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LHS selected for SFA distinguished program

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DISTINGUISHED HIGH SCHOOL PARTNER Unfurling a banner that states that Stephen F. Austin State University recognizes Livingston High School as a Distinguished High School Partner during a kick-off ceremony Friday are (l-r) LISD Board Member Kevin Wooten, Livingston High School Principal Dr. Paul Drake, SFA President Dr. Scott Gordon and LISD Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins. Photo by Emily Banks WootenDISTINGUISHED HIGH SCHOOL PARTNER Unfurling a banner that states that Stephen F. Austin State University recognizes Livingston High School as a Distinguished High School Partner during a kick-off ceremony Friday are (l-r) LISD Board Member Kevin Wooten, Livingston High School Principal Dr. Paul Drake, SFA President Dr. Scott Gordon and LISD Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins. Photo by Emily Banks Wooten

By Emily Banks Wooten
editor@polkenterprise>

A kick-off ceremony was held Friday to formalize an agreement between Livingston High School (LHS) and Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA) that will have far-reaching implications for local students for years to come.

LHS is one of 12 East Texas schools to be included in SFA’s Distinguished High School Program. Through the program, top-ranking LHS graduates will be automatically eligible for scholarships worth up to $20,000 at SFA as a result of a new partnership between the schools. 

“We appreciate you coming on this special day,” LISD Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins said to a room full of LHS faculty and staff. “What do we do better than anybody else? We change lives. And we’re changing lives today.” 

Hawkins referred to the dual credit courses offered—and paid for—by LISD, in which students may receive high school and college credits for various courses taken while at LHS. He also touched on the Green and White Scholarship Program whereby “well over three-quarters of a million dollars is pumped into education for our students.

“Today is kind of the third leg of that trilogy. In full disclosure, I’m a three-time Lumberjack so I may have a bias, but we couldn’t be any more excited about the vision and partnership for the students of Lion Country,” Hawkins said, as he introduced SFA President Dr. Scott Gordon.

“The students coming out of LHS have some tremendous benefits and here’s where it gets exciting. We want to put resources toward the students of LHS,” Gordon said. “LHS has sent us some tremendous students and we want to continue that. We’re extremely excited about this relationship. We’re excited about developing new partnerships. We’re proud to partner with LHS on this.”

Students from partner schools receive scholarship money for up to four years based on their class rank. Students ranking in the top 10% of their class will receive $5,000 per year and students ranking in the 11-25% of their class with a 3.0 GPA or higher will receive $3,000 per year.

In addition, SFA has waived the $50 application fee for all Livingston students, regardless of class rank, and seniors ranking in the top 30% of their class are guaranteed admission to SFA.

“At SFA, we are fully committed to student success and access, meaning we are constantly seeking new and innovative ways to ensure Texans have affordable access to higher education,” Gordon said. “Our Distinguished High School Program recognizes hardworking high school students by helping them obtain their college degree in a more timely and affordable manner.”

Emma Brecht, SFA’s executive director for enrollment management, said, “Last year was the first year of our Distinguished High School Program. We dropped the $50 enrollment fee because sometimes that $50 can be a barrier.

“We asked ourselves ‘How can we be a bit more distinguished?’ We’ve always offered guaranteed admission to students who ranked in the top 25%. So we upped it to all students in the top 30%, regardless of test scores,” Brecht said.

“The exciting parts are those scholarship opportunities. You may ask yourself ‘What hoops am I going to have to jump through?’ None. You’re a Distinguished High School. You’re automatically admitted,” Brecht said. “We’re excited about this partnership and really looking forward to working with your students.”

Benefits for students at distinguished program partner schools include additional financial aid assistance to students with high financial need; a special, tailored campus visit; and an assigned admissions counselor to serve students throughout the college-enrollment process.

“The district is excited for the students of Livingston in their opportunities to become Lumberjacks,” Hawkins said. “We feel this partnership will pave the way for life-changing experiences at SFA that have proven success with our students. This relationship between Livingston High School and SFA presents a valued partnership with a robust vision to impact those we serve.”

Students from distinguished program schools applying as first-time freshmen at GoApplyTexas.org also should submit official SAT/ACT scores and high school transcripts to the SFA Office of Admissions. For more information about applying to SFA, visit sfasu.edu/apply or call (936) 468-2504. 

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Alabama-Coushatta Principal Chief dies

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Chief Herbert G. Johnson Sr.Chief Herbert G. Johnson Sr.From Enterprise Staff

Herbert G. Johnson Sr., Principal Chief of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, died Monday after a brief hospital stay. He was 79 years old and had served as Mikko Choba Skalaaba since Jan. 1, 2020.

“It is with profound sadness that the Tribal Council of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas reports that the Tribe’s Mikko Choba Skaalaba passed away,” Debrina Sylestine-Dirden, the Tribe’s communications director, said.

A member of the Beaver Clan, Johnson served his people in many capacities throughout his entire life. He was twice elected to the Tribal Council and worked as the Tribal security director for over 21 years. He was elected as the Tribe’s Second Chief following the passing of the then-Principal Chief—Mikko Colabe III—the late Clem Sylestine in 2019. A deacon and elder at the Indian Presbyterian Church, Johnson also served on the Big Sandy ISD Board of Trustees for 48 years.

Johnson was born on April 3, 1942 on the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Indian Reservation near Livingston. After high school, Johnson enrolled at Jacksonville College. A Jacksonville College legend, he earned All-American status in basketball following the 1963 season. Although he stood only 5 feet, 6 inches tall, he set a then all-time national record when he scored 67 points in a single game. He went on to average 33.5 points a game for the season in an era that did not feature a three-point shot. Jacksonville College honored Johnson as a Distinguished Alumnus in 2020. Johnson also attended the University of Houston and played for Coach Guy V. Lewis for one year.

When asked by the Smithsonian National Museum of American Indians what message he would like to share with Tribal youth, Johnson stated, “Our future lies with you. Choose a good path, follow it and fulfill your dreams. Keep your traditions alive. Make good choices. Always stay positive and make a difference.”

“Our Mikko Choba Skaalaba was an inspiration for us all,” Tribal Chairperson Nita Battise said. “He was always respectful of all people and listened carefully before forming a decision. His leadership and guidance were a great asset to the Tribe and he will be deeply missed.”

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe will be observing a period of mourning.



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Creative expression runs in family

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The Johnson family¬—Aaliyah, 14, Stormi, 8, Herb Jr. and Victoria—celebrate Aaliyah’s and Victoria’s inclusion in the newly released PBS book “American Portrait: The Story of Us, Told by Us.” Both women shared about their creative pursuits in the book. The Johnsons are residents of the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation. Photo by Emily Banks WootenThe Johnson family¬—Aaliyah, 14, Stormi, 8, Herb Jr. and Victoria—celebrate Aaliyah’s and Victoria’s inclusion in the newly released PBS book “American Portrait: The Story of Us, Told by Us.” Both women shared about their creative pursuits in the book. The Johnsons are residents of the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation. Photo by Emily Banks Wooten

Local mother, daughter featured in PBS project

By Emily Banks Wooten
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The talents and interests of a mother and daughter from the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation were spotlighted when they were both featured in an ambitious storytelling project conducted by the Public Broadcasting Service, or PBS as it’s more commonly known.

In January 2020, in celebration of its 50th anniversary, PBS launched the storytelling project, American Portrait, inviting people across the country to participate in a national conversation about what it means to be an American today.

The result is “American Portrait: The Story of Us, Told by Us,” a beautiful book that not only captures the tumultuous, historic year that was 2020, but also reminds us that everyone has a story.

Victoria Johnson, a photographer, and her daughter Aaliyah, a 14-year-old Big Sandy ISD student who’s into art and comedy, learned about the project through Native Hoop Magazine, a Native American publication they’ve contributed to monthly for the past five years that was promoting the PBS project.

A snapshot of the people that comprise America, the book features more than 400 entries and photographs, all of which began with an answer to a prompt:

  • My American story started when...
  • You don’t know what it’s like to...
  • My greatest challenge is...
  • The tradition I carry on is...
  • I was raised to believe...
  • What keeps me up at night is...
  • My American dream is…
  • I took a risk when...
  • When I step outside my door...
  • Most days I feel…

Aaliyah Johnson, 14, an incoming ninth-grader at Big Sandy High School, shows off her picture in the newly released PBS book “American Portrait: The Story of Us, Told by Us.” Both Aaliyah and her mother submitted entries that were included in the book. Courtesy photoAaliyah Johnson, 14, an incoming ninth-grader at Big Sandy High School, shows off her picture in the newly released PBS book “American Portrait: The Story of Us, Told by Us.” Both Aaliyah and her mother submitted entries that were included in the book. Courtesy photoVictoria and Aaliyah both selected the prompt, “My American dream is…”

This is Victoria’s submission: “My American dream is to continue what I have loved since I was nine years old and that is photography. My name is Victoria and this is just a piece of my story. It started as a hobby and more recently has become my business. It will forever be my love and my passion. It started as a gift passed down from my late father who also loved photography and enjoyed it as a hobby a good number of years of his life. I want to remain humble throughout the entire process. I have met some incredible people throughout my journey. Both photographers and non-photographers alike. I have had the enjoyment of seeing several of my images published. Documenting Native American dancers at powwows is a favorite of mine as both of my daughters are dancers. Always remember to keep going and to never give up on your dreams!”

            “I was probably about nine years old when I got my first point and shoot camera. My late father was a photographer as a hobby. I got my first professional camera in 2014 and after a few years decided to start the family business, SkyeBreese Photography,” Victoria said of the business that derives its name from the combination of her two daughters’ middle names.

“The paying part is mostly portraits, family sessions, events,” Victoria said, adding, “I do enjoy other kinds. I like street photography, landscapes. I think the biggest thing for sure is Native American photography.”

            Victoria’s photography has appeared in other publications, as well as in a street photography showcase in San Antonio called Urban Grind Vol. 2 and an exhibit at the fine art gallery at Lone Star College in Kingwood.

This is Aaliyah’s submission: “My American dream is to continue to pursue my art and comedy. My name is Aaliyah and I’m 13 years old. I’m an enrolled tribal citizen of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. I enjoy sketch drawing and posting my comedy videos. I like making people laugh. I also enjoy dancing with other Indigenous people at powwows!”

Aaliyah’s art and comedy are everything to her.

“What I do is mostly sketching. I prefer all-out sketching with pencil. I started about five years ago, just picked it up on my own. In fifth grade, my sketch was picked to be exhibited in the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Art Show,” Aaliyah said.

She also dabbles in photography and has been published in three magazines for kid photographers.


“My comedy is something I try to do regularly. It started when I stole a wig from my uncle that I found at his house in a bedroom. I just started doing stuff. Rolanda and Ricardo are the two characters,” Aaliyah said.

She’s had her own YouTube channel, RolandaJ/nativerolanda, since 2017.

“The most embarrassing part is that some of my friends found it and my teacher played it in class,” Aaliyah said.

“She loves just making people laugh,” Victoria said of her daughter. “A comedian from another tribe, Moonie, reached out to her after seeing her YouTube channel.”

Aaliyah also participates in Southern Cloth Dancing, which is a slow dance of graceful movement that the women in the south do. When she was younger, she did Jingle, a northern-style dance that originated in the Ojibway Nation.

An incoming high school freshman, Aaliyah said she’d like to go to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. to continue her art after she graduates.

Influenced by her late father whose hobby was photography, Victoria Johnson has been interested in photography since she was nine years old. She purchased her first professional camera in 2014 and started the family business Skyebreese Photography. Her photographs have been published in multiple publications and shown in several exhibits. Courtesy photoInfluenced by her late father whose hobby was photography, Victoria Johnson has been interested in photography since she was nine years old. She purchased her first professional camera in 2014 and started the family business Skyebreese Photography. Her photographs have been published in multiple publications and shown in several exhibits. Courtesy photo“A producer contacted me regarding Aaliyah in November because she was a minor and they wanted to include her in the book. They said the book would be coming out June 22 of 2021,” Victoria said.

When asked when she found out that she, too, would be included in the book, Victoria and her husband, Herb Johnson Jr., both said simultaneously, “The day we bought it.”

It’s evident that Herb is very proud of his wife and daughters and rightfully so.

“The little one is following in the footsteps of her older sister with her art and both of them are self-taught,” Herb said, referring to Aaliyah’s little sister, Stormi, 8, who will start third grade soon.

            Aaliyah and Stormi are the granddaughters of Herbert G. Johnson Sr., Mikko Choba, Chief Skalaba, the principal chief of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas.

“Told by people of all ages, orientations, and walks of life, these unique stories of joy, adversity, love, sacrifice, grief, sharing, triumph, and grace, centered on the themes of family, work, fun, faith, and community, illuminate the struggles, hopes, dreams, and convictions of Americans today,” a promotion for the book states.

 

Aaliyah Johnson, 14, has participated in Native American dancing most of her life. She presently participates in Southern Cloth Dancing, which is a slow dance of graceful movement that the women in the south do. When she was younger, she did Jingle, a northern-style dance that originated in the Ojibway Nation. Courtesy photoAaliyah Johnson, 14, has participated in Native American dancing most of her life. She presently participates in Southern Cloth Dancing, which is a slow dance of graceful movement that the women in the south do. When she was younger, she did Jingle, a northern-style dance that originated in the Ojibway Nation. Courtesy photo“The more we share with our fellow citizens, the more we can see a real, complex and fascinating representation of our country that is far richer and deeper than headlines and elections tell us. As intriguing, thoughtful, and distinct as the nation it embodies, American Portrait is a photographic manifestation of Walt Whitman’s immortal words, ‘I am large. I contain multitudes’—and a vital and ultimately hopeful reminder that what we all share is much greater and enduring than what may divide us,” the promotion also states.

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Livingston Walmart closes doors for “sanitizing”

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walmart closed 1000

One of the county’s busiest stores closed its doors Friday with the
promise of re-opening Sunday.

Around 2 p.m. Friday, a few of the final Walmart shoppers left the
store and shoppers attempting to enter were told they no longer could.

Livingston Police were on hand to assist Walmart employees with
informing customers that the store had closed until Sunday at 6 a.m.
Sanitizing and restocking were the reasons given for the closure to
patrons at the front door.

Livingston Police and Walmart employees both said they were not
notified of the closure until Friday morning.

The Enterprise has been informed that an outbreak amongst employees
could be the reason for a shutdown of about 40 hours, but that has yet
to be confirmed.

Management at the store would not comment on the situation, and the
Enterprise was instead directed to a website for media requests, which
was not returned by press time Friday.

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