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At home on ‘the edge’

  • Written by Wiley Henry
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There wasn’t much that Glynn Johns Reed didn’t do when it came to promoting cultural awareness and providing a template for business owners and entrepreneurs to showcase their products. Her efforts led to the birth of the Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival, the It’s All About Raleigh newsletter, and the Black Pages New Orleans business magazine. 
 
Reed was known for motivating people and empowering them as well. She understood the importance of celebrating her ethnicity and the African-American culture, often introducing herself in the “movement” community as Ayola, her “freedom name.” 
Reed continued networking and creating opportunities for herself and others in Memphis and New Orleans until a debilitating illness slowed her down. She died Sunday, July 6 at her home in the Raleigh community. She was 66.  
 
Reed had a reputation that spread from Memphis to New Orleans, where she’d lived for two decades. She fell in love with the city and became an integral part of its cultural scene and business community. Those who knew her and her storied career, whether in Memphis or New Orleans, reflected on what she meant to them.
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“Glynn Johns Reed was deeply devoted to the Memphis community. She gave of herself in a way that inspired us all to want to do more,” said Mayor A C Wharton Jr. “In her specific work to celebrate and mark our history, she was a phenom. And while her presence will be missed, her impact will long be felt.”
 
For State Rep. Antonio “2-Shay” Parkinson, who represents District 98, which encompasses the Raleigh/Frayser community, Reed was a source of education and inspiration.
 
 “I finished high school in Texas (linked to the birth of the Juneteenth celebration) and didn’t know anything about Juneteenth. I got my education in regards to Juneteenth from Glynn,” he said. 
 
“She was an inspiration and a big supporter in everything I did from a leadership standpoint,” said Parkinson, who credits Reed for inspiring him to launch the annual Block Party for Peace in the Raleigh community.
 
He also took over as publisher of the It’s All About Raleigh newsletter after Reed moved on to focus on re-launching the quarterly Black Pages New Orleans business magazine, which she first started in 1984. That was the year New Orleans’ businessman Vernes Keeler Sr., president and CEO of V. Keeler and Associates, Inc., first met Reed.
 
“She was an impressive African-American female starting a magazine,” said Keeler, recalling Reed’s tenacity. “She was always consistent, a person committed to African-American businesses. Whatever commitment she made, you could count on her keeping it.”
 
Reed operated an office in New Orleans while living in Memphis. She commuted several times during the month. Keeler said the business community missed her after she moved back to Memphis in 1991. Earlier this year, he provided Reed with free office space in the building that houses his company. 
 
“It was a joy to have her in my office,” said Keeler, who graces the cover of Reed’s last issue. “She’s going to be missed.”
 
A native Memphian, Reed graduated from Douglass High School in 1966, Tennessee State University in 1971, and shortly thereafter left for New Orleans.
 
Apart from publishing the Black Pages, Reed launched the Message Board
Telephone Answering Service, taught aspiring models at the Barbizon School of Modeling and managed the agency as well, performed in over 50 television commercials and movies, signed on as a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild, and was the first African-American concierge hired at the Hyatt Regency Hotel next to the Superdome.
 
It was all about New Orleans, said Arthur Reed, who married Glynn Johns in 1994. “Glynn loved all things New Orleans and was very dedicated to the Douglass community. That’s why Juneteenth stayed in Douglass Park.”
 
That was the year the newlyweds first trekked to New Orleans by car and braved an ice storm that was wreaking havoc on Memphis. 
 
“We were driving on ice from Memphis to Grenada on I-55. It was down to two lanes and trees were falling,” Reed recalls. “When we got to Grenada, the sun came up and stayed out. That’s the way our relationship was.” 
 
Bennie Nelson West, executive director of the Memphis Black Arts Alliance, said their mutual love for celebrating the African-American community and its heritage was the core of their friendship. She’d known Reed since the late 1970s.
 
Their relationship was strengthened, she said, when “we shared experiences at the Memphis Black Arts Alliance with our 1984 and 1985 Beale Street Juneteenth Celebration and when I helped her launch the Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival in Douglass Park.
 
“Our latest joint venture was last year at the Historic Daisy on Beale, where we celebrated the 1st Juneteenth Jazz-A-F!RE in conjunction with the National Juneteenth Jazz Observance Foundation and the 20th anniversary of Glynn’s Juneteenth festival in Douglass Park.” 
 
After being gone from Memphis for so many years and returning home, Reed found time to teach inner-city preteens, teens and young adults the importance of etiquette and social grace at her own Ms. Glynn’s Charm and Finishing School.
 
“She always looked for avenues to reach the youth. She wanted to leave a legacy for African-American young girls…and her children,” said Crystal Chopin, who didn’t realize until recently the extent of her mother’s reputation and didn’t understand the vigor that she would summon to get things accomplished. 
 
But what Chopin did know was that her mother was “unapologetically herself.”
 
“She was honest and loved her culture. She also loved teaching people about it,” said Chopin. “Now I can continue the legacy.”
 
“For me, it was about blackness,” Reed once explained to a reporter. She ended the interview with her favorite quote from author Stephen Hunt: “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”
 
Glynn Johns Reed’s wake will be held Friday (July 11th) from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Bellevue Frayser, 3759 N. Watkins. The funeral will be held at the church on Saturday at 1 p.m. The burial is Monday at West Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery, 4000 Forest Hill/Irene Road. The time has not been determined.

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