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Breaking the language barrier with her artwork

Xinia Smith-Camacho was born in Costa Rica. Her first language is Spanish. In 2009, her family moved to the United States. The only way she could communicate was through her art.

"When I first got here ... I was 17 years old, and I couldn't speak any English. We never had the opportunity when I was in Costa Rica for me to do art, so when we came here, that was one of the first classes I took," Xinia said. "My first assignment in the art class I was taking in high school was to complete this special project."

The art teacher explained to the class that they should take several weeks to finish their piece.

Xinia had a hard time understanding when the project was supposed to be complete.

"I went home and spent all night finishing it," she said. "I came back the next day and gave it to her completed, and she was surprised."

Xinia titled that project "Donkey." The black and white piece of artwork depicts a donkey eating grass next to some birds. Its head is low and its back is heavy with a saddle and covers.

"'Donkey' to me represents the struggle I have with the English language, and how much I've overcome," she said. "To me, that's a big thing, because when I was in Costa Rica, I never even thought I would ever speak another language, and the fact that I came here and was able to do those things shows me how much I've grown. It was my first expression in another language. It is the best picture I have."

"Donkey" has won numerous awards, as well as a special recognition in the Old Red Kimono, GHC's student-run literary magazine.

Xinia said she considers art as her true second language, noting how it helped her express herself in a predominantly English-speaking culture. She was eventually able to master English, as well, but said if she had to choose a language to express herself to the fullest, it would be art.

"Art is a great representation of what my family means to me. I'm a twin sister, and there's my big brother, and then my mother. Momma has been the biggest influence in my life. Momma does that very well. I'll show her something and she'll be like, 'No, that's not the right colors...' She gets the best out of me."

Xinia explained that one of her more recent pieces depicts her family dynamics. Three cheetahs are resting in a prairie. She said the smallest two are depictions of her and her twin sister. The next biggest is a depiction of her brother. And then towering in front of the rest of them, overwatching, is a depiction of her mother.

"It shows what my family means to me, but especially what my mother means to me, what she means to our family," she said.

Xinia's mother is also a big influence on the current piece she is working on now: an owl. Her mother raises chickens for eggs and has been collecting feathers for her daughter to use. She has two bags ready to go.

"She's always bringing me stuff to use for my art as I'm working on it," Xinia said. "Momma is very proud of my work."

Xinia is a financial services accountant at Georgia Highlands College. She has worked at GHC for three years. She said she is happy to work at a place where "people admire what she does."

'Moguls, Movies & Music'
• A variety show will cap a month of Black History events, and a program showcasing the contributions of local black citizens will be installed at the Kelsey-Aycock-Burrell Center.

A free variety show titled "Moguls, Movies and Music" at the Rome City Auditorium on Wednesday night will wrap up the local public events marking Black History Month.

Stephanie Dean, coordinator of the program for Rome City Schools, said the performances celebrate the contributions of black writers, producers, actors and entertainers to American culture. It's a recognition, she said, of the heritage we all share.

"We'll have all ages, colors and creeds on stage," Dean said. "The whole community is invited."

The show — poetry, skits and musical performances by students, faculty and staff — runs from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the auditorium in City Hall, 601 Broad St. The cast also will put on special shows for RCS students at 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in the Rome High auditorium.

Dean made the announcement last week during a Rome City Commission program honoring black residents whose lives made a difference in the city's history.

Proclamations issued by the board, along with photos and a video presentation will be displayed in the Kelsey-Aycock-Burrell Center.

Now the headquarters of numerous black community organizations, the KAB Center at 41 Washington Drive started out as a segregated school for Floyd County children. It was named for three of its former principals.

" This Was a black school, a great institution," said Esther Vaughn, who presented the program. "They were educators at a time we didn't have to lock our door; we didn't need a dress code. It was just (about) dignity, respect and people going on to further their education."

Vaughn thanked city administrators and commissioners for help with the program, along with local historian Rufus Turner, who made it his mission to preserve memories of the school. She also recognized Dan Bevels of Floyd Medical Center, who produced the video "Uniting our Community: Past and Present," which focuses on six honorees:

• The late Robert Kelsey was principal of Rome Colored High School from 1922 to 1940, when the parents and grandparents of today's civic leaders were in their formative years.

• Charles William Aycock took over as principal in 1940. A civil rights leader and aide to then-governor Jimmy Carter, Aycock also forced the state to pay for his attendance at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama when he was barred from the all-white University of Georgia.

"There's a time and a season for everything, and I think this is our season," a visibly moved former student, City Commissioner Milton Slack, said as he presented the proclamation to Aycock's daughter Cheney Aycock.

• Samuel T. Burrell, Sr., was principal until his retirement in 1988. He "learned at an early age that education was a vehicle to a better life," Vaughn said, and ended up seeing the segregated school into an era of integration. A teacher and coach, Burrell also served six years on the Floyd County Commission.

Burrell's widow Josephine Burrell and son Sam Burrell Jr. were on hand to receive a standing ovation from the crowd.

• Martin H. "Buddy" Mitchell, a white Rome City commissioner who died in the late '90s, was honored for casting the tie-breaking vote in 1985 to implement the city's Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Holiday. "

Mitchell took the opportunity to change our cultural narrative," Vaughn said.

His family, including children Mary Hardin Thornton and David Mitchell, attended. "He set the bar high for all of us," Mayor Jamie Doss said.

• John Stevenson was on hand to accept his own proclamation from his niece Rome City Commissioner Sundai Stevenson. A civil rights activist who marched with Hosea Williams, John Stevenson is a long-time community mentor who founded organizations including The Godfather Ministry for elementary school boys, Rites-of-Passage for elementary school girls and Summer Academic Camps.

• Delores Chatman, a longtime educator, is a Heart of the Community Award recipient for her decades of community service. Most recently, the 88-year-old Chatman spearheaded the drive to install a massive monument to the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Five Points in North Rome. She received her proclamation from Rome City Commissioner Evie McNiece, who asked for the honor, saying, "This is very special to me because you're very special to me."

'Memories Day' set for first African-American state park

Georgia's first public recreational facility open to black families was created on Lake Allatoona in 1950 as George Washington Carver State Park.

On Saturday, the Acworth park is hosting a "Memories Day" from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — urging residents to bring photos and stories of their summers on the shore. It served as a gathering place for church picnics, family reunions and visitors as far away as Atlanta, Birmingham and Charlotte through 1970.

The facility operated another five years as part of Bartow County's system, and the county recently matched a $5,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Economic Development to improve the site. New this year are a number of restorations and the addition of interpretive signs.

The African-American Quilt Documentation Project will present their heirloom quilt findings on Saturday and is asking visitors to bring any heirloom quilts for documentation. The details will become part of the project and archived at the Bartow History Museum.

The Memories Day celebration also will include information about neighboring sites along a developing Bartow County Black History Trail. These include the Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center, Summer Hill Foundation, Euharlee Historical Society, Museum and Covered Bridge and Black Pioneers Cemetery, Kingston Woman's History Club/Melvinia Shields Gravesite and the Adairsville Depot History Museum.

A closing tree-planting ceremony will be held to honor the park's "First Lady" Bessie Atkinson, who died last year. She was the widow of John Lloyd Atkinson, a World War II Tuskegee Airman, who pushed for creation of the park and became its superintendent.

The park is located at 3900 Bartow Carver Road.

GBI is investigating death in jail custody
• A Shannon man jailed on a parole violation dies a couple hours after his arrest.

Michael Wayne Thacker

The body of a Floyd County Jail inmate who died in custody Sunday was sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation lab for autopsy.

County Coroner Gene Proctor said Michael Wayne Thacker, 37, of 435 Fourth St. in Shannon, was pronounced dead at 2:12 p.m. by a doctor in the Floyd Medical Center emergency room.

According to Chief Deputy Tom Caldwell of the Floyd County Sheriff's Office:

Thacker was booked into the jail on a parole violation warrant at 12:46 p.m. but began to "exhibit serious medical conditions" and was taken by ambulance to FMC shortly after 2 p.m. Neither Caldwell nor Proctor could say Sunday night what caused Thacker's death.

"It was the kind of behavior one would exhibit if they had been under the influence of heavy medications, but that will have to be confirmed," Caldwell said. "The GBI needs to take a look at it so we can confirm what caused his death."

Floyd County police arrested Johnson near his home after a complaint from a church in the area.

"He had walked into the church during their morning service and somehow disrupted it; 911 got called ... and when the officer checked, he found the warrant," Caldwell said.

It was unclear Sunday how Thacker had violated the terms of his parole.

Thacker had been in prison several times since 2001. He was most recently released in 2016 after serving over eight years of a 20-year sentence on a burglary charge.

New tag supports game wardens
• 1,000 pre-orders are needed before the license plates will be made.

The state has decided to try a new method of generating funds to finance an increase in the number of game wardens across the state — license plates.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is encouraging all Georgians to be a part of the conservation effort and protection of Georgians who love the outdoors by pre-ordering a new Georgia DNR Law Enforcement license plate. State law requires that 1,000 preorders be taken before the plate can go into mass production.

Sergeant Mike Barr, who's region covers Northwest Georgia, Floyd, Gordon, Chattooga, Catoosa, Dade and Walker said Georgia has about 190 officers covering 159 counties but the last figure he saw showed 45 counties do not have an officer assigned to them on a day-to-day basis.

"Lake Lanier has got multiple officers to just that lake. So yeah, our numbers are close to what they were in the '80s. That's how far behind the scale we are," Barr said. "Honest to goodness it's a struggle."

The down side of an increased interest in the outdoors is officers get worked so hard, so long and so often in covering such large territories.

"Just think about what's gone on with the Etowah River in Rome," Barr said. He said activity on the Etowah has probably increased ten-fold over the last several years. "Interest in outdoor recreational activity, especially boats, has gone up tremendously."

For a number of years, Barr had himself and three officers to cover the six counties in Northwest Georgia, including the state parks across the region. Ben Cunningham, Roger McConkey and Shawn Elmore recently joined Barr's unit.

The new tag was designed by a current warden and features an outdoor landscape with a replica decal from a warden's truck with "Support Georgia Game Wardens" underneath and the Division's motto, "Law Enforcement Off the Pavement" across the bottom.

Tags can be ordered at


Today's artwork is by Katelynn Wood, a student at Armuchee Elementary.