Ana Leonard, small in stature with a shaved head, is a student, artist, and documentary photographer. Creating art centered around togetherness and gathering became difficult among a pandemic causing division and loneliness. Leonard began to experience this difficulty when it came time for her Senior Thesis Exhibition at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Laura Johnson answered the door with her goldendoodle, Willow, resting on her hip. She invited me into her home in historic St. Elmo, and took me into her studio. Each wall was filled with plans, pots waiting to be fired, and finished creations of her own design.
To find the 6th Cavalry Museum in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, it’s best to make use of a GPS. The museum is tucked away from the main road, sitting inside a plain-looking building on the edge of Chickamauga Battlefield and — as the diorama inside will tell you — directly across from a repurposed officer’s house. The most distinct thing about this building is the large sign on the front displaying the name of the museum.
One at a time, students roll up their sleeves and take a deep breath to receive their COVID-19 vaccination shot from the UTC Health Department, a process most of the community found inconceivable a year ago when the University first shut down for the pandemic.
At first glance, Stratton Tingle may look more like a band member than an Executive Director, with his waist-length dreadlocks and black-denim jackets, but that’s exactly the type of creative personality SoundCorps needs.
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.
How can a man use his disability to inspire others to be a better version of themselves in a world filled with so many obstacles?
Lyndon “Linny” Stamper, a Chattanooga local, has cerebral palsy but that does not stop him from working out every day. Stamper has become a local celebrity at the YMCA for his dedication to fitness. Nearly every member that he comes across greets him warmly as he makes his way to the gym floor. Stamper is a beacon of inspiration for many of the other gym members, as he does not allow anything to get in his way.
Stamper says that he does not feel like he has a disability, “People look at a disability as something that brings them down, but I look at Cerebral Palsy as like God has given me this ability to shine the light on people with disabilities and show what we can do.”
Local gym members now know Stamper as “Mr. No Excuses” because he drives 15 minutes everyday to work out despite the obstacles that stand in his way. He says that he stays motivated by seeing how his actions are impacting others. “When I first started working out, people told me that I inspire them, or I motivated them to be here.”
When COVID-19 hit, Stamper had no source of income, so he started his own clothing brand called Grind Over Disability. His brand quickly became popular when the YMCA reopened and the members saw his new merchandise. Since the start of his operation, he has sold between 200 and 300 shirts. “What can I do to inspire other people, so I came up with this brand, Grind Over Disability. Something that people can wear and look themselves in the mirror and see no excuses on the shirt. Hopefully it pushes people a little harder,” Stamper says.
Stamper has no plans to slow down. He wants to expand his merchandise beyond just shirts. His hoodies and stickers will be available later this year. You can buy his merchandise and support his journey through Instagram @Lyndonmrnoexcusesstamper.
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.”