Shadow Warriors of 2017: End of Year Update

On January 7, 2017, I introduced a feature on my Enigma In Black blog, Shadow Warriors. The intent was to shine a light on those putting in serious work on behalf of their respective causes, that might not have gotten the recognition (yet) they deserve. This year there were eleven individuals or groups I was blessed to have been able to highlight and thought I’d end the year by letting you know what’s been going on with these Warriors since I wrote about them. I’ve appreciated learning about all of them and their work and being able to support them in some small way. If any of you are inclined, I hope you can do the same.


Sevgi Fernandez

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Sevgi Fernandez was the first Shadow Warrior and exemplifies the type of person we want to recognize. She said, “My goal is to bring people together across racial, religious and cultural lines to combat the system of racism and oppression in the country. As long as we are divided, our voices and impact are weakened.”

The President of “Together We Stand,” she and they get involved in cases others often pass by. One of those we mentioned in Sevgi Fernandez: Shadow Warrior, was the death of Marcus (Marc) Anthony Merritt in Leonville, LA. According to officials, no crime scene photo’s were taken, no toxicology reports, no autopsy, and the coroner never even saw the body. His death was classified as a suicide. The TWS team and others have made great strides in uncovering new information that will change the narrative. Watch this space!

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In another case involving Ryan Turk, a 15-year old black male was arrested over a 65 cent carton of milk that he was entitled to free. The case was eventually dismissed, in no small part due to the pro bono efforts of Attorney Emmitt Robinson.

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TWS was active in rallies opposing the Alt-Right in Charlottesville, VA and Berkeley, CA and is involved in the planning of a major rally in San Francisco on December 16, 2017. They’re also actively working on the development of a Youth Social Justice Center in Northern California in 2018. Sevgi was the first Shadow Warrior and is still very much in the battle!


The Wilson Academy

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When I wrote about The Wilson Academy: Shadow Warriors, in February, the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association (GICAA was threatening to dismiss them from the league, during the State Boy’s Basketball playoffs. Because the Wilson Academy Warriors chose to kneel during the National Anthem in response to police shootings and the lack of justice when it came to people who looked like them. After a tremendous response from parents, friends, and strangers. The League relented and let Wilson Academy play. They lost their next game but won a battle the students will learn from forever.

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Later in the spring, the school took the trip they were raising money for to Capetown, South Africa where they visited Nelson Mandella’s first and last home, and the jail cell where he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.

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During the summer, the league revised the contract with the schools, requiring them to stand for the National Anthem. Wilson Academy thought they might have to pay a fine which they were prepared to pay but later learned if they violated the prohibition, they would be kicked out of the league. This message was sent to Wilson Academy just before a road game which happened in Alabama. The Warriors and their cheerleaders did what they have done for the last several months. They took a knee. They also won the game.


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Prior to the next game, the Commissioner called the headmaster, Byron Wilson, prepared to kick Wilson Academy out of the league. For whatever reason, the Commissioner changed his mind, allowing them to stay in the locker room during the Anthem which they were always willing to do.

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At the time of this writing, The Wilson Academy put out a call for all alumni to attend the next basketball game wearing all black. It wasn’t a protest, they were simply playing a tough opponent and wanted all the support they could get. But you never know because… Wilson Academy.


Kelly Hurst

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Kelly Hurst: Shadow Warrior, is first and foremost an educator. When asked why she wanted to be an administrator, she responded, “Leadership found me, and I wasn’t going to shy away from it any longer.” She spoke out when students, in particular students of color, were receiving disparate treatment in the schools. Over time Kelly has developed a significant online presence, becoming nationally known as an educator and blogger. When her School Board tried to move her to a position where she could help fewer students. She stepped out on faith, leaving what others viewed as a comfortable job and started Being Black At School, so she could do more. She would not be silenced!

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Since the profile piece on Kelly was written, she was awarded cohort status for the Advancing the Development of Minority Entrepreneurship in Illinois (ADME). She’s one of 35 applicants accepted into the program, developed to strengthen start-up and small businesses from underrepresented communities.

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Immediately after the founding of BBAS, Donald Trump was elected President and Betsy DeVos was soon installed as Secretary of Education. This has made the need for BBAS ever greater, while traditional funding sources are drying up. More than ever they could use your support. Please Donate Now, your children’s future may depend on it.


Dr. Crystal A. deGregory

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In looking for a way, to sum up why “Dr. DE” was chosen for a Shadow Warrior in a single paragraph, I gave up. She’s a historian, educator, been a radio-show host and supported many great causes. Three things that had to be mentioned is her founding in 2012 of HBCUstory, her Bahamian heritage and her love of alma mater, Fisk University.

Since writing about Dr. deGregory in April, she’s been named the inaugural Director of the Atwood Institute for Race, Education and the Democratic Ideal at Kentucky State University. She also serves there as an Associate Professor of History.

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She’s been published in the New York Times, USA Today, and The Tennessean among others. She wrote an epilogue for, The Athletic Experience at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, written chapters in several books and reportedly has her own book in the works.

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Named, “Young, sister, leader” by Spelman College and Bennett College for Women President Emerita Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole. Dr. deGregory has already been recognized as someone on the move and the only direction she knows is up.


Aramis Ayala

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We were introduced to Aramis Ayala: Shadow Warrior, in May when she was in the middle of a struggle with Florida Governor Rick Scott, and many in law enforcement and the State Legislature over her decision to refuse to ask for the death penalty in her role as Orange/Osceola County State Attorney.

Newly elected, she defeated Jeff Ashton, one of the losing Prosecutors in the Casey Anthony trial. When she ran for office, the death penalty did not exist in Florida, having been declared unconstitutional. Approximately two months after she assumed office, a constitutional death penalty statute was enacted. Shortly afterward, Ayala announced she would not request it in any case because it was unfair. She said, “What has become abundantly clear through this process is while I currently do have the discretion to pursue death sentences, I have determined that doing so is not in the best interests of this community, or in the best interest of justice.” She added, “After review and consideration of the new statute, under my administration, I will not be seeking the death penalty in cases handled in my office.”

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All hell broke loose, especially because the first case where the death penalty was to be considered involved an alleged killer of a pregnant woman and female police officer in separate incidents. All involved were black. The Governor removed all potential death penalty cases from Aramis and appointed another prosecutor to oversee them, one not elected by the voters of Orange and Osceola counties. Aramis Ayala filed a lawsuit against the Governor which she ultimately lost. She agreed to institute a panel that would consider death penalty cases and make a recommendation which she would agree to follow.

Her struggle with the Governor continues as the panel recommended death for a recent case but a filing deadline was missed by the State Attorney’s office making the ability to seek the death penalty in that case unclear. Ayala blamed the Governor who had indicated he wanted to review all death penalty cases from the jurisdiction. Governor Scott has demanded records from the State Attorney’s panel, including meeting times and dates. To be continued…


Glory Edim

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Glory is the founder of Well Read Black Girl,  a Brooklynn based book club with over 25,000 members worldwide. When we wrote about her in June.She was preparing to host the first annual WRBG Writer’s Conference and Festival. WRBG had a Kickstarter campaign where they sought $15,000 and raised significantly more in just a few days, enough to host a celebratory concert. This is what I wrote then, Glory Edim: Shadow Warrior.

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WRBG went on to hold that literary conference and concert. The culmination of a celebration of black female writers and readers. WRBG continues to grow both its online presence along with in-person meetings where black female authors across the diaspora are elevated.

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George (Geo) Cooper

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A high percentage of the profile, George (GEO) Cooper: Shadow Warrior, didn’t come from research and interviews. I just spoke from the heart about the man I watched arrive at Fisk University with the big ‘fro, big smile, and serious focus. I didn’t know then of his musical history as a teenager and participation in the All-City Choir in Chicago. I was aware he was a Jubilee Singer at Fisk but I knew him better from talking trash about sports and being friends with literally everybody. There were those who settled into cliques if they pledged a fraternity or sorority but GEO crossed every line counting everyone the same.

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Being Facebook friends with George gave me a chance to watch him continually impart history about Fisk, African-American history and the Jubilee Singers. One of his sons was a big winner on the Jeopardy show and I knew he got it from his daddy. As a musician, George has performed with legends like the Isley Brothers, Peabo Bryson, and Natalie Cole yet carved out a niche for himself on piano whether recording instructional video’s on Chopin’s etudes or playing with Chaka Khan. Fiskites won’t forgive me if I don’t mention the group Autumn of which George was a founding member.

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He formed the Ella Sheppard School of Music in his native Chicago and serves as Minister of Music for Congregational Church of Park Manor and Assistant Minister of Music for St.Mark AME Zion.

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Since I wrote about George in July, he helped pull off the successful Fisk Jubilee Singers Alumni Heritage Awards where they honored Patti Austin and made her an honorary Jubilee singer, along with posthumously honoring Mahalia Jackson and Sarah Vaughn. George serves as President of the FJSA which he will do well as he does all things. He made the time to accompany singer Amber Nicole Johnson in her debut concert and is currently working on a Martin Luther King Celebration at his church in January. I’m just proud to know him.


Zain Jacobs

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Zain Jacobs if fiercely passionate about education. Her own education, her children’s, and thankfully your children as well. I don’t know where she finds the time to do all she does. She founded the Blooming Lotuses Rites of Passage Group and has maintained some iteration of it for several years. Some of the young women she mentored are now grown, some married with children of their own. All of them went on to college, none had teen pregnancies and most are still in touch on a regular basis.

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She launched, P.I.L.L.A.R.S. 4 Success, LLC which stands for Power In Life Learning And Resilience Strategies.  Pillars offers organizational support, community education such as G.E.D./Post Secondary Prep, parenting support and mentoring.  She provides workshops on Cultural Competence. Zain works with trafficked youth, addicted youth, many on probation or otherwise involved with the justice system.

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Since her profile in Zain Jacobs: Shadow Warrior, Zain has been writing, speaking, and planning her next move. One of her children graduates in May and her “secret plan” goes into effect the next day. Whatever she does next, she’ll give it her all.


The Dreamers (DACA Recipients)

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The Dreamers then as now, are in a precarious position where they have declared who they are, in a country where some want them gone. When we wrote about them in September, The Dreamers (DACA Recipients): Shadow Warriors, Donald Trump had just announced the formal end of DACA while suggesting Congress could address the issue before a 6-month deadline when DACA would be dead.

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In the three months since then, Congress has done nothing. Democrats are trying to include a plan to save DACA as part of a spending bill to keep the government open while Republicans want to wait until the last moment, seemingly desiring to appease their base and let DACA go away.  A two-week extension was just signed to keep things open, Nancy Pelosi says they “won’t leave town without a deal on DACA.” The question is, will Democrats stay strong and risk the government being shut down, or will they cave in? To be continued…

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Harry T Moore

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The story of Harry T Moore: Shadow Warrior, was not known to many of my readers. Even those familiar with the Civil Rights movement. Harry T Moore was active in the NAACP and worked with Thurgood Marshall to help get justice for the “Groveland Boy’s” which many speculate led to his death. Moore and his wife Harriette were killed in a Christmas night bombing in their home in 1951.

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Learn about his legacy by visiting the Harry T and Harriette V Moore Cultural Center in Brevard County, FL or attend the Annual NAACP Florida State Conference annual memorial event. Dates to be included later.

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Babz Rawls Ivy

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It’s perhaps unfair to write Babz Rawls Ivy: Shadow Warrior, in November and come back in December and ask, “what have you done for me lately?” Yet Babz being Babz is always up to something and this month is no different.

As Editor-in-Chief of the Inner-City News with the largest circulation of any Black newspaper in New England, host of the Love Babz Love TalkRadio Show, head of both the Seed & Source Literary Group and Earth Seed Publishing. You’d think she’d be too busy to take the time she does, encouraging others, pushing them to reach their goals, all the while pursuing her own.

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Since November she’s launched the Criminal Justice Insider radio show on WNHH Community Radio. She and her co-hosts discuss all aspects of the justice system, including the effects of incarceration and the challenges faced by ex-offenders. She can’t possibly do everything in a 24-hour day and yet she does. Sleep is apparently overrated!

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Shadow Warriors will be back in January 2018, introducing a new set of Shadow Warriors for your consideration. As always, I encourage any suggestions of deserving candidates that their work might be better known. Follow this page so as not to miss any future “Warriors” and please share so that others might know them as well. Peace!





Zain Jacobs: Shadow Warrior

Zain Jacobs was always older in her soul than physically. She began reading at three. At seven, she was writing about serious topics. Inspired by a 15-year-old cousin that was given LSD and jumped to her death, Zain focused on the impact of drugs on the community. She also wanted to donate her eyes to Stevie Wonder, believing that if he could write such beautiful music while he could not see, what might he do if she could give him sight?

Her maternal grandmother was named Zain also. There was no time in memory when she wasn’t taking in children in need of a place to stay. She led several of her church ministries and was always feeding or housing people.

Both her parents were activists in addition to their respective careers. Zain’s living room contained photos of various historical figures, Leontyne Price and Andrew Young to name a couple. There was a book with a signed inscription to her parents from Coretta Scott King. Her mother and father were founding members of the Circle of Friends which gave one of the first large donations to fund the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolence in Atlanta, GA.

Their church, First African Baptist Church in Savannah was once a stop on the Underground Railway. The pews were built by slaves and contain markings in their native African languages. Holes in the floor are shaped in the form of a Congolese Cosmogram representing birth, life, death, and rebirth. There is a subfloor beneath the lower auditorium floor that slaves traveled through before heading North. Perhaps these physical ties to slaves and Africans have led to the current connection that Zain feels to the land of her ancestors?

After high school, Zain matriculated to Savannah State University and studied business.  She planned to head her dream Fashion House as both Executive and Designer. With the proceeds, she would finance her passion to write independently about issues concerning her people, to give them a voice. She continued her writing for the school newspaper and was reminded of the power her words could have. She was responsible for the focus on and ultimate resignation of a tenured Professor, known for his racist attitudes. She changed her major to Journalism and English, still writing about drugs along with alcohol abuse and civil rights issues. She served others indirectly but felt the pull of her lineage to get more directly involved.

After graduation, she returned to her childhood home of New York, pursuing interests in law, history, and politics. She’d given up her dream of the Fashion House after she graduated from SSU. In what is an apparent fixation with what appears on her tombstone. She decided she didn’t want it to say, “Here Lies Zain, She Designed a Hell of a Skirt.” Her life working for corporations also left her wanting. She imagined, “Here lies Zain… Employee.”

Living in Queens, Zain took the city bus and subway to and from Manhattan. She witnessed something that changed her perspective. She saw a group of teenage girls describing a fight during which they kicked and beat a pregnant girl. They saw nothing wrong with their actions and attitudes. Nobody on the bus challenged them to do better… to be better. She decided at that moment that she would take on the mission of helping girls who needed a different path.

She went to a local private school and said, “I’ll clean toilets if you give me one class to teach!” After reviewing her credentials, they decided cleaning toilets were unnecessary. She was given a job at the school that allowed her to teach that class. It was a busy time during which she became certified as a teacher and met her husband and future father of her two children.

Teaching the class soon wasn’t enough for Zain. Over a period of time, Zain presented the concept of a “Rites of Passage” program for girls to some of the educational giants she had come to know in New York.  Writer and historian Yosef Ben-Jochannan, activist Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Professor Clinton Crawford at Medgar Evers College.She proposed her concept in hopes they would direct her to someone else to lead it. They laughed and said, “If you identify the problem, you have an obligation to be the solution,” adding, “Get to work!” She began the program in the first public middle school she taught at.

The “Blooming Lotuses Rites of Passage Group,” was based on an African model of teaching values. They met three times daily to accommodate conflicting student schedules with some attending one, others all three. They met during her planning period, lunch hour and after school. When Zain arrived home, she had to do the planning she didn’t get done during the allocated time. There was seemingly never enough time to get everything done that was needed but she found this period of her life empowering as opposed to draining. She said, “I needed them as much as they needed me!” Zain is still in touch with many of her early students. Many took Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Almost all went on to college with some getting advanced degrees. Not one of her girls had a child out of wedlock.

After a time, she moved to another School District in Long Island. She not only brought the Blooming Lotuses Program with her, Zain began conducting parenting classes so that she could begin to affect whole families. She began the Rites of Passage – Literary Program. Most rewarding to her was when the early participants of the first programs, returned to give back and reinvest in the community that supported them.

Zain Jacobs: Shadow Warrior

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She furthered her own education, getting dual Masters of Science Degrees in Child Youth and Family Services and Youth Development & Human Services Administration. Zain was laying the foundation to be able to administer the recently launched P.I.L.L.A.R.S. 4 Success, LLC. The acronym stands for, Power In Life Learning And Resilience Strategies. Pillars offers organizational support, community education such as G.E.D./Post Secondary Prep, parenting support and mentoring.  She provides workshops on Cultural Competence. Zain works with trafficked youth, addicted youth, many on probation or otherwise involved with the justice system.

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Her clients often find her through word of mouth. They got help and tell someone else who needs it. She gets referrals from groups and families. All of five foot two and a half (she was adamant about the half), she goes alone into neighborhoods where her potential clients live and work, day or night. She literally meets them where they are.

Zain is a reluctant Shadow Warrior. She shuns the personal spotlight and wants to focus on her charges whose circumstances are “nobody’s business.” She said, “I never heard my grandmother repeat to another person how she helped someone.” There is no sense of aggrandizement. “I like where I am in my humility.” It gets tough sometimes, her empathy both blessing and curse. “Sometimes I can’t allow myself to feel the pain of those I serve in order to keep going. Other times I can’t serve without absorbing their pain to process my approach in serving them!”

Zain Jacobs was recently honored by the Black Charlotte Business Coalition as, “Servant Leader of the Year.” For now, she wants her epitaph to read, “She was Zain… one who found optimism in service and service in optimism.”

Tolitha Henry was one of the last of her New York Lotuses. When asked for a comment about Zain she responded with a book. Among the things she said:

“Mama Zain helped me form my identity as a Black woman.  Prior to meeting her, I battled with low self-esteem, depression and not understanding my purpose on this earth.  She suggested I participate in a writing competition; the requirement was to write what I thought was my purpose. I wrote that it was to give back to my community. I would not have known that I would receive, a nurturing, first-hand experience on what my purpose looked like from my ninth grade English teacher. She took me under her wings, she fed me what it means to be a black woman, how my dark skin translated to beauty, that I descended from a lineage of tenacious people, and how to self- love. She invited me to join Rites Of Passage and from that, I learned about sisterhood and simultaneously what motherhood looked like outside my familial roots. Furthermore, when ever someone asks me now who influenced you, who helped you to become the woman you are now I always, always go back to Mama Zain. I am a proud black woman, who celebrates other black women and loves my community because of the love and chance she took in investing in me. For that, I am absolutely grateful.”

What Zain does is not quantifiable in statistics. She measures her success in the progress and productive lives of her former mentees. She worries about them as she does her own children. “Have I prepared them for every situation possible? She wonders if anything were to happen would it be because of something she failed to impart? Fear not Zain for you have prepared them all well. Even those who experience negativity have been trained how to get back up and try again. That is a success… and why you’re a Shadow Warrior.

Each month Enigma In Black will feature a new Shadow Warrior. Don’t miss any by scrolling down and clicking “Follow”. Please share so that we can bring these Warriors and their work out of the shadows! Suggestions are welcome for future Warriors which you can leave in the comments section.

George Cooper

Glory Edim

Aramis Ayala

Dr. Crystal A deGregory

Kelly Hurst

The Wilson Academy

Sevgi Fernandez