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Vicksburg resident loses 241 pounds without weight loss surgery



Denise Cooper before and after her weight loss transformation (photos courtesy of Denise Cooper).

Vicksburg resident Denise Cooper accomplished a goal of losing 241 pounds and has saved her own life.

In 2014, Cooper was struggling with the effects of obesity and was scheduled to have weight loss surgery. She soon changed her mind after her dietitian helped her lose over 30 pounds before the procedure.

”My dietitian explained to me what I needed to do to lose the weight which was by walking and eating right, Cooper said.

Cooper’s bad habits started at the age of 14 when she found her mother deceased.

“I was afraid to go to sleep after my mom’s death, so I began to eat a lot of sweets so that I would be able to stay up longer,” she said.

Fried foods and sugary snacks is what put Cooper at 440 pounds before her lifestyle change.

“I was afraid to face my own fears so I used food as a stress reliever, and so I would just eat all the time,” Cooper said.

After meeting Alexus Stirgus in 2014, Cooper began walking more frequently, and Stirgus trained her a few times a week. Stirgus continues to work with Cooper today even after she has completed one of the biggest achievements in her life.

Its been six years now since Cooper began exercising, and she continues to focus on maintaining her weight at 190 pounds.

“I’ve fallen in love with working out, and I’m now watching my weight because I just want to be healthy,” Cooper said.

Before the amazing weight loss, Cooper was on a high dose of blood pressure medication but is now free of that due to her outstanding progress.

“I feel 110% better since I’ve lost the weight, and I thank everyone who was there for me during the process,” Cooper said.

She hopes individuals who suffer from obesity are inspired by her story and begin a path of a healthier lifestyle.

“I want people to know that they should identify the problem of why they are eating and just trust God for the outcome,” she said.

Cooper thanked her family especially her children for sticking with her, along with the YMCA wellness director Bonnie Henry who introduced her to many weight loss and healthy eating classes at the Vicksburg YMCA.

“My children always make sure that I have exercise  equipment, and I remember my son teaching me how to jump rope,” she said.

Cooper is satisfied with her achievements but is also aware that living healthy is a lifetime goal that she is willing to stick to in order to live the way she knows is destined for her.



Those who keep us safe: Elwin Johnson



From an early age, Elwin Johnson, Jr. has been taught to always help those in need.

“Without family there’s no me, Johnson said. “Family is my foundation, my support system.”

It was his family who instilled in him the value of working hard and giving back to his community.

Johnson is a homegrown Vicksburg native who has always admired not only the work of firefighters but more importantly the firefighters at the Vicksburg Fire Department.

“I had always grown up looking at the Vicksburg Fire Department as an establishment in Vicksburg that was extremely respectable,” Johnson said.

He started his career with the department as an emergency medical technician, or EMT, in February 2019. In a little over one year, the Vicksburg Fire Department has formed him into the person he has always wanted to be.

“I strive to be the best person I can be each and every day,” Johnson said.

Being new, Johnson has really relied on other guys in the department to help him along the way.

“Lieutenant Jabaris McDaniel was one of my biggest motivations when I first started, him and really all my co-workers have been there for me,” Johnson said.

As an EMT, Johnson has been faced with some devastating calls that have turned into life-saving efforts. At one incident, he recalls a man that was overwhelmed and how Johnson made him feel safe. He called Johnson his hero. After that incident, Johnson agreed with the man’s comment.

“We really are heroes, and he made me really feel like a hero that day,” Johnson said.

Johnson had a normal first year as an EMT, but since his anniversary with the department, things changed when COVID-19 hit. Johnson said procedures are a little different, but it has been business as usual for the Vicksburg Fire Department.

“We make sure we are highly protected when we go on calls to keep not only ourselves safe but the patients safe as well,” Johnson said.

Overall, his short experience with the department has been the start to, hopefully, a long career.

“I really enjoy being there for my community,” Johnson said. “I love being there for all the citizens of Vicksburg in their time of need.”

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Vicksburg woman Tonya Brooks celebrates two years of being breast cancer free



Photo courtesy of Tonya Brooks

Vicksburg native Tonya Brooks is now celebrating two years of being breast cancer free this month after defeating the disease that kills over 42 thousand people every year.

In March 2017, Brooks felt a lump in her left breast but didn’t get it checked out until September of that year. After receiving a biopsy and a mammogram, she was officially diagnosed with breast cancer on October 2, 2017.

“I was all over the place when I received the news,” Brooks said.

Just a couple of weeks after being diagnosed, Brooks began treatment which included 18 rounds of chemotherapy. Not only did she have chemotherapy treatment for nearly a year, but she also went through 25 rounds of radiation.

Surprisingly, Brooks never felt sick at all during her time dealing with breast cancer but she still encourages all women to get checked out.

“Lots of women don’t get tested because breast cancer doesn’t run in their family but checkups are good and always do a follow up, because it’s better to be safe than sorry,” Brooks said.

Brooks received all of her treatments at the Mississippi Baptist Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi and she had a strong support system back home.

Brooks thanked family and friends Terry Brooks, John Lewis, Tiffany McDaniel, Carrol Harper, Sharnecius Jenkins, Shantavious Jones, Shakendrius Tyler, Laura Barnes, Warcheta Bunley, and her Tyson Foods family.

“Never give up and never lose faith,” Brooks said, as words of encouragement for those who are going through breast cancer.

As of October 19, 2018 Brooks has been cancer free and continues to live a happy and healthy life.

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Vicksburg native TJ Taylor is a rising star in Mississippi political arena



If you aren’t familiar with the name TJ Taylor it is probably because he truly tries to fly under the radar. In spite of his low profile, he may be one of the most influential young people currently in Mississippi political circles.

Taylor serves as policy advisor and chief counsel to Mississippi House Speaker Phillip Gunn. In this role, he is on the ground floor of decisions that will affect the state for decades to come. 

The 32-year-old Vicksburg native seems to relish the opportunity, saying “it gives me the chance to travel the state and hear the real concerns of the people.” 

Taylor grew up in Vicksburg attending school in the Vicksburg Warren School District before his parents moved to Utica, completing his education at Raymond High School. His father, Arnold, retired from the Corps of Engineers; his mother, Cynthia, retired from the postal service. Taylor is the youngest of four children and credits his parents with his love of politics and debate adding, “we were encouraged to discuss current events.”

Taylor moved on to the University of Southern Mississippi where he earned his political science degree in 2010. From there he entered the law program at Mississippi College. In the summer of 2013, he was afforded the opportunity to intern in Speaker Gunn’s office.

Following graduation in 2014,Taylor worked at a public policy think tank in Jackson for a year before returning to the Speaker’s office in 2015 and ascending to his current role.

Taylor was recently recognized as one of the top 50 influential leaders in the state. He served as Gunn’s appointee on the state flag commission. It was Taylor’s idea to fly the five finalists’ flags before narrowing the field to the final choice that will be voted on November 3.

When asked what it is like working for the first Republican Speaker of the Mississippi House, Taylor said, “It’s a really cool experience. Phillip Gunn is a man of integrity who is not afraid to make an unpopular decision.” He added that “the flag issue is one of the highlights of this experience but being involved with him on a daily basis gives me a unique insight on how committed he is to the state of Mississippi.”

Taylor is married to a former law school classmate, Colorado native Brittany Taylor, who practices as an associate attorney with Stephens Millirons P.C. They reside in Madison and have two sons.

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