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Living through COVID-19, Part XIX

The COVID-19 virus and its variants continue to dominate international, national and local news as a top news story some 20 months after the pandemic began to severely impact how people went about their daily lives.

Locally, The New Tri-State Defender (TSD) has chronicled since April 2020 how three Memphians – barber William Gandy Jr., nonprofit head Margaret Cowan and entrepreneur James Cook – have managed their personal and professional lives over the past 20 months. We last checked in on them in late May.

Good news on the grant front

Margaret Cowan

Margaret Cowan, founding keeper of the nonprofit I Am My Sister’s Keeper, and her organization continue to strive as the number of new COVID-19-related new cases and deaths in Memphis-Shelby County ebb and flow. 

I Am My Sister’s Keeper’s main mission is to help single working mothers increase their earning potential.

Cowan said her organization received a $10,000 grant Nov. 17 from the Thomas W. Briggs Foundation for a program the nonprofit has for housing for mothers and a savings match program to help the mothers save for a down payment to purchase a car.

The Briggs Foundation is “dedicated to Memphis area arts, civic, education, social service and youth organizations whose initiatives and programs have broad and transformative impact on the city of Memphis and its constituencies” and “elevate educational achievement and socioeconomic advancement and promote pride in the Memphis community. Briggs, a Memphian, founded the Welcome Wagon Company, which became Welcome Wagon International.

In more good news, I Am My Sister’s Keeper recently received a $40,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis.

Sutton Mora, the foundation’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, in an email to The New Tri-State Defender, said the money comes from the Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund, managed by the Community Foundation. 

“It is a general operating grant meant to help sustain organizations that have been on the frontline of the COVID-19 battle. Margaret and her group have been doing great work and our grants subcommittee recommended their grant to the Advisory Committee in the last grant round ($2,823,000 operating grants in total).”

The Community Foundation awarded I Am My Sister’s Keep a $25,000 grant from the same fund in March. 

Cowan said her organization currently is working with 12 mothers. “We gained some and lost some for various reasons. They have to be working or in school.”

She is anticipating the possibility of sharing office space with MoXie Way, Inc., whose mission is to “encourage youth engagement by providing safe places to learn, grow and inspire others.”

“It will be a good collaboration because they service children,” Cowan said.

By design, Cowan also has increased her presence on social media, especially Facebook. Most of her postings are inspirational sayings.

“They are things I like to share with someone else, who might need it,” Cowan said.

As for herself and her nonprofit being able to strive during the pandemic, Cowan said, “It’s the power of God. We had to look for different ways to do things. … It’s also important to know when to ask for and accept help.”

Getting back to normal…

James Cook (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

The recent uptick in airline passenger traffic has been good news for James Cook, who operates two eateries at Memphis International Airport – Lenny’s Grill and Subs, and Runway 901 Bar & Grill. 

The COVID-19 pandemic-related drop in passengers forced, along with difficulty in finding staff, resulted in Cook severely curtailing operating hours for both businesses. 

His Lenny’s is back to full hours and the bar and grill is operating longer.

Airport officials recently said air traffic has rebounded since the pandemic, although not back to pre-pandemic levels. 

The officials projected a total of 78,000 travelers to move through security checkpoints between Nov. 19 and Nov. 29 for the Thanksgiving travel period. That is a 90 percent increase compared to Thanksgiving 2020.

When The New TSD last checked with Cook, he was having trouble finding qualified staff, partly, he surmised, because of enhanced unemployment benefits from the federal government.

Despite the expiration of the enhanced benefits, finding qualified employees still is a problem here and nationally, especially in the food-service industry.

“We’re still having trouble finding qualified staff. We raised our starting pay to $12 an hour, but we’re not getting applications,” Cook said.

He said referrals from his employees have helped him find staff.

Cook is preparing to move his businesses into the airport’s modernized B Concourse when it reopens. The $245 million project is expected to reopen before the end of the year or in January.

Cook said Lenny’s will remain Lenny’s, but Runway 901 Bar & Grill will have a new name and concept. The new name will be Stage Left and will be a bar and pizzeria.

“There will be no grace period when we move. We’ll close (after business hours) one night and be open for business (in the new concourse) the next day,” Cook said.

The music hasn’t stopped

William Gandy Jr.

Barber William Gandy, who also is an accomplished musician, singer and songwriter, has not let the pandemic get in the way of making music.

In September, he headlined a Grown & Sexy concert at the Orpheum Theatre, featuring Gerald Richardson, Karen Brown, Keesha Daniels and Chick Rodgers.

On Dec. 12, he will present a Merry Birthday and Happy Christmas Gala at the Marriott Memphis East. His birthday is Dec. 22.

Motorists who frequent Elvis Presley Boulevard near Graceland probably have seen the homeless woman pushing a shopping cart, filled with her belongings, along the busy thoroughfare.

Gandy decided to write a song, “Homeless Lady of Graceland,” about her, but “not just about her, but about all homeless people.”

Here are some of the lyrics:

“GOD never intended for anyone to be Homeless with the abundance of wealth in America we can do better.

“I see you every day pushing your little cart morning, noon and night down by Graceland.                  

“I know I’m not the only one who See’s you, in my mind I know others see you too.”


“Homeless lady of Graceland

“There’s a better place.

“I write this song from my heart

“Let’s make this song go viral you will 

homeless no more.”

Gandy said the song can be found on most internet music platforms.

(Jerome Wright is deputy editor of The New Tri-State Defender. Reach him at jwright@tsdmemphis.com.)


Maneuvering through the perils of COVID-19

Living through COVID-19: A trio of profiles – Part II

Living through COVID-19: A trio of profiles – Part III

Living through COVID-19 — Part IV

Living through COVID-19: A trio of profiles – Part V

Living through COVID-19: Part VI

Living through COVID-19: Part VII 

Living through COVID-19, Part VIII

Living through COVID-19, Part IX

Living through COVID-19, Part X

Living through COVID-19, Part XI

Living through COVID-19, Part XII

Living through COVID-19, Part XIII

Living through COVID-19, Part XIV

Living through COVID-19, Part XV

Living through COVID-19, Part XVI

Living through COVID-19, Part XVII

Living through COVID-19, Part XVIII



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