Sonic Booming with twins

by Billy Watkins
From the

Photo by Kam Ridley

Evan and Devan Lewis, identical twins who entered the world only two minutes apart, decided to part ways for the first time when they graduated from Madison Central High School in 2009.

Evan went to Mississippi State. Devan enrolled at Ole Miss.

“Devan couldn’t stand cowbells,” Evan says, “and I couldn’t stand the ‘Hotty Toddy’ cheer.”

But their separation didn’t last long.

“State opened the football season that year with Jackson State,” Evan recalls, “and I can still picture JSU’s Sonic Boom entering the stadium. It was mind-blowing. People in the crowd started cheering and going crazy. I called Devan immediately after the game and said, ‘Man, we’re transferring to JSU and joining that band.’ I had never heard or felt anything like that.”

And now they are right at home in the legendary Sonic Boom, with Devan on trumpet and Evan on saxophone.

They are joined by three other sets of identical twins: Charlotte and Charlene Johnson of Clinton; Labreia and Lakeia Thurman of Greenwood; and Brandon and Bralin Scott of Little Rock, Ark.

“I’ve never seen four sets of twins in the same place, let alone in the same band,” says Lowell Hollinger, JSU’s assistant band director who is with the Sonic Boom this weekend at the Honda Battle of the Bands in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. “It’s pretty unique, I’d say.

“And sometimes it’s quite humorous. One of them will be walking across The Plaza on campus and somebody will say ‘I spoke to you yesterday and you completely ignored me. What’s up with that?’ And, of course, they’ll respond ‘I have a twin … are you sure it was me?’ ”

Hollinger says he has no problem distinguishing between any of the twins.

“We have approximately 280 band members, and I take pride in knowing every one of their first and last names,” he says. “Students buy into the program better if they realize they’re not just a number.

“Now I’m not going to say it’s been easy being able to tell the twins apart. It took a little bit of time. And it’s still difficult sometimes when it comes to Brandon and Bralin. But give me a few seconds, and I can figure it out. Even twins have something different about them. You just have to pay attention.”

Charlotte and Charlene Johnson, 20, are members of the J-Settes dance team. Both are majoring in health care administration.

“They didn’t have a dance team (at Clinton High), just flag girls,” says Charlotte, captain of the J-Settes. “So I wound up becoming a cheerleader my senior year. But dancing is where our hearts have always been.”

Both traveled with the Jackson Community Dance Team since age 12. “It taught us a mixture of hip-hop, lyrical, majorette style … sort of what we do here at JSU.”

Unlike band members who play instruments, the J-Settes are not on scholarship and must try out each year.

“We wondered what would happen if one of us made it and the other didn’t. We’ve had to face that every year,” Charlotte says. “And last year we actually had that happen with twins. But we agreed ahead of time, if one of us made it, then the other would offer her full support. Luckily, it hasn’t come to that.”

Both have endured the rigorous training required and maintained the minimum 2.75 GPA required to remain with the band. “It’s Monday through Friday, five hours minimum,” Charlotte says. “We stretch for an hour, run and exercise for 30 minutes, do 15 minutes of crunches, and then we go through our dances.

“But our job doesn’t stop there. Our peers look up to us, so I’m always emphasizing to be classy – dress tastefully, walk and talk correctly. We may stand out on campus, but in a good way.”

Despite the same majors, the two have different plans when it comes to dancing.

“I want to dance for an NBA team,” Charlotte says. “Charlene says when she graduates JSU, she’s done with dancing.”

The Scotts, 21, visited JSU on a football weekend their senior year of high school. “The band’s presentation and the reception they received from the fans sold us,” Brandon says. “You don’t normally see that kind of pride in a band.”

They have managed to find individuality – to a degree – the past four years.

“We still think alike, and we’ll finish each other’s sentences,” Brandon says. “But I major in business administration and Bralin is into biology. He plays video games that I don’t play … stuff like Call of Duty. And we have different tastes when it comes to clothing. He’s very casual, and I look for any excuse to dress up.”

And Brandon plays baritone while Bralin plays trumpet.

“That’s one of the things I wish we’d done different,” Brandon says. “I wish we both played the same instrument … because that way we could compete against one another. I don’t think you ever lose that competitive spirit as a twin.”

Labreia and Lakeia Thurman, 21, have been band members together since sixth grade at Greenwood’s Threadgill Elementary.

“We had never even seen instruments before,” Labreia says. “When the band director brought some in, he let us pick which ones we were drawn to. I grabbed the saxophone, and Lakeia said she wanted to play sax, too. But the band director was smart … he told her ‘You have the perfect hands for French horn.’ She has loved it ever since.”

At JSU, Labreia put aside the sax and works as the band manager. “That means I do all the behind-the-scenes stuff like making sure everything runs smoothly, whether it’s running errands or making sure the coolers are full.”

Because the band is so large, the four sets of twins haven’t been able to bond.

“If you don’t play the same instrument, it’s really hard to form a relationship,” Brandon says. “I mean, when we perform, we’re all on the same team. But it’s not like we see everybody in the band every day.

“But it is pretty cool to know there are that many twins in the Sonic Boom. We already get looked at pretty closely when we perform somewhere. This is just something else to cause a double take.”

JSU student, Kirby Kendrick, endures tragedy to fulfill dream of studying abroad


Jackson State University student Kirby Kendrick is preparing to study Chinese language and culture in China, for the second time in two years. For Kendrick, last year’s journey was preceded by an unspeakable tragedy.

by Spencer McClenty

Utah music educator to lecture at JSU – Feb. 8

Kent Nelson

(JACKSON, Miss.) – Renowned Utah music educator Kent Nelson will give a lecture at Jackson Sate University at noon Wednesday, Feb. 8, in the F.D. Hall Music Center Recital Hall followed by a master class at 2 p.m. in the same venue. The event is sponsored by the JSU College of Liberal Arts and the Music Department and is open to JSU students, faculty and staff.

Nelson is in his 24th year at Olympus Junior High School near Salt Lake City, where he teaches instrumental music, including orchestra, band, jazz band, percussion ensemble and guitar. He has received the Granite School District Excel Award (2007), the Utah PTA Gingerbread House Festival Teacher of the Year Award (2006) and the Fulbright Memorial Fund (Japan, 2004) in recognition of his teaching. He is currently the musical director and conductor of the Granite Junior Youth Symphony, an honors organization encompassing the 15 junior high schools in the school district. He has been associated with the group for more than 20 years. Nelson is also a doctoral candidate at Boston University.

For more information, call assistant professor of music education David Akombo at 601-979-2584.

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JSU VP Michael Thomas to serve on Jackson Chamber Board

Michael Thomas

(JACKSON, Miss.) – Jackson State University Vice President for Finance and Operations Michael Thomas has been named to the Jackson Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors on behalf of the university.

The chamber, which operates under the Greater Jackson Partnership, aims to improve the community through education, business/community development, legislative issues, marketing the city internally and externally and public safety.

Thomas joined the administration in 2010 after 16 years with the Jackson Public School District where he managed a $350 million budget. The 1985 JSU alumnus holds a bachelor’s degree in finance.

– JSU –

About Jackson State University: Challenging Minds, Changing Lives

Jackson State University, founded in 1877, is a historically black, high research activity university located in Jackson, the capital city of the state of Mississippi. Jackson State’s nurturing academic environment challenges individuals to change lives through teaching, research and service. Officially designated as Mississippi’s Urban University, Jackson State continues to enhance the state, nation and world through comprehensive economic development, health-care, technological and educational initiatives. The only public university in the Jackson metropolitan area, Jackson State is located near downtown, with three satellite campuses throughout the city. For more information, visit

JSU student and faculty member to be honored at State Capitol, HEADWAE program

(JACKSON, Miss.) – Jackson State University faculty member Alamgir Hossain and student Dereka Carroll will be honored during the annual Higher Education Appreciation Day, Working for Academic Excellence (HEADWAE) program February 28 at the Mississippi State Capital. The HEADWAE program was established in 1987 by the Mississippi Legislative to annually honor the academically talented students and faculty members of Mississippi’s higher education institutions who have made outstanding contributions in promoting academic excellence.

Carroll, 22, a senior meteorology major from Dallas who touts a 3.91 grade

Dereka Carroll

point average, is the winner of the JSU Student of the Year HEADWAE award.

“I am very humbled,” she said. “When you work hard, sometimes you get discouraged. But this award shows that I have what it takes to succeed. So I’m very excited.”

Carroll’s academic honors and memberships include the Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in Earth System Science 2011-2013 Cohort, the Golden Key International Honor Society, the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, the Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, and the W.E.B DuBois Honors College. She’s also currently a mentor in the Increasing Minorities in Atmospheric Science through Research, Application and Partnership program and a student leader in the JSU campus ministry Reform University Fellowship.

Hossain, winner of the JSU Faculty of the Year HEADWAE award, is an assistant professor in the JSU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

“This is a great honor,” Hossain said.  “It brings prestige for my department and for the university.”

Alamgir Hossain

Hossain received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh and a Ph.D. in supramolecular chemistry from Hokkaido University in Japan. He was a recipient of a prestigious Alexander Humboldt Fellowship for his postdoctoral work in Germany. Hossain’s research includes supramolecular and macromolecular chemistry focusing non-covalent interactions between synthetic hosts and guest species, and to develop new biomimetic sensors for anions of environmental and biological relevance. Hossain has published more than 50 research articles in chemistry journals, which were cited more than 700 times by other researchers.

The goal of the appreciation day program, which is hosted by the state Legislature each February in Jackson, is to encourage excellence among those involved in higher education as a way to further leadership, increase knowledge, and to promote good citizens capable of thriving in today’s society and prepared to meet future challenges. To this end, one student and one faculty honoree are annually selected from each of the 36 public and private member institutions of the Mississippi Association of Colleges. The honorees are welcomed by the Lieutenant Governor, recognized in each chamber of the Legislature and recognized by name at a luncheon attended by institution leaders, corporate sponsors, and legislators.
by Spencer McClenty

FLASH Managing Editor named Chips Quinn Scholar, to write for Scripps Howard Wire

(JACKSON, Miss.) – Brooke Kelly, the managing editor of The Blue and White Flash at

Brooke Kelly

Jackson State University last semester, has been named a Chips Quinn Scholar and will spend the spring 2012 semester in Washington, D.C., writing stories and developing multi-media projects as an intern for the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire.

Kelly is a 21-year old senior mass communications major from Jackson, Miss., with a concentration in multimedia journalism and a minor in art.  She applied and was recommended for the Chips Quinn Scholars Program for Diversity in Journalism in October. The program, operated by the Diversity Institute and funded by the Freedom Forum, provides internships, training, an intense one-week college course in multimedia skills and financial assistance to college students from multicultural backgrounds who are pursuing careers in journalism.

“I am very excited about going to D.C. and interning. I like that it’s an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., full-time internship, and I hope to better prepare myself for life after college with this internship,” said Kelly.  “I plan to represent myself and my school well while interning, and write stories on a variety of topics including national news, political news, and possibly local news that may have a D.C. connection.”

Kelly’s recommendations came as a result of her good academic standing, her work and writing for The FlashThe Jackson Free Press, the JSU Mass Communications Department, and other freelance opportunities. She will complete her internship on April 13.

Jody Beck, director of the Semester in Washington internship program for Scripps Howard Foundation Wire, stated in a letter to Kelly: “Your strong application, stories and recommendations make it clear you are ready to be a reporter in Washington.”

JSU Student Publications Director Sylvia Watley said she was happy to recommend Brooke for the program.

“I encouraged her to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity and to learn as much and write as much as possible,” said Watley. “The great thing about being a Chips Quinn scholar is the fact that the program offers students hands-on training and mentoring by news veterans from around the country and opens doors to newsrooms throughout the nation.

“While we will miss Brooke at The Flash this semester, we are looking forward to hearing about her adventures and reading her stories on the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire site ( With this additional training and support, I expect her to be a great career journalist.”

The Chips Quinn program, according to the Freedom Forum website, is named for John “Chips” Quinn Jr., editor of the Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal, who died at age 34. His commitment to diversity has become his legacy. The former editor was the son of John Quinn, advisory trustee and former deputy chairman of the Freedom Forum, and Loie Quinn, who together founded the program in 1991. Nearly 1,200 men and women have been named Chips Quinn Scholars since 1991, making it the largest and most enduring diversity initiative of the Freedom Forum.

– JSU –

About Jackson State University: Challenging Minds, Changing Lives

Jackson State University, founded in 1877, is a historically black, high research activity university located in Jackson, the capital city of the state of Mississippi. Jackson State’s nurturing academic environment challenges individuals to change lives through teaching, research and service. Officially designated as Mississippi’s Urban University, Jackson State continues to enhance the state, nation and world through comprehensive economic development, health-care, technological and educational initiatives. The only public university in the Jackson metropolitan area, Jackson State is located near downtown, with three satellite campuses throughout the city. For more information, visit

Foster care child-turned-NASA engineer to speak at JSU child welfare conference

Terry Morris

(JACKSON, Miss.) – NASA engineer and child advocate Terry Morris will be the opening speaker for Jackson State University’s 10th annual Mississippi Child Welfare Institute Conference Jan. 25-27 at the Jackson Marriott Hotel, 200 E. Amite St., in Jackson, Miss.

Sponsored by the JSU College of Public Service School of Social Work, the three-day conference will focus on “Building Bridges for a New Decade of Transformational Services with Children and Families.” The event will feature local and national experts who will provide the latest information on issues affecting vulnerable children and families.

Morris endured an abusive childhood before entering the foster care system as a youth. He later earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Mississippi State University and went on to earn a master’s in electrical engineering at Old Dominion University and a Ph.D. in systems engineering at the University of Virginia. He now works as the manager for integrated hazard analysis within the safety-critical avionics systems branch at NASA.

Juli Alvarado

The conference will begin with a youth empowerment session at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25. Morris will lead the opening plenary session at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 26.

Anton J. Gunn

Other speakers will include Juli Alvarado, president and owner of the personal and professional development firm Coaching for LIFE!; Anton J. Gunn, Region IV director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Rowena Wilson, associate dean, professor and director of the Ph.D. program at  Norfolk State University’s School of Social Work.

Rowena Wilson

Social work students, educators, practitioners, human service workers and mental and health care professionals are invited to attend. Participants are eligible for up to 11 continuing education hours.

For more information, call 601-432-6816 or 601-979-1123.




Posted by Jean Gordon Cook

President Meyers appoints task force to expand evening and weekend courses and degree programs

Jackson State University President Carolyn W. Meyers has appointed an Evening and Weekend Degree Task Force to explore and recommend opportunities to expand course offerings and degree programs during the evenings and weekend.

“More working adults are returning to college, and an increasing number of traditional students are having to work their way through school,” Meyers said. “In order to respond to this evolving reality, JSU will need to design more of our courses and degree programs to accommodate the needs of these students.”

The task force is chaired by Dr. Johnnie Mills-Jones, associate dean of the College of Education and Human Development. Task force members include Dr. Millard Bingham (School of Lifelong Learning), Stephanie Chatman (Enrollment Management), Dr. John Colonias (CSET, Department of Technology), Will Jones (School of Lifelong Learning), Dr. Tony Latiker (College of Education and Human Development, Child Education Department), Dr. Etta Morgan (College of Liberal Arts, Criminal Justice Department), Dr. Mike Omoregie (Information Management), Dr. Theresia Ratliff-Johnson (College of Public Service, School of Social Work), Dr. Mary White (College of Business, Entrepreneurship Department) and Alfred Jackson (Registrar).

The task force will:

  1. Assess the current state of evening and weekend course and program activity at JSU.
  2. Review evening and weekend course and program activity in the Jackson-metro area.
  3. Benchmark current evening and weekend best practices.
  4. Recommend to the President course offerings and/or degree programs that could be implemented in the Fall 2012 term.

For questions or to give input to the task force, please contact Dr. Johnnie Mills-Jones at 601-432-6234 or

JSU biology professor named African Scientific Institute Fellow

Biology professor Stephen Ekunwe

(JACKSON, Miss.) – Jackson State University biology professor Stephen Ekunwe has recently been named a fellow of the African Scientific Institute (ASI).

The ASI Fellows association is an international group of accomplished academics, researchers and business people in the fields of science and technology. There are currently 553 ASI Fellows from 41 countries.

The association recognizes the achievement of excellence of each fellow in his or her field through election to membership and various awards for distinguished achievement.

Ekunwe has been recognized by ASI for his achievements in cellular and molecular biology, especially in the area of colon and prostate cancer research with the edible medicinal herb, Ocimum gratissimum. He completed his undergraduate and graduate studies in biology at Jackson State University and earned a Ph.D. in microbiology/cell and molecular biology from Michigan State University. Ekunwe joined the Jackson State faculty in 1998.

For more information about ASI Fellows, visit

Posted by Jean Gordon Cook

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wants you to serve

The Jackson State University Center For Service & Community Engaged Learning is offering community service opportunities for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Monday, January 16.

To sign up, call 601-979-1294 or 601-979-6938 or visit the center on the first floor of Jacob Reddix Hall.

Local service opportunities include:



Name of Site       Contact Person        Address                   Times                    Duties

Community Nursing Home

Katherine Crook

1120 Langley Ave: Jackson

9 a.m.- 2 p.m.

Social activities for seniors


Tara Lindsey or Yolanda Kirkland

1100 W. Capital St.


10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

Serving meals & clean-up


Gateway Rescue Mission

 Rusty Ryan

 328 S. Gallatin St. Jackson

 10:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m.

Stocking shelves, serving meals & light clean-up