is important, and we always value new input."

SLIDE SHOW OF THE YOUNG ADULT STAGE -- IF SLIDESHOW DOESN'T START AUTOMATICALLY, CLICK ON ALBUM NAME BELOW

The 2014 Umoja Festival: The Main Stage Events


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There's one place at the 2014 Umoja Festival where everybody is bound to come to, at some point or another.

The main stage at Fountain Square was the congregating place for music and fun.

Once the opening ceremonies were completed, act after act took the stage and even if people were walking by, it was impossible to pass by and not take in some of the entertainment.


On Friday, the main stage music began at 6 PM with Vincent Dial and the Call to the Drums.

Then, the Billy Crawford Band took to the stage with a blues performance, followed by and will be followed by hip hop artist K-DA from Nashville, singer-songwriter Shava Jae, urban soul singer Jack Profit, the Company Band and the night’s headline performer, and Jae Marie, rising R & B pop artist from Johnson City.

The clouds began the Main Stage music on Saturday afternoon with the Watoto dancers and drummers, singer Amethysts, and the MJ Beck Band.

CASEY MCCLINTOCK PERFORMING ON THE UMOJA FESTIVAL'S MAIN STAGE



As the rain clouds threatened at 8 PM, saxophonist Casey McClintock of Kingsport took the stage. "I was excited to be able to open for the main act tonight," says McClintock. "It's an honor to play to, first of all, even get to play at the Umoja Festival, and then to perform in front of the biggest crowd of the entire event is great."

"I just hope the rain holds off."

It did not.

In between acts, the Faze II Band had to wait out a heavy shower that first threatened with a few rain drops, then a full-blown downpour around their start time of 9 PM. Visitors were 'un-fazed...' Several Umoja events in the past few years have been plagued by rain showers, sometimes postponing performances, drenching crowds, but never dampening spirits.


Once the latest rain blew through, folks that sought to keep dry under overhangs and coverings along the streets of downtown, began trickling back to Fountain Square, and once Faze II began tuning up, all of a sudden there was a full-blown crowd in front of the Main Stage.

Man.. were they ready to jam...

The Faze II Band is based out of Cleveland, Tennessee. Band members are Randall Adams, Johnathan Harrett, Breksford Johnson, Dexter Bell, Richard Coperland and Marcus Dotson. Coperland says, the group has been performing together for many years.

Faze II actually opened for the main act at last year's Umoja Festival, but were so good, they were asked to come back and headline the 2014 gathering.

They did not disappoint. Although the males in the crowd were enjoying the funk, it was the LADIES that felt they were being serenaded individually.


FAZE II BAND SERENADING THE LADIES IN FRONT OF THE UMOJA FESTIVAL'S MAIN STAGE



"Yes, we did ask this band back," says Ralph Davis, head of the Umoja Festival committee. "The crowd loved them last year, and it seemed right to ask them back to be the main headliner on Saturday night. That's always the biggest audience."




Davis was encouraged by the number of people who braved the rainy weather, and stuck around to hear Faze II.

"I would like to see the crowd doubled in the future," he says. "The people have always been good to us attending, and I think us getting some big-name entertainers, along with the popular local groups would really.. really boost our attendance."


"We have to turn down 20 to 25 bands every year," Davis says. "We just don't have the room, nor the stages, nor any place to put new stages downtown. We have to space out the main stage from the Young Adult stage so they don't hear each other. There's just not another place downtown to put another stage, but we are looking at it."

"Right now, we're pretty lucky. We can be selective in who we can take."

A SLIDESHOW OF THE MAIN STAGE -- IF THE SLIDESHOW DOESN'T START, CLICK ON THE ALBUM NAME BELOW TO START IT



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Langston's 2014 Alumni Reunion: 38 Years of Memories



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"I don't know what it is with this particular reunion.. but this is the most exciting one yet."

Langston High School alumni spokesperson Barbara (Bobbie) Waterson has seen most of Langston's alumni get-togethers every two years. Going into them, she says, often the reunion committee doesn't really know how many people are coming.


2014 was different. The excitement level was higher.

And nobody knows why.


"This one has been so much different," she says. "Everybody is so jubilant, so keyed up.. they've been buying Langston souvenirs like crazy.. they seem so full of school spirit. Anything with Langston on it.  I don't know what caused it. Everybody has been wanting to do something, wanting to get in on it.. what do you need done.. what help do you need, what can I do. I'm liking it, but I'm a little amazed."

"You'd think it was the first reunion."


The key to a successful reunion, Waterson says, is to get the alumni base energized.. get them geared up for what will be a good time.


"I tried to send out reunion letters that were upbeat and positive," she remembers. "I always talk about yesteryear and the Langston Spirit, and how we can't let that die. I try to tell them things that make them want to go 'yeah, I want to come back, I want to go there, I want to see what's going on. It's just been a different atmosphere in the whole thing this time. I can't put my finger on it, and I don't know what changed."

"Whatever it is," she laughed, "I like it."


As Langston alumni gathered at the Carver Recreational Center on July 5th to register and meet and greet each other, Kenneth "Herb" Greenlee was hard at work on a project to honor former classmates who were memorable in school activities. Many of them went on to achieve fortune and honor in their respective lives, while living up to the school motto of "entering to learn, departing to serve."


It's the Langston Wall of Fame, to be located just inside the Rec Center, in the Langston Memorabilia room.
"We talked about it several years ago, maybe 3 or 4 reunions ago," Greenlee says. "During those times, we started inducting people into the Wall of Fame. Whether they did sports or music or some type of club, from 1892 all the way up to 1965 when the school closed, we want to give them some type of recognition and commemorate what they did while at Langston and beyond."



Greenlee says he's been working on the mechanics of the Wall for some time.

"I'm not a carpenter or a designer," he says, "but I wanted to at least get the ball rolling on the project and get our people recognized because we did decide to do it. Young people can come in and see the history of the folks who went to Langston. This exhibit will make them ask questions.. questions about their own heritage. It will also provoke conversation among people in Johnson City who did not attend Langston. This shows them that we, as alumni, are proud of the people who went here.. this is why we're proud of them. This is what they did, that stood out."

"Many of their families came to Johnson City to live," Greenlee says, "and they came to Langston to learn."

"It's part of Langston's heritage," he says. "It's important and you don't let that be forgotten. That's what the Wall of Fame is all about."

The Langston Wall of Fame was just one area that got visiting alumni fired up during the 2014 Meet-and-Greet session.

There were many other events awaiting them, that made this a special reunion for the Langston faithful.

"We've got some wonderful, exciting things for them to do while here," says Watterson.

"This reunion will be just like a big homecoming, and we don't plan to let them get bored with nothing to do."

LET THE 2014 TOUR BEGIN!

MEMBERS OF THE LANGSTON ALUMNI GROUP TOURED SEVERAL PLACES, THAT ARE SPECIAL TO AFRICAN-AMERICANS IN JOHNSON CITY AND WASHINGTON COUNTY.

CLICK ON THE ALBUM NAME BELOW, AND AFTER THE SLIDESHOW, SEE THE OTHER STORIES THAT FOLLOW!