We are Rising Rock Media, a dedicated and curious team of multi media content creators, journalists, audio engineers, and photographers. We have found that when we listen and look towards our community, that there is a seemingly never ending spring of stories, unique experiences, and important people who call Chattanooga home. We have collected and compiled a series of stories throughout the semester that remind us that we need one another. To learn from one another, to feel seen and represented by one another. Heroes. Those that we look to in times of grief and uncertainty to laugh with, be inspired and supported by. The year is coming to a close, and the devastation that 2020 has held causes us to peer inward, and pour outward toward our community — towards artists, dancers, local business owners, and creators of the like. One thing is for certain — people are fascinating, and these stories, we hope, will fascinate you too. Please enjoy these stories as we explore the heroes of our beautiful home, Chattanooga.
Click the story buttons in the next section of this page to learn about the hometown heroes that you may not know about.
The Ancient Greek comedians Aristophanes and Plautus were known for their focus on satire and farce. In modern times, comedians have developed into a budding community of satirists and artists of the laugh. Of those in the Chattanooga community, Elijah Craan is the comedian’s comedian.
Craan’s attention to detail and affinity for satire began in early 2014, when he did a stint of three comedy open mic nights at an eccentric laundromat in San Francisco, CA. He says, “I bombed. I knew I always wanted to do something creative, but I never had the discipline to learn an instrument or how to draw. But, as soon as I tried comedy, even though I bombed, I loved it. Since then, my comedy has evolved into what it is now.”
Even though his jokes had a rocky beginning on stage, his style now has developed into a myriad of poetically structured misdirection and sarcastic “it’s funny, but…” material. As his material covers many topics he touches on like politics, racism, and popular culture; his best work comes in talking about the absurdity of everyday life in the modern world.
What makes Craan different from the rest, though, would have to be the response his jokes have on the other comedians within the Chattanooga community. As the audience roars with cackling and screams of affirmation at open mics at locally owned businesses like JJ’s Bohemia, it is easy to understand how much the community admires him. These mics, mind you, are populated almost entirely by fellow comedians — the hardest crowd to impress.
Craan says, “I have a whole bit solely focused on elevator brands that I did for the first time recently. I do a bit of crowd work and ask ‘which is better, Otis or Thyssenkrupp?’ and if they say ‘Otis’ I tell them they’re wrong. This community of comedians has always had a great response to me. Even in more mainstream venues like the Comedy Catch, they often have more southern crowds and I get a good response from them as well.”
So, of all the comedians in Chattanooga who are also hilarious, why is Craan the hero featured in this segment? Because, he is a comedian who hones his craft while also reaching audiences and breaking social boundaries for comedians and those who need to laugh. In a time like this, someone who can do this is a hero.
To laugh some more, follow @ElijahCraan on Twitter.
On the corner of Martin Luther King Blvd. and Foster St. is a brewery that feels like a home-away-from-home to many Chattanooga locals. Oddstory Brewing Company opened its door to the city of Chattanooga after a son sparked up an idea to his father while drinking a beer.
Jay Boyd, co-owner of Oddstory, graduated from Covenant college and was determined on opening up a brewery. He then went on to work for four different breweries, and also went to a brewing school up in Vermont. After three years, his father Bryan Boyd, owner of Oddstory, felt like they were in a good place to open Oddstory Brewing Company.
“We started with six taps when we opened, and we now have 18 taps,” says Bryan. Oddstory is growing more and more with their variety of beers as the years progress.
Along with having an array of different brews, Bryan mentions that they intentionally made the brewery an environment for people to feel comfortable in. “We wanted to create an atmosphere where people talk,” says Bryan. “We kind of always felt like beer and talking went together, opposed to beer and isolation.”
In a place that encourages the comfort of having conversations with your friends and family, along with enjoying a beer that is unique, Oddstory has become a place that many have grown fond of.
“What Oddstory means to me is the ability to create this environment where family—my actual family is real important—but also I think we created an environment where at least our employees, and some of our customers, they feel like family,” says Bryan.
Oddstory not only started with family but grew the family with the Chattanooga community.
“The revelation that exists within art is, to tell the truth. You have to be able to be expressive, to be able to project but also to be vulnerable. Good artists can’t be cagey and have walls up. Being vulnerable is the revolutionary heart of every art form, says Melissa.”
Melissa Miller is a professional dancer, choreographer, and teacher at the dance studio located in Chattanooga Tennessee named “Ballet Esprit”. Growing up, Miller played soccer for some time, however, women do not have their own soccer league in Europe. That is when she decided to partake in something that women could have as their own, so she became a dancer at the age of 11. Miller danced all through middle and high school and traveled back to the states to earn her degree in dancing. She then moved to New York where she danced professionally for 5 years. After having her daughter, she came to the south where her husband’s family is from, thus landing her at Ballet Esprit.
“I grew up in a very artistic family.., so I always knew that my path would be in arts in some way,” says Miller. “ I think the reason I connect the most with dance is that it is an all-encompassing experience; it takes your mind, spirit, and body. It is also a relational experience, it requires an ability to project and communicate with people,” says Melissa. Miller says, “ I try less to share a message, but to ask a question, as honestly, humbly and with as much humanity as I can.”
History reveals that dance has always been a form of protest. “Dance is the only form of art that is directly tied to our bodies and physicality. This is important because as women, we can protest with our bodies against the social norms of how we are supposed to move and how our bodies are supposed to look,” says Miller. The studio Ballet Espirit’s, next appearance will be The ALTER- Nut, their annual winter benefit. All proceeds go to their “ Hold Our Space SPOT Venue Covid-19 relief campaign”. The event will be held on December 5, 2020, at 5:30 P.M. at Lookout Lake, 3408 Elder Mt. Rd.
A massive wooden door waits to be opened as friends and participants gather around a fire burning in the alley way. Alice Waller, with her poodle Fin in hand, greets everyone warmly and opens the door to not a room, but to some place ethereal, some place where magic lives.
Hundreds of pink and white roses, eucalyptus and baby’s breath are entangled and bursting out of over five hundred body castings–a visual representation of sexual assault survivors and their journey through healing.
The name of the installation is a call to victory, as well as a call to action, “I Will Not Let Him Win in Death,” urging onlookers that the fight is not over and there is much more to be discovered and reclaimed beneath the surface.
“I wanted it to look overgrown,” Waller says, “as if it had been here for a really long time. People speaking out has been around as long as injustice has been around. It’s listening that is new.”
Alice Waller is a local Chattanooga artist and voice within the community, fighting for the liberation of female bodies.
Waller sits in the dead center, with her back to her creation and explains the origin story of how this intimate installation came to be.
“I wanted to do something that was an homage to how my body has experienced sexual trauma but then re-experience it through physical pain. So I started that during quarantine and then I asked my close friends if I could cast them,” Waller says.
Waller began this journey by casting the breasts of 200 women, for the 200 dollars that Jeffrey Epstein paid his victims to recruit other minors to be subject to sexual abuse. While originally, the installation was fueled by Epstein’s crimes, she says that she could never give Epstein that much credit.
On a post made from her Instagram, she says, “the installation is a part of my heart and a part of theirs.”
“Anytime something like Kavanuagh, or R. Kelly, or Weinstein comes up, you feel this universal groan of survivors — that I have to do something and so it felt really urgent that I had to involve other women and other survivors and make it something where, ‘this is what has made me feel empowered, here you try’ and it grew naturally. After that I hit 200 which was my original goal within 2 months and doubled it within the first month of viewings.”
As Waller looks towards the final viewings of her installation, she offers insight on moving forward in the healing process of being abused, “it was about feeling safe in my body again because I think what people don’t talk about with sexual trauma specifically is that everytime you see your own body — you’re revisiting the ways that it’s been abused.”
Waller says that the whole project was to help women who may also feel that way, and to redeem that and feel safe again when they look at themselves. She weighs in that there is something deeply spiritual about having a cast done, as well as physical, once the cast has been lifted off.
“Each woman who sits across from me shares something that they have never shared before,” Waller says, as she revisits her meetings and interactions with survivors, “they spiritually and mentally get something off their chest and then by the end of the experience they are having something taken off their chest.”
Waller says she isn’t angry anymore, but a dominant emotion of peace, rest, and joy has taken its place. She believes that people must have grace and patience with oneself during the healing process. She says, “have grace for the ebbs and flows. I’ve just grown in grace and flow through the periods of time where we’re gross and we’re angry and I just allow that now. I’ve developed ways to still include people in my life and not shut people out but let them know that this is a season that I’m in and I allow space for the joy and the laughter.”
WUTC’s Scenic Roots has recently collaborated with Rising Rock Media to create Rising Rock Radio. Rising Rock Media, a UTC course taught by Billy Weeks, unites students with a variety of creative talents under one goal – storytelling. The radio show will include stories from Rising Rock’s ‘Art as Protest’ and ‘Ordinary Heroes’ segments with features from Photojournalism students. We invite you to share local stories that UTC students have produced, directed, and edited.
As Ray Bassett, editorial director and host of Scenic Roots, states “They know how to tell stories. Stories with heart; stories about life here in Chattanooga and stories off the beaten path,” he said. “These are examples of storytelling of this generation, by this generation but not only for this generation but for everybody.”
With the help of Scenic Roots, Rising Rock Radio is eager to share stories that are not only waiting to be told, but stories that need to be told.
Rising Rock will share their audio stories of documenting Chattanooga starting December 3, 2020 and running through January 2021.
Tune into Scenic Roots on WUTC 88.1 FM on Thursdays from 3-4pm and again at 8pm.
You’re walking through the streets of downtown Chattanooga, mask on, sweat dripping down your head from the summer’s intense humidity. You have passion in your heart and a sign in your hands, fighting for something much larger than yourself. You are protesting.
Local rapper Cameron “C-Grimey” Williams uses his music as another way to protest. His songs Live Together and Glimmer of Hope play at protests around Chattanooga. Williams started making music about 15 years ago and specializes in writing his own lyrics. His inspiration comes from his own life experiences as well as experiences from people in the community, current events and most importantly, real life situations. Grimey says music is an easier way to convey a message rather than speaking on it.
C-Grimey speaks about what it will take for the community to influence change once these messages have been heard. “It’s going to take the community educating themselves on how they have power in this wonderful democracy.”
As far as what is next for C-Grimey, he released a Chattanooga Ted Talk on November 8th where he discusses racism in America before COVID. He also discusses how the movement has come together in Chattanooga. Grimey is working on an album as well.
Now put your headphones in or turn your radio up to max volume. You are protesting.
There are baskets of apples, squash, garlic, and zucchini waiting to be picked up as natural light pours into a small and charming room tucked away in the historic St. Andrew’s Center.
Holly Martin, executive food director of the Chattanooga Sustainable Food Center, opens Gaining Ground Grocery, bringing fresh and localized produce to Highland Park’s table.
The shop aims to celebrate and share the value in local food producers and entrepreneurs, and engage the community with food that you can feel good about.
Martin says there are three main points that the Chattanooga Sustainable Food Center focuses on food access, food education, and the engagement of local food. Her vision is to pair these ideals with Gaining Ground and provide better food access to the community that is grown as locally as possible.
“I felt like my heart has always been in community nutrition,” she says, “and after I worked for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank for a long time, I started managing the Main Street Farmer’s Market and saw that I really wanted something that increased access to fresh food — especially for low-income families.”
Areas in and around East Chattanooga have been considered ‘food deserts,’ which are places where fresh and healthy foods are inaccessible. Martin, though, holds food deserts to be just a small piece to a bigger picture – a “puzzle piece to poverty.”
“It’s kind of a ‘buzzy’ word. If you look in an area that is truly defined as a food desert, food is not the only limiting resource,” she says, “usually there is a lack of good medical care, good transportation, and affordable housing as well.”
And, while access to fresh and healthy food is deeply important to Martin, she believes that food goes further than nutrition.
“To me, food means community,” Martin says, “I think food goes way beyond nourishment to our bodies. It’s family. It’s getting together. I find it fascinating the things that you can do with food and what it means to different people. Food is the ultimate way to share things. That’s what food means to me.”
As the day ends at Gaining Ground Grocery, she offers freshly ground peanut butter and a word of advice depicted on the official T-shirt for the store, “Keep your friends close and your food closer.”
Friendship can look very different than you would expect it to. Though similarities draw many people together, differences between us can do the same. People who are different from one another can be just as close as those who are incredibly similar. Today, divisiveness is prevalent since we must physically be apart to protect those we love and ourselves. It is important to remind ourselves of the love and connections we have in these trying times. Strength in Differences is a ten-part project featuring portraits and interviews with friends who are close despite their differences. In it, we at Rising Rock Media, aim to look at togetherness while staying six feet apart.
Sandi Bledsoe and Julie Dennis have an unbreakable friendship that will last the rest of their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has separated many loved ones, but not Julie and Sandi.
The unbreakable friendship between Julie and Sandi has lasted for over 15 years. Through the years Julie has faced adversity in her fight with MS (Multiple Sclerosis), but through it she has maintained a mindset that makes her invincible. Julie’s strength comes from her faith in God and striving for better health through her diet intake.
A little over a year ago Sandi gave up her quick and easy commute to work to move in with Julie. Julie’s husband, a truck driver, is often gone for weeks at a time. Sandi holds Julie accountable in her positivity and drive to increase the movement in her legs. They spend their weekends in their pool doing intense leg and core strength training in hopes that Julie will walk with a walker soon. Their love for each other and their ability to keep each other uplifted is truly inspiring and heartwarming.
It just goes to show, when you give someone kindness and constant positive support, they feel like they are special and strong. Julie never lets her disability change the way she loves and shows kindness to everyone she comes in contact with. Sandi is the ultimate giver of love and time. Together their friendship can bring tears to anyone’s eyes.
Next time you think about helping someone you see struggling, don’t think about it. Be more like Julie and Sandi, and do everything out of love—especially caring for others.
There are approximately 7.5 billion people that exist in the world. Of those 7.5 billion people there are no two people on this planet that are exactly the same.
There is something distinctively unique about every individual that walks this earth that sets them apart from their peers. For Alexis Hodge and Moriyah Wimbley this distinct characteristic happens to be the shade of their skin.
Walking through life together for almost a whole decade, Alexis and Moriyah have lived through some of the same life experiences. Although the experience was the same, the impact it had on each of their lives was completely different.
For Alexis growing up as a biracial female in the heart of the south, discrimination based on her gender and the color of her skin has had a huge impact on the person she is today.
At the age of five Alexis had her first encounter with the cruel act of racism. She was told by an uneducated little girl that because her skin was dark there was no way her mother could be white. As a five-year-old little girl this encounter left Alexis feeling confused and she was constantly second-guessing why the color of her skin set her apart.
Hodge said, “If I could go back and give my younger self any piece of advice, I would encourage her to love the skin that she is in and that the discrimination would only get worse as she got older.”
Moriyah Wimbley had a similar experience in the first grade, but she was discriminated against by her elementary school teacher. At six years old Moriyah, along with several of her African-American peers, was told that she would never make it anywhere in life. The same teacher would constantly make fun of Moriyah because of how big her lips were.
Wimbley said, “Hearing such derogatory things about yourself at six years old really has an impact on the way you view yourself in life.”
Unfortunately for both Moriyah and Alexis this would not be their first encounter with racism and discrimination.
Wembley sail,“Being discriminated against made me feel like I had something to prove. I wanted to prove to my first grade teacher that regardless of the color of my skin I will be something great in life.”
Although discrimination is something that these friends have experience most of their lives, The impact discrimination has had in both of their lives has resonated in a different way.
Two life-long friends prove that no matter what you share in common, the uniqueness of one another is what truly strengthens friendships.
Hannah Dammann and Summer Ghaffari, a sophomore and junior in college respectively, have been friends for as long as they can remember, and both share a bond that truly exemplifies the word “friendship”.
Hannah and Summer first met when they were in elementary school, as they both attended the same church.
By simply observing these two “peas in a pod,” you might conclude that they have everything in common, but that is far from the truth.“Our friendship makes no sense,” Hannah proclaims, “But differences make our friendship what it is. But it just feels like we really needed to be together and connected and we’ve stayed connected through everything. I couldn’t see it any other way”.
The difference in the backgrounds of these two young women alone is striking, with Hannah being raised in Tennessee her whole life, and Summer being from a different country entirely.
Summer is originally from Russia and was adopted when she was five years old, living in Memphis for a while, until finally ending up in Chattanooga.
“Everyone’s always wondering how that was for me, because I lived in Russia until I was five”, Summer says, explaining her experiences and the adoption process, “It’s still part of me you know, I still have memories of Russia. I remember a lot of snow and the orphanage I stayed at and friends I made there”.
Another big difference between the two are their hobbies and interests, with Summer being very athletic and Hannah being a more artistic type.
“I would call myself creative. I’d rather create things than do anything else really”, says Hannah, who is majoring in art education at Tennessee Tech University.
Summer grew up as an incredibly athletic girl, playing soccer and basketball throughout middle and high school. While she majors in physical education at UTC, Summer still engages in sports with an intramural flag football team.
Perhaps the biggest difference between these two young women is their unique experiences in school.
Hannah was homeschooled until arriving at college, growing up with three other siblings who were all taught by their mother.
Summer attended Loftis Middle School and Soddy Daisy High School which is where she played most of her sports.
When asked why she thinks they make such good friends, Summer’s answer was almost identical to Hannah’s, saying, “You get to learn new things. The differences are what make you grow close and connect. We’ve connected through different life experiences and have supported each other through everything.”
Hannah and Summer’s relationship is a story of true friendship despite many differences in their lives. Their hobbies, passions, backgrounds, and schooling could not be more opposite of each other, but their willingness to learn, grow respect, and support one another is always on full display.
Adrienne Long, a Chattanooga resident, raises $1,105 while hugging a walnut tree for 10 hours.
Story by: DeWayne Bingham, Haili Jackson, Nessa Parrish, and Sierra Wolfenbarger
How to raise over 1,000 dollars by hugging a tree?
Chattanooga resident Adrienne Long broke the Guiness World Record on September 19th for the longest consecutive tree hug and raised $1,105 for the Chattanooga Audubon Society. Adrienne said it was a New Year’s resolution and a way to honor her mother’s strength. The event took place at Heritage Park from 8 a.m to 6 p.m., where Adrienne wrapped her arms around a black walnut tree for 10 hours and 5 minutes, breaking the previous record of 8 hours and 15 minutes.
The Chattanooga Audubon Society is a nonprofit organization that helps preserve and protect various sanctuaries around Chattanooga. Long said the nonprofit had been “hit hard” without donations and volunteers because of COVID-19. Long said that when she mentioned the world record to Sarah Medley, friend and owner of the all natural Chattanooga salon Studio 59, Medley suggested turning it into a fundraiser to benefit the Chattanooga Audubon Society.
Adrienne said tree hugging was a way to honor her mother because they were always outside and active together. Long’s final message to everyone was to “get outside and enjoy Chattanooga,” because that was something she and her mother loved doing together. Following the event, Adrienne said, “I feel grateful because it was a goal of mine that many people helped me achieve. I feel equally happy because it was something I wanted to do in a small way for my mom, and I think she would be happy.”
Adrienne has plans to break her own record in the future.