"My parents each have their own business, and that's something I want to do one day too. Every day after work they have to come home and deal with us---and I know I'm not an easy person to deal with. So yeah, they're my heroes."
"My daddy, Johnny Frierson, was a musician on Beale Street, and he used to take me with him when he played. One night when I was 12 years old, he played an Elvis song, Jailhouse Rock, and the women just went crazy. I mean beautiful women. Over the years, I've perfected the Elvis moves and the Elvis kick. I'm 50 years old, and I can still kick straight up. When I look in the mirror now, I see him. I'm the black Elvis."
"I grew up in a neighborhood that was like 'the village' we always hear about. My neighborhood was that village. From my first grade teacher, Mrs. Peacock, to all the other teachers who lived on our block, from the professional people to the fireman who lived across the street, we all took care of each other. To this day, we still know each other. I'm very grateful for these lifetime friends."
"I was born with a heart defect and had to have three open heart surgeries before I was 2 years old. One of the things they did was to take out my pulmonary valve. My parents knew I'd have to have another surgery to replace it someday, but they didn't really know when. As I was growing up, everything was pretty normal except that I couldn't play contact sports or run very far without getting out of breath, but I did other stuff like snowboarding, hiking, camping, and playing drums in the band, so I didn't really miss the sports.
"After a few years, not having the pulmonary valve started affecting me more and more and it was getting harder to breathe. So last fall the doctors tried to put in something called a melody valve. Before the procedure, I had to sign off on a bunch of papers because I was 15 and old enough to consent. They read the documents out loud, all about what could happen and everything that could kill you, but I just zoned out and didn't listen. I didn't want to know what they were saying because I didn't want to be even more nervous. The whole time they were going over the papers, my mom kept having to get up and leave the room.
"It turned out that putting in the melody valve didn't work because my artery was too large, so they scheduled me for open heart surgery. The day of the surgery, about 70 people from my church and school came to the hospital to pray with me. I can't remember much about it because I had already had some anesthesia, but I knew they were there and that they were supporting me. I didn't want to admit that I was worried, but I was. I knew that if anything happened to me, I would be in a better place, so I wasn't really concerned about that. I figured the doctors knew what they were doing. I was more worried about the pain after. They have to break your sternum to do the surgery and you know how much it hurts if you break an arm? Well, it's like that, only it's in your chest.
"The surgery was on December 8, and I've just been released to do all my regular activities again. I had to build my lungs back up because one of them partially collapsed during the surgery and there was fluid on them, but I can breathe fine again now. When I ride my bike, I feel like I can keep going for hours. Well, not hours, because after a while my knees hurt. But that's only because I'm out of shape. It doesn't have anything to do with my heart.
"Having all this happen makes me want to help other people in every way I can. I know what I needed during that hard time, I know what I got, and I want to try to give that support to somebody else. I'm more aware of people now than I was before. And I've been thinking about the future too. I'm starting to get mail from colleges now that I'm in 10th grade, and I'm thinking I may want to become a Pediatric Heart Nurse or a Pediatric Cardiologist. I already know a lot about it."
PHOTO BELOW (pre-surgery) by Rach Vendetti Photography:
"The toughest time in my life was in 2003. I had gone to the doctor for acid reflux, but he thought something else might be going on, so he scoped me and it turned out I had throat cancer. I was on the operating table for over 12 hours, and they took out my vocal chords, larynx, everything. They got all the cancer though, and I didn't need chemo or radiation. Of course I couldn't talk for a long time, so I wrote notes to communicate. Then when I healed, I got a voice box prosthesis with a microphone and speaker. The doctors have said I'm the poster child for being able to speak well after that kind of surgery, that I've done better than anyone they've ever seen. It was traumatic, but I had to decide to accept it and keep going. I wasn't going to give up and die."
"Last year on Father's Day, our whole family went to the Cheesecake Corner. We took a limo ride, went to the river, played volleyball, and just had a lot of fun together. My dad is wise and inspiring. I look at him and think, 'That's what I want my husband to be like when I get married someday.'"
Sue: "He's kind, generous, considerate, gracious, and has a great sense of humor. He's a city planner and is really interested in cities, in the use of space, in communities, and in how people live. We met 7 years ago at Burning Man [a week-long annual event in the Nevada desert] and got married a year ago."
David: "She's smart, funny, cute, very kind, loving, and takes good care of people. She's also a great contact improvisation dancer and teacher. As a dancer, she's strong, graceful, and just amazing."
David & Sue were married in Memphis (where Sue has family) and are back visiting our city. They now live in California.
"Spiderman is my hero because he can shoot lasers, but my favorite FAVORITE superhero is my dad. He taught me how to play drums. When I'm at church, he preaches and I listen to him. I think I want to be a preacher too."
"I definitely got my spiritual foundation from my mother. She made me read in-depth about Dr. King, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and others in black history. She gave me strength and helped me become who I am today.
"For the past ten years, I've been a minister, and I'm very interested in reaching out to men and helping them to become involved in the church. Of course women are important, but the family also needs the father's leadership. When he's involved, everyone benefits."
Devin Westbrook, pastor of Redemption Life Church
"When we retired and moved to Mountain View, Arkansas, my husband suggested I take up painting, so we found a beginning art teacher, and I went to the shop and bought my supplies. My husband asked, 'Well, do you think you can learn this?' I told him, 'I don't have any choice now; I just spent ninety-two dollars!' That's how I got started, and I've been painting ever since, from the time I was 65 till just recently, and I'm 91 years old. I sign the canvases 'Mama Whit' because that's what our foster children always called me. I wasn't born with a talent for art, but I think a person can learn anything if they have enough time and patience. I want to learn to play the organ next, and I'll get started on it one of these days, but right now I don't have time. I'm just too busy. There's no point sitting around doing nothing and waiting to get old. Age is going to catch up with you, but you need to do what you can when you can for as long as you can.
"My doctor used to tell me every year, 'You're doing fine for your age.' Said the same thing every time, and I got so tired of hearing that. Finally I told him, 'I'm doing fine for ANY age!' And I am. The only thing is, I can't see very well now, so I've had to stop painting and driving. It's all right though. I've always heard it said that you can get used to anything except a toothache and a tack in your shoe, so I've gotten used to not having a car anymore. When I told my friend Lois that the doctor had clipped my wings and wouldn't let me drive, she said, 'You picked me up for eight years. I'll do it for you now.' So even though I don't have a car, I have friends and I'm still going out and doing things.
"When I found out I was getting older, I decided to move to Independent Living. Everybody's friendly here, just like every place I've ever lived. I enjoy my life. I do. I've got a little cross-stitch in my kitchen that says: You don't quit laughing because you grow old; you grow old because you quit laughing."
Lucille Whitworth, artist