As the city, county and state governments mandated a host of restrictions last spring aimed at curving the spread of the COVID-19 virus, The New Tri-State Defender introduced readers to three Memphians navigating their way through the virus’ impact professionally and personally.
The TSD has shared periodic updates on how the three – barber William Gandy Jr., nonprofit head Margaret Cowan and entrepreneur James Cook – were coping.
The virus is again surging in Memphis/Shelby, prompting the Shelby County Health Department to issue a new set of directives to try to slow the spread. Gandy, Cowan and Cook said they are heeding that caution.
Additionally, here is what else is happening in their lives.
Listening to God
Margaret Cowan is the founder of the nonprofit I Am My Sister’s Keeper, which helps single working mothers increase their earning potential.
Cowan also has been working with other nonprofit organizations to expand her nonprofit’s efforts to help families, in addition to her mothers. The majority of that work has been in South Memphis. She now is shifting the focus to the Raleigh area.
“I’m a person of faith and I felt God lead me to this. For a while, I had been thinking I needed to shift my focus,” and, she said, a swift series of events confirmed that.
She had been looking for a new place to live and picked Raleigh because it is where her mother lives and where her three daughters work.
She stopped by one of the apartment complexes on her list and the manager noticed her I Am My Sister’s Keeper T-shirt. A conversation ensued about Cowan’s nonprofit and led to the manager explaining that single mothers in her complex are facing similar issues.
The exchange convinced Cowan to move into the complex and shift her attention to Raleigh. Although ready to move, apartment would not be available until the end of January.
The manager called Cowan later and said she would have an apartment available next month, and asked her to come back and fill out an application, which was approved in 30 minutes.
“The speed in which the callback came and the fact that my application was approved that quickly confirmed that God was guiding me,” Cowan said.
A mutual friend introduced Cowan to the head of a foundation that, among other efforts, distributes boxes filled with dairy products, meat and produce to families in the area.
“I’m not changing my work with my moms,” she said, “but there are a lot of nonprofits (working) in South Memphis, but not as many in the Raleigh area.”
Pushing for the big screen
William Gandy Jr. had a COVID-19 sellout for his grand musical “Grandma’s Big Vote” Oct 25 at the Orpheum Theatre’s Halloran Centre for Performing Arts & Education.
The full-scale musical production was based on his book – “Grandma’s Big Vote” – about his 106-year-old grandmother, Mary Alice Gandy, who made national headlines when she cast a vote for the first time in her life. She voted for Barack Obama in 2008.
Now, Gandy is focused on getting a movie made based on the book. Optimistic, especially after the success of the musical, he has produced a trailer, which he will show to potential investors during a scheduled Dec. 16 meeting.
He plans to use local talent, some of whom are featured in the trailer, and his team has reached out to legendary award-winning actress Cicely Tyson to play his grandmother.
“We wanted to have it finished and ready to go for Black History Month in February, but COVID is tamping things down as far a production. Now we’re looking at late March or April.
“As my daddy (the late well-known barber and musician William Gandy) taught us, ‘When the going gets tough, puts your boots on, anchor down and move on,’” Gandy said.
Opportunity continues to knock
James Cook is edging closer to opening his latest entrepreneurial venture, the Nubian Style shop at 1237 Marlin Rd. in Whitehaven. The target date for opening the beauty and barber business is January.
Cook received a forgivable loan from the Memphis and Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) that helped with rehabbing the building, which he originally planned to turn into a lounge and restaurant.
Cook owns Lenny’s Grill and Subs and Runway 901 Bar & Grill at Memphis International Airport, both of which he was forced to close after the virus’ surge in mid-March caused a precipitous drop in air passenger traffic.
He eventually reopened both businesses, but with reduced hours because passenger traffic still is “slow, slow, slow,” he said.
“We were expecting things to turn around, but that hasn’t happened. …We’re adjusting. It helps that we’re one of the few concessionaires still here.”
With his entrepreneurial mind always spinning, he is starting a clothing design business.
He said his wife, A’Seri, bought equipment to make T-shirts, and they are using it to make T-shirts, sweatshirts and sweaters with Nubian designs.
The designs will highlight different African tribes, such as the Dogon, an ethnic group indigenous to Mali in West Africa.
Cook plans to share any profits with the groups he highlights.
(Jerome Wright is deputy editor for The New Tri-State Defender.)
LIVING THROUGH COVID-19 — ARCHIVES
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