Human Interest

Ingram’s March

Participants link arms in the Poor People's Campaign in Marks, Mississippi, May 1968. Photo courtesy of
Participants link arms in the Poor People’s Campaign in Marks, Mississippi, May 1968. Photo courtesy of

A few years ago (2009-2012), I was freelancing for the publication By U Magazine, based out of Mississippi.  It was an incredible experience as I had the opportunity to speak with and get to know a wide selection of honorable individuals who I otherwise would have never come across.  One interview that will forever stay with me is with Helen Ingram.  Days after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed, 16 year-old Helen Ingram participated in “The Poor People’s March” and helped pave the way for Civil Rights.  Here is her story…

It was 1968 and Helen Ingram was 16 years old.  Dr. King had been assassinated weeks prior to the event.  Several prominent leaders in the Civil Rights Movement had visited Marks, Mississippi and encouraged the Delta residents to move forward with the march, which was part of “The Poor People’s Campaign.”  This march would demonstrate to the government the need for jobs, healthcare and homes that so many Delta residents lacked.  “Kids didn’t eat lunch because they’re parents couldn’t afford it.  So teachers were giving their lunches to the kids, leaving them without food.”  Ingram grew up attending the Civil Rights meetings.  She knew without a doubt that wherever the campaign took place, she would be there fighting for her rights.

That day Ingram went to school with the plan of participating in the walk-out.  It was in class she and her classmates heard about the arrest of several Civil Rights leaders.  Plans altered: now, they would be marching to the jail instead of heading to the local church.  In a crowd of 400 students, Ingram walks amongst her classmates.  They approach the jail, Civil Rights leaders “ hollering out the windows for the kids to sit on the grass and cover their heads.”  Guards surround the jail, eager to attack.  “You better leave,” a family friend warns Ingram.  She ignores him.  Told from a young age she had a big mouth, Ingram was done with the segregation and lack of respect.  No more eating behind the kitchen at a restaurant.  No more friends dropping out of school to work in the cotton fields.  And for goodness sakes, no more outhouses!  “My children will never go through this,” she says to herself, resisting intimidation.  Forward, come the guards.  Left, right, left, right and bam!  They start beating the kids.  Ingram’s “kicked in the back, then hit upside the head with the butt of a gun.”  Blankness.  Waking up in the hospital, she overhears a nurse complaining “they don’t have enough doctors.”  She later finds out that a pregnant friend of hers was kicked in the stomach, terminating the pregnancy and a teacher stomped to death.  Two of the many attacks made that day.  The guards think they won but they’re wrong.  Ingram checks out of the hospital and returns to the campaign.

Forty-three years later, Ingram now lives in a neighborhood that back in 1968 she wasn’t allowed to even enter.  Segregation has dispersed; however, there is still racism, still disrespect and worse ignorance.  She wonders if kids today realize how hard generations before them had to fight just so they could be where they are now.  She doesn’t expect them to understand the full impact the Civil Rights movement had but appreciate it?  Yes.  Let them hear her story, be grateful it wasn’t them and be eager to want more for their future kids as their parents wanted for them.

Featured in By U Magazine as Amanda Williford

Human Interest

Armed Warrior with a Breast of Faith

“Cancer don’t have no age, no name, no color,” exclaims Jackie Griffin, who was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in the summer of 2009.  It all began with a mailer from the doctor’s office, reminding Jackie of her annual mammogram, which she missed the previous year.  Fortunately for Jackie, she responded by getting a mammogram, where doctors found a lump in her left breast.  They proceeded with further testing until it was confirmed that she had breast cancer.  “I never did cry, never did show emotion,” she recalls.  The doctors carefully went over with Jackie the specifications of the cancer, how far it had grown in her system and options for treating the disease.

Upon hearing the news Jackie went directly home and told the news to her friends and family.  “I called everyone myself,” she says, “I knew how to explain it better” then having friends and family spread the news themselves.  Whereas her faith sustained, she strongly believed she might lose her life to cancer.  “My cousin died in 1999, my sister-in-law in 2000.  I thought, ‘they had [breast cancer] and died, I probably will too.’”

On October 21, 2009 Jackie underwent a mastectomy of the left breast, which was immediately replaced with an implant.  She still praises her husband for his unconditional love and support.  “He did everything for me that I couldn’t do myself.”  Her children and grandchildren didn’t shy from lending a hand either.  “It’s all about support,” she reminds herself, “my family got me through.”

Following her mastectomy and a quick recovery, Jackie started taking chemo pills and had enough strength to head back to work, the side effects of chemo kicked in.  She experienced severe hair loss, nausea and hot flashes.  No matter how physically weak she became, Jackie never gave up.  God kept telling her, “I brought it to you; I’ll bring it through it.”  Not one to accept pity but rather fight like a warrior, Jackie’s faith outlived the hair loss and nausea proving that it wasn’t her time to die.  “I came back for a reason,” which is to share her story.

Today, Jackie can proudly say she is cancer free.  She still goes in every three months for a check-up and she frequently reminds women to get breast examinations.  To her surprise, Jackie has found that a lot of women she knows have never gotten a breast examination before.  “You got to motivate yourself,” she states, “time makes all the difference.”

What better way to celebrate National Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October than to get a mammogram?  For the past several years, non-profit organizations and government programs have established funds to allow all women the opportunity for a mammogram.  “CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) provides access to breast and cervical cancer screening services to underserved women all 50 states, the District of Columbia, five U.S. territories, and 12 tribes.”  For more information, please visit

Featured in By U Magazine’s Fall 2010 Issue as Amanda Williford


Human Interest

Loving Those That Others Won’t

“If you build it, he will come,” stated character Shoeless Joe Jackson in the movie “Field Of Dreams”.   Sallie Swanigan of Columbus, Mississippi received the same message; however, it didn’t come from a baseball player but rather, God.

Raised attending church with Christian morals and values, Swanigan knew the Lord but didn’t always live her life for him.  It wasn’t until she was well into adulthood and a mother of two adult children, that she moved to Georgia and discovered her true ministry.  “God put me to go back on the streets,” Swanigan relays, explaining how she became a street preacher.  “I was a new creature…it’s about being saved.”  While ministering on the streets, Swanigan kept hearing God tell her to “build this house” and re-connect with relationships that had gone sour.  This house wouldn’t just be any house.  It would be a Christian-based halfway house for women coming out of prison.  Here they would learn the fundamentals of Christianity while studying the basic tools of cooking and cleaning and education as a means of creating and maintaining a productive life.  Swanigan tried to ignore this new calling but in 2008 she could resist no more.  Moving herself back to Columbus, Mississippi, she mended broken relationships and started a new chapter of her life.

Opening a halfway house might have been easier for Swanigan if she owned a big house but she didn’t nor did she have the funds to buy and operate a facility of this type.  So, with little money, Swanigan reached out to her community for help by going on the radio and local television news programs, appearing in the paper, anything to help spread the word about her intended project, “All The Way with Jesus”.

Praying for the best but expecting the worst, she was flabbergasted when attorney David Owens donated an un-occupied house of his to be used as the halfway house.  If that didn’t seem a direct gift from God, the following would ensure it.  Swanigan was graciously given the opportunity to set up “All The Way with Jesus” as a 501 (c)(3) Nonprofit Organization without any cost.  Furthermore, the community continued to provide continuous support.  Instead of objecting to ex-cons living next door to them, neighbors and organizations came in and “did all the cleaning and stripping of the floors” in the three-bedroom, two-bath house.  The only thing Swanigan could do was call out “God this is really you.”

Yes, Swanigan has jumped enormous obstacles yet plenty still remain.  Money is needed to pay for food, cleaning supplies and basics and the house still has repairs that must be done before it can board tenants.  With the continuation of help from the community, “All The Way with Jesus” will eventually be set up and running.  When?  That question is unknown.  What is evident is Swanigan’s desire and persistence for “All The Way with Jesus”.  The woman has raised two children, preached to prostitutes on the streets and drunks in the bar and is ready to finish building this house before moving on to the next nine houses she plans to set up within her lifetime.  Sally Swanigan is not your average retired woman and we thank her for that.

Featured in By U Magazine’s Summer 2010 issue as Amanda Williford