“You know what time it is,” says a voice off camera.
“Boom Shakalaka!” shouts co-hosts Joshalyn “Rocki” Hickey Johnson and Cheryl “Chaveevah” Banks Ferguson, along with their guests.
That’s the signature greeting for North End Update, a show that aims to deliver “Cedar Valley good news with a North End perspective,” streaming live on Facebook every Friday at 4 p.m.
When the first show aired in April 2017, it was 12-15 minutes and only on Facebook. Now, shows are 40+ minutes and, in addition to Facebook, the prior week’s show also appears on Waterloo Community Television on Saturdays at 10 a.m. and Friday at 4 p.m. Recent guests have included Waterloo Chief of Police Dr. Joel Fitzgerald, Sr., Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart, and Jane Elliott, an educator internationally recognized for her work on race and her Blue Eyes and Brown Eyes Exercise.
With all the guests, it’s hard for the hosts to pick a favorite.
“I love when the mayor is on,’” said Rocki. “He’s so insightful, has such ambition for our community. He grew up here. He knows what we need as far as infrastructure and I feel like our needs are being met.”
Chaveevah agreed, then paused to think of another favorite. “As corny as it might sound, I really think back to our very first guest, because he was our first guest and because he was so knowledgeable. He was a pest control guy and he used natural ingredients and—”
Rocki laughed hard. “I can’t believe she’s saying that.”
“—his mom was on there with him and he just talked about natural things that you could do yourself to, you know, take care of ants. He was invested in it and that’s what I think I liked.”
“That is so funny, Chaveevah.” Rocki was laughing so hard, she had grabbed a napkin and was dabbing the tears from her eyes.
That’s the way it was between them. The comfortableness, caring, and warmth that was evident on camera was even more pronounced away from it.
And those positive feelings are what they’ve tried to project about their city of Waterloo with their North End program — an effort to promote the good things that are happening locally, a change from the often negative news coverage the city with a large Black population receives.
“We’ve known each other since 1991,” said Rocki. “We used to be sister-in-laws and that didn’t work out, so we became best friends.”
They were married to brothers, but Rocki ended up divorcing her husband and remarrying later.
Their backgrounds are different.
Chaveevah was a dancer of African dance at the Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago for 12 years. She’d been trying to finish school and get her degree in Chicago but, with five children, it was a balancing act. When she stopped dancing in 1986 and moved to Waterloo, she immediately enrolled at the University of Northern Iowa, where she got a BA in Public Relations and then a MA in Communication Education.
Upon graduation, Chaveevah taught Oral Communications at Wartburg College for 6-7 years and later wrote for the Waterloo Courier.
Then she started BaHar Publishing with her cousin, Patricia Harris. They started producing a local newsletter, then switched to books. The first was Chaveevah’s fiction book, “In Due Time,” in 2003.
“I always wanted to write a book,” said Rocki. With Chaveevah’s prodding, she wrote two children’s books: “Good Morning, Lovey,” which was based on her daughter’s first day of pre-school, and “Travis, It’s Not Your Birthday,” which was based on her son, who didn’t understand why he didn’t get gifts on his sister’s birthday.
The books were unique in that they featured a multi-racial family. It was important to Rocki that her children, and others like them, had families that looked like theirs.
Both books were illustrated by Chaveevah, who had illustrated numerous others. Some, like “Great Grandma Gladys and Her Great Grandson,” had been for hire. It is interesting to note that Chaveevah is also an artist, working in acrylics, who has sold original paintings, prints and greeting cards. Her work hangs in UNI’s Rod library and Mayor Hart commissioned her to do a painting, which is hanging in his office in City Hall.
Rocki then switched to nonfiction. Her father was dying and she wanted to hurry and capture her family history—his stories and those of her aunt, civil rights activist Anna Mae Weems. So she and her father co-authored “Ropes in the Kitchen,” “which inevitably talked about race,” Rocki said, “just because of my life experiences with race relations on both sides of my family.”
By the time the book came out, her father was seriously ill. But that didn’t stop him from participating in book signings with her.
“Her father was so proud,” said Chaveevah. “She had gotten him a stamp made with his autograph on it so he didn’t have to sign and could just stamp.”
“He was on his death’s bed. If it wasn’t for that book coming out …” Rocki shook her head. “He had a trach, he was in a wheelchair. He could only use one arm and one leg. But he was able to stamp those books.”
Her dad, a single parent, was an important part of her life and had instilled in her a strong sense of family and community. As part of the Great Migration, her family migrated to Waterloo from Mississippi to work on the railroad.
After “Ropes in the Kitchen” came out and her dad had passed, Rocki was thinking about what was next.
“We started having a lot of gun violence in Waterloo,” she said. “Three years ago, Chaveevah and I were thinking about something we could do in our retired stage that we could be beneficial.”
They were tired of hearing people only talk about the bad things that were happening in Waterloo.
“It’s too easy to look around and see how many good things are going on in this community,” said Chaveevah, “for it to be tainted with the reputation of being just really so bad. It’s not. I’m glad that Rocki came up with the idea.”
So, North End Update was born.
“North End, back in my in father’s day, there were a lot of night clubs, a lot of violence — well, not a lot — and it was given a bad name because it was the Black side of town, number one,” said Rocki. “And if there was anything bad happened, it was all blown up in the media.”
Rocki and Chaveevah wanted to see the perception of the North End improved. Felicia Smith Nalls had launched the North End Arts and Music Festival, which had started to portray North End in a positive light. Rocki and Chaveevah wanted to do their part to ensure that North End continued to be portrayed positively.
While the goal of North End Update is to focus on the positive, given the racial injustice and other problems right now, the focus shifts occasionally.
“While we definitely try to put a focus on the good things that are going on, sometimes you have to acknowledge the not so good things,” said Chaveevah. “I enjoy that these things are being discussed because you can’t live in a bubble and act like it’s not happening.”
“We can talk about tough subjects, but in the end, we kind of like to make light of it because, in essence, you know,” said Rocki, “you gotta live with yourself and you can’t walk around bitter even if the news of the day isn’t good.”
When asked if there was anything else she wanted to add, Chaveevah smiled. “I like that there are some young people that think we’re those cool older ladies.”
“No, kinda hot older ladies,” corrected Rocki.
So, what’s next for these kinda hot older ladies?
“I kind of always did want to get on a bigger scale, not just talk about this community but talk about topics that hopefully attract even more viewers,” said Rocki.
Given that their current audience is already worldwide, that goal seems entirely possible.
by Rachelle Chase
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