Dr. A.G. Gaston- “The Entreprenuer of the Century”

When Arthur George Gaston, was approaching his 100th birthday, he was dubbed “Entrepreneur of the Century”.(1)

A.G.Gaston business enterprises consisted of providing jobs and recourses to the Africa-American community before and after the Civil Rights movement. Those enterprises still exist in 2015 as well as the results of his efforts. A.G. Gaston ideas, concepts and influence has made a difference.

The opportunities Gaston created was in the heart of Dixie in the state of Alabama. Most notably the communities within the cities of Birmingham and Mobile. He was also a key figure in the civil rights movement.

A.G.Gaston was born on July 4th, 1892 in Demopolis, Alabama. Gaston, who was raised in a log cabin that his former slave grandparents built, began his entrepreneurship as a child. Gaston would charged the neighborhood children a button and pin to play on the swing in his yard. He would later sell the button and pens to local women for their sewing.(1)

In 1900, Gaston and his mother Rosie moved to Birmingham, because his mother was hired as a cook for the Lovemanns.

For his preliminary education Gaston, attended the Carrie Tuggle Institute, a boarding school which was ran by former slaves. Although Gaston left the school in the 10th grade because he could not afford the expenses of the boarding school. To make ends meet, he began selling subscriptions for the Birmingham Reporter.

The year 1910 saw Gaston enlist in the U.S. Army, which he served as a sergeant in an all black unit in France during World War I. After he left the Army in 1918, he worked briefly as laborer at Tennessee Coal and Iron Company. While working there and with the help of his mother,  he sold lunch boxes to fellow coworkers for an extra income. It should be noted that he also loaned his coworkers money and charged them 25 cents on each dollar loaned.

In 1923, most blacks in the south did not have an option of burying relatives and love ones in traditional funeral homes because of cost or segregation. It was then he started “Brother Gaston’s Burial Society”.

Gaston’s policy, was to provide a respectful burial for those who perished in the African-America community.The policy that exist today was; the customers paid a regular fee in exchange for the security of a burial paid for when their love ones perished.

In 1932, the aforementioned business was incorporated as Booker T Washington Insurance. This was the foundation for many other businesses that prospered. One of those businesses was Booker T Washington Business College, which was set up to train clerks for Gastons other businesses.

The Booker T Washington Business College was, at the time, the only school that African-American women could receive a certificate for business training.

During this time he also suffered a business failure in Brown Belle Bottling Company. A.G.Gaston was quoted in 1986 by saying that: “The bottling company failed due the fact that this venture was formed to make money, where as the other ventures was created to serve the people.”

A.G.Gaston Motel was founded to serve black travelers when they were not allowed to stay in white hotels. The motel, which is today recognized as a historical site, was the headquarters for the SCLC (Southern Christrian Leadership Conference). The motel was also known for  accommodating Civil Rights Leaders and in some cases served as a safe haven.

Martin Luther King Jr. at the A.G. Gaston Motel.  copyright getty images. 2015

Martin Luther King Jr. at the A.G. Gaston Motel.
copyright getty images. 2015

 

 

When Martin Luther King was arressted in Birmingham, Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement it was A.G Gaston who posted the $150,000 bail from his personal finances.

Business Timeline:

1955- Vulcan Reality and Investment Corporation

1957- Citizen Federal Savings and Loans Association

1963- A.G.Gaston Home for Senior Citizens

1966- A.G.Gaston Boys and Girls Club– (It should be noted that the author of this post was a member of A.G. Gaston Boys Club).

1975- WENN-FM and WAGG-AM

1986- A.G.Gaston’s Construction Company

All of Gaston enterprises gave their employees stock options. The majority of his businesses was created to give the community (mostly black) an opportunity or something they needed.

“Becoming rich was accidental because my main objective was to serve the community”-Gaston said in 1992.” (4)

Dr. Gaston outside Citizens Insurance Building.  copyright getty images. 2015

Dr. Gaston outside Citizens Insurance Building.
copyright getty images. 2015

On January 19th, 1996 Arthur George Gaston died. He was 103 years old and still working. He is survived by great grandchildren and grandchildren who is now continuing his legacy of sharing and making the community of Birmingham, Alabama better.

Arthur George Gaston is without question the “Entrepreneur of the Century”.

References:

1. Retrieved on February 16th, 2015. By Jerome Fitts http://www.nytimes.com/1996/01/20/us/a-g-gaston-103-a-champion-of-black-economic-advances.html?

2. Retrieved on February 16th, 2015. By Jerome Fitts http://www.al.com/business/index.ssf/2013/03/where_is_todays_ag_gaston_blac.html

3. Retrieved on February 16th, 2015. By Jerome Fitts http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/g-gaston-financier-and-advocate-equality

4. Retrieved on February 16th, 2015. By Jerome Fitts http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2062

 

The Father of Rock and Roll- Johnnie Johnson

By Jerome Fitts

This week we are celebrating the life of The Father of Rock and Roll. The recognition of Johnnie Johnson during Black History Month, should be appreciated and applauded by everyone.

Johnny was born on June 8, 1924 in Fairmont, Virginia but for the majority of his celebrated life he resided with wife Francis, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Johnnie Be Good:

For nearly 30 years, Johnnie was the keyboardist for legendary guitar player Chuck Berry. However the song that is considered the original rock anthem “Johnny Be Good” was written by Chuck Berry as a tribute to Johnnie.

Johnnie Johnson and Chuck Berry. Photo used by kind permission. Getty Images. 2015

Johnnie Johnson and Chuck Berry.
Photo used by kind permission. Getty Images. 2015

The song has been covered by thousands of bands from around the world as well as being highlighted in the movie Back To The Future. The musicians that have covered the song has ranged from modern day pop singers to heavy metal legendaries such as Judas Priest.

Bayersheroff Hotel, Munich, Germany 2003. left to right- J.Fitts, Johniie Johnson, Roy, Kim Kelly

Bayersheroff Hotel, Munich, Germany 2003.
left to right- J.Fitts, Johniie Johnson, Roy, Kim Kelly

In 2003, after a series of shows in Munich, Germany, I asked Mr. Johnson to explain Johnnie Be Good.

“I had served in the second World War and had returned to Detroit then on to St. Louis, which is where I met Chuck. I hired him one night because I was short a musician and that’s when our (Chuck and Johnnie) history started.”

“Chuck and I worked on other material together, but Johnny B Goode was a tribute to myself. Chuck wrote that one about me.”- Johnnie said.

Legendary Status:

Mr. Johnson, fellow Blues and Rock originators, from Keith Richard (Rolling Stones), Eric Clapton to George Harrison (Beatles), have gone on record to acknowledge that their inspirations came from Johnnie.

To question whether or not if Johnnie received his full recognition from the music world, would be irresponsible from the music industry.

However in 2001, Johnny was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There is could never be enough recognition or accolades for the song that changed the music industry-“Johnny Be Good”. The legitimate argument would have to be directed at what has transpired within the music industry since.

Adversity Turned To Triumph:

Johnnie who faced adversity for several years during the 1970s due to neglect, recognition and LACK OF ROYALTIES from previous work, resurged in 1986. It wasn’t until Keith Richards amongst many other notable Rock Hall of Famers, guided their hero back into the main stage. Ironically enough that resurrection from retirement was in the Chuck Berry concert film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll of that year.

Johnnie playing live with Keith Richards

Johnnie playing live with Keith Richards

Throughout the 1990s and early millennium, Johnnie enjoyed a successful series of solo records as well as constantly being in demand as a live act.

Johnnie Johnson died on April 13, 2005, a mere eight days after performing at the NCAA Final Four in St. Louis, Missouri. The Father of Rock and Roll, was 80 years old.

Johnnie Johnson we salute you.

Discography:

1987: Blue Hand Johnnie.

1991: Johnnie B. Bad (Warner) with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Bernard Fowler
1991: Rockin’ Eighty-Eights (Modern Blues recordings) with Jimmie Vaughan and Clayton Love
1993: Blue Hand Johnnie (Evidence Music) with Oliver Sain
1993: That’ll Work (Elektra) with The Kentucky Headhunters and Jimmy Hall
1995: Johnnie Be Back (MusicMasters) with Buddy Guy, Al Kooper, John Sebastian and Max Weinberg
1997: Johnnie B. Live (Father of Rock and Roll Music) with Jimmy Vivino and Al Kooper
1999: Father of Rock and Roll (Father of Rock and Roll Music) – Accompanying CD with the book Father of Rock and Roll: The Story of Johnnie B. Goode Johnson, featuring all new recordings of Johnson and Berry songs.
2005: Johnnie Be Eighty And Still Bad! (Cousin Moe Music) with Jeff Alexander, Rich McDonough (guitar), Larry Thurston, Gus Thornton, and Joe Pastor (drums).

Hans Massaquoi; “Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany”

By:  Jerome Fitts
February 4th, 2015

To celebrate Black History Month, we, (WJ), are honored to feature individuals who are people of color, that set examples and standards for our society today. On February 4th, 2015 we are celebrating the life of Hans Massaquoi.

Hans Massaquoi (1926-2013)

Hans Massaquoi
(1926-2013)

Hans Massaquoi, a former managing editor of EBONY magazine (1957-1997) most noted for his award winning 1999 memoir; “Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany”. In the book Massaquoi, details his difficult, sometimes desperate life as a child and teen during a murderous time in modern history.(1) His book, has been recognized as the “sole” biography of the Nazi era from a black person viewpoint.

Hans Jurgen Massaquoi was born on January 19, 1926, in Hamburg, Germany and passed away on his birthday in 2013. He was the son of Al-Haj Massaquoi, an African business man from Liberia and Bertha Baetz, a German nurse.

His father (Al-Haj), who was the son of a Liberian consul general, left Germany because of the rise of the Nazi regime.

Hans Parents-

Hans Parents- Al-Haj Massaquoi and  Berthan Baetz

Unlike other German women at the time who were giving their “Brown Babies” up for adoption, his mother Bertha, decided to raise Hans in Germany alone instead of joining Hans father in Liberia.(2)

In his autobiography Hans mentions being taunted on a daily bases in regards to his colour stating his classmates would say ; “Neger, Neger, Schornsteinfeger!” (*Schornsteinfeger means chimney sweep in English)-Ed

It is highlighted in “In Destined to Witness”, that when Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in 1933 he was fascinated by the uniforms, “goose-stepping” marches and the military might of the Nazi soldiers. Massaquoi recalled the first time Hitler’s motorcade came to Hamburg, and the thrill that he experienced watching the new “Führer” roll past.(1)

“Like everyone around me, I cheered the man whose every waking hour was dedicated to the destruction of ‘inferior non-Aryan people’ like myself.”- Massaqoui

tumblr_mh2xdnHtTD1qcw9y0o1_250As a 7-year-old boy in Hamburg, Massaquoi noted that his proudest moment was when a baby sitter sewed a swastika on his sweater. He also stated that the disappointment he had because a teacher told him he couldn’t join Hitlers Youth.

“Of course I wanted to join. I was a kid and most of my friends were joining. They had cool uniforms and they did exciting things – camping, parades, playing drums,”- wrote Massaquoi.

During his teenage years Massaqoui and his mother lived in fear because of the Nazi elimination of all non Aryans. He mentions that although he was not deported himself, he credited this to being black. He felt because he was black he was more of a rarity than a threat.

“Unlike Jews, blacks were so few in numbers that they were relegated to low-priority status in the Nazis’ line-up for extermination,” Massaquoi said.

When Massaquoi’s mother lost her job because she had a black son, he boxed as well as played saxophone in a “Swing Jazzband” to support himself and his mother. It should be noted that at the time and yet still today (February 2015), Swing and Jazz music as well as any type of Urban Music is considered “Black Music” in Germany. Massaquoi, who dreamed of immigrating to America as he followed the careers of African American sports heroes Joe Louis and Jesse Owens, boxed to earn extra money but was forbidden by law to take on Aryan opponents in the ring.(1)


He also revealed the kindnesses of German neighbors and friends who helped him and his mother survive during these difficult months. At one point, Massaquoi even attempted to join the Germany Army after recognizing that he was the only young man left in his neighborhood who did not wear a uniform. “This Lieutenant Colonel bawled me out saying how dare I even presume to ask. So that did it for me. That was the real turning point. By then, I had got all the Nazi stuff out of my head, and it was the final insult.”- Massaquoi recounted.

In 1948, Massaquoi left Germany for Liberia and lived with his father. However, he became dissatisfied with the black-on-black racism and applied and received a student visa for America.

Hans arriving in America. *photo used by kind permission.2015

Hans arriving in America.
*photo used by kind permission.2015

While attending aviation mechanics school in Chicago, he received a draft notice to fight in the Korean War, despite having alien status. Massaquoi was stationed in the deep south of America ironically enough during the start of the Civil Rights movements.

After the Korean War, in which he was never deployed to fight in combat, he returned to Chicago to resume his studies. Massaquoi began working at Ebony Magazine in 1957 in as an associate editor. By 1967, ten years after working at the prestigious publication, Massaquoi was awarded the Managing Editors position. He held this position for another 30 years until his retirement in 1967.

Encouraged by the late Alex Haley (Roots), he penned the remarkable “adversity turned triumphed”, autobiography “Destined To Witness; Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany.” (3)

Qouting Hans Massaqoui Jr in loving memory of his late father; “Hans Massaquoi lived to become not just a footnote in history, but a figure of note.” (4)

nie-hans

Hans Massaqoui, The WorthJourney not only celebrate your remarkable life, but we thank you for setting the example of creating and accomplishing your dreams.- J.Fitts

We encourage all of our readers to not only buy the book but read it!

 

Career: Played saxophone in jazz clubs in Hamburg, mid-1940s; British Military Government, Hamburg, Germany, interpreter, 1945-48; National Association of Educational Broadcasters, Urbana, IL, editor, 1956-57; Jet Magazine, Chicago, IL., associate editor, 1957-58; Ebony Magazine, Chicago, associate editor, 1958-64, assistant managing editor, 1964-67, managing editor, 1967-.

Awards: Overseas Press Club of America citation, 1975, for coverage of Heads of Government Conference in Kingston, Jamaica.

References:
(1) Retrieved on February 1st, 2015. By Jerome Fitts http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2873200048.html
(2) Retrieved on February 1st, 2015. By Jerome Fitts http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/20/germanys-brown-babies-still-searching-for-their-american-fathers
(3) Retrieved on February 1st, 2015.By Jerome Fitts. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/hans-massaquoi-who-grew-up-black-in-nazi-germany-dies-at-87/2013/01/23/3faaa5bc-64b1-11e2-b84d-21c7b65985ee_story.html
(4) Retrieved on February 1st, 2015. By Jerome Fitts http://www.npr.org/2013/01/26/170281062/ebony-editor-began-life-black-in-nazi-germany

Black History Month

Black History Month.

Black History Month February 2015.

To launch our ¨Event¨ page in February 2015, we realised it was a necessity and responsible to start with celebrating Black History Month!

We are all aware of this historical month and  we are proud to display the progress the world has made in regards to acknowledging those who sacrificed their lives for a better world.

However, we do feel responsible to also feature and highlight the inspirational stories from todays African communities.

We have decided to give our loyal readers a chance to honor and also acknowledge some of the individuals that were not recognized in the past. We are encouraging our readers to submit information and inspirational stories to our digital platforms. That information, which require to be supported facts, will be open for discussions and  responses from the public via our digital platform(s).

We are honored to have those digital panel discussions hosted by celebrated author, Tim Rice.

Mr. Tim Rice highly regarded book: The Missing Link

The Missing Link

The Missing Link

Available here:
http://www.amazon.com/The-Missing-Link-Simple-Living/dp/0990623408

¨Who Do They Think They Are?”

By: JFitts

Dec. 25th, 2014

 

In late June 2014 someone told me that music shake the chemicals in our body and stimulates our soul. I couldn’t believe after nearly 17 years of Crownn Records, I was acknowledging the truth.

So what’s the problem with the horible music that is being released today?

“Who do they think they are? “- with the (JustAdd Water/Do It Yourself) systems of delivery. Does the world owe you something because you can upload to Itunes? Does that make the music better? Where is the efforts of PR, artist/band infrastructure, and quality of sound.

In this instant gratification world of ours, why is it that everything is put into categories or a genre? In closing out the year of 2014,  we have rock, hip-hop, dance and traditional. Then there is  horrific rock, hip-hop and quadrible copied dance, trap, EDM and no such thing as new traditional music.

January 2004- Cargo Records distribution deal.

January 2004- Cargo Records distribution deal.

The majority of those songs are done DIY style and released within the same two months of recording with zero structure or quality assured plans. The nontrust factor of a loyal team goes within the DIY. Who in the world world consider recording a song in one month and releasing it the next month? ahhh… PR? Process of delivery?

Its a dead give away that those artists music will be a Halloween costume if a single, album or video is being considered “dropped on such and such date” or released before there is a structured 4 month planner. Can we all repeat the words “brand building”?

Here is a bigger joke, those artist or bands then go online when they are DIY posting on the social media platforms and announce a live date and expect people to come. That insulting process, to the public and real industry likes, includes begging others for more shows in bars, clubs or other non MRPS (Mechanical Royalty Protection Society) venues. Then expect people to show up based on bathroom selfies and Android PR.

Hold your stomach because the hook and sinker is; they wont play live unless there is a gurantee financially from a venue, eventhough there is a DIY structure. As well as noone knowing who they are or have heard their music.  Hilarious right? Well they call themselves artist. Didnt artist take the risk of capturing an audience then stick their hands out for money based on a great series of songs? Hmm.. and now??“Who do they think they are?”

Then again its DIY and self entitlement and a free world that is surrounded by satellites to make releasing a song accessible for everyone. What would happen if we took a worldwide vote on uploading horrible music a crime?

With the exception of the bands from  Ireland and the UK, everyone else is copying the American sound. For the love of God, what is that?“WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE?”

The DIY, of the music business is more contagious than Ebola, except everyone is into it and spreading the horrible disease. Sure its a different world and the combination of creating and delivering good music is different, but there is nothing like the conventional method of creating a good sound, having the balls to play it live without “handout” excuses and seeing what happens. Those days when people saluted courage over stature seems like the smallest white golf ball on the moon. (You simply cant find it).

I remember in 2004, when Crownn signed it’s first major distribution deal and how excited we were. We were putting out tapes, vinlys and cd’s. For some reason we kept hearing in Berlin “Yeah but, the digital age is going to eat you up!”.

My first thought was why? It’s just another form of communication, so why not embrace it? I mean we still had to put out good music and  support our bands playing live, which meant radio plugging, PR, poster campaigns and a well defined guerilla marketing plan. Above all good music still sells know matter what format its delivered in. To me it should be easier to excercise the aforementioned than before.

“Master your craft first!”

Was 2004, the last year of a good song? No offense to Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters, without whom there wouldnt be any music worth listening to. Ok, Ok that was unfair, there are tons of great bands and music out there. However, the ratio of 3 to 1 in 2004 compared to the 100,000 to 1 in 2014 doesnt consistently shake the chemicals in us anymore.

Ensimi Tower Records Dublin 2005

Lets be honest here, a band competition would be the most boring event on the planet now. Anyone disagree? Why do we listen to music from 15 to 45 years ago to shake the chemicals in our bodies? Get it now?

Who does the “New Power Generation/DIY” music shakers think they are? Why listen to so called older music and never follow the blue print of how to get their music out there?

Its ironic that the term Master Your Craft can be considered an insult? For those who are offended then perhaps they are guilty.

Here is a possible solution from a nobody (me) who has been in the music industy would like to suggest;

  1. Try having a 45 minute listening session starting with The Wildhearts single “Its Only Love” (3 minutes), then take 45 seconds of the chorus of the T.I./ Justin Timberlake song “Dead and Gone”.
  2. Take a sip of water and put on “Estranged” by Guns and Roses (only for 3 minutes), and cut that with “You Drop The Bomb On Me” by the Gap Band. It may be wise to have a seat now.
  3. While sitting down to catch your breath or relax from the chemicals in your body from exploding, put on Elton John “Good Bye Yellow Brick Road”, then play any song by Public Enemy! ** It should be noted that Chuck D and company were decades ahead of themselves.
  4. Just when you think it cant get any better put on the single “Sing” by Travis. Then repeat the process again.

What do you think? Did you notice the difference in the creativity, diversity and the artist(s) “Mastering Their Craft?”

My point being is, all of those artist are from different backgrounds, cultures and influences yet  the chemicals in our body stimulates our soul with their craft that was mastered. We know who they are!

For the life of my imaginary gold fish, I cant understand why the DIY (artist, entertainers, uncredible agents and managers) cant supply one sales statement or tour talk settlement excel or a PR receipt. The aforementioned at the very least is the proof of efforts and sometimes the efforts doesnt represent the results although it does show they have attempted to try.

Without these simple components and NOT mastering their craft—

“Who Do They Think They Are?”

It would be amazing to hear what Prince , who is still with us, think of todays current music process. I can only imagine what the Father of Rock and Roll “Johnnie Johnson” is thinking from above.

“We know who they are!”

Backstage at "The Father of Rock and Roll" show in Munich, Germany 2004

Backstage at “The Father of Rock and Roll” Johnnie Johnson show in Munich, Germany 2003

In closing “Who do they think they are” to copy all of the remarkable chemical shakers from the past then mix, remix their music only to not follow the rules. Where is the honor amongst the theives? X-Factor, has to be the biggest contributor to those tears in heaven.. Sorry Mr. Cowell but you invented a new weapon to destroy us all. I am sure the same guy who invented the gun meant well, but look at how that device is being used in 2014.

JFitts

“A Series of Train of Consequences” The Balkans Part 1- Summer 2014

“Train of Consequences”

Contributed By: JFitts

All photos taken by: JFitts

I have decided to mark the last two months of unequivocal events into a post that that our few readers might relate to. Besides, this is a blogging post where the truth has to be told based on supported facts and gathering those facts takes time through a real journey. Through the never ending WorthJourney, which we do not intend on ending, there is a selection of real music from artist that have influenced not only enquiries about different cultures from around the world but what also motivated those artist into writing the songs.

For this particular journey there were a few songs that made a difference to me but two of them stood out; James Blunt “No Bravery” and Megadeth “Train of Consequences”.

The “Train of Consequences” started as my departure from my beloved Rodos by accepting an invitation from a “friend- if they really exist these days” to come and see him in the Balkans. Where? Sit tight and pour your coffee as this might be a tasty one.

Leaving Greece heading to the Balkans via Ferry and Sea

Leaving Greece heading to the Balkans via Ferry and Sea- late May 2014

This particular friend, lets call him Dou, is Albanian and just like most things in the world I am open to anyone. Not that it should have mattered, but I had very little idea of knowledge of the traditions of the region as well as if there were any conflict(s). But obviously Dou knew this. You see I had invited Dou and lets say Fio, to participate in a event in Ireland in January of this year for the latter part of the summer. In conditions of the arrangement, I would visit them in their country(s) first and see if they were the individuals I would have liked to have partake in this special event.

I set sail on the 36 hour world wind trip from Rodos, Greece that included a ferry to Athens to a bus to Thessaloniki and from there I was to meet Dou in Skopje, Macedonia. “From there bro, my father will take us to Prishtina.” Dou said.

I was like kewl, so I packed a bag with a few cameras and started filming along the way.

I was informed in Thessaloniki, that traveling to Macedonia was more or less forbidden unless I took a van via a private company. I had no idea there was tension in that area and I have to admit that I was under the impression that Skopje was part of mmm well I didn’t know or cared. I trusted my friends and with my camera in hand and a half-gallon of Ouzo it didn’t matter. Nevertheless when I enquired about a ticket to Macedonia I was told politely that, “This is Macedonia”. Eh?

Macedonian political campaign.

Macedonian political campaign.

“THIS IS MACEDONIA”

I purchased a ticket from an unusual ticketing agency, and asked, “Will there be any immigration problems?” The response was; “Sir you have two passports and one of them is an American passport so you will not have any problems!: I took that as a clear sign to have another swag of the Ouzo and recharge my Cannon for some exclusive filming.

The ironic thing of it is, the border from Thessaloniki to Macedonia is only a little less than an hour away, so I had to be a little kewl with the booze and sight seeing. For some strange reason I have this weird sixth sense when I am traveling and even though I ignore my sixth sense for the most part, those senses are always right.

The luxurious van journey. Photos By: J.Fitts

The luxurious van journey. 

The van arrived at the border and it was as if we were crossing into a land of another state on Mars. The van driver collected the passports from everyone on the van (most had either Bosnian passports or Serbian passports), so I was a little more than relaxed. But that big man called the “sixth sense” told me to keep an eye out while we waited in the van. Sure enough the big man “sixth sense” got a little bigger when the van driver return with only one passport in his hand- Mine!.

“You must pay 6,000 euros or you wont be allowed to cross..”- The driver said with a smile. My first thought was maybe I should have given this guy a shot of my Ouzo. But he was serious. So I followed him back to the passport control and was told; “No its not 6,000 euros but its 600 euros unless you show proof that you are a E.U. resident.” I did. Then the cute little lady from the Greek passport office asked me, “Where are you traveling to?” I answered with a confidence smile “Macedonia”.

If you have ever heard a balloon burst in the middle of a funeral this then this was as close as it could get. The cute Greek passport agent, suddenly turned on me and said, “You are in Macedonia!, its going to be 600 euros sir.”

Upper right corner my leave fee from Greece? the first time in 6 summers coming and going with two passports, I had to pay a fee?!

Upper right corner my leave fee from Greece? the first time in 6 summers coming and going with two passports, I had to pay a fee?!

After decades of traveling throughout Europe with little to no trouble, I couldn’t believe I had to pay for my ignorance or flirtation. Here the train of those consequences was going off track. Luckily I had the money on me to pay, but 600 euros going into Macedonia or Prishtina was like 2 months of wages in those parts. Suddenly I heard Dave Mustaine’s words from the classic Megadeth track (Train of Consequences), “I am doing you a favor while I am taking all of your money…” rang out in my head. Ironically enough the cute passport control girl frown turn to a grin, just like it was in the video.

Once I met my friend Dou, in Skopje, we were on our way. Funny enough he was a little shaky and I couldn’t understand it. (More details later). But we were off to Prishtina. I had asked Dou before setting off from Rodos, “Shouldn’t we chill in Skopje first and then go up to Prishtina?”. His answer was “Bro, there is nothing in Skopje, Pristina is a lot better and there is more to do!”- Read on.

We arrived in Pristina at 11 pm, and I was beyond tired. All I wanted to do was have a shower, put on some clean clothes and chill.

First and foremost, there was no shower. The water system in Prishtina only works at certain times of the day. They are from 7am to 10am and from 4pm to 10pm so that not only meant I had missed the water schedule but showering or cleaning up was out of the picture.

The outskirts of Pristina, Kosovo

The outskirts of Prishtina, Kosovo

This was my first introduction to a formally conflict and war torn country. Even still we continued to go out. In true WorthJourney fashion, a new territory meant checking out the food, beverages and above all the entertainment scene.

But wait, this is Kosovo!—I was wondering why along the journey from Skopje, Dou had referred to certain areas as “Bro if you could see this in the day time, this and that happened in this small town and that small town, but those fuckers would kill my people along this road, but I will tell you later”. Dous’ people were Kosovo Albanians. From my recollection and influence of the large amounts of Ouzo, I paid little attention to him because I knew we would get to that subject later once the camera was rolling.

Besides I have friends or people I would consider brothers and sisters from everywhere and more than anything some people I cared about were from Serbia and they were the exact people that Dou was complaining about. It was none of my business and part of their recent past, so I chose to remain kewl and just enjoy the ride and venture. Talk about first impressions.

That night I saw perhaps the most remarkable looking women I had ever seen. I couldn’t believe I didn’t know more about the region other than the war conflicts and the fact that there was EULEX – (European Union controlled police), that was there if there was ever any trouble.

E.U. endorsed national park. Photos by: JFitts

E.U. endorsed national park.
P

The next day, and taking advantage of the running water for a 3 day old shower, we eventually roamed out in the city. Again the women were absolutely beautiful, the people were calm and every now and then I would see a U.N controlled car go by.

Being the person I am and I am not one to past judgment, the big man “sixth sense” was rearing his head again and there was something more than creepy about my so called friend. He was shaky and all of a sudden his English was getting worse and worse. The only thing he would say to me was; “when do we start work and when do we see money?”

Here we were, totting around with a broken travel bag of mine, both very hung-over, a little cold (and this is June), completely shattered from the 3-day journey still and all he has to say to me was; “When do we start work and when do we see money?”
My response was simple; “Dude I am doing this film either way, it’s a hard graft, but for fucks sake, I just got here!” “Tell me what’s up. It’s your country and your territory.”

I ended up entertaining myself with some of the nicest people in the world, bikers from Albania and Kosovo. Religion, politics or hate related issues never came up. The subject matters were making sure I had enough beer, food and smiles. Without a doubt a highlight of Pristina. This was the perfect example of NOT putting everyone in the same bracket as well as every first impression deserves at least a majority outlook. For the life of me I couldn’t remember the bikers organization nor the names of the individuals I spent the day with.

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A misconception but to rest. “Nothing but a good time”.

Its amazing how much we have in the western world when it comes to free thinking and ideas. I couldn’t believe that people actually depended on others in regards to when to think, when to act and what should be their next move. This was the first of its kind culture shock that I had experienced. But it made me want to know more.

You know, we are all apart of this earth and some of us have been fortunate enough to have more than others. And that “more than”, includes opportunities. Within hours I felt more grateful to hold an American passport than ever. Also within those hours I realized just how close the U.S and Western Europe were similar. But man, the innocent within the eyes of these kids that I saw was amazing. They were born after the conflict but were constantly reminded by anyone that was over the age of 19, just how hard it was and unfortunately branded into “who this land- Kosovo- belonged to”. These remarkable friendly children were considered as the “NewBorn”.

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Just to be clear here, that is what the kids are told, in no way is it my opinion or would I share the same empathy. In fact, I am purposely omitting a large section of my opinion as well as events due to the subject of this blog. (but it will come later that is for sure)-WorthJourney

What I got from Pristina was a life changer.

The Newborn:
These kids had a heart of gold and were open to everyone. Race? Forget about it. Religion? They had no choice because they were born into tradition. Adversities? They are Newborn and anything that happened before them happened, they recognized it, knew about it, but fear was something that wasn’t apart of their make up.

The bold blocks representing the amazing children of Pristina. The "Newborn".

The bold blocks representing the amazing children of Pristina. The “Newborn”.

Sports:
Because Pristina or Kosovo wasn’t apart of the E.U. nor recognized as a country, then the Federation Boards of Sports such as FIBA or FIFA doesn’t accept them. Why? You as the reader take it upon yourself to find out. As part of our Journey we try to expose the facts. In a region that still have the remains of what happen between Serbia, we feel (WorthJourney), its not our place to express our opinions. The kids and the future suffer the most and this is going to take sometime. That time however may be longer than our patent or copyrights.

One of Kosovo leading Basketball Academies.

One of Kosovo leading Basketball Academies.

Lifestyle and Fashion:
My gosh, the most beautiful women I have ever seen. Everyone was young, there had to be at least 12 women to every man. Funny enough it may have something to do with the war but it’s the facts.

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Prishtina beauty.

Safety:
It was the first place I have been to, in total 72 countries for more than 2 weeks at a time, that people would say “I am here to help you and be careful”. You see I couldn’t understand that as my motto is quite simple; If you walk with respect and respect the traditions anywhere then you should get that back. Without going into to much in this journey- the latter didn’t quite happen.

A curtain view. Photos by: J.Fitts

A curtain view of Prishtina

I asked my editor should I mention anything that would have seemed aggressive or anything that would have made me sleep with one eye open (which I did) and he said- _____ If you do, then you are giving credit to those that will ruin it for the people that you will remember. Besides why doesn’t the rest of the world know other than the reference in the James Blunt song? Has it change? My response was: I remained silent.

You see I was told at a very young age, “If you don’t have anything good to say about anything or people then don’t say anything at all”. I wish I had been forewarned. Maybe this was the reason no one knows about Kosovo, perhaps this was the reasoning that the European Union would never consider making Kosovo part of the E.U. Would it be a rational decision or an irresponsible one based on a one sided story? If the 17 days that I spent in Pristina taught me anything was, there are two sides to every story.

Again, I am not picking a side but there were some things I experienced there that deleted my empathy as well as sympathy for those who cried for help. Maybe the ones that did come to the rescue had little choice as the ones that felt they had to attack the attackers. I suggest the reader look into the origin of the conflicts in Kosovo.

I left with a lot of questions but with little interest in ever returning to Pristina. One of them was; “Why doesn’t anyone in America know about the 25 foot statue of President Clinton in Pristina?” Maybe America doesn’t have the same pride in supposedly helping the people who suffered. Perhaps they had little choice in helping them because someone leaked the situation to the media. (Hint number 2; I suggest the reader look more into conflict)

Bill Clinton Statue Photos by: J.Fitts

Bill Clinton Statue 

Another question I had was; “How can you live in a society that desperately needs modern luxuries such as consistent water and still be productive”

Furthermore it was; It looks as if its modern but underneath there is a thin line of violence and hatred towards anyone that comes from the outside.

“So why do they want to take from the outside, smile in our faces, yet will severe your head if you step on anything that maybe considered theirs?”

Then it was; “Who actually started the conflict in Kosovo, was it the Serbians, was it the Albanians? And wasn’t the conflict here directly after the atrocities in Bosnia?” It started to grow on me what (two sides to every story was), because for the life of me I didn’t understand why those two previously mentioned invitees (Dou and Fio) had deserted me after only two days. I couldn’t understand why when they were amongst their own they were so nervous. Did I mention that I had met them in a remote place in Florida nearly a year from then? Hmm.. amongst our own eh? Pick a fight with a beast then cry for help as if you are the victim. Ok I will stop there because that subject alone could lead to a major dialog that will be a forever ending synerio, as well as my life being threatened. But isn’t respect more important than fear? And why would a certain ethnic group be so proud of being feared yet complain when they are not welcomed or wanted basically anywhere.

Maybe it’s a question of who is really the victim or the original aggressor.

Its strange to me as I sit here in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic writing this, that my experience of Pristina and the fear I experience (for the first time of my life) still had an impact on me. More importantly, how the people there were proud of the fact that someone like myself had that kind of fear towards the city. I was under the assumption that fear and respect are two different things. I came with respect and left with a new found respect of fear.

I have since had a remarkable time since June, yet I wonder mostly during sunsets what the beautiful Newborns future is going to be like. Does anyone care? Does anyone dare to show they care? Does the western power know something we should know? Normally when people are liberated they are also given golden opportunities. Why wasn’t this the case? What is the western world afraid of by giving the Newborns and lets say leftovers a chance? Is it because they had no choice but to liberate them because the world saw photos or some film work of what another group of people felt they had no choice but to make.

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Bikers rally- Pristina, Kosovo

What do I mean by choice?

Lets see. Have you ever seen a person at the zoo, intentionally disturb a sleeping bear then cry for help once the bear is preparing to tear them into treads? Maybe the bear had no choice. That means the person who couldn’t help themselves with disturbing the peace derailed the train of consequences. They took their chances and perhaps they have to suffer the consequences.

In the end I took Dave Mustaines’ words from that remarkable song of Megadeth- “I hocked my brain, packed my bags and headed west!”

It took 1 hr to arrive in perhaps the best kept secret city in the world.. Skopje, Macedonia.. (more details within next months issue)..

I promise the next post wont take so long. Thanks for reading.

JFitts

Facilitating My Patience and Refueling My Fatigue- Greek Experience 2014

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When I landed in Rodos, Greece in February 2014 it was really quiet. I had several friends that lived on the island that had more or less begged me to come down to look at all of the business opportunities within the island. Those opportunities mentioned was anything from bars, beach bars, and fabric for clothing to restaurants, all of which would be an investment in the range of 10K- Euros.

I am familiar with Rodos, so I didn’t think it was something that was dodgy or unreal but what I wasn’t aware of was, the lack of common sense associated with business there. Everyone including the guy who is holding the American flag on the moon knows that Greece is suffering financially so I thought- “Why not?” Besides, the people on the island are beautiful, warm and friendly. I have known some for years.

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Flying within Europe to a holiday destinations in the winter takes just as much time as flying from Berlin to Sydney. The flights are limited and more than likely there are layovers. My trip took exactly 27 hours, which is only a mere 10 hours short of driving from Dublin to Rodos- That is excluding the ferries of course. .

Anyone that knows me and some of you do by now, know I am a chancer and getting the job done with real opportunities is my rush. So I thought, “Ok Beau, this year your really going to get a few peoples knickers in a twist and explore the Mediterranean during the winter”. So I took the bait from those individuals that pitched these unbelievable opportunities to me.

First step of opportunities that facilitate impatience:

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I got off the plane in Rodos after zero sleep but I felt as if I had slept the whole day. I was full of energy and I was excited to meet my friend of 5 years. Lets call him “P” (which is short for his first name).

“P” had stayed in touch with me during the year  when I was in either LA LA land, Dublin, Berlin and Miami, Florida. Each time we spoke, it was about these amazing opportunities on the island and the seasons predictions of tourist that are expected to come to the island.  Just like everyone else that were my Facebook friends from Greece, he constantly complained about the world renowned “Greek Crisis”. Some of them went to the extent of asking for a loan during the winter to tie them over and this was back in October. I found it strange since the  season had just finished and there should have been a few settlements from the previous season cash wise. I look at all problems as solvable and I was under the impression that “P” just needs my help and guidance.

So there I was sitting at the deserted airport in my leather jacket and a pair of shades on in Rodos, Greece in February- waiting on “P”. The first 20 minutes went by and I used my Irish cell phone to call him and ask him where was he. I had mailed him my flight schedule in Dublin and we had spoke on Skype for hours upon hours of a plan once I would arrive. So I could not understand why “P” was not at the gate waiting for me. There was not any passport control and the only company I had sitting there was the array of wild cats on the island.

After an hour and a half, I finally got through to “P” and his response was; “ I will be there in 20 minutes.” Again I got the rush for opportunities and overlapped the fatigue from the two days of traveling so I sat there patiently. – Opportunities facilitating patience.

He arrived and drove me around the island, which was completely deserted at this point. He showed me the deserted hotels, café and restaurants that looked as if there were never used. I thought, “finally my luck has changed and this is going to be a remarkable piece for The Worthwhile Journal for our next issue.”

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What I didn’t know was, the establishments that “P” was displaying was active. The owners had just left them as they were when the season ended and would refurbish things when the season drew near. Hmmm something none of us know about in regards to tourist destinations.. at least I didn’t.

Because of “P” age, 29, I thought that the Greek crisis was just the results of old traditions that couldn’t adjust to the modern world as we know it but b****t is b****t in any language or territory. And my sensory glands went on high alert. But as the opportunities created more space to facilitate my patience, I thought; “Maybe I was just being paranoid.”

You see, just like the rest of the world, I love the Greek islands. Its fresh, beautiful and there is a sense of purity. At least for anyone that goes there for a short period of time. This time around my intentions was to go deeper and deeper into what the people really thought of the crisis and what did they expect from the tourist that comes in. Plus I knew if I lived amongst the people of Greece, which I always held in high regards, then I would understand more.

I live in Dublin and I know the complaints around the E.U. in regards to which countries had to suffer because of another countries weakness. But I also knew which countries that didn’t complain about others because of the turn around abilities those countries that suffered would rebound from. I couldn’t understand why, with Greece being such a beautiful place, the people in the E.U had very little confidence in Greece rebounding from the crisis.

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When I was able to put things into perspective (Mid March), I realized the aforementioned. From my experience it is was;

“Show the beauty of the island with a natural false sense of hope, captivate them with a temporary story when you don’t know the language, the customs and the traditions, then suddenly the outsiders are more or less sticking their  hand in their pocket. By then its to late and you are now trying to sleep downing a half bottom of Ouzo! – Did it go that far?? Not quite but my patience at this point was kicking the shit out of my ego.

So I asked “P” after nearly a month of not seeing him; “bro where are you? I knew the only person to blame was myself. But in real time talk; there was still opportunities there to make up for the time wasted to show something to my better half of me being away so long.

I never heard from “P” again while I was on the island. –complete and utter b*ll****er- whatever- bullshitter. Although as an optimist, I am thinking this is an isolated case and I loved the island so lets see what else was around.

"P" bar

The apartment where I stay, overlooks the island and every morning I am looking across at Marimaris, Turkey. So its kind of hard to have a dope place in Rodos, a freezer full of food, a top notch gym, some sort of wireless service and pack up and leave. February and March in Dublin isnt a pleasant one. Its cold and rainy, but its home.

Everything that goes up has to come down at some point and that can include a country. Greece has its growing pains and I thought this was just an isolated case.

When I was invited to go to the island futbol match, I was shocked that there was a stadium on the island. I knew there was a basketball team but I wasn’t aware of the league level of futbol on the island. Naturally, I took to Google in search of where the stadium was and to research information on the team.

This would have been perfect for an article within The Worthwhile Journal and also some entertainment. So when the owner of the complex where I had been staying, invited me to the game and informed me that he was the newly appointed President of the club (Rodos FC), I leaped at the opportunity.

Diagoras

His words were; “ My friend come and see the club play and sure you could help bring us money to the club. We are going to take the Greek league by storm.”

Maybe my patience was starting to pay off when I looked at the Google search engine in complete disbelief.. What no web site?- No Rodos FC web site! But a futbol stadium that seats 3,000 people and there is only two professional teams on the island. Eh? By now my patience was on a channel of the Twilight Zone.

I have to pause here and explain. Rodos is and always will be a special place to me and by no means am I making fun or putting the island down. However, this is 2014 and a professional futbol team whose country is participating in the World Cup it is imperative to have some type of web presence.

Stadium excitement

The irony of it all is, I communicated with the president of this club via Facebook and he had more friends on his Facebook than the Futbol Club and neither were over 500 likes. But still there has to be a website for the club right?

So lets start this thing again. What Greek crisis if they are not panicking to respond to the situation or worse, not open enough to accept an open hand of help?- What Crisis?

I am forever saying “if you know better then you do better”. Well if someone informs you that the world is turning to a different page than you are, then you have to either catch up or do things differently because something is obviously wrong. Common sense would tell you if tourist are coming to the island with money and you want them to spend it, then you have to adjust to whatever is going on the outside. Something has to be wrong.

The Scenario;

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Rodos FC have just been promoted to the second division within their league. But they have zero web presence, very little social media  and do not know about the new brave world that exists outside of this remarkable island. They have a major threat of not selling tickets in a historic stadium that is owned by the island, which also owns the team. In other words FIFA, the governing body of futbol, would not be impressed.

Based on what you have read thus far (no web presence and/or social media structure), it seems as one would most likely agree, that this is a gold mine covered with hundreds of years of traditional volcanic ash. So I put together a structure submitted as a keynote presentation and pdf, as a student-marketing consultant, to help them bring in the main currency in sports- money!

I was thinking the whole time, how could I even think of business in such a beautiful place surrounded by remarkable people- I do love Rodos. But…

The problem identified was branding via the social media as well as a blend with respected traditional media to avoid anyone thinking there was a threat of occupation or invaders. Basically I set up their complete social presence, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr scheduled via Hootsuite. The website was created but stated “Under Construction” and was due to launched months before training camp.

Hootsuite was created to suit their convenience to post updates about the clubs developments, youth progress within the club and most of all selling tickets within their historic stadium.

Because the island is a major tourist destination, with a little over 2 million visitors each summer season, there was also a plan to implement social media traffic for the tourist that would arrive. We all know that the first thing anyone does when they come to paradise is “check-in” via social media sites. They want to show the world that they are there as well as share with those who are curious. The bottom line is instant promotion while utilizing instant gratification methods at its finest.

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But the point is, because I brokered a deal with the islands major Internet and phone network (Vod____e). We made sure that the tourist gets information on the club. That information displayed the team, the promotion of the team, and merchandise as well as the upcoming season schedule. Greece had qualified for the the World Cup so naturally I thought the island would be in full swing of Futbol. So why not make the local team jersey for sale as a souvenir or a rarity of support.

Rodos island has only 50K inhabitants and there are 2 million tourists expected during the season. We don’t have to do much adding and subtracting to recognize the revenue stream potential right? At the end of the day as so-called marketing experts, it’s a common sense deal. Merchandise is the number one finance provider for any sports organization anywhere.  This is all done via the wireless networks, which would be a classic case of a mutually beneficial situation.

In short;

The team would garner revenue based on the teams jerseys sold to tourist that could be put into the team as a revenue stream. More money buys better players and creates employment opportunities for a better structure such as a social media department. Mind you the economy is at a historic worst within the E.U. let alone the world.

The other holes within the rubber tire (wheels) that the marketing department would have to facilitate would be one simple method. It would be utilizing the social media utilities to bring in revenue with the natural resources that persist on this amazing island. Common sense makes money; money doesn’t make common sense-right?

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The patience level again;

The problem started with communicating with the president of the club. I called and called and no one was available. This was after nearly 200 hours of putting together a program, hounding my business partners in the States, making sure a social media plan was in place with LA Editions in Paris, France, and getting top recommendations from lecturers at Full Sail. What could possibly be the problem if there is a crisis and you’re being handed the solution.

At my highest level of enthusiasm I approached the president of the club and said, “Hey, lets omit my fee for (the web site I constructed, the social media patterns and engagement we have created that I was billed for 500 euros, the 2000 photos I have taken as well as a video interview, the graphics for the merchandise jerseys that will bring in instant revenue from the tourist sales) in exchange for rent for a mere 300 euros. Just omit my rent and let’s forget about the cheeseburger and let’s eat a steak!

I got no reply. Weeks went by and no response.

At this point it was easy to get a little paranoid as the summer season was starting and tourist was slowly coming in.

It’s really easy to have the patience in paradise but at the end of the day all good things come to an end. There has to be something in place that would validate the 4 months thus far. I could not believe that the facts were pointed out; with Full Sail approving the Keynote presentation yet there was no reaction.

To be quite frank, I didn’t know what to think. All I heard was give me give me and read how the E.U was late on responding to the Greek crisis. But the funny thing of it is the E.U (balanced by Germany) was extending their patience of loaning the Greek government more money and waiting for a return or a plan of returning the billions of euros that the E.U. had loaned.

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There are always two sides to a story. If my patience had grown thin, I can only imagine what the people of the E.U. were thinking. Then again I was one of them and experiencing some serious aggravation in the process. We are after all paying extra tax to accommodate the paradise islands and country of Greece. Yet the country are doing absolutely nothing to educate those who have little finance to build their economy and stop the take take, please help me system but with no return.

How could you help those who cant help themselves or doesn’t want to.

Was this because they thought the world owes them something because of these beautiful islands? Are they lazy- no. Are they friendly and warming?-Yes without question. Are they honest?- that is up to those who are visiting the cities in Greece and judging for themselves.

Please remember this is my experience and one that have been garnered over a mere 6 to 8 summers. But where is the common sense in not following through with business, when you are sitting around drinking Frepes and not doing anything about your crisis. Common Sense makes make right, money does not make common sense.

Overall I would advise anyone to go and have the Greek experience. My agenda was clear cut from the beginning and I am sure everyone’s experience wouldn’t be the same as mine.

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Departing Rodos at 5 am on a ferry to explore every island within Greece, it was very hard to hide my aggravation. Finally I was tired and fatigue had won the battle.

Next stop Macedonia to Pristina, Kosovo.