Tag Archives: Tamiko Robinson Steele

New Nashville Civil Rights Documentary Features TSU Alums

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – When Tennessee State University Alum Tanya Coplen Gray approached her high school classmates about producing a short documentary to commemorate their 50th year high school anniversary, Gray had no idea how important the project would become.

“This short film was done as a labor of love.  We did this out of love for one another, and that’s really critical to me, to make sure people understand that is how it got started,” says Gray, who graduated from TSU in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in social work and a minor in sociology. 

Gray, along with her Cameron High School classmates Deborah Majors Bell and Ida Venson Currie, serve as executive producers of  “The Past Is Prologue: The Cameron Class of 1969,” an award-winning documentary that recounts a significant, but largely-forgotten, chapter of Nashville’s civil rights struggle that happened during the late-1960s.

Featured are (l to r)Tanya Coplen Gray, Ola Hudson, Deborah Majors Bell, Ida Venson Currie, Mark Schlicher (Photo Submitted)

The film, which was produced and directed by Nashville filmmaker Mark Schlicher, and co-produced by Lisa Venegas, will air on Nashville Public Television, WNPT Channel 8 Sunday, February 16, at 10:30 p.m., and Wednesday, February 26, at 9:00 p.m..

In spring 1968, during a volatile period for race relations in Nashville and throughout the United States, all-black Cameron high school lost a high-profile basketball tournament game to Stratford, a mostly-white school. A spontaneous protest and scuffles broke out afterward, as many upset Cameron fans believed that the game had been unfairly officiated in favor of Stratford.

In response, school authorities barred Cameron High School from all athletics for an entire year, while Stratford received no sanctions. In response to the punishment, parents, students, and supporters in the community protested, marched in the streets, and enlisted famed civil rights attorney Avon Williams, Jr., to champion their cause in federal court, making it part of his long-running school desegregation lawsuit.

Currie, who secured a bachelor’s degree in English Education from TSU in 1974, says former Cameron Principal O.R. Jackson, marshaled the school’s faculty and staff to find ways for Cameron High School seniors to enjoy their final year in spite of the punishment.

L TO R: Mark Schlicher, student extras, and Shelena Walden at Cameron High School (Photo Submitted)

“He knew we were not going to be coming to the stadium on Friday night for football games. We were not going to be going to the gym in the afternoon for pep rallies prior to the games. So he brought the vision to the teachers, ‘Let’s do something for this senior class because they are hurting in certain areas,’” says Currie, a retired commercial insurance product developer and healthcare manager. “Mr. Jackson made sure we had our pep rally’s on Friday afternoons, even if we didn’t have a game to attend. He also orchestrated our senior class trip to Washington, D.C. during spring break, which served as yet another memorable diversion to the suspension.”

Bell, a graduate of the Metropolitan School of Practical Nursing at Vanderbilt Hospital and a retired licensed practical nurse, says in spite of the security and assurance they received from parents and community members, the unfair punishment left a lasting impression on their class.

“At the time, we were all young. We had no idea what a big deal this was. We lived in a neighborhood where we had a lot of black support, like our parents and our teachers,” says Bell. “Once this happened, that’s when I really found out that I was considered a second class citizen.”

Schlicher says the documentary, which was funded in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission THRIVE program, needs to be viewed by a broad audience because of its historical significance.

Featured are (front row, l to r) Aaron Finley, Fletcher Moon, Tamiko Robinson Steele, Shawn Whitsell (back row, l to r) Co-Producer Lisa Venegas, Mark Schlicher, Shanika Gillespie, camera operator Keevan Guy at Seay-Hubbard UMC upstairs meeting room. (Photo Submitted)

“It was an honor to be able to do the 25 or so interviews that were done with class members and with teachers, to learn the story and share it in a way that honored the struggle and the triumph that the Class of ’69 went through and the place they have in the civil rights struggle in Nashville,” says Schlicher, whose work as director or cinematographer has been shown nationally on PBS, the Smithsonian Channel, Lifetime, and TBN.

After receiving rave reviews from classmates following the film’s initial viewing, and subsequently winning “Best of Tennessee” at the 2019 International Black Film Festival, the group realized the film could serve a larger purpose.

“We want to put this documentary in every public library and to be able to hand it to school systems,” says Gray, a retired licensed clinical social worker.

They believe the documentary will spark important conversations about education, policy, neighborhoods and equity, as well as bring awareness.

Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Enoch Fuzz agrees. He plans to air the film at Kingdom Café, located at 2610 Jefferson Street, on February 1, at 8:00 a.m. during One Nashville, a breakfast gathering he initiated two years ago to bring people with resources, information and awareness together to help progressive projects like “The Past Is Prologue” succeed.

Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Enoch Fuzz (Photo Submitted)

“I was very touched by the story that these people told, and I know that it could benefit some of the people in Nashville. There are some good people in Nashville who want to understand race relations,” says Fuzz.

He says One Nashville gatherings, which are held every month on first and third Saturdays, have attracted leaders from throughout the city including the mayor, vice mayor, secretary of state, public defender and city council members.  He says some attendees are looking for meaningful projects to support, while others come seeking assistance.

“I was having people call me everyday with different needs, and I said these people need to meet one another. So rather than me meeting with everybody differently everyday, I came up with the concept of getting everyone in the same room,” says Fuzz.  “One Nashville gets people from all over the community in the same room.”

Mary Jackson Owens, the Cameron alum who told Fuzz about the project, hopes the film can garner financial support, so young people can learn about this almost forgotten moment in Nashville’s civil rights struggle.

“It hasn’t been talked about in 50 years. It’s time to have a conversation about it, and tell people about the history,” she says. “A lot of our children don’t know anything about being in an all-black school and the loyalty that we have for Cameron.”

“The Past Is Prologue: The Cameron Class of 1969,” also features TSU alum Ola Hudson and TSU Associate Professor and Head Reference Librarian Fletcher F. Moon.  Hudson, who graduated from TSU with a bachelor’s  degree in Vocational Home Economics in 1951 and a master’s degree in 1953, taught at Cameron High School from 1955 until 1971.  Moon, who portrayed his father, Rev. J.L. Moon, in the documentary, has worked at TSU for 36 years. 

Department of Media Relations

Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209

About Tennessee State UniversityFounded in 1912, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a  premier, historically black university and land-grant institution offering 39 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs, and seven doctoral degrees.  TSU is a comprehensive research intensive institution with a R-2 Carnegie designation, and has a graduate school on its downtown Avon Williams Campus, along with the Otis Floyd Nursery Research Center in McMinnville, Tennessee.  With a commitment to excellence, Tennessee State University provides students  with a quality education in a nurturing and innovative environment that prepares them as alumni to be global leaders in every facet of society. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.

TSU Alum Reegus Flenory Featured In New TBN Series ‘Smoketown’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – It’s been over 20 years since Reegus Flenory did a double take after seeing an audition notice for the National Showcase Awards while strolling through the Communications Department at Tennessee State University.

“I read the brochure, and it was basically like a contest. It had acting, music and a lot of different things, and the winners would go on and compete in regionals and ultimately compete in California, so I competed,” said Flenory, a Nashville native who secured his bachelor’s degree in Speech Communication and Theatre at TSU. “I was 18 years old at the time, and I competed in the male category against all the adults, and I won best male actor for Tennessee.”

Audiences across the globe can see Flenory weekly as Dawson

Reegus Flenory

Chapman on Trinity Broadcast Network’s new, cutting edge dramatic television series “Smoketown.” Flenory said acting has always been in his DNA.

“I used to sit and watch television shows like “Knight Rider.” This was probably the early 80s, and I could say the lines before the actors said them. I understood what would come next in a script. It was the kind of thing that is kind of weird,” he said.

Those natural instincts, along with years of hard work, have translated into opportunities for Flenory to work with movie stars like Michael Ealey in the film “Unconditional” and Bill Cobbs in “Much Adieu About Middle School.”

In “Smoketown,” which premiered in early July, Flenory’s character, Dawson Chapman, runs a soup kitchen along with his daughter and wife. A mysterious and shocking murder takes place at the beginning of the series, which places the Chapman family at the center of a police investigation that sends the usually quiet community into a racial tailspin.

Much like his character in “Smoketown,” Flenory said faith has played a central role in his life and career. Reegus’ mother, Judy Flenory, a TSU alum who worked 15 years as a school counselor at Bordeaux Enhanced Option Middle School, said Reegus’ love for God and family has always been a big part of his life.

TSU Alums Reegus Flenory and Tamiko Robinson-Steele on the set of “Smoketown” with actress , Zoe Swope, who plays their daughter in the TBN television series.

“He is a very spiritual person, and I have always observed that he knew to always observe a higher power first before he does things, and that has kept him very stable because this is a very competitive field,” she said. “If you look over his career as a whole, most people probably won’t know the number of things he has done, and he has been very modest about it in my opinion. He has been involved with some well known actors and different venues, and to maintain that type of attitude in this type of business he is pursuing is a rarity.”

Reegus said he did numerous plays and free projects on and off campus during his time at TSU. “I wanted to stretch myself. I wanted to be the kind of actor who could do any kind of role.”

He said working with people like Herman Brady, a former TSU professor of Communications; and actor, director and voice-over artist Barry Scott helped him hone his craft.

“I learned a lot because we had to do everything ourselves. We had to go get props from Walmart and places like that. We had to actually get wood and nail the things together,” Reegus said. “We had to find our shows. We had to actually figure out which shows we wanted to do, and then get a budget for those shows—things that the kids really don’t have to do at a lot of the schools now.”

Reegus’ hard work paid off when he landed his first lead role in a BET (Black Entertainment Television) movie called “Winner Takes All” in 1998.

Henry Flenory, Reegus’ father, attributes a lot of his son’s success to his focus and passion.

“Usually when he does things that are out of town, I do the driving part while he studies the play or whatever he is intending on participating in,” said Henry, a retired principal who secured a master’s degree from TSU in 1978 in administration and supervision. “He has a lot of passion about what he does. He interacts with those persons in front of the camera and behind the camera and has a willingness to ask questions and to take in a lot of information.”

Evelyn Foster, office manager for Talent Trek-Nashville, one of the city’s premiere talent agencies, said Reegus has always been professional. After working with him over 20 years, Foster said she sees him like part of her family.

“Reegus is not only a great actor, but a great guy,” she said. “I think that is why he has come as far as he has.”

Reegus said working on set during the filming of “Smoketown” simply “felt right.”

“The energy on set was so positive with the crew, the cast and everyone involved,” Reegus said. “You felt the genuine spirit that the project was done in with the writer and director Shane Sooter and his wife Cassie.”

TSU alum Tamiko Robinson Steele, who portrays Amelia Chapman, Dawson’s wife in the series, said she is grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the project.

“I went in very nervous of the unexpected, but was pleasantly surprised to find a team that supported and cheered for each other,” she said.

Other Nashville actors featured in “Smoketown” include Clark Harris and Mykie Fisher.

To watch Smoketown online, visit https://www.tbn.org/programs/smoketown .

Department of Media Relations

Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209

About Tennessee State University

With more than 8,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs and seven doctoral degrees. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.