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Personal Journeys


Life with Shirley

“Excuse me, sir. Is it possible for me to get in and just see the gift shop?”  Visiting Washington, D.C., for business last November, I was drawn to the brand-new National Museum of African American History & Culture. The waiting list for tickets was eight months long to get in, but it was a warm, sunny day so I walked there from my hotel just to see what it looked like. “No...


The House of Candler

The House of Candler

In an unspoken reminder of his famous pedigree, Asa Griggs Candler V welcomes guests to his Sandy Springs office with the offer of a frosted Coca-Cola, then ambles to a boardroom to sit beneath a portrait of his great-grandfather rescued from storage at the Commerce Club. The resemblance between the great-grandson and Coke’s founder is uncanny. A white mane of hair parted to the right, eyes...
In the bully pulpit

In the bully pulpit

For one dark week last winter, a showdown broke out between Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood, two powerhouse women’s health nonprofits and longtime allies in the fight against breast cancer. On Jan. 31, Komen’s decision to halt $680,000 in annual funds to Planned Parenthood went public. Before you knew it, the whole country was choosing up sides in a “she said,...
A family fractured

A family fractured

EATONTON — Doria and Charles Alecksen chose their clothing carefully. She reached for an ivory gown — not the traditional attire for someone recently made a widow, but Doria never considered herself traditional. Charles, her son, put on the JROTC uniform that identified him as an aspiring soldier. It was a perfect morning, serene and bright, the first day of September. Folks idling outside...
After the fall

After the fall

It had come to this, dying alone in his bathroom by his own hand. Through guile and force of personality, Glenn Richardson was known to Republicans in the state House as a leader who delivered his party into power after a century in the wilderness. As Georgia’s speaker of the House, he was the state’s second most powerful man. But the pressures of his job, combined with an insatiable appetite...
Collateral damage

Collateral damage

“I don’t know if I can make it,” Greg Clement told his wife, Jan. Jan didn’t respond. As Greg remembers it, he was reaching out and got nothing. As Jan recalls, she was so upset she had nothing to say. “I was probably trying not to cry,” she said. It was February, and they were on the road, moving their family from a $400,000 home in Alpharetta to an apartment nearby...
Summer’s gift

Summer’s gift

The hair. It had been a point of pride; long, dark tresses that cascaded past her shoulders. It shone in the sun. And now it was coming out in clumps. The chemo did that. She made a hard choice. On a sunny November afternoon last year, she sat in a plastic chair in the backyard of her mom and stepdad’s Atlanta home. Beside her was her twin brother, Jordan, who’d agreed she didn’t...
Amazing journeys

Amazing journeys

Every Sunday for the past five months, our reporters and photographers have brought you some truly amazing stories about the people who call Georgia home. Today, we are revisiting some of those people to update you about what happened after their stories were published. Remember the family whose children suffered a rare kidney disorder? Find out how they are doing, and how the family’s life...
A Passover to remember

A Passover to remember

Buttoning her coat tightly around her to keep out the unrelenting cold of her dingy boarding house room in Hungary, Eva Dukesz, 23, unwrapped the few groceries she had bought for dinner: a loaf of stale bread, a head of nearly spoiled cabbage, a turnip and a few limp carrots. She filled a pot with water, added the vegetables and put it on a contraband hot plate to boil. If the hot plate were discovered...
‘Flight Path’

‘Flight Path’

Despite protests from the Kirkwood Neighbors’ Organization and bad press in the local paper, they bulldozed the house where I lost my virginity. It was a turn-of-the-century farmhouse about a mile from my college campus, with great blue-gray gables framed by two towering cedars at the street. In 1895, the house would have been a suburban retreat, six miles east of downtown Atlanta by streetcar...
Mother of reinvention

Mother of reinvention

This is not supposed to be my life. The me I planned to be is slipping on a pair of designer shoes while my husband serves our children breakfast in the kitchen of our Cambridge townhouse. On the way to my first appointment of the day with a client at the Boston Women’s Health Collective, I drop my kids off at school while mentally outlining my latest article on feminist therapy.   Instead...
‘Mercies in Disguise’

‘Mercies in Disguise’

The two people Amanda Baxley loves the most begged her not to be tested — at least not now. “Please,” her mother pleaded. “Your dad is so sick. We are hurting so much already.” Her boyfriend implored her not to invite news that could cast such a long and dark shadow over their future. “You don’t know what it will do to you,” he warned. But she had always...
The Fairy Godmother

The Fairy Godmother

Fairy godmothers of folklore fame are magical creatures, capable of turning pumpkins into carriages and making wishes come true. At Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, 91-year-old Jackie Viener has played that role every Tuesday for seven years. Like a fairy tale version of a superhero, the mild-mannered great-grandmother disappears into a coat closet in the hospital’s volunteer...
Desert renewal

Desert renewal

On Thanksgiving morning just after sunrise, my husband Kevin asked, “Is that sage I smell?” “Yes,” I replied, happy that he remembered. The fragrant, comforting scent of the herb all around us wasn’t coming from a turkey roasting in the oven. Kevin and I were hiking the easy trail up Pinnacle Peak in the Sonoran Desert where white sage grew wild amid the towering Saguaro...
Becoming American: An intimate look at a refugee family in Clarkston

Becoming American: An intimate look at a refugee family in Clarkston

My journey into the lives of the Sing-Hing family from Myanmar began almost four years ago at the AJC Decatur Book Festival. I was selling my photo book “The Women of Southeast Asia” when Daphne Hall,a teacher with the Global Village Project (GVP), a school for refugee girls, was drawn to my booth. She immediately recognized the women in the book. They were the same faces as the girls...
Haleigh’s hope

Haleigh’s hope

Janea Cox, her husband Brian, their 7-year-old daughter Haleigh and their chocolate Lab Kala left their Forsyth home in December 2016 for their semi-annual trip to Colorado. They flew into Denver and made their way toward Colorado Springs in a rental car, squeezing the three of them, a wheelchair and the dog into the small, four-door sedan. A handicap-equipped van would have been better, but the economy...
Knockout: The fast rise and slow fade of boxer O’Neil ‘Supernova’ Bell

Knockout: The fast rise and slow fade of boxer O’Neil ‘Supernova’ Bell

Somewhere in the rustic foothills of Jamaica, Norma Bell longed to leave her parents’ sugarcane farm near the rural village of Catadupa. And eventually she did.Norma found her way to Montego Bay around age 17. She got a job at a jewelry store. There she met a man named Charles, a Holiday Inn security guard, who asked her on a date. Nine months later, on Dec. 29, 1974, their first son came into...
Walking across America

Walking across America

Devastated by his sister’s death, Brett Bramble set out on an odyssey to draw attention to the heroin epidemic.
Outside looking in

Outside looking in

AJC reporter Ellen Eldridge struggles with the helplessness of watching a tragedy unfold on Facebook.
Hard-earned scars

Hard-earned scars

The Rev. James Brewer-Calvert, senior pastor at Decatur First Christian Church, discovered he had colon cancer 10 years after his father, also a pastor, died from the same disease.
Healing touch

Healing touch

A mysterious illness changes the course of a hospital chaplain's life.
Grandmother of the year

Grandmother of the year

Like 100,000 grandparents in Georgia, Loretta Jenkins is raising grandchildren, and every day is a challenge.
Life of Brian

Life of Brian

As Manuel's Tavern prepares to reopen, owner Brian Maloof looks for ways to bring his love of farming to the table.
Remembering Frank

Remembering Frank

A friend memorializes Frank Barham’s life by finishing the journey cut tragically short last year.
Reclaimed lives

Reclaimed lives

Troubled siblings find success in lessons rooted in grandfather’s teachings, using reclaimed wood to build furniture.
Personal Journeys past

Personal Journeys past

Personal Journeys is now in its fourth year and any trepidation that we might run out of compelling stories to tell has been proven unfounded so far. Here are four very different stories about extraordinary people who are charting new territory in their lives and giving it their all.
Keeper of the island

Keeper of the island

Centenarian Sandy West wants to live out her days on Ossabaw Island, but time may be running out.
The fixer

The fixer

Jane Warring helped move Leon Sims out of his bug-infested apartment and into her heart.
Fixing to die

Fixing to die

Battle with deadly superbug upends writer’s life. He’s one of the lucky ones.
Delta retiree and veteran lacrosse ref gets top honor for mechanics

Delta retiree and veteran lacrosse ref gets top honor for mechanics

Luis Diaz, a veteran lacrosse official and a Delta Air Lines retiree who was featured in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Personal Journeys series in January, received a prestigious lifetime achievement award for mechanics from the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday. Called the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award, the honor recognizes the accomplishments of senior mechanics. Taylor...
Vanished

Vanished

How the mysterious disappearance of Sherron Lankester’s son nearly destroyed her.
The nation’s poet

The nation’s poet

The National Book Festival along the Mall in Washington is thronged with readers and authors who’ve come to revel in the written word on this fall day in 2004. Just three years old, the festival has been forged by first lady Laura Bush and the Library of Congress in the belief that literature is a living thing, that the right words, composed in just the right way, can push a life forward. To...
Legacy of loss

Legacy of loss

Leslie Mackinnon's grief over relinquishing her sons for adoption inspires her passion to change the process.
The accused

The accused

Fourteen-year-old Christopher Routh was mowing his aunt’s grass when the police came knocking at his parents’ door, arrest warrant in hand for the Lawrenceville teenager. His mother, Sissy Routh, gave them as little information as possible. Then she called her husband. “Go get Chris now!” Charlie Routh barely beat detectives to his sister-in-law’s house where he collected...
Rebound

Rebound

Mondays were the worst. Oscar Reyes worked a grueling 12-hour overnight shift on a tufting machine at a carpet plant, emerged bleary-eyed at 7 a.m., and drove to Dalton High School for a long day of classwork. But it was work, and he thrived on it. He was a chatty 16-year-old kid from Mexico whose family was trying to carve out a new life in the rolling hills of north Georgia, with a new language...
The Filmmaker

The Filmmaker

Paul Saltzman is a 69-year-old Canadian filmmaker with at least 300 movie and television credits to his name. He has produced more than one hit television series. He has documented the Beatles spiritual journeys in Rishikesh, India, worked with John Cusack and Jeanne Moreau and has won the Emmy twice. But in all his wanderings, through Europe and the Far East, documenting violin makers and carpet...
Fourth Down

Fourth Down

The words of a man who cannot speak come slowly. Each. Word. An. Effort. Each complete thought, like scrimshaw carved from silence, is meticulous work. I first met Jeremy Williams and his family while working on a series of stories on him in the fall of 2009. He was the head football coach at tiny Greenville High School — 60 miles southwest of Atlanta — working the sidelines, exhorting...
Finding Max (Part 1)

Finding Max (Part 1)

Those legs. I couldn’t keep my eyes off them. I kept looking in the rear-view mirror at three pair of legs so diminutive they were unable to hang over the backseat. Each limb simply jutted forward, shoe bottoms facing me. I hoped they didn’t notice my gaze. It was the first time I had ever spent substantial time with someone with dwarfism, much less a family of three. It was 1997 and Joy...
Finding Max (Part 2)

Finding Max (Part 2)

We had arrived in Atlanta on a Wednesday and Max began school the following Monday. Among the family and friends who welcomed us upon our arrival was Felix, my cousin-in-law, who spoke fluent Russian. He assured Max we’d pick him up that afternoon when school let out, but dropping him off that first day was tough for both father and son, as tears ran down his chubby cheeks. Andrea and I rested...
Leaving Atlanta

Leaving Atlanta

The memory is fuzzy — I was 8 or 9 — but it was a morning in the early 1960s. I was waiting to cross U.S. Highway 29 just south of College Park on my way to my school bus stop when a northbound orange and white Atlanta Transit System bus unexpectedly glided up and halted. The doors opened with a pneumatic whoosh; a gaggle of adult faces looked down. “Goin’ downtown?”...
The Class of '63

The Class of '63

Leroy R. Johnson took a breath and strode into the chamber of the Georgia Senate. The tall, thin bespectacled man knew all eyes were on him, so he had to project an aura of quiet, dignified confidence. Before walking in, he noted the “colored” and “white” bathrooms. Glancing up from his aisle seat, he saw his wife and 12-year-old son sitting in the gallery, where a year earlier...
The Inventor

The Inventor

Chris Schutte created a kitchen device that has garnered a lot of interest but little money. How long will he chase the dream, and at what price? Members of the Inventors Association of Manhattan sat rapt. The burly, friendly-faced speaker before them was listing his successes with a homespun kitchen tool called the HotDog Ez Bun Steamer, and they were wowed.“I’ve received two patents...
Forgiven

Forgiven

William “Billy” Neal Moore stands in the gymnasium of the medium-security Floyd County Prison in Rome and meets the eyes of convicted thieves and drug dealers as they come into the room. The prison, which has been in existence since the late 1800s, sits off a winding road on a bluff near the Coosa River. It houses about 420 inmates. Many of the inmates hug Moore as they walk into the gym...
Officer down

Officer down

When ‘Officer Pat’ was run over by a fleeing suspect, he didn’t realize the emotional damage he sustained would rival his physical injuries. The night he felt death coming for him, Patrick Apoian had a talk with God. But first, he had a talk with his son. “Always remember, I love you more than anything,” Apoian said as he lay bleeding on the concrete outside a College...
The River Warrior

The River Warrior

DAHLONEGA — The journey began quietly, the scuff of Kevlar against soil, the swish of water below. Robert Fuller’s new canoe slid into the Chattahoochee’s currents. It picked up speed and soon vanished in a bend just below Helen, the September sun winking through the hardwoods. The journey ended five months later on a louder note, with scores of people cheering as the canoe &mdash...
Streetwise and Camera Ready

Streetwise and Camera Ready

The music cranked as party-goers boogied, drank, got high and caroused, loudly carrying on like they did most nights at Perry Homes. The combustible mix gave folks in the sprawling public housing project many reasons to be on edge. A wrong word, slight or misperceived glance might be all it took to set something off. One night, the normal din turned darker than usual. Someone ended an argument with...
Streetwise and camera-ready

Streetwise and camera-ready

The music cranked as party-goers boogied, drank, got high and caroused, loudly carrying on like they did most nights at Perry Homes. The combustible mix gave folks in the sprawling public housing project many reasons to be on edge. A wrong word, slight or misperceived glance might be all it took to set something off. One night, the normal din turned darker than usual. Someone ended an argument with...

Personal Journeys wins Green Eyeshade Award

Based on the volume of emails and comments we receive every week, we know readers love reading Personal Journeys. And now our peers agree. Five AJC writers have won second place in the 63rd annual Green Eyeshade Awards for best features writing for their contributions to Personal Journeys in 2012. Presented by the Society of Professional Journalists, the awards recognize the best journalism produced...
Mr. Collins goes to Washington

Mr. Collins goes to Washington

Doug Collins’ days here typically begin before dawn, when he arises from the cot in his office for a morning workout at the members’ gym. The meetings and votes and hearings that follow clog his schedule to the point where meals and bathroom breaks are a struggle. The day ends long after dark, as Collins catches up on briefing papers and thinks of his wife and three children back home...
Finding Redemption

Finding Redemption

He was the gangster made good, living proof that redemption was more than an ecumenical talking point. Thomas Ramirez was just the type of lost soul Gene Beckstein had set out to reach when he founded Good News at Noon in the late 1980s. Gainesville’s guardian angel had big plans for the Mexican immigrant, anointing Ramirez as his eventual successor despite deep misgivings from many of the homeless...
Second chance

Second chance

Don’t worry mommy, I’ll take care of my sisters. With those words, Toshia Brown felt another nail sink into her heart. It was January 2012 and Toshia’s prescription drug abuse had reached a crescendo of self-destruction. She was unemployed and living in an extended stay hotel in Douglas County with her three daughters: Misty — who had already shouldered more than any 7-year-old...
Little house, big heart

Little house, big heart

If only for a few more weeks, the little house is still its old familiar self. The calm that cloaks the spit of street where it’s wedged between Buford Highway and downtown Duluth hasn’t yet been shattered. The small sign reading “GSAC” remains noticeable only to those determined — even desperate — to find it. The doors are locked up tight. That never changes. Yet...