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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.
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.
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 StoryChristie, 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.
A Cheerful OutlookTickled 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 SPECSOwners: 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 DesignTo 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.
Practical MagicA “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. 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. 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. 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. 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 ReferralsInterior 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
What's it like to be 25 years old in 2015? Emily Jones has all the answers.
What does it take to groom a new generation of model citizens? As we approach Mother’s and Father’s days, supermom Hannah Black makes a play date with local parents. Photography by Kelli Boyd and Christine Hall Working and studying full-time is a challenge. Between my job, my professors and my internship at this magazine, sometimes I feel like I have six bosses. And please, don’t get me started on the woes of single life. But add a 7-year-old boy with the energy of a college football team to the mix and I’m surprised I haven’t checked into Georgia Regional. With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day on the horizon, we Savannah magazine mamas got to thinking about parenting. How do we and other local parents raise happy, healthy Savannahians? Does it really matter that our children only eat Cheerios and Cheez-Its? (I mean, as long as they’re eating, right?) And what does the phrase “family values” really mean? We asked local photographers Kelli Boyd and Christine Hall to share their favorite moments from years of portraiture. Then we got the behind-the-scenes stories from the parents themselves. Along the way, I learned a thing or two about what the city has to offer its children—and made a few new friends in the process. [caption id="attachment_15158" align="aligncenter" width="576"] After a muddy marsh adventure, Slaton Roberts, 4, and his brother Lawton, 3, sit with their new-found treasures.[/caption] “An afternoon boat ride is a family favorite,” Jessica Roberts observes. “And we try to spend as much time as possible with our children, instilling core values with regard to God, family and the community.” This family closeness is contagious, it seems. “While looking at our wedding photo, Slaton was upset that he wasn’t there with us to celebrate our wedding,” Jessica recalls. “He has asked us to get married again so he could come.” [caption id="attachment_15159" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Grace and Steven McAllister cuddle Leila Emily, 7 months, in Pulaski Square.[/caption] “Family values are a combination of religion, love and togetherness,” Grace observes. “Sunday night dinners with the entire family are a tradition that we hope our child will carry on. With a large family, it can be crazy at times, but it’s always a wonderful way to start the week!” Though little Leila is still young, she knows how to be heard above the fray. “Leila isn’t ‘talking’ at seven months,” Grace laughs. “She has, however, mastered a fake cough if she feels like we should be paying closer attention to her.” So what does it take to raise a good Savannahian? “A love of God, a love of the water and a unique Southern style.” [caption id="attachment_15160" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Will, 11, and Carson Cook, 9, learn how to be true Savannahians.[/caption] “My mom used to tell me that there isn’t a manual on how to raise children,” recalls Paige Cook, mother of Will and Carson. “As a child, I would always roll my eyes at her. Now I know exactly what she meant. We just do the best we can and instill in them the moral values we believe are important.” Paige discourages lip-smacking and negative talk at the dinner table. She and her husband, Chris, have taken classes on the appropriate uses and safety measures for technology. And she makes sure to lie down with the kids each evening to talk through the day. “To raise a good Savannahian, you must teach them to be personable, well-mannered and a true lover of the water,” she observes. “My husband has done such a great job of teaching the boys the proper ways to hunt and fish—and, most important, to drive a boat.” [caption id="attachment_15161" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Marquis Toson and Jillian Schlake-Toson take their first family portrait with Atticus, 9 months.[/caption] “The most important thing we have to teach our child is to be confident and have a strong sense of self,” says Jillian. “We want to teach him to respect others as well as himself.” That respect extends to the Savannah community at large. “He’s discovering new things every day and our city is a great place to explore,” observes Jillian, who cites “Forsyth Park and the fabulous squares” as her favorite places to hang out as a family. “We want our son to grow up with a balance of respect and pride for the city’s long-standing traditions and culture—embracing its evolution without losing the character of Savannah itself.” For the Tosons, evolution is an important part of appreciation. “We’ll explain that social issues exist here but we, as individuals and as a family, have the ability to change things with simple actions and thoughts.” Books are another part of that plan. “Reading aloud is a family tradition that promotes togetherness and allows us to slow down and interact.” [caption id="attachment_15162" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Viviana Georgescu dances in the sand with Isabella, 6.[/caption] “I express the beauty and strength in being ethnically and racially different,” says Viviana, the mother of Michael, 14, Kevin, 11, and Isabella, 6. It’s a lesson she continues at the dinner table. “I emphasize that food is a part of being culturally educated and insist on everyone trying what is being served. I hope to teach my kids empathy, and that they will carry on Latin traditions.” [caption id="attachment_15163" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Walker Peters, 6, skips rocks into the river.[/caption] When it comes to parenting, Kristin Peters likes to keep things casual. “However, we do not allow potty talk at the dinner table or for the television to be on. Our children must stay seated until they are finished eating, and they must try at least one bite of everything.” Rules aside, for Kristin, husband Chris, and children Walker and Kate, family values are about “honesty, kindness and quality family time. Our favorite way to unwind is to spend the day on the boat together, and we love to take the kids out to Wassaw Island.” [caption id="attachment_15164" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Kevin Iocovozzi, Emma, 25, Judy, 23, wife Kim and son Seve, 20, surround Oliver, the four-legged family member.[/caption] Two years ago, Kim Iocovozzi’s family gave her a Christine Hall photo shoot as a Christmas gift. “It’s almost impossible to get us all together at the same time, so this was very special to me,” recalls Kim, who has put plenty of thought into raising good Savannahians. “Instead of explaining social issues to my children, I think it’s more important to actually engage them,” she observes. “To help my children understand diversity and social issues in Savannah, I sent them to public school. There, they befriended children of many social and economic backgrounds, and this made them well-rounded adults.” [caption id="attachment_15165" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Jackson Lino, 2, takes flight at Tybee with the help of his father, Brandon.[/caption] Who says you have to compromise? When it comes to parenting a finicky child, Adrienne Lino puts her foot down. “We’ve never been the parents to make special meals for each person eating,” she explains. “We make dinner and that’s what you have or you don’t eat.” This approach comes in handy at the extended family’s monthly group birthday parties, a tradition Adrienne hopes Jackson will pass on to his children. She also stresses kindness. “I want to teach him to treat people equally no matter the circumstance,” she muses, “to always treat a lady with the same respect he would give his mother. And he’ll have to learn that people make mistakes and you should always grant forgiveness.” [caption id="attachment_15166" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Tyler Rominger lounges on the deck with her daughter, Evangeline, 6.[/caption] “It’s so important to teach your children to like and respect themselves, to accept disappointment and move on, and to cook,” observes Tyler Rominger, mother of Porter and Evangeline. “I think kids need to learn to be self-sufficient.” For her daughters, Tyler has one simple rule: “Never, ever chase a boy. Ever.” Married to a native Savannahian, Tyler leaves some of the instruction up to her husband, McLeod. “He remembers running around Tomochichi’s rock when he was little, so he loves taking the girls there,” Tyler replies. “Apparently you run around this rock chanting something?* Then he is supposed to answer? They think it’s great.” “I’m not from here,” she shrugs, “I don’t really get it.” *According to a local legend, if you run around the Yamacraw chief’s monument and ask, “Tomochichi, Tomochichi, where are you?” you will hear the rock reply, “Nowhere,” because his bones have been scattered and lost. [caption id="attachment_15167" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Mac, 5, and Mary Walton Dyer, 4, bond with their new siblings, twins Ruby and Brooks, 3 months.[/caption] Meredith and Andy Dyer have their hands full with four children under the age of 6, so the occasional electronic distraction is a yes, not a no-no. “At this point in our lives, especially since the birth of our twins, pretty much anything goes if it will make the older children sit at the table and eat their dinner!” Meredith laughs. “I’m a fairly liberal parent when it comes to technology.” All the same, she draws the line at gaming systems. “I don’t want them getting ‘hooked.’ They need to go outside and run and play.” When they do, Meredith sets a few basic limits on her children’s attire. “I don’t like little boys—or men for that matter—in tank tops or jorts,” she chuckles. “And for Mary Walton, where do I start? Short shorts, anything with writing across the bottom and anything with too much glitter. A little glitter goes a long way, in my opinion.” Compassion is the virtue Meredith most wants to encourage in her children, but her Mother’s Day wish is simple. “I’d love to get away with Andy,” she confesses. “Life has been crazy since the twins were born and we haven’t had many date nights.” [caption id="attachment_15168" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Whit Watson, now 9 but pictured at age 4, plays on the dock with his dad, Justin.[/caption] “I mostly find myself saying, ‘Use your napkin, not your shirt,’” jokes Winslett Watson, but her real lessons go far deeper than that. “We will try to raise our boys to be men of character: the sort of men we respect when we meet them in our daily life. We want them to enjoy long meaningful friendships, to live with purpose and passion.” When it comes to raising a good Savannahian, Winslett, the mother of Whit, 9, and Haddon, 10, says it’s all about balance. “We want to instill in our boys an appreciation for our Southern roots and traditions and, at the same time, raise them to be advocates of progress.” For Mother’s Day, she’s looking forward to “breakfast in bed, followed by snuggles and a boat trip to a barrier island.” [caption id="attachment_15169" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Kent and Danielle Woo entertain Kameron, 9 months.[/caption] “We are always playing—trying to make Kam smile,” laughs Danielle. This new mother is still inventing family traditions, but she already has her sights set on raising a Savannah gentleman. To make that happen, she has a few simple rules in mind. “No television or toys at the dinner table,” she lists. “No hats indoors. Being a gentleman is about good manners and treating others with respect.” For now, though, most of her family time is spent in outdoor activities, exposing Kam to the wonders of life in the Garden. “Forsyth Park is our favorite spot to play, and the Burnside River holds so many fabulous memories for our family. We love long walks together and plan to take advantage of all of the water-related activities Savannah has to offer.” [caption id="attachment_15170" align="aligncenter" width="384"] Lindsay and Blake Greco steal a kiss during a family portrait with Sloan, 3, and Burke, 6 months.[/caption] Outings are an important part of the Greco household. “Sloan is a big animal lover, so we often go to Oatland Island, her favorite place,” says Lindsay. “And it doesn’t get much better than going the Crab Shack to feed some alligators.” Other than an appreciation for the natural world, Lindsay believes “impeccable manners, a quick wit and compassion for others” are what it takes to raise a good Savannahian. “‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ are paramount in our home,” she declares. And young Sloan’s sense of humor is blooming early. “When we gave her a watch, I asked her for the time. Without hesitation, she looked at her wrist and said, ‘Time for you to give me some candy.’” Of course, compassion is the most important virtue in this history-haunted city. “We have a zero-tolerance policy for any sort of discrimination in our home,” Lindsay emphasizes. “We stress the importance of compassion and acceptance regardless of race, socioeconomic status, gender or sexual orientation. We hope that our children will speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.” [caption id="attachment_15171" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Helen Williams Johnson relaxes on the dock with Dudley, 11, and Warner, 9.[/caption] “I could go on and on,” laughs Helen as she begins to list the family traditions she hopes her children will carry on. “Chili and carols on the 23rd of December with the Threlkeld side of the family. Easter egg hunts at Wild Acres with the Williams side of the family. Fourth of July and fireworks at Tybee with their grandparents.” And then there are the traditions of hard work, civic duty and kindness, which Helen counts as family values. “I just hope that I can give my children an inkling of what my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles have taught me.” Watching our children make mistakes can be hard, but Helen knows that sometimes it’s the only way. “You have to give your kids the skills to deal with life lessons, no matter how hard it is to take a back seat as a parent. They may not make the right decisions at first, but they will learn.” [caption id="attachment_15172" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Lena Thompson, 5, and Peter, 8, kiss sibling rivalry goodbye.[/caption] “The parks downtown are a definite favorite,” laughs Lindsay Thompson, as her two children play in a Savannah square. “Selfishly, I hope they carry on the tradition of living in Savannah. And no blue and orange! Georgia fans will understand.” Of course, the kids are developing their own sartorial opinions. “Just the other day, they told me they’re glad I don’t wear mom jeans.” [caption id="attachment_15173" align="aligncenter" width="576"] Darius, 7, and I take a moment out of our busy schedules.[/caption] As for me, I want my son to know that, contrary to popular opinion, chivalry is not dead. I want him to know that opening doors for ladies and pulling out their seats for them are the actions of a real man. In my house, I don’t allow electronics at the table. I tell Darius that the great super heroes ate all the things he doesn’t like in order to grow big and strong. It only works 50 percent of the time, but at least it gets him eating his vegetables. Above all, I want to teach him that life may throw every obstacle in his way, but—no matter what—he can’t give up. Regardless of skin color or social status, everyone puts their pants on the same way. That’s advice any Savannahian worth his sea salt can live by.
In Savannah, membership certainly has its privileges. In each issue, we’re sending Brianne Halverson and Dan Gilbert undercover to discover the inner workings of some of the city’s most popular clubs. Photography by Teresa Earnest You’ve definitely seen a group of “Ancient” Hibernians all decked out in green and white during Savannah’s famous St. Patrick’s Day parade. With the 191st parade just around the corner, we talked to Brian Crowley, the order’s not-so-ancient president. Meet the Ancient Order of Hibernians: Savannah’s chapter of the international fraternal organization of Irish Catholics Hideout: We meet monthly downtown at O’Connell’s Pub and quarterly at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. When we were founded in 1836, I would have kept our meeting location very secret. This was during a time when the Irish were treated like second-class citizens and Catholic priests were being persecuted. Now we want people to know about our meetings—we welcome all newcomers. House Rules: In the beginning, there was so much secrecy around the organization that we are unable to trace all the rituals or rules. Still, we have a lot of historic bylaws, including wearing sashes and sitting in specific formations during meetings. All members are sworn to secrecy about specific details. Oh, and there’s a gavel I get to use.
“Our best fundraising event is Road Bowling. It’s an ancient sport where the Irish would steal the British cannon balls and roll them around in a race.”“Gang” Signs: Not what you might expect. Being Irish in the U.S. is associated with drinking and craziness around St. Patrick’s Day, but that’s really a misconception—we’re truly about family and community. If you see a member, he’s more likely helping repair leaks at a local monastery, or handing out frozen turkeys at the Savannah Mission. High Points: Friendship and charity. Education is a big focus for us and we support organizations like Fresh Air Home, a nonprofit that helps underserved kids have a healthy, outdoor summer camp experience. And our best fundraising event of the year—without a doubt—is Road Bowling. It’s an ancient sport where the Irish would steal the British cannon balls and roll them around in a race. This year’s Irish Road Bowl Tournament is on March 21 at 10 a.m. and it will be our best yet. Everyone is welcome!
Dan Gilbert helps us navigate this weekend’s 5th Annual Savannah Stopover Music Festival.