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Faces of Freedom 

Independence... and Interdependence

Wayne Daughtry’s pursuit of liberty and other inalienable rights -- with a little help from his friends

 

A simple wooden plaque hangs next to the door of Wayne Daughtry’s southside Savannah apartment. Hand burnished, its message is plain. 

“Finally, Welcome to Wayne’s Place.” 

For Daughtry and most of his visitors the home-made sign sums up the story of a lifetime. It is both a celebration of independence and a reminder of the interdependent nature of liberty.

Daughtry has lived all of his 56 years in Savannah. His life has not been easy. Growing up in Silk Hope off of U.S. 80, he attended Eli Whitney Elementary, but didn’t go to high school because by his teen years, says Daughtry, he was having “operations. They took over the body.” 

He is proud of his apartment, which has been his home since September 1994. The two-bedroom flat is roomy and tidy. A large television fills one wall of the living room; on each side of the TV are shelves holding photographs of Daughtry and family and friends. 

One of those friends, Kim Abbott, 53, is understated but direct as he describes his introduction to Daughtry in early 1993.

“I met Wayne through LIFE [Living Independently For Everybody], a group that was holding a meeting called the Circle of Friends at St. James Church,” says Abbott. “Wayne and I got to know each other. Tom Kohler [of Chatham-Savannah Citizens Advocacy] was building a circle of support for each person. I decided to be in Wayne’s circle.”

At that time, Daughtry had been living in a White Bluff nursing home for about eight years.

“Wayne was in a room with two or three other people,” says Abbott. “I couldn’t bring him gifts because they would just disappear. It wasn’t his roommates because they could hardly get out of bed. It was a bad situation.”

“One of the things we decided at the circle was to get Wayne out of the nursing home.”

“Wayne’s family was concerned that he would be out of the nursing home and then everything would fail,” says Abbott. “We set it up so Wayne would get [Social Security disability benefits.]”

In 1994 a new apartment complex, the Phillips-Winters Apartments, was under construction near the Savannah Mall.

“Jackie Immel” -- at that time, the independent living coordinator with State Georgia of Department of Rehabilitation Services -- “is the one who got it all put together. She assured me that Wayne could live outside of the nursing home, that there were certain social structures in place where he would be well provided for.  She was right.”

All of the single-floor units in Daughtry’s apartment complex are designed for ease-of-navigation by people with wheelchairs. The doorways are wide, the bathrooms are fitted with appropriate fixtures, and all entrances have smooth thresholds and no steps. 

“It was amazing to see all the people come together, bringing all the furniture,” says Abbott. “When we brought Wayne over here, it was a house. It was a home.”

“It was a great day!” says Daughtry.

Maintaining Daughtry’s independence calls upon a large support network, both paid and voluntary, in addition to Abbott. As a child, Daughtry was able to walk with the aid of crutches made for him by his grandfather, but says he has used a wheelchair “for a long time.” Although his mind remains sharp, Daughtry’s physical abilities, including his speaking skills, have diminished in recent years. On St. Patrick’s Day several years back he was hit by a car near his apartment as he made his way to Savannah Mall, further reducing his mobility.

Daughtry relies on the assistance of others for basic care.  “I can’t get out of the wheelchair,” says Daughtry. “I can’t get out of bed.” Says Abbott, “We have to use a hoist to get him into bed.”

Most days, Janie Geiger provides Daughtry with the help he needs. “She helps with the home,” says Daughtry. “With meals. She puts on my clothes.” 

For the past seven years, Mary White, 52, has filled in on Geiger’s day off. “Thursday nights, I give him his dinner, assist with his meds. We watch TV and get ready for bed. On Fridays I’m here from 7 to 3. I give him breakfast in bed, spoiling him! I do his oral care. I do laundry.”

“We go to the mall,” adds Daughtry.

In addition to being a friend, Abbott serves as Daughtry’s advocate. “I take care of his bills; make sure his financial statements are balanced. If there’s anything that comes up with government issues, like the Social Security Administration, I try to work it out myself. If I can’t I get some help.”

Over the years, the relationship between the two men has transformed into a brotherhood. “We go out to eat every other week,” says Abbott. “I take Wayne with the family.  We go out to eat together. We talk.”

One story from their past testifies to the mutual benefits of the friendship between the two men.

“We were at the circle of Friends” says Daughtry with wide smile, “and I looked around. I asked Kim, ‘let’s go meet somebody,’ and it was Mary Stewart,” another member of the group gathered at the church.

“I had noticed Mary at the meetings, too,” says Abbott.  “At one time I did try to call her. That didn’t work out — I never got hold of her. Then the opportunity came around again at those meetings at St. James.”

When Mary Stewart and Kim Abbott were married on February 11, 1995, Daughtry was Abbott’s best man. “Mary was pretty,” says Daughtry. 

The Abbotts now have four children—ages 11 months to 8 years old. “I like having all the kids around,” says Daughtry, although Abbott says that when they all go out together, “He fusses.” 

“A little bit,” admits Daughtry, laughing.

“We’re like brothers,” he says. “We talk with each other.  We’re like family.”

“I think that sums it up—like family,” says Abbott. “If I didn’t know Wayne I’d be pretty well enclosed within our own family.”

Daughtry has this advice for anyone in a situation similar to his old one. “Talk to people. Community people. Talk to people like Tom Kohler, who came and saw me when I was in the nursing home.”

Says White, “Wayne’s told me that when Kim and all the other people started coming around, it gave him a hope that he never had. He wasn’t afraid anymore. He’ll tell anybody — ‘Don’t give up. If I can do it anybody can.’ ”

 

Freedom to Tell the Truth

Lessons learned by a student journalist in New Orleans

 

Ask student journalist MaSovaida “Vaida” Morgan about her thoughts on independence, and she’ll use words like “responsibility,” “teamwork” and “truth.” 

In late May, while many college students were heading for the beach, Morgan and fellow Savannah State University student journalist Oneisha Freeman gleaned some hands-on experience in journalistic freedom and bringing truth to the public during their participation in the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, held from May 14-27 in downtown New Orleans in collaboration with Dillard University.

“It’s a two week intense-as-hell program,” says Morgan, a junior in mass communications and the incoming editor-in-chief of The Tiger’s Roar, the SSU student paper. “We worked with other students and with editors from the New York Times (NYT) and Times company papers” including the Boston Globe and the Ocala Star Banner. 

Now in its fourth year, the thirty students in the institute were chosen from about 150 applicants across the United States, according to Don Hecker, the Training Editor for Staff Editors at the NYT, who also serves as the director of the institute. The program grew out of an idea of the Black College Communications Association which represents journalism programs at historically black colleges and universities.

“They wanted some kind of a boot camp,” says Hecker. “It immediately came to us, ‘Why don’t we run a newsroom?’ We said, ‘Why don’t we take the students who are most committed to journalism and provide a resource that’s as good as anybody can get …working with the very best journalists in the world?’ “

“We had students that were specifically there to do reporting, photography, editing, or design,” says Morgan. “I signed up for editing and design. We worked as a team.”

Although Dillard University in downtown New Orleans has hosted the institute since its start in 2003, this year’s experience was transformed as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

“Every day we had people going out to cover the progress of the city,” says Morgan. “They had the mayoral election while we were down there. That was huge.”

“New Orleans is a very newsy city, but this is an unprecedented experience,” says Hecker. “There was quite a dark cloud over the institute this year. We had students come back to the newsroom in tears. I heard over and over the words ‘bearing witness,’ not only from the students but from the professionals. We tried to guide the students through the phases of what people were going through.  We tried to help them work through the place where people are in tears, to a place where, as a journalist, you can take those stories and turn them into the voices that can carry through to the rest of the world.”

“They told us that we had a responsibility to tell the story of our subject and to make sure that we did whatever it took to make sure that it was accurate and that it was fair,” says Morgan. 

“We had people climbing roofs and getting to the polls at five in the morning to cover the election. We had one student who went to Baton Rouge to catch a bus and ride back with some former Ninth Ward residents that were being bused back from Houston to vote. As soon as they voted they got on the bus and went back.  They traveled six hours to vote.”

As an aspiring editor and designer, Morgan spent most of her time in the newsroom at the copy editor’s desk.  Says Hecker, “What we were trying to teach, and what she took to very readily, was the responsibility that we have as the freest media in the world, to use that in a way that benefits our readers. Particularly on the copy desk where you are deciding ‘Is this story complete? Is it fair? Is it ready to go?’ That responsibility angle is very important.”

“We stayed busy on the copy desk. There were always stories coming in,” says Morgan. “We’d be there most days from nine or eleven in the morning until sometimes three in the morning. At the end, we published a newspaper, but we also had a website that was updated to the minute. The intensity and the noise — I loved it. That adrenaline going on — it was awesome.”

After serving as the online editor of The Tiger’s Roar last year, Morgan stepped into the editor-in-chief slot in May, and intends to have the first issue of the paper for the school year ready to greet students when they arrive on campus for fall semester. 

“I’m new at this whole editor thing, its going to be an interesting ride,” says Morgan.  “I’m interested to see how it’s going to unfold with what we publish and what the school wants published. Most newspapers at public universities are independent of the school, but at the same time receive funding from the school. You have to make sure you’re not going to piss off the school or make them look bad, but at the same time you have a responsibility to report the truth as objectively as you see it.”

“Then there’s that whole question of whether objectivity exists in the media. We all have our experiences and opinions that shape what we think is fair and not fair.”

Morgan’s plans for the student paper in the fall reflect the strong team environment she experienced in New Orleans.

 “The Tiger’s Roar is independent.  I’m not trying to be some kind of radical publication.  I don’t want the school to be threatened by us but at the same time I want to report the truth. I want to make nice with everyone, but I don’t want to lie. That would be doing a disservice to people.”

 

 

Citizenship, post-9/11

Restricted freedoms propel this legal resident to become an American

 

Just like last year, chef Mir Ali will spend this July 4th cooking up fish tacos and jerk chicken in the low-ceilinged, windowless kitchen of the North Beach Grill on Tybee Island. “I’m a chef, I don’t have holidays,” he says with a grin. But though his environs haven’t changed, Ali is different in one way this year. This past spring the 34-year-old Pakistani native became an American citizen.

“Everybody in my family is a U.S. citizen,” says Ali. “I was the last to become one because I was stubborn.”

In 1978 Ali emigrated with his parents and his two siblings from Karachi, Pakistan to Queens, New York City. Except for three years in Europe, Ali has lived in the United States ever since and says he’s always felt he’s American. For that reason, in spite of his change in legal status, Ali notes that this first Independence Day as a citizen “is not really going to mean that much more than the last twenty-six Fourth of July’s I’ve had.” 

The easy-going Ali speaks in a mellowed version of a New York accent, tempered by his college years at the University of Virginia and two years of grad school at the University of North Carolina. 

Upon arriving in New York, Ali was enrolled in first grade even though he was seven years old “because I didn’t speak English that well. We learned English through programs like Sesame Street and at school.” 

At home, Ali and his family spoke their native Urdu, which he still uses to converse with his parents.

“The reason my father moved to the United States first was he wanted to be with his brothers. Most of his family had already immigrated. He got settled here and got our house in New York. He wanted to start a business. That was his big dream. He had a co-op store, he and my mother.”

Until 2001, Ali says “I wasn’t really missing out on anything else being a permanent resident, except for the voting,” but his American experience changed dramatically after Sept. 11, 2001.

“I didn’t realize how much effect my resident status would have after 9/11, especially traveling out of the country,” says Ali. “I lived in France for three years. Going back and forth was becoming a problem.”

“I do have another reason -- for my wife and my daughter to be back in the United States,” says Ali. “As a citizen it’s an easier process for your family to come than if you are a permanent resident.”

“I think his citizenship really came to bear when Mir got married to a French woman,” says George Spriggs, co-owner of the North Beach Grill. “Getting her established here has been a bit of a trial. I think his marriage and the birth of his daughter was the impetus behind getting it finalized. And of course the atmosphere after 9/11.”

From 1998 until 2001 Ali was sous chef and then head chef at Georges’ of Tybee, the other island restaurant that Spriggs co-owns with George Jackson. In late 2001 Ali and his wife moved to her native country, where Ali remained until late 2004. His wife and three-year-old daughter are still in France.

“I had a Pakistani passport. The first time after 9/11 I came back into the United States I was given an orange folder, and I was detained almost two hours after a ten-hour flight from Europe. They didn’t tell me why. I was in a room with about 30 other people. Some of them were citizens but most had ethnic origins.”

“They asked me, ‘Why did you leave the country? How long have you been here?’ At that point I had lived here for over 20 years. They didn’t tell me why they detained me. They were just being cautious but there was no real answer given,” he says.

“Living in Europe gave me a different perspective on life than we see it here in the United States,” says Ali.  “I think a lot of Americans take for granted what we have here.  It is a great commodity that we have here. Although, that might be an arguable statement. Because, yes we have freedom in the sense that you are able to move anywhere, and do what you want, but then we have the issue of phone taps on American citizens,” he says.

“If you say, ‘What is freedom?’ I say ‘The United States is freedom to me.’  But someone else might say ‘Freedom is not being watched all the time, or ‘Freedom is not having to go through the county to put up a fence around my house,’” he says.

Ali’s parents are devout Muslims, and their older son has kept some Muslim practices despite his elementary education in Catholic schools.

Ali attends mosque when he visits his parents in metro Washington, D.C., and abstains from eating pork because ‘that’s something I’ve retained and because pork’s not that good for you. I keep an open mind. I think of religion as a faith more than as a defined way of living.”

After 9/11, Ali says “I think the negative attention toward Muslims is because people aren’t educated as to what Islam really is. They relate Islam to being terrorists.  I think that’s the media’s fault. There were people looking at me differently after 9/11, but nobody had any violence against me or anything. I think it was a normal reaction. I wouldn’t say it was just, but it was normal.

“Anywhere you go you’re going to have discussions of groups of people—white, black, Christian, Islamic, Jewish.  If something dramatic has to happen to raise those questions, that’s sad in itself. It’s easy to say ‘let’s all get along and live,’ but the truth is there are differences in humanity.  I mean, religion has caused more wars than anything.”

Ali’s memories of 9/11 reflect his connection to his Queens childhood.  “Growing up in New York I remember the twin towers, of course.  Living here and growing up in the city, it was very emotional for me, it was like, this is it -- this is the end of the world or something.”

After learning that the attacks were the work of Islamic extremists, “I thought ‘Oh my God, there’s going to be hatred of people of that faith.’ I called my parents to make sure they were okay because they live just outside of DC. I was afraid, in the sense of not knowing what was going on,” he says.

“That fear was more of ‘Why is this happening? Why did they do that?’ How could somebody do that to all of these people?” 

Robin Gunn is a local freelance writer.
To comment, e-mail us at letters@connectsavannah.com

 

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