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'A glimpse of heaven'
• The pastor who will speak at the Hearts United Gathering speaks about the power of forgiveness.

Rev. Eric S.C. Manning

On the first Sunday he led the service at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church, specifically during the Lord's Supper, the Rev. Eric S.C. Manning was consumed by what he saw.

"I saw all types of hands," he said of the moment parishioners held their hands out over the chancel rail. "Black hands, white hands, yellow hands ... it was just a glimpse of heaven."

After becoming pastor of the historically black church in June 2016 — a year gone by from the day self-proclaimed white supremacist Dylann Roof entered the church, armed, and gunned down nine people during a Bible study — Manning said people from across the world have come to the church, sat in its pews and taken in the Eucharist.

"We see a cross representation," he said, adding that people have traveled from places like Australia, the Netherlands, China and Korea. "It's just been that type of experience that I really feel God has called us to really tear down these barriers that we erect, sometimes falsely, between each other."

Manning reflected on the experience of his first Sunday, saying, "If we cannot do it or get it correct here, what makes us think that we will be able to ... really enjoy that moment when we get to glory."

And when Manning comes here Thursday to deliver the keynote at the third One Community United Hearts United Gathering, he will speak to what many of those from far away, and even closer to home, come to ask: How do we forgive? He admits forgiveness is much easier said than done, and embracing this action, especially by those who have been wronged with prejudice and hatred, is hard.

"Sometimes people may not be ready to embrace forgiveness because they can still remember segregation, and sometimes that's more challenging," Manning said. "Sometimes they can remember how they have been spat upon, can still remember the crosses that were burned, and then we fast forward to this last year in Charlottesville, the same type of imagery that is there. But we have to get to that point where we say as Jesus shared on the cross 'father forgive them for they know not what they do.'"

Choosing to forgive, is to "choose to go down the path of love, of grace, of thanksgiving, joy and peace," Manning said. It is a rejection of the path of hate, despair and hopelessness, he said; though, it is not to condone ignorance.

"Regardless of how painful our past may be, it is to embrace with open eyes, an open lens," he said. "Sometimes forgiveness is not necessarily a sprint. But it becomes a marathon.

"It becomes a way of life. It becomes something that we must continue to embody and we must continue to seek realistically for one another."

Forgiveness as an action includes direct involvement in moving forward in developing a dialogue focused on finding common ground.

"So let's find that commonality," Manning said. Let's find where we are together."

Prior to the free HUG event at Rome First United Methodist Church, starting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Manning will meet with local faith leaders at Lovejoy Baptist Church at 9 a.m. Meeting with fellow clergy members is important to him, he said, in building a connection among them to foster strength in a community, because they must exemplify what it is they say.

"It's one thing to talk about reconciliation. It's one thing to talk about coming together. But if clergy members cannot do it, then that's a far greater concern," Manning said. "Clergy leaders are the ones who are supposed to understand the commandments that God has given to us, and we are the ones who are supposed to be leading by example."

But if the relationship is fractured and left without nurture, Manning asks: what message does that send to the community.

"We cannot be hypocritical on Sunday morning. We can't get up and say that we love God, who we never see, but we cannot tolerate our fellow brother who we see every day," he said. "If we can't get it right in our own local space, then what makes anyone think we can get it right on a large national space."

For more information about the HUG event, visit onecommunityunited.org or search for the group on Facebook.


Biodiversity doesn't have to be in a jungle
• The fifth annual Chieftains Museum/Major Ridge Home seed swap brings a crowd to learn and trade.

Brian Campbell, Berry College professor

Emmie Cornell

When people think of biodiversity, they typically conjure up pictures of a jungle environment. Berry College Professor Brian Campbell told participants at the fifth annual Seed Swap event at Chieftain Museum on Saturday that their own backyard could potentially be as biodiverse as anyplace else.

Campbell said the purpose of such an event is to save crop varieties that might be in danger of being lost to modern agricultural techniques.

He explained that much of today's corporate agriculture is focused on growing plants that can be harvested early and maintain their "look" to market.

"Contemporary crops are just not as nutritious as the old crops that were raised for flavor," Campbell told a packed crowd at the Chieftains Museum.

"The importance of farmers and gardeners in our society is understated, or at least misunderstood," Campbell said. "We don't give them their due."

Campbell said the genetic uniformity associated with a lot of farming now make some of the different crops much more susceptible to disease.

Between 50 and 75 people took advantage of the opportunity to pick up seeds of different species ranging from red Russian kale to Brazilian orchid peppers and the native Cushaw squash.

Master Gardener Ginny Word said she was interested in trying out some of the velvet queen sunflower seeds.

One crop and seed available for display only was White Eagle corn, which is a proprietary crop to the Cherokee tribe. Word said that when a descendant of Major Ridge in Oklahoma heard about one of the previous seed swaps, they sent some of the corn.

"We can't sell it, we can't give it away," Word said. Berry senior biology major Emmie Cornell from Chattanooga said the corn makes a wonderful blue corn meal. The corn is grown for demonstration purposes only in the Chieftains Three Sisters Garden.


Caroline Dempsey reaches out to share her happiness
• Through her paintings she raises awareness at the Rome-Floyd County Library.

Rome-Floyd County Library opened its latest art exhibition, "I Like ...," on Thursday. The exhibit consists of paintings by Caroline Dempsey, a 21-year-old artist who lives with Down syndrome and bilateral hearing loss.

A native Roman and a Model High School graduate, Dempsey is passionate about graphic art, studio art, film and drama. She is an active advocate for herself and other people with disabilities, serving as a state legislative page where she worked for increased support for employment and inclusive post-secondary education. She also has traveled to Washington, D.C., to present at conferences and to meet with Georgia Congressmen to ask them to prioritize funding for emandployment-education-related opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"Making art is fun. Painting helps me see colors and patterns that I like," said Dempsey. "It makes me happy to have my show in Rome. I'm glad to have my family and friends come see my paintings that I like to share."

"Caroline is very new at this but very deserving of a wider audience," said Elizabeth Labbe-Webb, exhibit cosponsor and principal of Blue Path Group, an Atlantabased consultancy committed to bringing the work of talented artists to wider audiences at places that invite conversation and learning.

"Her art exudes the joy she finds in painting," she said. "It also has a hint of sophistication that shows her to be a keen observer. I look forward to seeing what she will do next."

Among the more than 20 acrylic paintings included in the "I Like ..." art exhibit are Happy Owl, Gotta Have Faith, I've Got a Happy Heart and the Sunset Palm, many of which were showcased at the 2017 Cedar Valley Arts Festival, which is an annual event now in its 54th year, held at Peek's Park in Cedartown.

"Many friends keep telling me to keep on painting; I love it," said Dempsey.

The exhibit is on loan to the Rome-Floyd County Library as part of a statewide partnership between the Georgia Public Library Service and Blue Path Group. GPLS's partnership programs are supported in part by a grant from the United States Institute of Museum and Library Services under the Library Services and Technology Act.

This report is courtesy of the Georgia Public Library Service.


Open judge race drawing lots of donors
• Superior Court Chief Judge Tami Colston's retirement means no incumbent is on the ballot for the first time in a decade.

Emily Matson

Kay Ann Wetherington

Judge Billy Sparks

The two declared candidates for a rare open judgeship are drawing campaign donations topping $30,000 each.

Floyd County Superior Court Chief Judge Tami Colston is not seeking another term in the nonpartisan election that will be decided May 22, when the political parties hold their primaries. Rome attorney Emily Matson and Kay Ann Wetherington, an assistant district attorney, are vying for the seat.

No sitting judge has been challenged for decades, and it's the first time since 2008 there hasn't been an incumbent on the ballot. That's when Superior Court Judge Jack Niedrach won the race to succeed retiring Judge Larry Salmon. Prior to that, a seat hadn't been open until Salmon won it in 1998.

Matson, who specializes in civil litigation and family law, reported taking in just under $34,000 in campaign contributions through the end of January.

Wetherington, who's handled hundreds of criminal trials in the court, amassed $44,540.

The grace period ended last week for the first round of financial disclosure reports due to the State Ethics Commission. The next reports are due March 31.

A majority of the money fueling the race is from local donors and a few of them contributed to both campaigns.

The law firm of Brinson, Askew, Berry et al gave Wetherington $1,000 in November and the same amount to Matson in January. Attorney Jule Peek also donated $1,000 to each candidate.

Both candidates have been spending heavily on advertising and Matson reported paying about $1,160 to a campaign assistant, James Douglas.

As of the Jan. 31 end of the reporting period, Matson had $24,680 in the bank and Wetherington had $36,928.

Superior Court Judge Billy Sparks, appointed to his seat last year, is facing his first election. He registered his campaign Feb. 2, naming Harry Brock as the chair, but the Ethics Commission website listed no financial disclosure reports as of Saturday.

Here's a look at the top donors in the race for Colston's seat:

Emily Matson

Dr. John Cowan put $2,600 into Matson's campaign, the full amount allowed under Georgia law. Hoyett Crews gave $2,500, business owner Randall Smith gave $2,000 and Dr. Louis Lataif chipped in $1,500.

Donations of $1,000 each also came from Marietta attorney Lance Cooper; Georgia Sen. David Shafer's campaign committee; local attorneys John Graham, Virginia Harmon and Mary Frances Wright; the firm MSP Attorneys in Bridgepoint Plaza; Dr. Edwin Johnston Jr.; and orthodontist Joseph Vargo.

Contributions and expenditures of more than $100 must be listed individually on campaign finance disclosure reports.

Kay Ann Wetherington

Juanita King gave the maximum amount of $2,600 to Wetherington's campaign. S.C. King, Jr. and the law firm of Cook & Connolly in Summerville donated $2,000 each. AW Acquisitions of Rome gave $1,500, as did Harry and Terri Pierce.

Donations of $1,000 each came from attorneys Richard Burton, Michael Prieto, C. Ronald Patton and Wright Gammon Jr.; Dr. Marc Wetherington; State Mutual Insurance Co.; The Baldwin Law Firm; Ledbetter Properties; Courtesy Ford; and developer Donald Evans.

Also contributing $1,000 each were the local law firms Brumlow, Corwin & Delashmit; Cox, Byington, Twyman & Johnson; and McRae, Smith, Peek et al.

RN-T.com

Read this story online for a link to see complete campaign finance reports.


TODAY'S YOUNG ARTIST

Today's artwork is by Pepperell third-grader Josey James.