Editor’s Note: This article uses the pseudonym ‘Bill Johnson’ in place of the CUS founder’s actual name in order to maintain anonymity.
Written By Sarah Chesek
Anonymous. Urgent. Civic Action. Under no authority but their own citizenship, the Chattanooga Urbanist Society dropped off “illegal” benches and repaired bridge guardrails. Tired of watching the city’s infrastructure go unaddressed, the founder of CUS realized the cost of inaction—someone possibly falling–—was far worse than possibly being caught.
“Chattanooga Urbanist Society is a group that exists to take direct action to protect and uphold the rights of pedestrians, cyclists, and make the public realm a better place to experience in Chattanooga,” stated Bill Johnson, founder of Chattanooga Urbanist Society.
A mere 50 years ago, women celebrated the ruling of Roe V. Wade, but many, like Darin Wright, 58, have lived long enough to witness its overturning. The fight for not only women’s rights, but human rights and equality is a never-ending battle, and Wright is proving that it is never too late to take action.
“We called ourselves the New Suffragettes to honor the women that fought for our rights,” Wright said. “They were our inspiration.”
Lisa Baker’s guitar is an extension of her own body. From the decorative swirls running along its length to the initial “L” sewn on the strap, it’s a tangible display of her love of jazz. And she’s rarely found without it.
“It kind of goes everywhere with me, period,” she laughed. “Going to the beach, take my guitar.”
Baker, a jazz performer and adjunct professor of music at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, has had a heart for jazz music ever since she can remember.
Walking through the door of Zarzour’s Cafe on Chattanooga’s Southside feels a bit like walking into a time capsule containing four generations of Zarzour family history, owners of the small brick building for over 100 years. The shelves and walls are adorned with an array of heirlooms and memorabilia, from family photos, celebrity autographs and newspaper clippings to Charles Zarzour’s naturalization papers from 1946, signed in Arabic.
The average American throws out approximately 4.9 pounds of trash per day, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. For nearly half a decade, married couple Sadie and Zach McElrath have striven to defy this statistic through a journey toward producing zero waste within their family of five.
The journey began when the two were listening to the radio and heard of someone who was working toward that same goal.
“I heard this college student can fit all her trash for our whole year into a single jar,” Sadie McElrath said.
Alix Parks engages with Telly, a non-releasable Black vulture, in their usual handshake. Saturday, November 25, 2022. (Photo by Haley Bayer)
Past the bustling noise and city lights of Chattanooga lies a home on Signal Mountain for all types of birds of prey on their way to recovery.
That home belongs to Alix Parks, the owner of Happinest Wildlife Rehabilitation and Raptor Rescue, 501c3 non-profit That used to accept everything from squirrels to rabbits, raptors and even songbirds. But after training a few other rehabilitators on other species, Happinest has become strictly a raptor rehabilitation center.
While many people plan to retire fully by 65, that dream is not always a reality for everyone. Kathleen Stephens, a resident of Hamilton County, TN, is still a full time certified nursing assistant at the age of 79.
“I still work full time and I thank God for that because I can see what I’m doing, because before I wouldn’t have been able to see,” Stephens said.
The world of ballet is more than just sugar plum fairies and pirouettes. With years of training and a deep passion for artistry, professional dancers like Pierceton Mazell revolve their lives around dance.
“A lot of people haven’t been exposed to this type of lifestyle,” Mazell said. “Dancers are professional athletes without the benefits of professional athletes. You know, it’s a passion project and it’s a lifestyle job.”
If you happen to be rolling down Brainerd Road on a Saturday afternoon, you may find multiple generations of the Taylor family packed into their food truck, stirring up some authentic cajun cuisine.
Tacia Taylor, affectionately called ‘Miss Nola’ by some in the community, runs Nola Girls Gumbo while also working a nine-to-five and running a nonprofit organization. Taylor is no stranger to the food industry; her parents opened their restaurant in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans when she was just thirteen years old.
The skeletal remains of the Standard-Coosa-Thatcher mill complex glow as if they were on fire. Inside, the Pop-up Project is going through the final rehearsal for If These Walls Could Talk, an immersive dance performance that seeks to tell the history of the mill before it is lost to the collective memory of Chattanooga.
“It’s just such a beautiful space,” says Jules Downum, director and co-founder of the Pop-up Project. “It didn’t take a lot of work on our part to make the space impactful. And the stories were already here.”
“When people tell you to live life to your fullest, you never know what’s going to happen or it can be taken from you in an instant, oh did I really experience that,” Heather Kounthapanya, a senior at UTC said.
Dani Harris, a Colorado native, has been roller skating practically since birth. Nowadays, the 27-year-old loves nothing more than to grab her skates and pull off some of her favorite tricks on her home ramp.
“I grew up skating, not at the park, but just with my parents outside of the house or to the grocery store and at the rink,” she says.
Last December, Elizabeth Watts found out that she was pregnant at the age of 19 and was immediately burdened with a heavy decision; to have her child or to have an abortion.
“I’ve always been pro-choice, but I thought to myself, ‘There’s no way I could go through with an abortion,’” Elizabeth said. “I don’t think I could handle that emotionally, but having got pregnant, it made me consider, ‘Does this kid have a future? Will I be able to take care of it? Will I be able to work?’”
This narrative is all too familiar for women across the country, but specifically here in the 45th state for women, Tennessee.
Walking into the Soddy Daisy Community Library feels like stepping into an unexpectedly warm hug. String lights hang from the ceiling, local art rests atop the shelves, and two pudgy cats amble around the 2,880 square feet of space that Curtis Cecil and Kelly Flemings are proud to call their library.
On September 2, Kyle and Joe Carmon finished boxing up their Chattanooga apartment of one year and left for Minnesota. The Carmon’s did all of this in order to protect something many other couples might take for granted: their marriage.
“We were really considering living here for the rest of our lives,” Kyle said. “It’s strange how much can change in such a short amount of time.”
If you happen to find yourself deep in the woods of Dunlap, Tennessee, you may come across the smell of burning timber, the peaceful chirping of birds and Steve McBryar wielding his chainsaw, ready to carve his next piece of work.
Game on Chattanooga has been a staple in the gaming community for 9 years but there’s a catch: there isn’t a computer or digital console in sight.
Owner, Derrick Sheets, a man with a love for board games, opened his own shop in 2013. “I’ve always liked gaming and I didn’t like working for other people and I wanted to do something where people are happy to see me,” Sheets says.
Chasing a check instead of chasing a dream is a dilemma that many people in corporate America face each and every day. Married couple and owners of CrossFit Brigade in Chattanooga, Eric and Emily Griffith, made a decision many would never dare to do. They quit their corporate jobs to follow their shared passion for fitness.
The Southeastern Climbers Coalition (SCC) is a grassroots non-profit coalition with only three employees. Although, throughout the past 29 years they have had hundreds of helping hands working to conserve and preserve publicly accessible climbing areas in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.
Caleb Timmerman recently became that third employee in the form of marketing director for the SCC. Here he helps tell the story of climbers and conservationists who have fought to keep public land accessible to all.
“Access to outdoor rock climbing in the southeast is never guaranteed,” Timmerman says. “It takes a community of people who care deeply about this outdoor resource to come together and form a coalition to protect that access.”
Practice, weights, conditioning, traveling and on top of it all attending classes and maintaining a good grade point average. Unfortunately, college athletes also have to contend with a higher likelihood of developing an eating disorder.
Lauren Baker is a determined, music-loving dance-like-no-one’s-watching freshman on the women’s volleyball team at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. However, it was much earlier on during her freshman year of high school in South Bend, Indiana when she began to struggle with her eating disorder.
It’s estimated that over 2 million people visit caves annually in the United States. Brandon Powers is one of them, having been an avid caver for over two decades. He has been working with Chattanooga Hamilton County Rescue Services since 2016 and now holds the rank of captain.
“Caving, in general, is a sport that I feel like a lot of people don’t have a tremendous amount of information about, and you can find yourself way over your head real quick,” says Captain Powers.
It was January 8, 2021, when Brooke Harbula became a victim of gun violence, but that was not the day she gave up her power. After being shot during an armed robbery, Harbula’s physical and mental health have suffered, but that hasn’t stopped her from becoming the person she is today.
“I remember asking the paramedics if I was paralyzed because I couldn’t feel my left leg,” Harbula says. “Then it became a sudden realization of death…and how close I was to it.”
After spending 10 days in critical care, she was sent home to begin her journey toward recovery.
From gardening in prison with Martha Stewart to inspiring women in recovery, Kelli Webber has lived many lives throughout her battle with addiction and substance abuse. Webber has taken her painful past as a former alcoholic and drug user and channeled it into a powerful tool to help others.
Editor’s Note: Tim Busch is a convicted felon who served 28 years in state prison for his crimes. Busch maintains his innocence to this day.
By Seth Carpenter
In March of 1989, 26-year-old Tim Busch was sentenced to prison for what would ultimately become the next 28 years, seven months and 15 days of his life. Most of that time for him was spent without the certainty of how long it would actually be.
“It was kind of in increments when I was first convicted,” Busch explains. “I had a sentence of 15 years to life, and the day I was sentenced, my lawyer told me, ‘Well, you’ll be out in seven and a half years. You do half of your sentence.’”
Like many others, Brayden Guerrette and his older sister Sydney have had their fair share of their mental health struggles since they were young. Back in their hometown of Portland, Maine, during a very intimate exchange on their kitchen floor, Brayden Guerrette finally opened up to his parents and older sister about his dealings with depression.
“We were just sitting there and he was just in tears, and as someone who is watching a family member and someone that they love go through something like that, it’s always very difficult because you don’t know what to do most of the time,” Sydney says. “All you can really do is be there for them continually.”
After this exchange, the Guerrette family took a leap of faith for the sake of their family’s mental health and sold their house, bought an RV and started their journey across the country in hopes of a healthy, fresh start.
To run a business single-handedly is a challenge in itself, but to wear all those hats and still have room for a family is a feat worth admiration.
Joshua Teichroew, owner of Lookout Prints, has achieved his dream of self employment, while running his business from the comfort of his own home and becoming a social media influencer. Teichroew creates hand printed shirts, and he started showcasing his work on Instagram shortly after his company launched. It allowed him to share his business and be an inspiration to a large audience. He strives to become not only a role model to other entrepreneurs, but also his four-year-old son David
“I was never close to my family growing up, but for me…I want to be closer to them [and] be there for them” Teichroew expressed. “I want to teach them how to live life. It’s ok to be different, it’s ok to not want to do what the world tells you to do.”
Lincoln Park used to be a safe space for the African American community to enjoy themselves. In fact, before integration in the 60s, it was the only park in Chattanooga they were allowed in. The property is currently owned by Erlanger, who have built parking lots over most of the park, reducing it down to just five acres. Compared to the original twenty acre plot, it’s now a mere skeleton.
Tiffany Rankin grew up in the area and remains a resident in the neighborhood adjacent to the park. She has always been a community leader, but she started to get heavily involved and raise awareness for the park when she heard the City of Chattanooga was planning to extend Central Avenue. The road would cut into a boundary of the park, sizing it down further. The plan was to “urbanize” the area, which, to Tiffany and many others in the community, meant displacement and gentrification.
Ronnie Dickson was diagnosed with Trevor’s Disease at age five. This rare congenital bone disease stunted the growth in his left leg and caused intense discomfort that led him , at the age of 17, to opt for total limb removal.
Two years after his above-the-knee amputation, Dickson found comfort and interest in the sport of climbing and took to the vertical world where legs weren’t always necessary.
What was once a thriving advocacy group for Native American preservation work in Chattanooga has slowly fizzled over time, but it’s cause still stands. The Chattanooga Intertribal Association (CITA) has existed for twenty years, and Tom Kunesh, the former Public Relations Chairman, tries to maintain the spirit of their work to this day.
The Union Gospel Mission through its GRACE Discipleship Program works to help men dealing with life-controlling issues. Program graduate and current volunteer, Dan Johnson, goes into the importance of the program itself, the people who come to Union Gospel Mission for help, how faith intersects with the work done, and why he stays there.
Seth Carpenter is a photojournalist as well as the current Photo Editor of UT Chattanooga’s student-run newspaper, the University Echo. Recently, he told the story of how a nurse and her family have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. He hopes the stories he tells will make a difference in the lives of people around him. You can contact him at Sethcarpenter101@gmail.com.
For nearly two years, Marianna Cooper has worried about bringing her work home with her.
As a nurse in the float pool, Cooper has been working around patients with COVID-19 since the pandemic originally began in the U.S. Already, that would be more than enough to gnaw at anyone, but like countless others in her position, she has had more than just herself to worry about.
From the beginning, Cooper’s three children turned her 12-hour night shifts at Parkridge into 24-hour ones as she was faced with the possibility of bringing home the deadly disease every time she walked through her door.
“It’s always in the back of your mind,” she said. “You worry about doing simple things like giving your child a kiss on the cheek because… what if you’d had an exposure and you didn’t realize it, and now I’ve exposed my child.”
In 2017 green|spaces Chattanooga started a hands-on program to encourage STEM learning in Hamilton County students through designing and building race cars. The Chattanooga Green Prix, this year held at the Bend in downtown Chattanooga, allowed hundreds of students from 40+ schools to put their full-sized, functioning electric power race cars to the test.
Once a month, art galleries across Chattanooga collectively open their doors to the public for special gallery showings. The event, coined “First Friday” allows local Chattanoogans and tourists to see new art pieces, mingle with artists, and support their local community.
One gallery spearheading the event in Chattanooga is Area 61. Keeli Crewe has been the curator of Area 61 since its inception in 2009. Crewe is the first face one will see when visiting Area 61, and it is clear from her vibrant smile that she is living her dream.
During the Cold War, my parents Manichanh and Khampoon Sonexayarath had chosen to flee their home in Laos, a country that was being treated as collateral damage. The country was neutral until it became a battleground between the United States and the Soviet Union. Today, Laos remains the most heavily bombed nation in history, with more bombs dropped there during the Cold War than all of World War II combined.
People will spend a lifetime searching for that one thing that fuels their passion and lights a fire inside of them. For David Ayers and Farah Miller, founding members of the Ember Benders, fire was just that thing.
Across the greater Chattanooga area lies fertile soil which farmers nurture to cultivate life. Their soil is the vehicle to meet many beyond their own sphere — even the art world.
Local Chattanooga artist Amanda Brazier has been painting solely with pigments pulled from soil for the past 14 years. Holly Martin, owner of Gaining Grounds Grocery saw the potential to connect Brazier’s unique art medium with her mission to create a sustainable grocery alternative for Chattanooga’s food desert.
As soon as it was proposed to Brazier, she had an immediate and organic idea. “When [Martin] approached me about the idea of a mural connecting all these ideas, I mean it just came to me immediately.”
Brazier knew she could take the soil from Chattanooga farmers and create a beautiful mural for the grocery store.
The idea was to create a mural that is made of pigments from local sources as well as farms that provide inventory to Gaining Grounds Grocery. Then began the rush to gather soil from Chattanooga farmers, community gardens and other local means. Brazier and Martin gathered a list of over 10 farms that supply the store with their produce and took to the fields to gather soil.
Brazier interviewed the farmers about the history of the lands they work and what connects them to the soil under their fingernails.
“It’s a life blood. Without the soil and beautiful greenery and forage it provides, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” explains Mack Haynes of the Ocoee Creamery, one of the many farms Brazier visited.
Creating the paint for the mural was one of the toughest parts of the process. Brazier usually creates her paint to be water based, but needed to change her medium to fit the project. To create a durable and long-lasting mural, she chose to use acrylic paint.
“I’ve learned from this experience and most of what I’ve learned is that making acrylic paint from these soil pigments is tricky. Every dirt is different and requires lots of time to understand how much of each [ingredient] is required.”
To engage the community in this process, the first day of painting began with a community paint day at Gaining Grounds Grocery store. Many members of the local area joined and got the base layers on the mural laid down, but it left Brazierwith plenty of work to finish up in her studio. Luckily, she has two assistants and two bright-eyed sons to lend a hand.
With the mural finished, the final piece was revealed at Gaining Grounds Grocery. A reveal party was held at the Saint Andrews church where the grocery is located. Garnished with vegan foods and local dirt experts, the event was lively with new faces and like minded individuals.
The two-piece mural project hangs currently in the entrance hall of Gaining Grounds Grocery and inside the store itself. Alongside the mural is a key that associates each paint color with the location of the dirt that created that pigment.
The goal of The Field Below project was to connect the community with the local farmers that supply the grocery with produce. At the unveiling, community members, Brazier and the people who bring Gaining Grounds Grocery’s mission to life mingled and gathered to share a meal.
This artistic rendition of the connection between community, agriculture, and food reignites the appreciation of the substance we all walk upon.
Jerod Niles is a multimedia producer who specializes in camera operation and post-production. Niles has over 5 years of experience in media production and is always looking towards the future. He is currently working on multiple freelance jobs as well as a media internship for Wanderlinger Brewery. You can find more of his work as well as contact information on his portfolio here: https://www.jerrodniles.com/
All was well in Coolidge park as a band of cosplay superheroes patrolled to keep the peace. Should a villian arrive to foil the fun, could these three actually stop a catastrophe of epic proportions? Hopefully we’ll never find out, but they sure looked the part.
Jora Burnett, Jessica York, and Mica Morgan are three friends who have been cosplaying together since 2019 here in Chattanooga. When they’re not maintaining their secret identities Morgan and Burnett being art teachers and York a writer who specializes in horror, these three come together after hours forming group cosplays stylizing their favorite characters.
In the heart of Chattanooga, one man strives to create a safe and united community through spreading kindness, one yard at a time.
Fred Holland is a Chattanooga native who is known and loved by many in his neighborhood for always lending a helping hand. On any given day, you can expect to find Fred somewhere on Flynn Street or East 8th Street mowing his neighbors’ lawns free of charge, chatting with community members or volunteering at the Salvation Army. No matter what, Fred always boasts a smile on his face and love in his heart.
From growing up playing with Hot Wheels to owning your own hot-rod, the Chattanooga car community is a welcoming spot for all different types of car enthusiasts. Being so close to large cities like Atlanta, Knoxville, and Nashville, the car culture in Chattanooga has become a melting pot of these influences. The culture is diverse in many ways with different genres of car scenes, whether that’s the off-road, muscle or classic American. Chattanooga loves to blend different cultures and styles.
Venturing inside Humphrey’s Flowers, one is immediately struck by the vibrant Eden of flora and greenery covering nearly every available corner of the humble storefront located near the intersection of McCallie Avenue and Holtzclaw.
Near the end of an 80 degree day, Santa Steve Woodward cheers down Oak Street by Lockmiller Apartments on UTC campus in his old-timey Santa suit: a red robe, lined with brown fur, down to the ankles of his black boots, complete with a matching Santa hat and a dainty pair of spectacles. Having listened to Christmas music during his drive to campus, he’s already radiating the warm spirit of Christmas and asking students walking down the street whether they’ve been good this year.