Sunday, October 16, 2011


There is a bright light shining in Beaumont and I want to share with you that light. But wait, I am ahead of the story.

Forty-five years ago at Baptist Hospital in Beaumont, a beautiful baby girl was born. Her proud parents were Daniel and Geneva Fontenot. The beaming siblings were Daniel, Jr. and Misty.

Rhonda Rochelle grew up in Beaumont and married Joseph Lewis. Currently she has one stepdaughter, Britney Lewis and a step granddaughter, Taliyah.

What turned my attention toward Rhonda can be summed up with the following:

I grew up in Beaumont and lived on Pipkin Street in South Park. Rhonda grew up in Beaumont and lived in the Pear Orchard area of town. Pear Orchard was across the tracks from Pipkin Street. This means that I grew up just a few blocks from where Rhonda grew up even though we were thirty years apart in age.

Much of my young life in Beaumont was taking place while racial tensions were at their highest. I remember while in the third grade at Giles Elementary, asking my mother, “Where are the black kids? Don’t they go to school?" Mom replied with something like, “Oh yes, they have their own schools.” I could not understand the what or why of this information.

One afternoon, I was riding in the backseat of my dad’s 1938 Plymouth. We were heading north on Park Street toward downtown Beaumont. Suddenly, at every intersection, there appeared men in green uniforms directing traffic. I learned that these were called the National Guard, called out to control pending race riots. I did not understand.

The race scene was horrific. Most of you reading this are well aware of the racial strifes throughout the years in Beaumont and surrounding Southeast Texas. I had to drink from the “white” drinking fountains, use the “white” restrooms, ride in the “white” section of the city buses. All the while, I did not understand.

Later, as a young adult in Beaumont, I made many black friends. We still could not eat together in public establishments but we were friends. I felt good knowing my light skin did not offend them and their dark color to me just meant their pigment was different from my own. God created mankind and I strongly believe that Adam and Eve were not the whitest kids on the block. Think about it. After their expulsion from the Garden, they lived in a land where white folks never walked. Perhaps they were not black but rather a pigment color somewhere between our current concepts of black and white.

Anyway, back to Rhonda Rochelle Lewis. A group showed up on Facebook carrying the name “You’re probably from Beaumont Tx. If you remember …” This group which offers open membership began in July, 2011.

Rhonda started this group and received valuable assistance from a white friend of hers, Mary Ann Petry. Mary Ann provided numerous pictures of old and new Beaumont.

Rhonda continues as administrator of the aforementioned group on Facebook. For months I have observed and participated with the group. Rhonda’s beautiful Christian countenance manages with minimal disturbance.

A product of Forest Park High School (Hebert merged with FPHS), Rhonda leads a beautiful Christian life. Here are her words to me, “I know that only through Christ have I been able to sustain. He is my source for being and I am proud to be called one of his.” Rhonda attends New Light Church on Crow Road. She is a Human service tech at Spindletop Center working with mentally disabled adults.

I learned from Rhonda that all people can get along when Jesus Christ is our common denominator.

Yes, there is a bright light shining in Beaumont.

Her name is Rhonda Rochelle Lewis.

(Note: Please send comments and/or responses to

Winston Hamby

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


While I was in the hospial with double pneumonia, my lovely daughter, Deana Hamby Nall, agreed to write a column in my stead ... following is similar to how the newspaper carried her column: wh

Blue Eyes

Jenna was born three years ago tomorrow. Eight-and-a-half pounds. A golden sheen to her head that promised blond hair. Blue eyes.

At least I tell people they're blue. There really isn't a word to describe the color of her eyes.

But I'll try.

I learned to scuba dive in 1993. And I learned something about it right off: scuba diving is a big hassle. So much heavy, awkward equipment is required for breathing underwater. The tank by itself weighs 80 pounds. Then there's the weight belt, which must be adjusted just right so you won't float to the surface or be stuck on the ocean floor. Then you have the BCD, the fins, snorkel, mask and wetsuit -- if the water you're diving in is going to be cold.

But once below the surface, the oppressive gear becomes your key to the underwater world. You swim around weightless, holding out fingers as curious fish swim up to them. Your teeth clench around the regulator that, on land moments before, was uncomfortable in your mouth. Now it's the only way to get air into your lungs. The sound of your constant inhaling and exhaling is a reminder that you're doing something humans weren't made to do. You are living, thriving, underwater. The hassle, for the moment, is forgotten.

It took us a long time to get Jenna into this world. I got pregnant, then miscarried. Pregnant again, then blood one morning. Pregnant a third time, but then more blood. We started thinking adoption. Then I got pregnant again, and this one held. I got very sick, was placed on home healthcare, and then developed gestational diabetes. Then, one Thursday morning, the previous year-and-a-half faded as I finally looked into her eyes.

And I remembered the circle of light.

Thirty feet under the ocean's surface, it's easy to become disoriented -- to the point that you can lose track of which way you're supposed to go to reach air. As a scuba diver, you learn to look for light. Light means surface. When you find the sunlight piercing the blue mass in which you are submerged, you slowly swim toward it, exhaling all the way. Surrounded by varying shades of watery blue, the circle of light expands and seems to pull you toward itself. You keep swimming up, up, up -- until you think your lungs can't expel any more air. But the bubbles keep coming from your mouth, and you keep moving toward the light.

Then you reach it and you burst through it into air, light, life.

That's what color Jenna's eyes are.

The newpaper bio of Deana:

Deana Hamby Nall grew up in Beaumont and graduated from Beaumont Christian High School in 1989. She has been writing feaures for magazines since 1994 and contributes to a number of national publications. She lives in Little Rock with her husband Chad and their daughters Julia and Jenna. This piece originally appeared in "Quills & Pixels," a nonfiction journal published by UALR.