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IMG_9346 Sarah Domet's childhood spent in Catholic school is fodder for her first novel, The Guineveres, which dives into the secret lives of four girls, all named Guinevere, who reluctantly call a convent home. We sat down with Sarah for a little tete-a-tete to introduce us to her debut novel. Photographed at E. Shaver, Bookseller

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Leni Riefenstahl Filming Archie Williams For Deborah Riley Draper, the Savannah Film Festival was more than a screening—it was also a homecoming.

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For the past 16 years, savvy locals have counted on Savannah magazine's annual Best of Savannah™ survey for reader recommendations on the city's best dining, retail and services. Nine years ago, we kicked off the BEST OF SAVANNAH HOMES, a readers' choice survey dedicated to the city's architectural beauty and the experts who care for it. When the refrigerator needs repair or the guest room needs a remodel, we all look to our friends and neighbors for referrals. So we're asking you, our readers, to share you local referrals for Savannah's best home professionals. Your neighbors will thank you. Submit a completed ballot by the Dec. 2, 2016 deadline, and you could win a three-course dinner for two at Savannah River Sessions and an overnight stay, courtesy of the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort and Spa and Aqua Star Seafood Kitchen ($400 value)!

To cast your vote for Best of Savannah HOMES, CLICK HERE »

   

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 Story and Photo by Maggie Harney

The sanctuary of Asbury Memorial Methodist Church is cavernous, but in the presence of Reverend Billy Hester and Ray Ellis, Asbury’s Minister of Music, it’s full of laughter. With bright wooden walls, enormous windows and plenty of light, one gets the inexplicable feeling that this space is one that’s used to the happy sounds of people.     But even so, a musical telling of Peter Pan (a show that generally flies its actors across the stage in harnesses) seems like a tall order for the open air church that has very little in the way of traditional theatre trappings. Still, it's on Asbury’s agenda for their “God on Broadway” series, so when I ask Billy and Ray what their plan is for making Peter and the Lost Boys lighter than air, their happy laughs fill the room.   “We’re going to be doing metaphorical flying,” chuckles Billy. “Sherri and I and Ray and his husband go to New York once a year, and we saw 'Finding Neverland,' a play about J.M. Barrie, the writer of Peter Pan. In that production, there are actors in black and they pick up the characters. We can’t fly Peter Pan, but we can do that.”   Now in its 11th year, "God on Broadway" is a month-long production that turns Asbury's regular Sunday services into an event filled with show tunes and theatre story lines. Inspired by Reverend Billy’s years on Broadway, and Ray’s love for God, song and dance, the adaptations have become something the entire congregation plans for, and unashamedly waits for, for most of the the year. It’s even now something other churches across the U.S. have asked for permission to copy, and people have been known to plan their Savannah vacations around.   In the past they’ve performed sections of big hits like “Les Misérables” and indie favorites like “Avenue Q,” and this year the bill is just as full for October. Savannah magazine was invited to sit in the pews for a chat, and perhaps a preview, of what “theology meets theatre” is all about.  

Singing Grace

  [caption id="attachment_17009" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Les Miserable. Les Miserables  [/caption]   Both Billy and Ray grew up in strong religious communities, and both had an early love for the theatre, so making "God on Broadway" a seamless part of Asbury's pastoral tradition was all about making the right connections between story and lesson.   “Ministers in their sermons will often talk about books and plays and songs,” notes Billy. “Why do we talk about it? Why don’t we do it and get people to experience it? It was like a no-brainer, that it would be more interesting to someone than just talking about it.”   In a world that’s obsessed with cellphones and instant gratification, it’s too easy to call "God on Broadway" a knee-jerk reaction to the Facebook generation. Yet by incorporating famous songs and dance numbers into the the regular service, this is something that appeals to Millennials and Generation X as much as it does Baby Boomers. Still, Billy and Ray agree it's not an age thing, but a human thing.   “People aren’t going to go away remembering the scriptures,” notes Ray. “But they are going away remembering these show tunes, and the songs stay in their head and give them a way to look at the world differently.”   Combining the talents of both pros and novices, dancers from Gretchen Greene studio and performers of all ages, "God on Broadway" is really a matter of heart, allowing people to connect in a new way. This lends itself to bringing the congregation to the forefront of the service, and making it about the human experience.   “One of the most powerful ones that I’ve experienced was the first time we did 'Chorus Line,'" remembers Ray. "The actors were up on stage, and it’s not your typical audition--the director wants to get to knows these people. Billy planned the service, with five or six normal congregates just being themselves on stage, so they got to share their stories. One was a husband and wife couple and this guy had never shared before, and he just let it all out. Another one came out. Most people knew he was gay but his family didn’t. It was just so incredibly powerful and real.”   Adds Billy, “In that show the director is not seen. You just hear the voice. I didn’t preach that Sunday, I was just a voice in the balcony and they were the sermon. It was all about their stories.”  

Finding The Connections

  [caption id="attachment_17020" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Shrek The Musical. Shrek The Musical.  [/caption]   So is "God on Broadway" about picking the right musical or picking the right Bible lesson? Billy and Ray think the happy spot is somewhere in the middle.     “The same issues that are in the Bible--love and hate, courage, fear, transformation--all of that’s totally universal and relevant for today, and it’s what all these plays are about,” remarks Billy. “It’s just a matter of matching up and having a little fun. We don’t like it to be boring because we’re talking about exciting stuff. We get their attention here.”   The program also lends itself to some situations that seem tricky, and along the way justifies Billy and Ray in their conviction that musicals and scripture belong together.   “We had the funniest thing happen, recounts Billy. “I had a woman want her child baptized on 'Jekyll and Hyde' Sunday. When we thought about what we were trying to say, that God loves Jekylls and Hydes, and there’s this transformation of moving from the dark to the light, it seemed to be a pretty good idea to have a baptism at the end of the service. So two of her kids come up. The first little boy was named Hank, and I put my hand in the water and I looked down at the bulletin to see his full name and it says ‘Henry Edward.’ Henry Edward? I said to myself, it’s Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. This is meant to be!”  

The Next Step

    [caption id="attachment_17022" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Shrek The Musical. Shrek The Musical.  [/caption]   "God on Broadway" now fills the church to the absolute brim--"standing room only,” reports Ray-- and the men have their sights set on next year. The diversity and the talent of Savannah may have the makings of a theatre town, and there’s one musical in particular that the entire country has been talking about all year. Will it be on next year’s agenda?   “'Hamilton!'” exclaims Billy. “It’s hard to believe that kids are learning history this way, memorizing these words. We’ll get to 'Hamilton' one day.”   Jokes Ray, “It needs to be on Broadway a little longer so we can get a ticket, and we’ll need some rappers.”   Regardless whether Lin Manuel Miranda’s words show up on the altar stage of Asbury, one thing’s for certain: It’s not about one play in particular, but about the good that it does for the congregation, and the people searching for a new experience at church.   “When you build relationships, you see that life is short," says Billy. “It is filled with pain, and everyone is struggling so why make it harder for people? Make haste to be kind. Do what you can to love. When you come together with all of this diversity, you realize that we’re all similar, and we all have these basic needs. That’s probably in one of these shows.”   “If not, it will be now!” exclaims Ray.  

The Sound of Music was rescheduled to Nov. 13, 2016. For more information about this year’s musical numbers, times, and dates, click here.  

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Our readers are in-the-know. Keep this valuable resource at the ready when you need medical attention.

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Keep Calm and Fry a Chicken

An honest-to-goodness Southern food virtuoso gives a couple of kitchen novices a lesson in the joy of cooking. Amy Paige Condon takes notes  |  Photography by Teresa Earnest
Meet Our Guests
View More: http://teresaearnestphotography.pass.us/foodphotographyteresaearnest Dora Charles For more than 22 years, native daughter Dora filled our bellies with heart-and-soul food—first at The Bag Lady then at The Lady and Sons. Her cookbook, A Real Southern Cook in her Savannah Kitchen (HMH), was released in 2015. Emily Jones You know Emily’s voice as the host of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s local “Morning Edition.” She’s also a graduate of Brown University and the Columbia Journalism School, and once hosted the alt-rock Retro Lunch program at WBRU as her DJ alter-ego, Domino. Gabrielle Ware As the all-platform journalist for GPB Savannah and host for “All Things Considered,” Gabrielle has reported on everything from Savannah’s crime rate to Gullah-Geechee culture. A Midwesterner by birth, her family’s roots run deep in the South. She graduated from Auburn University.  
  Typically in this column, we drink. We use two of the most lasting hallmarks of Savannah’s identity—cocktails and colorful conversation—to illuminate a subculture, to teach us something new about ourselves. We’re serving up something different for our annual food issue, however. We wondered, what would happen if we threw a seasoned Southern cook in with two recent come-heres and invited them to make a meal together? We expected some hijinks, lots of questions and a few minor burns when we teamed GPB Savannah’s Emily Jones and Gabrielle Ware with cookbook author Dora Charles. We were going to fry some chicken, after all. But, what surprised us was the depth of communion that occurred from the moment we began chopping vegetables to when we finally sat down to eat. Dora sets us up first by putting on salted water to boil, then peeling a pound of Idaho potatoes for her Gone to Glory Potato Salad. As she cubes the tubers in small, near-uniform pieces, she soaks them in cold water so that they don’t turn brown. Dora doesn’t like to use a potato peeler. Emily chops the celery into a fine dice, which she’s doing like an expert after Dora shows her a technique of splitting the stalk into sections with the tip of a sharp knife, then cutting the slender segments crosswise into tiny crescents of fresh green. View More: http://teresaearnestphotography.pass.us/foodphotographyteresaearnest Savannah Magazine: You use russets instead of red-skinned potatoes. Why is that? Dora Charles: They seem to suit my tastes better. I just don’t like the skin on potatoes in my salad. I use the same potatoes my grandmother used. They might not have been russet; she grew her own potatoes, of course. Emily Jones: So that’s the closest you’ve found to that flavor? Dora: Yes, they are. SM: Your grandmother taught you to cook at the age of 6, right? Dora: I watched my grandmother cook all the time. She loved coffee. She was a great baker. And I would just watch and watch. One day I asked her, “Can I cook?” And she said, “Make me a good cup of coffee, and I’ll teach you how to cook.” I knew I had that mastered, because I watched her and learned. And I always sang that Maxwell House song from back in the day, and I would sing that song when she made her coffee in that pot, and it would perc. That’s when you knew that coffee was ready. I knew exactly how she liked her cream and sugar—she used that Carnation cream in a can. When she tasted it, she enjoyed that first cup of coffee I made for her. SM: So you were already a pro. Dora: I was on my way. The first thing she gave me to make was brown gravy. Emily: That’s hard. Dora: That’s what everybody says. But, it wasn’t that hard for me when I did it. I made too much. I made so much gravy, and I was so nervous about it. I didn’t want her to think I didn’t know what I was doing. So my sister and my brother, they dug a hole for me in the back yard, and we buried the gravy as I was making it. (We all break down laughing.) It kept getting real thick, but she was watching TV in the living room. So as I got enough out, it turned out just right. Was seasoned just right. And when she tasted it at dinner, she said, “Perfect.” She never knew—Oh Lord, forgive me—she never knew. SM: You became the chief gravy maker. Dora: I still am to this day. She explains that the secret to good gravy is to work it slowly. “Add only scant oil to the flour,” she says, describing how she seasons the flour and oil only after they’ve mixed well and the taste of the flour is gone. View More: http://teresaearnestphotography.pass.us/foodphotographyteresaearnest By this time, Emily has finished chopping the celery. Dora approves of Emily’s technique, then grabs a white onion for Emily to get started on while Gabrielle gathers video evidence of the lesson. Emily: Gabby, how sensitive are you to onions? Gabrielle Ware: I haven’t chopped an onion in, probably, years. Emily reveals an extreme sensitivity to raw onions—to the point she has to move across the kitchen before her eyes spill over. Dora takes over the onion chopping like a boss, demonstrating how she peels away the first tough layers and rinses the onion under cold running water. The cold water helps prevent crying, she says. Photographer Teresa Earnest offers that she holds a slice of white bread in her mouth and that it really works. “But the bread tastes like a raw onion after,” she grimaces. “I hold two matchsticks between my two front teeth,” I offer. Dora laughs and shakes her head. Her nails are expertly manicured in varying shades of pastels, just like Easter eggs. “You can soak the onions in ice water, too,” she advises as she slices the onion so thin it looks like a gossamer veil, then comes back through and cuts crosswise. Dora: If you make it small enough that they can’t see it, then they can’t say they don’t eat onions—like my grandson. It’s one of the best seasonings. Emily: It’s kind of mind-blowing how tiny you’re cutting those pieces. Dora says she never uses a food processor. Our conversation drifts to the virtues of gas over electric stoves. SM: You worked with Paula Deen for 22 years, right? Did you start when it was The Bag Lady? Dora: I did. SM: You mention in your cookbook trying to teach Paula Deen to dance. Dora: It was so funny. Oh my goodness, I never seen nobody with no rhythm at all. When we would be having a busy day and we slowed up, we would just start dancing … and I don’t know how she’d do it, but … (Dora counts out a rhythm and sways her hips while Gabrielle catches it on camera) and my best friend would be on the other side, and we’re tearing it up, and Paula’s knocking into us. (Laughter.) You can sense Dora has fond memories of her years working alongside Paula and that she takes great pride in having helped build a business. SM: How many people do you think you’ve taught to cook? Your cookbook says 60. Dora: It’s got to be more than that. My whole family, my best friends. One of my friends, her man kept saying, “I want Dora’s food.” It was almost embarrassing. So, one day, she came to me and asked me to teach her how to cook, because, she says, “I’m tired of my man wanting Dora’s stuff.” She got so good, she ended up working for us at Paula’s. SM: Emily and Gabby, what foods are particular to your families? Emily: I’m from New Jersey—near Philadelphia, nothing to do with The Sopranos. (Laughter.) Most of my family is pretty solidly English, but my mom’s side of the family is German and there’s a fair amount of spaetzle to go with pot roast from The Silver Palate Cookbook. I’m often the chopper for the family. Gabrielle: I’m from the Midwest, but my family is from the Deep South—so it was soul food in the house. My mom makes the best collard greens. Maybe I’m biased, but… Emily: Not at all. Certainly not. Gabrielle: She makes ridiculously good candied yams. SM: What does she do to them? Gabrielle: Umm … here’s the thing. (Laughter.) I never really learned my mother’s techniques for things. Now I want to know, but as a girl I never wanted to learn any of that. She’s such a good cook, and I feel like I missed out. Teresa Earnest: Have her write down the recipes in her own handwriting so you’ll have a keepsake. We talk about other cherished family recipes: Emily’s grandmother’s pumpkin chiffon pie, sand tarts and cheese dream. Gabrielle’s mother makes peanut butter candy—not brittle—but with cornflakes and peanut butter. Teresa: We had that in elementary school! Emily: If you could make that and bring it to the office, I’d be okay with that. View More: http://teresaearnestphotography.pass.us/foodphotographyteresaearnest Dora shows us how she cuts up peppers for both the potato and bright pepper salads. The peppers join the onions and celery in a holy trinity, awaiting their dispersal into various dishes. When the potatoes are fork tender, we drain them in a colander in the sink, then let them cool. Someone sets up Dora’s phone to play gospel music, so we work with the sounds of a choir in the background. It’s one of the most joyful moments I’ve ever experienced in a kitchen full of people moving in all different directions. Teresa: I love how relaxed you are in the kitchen. I’m a very frenzied cook. Dora: I am. When I get in there, I’m just ready to cook and to have fun with it. SM: It’s totally second nature to you? Dora: It is. I stay calm so I can get it done. If you panic, it’s over with. We tell her she needs her own cooking show. She says she wants to open her own restaurant and is just biding her time until she finds the right place. With all of the vegetable prep done, we get started on panfried chicken. Dora fills her grandmother’s cast iron skillet about halfway up the side with vegetable oil then heats it over medium-high heat on the stove. She takes chicken pieces, which have been seasoned and have been bathing in buttermilk in the fridge, and places them one by one in a bag filled with self-rising flour. Every few moments, she holds her hand over the pan to test its warmth. Finally she tosses in a few drifts of flour to see and hear how they sizzle. Dora: It’s ready. View More: http://teresaearnestphotography.pass.us/foodphotographyteresaearnest She shows Emily and Gabrielle how to gently lay the drumsticks, thighs and wings away from them in the skillet. They are a little wary of the hot oil, but take their turns. We discuss the finer points of cooking oil, Crisco and lard. Dora prefers lard. “I think you get more out of lard, it holds better, and it can be used again. It might give off a little more crisp,” she says, adding that she often throws in saved bacon grease for deeper layers. “If you have canned goods and are short on time, you could add a little bacon grease to give it the flavor of fresh beans.” The sparkle and crackle of the chicken frying heightens our appetites. While Dora finishes up the potato salad by hand mixing all of the ingredients together, I make the pepper salad, following her recipe to the letter. Soon, the chicken is done, and we lay out the feast. After making our plates, we sit at the dining table with glasses of iced tea. Just before we dig in, we pause and say grace. Then, we savor every bite. It’s the quietest moment we’ve shared all day. Special thanks to Jane Townsend and David Levy for use of their kitchen. View More: http://teresaearnestphotography.pass.us/foodphotographyteresaearnest  
Bright Peppers Salad
View More: http://teresaearnestphotography.pass.us/foodphotographyteresaearnest Serves 6 I love the happy colors of bright bell peppers, so I decided to create a whole salad with all different colors, sparked up with some red onions and fresh green herbs. It’s gorgeous to look at, great for any season and seems to go with anything else you’re serving. It can travel perfectly and sit on a buffet table for hours. You can use just red, yellow and orange peppers, or add a green and even a purple one if they’re in the market. They all have slightly different tastes, so more colors are not only more beautiful, they also make the flavors of the salad a little more interesting.
  • 5 bell peppers of many colors, cut into thin slices
  • ½ medium red onion, cut into thin half moons
  • 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar, rice vinegar or other mild white vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • A large handful of chopped, mixed fresh herbs of your choice: parsley, dill, chives and/or min
Combine the pepper strips and onion in a large bowl and toss with the vinegar. Set aside for 10 minutes or up to a half hour. Add the olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well and taste for seasoning. Scatter the herbs over the peppers and onions and toss together. Taste again for seasoning and serve. Tips: The easiest way to cut up bell peppers is to stand each one up and cut down the four side walls next to the stem so you get four large pieces. Remove any seeds and inner membranes. If you have leftovers, they’re great chopped into chicken salad the next day.
Excerpted from A Real Southern Cook, © 2015 by Dora Charles. Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

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Some Enchanted Eating

In our quest to become a true food destination, Savannah has reached its share of milestones: decadent dishes and inspired ingredients that keep us hungry for more. Join your city magazine and our team of talented tasters on a tour of the city’s flavor profiles, as we share our top cravings—and their creative culinary cures.

Compiled by Annabelle Carr   |   Photography by Teresa Earnest

View More: http://teresaearnestphotography.pass.us/foodphotographyteresaearnest

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Who do you trust for your health care needs? Vote for your top doc today.

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©2015 Cedric Smith, Semaj 05
Anti-violence activist Semaj Clark was shot in Savannah and paralyzed from the waist down, but he vows to keep fighting the good fight.  Ariel Felton learns from his example.
Photography by Cedric Smith A grainy cellphone video shows 18-year-old Semaj Clark sitting in a hospital bed, a blue and white gown tied haphazardly at his neck. “I like to run,” he says to the shaky camera in this now-viral clip, which first aired on WSAV News 3.  Then, he corrects himself.  “I liked to run to get away from my pain, so, just to know that I might not walk again …” He breaks down, brings a fist to his mouth, blows out a fast breath and tries to catch his composure.  A hand reaches in from off-screen and wipes his tears away with a balled-up tissue. Clark, a youth advocate and underdog success story from southern California, visited Savannah last October 21 as part of a nonviolence campaign.  He was shot that night during a robbery attempt, and he’s now paralyzed from the waist down. “It hurts me,” Semaj says in the video.  “But I won’t let it stop me.  I’m not going nowhere.” I catch up with Semaj after a long day of physical therapy at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, where he’s learning to live as independently as possible.  He’s bone-tired.  He’s in pain.  But he vows to me that he will come back and help Savannah deal with the very issues that landed him here.  After all, they are problems he understands all too well. Born to a teenaged drug addict and abused in foster care, Semaj began running with the wrong crowd.  He soon dropped out of school with a long rap sheet trailing behind him.  Hopelessness drove him to crime—much like many young people in our own city. When he talks, Semaj sounds like a typical 18-year-old, using slang like “keep it 100” (100 percent real) and “some type of way” (raw, confused emotion), and making jokes about how cool his visit with President Obama was.  But, when it comes to ending youth violence, he speaks with the wisdom of someone much older.  Because he’s “been there,” Semaj explains, he can “come correct” with other at-risk youth—and sometimes even show them another way.
Savannah Magazine: What was it like growing up in foster care?
Semaj Clark: Sometimes it was a good thing, and sometimes it was a bad thing.  The first home I lived in was a beautiful home, but then I got taken away.  That’s when the bad homes started.  I was beat, I was drugged, and all kinds of other things.  Then, by the grace of God, I was taken back to that first home, and that’s the woman who raised me from then on.
When you decided to drop out of high school, where did that decision come from?
I was just going through a lot in school—dealing with people who weren’t good for me, fighting, giving in to peer pressure—and I felt like I was dealing with all of that stuff  alone.  I felt lost in the bunch.  I felt suffocated.  I was getting in trouble, stealing from stores and hanging with the gangs.
But then you found a program that changed your life.
I was introduced to the BLOOM program (Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men) through Brotherhood Crusade, a community organization in Los Angeles.  It helped change my outlook, and that eventually changed my behavior. For a while, I was like a yo-yo, going back and forth and still getting in trouble.  But they didn’t blame me.  They didn’t come to me and say, “Why did you do that?”  Instead, they said, “Come home, it’s OK, we’re family.”
So you met people who understood and accepted you for who you are.
But it went even deeper than that.  BLOOM Reintegration Academy gave us a place where we could breathe—it’s a wholesome environment.  They took us from the ’hood and showed us a college campus, showed us why we needed to graduate.  We were living in a culture of dysfunction, but once you’re in a wholesome environment, you can breathe. Once you can breathe, you can think.  And once you can think, you can excel. If you’re not in a wholesome environment, then I don’t think that’s possible.
Then you started taking a leadership role.  Do you get nervous when you speak to large crowds?
A little bit, but I’m always up for a challenge.  I also realize speaking is going to help someone and maybe influence them to do different, so that’s what I get out of it.  That’s what makes it worth it.
"Tell Savannah that I’m not done yet.  You can’t get rid of me that easy, and I’ll be back."
How did you end up at the White House? What was it like to meet President Obama?
That was really mind-blowing.  I think I was picked because I was doing a lot of things and part of a lot of different organizations.  I was a part of the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition; and BLOOM Reintegration Academy; and I had an internship with Peace Over Violence.  There were 11 of us in the group, and we talked about why these sorts of programs work.
So how does the youth culture in Savannah compare to South L.A.?
The gang culture in L.A. is definitely being mimicked—in a lot of places, not just here.  It’s ironic to see things that started in my neighborhood so many years ago, the Crips and the Bloods, happening in other places.
Why is this happening?
There’s a failure in the system surrounding the youth.  It could be at any point—the mother, the father, the development of that child, whether they get properly educated and cared for at school—at some point, there is hope missing.  And if there’s no hope in the environment, then there’s no hope in the child.  How are you supposed to do good if there’s no good around you?  Young people need mentors: better examples of how to live.
What do you think Savannah is doing right for our young people?
Savannah’s stakeholders all seem to be on the same page.  People like [Juvenile Court judge] Lisa Colbert and [Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney of Juvenile Court] Diane McLeod all agree that something needs to be done.  That’s sometimes the hardest part: realizing your community is failing at something. What are we doing wrong?  What can the Savannah community do to cut down on juvenile crime—to make Savannah safer? Everyone has a theory about what should be done, but that doesn’t mean a thing.  You can say you mean well a thousand times, but you have to get hands-on and create the programs that work.  Break the cycle.  We need more mentors, more scholarships, more opportunities. We need to reach these kids while they are young.  And when I say young, I mean 8 or 9 years old.  When I was walking in Savannah, I heard these little kids talking—man, it was crazy—they were already talking about gangs and shooting people and all that.  But they’re like 8 years old!  We need to reach them when they’re young because, by the time they are 12 or 13, it’s going to be hard to get to them.  When I was that age, you couldn’t tell me nothing. ©2015 Cedric Smith, Semaj 01
What has worked in L.A. that might also work in Savannah?
I worked with a lot of groups and organizations, getting certain bills and propositions passed, such as Prop 47, the “Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes” initiative, as well as the School Discipline Policy and School Climate Bill of Rights, which cut down on the school-to-prison pipeline by discouraging suspensions as a punishment.  That means fewer kids out of school and fewer incarcerations. It’s also important to make programs in the community where the issues are happening.  We need to come up with solutions there—on the premises, not on the outskirts. The programs we create should be specific to the needs of the children in that area. Maybe these programs just provide healthy meals and show the kids someone cares about them.  Maybe they’re having trouble reading or writing, and too embarrassed to talk about it.  I’ve heard so many stories like that just being here.
When we hear this conversation about youth violence, it’s often in search of someone to blame, whether it’s the parents, the teachers, the friends.  Is there really someone we can point the finger at?
That’s a tough conversation to have and not always a helpful one.  I don’t know if it’s helpful to say someone is to blame, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason.  You can find a reason and a solution without needing to point a finger at someone. The important thing is to not blame the kids.  Once you blame the kids, it’s a wrap. That’s what I got from the BLOOM program.  They never blamed me, never got angry, even when I was going back and forth. They were always there for me.
What do you tell kids who find themselves in the situations similar to your own?
Because every situation is different, I feel like it’s more important how I talk to them.  I’ve been in their shoes.  I did a lot of things I’m not proud of.  I feel like I can talk to those kids truthfully—I know why they did it, because I know why I did it. They are me, and I am them.  So I keep it 100 when I speak to them.
What keeps you motivated, even after everything that’s happened?
The success stories keep me going.  I may speak to 30 kids at a time and only reach one or two. But those one or two will break the cycle.  People see them change, then maybe make a change for themselves.  You’ve got to wait, be patient and trust that things are changing, even when you can’t see it right there in your face.
You say you want to stay and speak out against crime in Savannah.  What makes you want to stay in a city where something terrible happened to you?
I want to show people that I really care and that I mean the things I’m saying—my heart is in it.  I really feel like I can teach people how to relate to these kids in a way that nobody else can—so how can I just stop now?
Has this incident changed the way you approach the subject of youth violence?
No, not really. If anything, it lets me know the problem is escalating, and we need more people to get in the trenches and help beat back this issue.
I read an article in the Los Angeles Times that questioned whether your shooting sends a negative message to other young men.  “You can’t outrun it or rise above it, so why should you try?” Do you worry about that message?
That’s a real concern.  At times, it will feel like you can’t outrun it or rise above it.  But if hope could reach me, it can reach anybody.  That’s why mentors are so important.  I can only hope that, by continuing to speak out on what I care about, I will show other young people that I haven’t been stopped.
What are your plans going forward?
Oh, man—a lot.  I want to be a civil rights attorney, an advocate for the end of youth violence, and a motivational speaker.  And now, because of my injury, I’m interested in being an advocate for those with disabilities.
A lot of the conversation about what happened to you is focused on how ironic and heartbreaking it is that the young men were supposed to be at your event that day.  How does it feel to know that?
It did make me feel some type of way, to know that if they had showed up and heard me speak, there was a chance we may have been cool.  We may have been friends.  Maybe I could’ve talked to them and had some influence on them.  We’ve probably been in a lot of similar situations, maybe even forced to do some of the same things.  Sometimes when you get involved in gang violence, you have no option but to do something you don’t want to do.  You never know how we could’ve connected.  There’s no telling.
If you could say something to the young man who shot you, what would you say?
The world needs a lot more forgiveness.  I forgive you, and I understand you.  Everybody deserves a second chance—I was given two, three, four chances—so you deserve one, too.  Take that second chance and get your mind sorted.  Find a mentor—someone you can really look up to, who takes the time to find out what’s really going on in your life. That’s exactly what I would do.  I’ll leave it at that. Tell Savannah that I’m not done yet.  You can’t get rid of me that easy, and I’ll be back.

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  7 kitchen A big, blended family gathers on tiny Grove Point Island, surrounded by river and marsh.  Judy Bean leads us ashore.   Photography by RICHARD LEO JOHNSON   Call it fate, destiny or the stars aligning.  The Palmers of Grove Point Island—and friends who know their story—believe they’re now exactly where they were meant to be. As soft-spoken Christie Palmer recalls, she and husband David “had no intention of moving” from their previous home in Pooler.  Built as a regional magazine’s “Idea House” in 2002, the home was both spacious and well-appointed—so much so that a visiting Chicago couple made them an unsought, above-market offer. With that sudden good fortune, the Palmers began a broad home search, followed by a nomadic month, that ended in a well-worth-the-wait homecoming for the couple, their children and “grands” this past June.
Here’s a Story
Christie, a nurse, and David, an orthopedic surgeon, have six children and four grandchildren between them.  As we begin our tour of the family’s home, one of the grandchildren, 16-month-old Beck, crawls up the deck stairs as fast as a fiddler crab, gleefully seeking his “Gammie.”  His mother, Morgan, Christie’s daughter, cheerfully races behind him, and Beck is gently—albeit temporarily—pried from Christie’s neck so that she can show us around. We’re joined by Lana Salter and Victoria Holmes, the interior designers who brought this spec home to life and became Christie’s friends during the process. When the Palmers began their home search, “we knew we wanted to live near water,” says Christie. After seeing a half dozen homes in the Wilmington Island area, the Palmers felt led to this house, which happened to be next door to a house where Christie had visited family friends many times as a child. “Way back then, I used to say that I wanted to live [in this neighborhood] someday,” Christie recalls, shaking her head as if she can’t quite believe her good fortune. 8 kitchen nook
A Cheerful Outlook
Tickled as she was to be back on her old island playground—and enchanted by the new house’s river view and boathouse—Christie knew the house’s blah, builder-basic appearance had to change. Built in 2007 as an investment property, the home “had zero personality,” Christie recollects.  Water-facing windows had up to 30 panes each, fragmenting an expansive river view that was further obscured by mauve curtains.  Fixtures and appliances were big-box store bargains.  What little trim there was looked out-of-scale or overly ornate. Christie learned about Holmes and Salter from contractor Robert Lyons, an old friend of David’s.  The connection was instantaneous. “Christie was the ideal client,” Victoria says with a smile as Lana nods. From the very beginning, the designers recall Christie’s clarity about the Palmers’ preferences: “Not fancy, just happy and livable,” in Christie’s words.  She had functional priorities, such as being able to house and feed a growing family and friends, and a bottom line that was adequate but not indulgent. Just as helpfully, Christie’s collection of magazine clippings revealed a desire for a soft, relaxing palette and a preference for traditional textures—all in perfect harmony with the home’s river and marsh surroundings.
THE PALMER SPECS
Owners:  Christie and David Palmer Year Built:  2007 Year Purchased:  2015 Square Footage:  4,600 heated in main house; 748 in boathouse Accommodations:  4 bedrooms, 5 baths
Divine Design
To maximize light and views in the common areas, the designers and contractors worked together “from day one,” Victoria says.  All agreed on the need for uninterrupted picture windows, new real-wood floors to replace laminate and carpet, and new openings from room to room.  Shiplap and ceiling beams were added, along with antique bricks.  Some ceilings were painted blue for coastal style. Fulfilling Christie’s hopes to host big family meals, the kitchen was reconfigured and gutted, its “builder basic” appliances and dark cabinets replaced with a full array of Viking products and driftwood-toned faces.  A counter between the kitchen and breakfast room was removed, making it easier for family members to come and go.  A small door to the dining room was expanded to a large arch, allowing more sunlight for meal preparation and allowing cooks to enjoy beautiful views on either side. An upstairs office became a family reading nook with the addition of custom shelves.  Other remodeled rooms included the master suite, a music room, an airy home office just off the kitchen, bedrooms and baths for 13-year-old Sarah and 15-year-old Jonathan—David’s two youngest and the last ones at home—and a cozy playroom for grandchildren Beck, Coleman, Bree and baby Jack. “I close myself in here with the kids and relax while they color and play,” Christie says blissfully. portrait 3  
Practical Magic
A “waste not, want not” policy inspired clever re-use.  Old flooring, appliances and fixtures were used in the remodeled boathouse—or donated to Habitat for Humanity. “From the very beginning, we all felt this place was meant to be,” says Victoria.  Lana agrees, recalling how many of the Palmers’ old pieces perfectly fit the new spaces, and how smooth and happy the collaboration was.  When Christie burst into joyful tears upon entering the finished home for the first time, the designers knew the results were happy, too. “The Palmers are humble, sweet, happy, grateful people,” Lana says.  And now they have a home that’s worthy of them. 5 living Drink in the View. The Palmer home overlooks the Grove River from the same bank where Christie played as a child.  The Palmers found the eight-year-old home, empty since construction.  Renovations included replacing divided-light windows with larger picture panes for uninterrupted views of river, sky and the boathouse.  Birds are Christie’s favorite motif, and they play perfectly in the nature-inspired interior Holmes and Salter designed.  In the living room, an ibis lamp by Cyan pairs with a painting by Vincent Golshani, the family’s favorite artist.  The wall is covered in painted shiplap to imbue color and coziness in the large living area, which was once encased in vast planes of blank drywall. 6 dining room Build Character. “David and I both love downtown Savannah homes, especially all the old brick,” Christie says.  To echo that colonial aesthetic, Old Carolina brick tile and pavers were used in the dining room, back hallway and office.  In the kitchen, soapstone counters and driftwood-toned cabinetry hide Christie’s much-used appliances.  The island was painted blue for contrast—and as a nod to the river, which is visible here and from most of the home. 9 art room Take Note.  Both Christie and Sarah, David’s 13-year-old daughter, study and practice piano in the music room, among vibrant Golshani paintings.  Although more subdued Golshanis shine in the living area, most of the pieces shown here feature intense colors that inspire allegro playing.  Glass doors allow the room to be closed, but kept bright, during practice sessions. 10 bedroom Sing the Blues. Relaxation was top priority in designing the master suite.  Shades of blue backed by creamy off-whites combine to create calm, while varying textures add warmth.  The English linen curtains feature a bird pattern beloved by Christie.  The blue barn-style door, custom-crafted by carpenter Arnold Lanier of C-Two Cabinets, leads to a walk-in closet with custom, built-in shelves and a front-facing window that looks toward the marsh.  Across from the blue door, an exterior door leads to a screened porch overlooking the river.    
The PALMER Referrals
Interior designer:  Holmes and Salter Interiors Contractor/builder:  Lyons and Son Flooring:  Old Savannah Hardwood Flooring, pavers via Cherokee Brick Company Countertops:  Karen Sellers, Counter Designs Wallpaper:  Schumaker and Thibaut, installed by Madeline Gunter Windows/doors:  Coastal Sash and Door Kitchen design:  Showcase Kitchens Bath design:  Holmes and Salter Lighting design:  Holmes and Salter Upholsterers:  Lulu and Coco Landscape design:  Hester and Zipperer Hardscape design:  Marshall Masonry & Concrete Carpenters:  C-Two Custom Cabinets and Renovation Plumber:  Lyons and Son Landscaper:  Hester and Zipperer Furniture: C.R. Lane, Verellen, Four Hands, Custom Appliances:  Viking, Southern Bath and Kitchen Accessories:  Peacock Alley, Uttermost, Juliska, Serena and Lily, Textillery, Texture Imports, Williams-Sonoma, Lacefield, Cyan Art:  Vincent Golshani via Golding House Gallery, Alicia Leeke, assorted others

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