As we travel down the road of life, we often meet extraordinary people, who enrich our path beyond measurable standards. This is an amazing story about a rare, yet simple man named Kayo, who in my estimation is a legend. One day his skills, trade and livelihood will be extinct like so many other rural treasures, when he passes on. I have wanted to commit this story to paper for quite some time but needed to ensure the timing was right and did not want overlook any of these rich details of this story steeped in the traditions of the Deep South. This allegory is truly a message of living out the gospel as a Christian, touching so many. The contents here should be a book, but I will try to compress this into a short story mega-blog.
Seventy-two years ago, Charles A. (Kayo) Sipper was born in a one room farmhouse (now Kayo’s Cabinet Shop), located in central Crenshaw County. His father nicknamed him Kayo inspired by the newspaper cartoon. Today on Sipper Ridge stands a cluster of homes, barns, sheds and sawmill where three Sipper brothers currently live. Four of Kayo’s five siblings were also born in this one room home, in addition, his father and his nine siblings who were born here as well. The Sipper family has occupied these seventy acres of promise land in Crenshaw County since 1860, when his great-great grandfather came to these parts to homestead.
Crenshaw County is fertile concentrated ground for Churches of Christ. Kayo’s childhood dream was to preach the gospel and have a family. That he did. He attended and graduated from Alabama Christian College in Montgomery where he met his bride Olivia in 1967; they married in 1969 (50 years), have two sons, Josh, Sam and five grandchildren. Kayo has been preaching the Gospel for over 50 years and was at one church alone for 30 years.
I first met Kayo when we bought our farm in 2004; we were looking for someone with a large wood planer to dress out wood we accumulated after Hurricane Ivan. I am not sure why, but even today he calls me John Giles. My friends call me John, but in this region of the south, I am generally referred to as Mr. G, Mr. John or Mr. Giles, but Kayo has always called me John Giles, to me it’s comical! Being a complete stranger to the area and seeking common ground, I mentioned I was friends with John Harrison, who I met in 1989. For years he was a local banker and mayor. That is all it took, from that point forward, I was immediately adopted into the family. He barely knew me when he delivered a wagon load of rough saw timber, we bought to wrap the outside of our home. He first showed me some tips on how to shiplap this pine and then he asked me if I had a compound miter saw, at that time I did not own one. After only knowing me for a just a few minutes, he voluntarily wanted to loan me his saw, I was speechless at his trust and for being such a giver to a stranger. He has over the years loaned me his personal tools that I did not have in my arsenal. In addition, he would always undercharge me for his materials, products and services; he is a role model giver.
You must experience this to appreciate it, but Kayo will take a log, cut it on his one-man sawmill, stack it to dry, dress it out on his planer and make finished cabinets and furniture to perfection. From the woods, to the kitchen, amazing! Kayo recently helped me make some beautiful benches from a downed poplar tree; we sawed up the logs, dried it, planed and built beautiful Pinterest style benches for Deborah. These one of a kind benches will be heirlooms for my children and grandchildren. As a side note, Kayo always said it was a one-man sawmill that would work three men to death, he is right. While woodworking, he would tell me lets measure twice and cut once; and he purposely put me on what he called the idiot end of the measuring tape. Officially, Kayo is 72 and retired, but he works every day doing something.
As a newly adopted member of his family, Kayo called me to come over on a Saturday night to the one room house, which is now his cabinet shop, he said “John Giles we are going to be making music.” I knew about playing music, but he called it making music. It was old fashion fun, much like the old Saturday night barn dances, but in this case, locals would come together, play instruments and sing music. As a hobby, Kayo and his brother would build from scratch handmade guitars, to date they have made 30, one of a kind guitars.
Talking hospitality, they often wanted us to come play Mexican Train Dominoes during a weeknight and then join them for music making on Saturday night. Before his mother passed, she would make her three sons a huge country breakfast every Saturday morning at 7 am sharp. I was invited to one of those historic Saturday morning breakfasts; I still remember Mrs. Addie Mae Sipper’s homemade biscuits and gravy. One Saturday morning I was over there making some gift trays with Kayo, and in walks his brother with homemade biscuits stuffed with fried salmon. His brother does this every Saturday morning and carries a batch down to the local hardware store for fellowship and some good eating. The Sipper family was consumed in being given to hospitality.
One day, I called looking for Kayo and Olivia didn’t know where he was, mind you it was pouring down rain. About ten minutes later he called me, and I asked him where he was. He said, “I was sitting out on the porch John Giles, watching the rain and thinking about nothing,” is that classic or what? Every Monday morning you could always count on Kayo coming by the bank sharing an antique tool or object that was certainly dated but had a very distinct purpose and a great associated story.
As if life was not full enough, Kayo’s other hobby was restoring old Rockolas. He has a collection of about (4,000) 45 RPM records. You can imagine what the background ambiance was during our Mexican Domino games. We had all of our bank staff dress in 50’s – 60’s clothing one Friday, Kayo brought his Rockola to the bank lobby for a day of entertainment for our customers and employees. What fun!
Today, we see new epidemics and disorders emerging from couch potatoes watching too much mindless TV or playing additive video games on the computer, tablets or smart phones, not Kayo. If Kayo is watching TV, it is probably Andy Griffith or Gun Smoke. Kayo in his simple living also has a simple menu, he will eat most any kind of meat and vegetables raised on the farm, but don’t even think about taking him for Mexican, Chinese or Sushi, no dice.
In life, we should all strive to live out the Ten Commandments, embracing the purest of biblical principles, and qualities in order to spill over to others. It is commonly known in these parts that Kayo for years has demonstrated his devotion to God, wonderful provider and protector of his family, character, integrity, work ethic, honesty, given to hospitality, giving and serving others, prudence, good stewardship, kindness and daily living out the Golden Rule, just to name a few.
Kayo and Olivia fostered a rich environment for their sons to obtain a fine education and to be launched into magnificent careers to provide for their family, which understandably does not include Kayo’s Cabinet Shop & Sawmill. Sadly, though on a more sobering note, when God does call on Kayo to exchange the temporal for the eternal, his unique vocational composition as a one-man sawmill generation expires.
We sometimes wait too late to bestow earned accolades to those whose life has enriched us. George William Childs stated, “I would rather have a plain coffin without a flower, a funeral without a eulogy than a life without the sweetness of love and sympathy. Let us learn to anoint our friends beforehand, for their burial, postmortem kindness does not cheer the burdened spirit, flowers on a coffin cast no fragrance backward over the weary way.
Only when the Lambs Book of Life is opened will we know who all we have touched in life. For Kayo, the calculations will be staggering when you factor in 50 years of ministry, weddings, funerals, baptisms, customers and friends.
Opinion | The New Way Forward Act is an assault on our borders
A clear warning of how far to the extreme left the Democratic Party has moved is the recently introduced New Way Forward Act. This immigration bill would totally uproot the rule of law, provide amnesty for illegals here, and import dangerous criminals into the United States. By allowing foreign citizens who committed serious felonies to stay in our country, all Americans would be at risk. And by granting new rights to illegal aliens, the New Way Forward Act would prevent our immigration officials from detaining most illegal immigrants. Shockingly, over forty of my Democrat colleagues in the House have cosponsored this legislation.
We have long known that many on the far left have the goal of global open borders. They do not appreciate that to keep our country prosperous and strong we must have real, enforceable borders. Put another way, our country won’t be any different from the rest of the world if we eliminate our borders and let whoever wants here to enter.
Simply put, the New Way Forward Act aims to decriminalize illegal immigration altogether. It would turn us into a sanctuary nation where anyone who desires entry can come in almost unchallenged. It grants new rights to illegal border crossers that would effectively shut down our already overworked immigration courts. For example, those detained for illegally entering would be entitled to an initial custody hearing within 48 hours, and detainees would be entitled to a new bond hearing every 60 days. This is designed by the bill’s authors to be impossible!
The bill also includes provisions to block local law enforcement from performing immigration enforcement activities. Why would we not want our law enforcement to actually enforce our laws? Isn’t that what they are for? This explains a lot of what some of my more liberal colleagues in Washington think about law and order.
Perhaps most shockingly, the New Way Forward Act removes certain felonies from consideration when considering whether detainees should be allowed entry to our country. Why would we want to protect convicted felons from being deported? This legislation would roll out a welcome mat for them. The bill would even repeal laws that make illegal entry into the United States a crime. Can you imagine the chaos this would bring?
This bill has one goal – open borders. That’s why Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf says this bill would “gut the rule of law” in the country.
I have been to our southern border. I’ve seen firsthand the challenges facing our border patrol agents. Without question, gutting our immigration laws would make their jobs tougher. It would erode American safety and incentivize illegal immigration. Yet Democrats overwhelmingly support sanctuary city laws that allow jurisdictions to refuse to enforce our immigration laws. These sanctuary jurisdictions go further by stonewalling federal officials seeking to enforce our immigration laws. But it gets even worse. States like California have passed laws to grant driver licenses to illegal immigrants. Shockingly, these laws could even automatically register illegal immigrants granted driver licenses the right to vote in elections!
Last week I signed on as an original cosponsor of the Stop Greenlighting Driver Licenses for Illegal Immigrants Act. The premise of this bill is simple: if you are a sanctuary city blocking the enforcement of our federal immigration laws, you should be blocked from receiving federal money. This bill would prevent states that issue driver licenses to illegal aliens from receiving important federal grants.
Unfortunately, common sense is something lacking in Washington. I’m proud to be able to serve you by bringing Alabama values to the swamp. I’ll continue working with President Trump to fight bills like the New Way Forward Act and to ensure our immigration policies serve and protect you, the American people.
Opinion | We cannot allow Alabama to fall behind our neighbors
As the Birmingham region enters a new decade, it is more important than ever in our increasingly connected world that Alabama’s largest city be equipped with modern wireless infrastructure that provides connectivity that powers opportunities for businesses and residents alike.
That is why the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) supports standardization of small cell deployment statewide – enhancing connectivity today as well as supporting 5G and technologies of the future.
Connectivity is a key issue in creating and sustaining a 21st century economy and workforce, connecting both urban and rural areas to enhanced broadband opportunities. Ongoing advancements in wireless broadband technologies are necessary to keep pace with consumer demand and are crucial to our state’s continued economic success. Without the ability to economically deploy the latest in wireless broadband infrastructure, we put at risk our ability to effectively compete in a digital economy.
The BBA has long supported increased access to broadband technology across the Birmingham region and the state of Alabama through our annual state and federal legislative agendas. Our support is reflected in our 2020 state legislative agenda, which lists this issue as a priority and specifically supports streamlining and standardizing the permitting process for small cell wireless equipment and services, allowing wireless companies limited access to public Rights of Way for the deployment of small cells and establishing permit fee limitations for localities.
We join with key community organizations like the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce in supporting statewide legislation that simply standardizes the permitting process for small cell wireless equipment and services, including broadband; allows entities providing wireless services, subject to existing applicable constitutional provisions, access to Rights of Way for the deployment of small cell equipment; and establishes permit fee guidelines for localities, allowing them to recover reasonable compensation while still encouraging broadband investment.
Small cell deployment is one way to ensure Birmingham and Alabama’s wireless infrastructure remains competitive, allowing both businesses and residents to thrive. More than half of U.S. states have already passed legislation that welcomes investment and removes barriers to deploying wireless infrastructure.
This new decade and the ones after it will require us to be connected to ensure the best for the Birmingham region’s businesses and its residents. Supporting small cell deployment is key as we look towards the future, continually making sure that, as the world becomes more and more connected, we in Birmingham and in Alabama do the same.
We encourage state legislators to support this effort so we as a region and as a state can stay competitive in an ever-changing world.
Opinion | “Just Mercy” and Justice do not exist in Alabama
The chance of there being “just mercy” for Nathaniel Woods—facing lethal injection on March 5 for the killing of three Birmingham police officers—is as good as the chance Alabama will ever reform its dismal, no-justice-to-be-found-anywhere legal system; it ain’t gonna happen.
A Hollywood movie and best-selling book about a legendary lawyer getting an innocent man off of death row can’t change a culture of condemnation on its own. It can’t, by itself, defeat deep-seated hatred and crass corruption that feeds off, subjugates, and disenfranchises the poor in Alabama.
And so I hate to tell my progressive, abolitionist friends: But it is unreasonable and naive to think the undeniably decent call for “just mercy” can push the needle from out of the veins of flesh-and-blood human beings—even old, dying ones—condemned to death in Alabama.
The righteous cry for “just mercy” can’t cool the hot, facile, and feral appeal of vengeance in a state soaked in the blood of slavery and segregation, where hatred for common humanity thrived, and, where it remains, having long ago seeped into its criminal code, its policies of mass incarceration, its entrenched and inescapable poverty for so many, its abysmal prison conditions, and its terrible, twisted addiction to capital punishment.
“Just mercy” doesn’t exist in Alabama, because truth be told, justice doesn’t exist in the state either.
Elsewhere I’ve written how Alabama has been torturing poor people for a long time, how it’s been ducking and dodging death penalty accountability, and, how its sick and shrouded plan to exterminate a substantial portion of its death row population with nitrogen gas is an abomination. But this time let me offer a new, concrete, more personal anecdote to illustrate how unfair and unjust Alabama’s so-called “justice” system is.
Over five years ago, as a “capital habeas” or “post-conviction” attorney, I was involved in litigating a capital case in Alabama; the end result of our Herculean effort was that a man named Christopher Revis had his death sentenced vacated and a new trial ordered—by Marion County Circuit Court Judge John H. Bentley—because of juror misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel.
Over five years have passed since that magical, momentous, Hollywood movie-like day when Bentley ruled. But, guess what? Christopher Revis still has not had his new trial.
That’s right: Even though Revis was ordered to have a new trial on capital murder charges over five years ago, he hasn’t had it. Nor has his case otherwise been resolved. Instead, the only thing that has happened to Revis during all this time is he has remained in Holman prison—locked down in a place that is otherwise known as “hell on earth”—where he had already been incarcerated for nearly a decade before I met him.
Last year, after more than four years had passed since Revis was ordered by Judge Bentley to have his new trial, I re-activated my Alabama bar card and traveled to Alabama for a few days to see if I could suss out—as a freelance writer who still cares about my former client, his family, and the rule of law—what the heck is happening. I failed.
But I am not alone. Because does anyone in the legal community, press, or the public know why Christopher Revis has not had his new—constitutionally mandated—trial yet? Has any competent, conscientious journalist anywhere ever looked into Christopher Revis’s case and this question before?
Nope and nope.
Have I, as Revis’s former lawyer, and after having been contacted and asked to do so at various times by Revis’s desperate family—over the years since I left law practice—done everything possible to alert members of the legal community and the press (both local and national) of the unconscionable passage of time in Revis’s case? Yup. But you can google for yourself to find out just how little that has accomplished.
And so, although I don’t relish being in the role of spoiler and bearer of bad news: In my opinion, based on my own personal experience, before “just mercy” can be anything but a wishful and fleeting slogan on highway billboards in Alabama, the state must first be able to competently and fairly provide justice to its citizens. Citizens like Christopher Revis. So far it hasn’t.
Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveCooperEsq
Opinion | A lesson in civility
As already mentioned here, Sunday afternoon Feb. 9, I participated in a League of Women Voters forum in Dothan to debate the pros and cons of Amendment One. I opposed the measure. Senator Greg Albritton from Atmore supported it.
I had done my homework and so had he. We both spoke with passion and conviction. There was no doubt we were on opposite sides.
However, we were friends when we got there and we were friends when we left.
I respect Greg and the fact that he was duly elected by the majority of voters in his senate district. He certainly has a right to his viewpoint and his opinions. I have no doubt he feels the same about me.
Our exchanges were lively and even interspersed with moments of laughter and good will.
In other words, we were civil.
And as I drove back home to Montgomery, I couldn’t help but think of how what had just played out was in such stark contrast to what we see far too often in politics these days, especially in Washington. Both civility and respect have become four letter words in the nation’s capital where if someone disagrees with you they are usually ridiculed, berated and the object of insults.
We are destroying what is most dear to this republic. The presumption that as a whole we are better than the sum of all our parts. That all citizens should be treated with dignity, not chastised because they don’t think like we do.
I understand better than most that 2020 is an election year and that in such times, passion often replaces common sense. But even so, even that does not condone so much of the junk we see on TV and Facebook right now.
It is shameful.
Of course, I will vote NO on amendment one. And Greg will vote YES.
But to me, the larger lesson of this forum was not so much about the pros and cons of this legislation as it was that civil discourse and disagreement can–and should–be conducted with civility.
When it is not, we are all diminished.
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