Dec. 1, 2013
There’s a lot to notice about a Savannah radio personality named Lady Mahogany. Her energy. Her spirit. Her warmth. She’s a dancer, an organizer, a doer. Last weekend she was front and center at Sam’s Club in Sandfly collecting food and money for Blessings in a Bookbag, a nonprofit she started for kids who don’t have enough to eat.
It doesn’t take much to get Mahogany’s story – at least the first ring of what must have been a complicated series of negotiations, adjustments and accommodations. She’s a public figure. She stands out. She’s danced in Africa, modeled with Wilhelmina in Paris, appeared as backup to Beyonce, Janet Jackson and Madonna. People want to know about her. That means she has to have a “story” at the ready, something to answer their curiosity.
Here’s what I like best about that story; it’s what she offers about her parents. “They did the best they could,” she says, straight out. No more, no less. No blame. No anger. When Mahogany, born Weslyn Bowers, was growing up in Woodsville, her parents, she says, were doing the same: “growing up.” They were “living their life.” And that’s about all she’s going to say about that time.
Mahogany had her brother. She had her grandparents. She had some sixth sense about how she wanted to live her life. After the family moved to Frazier Homes, public housing for low-income families, and high school was coming up, she knew she didn’t want to go to Beach. She knew she didn’t want to go to Savannah High. She was afraid those schools would break her spirit.
“I knew the violence level at that time,” she says. “I knew the kids from the neighborhood and what they were facing.”
Enter serendipity. Enter savvy. When someone told her about Savannah Arts Academy, facing its first year, she got busy. She did a little fudging with the paperwork and got herself an audition.
“I figure that’s all I needed,” she said. “Just to be seen.”
She graduated with honors in the school’s first graduating class. She danced with the Sankofa dance group. She traveled with the group to West Africa and then returned to teach and dance some more. She was living the life.
“But I was arrogant,” she said. “I lied about stuff. I said I was from Atlanta and not Savannah. I was never alone but I was lonely. Then one day I was backstage somewhere and they were passing trays (of drugs) – and I never drank, I never did drugs – and I went off and just sobbed. I was missing my community. I said I’d never go back. Everyone said I was too dark, too skinny, I would never amount to anything. But then I realized I was denying my community and that is who made me.”
So she returned and embraced her brother, Kareem Evans, a longshoreman, “who raised me;” her father, Wesley Bowers, a bridge attendant for the city and an early entrepreneur, “who gave me my style, my swag and who never lets up on me,” and her community.
Once again, an opportunity appeared and she took it.
“A friend tricked me,” she said. “Her son was in my dance class. There was a competition at 94.1, the radio station, which I knew nothing about. I read from a piece of paper. Three months later I was working on radio.”
A few years after that she another vision – hungry kids – and a way to help. So she walked into Bartow elementary school, which she had attended, sometimes hungry, and offered to start a program matching food and kids. It’s taken on. Now every Friday more than 50 kids go home with food for the weekend.
Mahogany is a connector. It wasn’t long before she met Molly Lieberman, another connector. Then Lieberman, who runs an innovative after-school art program at the West Broad Street YMCA, introduced Mahogany to Julie Rogers Varland, a SCAD professor in architecture. Varland teaches a class in making connections (though she calls it Story Savannah Class).
Radio personality/dancer meet artist/community organizer meet innovator/community-aware SCAD teacher. During this recent semester Varland took her students to Mahogany’s radio station to listen to her story. It was compelling enough for the class to decide to design, print and present printed material for Mahogany’s November/December food drive at Sam’s.
But there’s something else, too.
“Mahogany offers a lesson for how to apply a design idea into how you design your life,” said Varland. “Learning doesn’t stop at an assignment. It makes them a citizen of life.”
No one knows that better than Lady Mahagony.
The Lady Mahogany