A story about
The following is an excerpt from a sermon I was honored to deliver at Governor Phil Bryant’s prayer breakfast on Tuesday, January 10, 2012. The sermon’s message coincided with Governor Bryant’s inaugural theme of “Rising Together."
When my family moved to Meridian in August of 2004, we met several of our neighbors in Colonial Acres. We seemed to hit it off with one particular couple. He was and is an attorney and at the time she was the director of the Key Chapter of the American Red Cross.
In September Hurricane Ivan swept across east Mississippi. I got my first observation of Cheri Barry in action. It was only a foretaste of things to come. Ivan gave us the chance to work closely as my church served as a shelter.
Only God would know what lie ahead.
Following Ivan, we held training sessions in our church. I watched as she began to train people in our community. I used to go by her office from time to time and hear how the Red Cross in Meridian responded to families whose houses burned in the middle of the night.
Cheri would often go by herself many nights to be source of comfort and help to the victims of disaster and heartache. Then, on August 29, 2005 a lady called Katrina came calling, and every other town in Mississippi that was far enough away from her fury, people fled for safety.
None of us were fully prepared. But Cheri was one of the most courageous witnesses in our city.
Preparation paid off. She opened shelters in as many places as possible. Our church and our sister Church Central UMC soon filled up with hundreds of people, but I would look up at noon or midnight and there was Cheri in a pick up or her car.
She would ask, "What do you need? How many more can you serve? Take my credit card and go buy it."
I don't know if she got any sleep for the week that passed. I do know that as the days lingered she endured criticism and distain from folk who were frustrated dismayed and ornery. She would not back down. Her strength came from two places, her wonderful husband Rick and the grace and power of God. She led our community along with the churches to a great moment of service to God.
Several months after Katrina I was in their home one evening and she said to me, "Some people want me to consider running for Mayor. I have been thinking and praying about it. Our city is in dire straits, almost on the brink of financial disaster. What do you think?”
I answered, “It is what is on your heart, and if you can see a new vision for Meridian then I think you know what you must do."
She won the election, and for the past two years she has looked over the valley and she has seen some of the dry bones rise and take on a new vision. Can these dry bones live? When we rise on God’s word of truth and conviction these bones can come to life.
Meridian is blessed to have a mayor with the heart and vision of Cheri Barry. I thank her for her commitment and devotion to Meridian. I am grateful for the beacon of leadership she shines for the city.
Reverend Rob Gill
Saint Marks United Methodist Church
Response to DOJ
on mental health
Recently the U.S. Department of Justice issued a statement claiming that the State of Mississippi is violating the rights of individuals with mental illness under the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing the least restrictive environment for its citizens. The statement asserts that Mississippi continues to build new facilities when funding should be going towards community-based services. I would like to respond to these statements by saying that East Mississippi State Hospital has been in the business of treating adults with serious mental illnesses in the least restrictive environment in community settings for more than twenty years. EMSH has reduced its number of institutional beds from 407 to almost 200, with the majority of these individuals being discharged back to their homes, private community group homes, supervised living arrangements, or in some cases group homes operated by EMSH. That’s right, EMSH operates nine (9) group homes scattered across four counties to serve approximately 100 people. The hospital also operates a day treatment program at The Friendship Center in Meridian and offers services to the homeless.
Allegations have been made that the Department of Mental Health continues to build new facilities to add additional adult psychiatric institutional patient beds. If you are not aware, EMSH was constructed during the 1880s and was partially renovated in the 1950s. These old buildings housed adults requiring psychiatric and chemical dependency treatment and nursing home services as well as adolescents requiring psychiatric and chemical dependency. The new construction was to replace existing buildings in an attempt to provide better conditions and lessen overcrowding. In recent years, the Mississippi Legislature has graciously provided funding to replace the Adolescent Unit and the Nursing Homes. EMSH is currently in the process of building two new sixty (60) bed receiving units, a dietary facility and a new laundry. These new buildings will allow the hospital to seek accreditation by The Joint Commission, which would have been difficult to achieve because of existing conditions in patient-occupied buildings.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Mississippi Legislature, the Mississippi Board of Mental Health, the Department of Mental Health, the County Boards of Supervisors, the City of Meridian, and the many citizens of Mississippi who have supported the mission of EMSH for more than 125 years and to thank The Meridian Star for its willingness to educate the public about mental-health issues.
Charles A. Carlisle
Director, East Mississippi State Hospital
A story of 'What If'
is reality to some
What if I am a thirteen year old girl attending the local neighborhood youth club and an older boy admires me and I consent to explore youthful love? What if I found out I am pregnant and give birth to a baby boy at age fourteen? What if my mother dropped out of high school at age fourteen and now she has four children? What if we are living in public housing? What if I am now forced to quit school to take care of my child? What if my baby’s father dropped out of high school at age sixteen all because he was socially promoted and passed on in school even though his teachers knew he couldn’t read? What if now he can’t find a job?
What if my own daddy has not been able to support me, my brother and sisters because he is incarcerated? What if my baby’s father has recently joined a gang? What if my baby’s daddy has started selling drugs to support our baby? What if I recently found out a plan was put in place to put on felonies and incarcerated young black boys? What if my baby’s daddy got caught selling drugs and had a gun on him and now he’s a convicted felon? What if my son witnesses all this and now he’s grade school age and the school called the police on him one day because he pitched a temper tantrum? What if they took him to the juvenile center in handcuffs because he would not stop crying? What if he now thinks that is where he belongs because he has seen his father and grandfather locked up in this same correctional system? What if he says he can’t wait until he has a child to stop all this madness?
Unfortunately, this is the cycle many black boys and girls face everyday growing up in Meridian. The sad saga to this what if story is, according to the Department of Justice and the current ongoing investigation into the Meridian/Lauderdale County Juvenile System, the Meridian Police Department and the Meridian Public School District; there is a strong possibility this is ever so real! To think School Board Members, City Council Members, County Supervisors, Juvenile Judges and Mayors and any other personnel who come into contact with black boys on a daily bases could sit back and allow this to happen. Genocide! Psalm 11:3 states “If the foundation be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?”
Rev. Randle L. Jennings
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