COVER STORY

The 2022 City Pulse People Issue

A fistful of nuggets

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READ EACH Q&A HERE:

Altaye Tadesse

Henry Kwok

Tammara McCollum

Bernie Porn

Ashley Medina

Liz McMurray

Jared Waltrip, aka Bentley James

Julie Pingston

The snow on the sidewalks is getting dirtier by the day. An uncertain new year is off the chain, waiting for you like a tricky hyena in a zoo after midnight.

An hour or two of beachcombing would be real nice right about now.

City Pulse’s 6th annual People Issue doesn’t put you on a pebbly shore with the sun on your shoulders, surrounded by random treasures, but the principle is the same. Each year around this time, we share the words and images of several local people we found particularly interesting. It’s not a People of the Year, or Hotshots to Watch Out For, or a Best-Dressed or Most Influential list. It’s just a shiny handful of nuggets from our big, diverse, hard-working, self-expressing, busy-just-being themselves community.

Once again, Khalid Ibrahim of Eat Pomegranate Photography has created portraits of each subject. Ibrahim’s deep curiosity, empathic soul and keen eye give him the uncanny ability to capture their essence. 

This year’s sampling is strong on entrepreneurs who parlayed their unique skills and personalities into thriving businesses: Altaye Tadesse, owner of Altu’s Ethiopian restaurant in East Lansing; restauranteur Henry Kwok, owner of Henry’s Place in Meridian Township; Liz McMurray, owner of Liz’s Alteration shop on Lansing’s east side; Tammara McCollum, owner of Smoothie Queen in the Allen Neighborhood Center’s Accelerator Kitchen; and Bernie Porn, president of the influential polling firm EPIC MRA. 

These entrepreneurs share a key trait with two more of our 2022 picks: hairstylist Ashley Medina and Jared Waltrip, aka drag queen Bentley James. They all have found effective and distinctive ways to share their particular experiences, tastes and aspirations with a larger community.

In Medina’s case, that community includes hundreds of thousands who follow her on Tik-Tok as well as her customers at Bliss Salon, many of them from the LGBTQ community, who prize her styling skills, personal warmth and ability to rock a mullet. Waltrip shares his thoughts on becoming and being a drag queen, a skill he practices full time, and explains how drag creates a “safe space” for mainstream people and the LGBTQ community to party together and relax.

The People Issue isn’t out to send any particular message, but this year’s profiles tell us a lot about self-determination and persistence. McMurray tells us how hard it was to get a loan as a single Black woman in the 1970s and what it’s been like to run a business solo for 43 years, watching everyone come and go around her. McCollum tells us about living in her car, listening to people carp at her to “get a regular job.” Nevertheless, she stuck to her guns until she established a thriving smoothie operation on the east side. Similarly, it took a lot of love and persistence for Tadesse to get Altu’s through its first year. She had to accustom her diners to unfamiliar tastes and textures and slow them down to enjoy the lingering social rituals that go with Ethiopian food and culture, but she stuck with it, and the place is a local institution now. Henry Kwok gives us an inside look at how businesses evolve, creating unexpected dead ends and opportunities. Many successful entrepreneurs seem to feel obligated to tell younger people to “go for your dreams,” but Kwok refreshingly warns us away from the rocky restaurant business. He urges anyone with a dream to “go slow,” because “everything doesn’t come at once.”

Pollster Bernie Porn tells us how a person gets into such an esoteric field, and admits that, yes, his surname gives him some trouble.

Finally, with so many business owners in the bunch, it’s only fitting that we also include someone with a bird’s eye view of the business landscape: Julie Pingston, president and CEO of the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau. Pingston took charge of the bureau in March 2020, just when the pandemic took off, an experience she called a “trial by fire.” She tells us how an unprecedented crisis brought out the amazing resilience and resourcefulness of Lansing’s hotel, restaurant and retail industry. 

On second thought, maybe there is a message in this year’s People Issue. Whether you decide to boldly go for your dreams or just sit in a corner and wait for the ice to melt outside, it won’t hurt to take a little time and look around. The community is still strong, and there are some bright nuggets of humanity out there. 

5 Years of City Pulse People Issue Highlights • 2016 - 2021

Farha Abbasi, psychiatrist 2017

Abolarin Agnona, veterinarian 2017

Haimen Al-Sumaidee, refugee job  development coordinator 2019

Jose Aste, head chef/owner of Tantay 2021

Guadalupe Ayala, Lansing diversity officer 2021

Ligia Romero Balcarcel, military veteran 2016

Ryan Basore, Weed activist/entrepreneur 2020

Amy Bigman, rabbi, Shaarey Zedek 2021

Twyla Birdsong, blues/soul singer 2016

Melina Brann, exec. dir., Women’s Center 2021

Debbie Carlos, artist 2017

Oscar Castaneda, advocate for immigrants 2019

Etienne Charles, trumpeter/jazz prof 2018

Ryan Claytor, comic book artist 2016

Suban Nur Cooley, writer/editor 2017

Guillermo Delgado, painter 2020

Morgan Doherty, LGBT leader 2020

Aarin Dokum, Nokomis Center leader 2019

Tana Fedewa, survivors advocate 2019

Steve Flaster, salesman/educator 2018

Krista Fuerst, expectant parents advocate 2020

Chana Kraus-Friedberg, poet 2021

Nic Gareiss, dancer/musician 2017

Deborah Guthrie, Meridian Twp. clerk 2021

Muhammad Hamdan, physician 2016

Lucas Holiday, vocalist 2018

Twesigye “Jackson” Kaguri,  children’s HIV/AIDS activist 2020

Todd Karinen, metal guru 2020

Ezra & Marshall Kelly, trans twins 2019

Cameo King, Grit, Glam & Guts founder 2021

Tiesha King, artist 2019

Sarah Kovan, Rhodes scholar 2016

Rev. Phiwa Langeni, Salus Center director 2019

Bill Lett, Retired owner, Lett’s Bridal 2019

Liz McDaniel, musician 2016

Mark Meadows, East Lansing mayor 2016

Thierry Nana, student, designer, artist 2018

Jennifer Nagel, fitness expert 2020

Jerry Norris, Fledge owner 2021

Marilyn Plummer, public servant 2018

Amy Rickett, actor/director 2018

Jeana-Dee Allen & Dylan Rogers,  Robin Theatre owners 2017

Theresa Rosado, journalist, artist, activist 2019

Bob Rose, artist 2021

Robin Schneider,  medical marijuana advocate 2017, 2019

Alice Sessions, preservationist 2018

Jeff Shoup, musician 2017

Robert Song, restaurateur 2017

Whitney Spotts, vocalist 2018

Nick Stachurski, director/marketer 2016

Joseph Steinhardt,  record producer, educator 2018

Tashmica Torok, Black rights activist 2016

Willard Walker, public servant 2021

Eugene Wanger, death penalty opponent 2020

Elaine Womboldt, neighborhood activist 2018

Geri Alumit Zeldes, journalism educator 2017

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