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Tara’s Journey with Mesothelioma, Banning Asbestos in Georgia and the Mission [Podcast]

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mesothelioma and banning asbestos

On this very special episode of Peachtree Corners Life, Rico Figliolini sits down with Rich DeAugustinis to talk about the cause and effect of asbestos as Rich shares the heartwarming story of his wife Tara’s battle with mesothelioma. Join them as well as Georgia State House Representative (District 95) Beth Moore and Scott Hilton (Executive Director for the Georgians First Commission under the Office of the Governor) about their mission with The Asbestos Free Georgia Bill.

Related Links:
Learn more about Tara’s story: https://www.curemeso.org/blog/tara/
Learn more about Mesothelioma: CureMeso.org and Cancer.gov
Beth Moore: Beth.Moore@house.ga.gov and MooreForGeorgia.com
Scott Hilton: (404) 950-8902 and @ScottHiltonGA
Rich DeAugustinis: (404) 547-8153 and Rich@DeAugustinis.com

Show Notes:
[00:00:30] Introduction
[00:04:00] Tara’s Story
[00:08:06] Introduction of guests; Beth and Scott
[00:11:11] Learning more about Mesothelioma
[00:16:54] How Rich got involved
[00:21:47] Banning asbestos in Georgia
[00:27:59] Next steps
[00:34:14] Setting up a National Patient Registry
[00:41:36] The Asbestos Free Georgia Bill
[00:44:16] Closing

MORE RELATED LINKS:

Tara’s Meso Journey

This is a collection of the blog updates that Tara and I wrote during her journey. They provide excellent context on what happened and the consequential impact on our family.

My YouTube Video about Asbestos & Mesothelioma

A video I did in Dec 2018 explaining Tara’s mesothelioma journey and death, and the link to current news re: asbestos tainted Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder. Also, this coverage from 11 Alive following my video…

GA Asbestos Ban Press Conference

This is the YouTube link to the press conference we had on Sept 26 (Meso Awareness Day) to announce our intentions to propose a ban on asbestos in GA, and an article from the GDP on the press conference.

https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-health-fda-talc/

Podcast Transcript:

Rico: [00:00:30] Hi everyone. This is Rico Figliolini host of Peachtree Corners Life. I appreciate you guys coming on and listening to our show. This is an evening here in the city of Peachtree Corners, and actually this podcast room is at Atlanta Tech Park in Tech Park, Atlanta. We’re on the Mobility Road here. The Curiosity Lab at Peachtree corners is a 1.7 mile track. Autonomous vehicles can run here. It’s a live living lab that interacts with people on the road with cars on the road, and it’s used and it’s owned by the city to allow other companies to be able to come here and do the work of internet of things, mobility, anything that has to deal with your phone, mobile devices, cars, autonomous vehicles and all that. So Atlanta Tech Park is on that road, and I want to introduce a lead sponsor of ours called Hargray Fiber. They understand business is unique and every business needs a unique package to be able to be successful and Hargray Fiber is a major player in the Southeast. They provide customized solutions for hundreds of businesses throughout the Southeast. They are based in Hilton Head, they are very community friendly. They reach out to the communities that they go into. They provide fiber to the small businesses, to also enterprise level businesses. Looking for a full suite of IT services, including voice, TV and internet connectivity. So no matter what business or industry you’re in Hargray Fiber, which is the backbone of Curiosity Labs at Peachtree Corners. Believe it or not, even though it’s 5G enabled and it’s wireless and all that, you still got to bring the internet and buy some way and Hargray Fiber does that through their fiber. So if you want to find out more information, please visit HargrayFiber.com. So now that I’ve gotten introductions out of the way, we have a good group of people here. I want to be able to introduce our first, first of three guests here, and that is Rich DeAugustinis.

Rich: [00:02:31] Good evening. How are you, Rico? Yes, DeAugustinis is indeed…

Rico: [00:02:34] DeAugustinis. And mind you, I tried that before we went on, so sorry about that Rich. So we’re here really on a serious note, we’re going to be discussing a little bit about, you know, the word is asbestos. And, I think anyone that is familiar with that word and old enough to understand where that word came from and all that, thought like me, maybe that it was banned a long time ago in the seventies and eighties. It has not been done, at least not in the United States. And Richard, we’re going to talk about the asbestos journey, which is a journey that, it’s a short journey, but provided a spark I think at the end of it that you really have taken ownership of wanting to make Georgians healthier and provide a path to that safety net, if you will. And I want to talk about that. So, Peachtree Corners Magazine has a profile on the asbestos journey. So if you haven’t gotten a copy in the mail and every household in the city has, should be. If you haven’t, let me know. Otherwise, you could go online at LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com. Find the digital edition there and you can read that story along with others in Peachtree Magazine. And, you know, the comments on this. If you’ve seen it on Facebook, I’d love to know a little bit more about your journey as well, if you’re familiar with this. So Richard, tell us, tell us. Start from the beginning.

Rich: [00:04:00] Actually four years ago, this coming weekend, cause it was my daughter’s winter break four years ago this coming weekend, Tara had her initial onset of symptoms. We were at Disney, for Aubrey’s winter break and Tara was, we thought she just had a cold that had
turned into pneumonia. And she said, I’m just going to stay in bed, you guys go enjoy Disney. So unfortunately, Aubrey and I went and enjoyed Disney for a few days. And we would come back after each day and I would insist that we go back to Atlanta and she would say, no, I’m fine. And she got progressively worse and progressively worse. By the time we did get back to Atlanta, it was very serious, and we went to Emory Johns Creek the next day. And, it turns out she had a tremendous amount of fluid around her right lung. It’s called a pleural effusion. And that pleural effusion was caused by Meso, but at the time, we didn’t know that. We went through a series of, pretty quick doctor’s appointments. I will tell you that was a huge blessing because there are some folks that don’t have a clear diagnosis mesothelioma for over a year because it doesn’t always present in obvious fashions. It’s really hard to confirm what it is because it is so deep in the body. But we were blessed that she had a clear diagnosis and about a three to four week timeframe, she had to have exploratory surgery to get it. But we had that clear diagnosis and then quickly had to have a plan of attack to, for her to try to, to overcome it.

Rico: [00:05:48] So that came on fairly fast. It’s not like you’re not feeling well over several months and stuff. It just sounds like it came on quick.

Rich: [00:05:56] It’s, I’m told it’s, often called the sudden disease because it can lie and wait literally for decades cause the length of time from exposure to asbestos to when the initial onset of symptoms can take place, is, can be anywhere from 20 to 50 years. Which is why it’s very, very difficult to say what caused it and how you address that, right? Because cases that we’re seeing today could have started two to five decades ago, right?

Rico: [00:06:37] That’s interesting. If anyone that watches CNN on a regular basis, maybe Fox, and there’s two better, don’t watch that on a regular basis. Might notice the Meso commercials that always come on every morning. It’s always there. And they talk about, you know, I know a little bit about, you know, where they started from and really armed forces, the ship yards and all that. And that’s why, you know, they’re still advertising it now. And then it dawned on me why they, you know, 30, 40 years later, people can be diagnosed with that. And, but it’s not just that, it’s, it’s in your wife’s case, you believe it was talc, then?

Rich: [00:07:14] Yes, I do. Incidentally Meso is the most litigated disease today, in modern society in the United States. Which is why there’s roughly 3000 new cases a year, the probability of living longer than about 18 months, is probably 5% to 10%. It is a very, it is one of the five deadliest cancers out there. And, just, when you hear the word Meso it’s with reasonable certainty, you know, it’s likely going to be a death sentence. The number of actual survivors of Meso, are very, very small and obviously very blessed, to have gotten past it.

Rico: [00:08:06] The mortality rate is very high. Yeah. Let me also introduce our other guests here as well. We have Scott Hilton, a representative of governor Kemp’s office, I believe in the, and obviously the title we’ll throw that up because that’s the only way I’ll see it, Executive Director of the Georgians First Commission.

Scott: [00:08:25] Yeah, I appreciate the introduction Rico and to have an opportunity to lead the Georgian’s First Commission, but that honestly, really here more in my role is as a private citizen and really a fan of Rich and his family having a joined in the journey after, Tara’s death, and gotten to know Rich, just personally here I am one of his biggest fans and some borders and just so impressed by the passion and compassion he puts into this fight in preserving her life and legacy. And so I’m honored to, to be able to do whatever I can, just use whatever knowledge, that little knowledge I have to help support Rich and this effort to, to really bring a solution to help end this, disease, and to help bring comfort for other people. So really proud to be here today.

Rico: [00:09:12] Rich was sharing with me ahead of time, like four or five years ago, you guys started getting real close a little bit, on, on your relationship about Tara and about, this journey you’re taking out like this. I mean, it’s not just a journey. I mean, you own this, you really want to make sure that, this, this passes and people are educated. And, and are aware of this disease as well as what, asbestos can do and that it’s not banned in the United States.

Rich: [00:09:40] Yeah, absolutely.

Rico: [00:09:40] Also want to introduce Beth Moore, State Rep for District 95. And, I appreciate you being here too, Beth.

Beth: [00:09:48] Yeah. Thank you, Rico. It’s always nice to be on your podcast, so thanks for having me back.

Rico: [00:09:52] We’re going to have to bring it back again when we talk about e-sports, but, that’s another time. But, you know, tell us a little bit about, you know, what, you know, how you came to this. How Rich and this whole thing came to you because you’re sponsoring a bill in the house then?

Beth: [00:10:07] I am. Yes. Well, you know, Rich is a model constituent in that he identified a problem in the community. In this case, it’s the availability of asbestos containing products still being sold in Georgia, and then came with a solution, which is that we can provide a legislative solution to this problem. And he came in and visited me at my office this summer, and told me about Tara’s story. And I mean, it was by the time he got done showing me the pictures and telling me the story, I felt like I knew her. And that I wanted to be on this journey with him to find a solution that would prevent other situations like the one that Tara went through from happening to other families here in Georgia. So it was, it was an easy sell for me. It was hard to learn the story and, but, I’m also honored to know Tara’s story through Rich and to work with him and my good friend Scott Hilton on bringing legislative solutions to this issue.

Rico: [00:11:11] I’m glad that you guys got together for this. Let’s go back to Rich for a second to the, if you want to hear about Tara’s story. Where can they go to? As far as anyone listening, we’d like to…

Rich: [00:11:24] There is a, probably the best way to, to, to understand it is, there is a series of blog posts on the Meso foundation website. In fact, the article in Peachtree Corners, magazine has the link to it.

Rico: [00:11:39] Has the link to it. Now we’re going to put that link in the podcast show notes. So listening, watching this, are they up to scroll down or just go to the website and you can find that there and read the not daily, but the weekly or somewhat weekly, monthly posts.

Rich: [00:11:52] It was, it really came about where as most people in this situation, especially modern society today, you, you just have a lot of, a lot of people that are interested in. Knowing what’s happening and social media and the internet being what it is, affords you a, an efficient way to communicate that. So we, I just did Facebook and CaringBridge posts and it became an outlet for me, frankly, because when you’re going through that the emotion, the, mean, you’re, you’re shell shocked. You feel like you’re walking across the battlefield. I saw the movie 1917, a few weeks ago. It’s a great movie. The reason I mentioned that is that, the, I, that was the first time since when Tara was sick that I actually felt I had the visceral feeling, same emotional feeling that I did back then. But those posts for me and also for Tara gave an outlet for us to just share what was on our heart about what was literally happening to her, what she was experiencing, what we were trying to do to overcome the disease and how we were feeling about that. And, the Meso foundation were gracious enough to, you know, help to package those together. Kind of an easy to read format. So it’s easy to read to understand her story. Yeah.

Rico: [00:13:18] Yeah. And that story started back in 2000 was it? 2016

Rich: [00:13:24] February of 2016.

Rico: [00:13:26] ‘16 and, and, long time, but it’s been three years now since she passed. And you know, I mean, I know to lose someone even three years later. I mean, it’s, it’s tough. It doesn’t go away.

Rich: [00:13:43] It is.

Rico: [00:13:43] And there’s probably things you see sometimes that just reminds you of deeply about, about these issues.

Rich: [00:13:51] Grief is something that doesn’t go away completely. You, you learn to carry it, you learn to manage it. You learned to put it into positive things, or some choose to put it in a negative thing. So I don’t recommend that. But, you, you have, you have a choice, right? You press forward with life. And, Tara, for those that knew Tara, they, she was the, the ultimate project manager. And she, she could boss CEOs around and they would just snap their heels and whatever you need us to do, ma’am. And she had a clear set of directives, for Aubrey and
for me, even as she was, going home to Jesus. It was, this is what I want you to do. This where I want you focused. I don’t want you worrying about me. So, and, I am in part, honoring her, and part honoring that, but, but what really motivates me to do what I do is having had a, a first, I had a front row to watching someone suffer through mesothelioma and no human being should ever have to have literally everything that they are taken away from them, breath by breath over 15 months. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and I just don’t want that to happen to other, other human beings. It’s, there is no acceptable cost to some of the choices that have been made over the last several decades by corporations and by our government, there is no acceptable cost to, you know, we, we need to, we need to draw a line on this and, acknowledge this, this, substance for what it is and ban it.

Rico: [00:15:41] This is unlike other chemicals. environmental issues where it could be parts per billion or parts per million that are acceptable levels. This is not an acceptable, acceptable level, right? I mean, whatever particles are there will if it affects you, it is. Your system will be, will have a high fatality rate.

Rich: [00:16:04] It is settled science that asbestos causes mesothelioma. And it is settled science that there is no safe amount of exposure that you can be exposed to.

Rico: [00:16:19] When you, when you found out this was Meso what did, did you know what Meso was?

Rich: [00:16:23] No. And most people, when they hear that word, they have no idea what it is. In fact, generally the reaction is: Isn’t that the disease that the commercials are on Saturday mornings and late night about because the, all those, all those legal marketing firms and law firms are trying to find a very small number of clients to sue. To the legal dimension this is a whole different, whole different conversation, but the, yeah, it’s…

Rico: [00:16:54] It’s hard to get it out there. Right. So now you, you got to a certain point, you found out what it was, you did a lot of research. Did you get involved, well you got involved with the foundation of Meso, is it meso.org? That the, so what did you do at that point? I mean, I mean at the point that you, you know, Tara was still here. Were you involved in that or did you get involved in that later?

Rich: [00:17:22] So I was motivated initially to get involved with, I, I joined several support groups for caregivers because I was Tara’s caregiver. And I’m trying to deal with the reality of being a nurse, having a full time job, being a dad, managing the house, all those sorts of things. And needed help from other people that were walking through this as well, or had walked through it before. And that grew my awareness as we were walking through and you know, as I was walking alongside Tara as she fought, that grew my awareness of these advocacy organizations out there and the Meso foundation in particular. You know, she, Tara’s journey was, she went through, after that initial surgery to identify her diagnosis, she went through six rounds of chemotherapy. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, Winship Cancer Institute,
part of the Emory Network. Amazing organization, doctors Sam Chetty and the other doctors that took care of her, just an extraordinary, care and support. But she went through six rounds of chemo, that was followed by a massive surgery in August of 2016 where her right lung was removed. Half of her diaphragm was removed and half of her, pericardi which is the sack holds your heart was removed. Ostensibly, this surgery would remove 99% of the Meso within her body, and it was successful. That was followed by about, four to, I think it was about four to five weeks of radiation. Which should have killed the rest of the, the Meso that was left from the microscopic amounts left in her body. The problem was it had gotten into the lymph system and jumped over to her remaining lung, and then it basically went into overdrive when it got there. And that’s ultimately what took her. So it was, you know, just enduring through all of that. Taking care of her, trying to meet her needs, that I became aware of these, these advocacy organizations and became motivated. You know, the more you understand the fact that this disease is preventable, this is a preventable tragedy that’s happening in slow motion. To yet admittedly a few thousand people a year, but it’s a few thousand that it shouldn’t happen to them. And those few thousand turn into tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands when you look around the world.

Rico: [00:20:12] It’s not like a contagious disease that’s, that’s what you’re really getting at. It’s more like we’re doing it to ourselves really.

Rich: [00:20:18] Absolutely. We, we make, we make the choice to pull asbestos out of the ground and do things with it, right? We let companies make stuff. We let, they’re still raw asbestos is actually still exported by three or four countries in the world, Russia, I think India and China still export it. There’s not much imported into the United States anymore. That’s very much on the wane. But the doesn’t mean the risk has gone away because there’s, there’s risk from legacy asbestos in, in, older buildings. and, and some, some frankly, unusual and unexpected places. For example, consumer products. If, if you do a Google search on asbestos in, and, and, and a teenage girl’s makeup or asbestos in crayons, there’s, there’s some really unexpected places that you find asbestos turning up, largely because they’re products that are manufactured overseas. And imported into the United States and aren’t, it doesn’t require testing. They’re largely unregulated industries that, end up, you know, with these, these unexpected exposures. And frankly, as these things happen, you’ll, there are, you know, Claire’s and Justice are two retailers that both had products that were tested and confirmed to contain asbestos within the last couple of years. We won’t know the real cost of what happened with those products for decades to come.

Rico: [00:21:47] You know, if there’s a good part to this consumer products, a little easier to remove, right? Because you can put the pressure on you know we can put the pressure on that, right? But the business to business is a whole different story. So how, how do you think Scott, Beth? How do you think, you know, the state of Georgia should? I asked that question, I asked the question before the show about you know, where do you mine it? Do we have mines in the state of Georgia that mine asbestos itself like that, or talc rather, that might be near asbestos veins. We don’t have any data on any of that stuff. But we do have the data that exists on the,
so right now and on some products that exist here. So is it easy enough to ban this in the state of Georgia? As one state versus, you know, the United States. How do we do that?

Beth: [00:22:43] So there are kind of two competing sets of laws here that we’re having to navigate. On the one hand, federal law is what governs interstate commerce under the commerce clause in the constitution. So, you know, we, we hadn’t put all of the options on the table, how we might go about proposing a state law, which is of course the, the level of government in which I serve. And you know, it was, the legislative council came back and said, you cannot ban, asbestos, or as best as containing products from being imported or, prevented from being able to travel through the state of Georgia. Because that’s interstate commerce. Only the federal government would be able to do that. So, the port of Savannah, right? That’s in the state of Georgia, but it’s, it’s governed by federal law. So Georgia can’t, you know, prevent asbestos, or asbestos containing products from coming through the port. But where we may have leverage, and what we’re going to try to do, is propose a piece of legislation that would prevent retailers and that may include wholesalers from being able to sell asbestos containing products within the state of Georgia. So while it may travel from the port of Savannah to other States that allow those types of products to be sold, it could not be sold in Georgia. And anyone who violates that provision would be, could be, pursued under a civil penalty and have to pay a fine.

Rico: [00:24:11] Do you think this is a good model piece of legislation for other States to follow? I mean, it would have to be, it will, it will be tested in court at some point. I mean, the industry will sue to say, you know, you can’t do that. I mean, are you creating this as a model piece of legislation? Other States might be able to follow?

Beth: [00:24:29] So one of the tips when you are devising legislation is to look and see what other States are doing. And so we modeled, what will ultimately become our proposal here in Georgia on what other States have done. I would imagine that if all 50 States passed the same or similar piece of legislation that that would do away with any market demands for these types of products. You know, the other way to do it would be for Congress to get its act together and to pass a nationwide solution for this. But until they do, we have to go state by state.

Rico: [00:25:04] If I remember right, there was a piece of not legislation but regulation out of the EPA during the 80s. About almost doing that, but it was never quite followed through. And it was a, it was essentially a ban, but it was stopped at some point. It was late eighties I think.

Rich: [00:25:20] There’s, there’s, there’s pending federal legislation that is actually passed out of committee and will at some point, I don’t know exactly when we’ll have a full load on the, on the House floor. And it’s, I don’t remember the exact number of the bill, but it’s called, it’s Our Ban for short, but it’s a, it’s a, it would be a federal ban on asbestos weather where that goes, we don’t know. But, and there’s a number of reasons for, to ban asbestos in the state of Georgia. It’s, I mean, we need to do it to protect the health of our citizens. We need to do it to send a message to, frankly, frankly the federal government. But also organizations that make whatever
the nature of the organization is, when you’re making choices that affect human beings and the state of Georgia and ultimately the United States of America, you need to, you need to know that products that contain asbestos, whether you know that it contains asbestos or not, that that you’re liable for that, that you’re accountable, you’re accountable to know. You’re accountable for the safety of all Georgians.

Scott: [00:26:35] You know Rico, I think legislation is one angle that we can take. I think the most important thing we can do right now is just bring awareness to the issue. And I, and I think this is what we’re grateful for you and, and what you’re doing. And I know the governor issued a proclamation declaring September 26 of last year mesothelioma day here in Georgia. And speaking with Rich and getting to know him and his family. I was shocked to learn how many products still had some form of asbestos in them. And so I think if we can bring awareness to this issue, let people know, you know companies react to a consumer demand. I mean, you look at all the companies right now that are making environmental friendly products, sustainability, even the nutrition facts on the back of products. And so, when consumers stand up and raise their hand and say: No, we do not want this. And so it’s just bringing that message of awareness, to consumers that, Hey, you’ve got this really bad stuff in your products and we’re not going to stand for that. So again, grateful for what you’re doing and for what Rich is doing. I think Tara’s project manager management skills must’ve rubbed off on him because he is taking a very, direct and aggressive approach to this. And I love it. Cause if anybody’s going to beat me so that it’s going to be Rich and, and his family just going after it. And so, again, we’re here to do whatever we can to bring awareness to products that have asbestos in them.

Rico: [00:27:59] So what’s the next steps? Now the legislation is, well, the bill, I should say, the bill is there. So what’s the next step on this?

Beth: [00:28:08] Sure. Well, first of all, I want to thank Scott for his comments about education and advocacy on this issue because that is in fact, part of the bill that we’ve drafted is that it contains language that would require the state government to provide educational materials on the dangers of asbestos. This could be something as simple as a landing page on the environmental protection division’s website. You know, so that there is a statement put out there, you know, by the state of Georgia, acknowledging that asbestos is a carcinogen, you know, that has no place in the markets here in Georgia. Procedurally where we are is we just got the revised draft of the bill back last week. Literally the day that the legislature decided to adjourn for two weeks. But I’ve already started talking with some of my fellow legislators about this issue. They all have the same response, which is, wow, I didn’t realize asbestos is still legal and can be sold in Georgia. There’s, without calling out any of my fellow legislators, there are some within the chamber who have medical backgrounds. And those are the first ones that I approached about this. Certainly anybody who knows the medical science behind mesothelioma will attest just as Rich can that it is a horrific disease.

Rico: [00:29:27] How many sponsors do you have?

Beth: [00:29:29] So, so because we adjourned on the day, I got it back. We’re still searching for cosponsors. But, we do have a lot of interests in the bill. So the first day we get back, I’ll be hitting the floor and getting those signatures. You know, we can get six top signatures on the bills. So I will seek out six.

Rico: [00:29:48] And then not to get too much in the weeds, but once you have that, what’s required actually to get this bill across?

Beth: [00:29:55] So, so whether we get co-sponsors right off the bat or not, the bill is ready to go and it’s ready to be dropped in the hopper, which means that it will receive a bill number. So next time we talk, I’ll be able to tell you and your audience look out for house bill, X, Y, Z, whatever the number we get is. At that point, the, procedurally, the speaker has to announce it twice in the chamber, and then it gets assigned to a committee. We don’t yet know which committee this bill would be assigned to. We have some ideas and you know, we’re going to have conversations with the folks who serve on that committee so that we can prime them as to what this bill is, what it does, and hopefully be able to get rich down to the Capitol to provide testimony about it.

Rico: [00:30:37] Obviously, there’ll be public testimony that once it gets into committee, I guess.

Beth: [00:30:41] Yes.

Scott: [00:30:42] And this is where awareness is so important. You know, we draft literally thousands of bills every year, and ultimately only about 200 get signed by the governor. And so, those are the precious few that really rise to the top of, of urgency that they need to be fast and to state law. And so that’s the importance of, of Rich and the work he’s doing. And, and what we’re doing here tonight is to get the word out that, Hey, this is an important issue and ought to be taken under consideration by the general assembly.

Rico: [00:31:08] So Rich, what is your next step then? Now, now that the bill is where it is at, this point what do you want to be doing?

Rich: [00:31:15] The advocacy work I’m doing is really focused on, as, as Scott mentioned, awareness, right? It’s important. This is a hideous disease and no one should have to suffer through it. And, because there’s not a, because of who’s left behind, which aren’t all that many. It’s important that those that do have a voice stand up and say, no, this is not acceptable. That’s all I’m trying to do. And I’m trying to do that, I’m trying to do that on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. We’re trying to do that under the gold dome here in Atlanta, politically speaking. I’m also trying to engage healthcare organizations, as an individual and on behalf of the Meso foundation to expand access to care. We could here in the Southeast, use a world-class mesothelioma program. There are some Meso doctors in the Southeast. There are clinical trials in various places, not so much in Atlanta. When Tara got to the advanced stages of her disease and needed, basically had to progress beyond what they call the standard of care into clinical
trials. We actually had to take her to Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City. And Dr Marjorie Zauderer, who is now the chair of the board of the Meso Foundation, incidentally, was her doctor there. But we, there’s an opportunity for us to have a world-class, mesothelioma program at one of the cancer centers in Atlanta. Atlanta is just being the transportation hub, the center of the Southeast, than it is. Logically, this would be a place where all anybody affected by this disease in our adjoining States could get the best care.

Rico: [00:33:11] Does the, you know, I have no idea. Does the VA handle for the veterans, do they have a program in this system to be able to handle that?

Rich: [00:33:20] I have to confess, I don’t have a whole lot of visibility into what the VA does, but I do know that mesothelioma is a problem for veterans, especially veterans of certain foreign Wars, within the last, 30, 40 years. Even longer than that. So that, that is, but I, I don’t have visibility into specific doctors and the nature of that program.

Rico: [00:33:43] It’s a whole, you know, to be able to, you, you were fortunate enough to be able to go to New York. Tara was able to go out there. Other people may not have that, that ability to be able to do that, and without enough advanced programs here in the state of Georgia, in Atlanta, that that’s difficult for other families. So it makes sense to be able to do that. Do you find, are you finding good reception from some of the medical institutions here in the city of Atlanta?

Rich: [00:34:14] I’m, I’m finding good reception and interest in understanding the story, understanding the opportunity. Meso candidly, mesothelioma being what it is and the, the rather small incidents. Medicine is a business. Just like, you know, beverages is a business. Politics is a business. It’s a business, right? So you have to, there you have to look at the market and demand and calibrate resources accordingly to meet that market demand. So it’s an uphill battle, but it’s one that I am fully resolved to, to make progress on. So I’m in conversation with a number of organizations that access to health care piece is something that’s for me in terms of my goals, it’s a longer term goal for me to work with the right organizations to achieve. Shorter term I’m focused on asbestos ban and Georgia focused on, the development of a national patient registry. For me which we’ve been very successful getting initial funding to get that set up.

Rico: [00:35:19] And what does that, what does that do?

Rich: [00:35:22] So the…

Rico: [00:35:22] What’s the point of that?

Rich: [00:35:24] With rare cancers, it’s been demonstrated that when you set up a patient registry to gather data and information about the disease. So think from initial diagnosis to, how you know, what treatments that that patient is going through, how they respond to them,
gathering all that data, putting it in one centralized place where doctors and mesothelioma programs could access. Where pharmaceutical companies and biotech companies could come and access that data.

Rico: [00:35:56] So that doesn’t exist already?

Rich: [00:35:58] That exists for certain rare diseases. It does not exist yet in full bloom for mesothelioma. We, we do have, we received an appropriation for 2020, sorry, for 2019 to study it. A recommendation has been developed in collaboration with the CDC. I think it’s NIOSH, part of CDC. And now we’re, we’re in the process of seeking further funding to actually begin to build out that.

Rico: [00:36:34] Would that go through CDC then or is that?

Rich: [00:36:37] Correct. There’s a part of CDC that I think is, I think it’s called NIOSH. that, national, I’m not even going to try to remember the full name of the acronym, but it’s part of the CDC and that, that’s where, as we all know, and, and we should all be very, very proud that the CDC is right here in Georgia and the city of Atlanta. It’s a gem. And what it does for society today is extraordinary. My hope is in the coming years that we can also be able to point to that and say, there’s a national patient registry, that you know, hopefully five or 10 years from now, it’ll, it’ll result in, you know, it would be a huge win if we could turn mesothelioma from a death sentence into a chronic disease that can be managed. That one can live with.

Rico: [00:37:25] It’s interesting because, if you look at systems like Watson and AI, some of the machine learning going on, I mean, they take that type of data. They’ve already proved profiling cancers, I think it was breast cancer that I saw the research on, from different countries interesting enough different countries provide different parameters to that cancer. Because of our environmental issues and such, so UK and the United States, they were able to actually come up with the right profiles that were similar. And provide the right type of treatment recommendations better than some of the doctors that were, they were compared to. So, I mean, I can see a registry like that working really well over the next year or two, but it needs to be put together to, it’s like the norovirus that’s out there without the information. They can’t treat it. So let’s. What, what, you know, we know, we know we have to do this. You know, education is the biggest part. Like I said, I mean, I was ignorant except for the Meso commercials on CNN that ran during, CNN, on Sunday mornings. It’s hard to get that information in and it’s a long journey. I remember working with Chuck Schumer at one point in New York city where we were trying to ban PCBs that was used in the transformers that sat on top of light poles for electrical use. It took years to be able to acknowledge it, to be able to find the right way to do it, to be able to find the right way to get rid of it, and to actually ban it all out. I mean, it took years. Do you, do you expect to be able to take care of that and be there and until the, until you can get this done?

Rich: [00:39:09] I will invest energy in this for a long time. What that exactly looks like, I can’t tell you. I’m pressing on with my life as Tara very specifically asked me to do. She asked me to find
love again. I’ve done that. And she asked me to be a great dad to Aubrey. I’m doing my best to do that.

Rico: [00:39:34] She’s a great kid. We had her as a 20 under 20 kid cover story, and she’s a great kid.

Rich: [00:39:40] I’m very blessed to be her father. So I, you know, I’m pressing on, but I can’t, you know, if I’ve learned nothing, if I’ve learned nothing else in the last four or five years, it is that, is to live in the present, to live in today. And to be present for those you love. I learned that very much in the 15 months. The last 15 months of Tara’s life and I don’t try to spend a whole lot of time, I have a plan for what I want to go do with Meso advocacy and especially as activism, but I don’t, I don’t know what that’s going to look like three, five, 10 years from now.

Scott: [00:40:19] I’ll tell you, Rico is, I think about Rich. He’s going to accomplish so much around Meso his biggest legacy, honestly, is the impact he has around those around him, as, as it deals with the concept of death, dying and grieving. Witnessing his journey, he just has this peace about him that really passes all understanding and which I can only explain through his faith in Jesus Christ. And I think for anyone who has lost a family member, a spouse, a loved one, I encourage you to sit down and meet with Rich. He just blows me away every time we talk about it because he’s just an incredible witness. And, and instead of agonize, he’s organized, you know, and, and, again, I can only explain that through his faith. And I think that’s what’s gonna allow him to accomplish incredible things. But, but again, I’d encourage those listening today who have lost someone or are grieving, you know, spend time. Grab coffee or breakfast with, sorry, Rich, I’m putting you on the spot with a lot of people. His story is absolutely captivating and it’s worth a meeting.

Rico: [00:41:33] Yes, for sure.

Rich: [00:41:34] Thank you, Scott. Thank you. Appreciate that.

Rico: [00:41:36] So, Beth, what’s in the future here? Where, where do we, maybe after everyone comes back in two weeks, it’s going to be interesting.

Beth: [00:41:45] I think we’re going to go with the working title of the Asbestos Free Georgia Bill. And we’re going to be, actively educating fellow lawmakers about the dangers of asbestos. you know how it is highly correlated with mesothelioma. And if anybody out there listening to your show right now wants to know, you know, how this applies to their life, I would, I would encourage them to take a look at the class action lawsuits against Johnson and Johnson right now. They are, paying out now literally billion dollar settlements over the contamination of their baby powder products. And in fact, I originally wanted to talk about the connection of baby powder to his own story.

Rico: [00:42:30] Sure.

Rich: [00:42:32] Yeah, I would be remiss if I didn’t identify what, what we believe to be, Tara’s exposure, right? We believe Tara was exposed to asbestos tainted Johnson’s baby powder from basically birth until, probably nine or 10 years old. It was, it was used, it was used on her. And one, I mean, one naturally would assume with a product like that, that it’s entirely safe. It’s certainly marketed that way. But we believe that that was, that was the sole long-term exposure that she had to asbestos. We, we are litigating. And as with most litigation matters that’s all I’ll comment on it, in the scheme of things. But, what I would share with your audiences, your takeaway should be that this is not something that happens over there. This is not something that just, Oh, wow, that’s interesting news. This is something that happened to a friend, a neighbor. This is something that is happening today. Google Johnson and Johnson’s baby powder and, there was a lot of it that was recalled by Johnson and Johnson because the FDA tested it and found it to contain asbestos. This is, this is a problem. It’s a problem of today. It’s not a problem of yesterday. It’s a problem we should all be concerned about. And that what you read in the headlines is what happened to Tara DeAugustinis and it started 50 years ago.

Rico: [00:44:16] Thank you, Rich. I appreciate you sharing the story with us. For those that want to learn more about Meso you could go to CureMeso.org. There’s the National Institute of Health as well that has information there at Cancer.gov. And of course in the show notes of this show, to be able to find all these related links and the resources. And if anyone wants to reach out to you, Beth, where can they find you? So if they want to be able to help or provide expertise or whatever that you may need and help with this bill. Where can they reach you?

Beth: [00:44:54] Sure. You can reach me at my official legislative email, which is Beth.Moore@house.ga.gov a quick go to, to find me online is MooreForGeorgia.com. And for anybody out there listening, thinking about you know, think about lobbying your local representatives. I should say that our state Senator Sally Harrell is also working with us on this bill. She has shown great support for it and she will be working on carrying this bill over on the Senate side and finding partners to help us with the other chamber.

Rico: [00:45:30] Excellent. Scott?

Scott: [00:45:31] Yeah. The governor has me running all over the state, so cell phones, usually the best. (404) 950-8902. Just send me a text, give me a call. I’d be happy to talk to you, @ScottHiltonGA, and most, social media stuff. So look me up, I’m happy to talk to you.

Rico: [00:45:49] Excellent, Rich? People want to get in touch with you about?

Rich: [00:45:53] I’m glad to talk to anyone about this and, and what, what Scott mentioned earlier. Easiest way to reach me is, call or text (404) 547-8153. On social media as well, you can look me up there or Rich@DeAugustinis.com.

Rico: [00:46:11] Excellent. We spent almost an hour discussing Tara’s journey, Meso in a great, good, good way of learning exactly what’s going on. And I hope that the bill becomes legislation. I’m sure you do, Rich. And that we can let more people know about this. So I want to thank everyone for joining us. Again, look down into the show notes eventually on the website LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com. Pickup Peachtree Corners magazine and you can read the story about Tara and you can find the links on that page as well. So appreciate everyone being with us tonight and whoever listening to the podcasts on Apple podcasts and iHeartRadio and Spotify and SoundCloud and a whole bunch of places wherever you can find podcasts, you can do that. This will be out there, share it with your family and friends and let people know. Thank you everyone.

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The Colorful Woven Threads that Make Up the Fabric of Our City: Part 1, Jay Patton

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Gwinnett County is getting more and more culturally and racially diverse. Remember the old adage ‘Variety is the spice of life’? In today’s climate of social unrest and world-wide protests for racial justice, we should move towards healing by getting to know our neighbors and broaching some delicate conversations. It can be scary and cathartic — and it can be a little heartbreaking, too.

The heartbeat of Peachtree Corners is strong because of the amazing people who live and work here. I reached out to some from a variety of backgrounds. Each of their accounts will have you shouting, Vive la différence!

Jay Patton

Traditional Master Barber Jay Patton moved to Peachtree Corners two years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He noted that his hometown is less diverse, primarily Caucasian, and he’s been enjoying the “good mix” of people here.

“In Minnesota, growing up, there was more racial tension,” Patton said. He felt a larger divide between the privileged and the underprivileged. “There’s less opportunity for certain people in certain states. You come down here and if you have a good credit score, you blend in as long as you’re putting out good vibrations,” he explained.

At your service

After working near Perimeter Mall for five years at Gino’s Classic Barbershop, he decided to venture out on his own. “One of my customers told me about Blaxican,” Patton said. The fusion restaurant serves food inspired by Southern soul cooking and Mexican classics. “Being biracial, I thought that concept was catchy. I came here, drove around a bit and I felt good energy,” he recounted.

Patton opened Traditional Shave Masters Barbershop at 5260 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. “This area is blowing up. I think it’s going to be bigger than Sandy Springs,” he said. He likes the plans for the area.

The barbershop offers “male services — straight edge razor work, blades, steam towels, shaving beard work. With different packages to choose from — like The Distinguished Man, The Exquisite Man, The Classic Man — there’s something for everyone. Female clients with short hairstyles are welcome too,” Patton said. “We have competitive prices and talented, diverse barbers.”

 Things had started picking up well, “and now we’re going through this Corona stuff. It’s pretty challenging,” he shared.

Cutting through racial lines

Patton prides himself on being able to serve the whole community, no matter what race, background or ethnicity. “Most shops are racially separated. People are more comfortable coming in when they see people who look like them,” he said. “I want everyone to look in the window and feel like they can come in. I play jazz music. Everyone likes the smooth, mellow stuff.”

Men have different ways to describe how they want their hair and beards trimmed, depending on their ethnicity, where they’re from, race and even social status, according to Patton. “It’s up to the barber to ask the right questions to really understand what the client wants so you can hook him up,” he said.

He noted that since the rock and roll era, when men grew their hair out, the white barber shop kind of died off as they gravitated to salons. “But now the traditional barber is back. It’s becoming more appealing to all men, of all races,” Patton explained. “Around Atlanta, men want to look good. That’s a good thing!”

No barber school teaches how to cut across racial lines, he said. “My instructor was an old school Irish dude. It’s all hair, but the way you approach it is different. One might use different tools.”

Wherever he worked, he sought to cut hair he was unfamiliar with and learn to cut all types of hair. “I’ve been to a Russian shop, a Puerto Rican shop, a black shop. I made sure to get out of my comfort zone,” Patton said.

Patton could pass for either white or black. “The way I look, people don’t know. I’m chameleon-like. My father is Creole and my mother is Puerto Rican. That’s a loaded soup bowl,” he chuckled. “I had a mother who respected me and explained everything. She watered my seed and I had self-esteem. I love all people. We’re all connected. We’re all on this Earth together.”

He thinks a lot of people would be surprised if they did their 23andMe genetic reports. “I did it and I was mind-blown,” he reported. “I grew up Puerto Rican, but in actuality, I started off Indonesian! I have some Egyptian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, British, Irish, German, Apache Indian, Sanda Gambian — things I had to look up! It was surprising to me. It opened up my eyes.”

He added that people mistake him for Egyptian all the time, “so it was interesting to find out I have some Egyptian in me. I love telling the dudes in Duluth, I started out Asian!”

Still, Patton said, at the end of the day, it’s all the indoctrination and cultural stuff that gets in the way. “We’re all the same color on the inside,” he said. “When we’re little, we play and hang out together. Somewhere in the mix, we get taught all these differences.”

All connected

“As soon as we figure it out and start loving each other again, it’s going to be alright,” he continued. “The message has to be delivered differently to the different communities, but it’s the same. I have to empathize with their situation first, then I can flip it around to some other perspectives.”

Patton believes that having exposure to different kinds of people is good and makes things easier. “Because of where I’ve come from, I’m able to communicate with different races,” he said. “My struggles have shaped and humbled me. I’m able to be around a lot of diverse cultures, probably more so than most people. That’s always helped me; I can mingle through racial lines.”

“Asian, Mexican, white, black — I see more people living harmoniously here. Maybe it’s southern hospitality, but people tend to be more polite here. They smile and try to be nice to each other, and that means everything. Being courteous is an initial connection with people.”

“I feel like I have a broader truth, a natural perspective in the spiritual world,” Patton continued. “We are all connected, but some people like the divisions. They’re capitalizing off of us: the red, the blue, the white, the black, and all that junk. As soon as we figure it out and start loving each other again, it’s going to be alright.”

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The Colorful Woven Threads that Make Up the Fabric of Our City

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Jay Patton, Traditional Master Barber

Gwinnett County is getting more and more culturally and racially diverse. Remember the old adage ‘Variety is the spice of life’? In today’s climate of social unrest and world-wide protests for racial justice, we should move towards healing by getting to know our neighbors and broaching some delicate conversations. It can be scary and cathartic — and it can be a little heartbreaking, too.

The heartbeat of Peachtree Corners is strong because of the amazing people who live and work here. I reached out to some from a variety of backgrounds. Each of their accounts will have you shouting, Vive la différence!

Jay Patton

Jay Patton

Traditional Master Barber Jay Patton moved to Peachtree Corners two years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He noted that his hometown is less diverse, primarily Caucasian, and he’s been enjoying the “good mix” of people here.

“In Minnesota, growing up, there was more racial tension,” Patton said. He felt a larger divide between the privileged and the underprivileged. “There’s less opportunity for certain people in certain states. You come down here and if you have a good credit score, you blend in as long as you’re putting out good vibrations,” he explained.

At your service

After working near Perimeter Mall for five years at Gino’s Classic Barbershop, he decided to venture out on his own. “One of my customers told me about Blaxican,” Patton said. The fusion restaurant serves food inspired by Southern soul cooking and Mexican classics. “Being biracial, I thought that concept was catchy. I came here, drove around a bit and I felt good energy,” he recounted.

Patton opened Traditional Shave Masters Barbershop at 5260 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. “This area is blowing up. I think it’s going to be bigger than Sandy Springs,” he said. He likes the plans for the area.

The barbershop offers “male services — straight edge razor work, blades, steam towels, shaving beard work. With different packages to choose from — like The Distinguished Man, The Exquisite Man, The Classic Man — there’s something for everyone. Female clients with short hairstyles are welcome too,” Patton said. “We have competitive prices and talented, diverse barbers.”

 Things had started picking up well, “and now we’re going through this Corona stuff. It’s pretty challenging,” he shared.

Cutting through racial lines

Patton prides himself on being able to serve the whole community, no matter what race, background or ethnicity. “Most shops are racially separated. People are more comfortable coming in when they see people who look like them,” he said. “I want everyone to look in the window and feel like they can come in. I play jazz music. Everyone likes the smooth, mellow stuff.”

Men have different ways to describe how they want their hair and beards trimmed, depending on their ethnicity, where they’re from, race and even social status, according to Patton. “It’s up to the barber to ask the right questions to really understand what the client wants so you can hook him up,” he said.

He noted that since the rock and roll era, when men grew their hair out, the white barber shop kind of died off as they gravitated to salons. “But now the traditional barber is back. It’s becoming more appealing to all men, of all races,” Patton explained. “Around Atlanta, men want to look good. That’s a good thing!”

No barber school teaches how to cut across racial lines, he said. “My instructor was an old school Irish dude. It’s all hair, but the way you approach it is different. One might use different tools.”

Wherever he worked, he sought to cut hair he was unfamiliar with and learn to cut all types of hair. “I’ve been to a Russian shop, a Puerto Rican shop, a black shop. I made sure to get out of my comfort zone,” Patton said.

Patton could pass for either white or black. “The way I look, people don’t know. I’m chameleon-like. My father is Creole and my mother is Puerto Rican. That’s a loaded soup bowl,” he chuckled. “I had a mother who respected me and explained everything. She watered my seed and I had self-esteem. I love all people. We’re all connected. We’re all on this Earth together.”

He thinks a lot of people would be surprised if they did their 23andMe genetic reports. “I did it and I was mind-blown,” he reported. “I grew up Puerto Rican, but in actuality, I started off Indonesian! I have some Egyptian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, British, Irish, German, Apache Indian, Sanda Gambian — things I had to look up! It was surprising to me. It opened up my eyes.”

He added that people mistake him for Egyptian all the time, “so it was interesting to find out I have some Egyptian in me. I love telling the dudes in Duluth, I started out Asian!”

Still, Patton said, at the end of the day, it’s all the indoctrination and cultural stuff that gets in the way. “We’re all the same color on the inside,” he said. “When we’re little, we play and hang out together. Somewhere in the mix, we get taught all these differences.”

All connected

“As soon as we figure it out and start loving each other again, it’s going to be alright,” he continued. “The message has to be delivered differently to the different communities, but it’s the same. I have to empathize with their situation first, then I can flip it around to some other perspectives.”

Patton believes that having exposure to different kinds of people is good and makes things easier. “Because of where I’ve come from, I’m able to communicate with different races,” he said. “My struggles have shaped and humbled me. I’m able to be around a lot of diverse cultures, probably more so than most people. That’s always helped me; I can mingle through racial lines.”

“Asian, Mexican, white, black — I see more people living harmoniously here. Maybe it’s southern hospitality, but people tend to be more polite here. They smile and try to be nice to each other, and that means everything. Being courteous is an initial connection with people.”

“I feel like I have a broader truth, a natural perspective in the spiritual world,” Patton continued. “We are all connected, but some people like the divisions. They’re capitalizing off of us: the red, the blue, the white, the black, and all that junk. As soon as we figure it out and start loving each other again, it’s going to be alright.”

Dr. April Hang, PharmD

Dr. April Hang, PharmD

Dr. April Hang, PharmD, hails from Petersburg, Virginia and is of Filipino heritage. Her dad was in the Army, so her family traveled a lot. She spent a long time in Germany, where she learned to speak a little of the language, and she studied at Virginia Commonwealth University – Medical College of Virginia School of Pharmacy.

Dr. Hang is Catholic and attends St. Monica Church. Her husband is Buddhist and their three children have been baptized in the Catholic faith.

She opened Peachtree Pharmacy at 5270 Peachtree Parkway in 2012. It’s a compounding pharmacy were medications are customized.“Our clientele is diverse. We serve Hispanics, African Americans, white Americans, Asians. We have seniors all the way down to babies and pets that we take care of, ”Dr.Hang said.“We offer compliance packaging for convenience. It’s helpful for seniors. We put medications in labeled blister packs. They can be organized by day or sorted by morning, afternoon, and evening if necessary.”

And, she said, Peachtree Pharmacy delivers, which is especially important for high-risk patients.

“Compounding is an out-of-the box option for patients who have exhausted all their options and want to try something else. We do carry some traditional medications as well,” she explained. “It takes time to make everything. You have to make sure all the ingredients are included. You’re not just pouring pills out and counting them. You actually have to melt something down, make lollipops, gummies, lozenges or capsules. We have to do our math calculations carefully to make it the exact strength the physician wrote it for.”

Mom-preneur

“I’m first generation American, as well as the first person to start my own business in my family,” Dr. Hang said. She attributes her drive to her dad, who always endeavors to find a solution.

She said that she feels welcome here. “It’s like a small town. That’s why I love Peachtree Corners,” she said. “A lot of our patients are like family to us. This is a great city, a great place to have a small business, especially with Peachtree Corners expanding.”

THC and CBD advocate

One of the things Dr. Hang has gotten involved with is the effort in Georgia to make low THC oil (less than 5%) available to patients suffering from chronic pain, cancer, PTSD, HIV, autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s and other conditions. “I feel like [CBD/THC] oil can help several patients,” she said. “It’s yet another alternative for people.”

She said that doctors can help a patient get a medical card for it. “Everything has been passed in Georgia, and there is a THC oil registry here now, but there’s no access. I think there are over 14,000 patients registered. They have the card, but there is no place where they can go buy it yet,” Dr. Hang said. “We’re just waiting for the infrastructure so people can start applying for manufacture and distribution.”

Unfortunately, the process to get access has been delayed due to COVID-19. It’s likely to be another year or two before access is available for patients.

Diversity at the pharmacy

Dr. Hang welcomes students of diverse backgrounds, some from out of state, who do rotations at her pharmacy. “Most of the time, I say ‘yes,’ because the students are up-to-date on the new things. They keep you updated,” she said. “I try to make it practical for them. They work in the store. I take them to a marketing event. I like to do a couple of little health fairs. I mix it up for them so that they see what we actually do. I didn’t get that when I was in pharmacy school.”

There have been times when a staff member has had an unpleasant interaction and they feel that some racism was directed towards them. “I have one full-time pharmacist, three part-time pharmacists and three full-time pharmacy technicians. One is Asian and the others are African American,” she said.

“When COVID-19 had just started [appearing here], there was a client looking for N95 masks; she wasn’t a regular. She was upset we didn’t have any N95 masks. She told my pharmacist, who is black, “I don’t know what you have to say that is going to carry any value.”

  As Dr. Hang was cleaning the store one day, an older lady came in, looked around and asked, “Why is everybody black in here?” She said, “I don’t see anything wrong with that. There are standards and testing that you have to pass in order to be in this position. Everyone here is qualified.” Dr. Hang added that she has never had issues with racial tensions personally. “It’s a little disheartening that it still occurs,” she said.

She suggested a city-wide cultural festival to help improve racial tensions. “If we can learn more about our neighbors, we’ll be able to understand them better. There are a variety of cultural backgrounds in Peachtree Corners, so let’s celebrate them!”

“When I’m at Peachtree Pharmacy, I post on Facebook, “Come by and see me. Come give me a hug!” Customers come in and tell me, “I miss you so much.” It’s nice to catch up with a lot of the regulars,” she said. “I always post: Free Hugs not Drugs!”

Maurie Ladson

Maurie and Ron Ladson

Maurie Ladson is a Program Director at Corners Outreach, an organization providing a multigenerational approach to helping underserved children with specialized tutoring. Parents are given assistance with career paths, workshops, unemployment and anything they may need to navigate in the education system. Their goal is to achieve a 100% high school graduation rate among the students they serve.

Ladson clarified underserved as “communities or people living amongst us who don’t have all the necessary resources.” She explained, “They may not be earning a living wage. A lot of them are immigrant families. There’s a challenge with education and the language.”

Elementary, my dear

By focusing on elementary school students, the intention is to prepare them for success in middle school and high school. “Then hopefully, to higher learning, either a four-year education or, sometimes, they prefer to do some kind of trade,” Ladson said.

“We’re not focused on one demographic,” she continued. “We welcome all the children who need assistance. The mix varies. In Norcross and on our DeKalb side, we have a high percentage of Latino children. At our Meadow Creek location, there’s a mix of children — Indian, American, Hispanic.”

The Corners Outreach offices are located in Peachtree Corners. Ladson said that Executive Director Larry Campbell liked the name, “as the goal is to touch “every corner” of the community.” The organization partners with Title 1 schools in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, including Peachtree Corners and the surrounding areas, and helps 450 families/children.

“We work with them during the normal school year; we provide after-school tutoringfor two and a half to three hours. We’re supplementing and enhancing what the school is teaching,” Ladson said. “There’s a big focus on reading comprehension and math. We then provide nine weeks of summer camp which focus on reading, math, games and a craft.”

School principals identify the children in most need. There is also input from counselors, teachers, teacher liaisons, center coordinators and ESOL [English to speakers of other languages] coordinators. “We also have volunteers that play a key role in our success. We’re so thankful,” she said. “Schools like Wesleyan, GAC, Perimeter Church and individuals in our wonderful Peachtree Corners community come out and volunteer their time.”

Masks with a purpose

Due to COVID-19, Corners Outreach was unable to tutor or assist families in person for some time. “We began communication via Zoom, WhatsApp, video chat, telephone calls. There was a big need to assist in setting up Internet. Many of the families didn’t have it,” she continued.

“Our organization was able to place Chromebooks in the community for children to be able to do their homework. It was still challenging because in a lot of cases they’re sharing either a phone or a hot spot. With two to four children in the family of various ages, needing to do homework with one device, that was difficult.”

To help underemployed parents, the organization developed Masks with a Purpose. After surveying the parents, they found they had 101 mothers with sewing skills that could be used to provide much-needed masks in the community.

“They sew masks and earn a living wage, $4 per mask,” Ladson said. “We launched the Corners Store on June 22 so people can go online and purchase a mask to support our cause.” To purchase a mask, visit cornersoutreach.org. If you don’t need a mask, you can help by giving a donation.

“We’re looking to donate 1,000 masks to farmworkers and 10,000 masks to children in poverty, who can’t afford to buy three or four masks or have the throwaways,” she said. It’s a great cause,” she said. You can donate masks to the effort through their website.

Beauty in all colors

“I’m Mexican American,” Ladson said. “I’ve been in Peachtree Corners for 20 years. My husband is black, dark-skinned African American. People might look at us a little differently. I’m different and I’m good with it.” She and her husband Ron recently celebrated 20 years of marriage.

Having frequented several places of worship over the years, they most recently identify as Protestant and have been attending North End Collective.

Ladson said she witnessed some social injustice in the workplace during her career in banking. A Peruvian teller was the number one salesperson in the bank, exceeding her numbers, yet it was an under-performing white American teller who inexplicably was moved to another location and offered a raise.

“I think in Georgia, Atlanta and in Peachtree Corners, we still have room to grow,” she continued. “I’ve seen a different level of acceptance, if we’re going to call it improvement, absolutely.”

Miriam and Ed Carreras

Miriam and Eddie Carreras
Miriam and Eddie Carreras

By pure coincidence, Miriam and Ed Carreras shared a similar history predating their marriage of 48 years. They both left Cuba with their families at a young age, and within five to seven years, they became naturalized U.S. citizens.

After a 20-year career as a microbiologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Miriam is now a Realtor with RE/MAX Prestige. “I guess, given my name and former clients, I get quite a few referrals from Spanish-speaking buyers. I would say most of my clients right now are Hispanic,” she said. Hispanics, who can identify as any race, make up 15.2% of the population in Peachtree Corners.

Miriam works in residential real estate, both on listings — people selling their homes — as well as helping buyers find their dream homes. Being bilingual, she is a huge asset to the community. She is able to help English and Spanish speakers navigate the sometimes-challenging waters of real estate.

A home is one of the biggest and most important investments a family will ever make, and Miriam is happy to provide her clients with excellent customer service, every step of the way.

Ed was an attorney with The Coca Cola Company for about 20 years. He retired from the company in 2003 and joined a law firm. He retired from the firm in February of this year. “We were supposed to travel, and now we’re homebound because of COVID-19,” he said.

As an attorney, much of his work was international. “I dealt with a number of countries, like Japan, countries in Europe, in Latin America, and so on,” Ed shared.

He served on the Board of Goodwill of North Georgia for a number of years and was Chair of the Board for two years. “Goodwill had a significant relationship with the Hispanic community. One of the things I got involved in was developing a robust system for their strategic plan,” Ed said.

In studying the projection of population changes, he and his fellow board members identified the important growth of the Hispanic community and the need for more Hispanic contacts and people with language skills in the organization.

A home in Peachtree Corners

The Carreras family built their home in Neely Farm in 1998. Both are happy with the amount of diversity in Peachtree Corners. “I think there is a good mix of people. You see a nice diversity of cultures represented here,” Ed said. “My experience is more in the restaurants since I like eating. We’ve gone to a lot of different types.”

“I think there’s pretty good diversity,” Miriam added. “Even in our subdivision, we’re diverse.”

They haven’t had any negative experiences because of their ethnicity in recent years. As a teenager, Ed recalled an incident at a restaurant in Miami. His family was speaking Spanish, and a man at a nearby table addressed them, saying, “Go back to Cuba!”

“My father was surprised. He turned around and in perfect English said, “I’m sorry, does it bother you if we speak Spanish?” The guy ended up apologizing,” Ed remembered. “I was 13 or 15 at the time. It stuck in my mind because my father handled it so perfectly. The guy said, “You speak English very well.” My father said, “Yes, I was educated in the United States. I went to an Ivy League school.” The guy just kept shrinking.”

Ed said that everyone carries prejudices based on faulty stereotypes. “From my own experience, the best way to eliminate prejudice is to be made aware that the stereotype supporting the prejudice is not correct,” he explained. “Anything that helps an individual realize that the stereotype is wrong should help in reducing prejudice.”

“Education highlighting non-stereotypical members of a group could help,” Ed suggested, “as well as the promotion of events that bring members of diverse groups together in a social setting.”

Joe Sawyer

Joe and Kimberly Sawyer

As the city is building a physical pedestrian bridge over Peachtree Parkway, resident of 25 years and equity warrior, President and Cofounder of Bridges Peachtree Corners Joe Sawyer has been launching intensive volunteer efforts to build metaphorical bridges between races and social classes in the city. “I guess you can say it’s about black and white; we’re trying to bring equality up to where it needs to be,” he shared.

Bridges is a non-profit funded by grants and generous donations from the community. The board is made up of a diverse group who share Sawyer’s mission to close the gap between the affluent and the less affluent parts of town. They’ve been working on racial diversity and economic disparity since 2013.

Through school counselors, they identify needs at Peachtree Elementary and other area schools, assisting in any way they can — from electric pencil sharpeners in the classroom to Christmas dinners for families. They’re currently partnering with xfinity to provide internet access so children can do their schoolwork at home during the pandemic.

Affectionately known as Preacher Man, Sawyer would love to help more areas of the city reach their potential. He espouses the Holcomb Bridge Corridor Project , the city’s plan to revamp the area, and hopes it will get underway soon. “We’ve done the easy part, the Forum and Town Center area. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and do the hard part,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer comes clean

This is a man who will “tell it like it is.” He is refreshingly unafraid to level with you. Sawyer attends Life Center Apostolic Church in Dunwoody. His faith shines through in everything he touches, including his company name of 20 years, Alpha Omega Carpet Cleaning, inspired by the book of Revelation.

Since many are home with more time than usual on their hands, the pandemic has Sawyer busier than ever. “I build relationships with my customers. By the time I leave their house, I’m their friend,” he said. He also prides himself on his effective carpet cleaning services, which avoid harsh chemicals, as he is a cancer survivor.

The United Nations

Together with his wife Kimberly of 31 years (who is white), Sawyer has raised his two daughters, now 29 and 23. “She’s my backbone. She keeps me grounded,” he said. His daughters are now raising his five grandkids in Peachtree Corners.

The Sawyers have two blond, blue-eyed grandchildren and three who are light skinned black. “I’ve got everybody in my family — we have the United Nations over here,” Sawyer laughed.

In 1992 things were more challenging for biracial couples. Sawyer’s in-laws didn’t allow him into their home until two years after the marriage; now they’re the best of friends, despite many earlier battles. “They had to make sure I was going to take care of their daughter. I think that was one of the biggest issues,” he said. “Mixed marriages are more common now, and more likely to be accepted by both families, but you still have issues with certain people. I just try to keep it real and be myself.”

Sawyer shared a story from his senior year in high school (1982), when he was given an ultimatum: stop dating his white girlfriend or quit the football team. The young lady’s mom called the school because they had published a picture of them in the school magazine.

The girl’s mom had known about their relationship. In fact, they were among the few biracial couples at the time who did not hide it. But when other parents saw the photo, it became a problem. Sawyer elected to pass on what may have been a lucrative career and quit the team.

Sawyer noted that things have changed for the better. “It’s a new generation, we’re improving a whole lot,” he said. He’s unaware of any negative issues experienced by his daughters about being biracial.

While Peachtree Corners is very diverse, Sawyer said he still experiences some people who are prejudiced. During a recent job, a client had left the door open for him. It saddened him to learn that his client’s neighbor reached out to inform her, saying, “There’s a black man in your house.”

“[Racism] is still there, but overall, I think Peachtree Corners is a welcoming community. You might have some people stuck in their ways, but you just have to learn to overlook them. We stopped and we said a prayer for the lady,” Sawyer said.

He believes the cause of divisiveness is that some people don’t want to lose control of what they’ve got. “As long as we feel that one race is better than the other, we’re always going to have a problem. Both communities have work to do. Now is the perfect time for us to work on race relations in America,” Sawyer affirmed.

Preacher Man

When he was little, Sawyer told his dad, “I want to be like you when I grow up.” His father replied, “You don’t want to be like me, son, you want to be like Jesus.”

“So that’s what I try to do. As soon as we realize that we’re all made in God’s image, we’re going to be OK,” he said. “I don’t hate anybody. I try to get along with everybody. Don’t let politicians divide us any more than we’re divided. That’s the biggest problem. We listen to what’s on TV. I don’t need anybody to tell me who I like and who I don’t like.”

 “We have to come together,” he continued. “I’m thankful for the friends the Lord has put in my life. We have to change our perception of our neighbors. Not all people of a different race are bad. Be there for your friends.”

Sawyer added that everyone needs to work on racism as a society. “Both the white and black communities have work to do. Now is the perfect time for us to work on race relations in America. The whole world sees what’s going on, politicians fighting over this and that. We don’t have any togetherness,” he said. “Let’s take a stand and let’s be one. We claim to be one nation under God but how can we be under God if we’re at each other’s throats?”

Father Darragh Griffith

Rev. Darragh Griffith

Rev. Darragh Griffith is originally from Dublin, Ireland and has been in the U.S. for 24 years. Following 10 years at Holy Family in Marietta, he’s been the pastor at Mary Our Queen (MOQ) — the only Catholic church in Peachtree Corners — for four years.

“We welcome the community to come see our new church. It’s a beautiful, traditional church based on Saint Gerard’s in Buffalo. If you’re exploring questions about the Catholic faith, we’re here,” Father Griffith offered.

Though the present church is just a year old, the parish has been here since 1998. The pews, stained-glass windows and altars were taken from the old church in Buffalo, New York.

Mass during the pandemic

“We’ve been live-streaming masses on YouTube and our website. But now we’re back,” Father Griffith said. The church has an outdoor mass on Sundays at 8:30 a.m. for people who feel more comfortable outside, and services in the church on Sundays at 11 a.m. and Saturdays at 5 p.m.

Masks and social distancing are expected at the indoor services. Seating is roped off to allow for every second pew to be occupied. “It’s working out for this time,” he said.

 The parish

The makeup of the MOQ parish is quite diverse. “We’ve got people from every continent. We have a lot of Asian people from Vietnam, for example. People from the African continent, Nigeria and other countries, Hispanic and white Anglo, as well,” shared Father Griffith.

MOQ provides spiritual and financial outreach to Peachtree Corners families through The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP). Volunteers make home visits with families and individuals who call the helpline seeking food or financial help.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, MOQ SVDP has assisted over 150 individuals. The help line number is 678-892-6163.

The domestic church

For Father Griffith, what happens at home is as important as what happens at church. “In these times, I believe the home is crucial. Parents have a great and joyful responsibility. The family has never been as important, from where we stand, as it is now,” he said. “That’s where you can lead by witness to your children. Not so much by words, but by example. The family is crucial.”

He said that the church has always taught that the home is the domestic church. “The home is where parents hand on the faith to their children. I think that’s crucial,” Father Griffith said. “My work, the church’s work is not going to bear fruit if it’s not happening at home.”

Spreading God’s love

“It’s sad to see some of the things that we see on TV, some of the violence. It is kind of sad and disturbing, what’s happening,” Father Griffith said. “The church believes in treating everyone with respect and love. We’re a universal church. We love and accept everyone. In the Catholic faith, we’ve got people of all sorts of cultures, backgrounds, traditions.”

For a solution to today’s troubled climate, Father Griffith leads with the suggestion that we respect one another. “We’re all made in the image of God. Everyone is precious in God’s eyes. Every person is created through God’s love,” he said.

Father Griffith said that he knows it’s been hard during the pandemic for people to meet up, interact and socialize. “If we can get together and have that as a base, we’ll not be afraid of each other,” he said. “And love, that’s what Jesus spoke about, loving all people. That’s what our Catholic faith teaches us.”

Faith is critical for Father Griffith. “If we’re living our faith, that informs our decisions and our behavior. As it says in Scripture, our lives should be based on faith and our relationship with God,” he said. “Hopefully people will be open to God and to His Spirit at this time.”

Karl Barham

Karl Barnham

Karl Barham, President of Transworld Business Advisors of Atlanta, Peachtree, started the business with his wife, Ann, two years ago. They own a local office of the franchise in Peachtree Corners. 

“We relocated from New York City, got married and started a family here,” he said. “We found Peachtree Corners to be a fabulous place to live, work and raise a family.” They’re a Christian family and attend Close Perimeter Church.

Barham explained business brokers specialize in buying and selling businesses. “We do small, neighborhood businesses — any size, up to maybe about $25 million. We arrange to find the buyers and we help them get the deal done.”

Growing up black

“I’m first generation in the U.S. My family is from Jamaica, the third poorest county in the Caribbean. They came here, raised their kids and we’ve done well,” Barham said. “But I do see, for a lot of people who are very specifically black, they’re not looking for handouts or anything, they just want the proverbial knee off the neck.”

“When you’re in a minority, you always think about race,” he continued. “Jamaica is a mostly black country. When I spend time there, everyone looks like me. In the U.S., it’s the reverse, and as you move up in corporate America, it’s even more of the reverse. It’s always there to think about.”

Barham’s dream and hope for the future is that his kids don’t have to deal with the kind of discrimination that he’s seen in his lifetime. “Changes need to happen in this generation. Will it change in my lifetime? I don’t know. I thought it would,” he said. “When I was a young kid, my dad was saying the same things. I said, “Oh, by the time I’m your age, that stuff will all be solved.” I was wrong. It isn’t.”

Starting a conversation

When Barham received inquiries on what people could do in their companies about racial justice, he thought it would be a good topic for the Capitalist Sage podcasts that he regularly hosts with Peachtree Corners Magazine publisher Rico Figliolini. So, they began a series of podcasts about diversity and race.

“It’s been a topic discussed nationally, and we said, ‘what about here? Is there anything going on locally?’” he said. They produced three episodes, with two to three guests on each. “We talked about racial and social justice in leadership and in the local community,” Barham said. “We had stay-at-home moms, elected officials, church leaders and faith leaders, just talking about what it means and how they’ve been reacting to what’s happening with Black Lives Matter. We asked: what can citizens can do individually? What can local leaders do? We just wanted to start a dialogue.”

Barham said that one of the things that’s interesting about the South is that racism is part of the history that people don’t talk about because they’re trying to be polite, yet “there’s this undercurrent of race in a lot of conversations.”

“It wasn’t too long ago in the South that some [schools] had a black prom and a white prom,” he said. “Friends are so segregated; they get together sometimes for sports, school and some social activities, but they go home to dinner and they go to church in very separate worlds. They don’t get a chance to really learn about each other, so misunderstandings can happen more easily.”

Barham shared a little game he plays. “Whenever anyone talks about race — black, white — it’s hard; it’s too charged. I change “black” to “short”. If I were to say: What if short people, anybody under 5’10”, are not able to get all of the same opportunities as everyone else? A lot of people would be REALLY upset.”

“If I was sitting at a party and people were talking about, “Oh, those short people…”, I might say, “Hey, time out! Half my friends are short.”

A note of hope

Barham said he sees a lot of people coming together to help advance social justice, including racial justice. “I think we should lift those people up. We should elect them to office,” he said.

And he sees a lot of things to be hopeful for. “When I look at the community here, I see more people of color starting businesses,” Barham reported. “In the last 10 deals that we’ve done, more than 50% of them had a person of color on one side of the deal or the other. Things are changing in society — and things can and will continue to get better.”

Diverse perspectives, the same conclusion

It’s easy to see why niche.com gives Peachtree Corners an A+ for diversity. Let’s move forward holding hands (figuratively, of course), leaving injustice behind and making the fabric of Peachtree Corners stronger and more beautiful than ever before.

“We must continue to go forward as one people, as brothers and sisters.” ~ Rep. John Lewis

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Community

Harvest Gwinnett invites residents to be part of two new community gardens

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Here we grow again! Harvest Gwinnett invites gardeners of all skill levels to reserve a plot and be part of Live Healthy Gwinnett’s two newest community gardens.

Applications are now being accepted for 4-foot by 8–foot garden plots at Lenora Park in Snellville and Graves Park in Norcross. These raised beds are $35 each and are available for the 2020 fall and winter growing season.

Harvest Gwinnett, a program of Live Healthy Gwinnett, was launched in 2019 to connect community members with hands-on environmental education, to improve local access to fresh produce and to nurture engagement opportunities leading to improved health outcomes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, community gardens act as health promoters decreasing mental and physical stress levels in adults while enhancing mobility, socialization and community impact.

In response to a growing need for access to fresh food, Harvest Gwinnett works alongside community partners to close the meal gap by implementing community gardens, nutrition education, food distributions and more. Harvest Gwinnett’s first community garden in Lawrenceville opened in May 2020 and has already produced more than 400 pounds of fresh food alternatives that have been distributed to families served by local co-operative services, housing authorities and senior food distribution programs. Continued partnerships with Gwinnett Parks and Recreation and UGA Extension Gwinnett will provide important guidance for these two new community gardens. 

The Lenora Park Community Garden is located at 4515 Lenora Church Road in Snellville, and the Graves Park Community Garden is located at 1540 Graves Road in Norcross.

For more information, and guidelines, visit LiveHealthyGwinnett.com or contact HarvestGwinnett@GwinnettCounty.com

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