The snow on the sidewalks is getting dirtier by the day. An uncertain new year is off the chain, waiting for you like a tricky hyena in a zoo after midnight.
An hour or two of beachcombing would be real nice right about now.
City Pulse’s 6th annual People Issue doesn’t put you on a pebbly shore with the sun on your shoulders, surrounded by random treasures, but the principle is the same. Each year around this time, we share the words and images of several local people we found particularly interesting. It’s not a People of the Year, or Hotshots to Watch Out For, or a Best-Dressed or Most Influential list. It’s just a shiny handful of nuggets from our big, diverse, hard-working, self-expressing, busy-just-being themselves community.
Once again, Khalid Ibrahim of Eat Pomegranate Photography has created portraits of each subject. Ibrahim’s deep curiosity, empathic soul and keen eye give him the uncanny ability to capture their essence.
This year’s sampling is strong on entrepreneurs who parlayed their unique skills and personalities into thriving businesses: Altaye Tadesse, owner of Altu’s Ethiopian restaurant in East Lansing; restauranteur Henry Kwok, owner of Henry’s Place in Meridian Township; Liz McMurray, owner of Liz’s Alteration shop on Lansing’s east side; Tammara McCollum, owner of Smoothie Queen in the Allen Neighborhood Center’s Accelerator Kitchen; and Bernie Porn, president of the influential polling firm EPIC MRA.
These entrepreneurs share a key trait with two more of our 2022 picks: hairstylist Ashley Medina and Jared Waltrip, aka drag queen Bentley James. They all have found effective and distinctive ways to share their particular experiences, tastes and aspirations with a larger community.
In Medina’s case, that community includes hundreds of thousands who follow her on Tik-Tok as well as her customers at Bliss Salon, many of them from the LGBTQ community, who prize her styling skills, personal warmth and ability to rock a mullet. Waltrip shares his thoughts on becoming and being a drag queen, a skill he practices full time, and explains how drag creates a “safe space” for mainstream people and the LGBTQ community to party together and relax.
The People Issue isn’t out to send any particular message, but this year’s profiles tell us a lot about self-determination and persistence. McMurray tells us how hard it was to get a loan as a single Black woman in the 1970s and what it’s been like to run a business solo for 43 years, watching everyone come and go around her. McCollum tells us about living in her car, listening to people carp at her to “get a regular job.” Nevertheless, she stuck to her guns until she established a thriving smoothie operation on the east side. Similarly, it took a lot of love and persistence for Tadesse to get Altu’s through its first year. She had to accustom her diners to unfamiliar tastes and textures and slow them down to enjoy the lingering social rituals that go with Ethiopian food and culture, but she stuck with it, and the place is a local institution now. Henry Kwok gives us an inside look at how businesses evolve, creating unexpected dead ends and opportunities. Many successful entrepreneurs seem to feel obligated to tell younger people to “go for your dreams,” but Kwok refreshingly warns us away from the rocky restaurant business. He urges anyone with a dream to “go slow,” because “everything doesn’t come at once.”
Pollster Bernie Porn tells us how a person gets into such an esoteric field, and admits that, yes, his surname gives him some trouble.
Finally, with so many business owners in the bunch, it’s only fitting that we also include someone with a bird’s eye view of the business landscape: Julie Pingston, president and CEO of the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau. Pingston took charge of the bureau in March 2020, just when the pandemic took off, an experience she called a “trial by fire.” She tells us how an unprecedented crisis brought out the amazing resilience and resourcefulness of Lansing’s hotel, restaurant and retail industry.
On second thought, maybe there is a message in this year’s People Issue. Whether you decide to boldly go for your dreams or just sit in a corner and wait for the ice to melt outside, it won’t hurt to take a little time and look around. The community is still strong, and there are some bright nuggets of humanity out there.
Farha Abbasi, psychiatrist 2017
Abolarin Agnona, veterinarian 2017
Haimen Al-Sumaidee, refugee job development coordinator 2019
Jose Aste, head chef/owner of Tantay 2021
Guadalupe Ayala, Lansing diversity officer 2021
Ligia Romero Balcarcel, military veteran 2016
Ryan Basore, Weed activist/entrepreneur 2020
Amy Bigman, rabbi, Shaarey Zedek 2021
Twyla Birdsong, blues/soul singer 2016
Melina Brann, exec. dir., Women’s Center 2021
Debbie Carlos, artist 2017
Oscar Castaneda, advocate for immigrants 2019
Etienne Charles, trumpeter/jazz prof 2018
Ryan Claytor, comic book artist 2016
Suban Nur Cooley, writer/editor 2017
Guillermo Delgado, painter 2020
Morgan Doherty, LGBT leader 2020
Aarin Dokum, Nokomis Center leader 2019
Tana Fedewa, survivors advocate 2019
Steve Flaster, salesman/educator 2018
Krista Fuerst, expectant parents advocate 2020
Chana Kraus-Friedberg, poet 2021
Nic Gareiss, dancer/musician 2017
Deborah Guthrie, Meridian Twp. clerk 2021
Muhammad Hamdan, physician 2016
Lucas Holiday, vocalist 2018
Twesigye “Jackson” Kaguri, children’s HIV/AIDS activist 2020
Todd Karinen, metal guru 2020
Ezra & Marshall Kelly, trans twins 2019
Cameo King, Grit, Glam & Guts founder 2021
Tiesha King, artist 2019
Sarah Kovan, Rhodes scholar 2016
Rev. Phiwa Langeni, Salus Center director 2019
Bill Lett, Retired owner, Lett’s Bridal 2019
Liz McDaniel, musician 2016
Mark Meadows, East Lansing mayor 2016
Thierry Nana, student, designer, artist 2018
Jennifer Nagel, fitness expert 2020
Jerry Norris, Fledge owner 2021
Marilyn Plummer, public servant 2018
Amy Rickett, actor/director 2018
Jeana-Dee Allen & Dylan Rogers, Robin Theatre owners 2017
Theresa Rosado, journalist, artist, activist 2019
Bob Rose, artist 2021
Robin Schneider, medical marijuana advocate 2017, 2019
Alice Sessions, preservationist 2018
Jeff Shoup, musician 2017
Robert Song, restaurateur 2017
Whitney Spotts, vocalist 2018
Nick Stachurski, director/marketer 2016
Joseph Steinhardt, record producer, educator 2018
Tashmica Torok, Black rights activist 2016
Willard Walker, public servant 2021
Eugene Wanger, death penalty opponent 2020
Elaine Womboldt, neighborhood activist 2018
Geri Alumit Zeldes, journalism educator 2017
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