Reporting amid distrust at the Carteret County News-Times

By Jacob Hancock

Wayne Guthrie is the owner of Outerbanks Seafood in Beaufort, N.C. Everyone in town who enjoys eating good shrimp – that is, most everyone –  knows “Mr. Wayne.” He’s a busy man, always talking with someone who wants fresh, local seafood, and he does his best to keep up with the news.

“I try to read the paper every day, and I watch CNN,” Guthrie said.

But he doesn’t trust the media.

“They just don’t understand a lot of what they’re talking about,” Guthrie said. “They don’t always have the facts. They publish what they hear instead of what they know.”

Guthrie isn’t alone. Natalie Gibble said she isn’t confident in a lot of the media content that she gets each day.

“My momma always told me to believe nothing that you hear, and only half of what you see. I’m skeptical,” Gibble said of news media, “because they often have a bias, and they make mistakes on all kinds of things.”

Public confidence in the media has reached a new low, according to a Gallup poll taken in September. Only 32 percent of Americans say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount of trust” in the media. Among republicans, who traditionally distrust the media more than democrats and independents, only 14 percent say they have confidence in news outlets.

Carteret County, with Beaufort at its heart, is the most Republican-dominated County in all of Eastern North Carolina, and it’s where I was raised. Everybody knows each other, and rumors travel faster than the trucks that gun it out of the parking lot after the school bell rings. People still buy the local paper, the Carteret County News-Times, though many call it the “Mullet Wrapper,” because they’d rather use it to package fish than as a news source.

This environment presents problems for local journalists, some of whom were born and raised in Carteret County. At times, it can be frustration boils up for both the reporters and within the community.


It’s November. I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed and see a headline that reads: “Clinton Campaign Paid Beyoncé and Jay Z $62 Million for Cleveland Concert to Secure Black Votes.” I click on it and it takes me to I decide to copy and paste the headline into a search engine, and dozens of articles come up from various websites, but none of them are traditional media outlets. They are websites with titles like,, or, and much of their content, including this article, is false.

But that didn’t stop 11 of my Facebook friends from Carteret County from liking and sharing the article.

“She is despicable!” one post reads. A commenter replies, “Sounds about right!!!”

Beth Blake, managing editor of the News-Times, said she’s concerned by how readily people accept content from fake news websites as true.

“It’s disconcerting that people aren’t asking questions when they see these articles,” Blake said. “Some of the things I’ve seen shared on Facebook are just ridiculous, but people believe them.”

Blake recalled a story that she saw during the election season that said Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump. It would be odd for the pope to publicly endorse a candidate, and even more odd to endorse Trump considering Pope Francis has been considered liberal on social issues.

“I saw that and right away I knew that it wasn’t true,” Blake said. “But somebody I’m friends with thought that it was legitimate and wanted to share it with all of their friends. It’s kind of scary.”

Jackie Starkey is a government and politics reporter at the News-Times. She said she feels like many people believe fake news articles because it reinforces their own beliefs.

“Everyone wants to feel like they’re always right,” Starkey said. “They’re looking to read something that confirms what they already believe, and if it doesn’t then they tend to lose interest. That can make things problematic for us.”


Guthrie, like 70 percent of voters in Carteret County, voted for Donald Trump in the election this fall. One of Guthrie’s biggest complaints about the media was his perception of bias, especially against President Trump.

“They’re constantly on his case,” Guthrie said. “Every day it’s something new. They were never this hard on Obama.”

Many Carteret voters agree. Starkey thinks that attitude seems to persist throughout rural areas in the United States.

“There’s a lot of animosity towards the establishment,” Starkey said. “I think that’s pretty evident considering the recent election.”

Students from West Carteret High School traveled to Washington D.C. to attend Trump’s inauguration. Before they left, Starkey wrote about the trip, using it to describe controversies surrounding Trump’s campaign and the assembly of his administration. She mentioned that the inauguration signified the beginning of one historic era and the end of another. She alluded to President Obama’s accomplishments as America’s first black president.

“It wasn’t even a big part of the story, but it definitely rubbed a lot of people the wrong way,” Starkey said. “If you’re not pissing people off, you’re probably doing something wrong though.”

If you throw a rock in Carteret County, you’re bound to hit a Republican. It can be very difficult to provide evenhanded news when readership is so right-side dominant.

“It runs pretty red here,” Starkey said. “That can make it tough to provide balanced content, and frankly, a lot of people aren’t always looking to read balanced content.”

Community ties

J.J. Smith is the News-Times’ sports reporter. He was born and raised in Atlantic, N.C., and graduated from East Carteret High School. Smith mostly reports on high school athletics in the county. The East Carteret Mariner’s varsity boys’ basketball team is one of the area’s most successful programs, having won seven consecutive conference championships. They went undefeated in the 2013-2014 season before losing in the NCHSAA 1A Championship game to Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy. East came back to beat Winston-Salem in the championship the following season. Smith said that he often catches a lot of flak from people in the community because his alma mater tends to dominate the press during the winter.

“Some of the coaches at the other high schools like to call me ‘Mickey Mariner,’” Smith said with a chuckle. “But it’s kind of hard not to write about them when they’re having so much success. People want to keep up with East basketball.”

Smith said that, as a sports reporter, he feels pretty insulated from most of the criticism that political journalists receive.

“Sometimes I almost feel like more of a cheerleader than a reporter,” Smith said.

However, he did recall one time a critic got under his skin. A student from a competing high school tweeted that Smith would get sexual gratification from writing about another East Carteret state championship.

“I didn’t really appreciate that one,” Smith said. “I enjoy seeing all of the county teams thrive.”

Smith said that he is passionate about his job, he enjoys working in the community he grew up in and yet he definitely feels being a reporter in your hometown can be challenging.

“I can count the negative things I’ve written on one hand, but it definitely gets to be a problem if you’re writing about politics or education,” Smith said. “You have to be careful because the people you’re writing about are the people that you’re going to sit next to in church, or people that you’ve grown up with your entire life.”

Jackie Starkey did not grow up in Carteret County.

“I always feel like an outsider,” Starkey said. “But I think that’s a good thing. I have fresh eyes. I’m always bringing a fresh, new perspective. I think it makes things easier.”

But being an outsider has its disadvantages.

“Sometimes it can be hard when I’m doing a story and trying to set up interviews,” Starkey said, “And someone says ‘you should talk to so-and-so,’ and I have no idea who they are. And sometimes people might be more hesitant to talk simply because they don’t really know me.”


Blake has been working in the news industry since 1979 and she believes that this is a crucial time for the newspaper.

“Our role is more important now than ever,” Blake said. “It is imperative to have community journalists that are reporting on everything from government, to education, to business, to sports. The people have a fundamental right to know what’s going on.”

Asked what she would tell an aspiring journalist who may feel discouraged by the public’s lack of trust in the media, Blake said it’s important to study American History.

“The American media has been under attack forever,” Blake said. “It’s nothing new. You have to have a thick skin and just know that you’re serving the public.”

Blake said that she believes a critical public makes the media better.

“We are aware that people are doubting us,” Blake said. “That just makes us work even harder. We want to make sure that everything we publish has a solid factual background. We work harder to make sure that every fact has been checked. We want to get it right.”

Jackie Starkey said that even though she may receive criticism, she feels that she’s appreciated as a local journalist.

“They may not be a fan, but people are respectful,” Starkey said. “They see the value in having someone reporting on local government, and they respect me even though they may not always like me.”

Gibble says that while she may not always trust the media, she does have respect for journalists

“I don’t think that most journalists are bad people,” Gibble said. “I think they have a really tough job, especially now with how divisive everyone is. It’s not a job that I would want to have to do, that’s for sure.”

Asked whether or not they think the media can mend its relationship with the public, Gibble and Starkey gave the same answer.

“I sure hope so.”


Ed. by Jordan Wilkie

Labor, learning and what lies ahead for work colleges

By Blake Richardson

Maja Olsson finds her cubby in the storage shed and puts on the red and black garden gloves she uses every day at work.

The junior English major walks outside with the rest of the crew, finds a spot at a table and gets to work with the blue Appalachian Mountains stenciled into the horizon behind her.

She is salvaging and sorting everything she can from the trash to recycle. She separates plastic, aluminum, paper, trash and glass items. She sorts stretchy plastic like bubble wrap; teracycle, which includes cellophane from cigarette boxes and energy bar wrappers; reusable items and compost. There’s even a pile for the pizza boxes that are too greasy to get recycled with the rest of the cardboard.

When she’s not sorting, she’s monitoring the compost, which is stored in giant blue containers under the roof of a shed. She climbs a muddy stepladder to take the temperature — it’s well over 100 degrees.

It’s decomposing, but she sometimes wonders if the compost is alive.

Olsson is paid minimum wage for her role in helping her college campus function. Her recycling crew is one of over 100 work crews that perform campus tasks at Warren Wilson College outside of Asheville.

Warren Wilson is one of seven work colleges in the U.S. The colleges have students participate in academics, service and work in order to teach the value of hard work and service while reducing college debt. At three of the colleges, qualified students can attend for free.

Warren Wilson is not one of those three. The 10 to 20 hours of work each week pays $7.25 an hour — hardly enough to foot the $33,970 tuition bill.

According to a 2016 report by CollegeBoard, national tuition rates are rising faster than financial aid and families’ college budgets are. For some work colleges, this change has heightened their school’s importance. But at Warren Wilson, rising tuition threatens the very nature of the school.

Setting the schools apart

As Olsson is leaving the preschool, a woman stops her. She wants to thank the recycling crew for their work, so she offers them a gift.

Olsson walks away with a white plastic container of homemade pimento cheese. It’s just one of several times she’s returned to her suite with food after work. But she has brought home more than just food. She has a collection of shirts and even a coat from the free store, where the recycling crew assembles goods like clothes, books and shoes that were thrown away.

Niels Wilson, a junior whose current work entails cleaning the science buildings on campus and serving as a teaching assistant, has similar stories. A few days ago, he got a free bike after reorganizing the room that the bike was stored in.

“I like how it’s been just really interesting jobs that I’ve had so far,” Wilson said.

Crews clean the dorms, do repairs, work in the dining halls, grow plants in the campus greenhouse and care for farm animals. There’s even a crew that studies herbs and can brew tea to cure your worst headache.

“We like to say that our colleges wouldn’t operate if our students didn’t show up,” said Robin Taffler, executive director of the Work Colleges Consortium.

Wilson met some of his best friends —including Olsson — through the work program.

Olsson likes that she runs into friends wherever she goes. When her mom visits her at school, friends run the guesthouse she stays in. Friends work in the library, make food in the dining hall and do repairs in the dorms.

The sense of community that Olsson, Wilson and Taffler all praised as a benefit of work colleges translates into a personal responsibility that guides students’ actions every day.

“You’re not going to trash things,” Olsson said. “Because you know it’s students, you know who’s going to have to clean it up for you.”

Valorie Coleman is the public relations director for College of the Ozarks, another work college. She said the students — including the eight who work in her office — set the school apart.

“Our students are the most hard-working, amazing students,” Coleman said. “They’re disciplined, they’re learning. … They’re graduating with work skills.”

Taffler said even after graduation, students maintain this attitude. She has noticed more students at work colleges graduate with a desire to serve the public good. And according to the Work College Consortium, students who graduate from work colleges are more likely to engage in community service post-graduation.

The sense of responsibility persists beyond the campus border.

Obstacles for the ‘outlier’ 

While this sense of community at work colleges is an added benefit, it is not the primary goal.

“A lot of the schools came into being to help underserved populations have a way to go to college,” Taffler said.

Three of those schools have stayed true to that goal — Alice Lloyd College, Berea College and College of the Ozarks. Because of the work program and other funds, every student at those colleges attends for free.

Taffler said most students at these colleges are the first in their family to receive a college education. The students come from low-income families and otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend college — especially not today. According to a Goldman Sachs report, college tuition prices are so high that degrees from schools ranking in the bottom 25 percent are not worth the money.

Rising tuition poses a new obstacle in Warren Wilson’s ability to stay true to the mission. Now, students are better off not participating in the work program at all if they want to save money.

Wilson and Olsson agreed that this significantly discourages students from continuing in the work program.

“It is cheaper to not be in the work program and live off campus,” Olsson said. “In some ways it’s frustrating because you’re paying to do this.”

The federal regulations determining what qualifies as a work college were made law in 1992. Before then, work colleges had mild contact with each other, Taffler said. But now, the schools’ relationships have grown; they do research together and even hold annual conference with some students from each college in the fall.

The collaboration emphasizes Warren Wilson’s differences.

For Warren Wilson, the work program has evolved to focusing on owning up to privilege. Olsson said participating in the work program is about appreciating the blessing of an education and putting in the work to earn it. But at other work colleges, the work program is the foundation of the school’s existence.

This is why Taffler calls Warren Wilson an “outlier” from the other work colleges.

“Students go to Berea College because they want an education,” Taffler said. “And the only way they’re going to get it is if they work.”

Sticking to the mission

College of the Ozarks never strayed from the mission.

“I’ve really never been at an institution that understood mission and vision as well as C of O,” said Valorie Coleman, the college’s public relations director. “That drives everything we do.”

Coleman has no doubt that the college will continue to uphold its tradition of affordable education. The school covers costs through the work program, scholarships, donations and a $460 million endowment.

“That has been ingrained in how we organized the institution and run the institution for its entire history,” she said.

Berea, which was founded in 1855 as the first interracial college in the South, has also been able to uphold its goals despite rising tuition.

The college funds its students’ tuition through the work program, scholarships such as Pell Grants, the school’s endowment and an additional $4.5 million in donations each year, said Tim Jordan, media and news manager for Berea.

Berea has always been selective, and rising tuition has only made the applicant pool grow, Taffler said.

Coleman echoed that change. She said College of the Ozarks has grown from 1,452 last year to 1,512 this year with additional housing.

“If there were no limit to the number of students we could accommodate, we’d probably have 20,000,” Coleman said.

Coleman said she regularly receives calls from other schools seeking advice on how to implement aspects of the work program into their college, and several schools are in the process of becoming federally recognized work colleges.

Warren Wilson has already changed substantially. And in many ways, the changes have been positive. The college started as the Asheville Farm School to educate boys in the Appalachian Mountains. Since then, Warren Wilson has become a four-year college with a master’s program in creative writing. Eighty percent of the students are not from North Carolina, and 62 percent are women.

But as the school moves forward into the future, a gray area looms: How will the college stay true to the goal of affordability that was integral to its founding?

An uncertain future

“It’s amazing how something so simple can taste so good,” Olsson says as she eats bread and cheese at her favorite spot by the river on Warren Wilson’s campus.

It’s hard to be unhappy at a place with giant grassy hills perfect for winter sledding, forests with salamanders you can study in science class and baby cows and pigs that enter the world in campus stables each year.

The uniqueness of Warren Wilson is evident when you first step on campus. The emphasis on sustainability, sense of community and heightened work ethic in the student body sets the school apart from other colleges.

But is that enough?

Coleman is confident in College of the Ozarks’ future because the school’s president is dedicated to maintaining the school’s traditions. He recently assigned each of the vice presidents to focus on upholding one of the school’s five goals: academic, vocational, Christian, cultural and patriotic.

“He made sure that that legacy was safeguarded,” she said.

Warren Wilson’s future is more uncertain. It entails reaching a balance between making adjustments necessary to the school’s survival and staying true to the tradition that brought them here.

Change the mission? Or change the school?

Edited by Ryan Wilusz 

A whole new world: what it’s like to be a real-life princess

By Alexandra Blazevich

Cassidy Tompkins poses as Ariel from The Little Mermaid at Walt Disney World. Tompkins auditioned 12 times before she was cast as a princess. Cassidy Tompkins
Cassidy Tompkins poses as Ariel from The Little Mermaid at Walt Disney World. Tompkins auditioned 12 times before she was cast as a princess.

Three hundred people. One room. I was out of breath, but I just kept smiling. Five hours later, the group was narrowed down to seven. I’d made it to the end. A casting director asked for my contact information.

Six months later, I still hadn’t received a phone call. My dream of getting a job in Walt Disney World was crushed, once again. I told myself I would try again the next chance I got. It was the same never-ending cycle of excitement and disappointment with every Disney audition I went to – seven, to be exact.

One girl sat in the corner crying after she was cut. Black tears running down her face onto her bright red lips as she changed into her street shoes and packed her bag to leave. She drove four hours to an audition in which she didn’t last more than five minutes. At that audition, I learned not to wear makeup – the casting directors don’t like it.

A few other girls were asked to leave because they were just above or below the height requirement for the part the casting director was looking for. “Please check the audition requirements next time,” she said as they walked out.

Cassidy Tompkins, a former Disney princess, auditioned for Disney 12 times before she was hired.

Abby Peters auditioned eight times and was never hired.

Alyssa Stroner auditioned just one time before getting her part.

“I was part of the very lucky, extremely humbled few,” Stroner said.

Peter O’Neal auditioned for Disney entertainment for a period of six years – after his interactions with cast members during a trip to Disney World inspired him to do so.

“I would do whatever it took to perform at Disney, so I could spread the magic that had been given to me,” he said.

The Audition Process

Being a Disney princess is not all about tiaras and corsets – at least not as first. During the audition process, a casting director could cut you based on how far apart your eyes are, or how big your nose is. If you’re an inch too short or tall of the range set for each princess, you’re out. But, if the casting directors like you, they can measure you down or up to your “Disney height,” as they call it. I’m 5’8,” but my Disney height was 5’7” because they thought I looked the part.

Disney’s casting directors are looking to fit a specific look for each princess and each character. The audition listings on the website say exactly what they’re looking for. For example, the listing to be Anna from Frozen says,“5’3″ – 5’7″, type cast. Elsa’s younger sister, and Princess of Arendelle; quirky and a bit awkward at times, fun spirited with great comedic timing and outgoing personality. Non-singing role.”

The audition requirements don’t stop there. Before you have a chance to show your personality through acting and dance steps, the casting directors line everyone up and cut the majority of the group solely based on looks.

“The casting crew stares at every individual for a few seconds to identify if their physique and basic facial structure matches the criteria. It is a very awkward process, but it is painless,” Peters said. “Despite the casting crew’s many attempts to convince you to ‘just enjoy yourself’ and to not worry about your audience, the whole processes is very intimidating.”

At least they play fun Disney music in the background.

Tompkins first auditioned for Disney entertainment in 2010 for “Beauty and the Beast,” a Broadway-type of show where she’d need to be able to sing, dance and act.

“The casting director told me I would never be a Belle because I didn’t have the right look, which was hilarious to me when I did get cast as Belle in 2015 by that same casting director,” she said.

Once the casting crew has looked everyone over and made cuts, the remaining dancers are taught a dance routine. For Walt Disney World princess auditions, this is usually a simple grapevine or three-step-turn dance with a curtsy or two. When I auditioned for Hong Kong Disneyland, we learned a more complicated number.

“You’re a Cindy”

At the end of the audition, directors choose a few women to have the “Disney Princess experience,” as I like to call it. “Very few females make it to the final round, when they are weighed, measured, and dolled up to look like a selected princess,” Peters said.

At the end of my first audition, the casting director lined up our group of 10 girls. She pointed at me and said, “You’re a Cindy.” Speechless, I stepped out of line and followed her. She led me to a room where a stylist was waiting, and within a few minutes, I had on a blonde wig, blue eye shadow, and light pink gloss on my lips. I looked like Cinderella. It was surreal.

Then, the casting director took my photo and said I could potentially get a phone call from Disney within six months. From there, it was a waiting game.

When asked about their perspective and comments on the audition process, Disney did not respond to my inquiries.

The Training Process

Once hired, Tompkins said she went through a training process where she learned how to do meet-and-greets with guests as both a princess and a “fur character.” The meet-and-greet structure was very specific: greet the guest, have a conversation and send them off – all within about 70 seconds. All princesses – known as “face characters” – must also be trained in fur costumes, where their faces are not seen. For Tompkins, that meant she had to train as Pluto, Eeyore and Elastigirl from The Incredibles.

Face characters must verbally respond to whatever guests may say, and because so they earn an extra $2.50 per hour. This can be rough. Tompkins said that one time when she was playing Ariel, a young child told her, “Ariel can you take my brother away because I think he just wiped a booger on your dress.”

Fur characters cannot talk, but still must still have a non-verbal conversation with the guest. One of Tompkins’ fur character roles was as Pluto.

“If someone had a birthday pin on I’d try to tap dance what sounded like happy birthday and move my hands like a conductor to get everyone to sing after pointing to the button,” Tompkins said.

Stroner said her training lasted four days. She learned to walk, talk and act like Princess Jasmine from Walt Disney’s Aladdin.

O’Neal said the meet-and-greet experience was a thrill for him as a fur character. He couldn’t talk, but his actions made up for it.

“There’s no way you can’t smile when a fun friend gives you a big hug,” he said.

Disney also requires all face and fur characters to go by their character name. Even if other cast members or friends know who the person is under the costume, guests do not.

“In Disney lingo, it is common for people to ask entertainment cast members what characters they perform, and instead of putting it that way – possibly ruining the magic for overhearing guests – we refer to the characters we perform as ‘our friends,’” Stroner said. “For example, someone might ask, ‘Who are you friends with?’”

When I visited Disney World in August, Stroner was holding meet-and-greets as Jasmine in Epcot. While I know her as my friend, Alyssa, I had to call her Jasmine in order to not ruin the magic for the other guests around me – especially younger ones. When posting photos of us on social media, I couldn’t mention her real name – I had to call her my friend, Jasmine.

In order to keep the magic alive for all guests, Disney has put  in place rules to keep things consistent. If two Mickey Mouses were to cross paths, children would start to question which one is the “real” Mickey. The magic would be lost. In a similar way, each princess must have a similar look, just like how every Radio City Rockette must be the same height. Because of Disney’s standards, only a select few of all the women and men who audition make it as a cast member.

On my way home from my audition, I called my parents out of sheer excitement. I had to tell someone. Even while stuck in the miserable downtown Orlando traffic, I sang Disney tunes at the top of my lungs. I rolled my windows down and serenaded the cars beside me. I didn’t care – I felt like I was on top of the world. I don’t know if I was missing the right look or if they lost my resume, but I never got my callback.

The audition process gave me an inside look, not only to how Disney entertainment works, but also the entertainment industry as a whole, which I wouldn’t have gotten to experience otherwise.

It has been three years since that day, and my mom still calls me Cindy.

Edited by Paige Connelly

Raging Grannies bring decades of activism to HKonJ march

By Molly Weybright

Fayetteville Street brimmed with people on Feb. 11, 2017 as the crowd for the Moral March on Raleigh seeped into the adjoining streets like water into cracked concrete. It was nearly impossible to move without bumping into another person.

But the agitation that often develops in overcrowded spaces was missing. In its place was an incredibly powerful feeling of togetherness. As people of all ages, races, sexualities and ethnicities gathered in the streets of Raleigh, cries of “forward together, not one step back” echoed off the towering buildings.

Over the sea of people floated homemade signs promoting everything from transgender rights to an end to racial gerrymandering. One sign read: “I’m not LGBTQ, black, Muslim, poor, disabled or a woman. I’m a privileged white male who believes in liberty and justice for all.” That idea of standing up for one another pervaded the morning.

Hope, empowerment, positivity, power, opportunity, progress, unity, justice, inspiration, equality and moral resistance. Those are the words that crowd members said best described the idea of the 11th annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street – known as HKonJ – People’s Assembly Coalition.

The first HKonJ was held in 2007 under the leadership of North Carolina NAACP President, the Rev. William J. Barber II. At the beginning, the coalition consisted of just 16 organizations. During the next 11 years, the coalition grew to include over 125 NAACP branches and over 200 organizations.

There were around 3,500 attendees at the first march in 2007. That number grew considerably to about 80,000 attendees in 2014, and according to the organizers, February 2017 saw HKonJ’s largest crowd yet.

Within that massive crowd was a group of grannies – Raging Grannies to be exact.

Protesters show off homemade signs at the march in Raleigh.

The Grannies

Young and old alike gathered in Raleigh to make a difference; at one end of that spectrum was Vicki Ryder.

Vicki is part of a group known as the Raging Grannies. The Grannies began in Canada, and today there are around 100 “gaggles” of Grannies around the world that attend marches and protests to stand up for everything from environmental protection to voting rights.

At 74 it’s safe to say that Vicki has seen her fair share of strife and struggle in the United States. She marched for the first time at 12 years old in the Youth March for Integrated Schools and again in 1963 at the March on Washington where she heard Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

She has marched in HKonJ every year since she moved to Durham in 2012 and finds that every year there are more and more reasons to march.

“All of these struggles are connected,” she said. “They’re all part of a systemic ‘dis-ease’ in our country, and we can either run around putting out every little brushfire, or we can look at the bigger picture.”

Jade Dell, a 71-year-old Raging Granny from Raleigh, said that since losing her husband – her “social activist partner” – the Grannies have helped filled his role.

She said that she loved how the march was “a real fusion movement.” Barber, she said, always makes sure to include every group fighting for justice, which makes the march more powerful.

“Many groups I have been with in the past leave somebody out,” she said. “[HKonJ] is crucial, as together we are stronger and more vocal.”

Gann Herman, 67, from Durham echoed Jade’s thoughts on the importance of unity. Gann joined the Triangle’s Granny gaggle in 2013 and has attended HKonJ since. She said she is always impressed with the resonating sense of community.

However, she said that it felt like this year’s march had a more diverse and populous turnout.

“This one was especially electric because of the election of Trump,” she said. “There were many people who turned up who hadn’t come to earlier ones.”

Part of the Grannies’ staple is that they sing songs to express their ideas and promote activism. Vicki writes most of those songs, including the song they sang at HKonJ.

To the tune of “Oh, Susannah” the song’s chorus says:

“People power! Together we will stand!

And reclaim our rights with all our might

Across this troubled land!”

Vicki said that the songs help her focus on what is important. She noted that the HKonJ song didn’t include any mention of President Trump because she feels that even though he is part of the issues, attacking him will get people nowhere.

Marchers stand on Fayetteville Street facing the Capitol while listening to the speakers of the day, including the Rev. William J. Barber II.

A national climate

In previous years, the march has largely focused on state issues, such as the anti-LGBT House Bill 2 – commonly known as the bathroom bill – in 2016. But this year, in response to the Trump administration and its many controversial policies and promises, the march’s focus took a national turn.

Enactments by the Trump administration such as the refugee ban, which restricts access to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, and his promises to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, are what sparked many to march on Saturday.

Barber was the backbone of the march. With his speeches, he heartened and encouraged the crowd, telling them not to give up.

Every individual in the crowd, he said, will play a role in bringing the country back to the moral high ground it once rested on; though the issues may seem divisive and singular, they are more encompassing and overarching than one may think.

“The decisions are bigger than left vs. right, conservative vs. liberal, democrat vs. republican,” he said. “Some things are about right vs. wrong.”

Barber said that HKonJ is more than just a once-a-year gathering of people; it is a place where people can stand up for the ideas of freedom and equality that they fight for every day under an oppressive administration.

Gloria Chamblee, a marcher from from Virginia, said that she was encouraged to march for the first time at HKonJ because of both the national climate, and the international climate as well.

“[People] have been protesting all over the world,” she said. “If they can, and they don’t even live in the country, I can.”

That unity – statewide, national and international – created an atmosphere of togetherness in Raleigh.

The Raging Grannies’ song reflected that idea of unity when they sang, “We have come together, black and white, and tan, and red and brown, to say that we’re not gonna let the fascists beat us down.”

Vicki Ryder said that she saw more signs of resistance from a greater number of people at this year’s march.

“The results of the last election have mobilized people who ordinarily would be perhaps more complacent,” she said. “There was a lot more attention being paid to the big picture.”

That bigger picture is not a new one. The crowd was reminded that over the last century, the nation has seen countless violations to human rights and people have fought and overcome them, just as the marchers seek to do now.

Moving forward

HKonJ showed the degree to which people are in unrest about the current state of the nation. People are not pleased with an administration that Gann Herman described as “stingy” and “wrongheaded.”

But, what can be done to move forward in the face of these national issues?

According to Vicki Ryder, people have to keep fighting.

“We fight them in the streets, we fight them in the courts, we fight them in Congress,” she said. “On all fronts, we have to be vigilant and we have to be vocal and we have to be strong.”

Vicki was echoing Barber’s sentiment that now more than ever is the time to stand up and fight; now is not the time to stand down.

If Martin Luther King Jr. had ceded when he was faced with adversity, how much longer would the country have been segregated?

If Gloria Steinem had decided not to fight for women’s rights, how many fewer female faces would young girls today see in positions of power?

In the moment, many activists’ views are seen as extreme and unnecessary, Barber said, but more often than not, those views are what help move the nation forward into a new class of equal rights.

“The radical ideas of one generation often become common sense of the next,” Barber said.

Historically, that has held true; and for all intents and purposes it will hold true in the future.

But, it’s not just the young people who are making a difference – it’s the Vicki Ryders and the Gann Hermans and the Jade Dells.

It’s the people who have seen true strife and struggle in person rather than just having read about it in books. It’s the people who can reassure upcoming activists that while their efforts may feel futile, perseverance makes all the difference. It’s the people with a lifetime of experience that can take themselves out of the issues and see that unity and persistence will prevail.

Jade Dell has witnessed 71 years of people overcoming perceivably impossible odds.

“Over the years, I have noticed that while a cause is ‘sexy’ people participate, then they go back to their normal lives,” she said. “But now, there is no ‘normal life.’ Everything has changed.”

She said that for the sake of her grandchildren, her grandchildren’s children and their children after that, the country and the world will have to change.

Edited by Bridget Dye

‘All I have to do is give it everything I’ve got’

Jay Arrington's life has not been easy, but, through perseverance and support, he now plays college lacrosse.
Jay Arrington’s life has not been easy. Through perseverance and support, he now plays lacrosse at St. Andrews University.

By Lauren Tarpley

“I make sure I’m grateful for every opportunity I get. If I could go back one year and give myself advice, I would say be appreciative.”

A lot can change in one year. One year ago, Jahdi’El “Jay” Arrington, 20, was living in Chapel Hill. Jay was reluctantly attending Durham Technical Community College, and he already had a few run-ins with law enforcement. Today, Arrington is attending St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, NC, on a scholarship doing what he his most passionate about, lacrosse.

Life changing opportunities do not happen by chance. These opportunities are born out of struggle, hardship and dedication. Arrington is a prime example of how one’s life can completely change with some ambition and support.

Originally from Ohio, Arrington moved to Chapel Hill while in middle school. A lack of stability had a negative impact on Arrington’s middle school career as multiple moves and switching schools led to poor grades. During this time he was enrolled in the mentor-partnership program Volunteers for Youth where he met his mentor, Eric Perry.

“I figured I needed to do something to give back a little, but as far as getting Jay—it was just the universe doing me a solid favor,” Perry said. “He’s had his struggles, but he has a wonderful heart and he was just the perfect kid for me to mentor.”

Arrington was 12 years old at the time and eight years later Perry continues to support and advise him.

“I’m not sure what it was that caused fate to sign on to it or how it worked, but the universe just lined everything up perfect. I fell in love the first time I met him. He was just a sweet little guy and that part of him never changed and never will,” Perry said.

Struggle to success

Perry helped Arrington work through tough situations in his youth such as transitioning schools, sometimes ending up in worse districts.

“He wasn’t with the same kids or teachers, and it was really hard for him,” Perry said. “He’s a get-along guy, but in this process, he was getting left behind in school.”

As Arrington got older, Perry remained by his side through good times and bad times. Arrington eventually graduated from East Chapel Hill High School and enrolled in Durham Technical Community College. While Arrington was hard-working and ambitious, he still had his faults. He would eventually be charged with a DUI, amongst other minor encounters with the law. Instead of falling victim to these hardships, Arrington used them as an opportunity to learn and grow from his mistakes.

“My struggles have helped me open my eyes to real-life situations. The obstacles that are in my way will be hard to deal with and will continue to challenge me, but all I have to do is give it everything I’ve got,” Arrington said.

Perry was a prominent figure through these difficult times, reminding Arrington that he is in control of his fate.

“He was twelve when we first started hanging out and he’s damn near a grown-ass-man now,” Perry said. “We all have some bumps along the way and if all is well at the end of the rail, we’ve learned something and have some grip on right and wrong.”

Thinking positive

Throughout their relationship, Perry has emphasized the importance of being proactive and positive in life, as our life reflects our thoughts.

“We kept talking about asking the universe for the next great thing,” Perry said.  “Don’t go through life asking what terrible thing will happen next, because the universe will answer with what you ask for. But, the exact opposite is also true. I believe if you look in the mirror and ask for great things, great things will happen.”

According to Perry, every time they spoke, Arrington would say three things he was grateful for. Then, in January, Arrington received a phone call congratulating him on his admittance to St. Andrews University on a lacrosse scholarship. Arrington now had the opportunity to get an education at a four-year institution while playing the sports he is most passionate about—just one more thing to be grateful for.

“It’s been gratifying knowing he was able to make a connection between the change in his attitude and this amazing opportunity,” Perry said. “I’m proud of him. Super proud of him.”

A bigger issue at hand

While Arrington’s hardships were temporary obstacles on his path to success, these struggles often hinder young black Americans trying to succeed.

Black Americans are highly represented within the United States’ criminal justice system. According to The Sentencing Project , 32 percent of blacks males between the ages of 20 to 29 are under some form of criminal justice supervision– whether that be prison, probation, or parole. While white males born in 1991 have a four percent chance of spending time in prison, their black counterparts have a 29 percent chance of going to prison at some point during their lives, according to The Sentencing Project.

An article published on reported on a Rhode Island study that found black drivers were more likely to be stopped than white drivers despite the fact that they are less likely to receive a citation. Furthermore, black Americans were three times as likely to have their cars searched and were less likely to have a reason for being stopped. Let’s take a moment to let that sink in.

Perry has emphasized the importance of being aware of the current racial tensions in our society, stating the alternatives to cooperation can be frightening for black Americans.

“If you’re young and black, it’s open season on you. So, you have to be super aware of that in a way that I wouldn’t have to. It’s unfair, but that is what’s going on,” Perry said.

These racial issues, on a larger scale, might be hard to relate to. But ,when these issues happen on a local level and effect loved ones, the reality becomes clear. Perry believes voting and movements such as Black Live Matters bring awareness to these issues and offer people a way to be proactive.

“If you want to change injustice in the system, and it’s loaded with it, you can’t change the system without being active,” Perry said. “That’s a simply fact,”

Jahdi’El Arrington – student athlete

Currently, Arrington is majoring in communications. He will be red-shirting as a midfielder on the men’s lacrosse team at St. Andrews.

“Now that I am in school, doing what I love and getting an education, I feel like I can start achieving more in life since I am learning so much as I go through this process,” Arrington said.

Edited by Luke Bollinger

Saving Northside, the largest black community in Chapel Hill

A new house under construction in Northside neighborhood. A loan from UNC-CH has allowed the Jackson Center to purchase properties to sell at an affordable rate in an attempt to raise the neighborhood's black population. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)
A new house under construction in Northside neighborhood. A loan from UNC-CH has allowed the Jackson Center to purchase properties to sell at an affordable rate in an attempt to raise the neighborhood’s black population. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

By Sofie DeWulf

Eugene Farrar is one of the originals. He’s lived in Northside for years, so he’s personally witnessed how the neighborhood has transformed; and like other long-term residents, he’s got something to say about it.

In 2010, he was interviewed for an exhibit featured in the community called “Facing Our Neighbors.”

“Right now, I see a lot of work to be done,” Farrar said. “You know, African-Americans dominated this town, but now you’re pushing African-Americans out because you don’t think that they can pay the taxes or they don’t have the revenue to support the town. So, you bring people in to live in these houses, to build 3,4,5, $600,000 homes, which, you know, the average person that was born and raised in Chapel Hill cannot afford that.”

Historically, Northside neighborhood has been the largest black community in Chapel Hill. Eugene Farrar is one of hundreds of African-Americans who have called Northside home for decades.

Many resident’s families have lived in Northside for generations. These natives cherish the history of the neighborhood and the tight-knit community that developed from a network of long-term family residents.

This community dynamic, however, began to change before the turn of the 21st century. The major reason for this change? College students.

Because of a growing interest from college students to live in Northside, the African-American population in the neighborhood has declined significantly in the last 30 years. According to the U.S. census, there were 1,159 black residents in the neighborhood in 1980, but by 2010, there were only 690.

Because of these changes, Northside residents are worrying about the future of the neighborhood. Many residents, like Farrar, believe that the increase of rental properties and the subsequent rise in housing prices are forcing low-income, predominately African-American residents out of Northside.

There is a fear that this threatens the close feel of the neighborhood and the appreciation of its history. Recent initiatives such as the Northside Neighborhood Initiative and organizations like the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, are helping the community to address these concerns.

Neighborhood Pride

The Northside neighborhood encompasses the 188 acres of land enclosed by North Columbia Street to the east, the Carrboro city limit to the west, the Tanyard Branch trail to the north and West Rosemary Street to the south.

While it may be a clearly established neighborhood now, Northside began rather haphazardly as a labor settlement that served UNC-Chapel Hill in its beginnings.

“There would not be a university if not for the blacks in this community,” says Kathy Atwater, a long-time resident of Northside. “The university was built on the backs of slaves. My grandfather worked for the university, and he would carry water from the Old Well to the dorms for the students.”

In addition to performing tasks like this, Northside residents helped to build the stone walls that surround the university today.

Fast forward about 170 years to the 1950s and you find the largest black community in Chapel Hill, running from what is now the McDonalds on Franklin to the Wings Over on Rosemary. At this time, The Midway, the district connecting Chapel Hill and Carrboro, was full of black-owned businesses, from Bill’s Barbeque — which is now Mama Dip’s — to Mason’s Grocery and a pool hall nearby.

Northside remained united in the face of racism and discrimination. Many residents became freedom fighters in the Civil Rights Movement, participating in sit-ins, marches and demonstrations in Chapel Hill. Church Street was the unofficial divider of the white and black areas of the neighborhood, becoming a marker of the segregation within the community.

While the coexistence of white and black within Northside was relatively peaceful, the same could not be said beyond the boundaries of the neighborhood. Keith Edwards, another long-time resident of Northside, recalls being spit on and kicked during her time as a student at Chapel Hill Junior High.

Her walk home from school every day was filled with anxiety, but she says that her fear vanished as she got close to Northside.

“As long as you stayed in the perimeter of that neighborhood, you were safe from the outside world,” she said.

Edwards’ memories—the feelings of protection and safety and community from living in Northside—are echoed by other residents.

“Everybody was just family,” Atwater recalls of the Northside of the past. “We all looked after one another. Nobody was left to themselves. And I think that’s where most of the hurt comes from, from those who are still here. They remember how it used to be and how it felt like they had something.”

Graham Street in Northside Neighborhood.  Because of the affordable prices and close-to-campus location, Northside has attracted many students in the past few decades. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)
Graham Street in Northside Neighborhood. Because of its affordable prices and close-to-campus location, Northside has attracted caught the attention of many students in the past few decades. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

Change Comes to Northside

The hurt that Atwater is referring to started roughly 30–40 years ago, when the gentrification of Northside began. It was about this time that students at UNC-CH started showing a greater interest in living in Northside.

Northside was close to the university, and houses in the neighborhood were relatively cheaper than in other areas surrounding campus. Developers began to notice the growth of students in the neighborhood and how these students could offer more money than existing residents in Northside.

Yvonne Cleveland, administrative associate at the Jackson Center and a member of the Northside community, said that resident’s houses are often sold after they pass away.

“Let’s say my grandmother owned the house, and she passed away,” Cleveland said.  “I have no interest in living in the Northside community, so if someone offered me $200,000, I’d probably say ‘Yes, I’ll take it.'”

Another major reason residents move out is because they can’t afford to live in the neighborhood anymore, largely because of increased property taxes. In either situation, developers will buy the house, rebuild and expand it, and convert it into a rental property to cater to college students.

“Instead of renting one house for $600, you’re renting one room for $600, and within that house you have five rooms,” Cleveland says. “Basically, you’re quadrupling your profit.”

According to the decennial census, investor-owned properties in Northside neighborhood have increased significantly since 2000; and with the increase in investor-owned properties comes a change in demographics.

From 1980-2010, the population of 18 to 24-year-olds increased from 23.4 percent to 55.7 percent, while family households dropped from 48.2 percent to 22.9 percent. The number of owner-occupied houses also decreased significantly. The large majority of the family households living in these owner-occupied houses are long-term, African-American residents of Northside.

Lifting Voices

The long-term residents of Northside became concerned with these changes. How will the community restore homeownership and family rental housing in the neighborhood? How can student neighbors learn to appreciate the history of Northside? How will the neighborhood maintain its diversity in age, income and race? How can the tight-knit feeling that used to pervade Northside be restored?

There was a real need for long-term residents to voice their concerns and have them addressed. The town of Chapel Hill responded with the Northside Neighborhood Conservation District Plan, one of the first initiatives adopted by the town on Feb. 23, 2004. This plan established regulations to “help preserve the character of a particular, older residential neighborhood.”

The real change, though, started happening in 2008, with the establishment of The Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, a nonprofit located on Rosemary Street at the city limit of Carrboro.

The Jackson Center started as an initiative to preserve the history of Northside by creating an oral archive of interviews with long-term Northside residents, but soon expanded its mission to work to sustaining and strengthening the community.

“What we want to do is hear what our neighbors want,” says Della Pollock, the executive director of the Jackson Center.

Since it began, the Jackson Center has been behind several initiatives to aid Northside, teaming up with a number of partners, including UNC-Chapel Hill, Self-Help, the Town of Chapel Hill and EmPOWERment Inc.

These initiatives consist of the Northside and Pine Knolls Community Plan, adopted in January 2012; the Northside Housing Market Action Plan, developed in 2013; and, most recently, the Northside Neighborhood Initiative, announced on March 9, 2015.

The Northside Neighborhood Initiative, according to Hudson Vaughan, senior director of the Jackson Center, is meant to “ensure the diversity and legacy of Northside and preserve its future.”

This has been accomplished through efforts to engage with the students living in the neighborhood. Student residents are encouraged to connect with their neighbors through events like “Cocoa on the Porch” or “Lookout for the Cookout.”

They can also learn about the history of the neighborhood by listening to the Northside soundwalk, “Histories of Home,” created by the Jackson Center.

Jake Pachecho, a student at UNC and volunteer at the Jackson Center, finds the soundwalk to be a huge benefit to student residents.

“Knowing the history of Northside can instill a respect that will stay with students who see Northside as simply a place for them to stay,” he said.

Students have also been educated about neighborhood ordinances, which has helped reduce the nuisance complaints in Northside by 60 percent since the Northside Neighborhood Initiative was announced. The ultimate desire of long-term residents is to build an understanding with student residents.

“They’re not opposed to students,” Cleveland said. “They just want them to have respect for the community and its history.”

Northside has seen other big changes since the Northside Neighborhood Initiative was announced.

UNC-CH gave a $3 million no-interest loan to the initiative, which has allowed the Jackson Center and its partners to purchase 16 properties in Northside and sell at an affordable rate. This is a big step in restoring homeownership and family-rental housing in the neighborhood.

An Uncertain Future  

Currently, a stone gateway is being built in front of St. Joseph Christian Methodist Episcopal Church beside the Jackson Center. The gateway is meant to honor the freedom fighters of Northside and be a marker for the neighborhood. It comes at a turning point in the community.

Because of recent efforts from the Northside Neighborhood Initiative, the African-American population in Northside has increased for the first time in 30 years.

George Barrett, the associate director of the Jackson Center, looks to the completion of the gateway and the achievements of the community with excitement. The gateway is an inspiration for the future, but it also acts as a reminder of the struggles blacks in the community continue to face today.

“There’s still work to do,” he says, echoing the same words of Eugene Farrar seven years ago.

Edited by Molly Weybright

A look into ‘America’s Lawyer’, Mike Papantonio

Lanie Phillips

On Saturday, Feb. 13, 2017, lead Litigation Attorney Mike Papantonio received the call that E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, commonly referred to as DuPont, and The Chemours Company reached a settlement of $670.7 million that will be paid out to approximately 3,500 clients.

For decades, DuPont was intentionally dumping C8, a cancer-causing chemical used in Teflon non-stick pans, into the Ohio River, which exposed entire communities to the toxic chemical, causing long-term health effects on residents. Over the past few years, attorneys have reached individual case verdicts, but this settlement will payout thousands of clients and ultimately bring the case to a close.

“The jury determined that, not only was DuPont at fault, but that they were guilty of actual malice in the way they covered up the evidence of their conduct,” said Papantonio.

For Papantonio, this news was the culmination of tens of thousands of hours of work researching, preparing and litigating this case. Papantonio led the team that originally exposed the dangers of the C8 chemical, exposed the internal secret documents DuPont was hiding and revealed the problem to the EPA. Since then, his team has forced DuPont to set up safety guidelines, including a medical monitoring program, to ultimately stop producing and using C8. In addition to the settlement, Papantonio and his team tried the only three C8 trials against DuPont and won multi-million dollar verdicts.

Meeting Mike 

To say I was intimidated by meeting Mike Papantonio is an understatement. It was in Laguardia Airport and I was joining his firm for a gala they were a part of. His presence filled the room the minute he walked through the door and when he spoke, the crowd quickly fell silent.  What followed surprised everyone.

“I’ve heard you’re good with a tambourine, Lanie!” he said. The crowd broke out in a chuckle and the ice was broken. Since then, Mike Papantonio has grown into the mentor I never dreamed I would be lucky enough to have.


After attending undergraduate school at the University of Florida and receiving his law degree from the Cumberland School of Law, Mike Papantonio, referred to by friends and colleagues as “Pap,” has gone on to create a name for himself as “America’s Lawyer.” In addition to his most recent victory, Papantonio has handled thousands of cases, including the Asbestos and the Florida Tobacco Litigation trials. He has received several multi-million dollar verdicts on behalf of his clients, the victims. Papantonio is a member of the National Trial Lawyers Association and was recently inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame.

If you search for “Mike Papantonio,” you get thousands of results. He is regarded as one of the most talented attorneys of his time and has the reputation to back it up. He is listed in the publications Best Lawyers in America and Leading American Attorney, hosts a biannual conference for trial lawyers and is currently on multiple best-seller lists for his latest book, Law and Disorder. He could – and did – write a book with all of his accomplishments, but the goal of this article is to give a glimpse of the man behind the suit.

Community influencer 

In Gulf Breeze, a small town right outside of Pensacola, Florida, Mike Papantonio is a local celebrity. However, this recognition is not simply for his incredible skills and victories in the courthouse; it’s his contagious personality and unending generosity to the community that allow him to maintain this status. Michael Mann, a resident of Gulf Breeze and a family friend, vouched for this sentiment.

“Pap has donated to pretty much every cause this town takes on,” he said. “He also was the driving force behind me going to law school. Gulf Breeze is lucky to have his influence.” Mann went on to explain how even with his busy schedule, Papantonio is always available for a quick phone call to talk through career options or run through a practice trial for the Trial Team at the law school he is attending.

Work life

After graduating from the University of Florida, Papantonio planned on being a journalist or foreign correspondent. By chance, he interviewed one of the most well known trial lawyers in the country who convinced him to go to law school. After a few years as a prosecutor, Papantonio made the switch to trial law.

“I specifically chose trial law because I couldn’t stomach the idea of helping these corporations get away with the crimes they are committing,” said Papantonio. This mentality has driven his career since the beginning.

Connie Pearson, a lead paralegal at Levin Papantonio Law Firm has worked with Papantonio on several historic cases throughout his career and has only positive things to say about her experiences.

“Pap is one of the most hardworking people I know,” she said. “He never loses sight of the justice he is trying to achieve for our clients and makes it easy for me to come to work each day.”

This sentiment carries throughout the office. As an employee, I wholeheartedly agree that Papantonio makes it easy to enjoy your job. There is an obvious sentiment of teamwork that drives the tone of the office. Whether it was group lunches to celebrate an email found by the attorney leading the case or wrapping up the client calls necessary to head to court, the sense of family in the firm is undeniable.

“We stick together,” said Pearson. “We’re at constant war with teams of corporate lawyers, so we have to stand firm in what we believe in and not allow our clients to be bullied.”

When asked what he was most proud of, Papantonio didn’t rattle off a list of cases or show me a trophy he had received. Instead, he chose his only daughter, Sara. “I think one benefit to being a trial lawyer is that it always keeps things in perspective,” he said. “The people in my life are so much more important than anything this job has given me.” The two have a close relationship and talk often. Sara understands the impact of the work her dad has done and hopes to follow in his footsteps.

“My dad has instilled in me the importance of doing the right thing for the right reasons, instead of what will make the most money,” said his daughter. “He’s shown me that if you’re a good person, the rest will follow.”

Family man

This past summer, I lived with the Papantonio’s while working for his firm and got to experience firsthand what it’s like to be in his constant presence. Throughout the internship, I was not only an employee, but Mike and his wife, Terri, along with their daughter, Sara, took me in as another family member. I was included in dinner outings, day trips and information that would not hit the press for days.

“Different people fill different spaces in your life,” said Terri, “I’m glad that we can fill one for you”. This sentiment perfectly embodies what the family stands for.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have studied under an attorney who practices at the caliber that Mike Papantonio does. After living under the same roof, I think I have begun to understand what makes him tick and why he has taken the road to get where he is today.

It seems as if Papantonio excels at every aspect of life. In addition to being an incredibly accomplished attorney, his home life is nothing short of amazing. Terri Papantonio often spoke to me about what it’s like to be the wife of such a high-powered attorney.

“He’s not ‘America’s Lawyer’ with me,” she said. “We decided at the very beginning of our marriage that he would leave that in the courtroom.”

Over the past 20 years, the couple has traveled to all seven continents, regularly taking outlandish adventures.

Looking ahead

I think Mike Papantonio will remain “America’s Lawyer” as long as he can. He has no plans to retire and although he works from home far more now, he is quick to lend guidance to any team fighting against corporate criminals.

“Dad’s going to hold on until I can get through law school,” said Sara. “We both want to make sure that I am prepared to continue his legacy and maybe even try a case together before he officially retires.”

Edited by Avery Williams

Amid a culture of artistic flight, Triangle offers N.C. artists a haven close to home

By Janna Childers

Kellyn Thornburg was 20 years old, hair freshly died platinum blond and chopped off at the nape of her neck, with one very large suitcase stuffed full of thrift store T-shirts and leotards. It was August of 2015, and she was waiting at the Charlotte-Douglass International Airport for a  flight to New York City.

Back in May, Thornburg graduated from the UNC School of the Arts with a degree in contemporary dance. After a summer spent bouncing between her college city of Winston-Salem and her rural hometown of Dallas, North Carolina, Thornburg was hungry for change. So, she found an apartment in Harlem and booked her flight.

“I straight up moved to Harlem, and Harlem is a whole different world in and of itself,” Thornburg said. “It was a huge shock at first. But coming from Dallas, North Carolina, there just wasn’t anything out here.”

Thornburg’s story follows a familiar story of young, burgeoning artists, tired of the lack of inspiration in their hometown, flocking to the open arms of a gritty city. And despite musician Patti Smith’s warning to young artists from a 2010 blog post on Vanishing New York — “You have to find the new place because New York City has been taken away from you” — New York has remained the most popular choice, especially for those interested in contemporary art and media. According to the U.S. Census, from 2010 to 2012, the city saw a 40,000-person spike in individuals identifying as artists.

But what happens to the towns these artists leave behind? Is there an art vacuum? Despite the notion that suggests art is dead across America’s small towns and suburbs, the Triangle area of North Carolina offers an alternative. It might not be considered the most exciting and inspiring place for young creatives, but there are certainly a number of locals who take the art world seriously.

Going elsewhere

Wayne Marcelli is a painter from Myrtle Beach. He has an armful of tattoos, thin-rimmed glasses and gauges in his ears. And despite having roots in North Carolina, he plans to move away after graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill’s graduate studio art.

“The department is kind of an incubator, but once you graduate, you go elsewhere unless you’re going to work at the school,” Marcelli said. “Teaching jobs around here are kind of dried up. And at least in the art department here, when they’re hiring new people they generally don’t hire from within the department.”

Aaron Mandel, founder of the Durham-based media company Clarion Content, said he thinks the Triangle, with its economic success, has become a place for yuppies. He describes the “glory days” of the Durham art scene, back in the ’80s and ’90s when it was a city known for high crime rates and low incomes. He draws parallels between gentrification and what he deems to be the success of the art scene in a city.

“Durham was the sort of place where it was possible for artists to find ground-level opportunities and cheap studios. It’s the same story of the Village in New York, or SoHo,” Mandel said. “Now it’s priced artists out. I think if you study the places where art is made, it tends to be more of those edgy places, more of those places where conflict is really present. Because if you’re in safe, comfortable, suburbia, what do you really need art for?”

But Marcelli wanted to clarify that he didn’t fully agree with the idea that art always came from a place a struggle.

“That could be a misconception, because like a good chuck of the celebrity artists, people who show all over New York City and have pages in art forum, they have generally privileged upbringings,” he said. “They’ve been immersed in that world for a long time. I personally agree that turmoil is a really good generator, but I don’t think that’s the case across the board.”

People move for all sorts of reasons, and artists are no different. They may be priced out of their neighborhood downtown or feel that box stores and model homes are no longer inspiring. Or maybe it’s a trend because the marketplace makes it necessary to have a concentration of network and resources for a particular industry. Whatever the reason, in the United States, many artists tend to be pretty mobile people.

Creative thinkers  

Patrick Hitesman puts his students first. He is a busy man — carting his daughter off to middle school, commuting to work every morning from Apex to Durham, teaching high school students how to paint and maintaining a gallery space in Pittsboro. Hitesman has spent 23 years teaching painting, and he’s spent the past four at Durham School of the Arts. But he said it’s common for students to forget that he’s also a working artist in the Triangle art community.

Art education is messy terrain, with wary parents and a persistent drought of federal funding. But art teachers and schools across the state are still finding ways to make it work.

Art educators find a surprising amount of community support, especially in the Triangle. Since 1995, Durham School of the Arts has offered students a choice in one of 10 concentrations, including visual arts, dance and theater. Graduates from the school often pursue degrees across the country. UNC School of the Arts also has programs that train high school and college students for visual and performing arts careers.

Darrell Thompson, who also works at Durham School of the Arts, has been teaching photography at the school for 20 years.

“The thing about education in sort of a broad brushstroke is you want kids to be creative thinkers. And there’s no better way to do that than giving them a simple set of skills, a project they need to accomplish and then turning them loose to go do it,” he said. When you’re talking to parents though, it gets tough, because not all parents who are my age did what I did to get thorough college. They were doctors, they were lawyers, they were mechanics, they are physician’s assistants. To them, without science and math, there is no future.”

Navigating the market

Art teachers aren’t alone in being engines of the art community. There are also a number of people in consulting that work specifically with artists to help them navigate the art market. Heather Allen is one such person. Allen studied art and design as an undergraduate student, but she quickly realized she longed to teach and see people thrive. After earning a graduate degree in business, she started consulting in 2012, focusing on creative small business out of Raleigh — mostly writers and artists who want to sell their work. She’s now mostly consults older business owners who have been in the industry for years and need help managing new media platforms.

“A lot of those [marketing] models that were popular and predictable in the ’90s and the early 2000s now come with sometimes higher costs,” Allen said. “I encourage people to see the opportunities on the internet in a way that allows them to reduce cost and increase visibility.”

Allen is among several consultants for artists in the Raleigh-Durham area, but she works with people in several states. There are also several organizations that serve as resources for artists in the area, including Triangle ArtWorks, The ArtsCenter in Carrboro and the public art offices in Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh.

‘Something really beautiful about the struggle’

Whether you yearn to up and move to the big city or hunker down and try to make it in your hometown, there are inevitable challenges an artist must face. One could simply be choosing a path — do you freelance, teach? Own your own business, go to school?

Thornburg is a little nervous about the next few years. She freelanced in New York City for more than a year — interning for Twyla Tharp, performing at Lincoln Center, picking up gigs in music videos and flash mobs. She recently accepted a position as the regional creative director for Salvation Army. While she’s glad to have a steady income, she said she’s found it difficult to find as much time for dance.

“For this job, I’m sort of hoping it’s a stepping stone for my dance career instead of this just being it, you know,” she said. “Eventually, my goal is to save up enough money to go back to grad school and get my masters in arts management and/or dance and create my own company and be able to create my own work from there.”

In the meantime, she’s enjoying her job and spending time getting to know the greater New York area, often driving hours to visit a site in her designated region. Thornburg says she’s not afraid of the harder times she has faced and might face in the future.

“There’s something really beautiful about the struggle that you face as an artist because it feeds into whatever you’re trying to portray through your movement, or the film that you’re making or the story that you’re writing,” she said.

“I think you just have to go for it and you realize that it’s not as scary as you make it out to be.”

Edited by Danny Nett

Pain and resilience: A refugee’s journey to North Carolina

By Luke Bollinger

Zubair Rushk is not the typical student at UNC-Chapel Hill. He’s not a typical U.S. citizen. Zubair is from Syria, but he fled the country to escape persecution from the Bashar al-Assad regime. His body is a representation of the experiences of his early life. He walks with a limp from a childhood disease. His glasses sit crooked on his nose, a result of it having been broken multiple times. At times he flashes back to traumatic events, something no amount of therapy can fully mitigate.

Zubair was resettled in Durham in 2010. Since then, he has built a good life for himself. Zubair considers himself lucky to have landed in Durham, as the Triangle has proven to be a welcoming and accommodating place for refugees with numerous organizations devoted to easing the transition and creating fulfilling lives for them. Despite all the good Zubair has found while living in Durham, the events that led to his resettlement are something he carries with him every day. It is part of who he is. Those traumatic times are what make him unique. His journey to Durham holds parallels to the journeys of many refugees. It’s a journey of pain and resilience.


As a child and young adult, Zubair was a troublemaker, but not in the way one might think of a typical rebellious child growing up in the U.S. He was a troublemaker because he refused to let his pride in his culture be suppressed. Zubair is a Kurd, a minority within the Syrian population. The laws of Syria prohibit students from speaking Kurdish in school, on the streets and even in their own homes.

Zubair never understood why he must disassociate himself from his cultural identity, so he decided he would speak Kurdish in school. He described this act of defiance as if it were kids passing notes to each other or shooting spitballs across the classroom, hoping the teacher didn’t notice and getting a sense of glee when they weren’t caught. But he did get caught. The teacher heard him and called the police. Zubair went to prison.

It was only two days, and he wasn’t harmed. It was only meant to scare him. It would be nine years until Zubair found out what prison was really like.

At the age of 23, Zubair was operating a Kurdish school in a spare room of his home. He taught around 40 students, mostly children and teenagers. He used Kurdish books on history, language and culture to teach them. Just owning these books was a crime in itself.

In his eagerness to share his knowledge, he allowed two men he did not know to enter his home. The men claimed they lived in the neighborhood and wanted their children to attend his school. Zubair showed them the room where he held class and the books he used to teach. He realized his blunder before it was too late. And when he did, he tried to leave his home, hoping escaping the house could save him. But a car was already waiting outside. He was put in the car and escorted to prison for questioning.

For the next 72 hours, Zubair was beaten and tortured, and not a single question was asked. He was then asked to sign a document stating that he had been found with a gun in his home and was participating in the Kurdish rebellion, which had sprung the day before he was taken to prison. He refused. His captors then continued to beat the resolution out of him. They succeeded after three hours. Zubair said he later felt shame for giving in and signing the document after three days when he heard that one of his friends withstood the same treatment for eleven days.

He received a seven-month sentence for his crimes, and they would be the worst seven months of his life. It was during these months that Zubair would come to fully understand the meaning of pain. There seemed to be no end to the torture and beatings.

Zubair was not silent during his time in prison. He defied authority in the only ways he could. He screamed. He cursed the guards. He cursed the government that restricted his freedom and suppressed his identity. And he did not go unnoticed.

Two weeks before he was released, Zubair’s resolution would undergo its greatest test. The prison administration knew he would be a problem once he was released. His defiance had been all too evident. They sent him to the ‘Dark Room,’ which consisted of a single chair. Zubair was strapped to the chair, and his head was placed in a brace. He couldn’t move an inch in any direction.

The guards left, and he was alone. He had been in solitary confinement before. He was optimistic – scared, but optimistic. He had been in this type of situation before. Then he felt a drop of water hit his head, then another and another.

Zubair remained hopeful. He thought he would get a shower. The water dripped through his hair, down his unwashed body and to his toes. However, after 30 minutes, each drop of water seemed to weigh 10 pounds heavier.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

His body began to shake and go numb. He lost his vision, hearing and ability to speak. More tragically, Zubair lost his memory, as if the small drops of water had hammered out all the most important functions of his brain.

Once Zubair was released from prison, it would take him three months to learn to speak without a stutter. It would take him years to recover his full memory.

After his release, Zubair received a notice in the mail of pending legal charges for his defiance. The family lawyer told Zubair his best option was to leave the country. So he was smuggled to Lebanon.

The money paid to the smugglers was guaranteed to provide Zubair a donkey at the border, a more desirable mode of travel compared with walking, as he had been diagnosed with polio at the age of two and has always felt the effects when he walks. Once his family paid the smugglers at the border and drove away, the smugglers removed Zubair from the donkey and pointed him toward a mountain. A mountain he would need to climb in order to cross the border. So he climbed, on his hands and feet, until he conquered the mountain.

Zubair would remain in Lebanon for five years. During that time, he worked as a self-employed electronic engineer to help his brother pay the bills. Zubair went to physical and psychological rehabilitation for the first three years of his stay, a service provided by the U.N., which Zubair had applied to for refugee status. After five years of escaping Syria, Zubair found out he would be resettled in Durham, North Carolina.


Arriving in Durham was the greatest blessing of Zubair’s life. The resettlement agency found him a small apartment consisting of three pieces of furniture. The agency gave him enough money for groceries and a month’s rent and told him they would help him find a job. Instead of waiting for the agency to finish the job search, he took the initiative to find a job himself.

He traveled to The Streets at Southpoint mall every day and visited as many restaurants as possible, asking if they were hiring. He spoke very little English, but he knew enough to inquire about jobs. On the twelfth day of his search, the manager at The Cheesecake Factory agreed to hire him. He did not know how to fill out the job application, so the manager, Jeff, helped him fill it out.

Zubair is grateful for Jeff to this day. Grateful that someone would hire him despite the fact that he spoke little to no English and couldn’t even fill out the job application on his own. Zubair said because of the welcoming and accommodating Triangle community, the area quickly began to feel like home.


Zubair is not an anomaly. The Triangle has proven to be a sanctuary for many refugees.

Scott Phillips, director of the North Carolina branch of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, said his organization is the first point of contact for many refugees who come to the Raleigh area. Phillips said the organization finds affordable housing for refugees, provides them with three months’ rent and helps about 90 percent of refugee families become financially self-sufficient within the first 120 days.

“In the area, we’ve really seen, and our clients have seen, really friendly people here who are willing to take the extra step to work with refugees,” he said.

Phillips recalled a phone call he received during the holidays. The call came from an employer who had hired a refugee who had been resettled through Phillips’ agency. He told Phillips he was hosting a holiday party for his employees and he was not sure of the religion of the one refugee worker. He was wondering if there was anything he could do to make the employee feel more included in the festivities.

“That is amazing,” Phillips said. “That’s so great. He didn’t have to do that. That’s the guy who stocks the shelves. They didn’t have to take that extra step, but they did.”

Still, refugees in the community consume media like everyone else. Despite the warm welcome most refugees receive in the Triangle, many are still fearful of their place in the country. Phillips said he has heard the concerns of many refugees regarding the rhetoric toward them in the past presidential election and recent executive orders.

“There’s a lot of fear after the initial executive order on refugees,” he said. “Then you turn around and see 1,500 people at RDU and people at the rally the next week. That was a concrete example of North Carolina spirit and American values. That resonated with our clients a lot.”

Zubair has also noticed the contrast between what is said in the media and how people actually treat him and other refugees. He said despite the country being deeply divided on views towards refugees, false perceptions can’t diminish what he calls “this heaven I’m living in.”

And for Zubair, it is heaven indeed. He became a U.S. citizen in 2015, he works hard at multiple jobs and he’s on his way to completing his degree in peace, war and defense.

Zubair and his wife, Etena, were married in October 2016 after she completed the vetting and resettlement process and joined him in the U.S.

Perhaps one of the biggest moments of Zubair’s time in Durham was when his wife joined him. With the help of U.S. Rep. David Price, his wife wasable to complete the vetting and resettlement process in two years, a short timespan compared to the lengthy process many refugees must go through. Zubair and Etena, his wife, were married in October 2016 and are hoping to start a family soon.

Edited by Matt Wotus

How one boy’s tragic story inspired an entire police department

By Audrey Wells

Jacob was in his room upstairs when he heard arguing erupt outside. It was immediately followed by the sound of his mother screaming. Soon after, he heard gunshots and ran downstairs to his parent’s room to see what was happening. His parents were lying on the ground in a pool of blood with their next-door neighbor standing over them gripping a gun. Jacob ran back to his room, grabbed an old cellphone, turned it on and dialed 9-1-1. He came down the stairs into the hallway as he saw his neighbor shoot again and turn his gun towards the house. Jacob stayed on the line with the dispatch officer as patrolmen rushed to the scene.

It was approaching 6 p.m. as senior police officer Carl Grecko was finishing his day at the South Asheville Resource Center. He was chatting with Andrew Barker, a new officer who had been on his own for about three weeks. Barker was just starting his shift when the shots-fired call came in on the radio. Dispatch called Barker to the scene, and Grecko joined Barker on the call. In the short drive, the call was continuously updated until the officers came upon the suspect: a man in a dark green shirt, overalls and a tan hat. Both officers exited their vehicles with their weapons drawn and pointed them at the shooter, who was still standing over the bodies.

“Get your hands up!” Grecko yelled. “I said put them up! Higher!”

“All right! All right,” the suspect replied.

The officers ordered him to step away from the bodies, and lay face-down on his stomach so Barker could handcuff him.

“Where’s the gun?” Grecko demanded.

“Over there, in that direction.”

Still watching the suspect, Barker began to secure the scene, starting with the gun, while Grecko called for back-up. Grecko knelt down next to the victims, who had both been shot multiple times. Placing his hands on their shoulders, he said help is on the way, and asked them to hold on.

The call was updated again. There was a child in the house, and he had seen everything. By this time, the fire department and EMS had arrived on-scene. Barker stayed with the victims and the suspect, and Grecko went in the house to speak with the eyewitness.

“Are they okay?” Jacob asked. “Are mom and dad going to be okay?”

“I don’t know if they’re going to be okay, but we have help here and we’re going to do everything we can to try and help them,” Grecko replied. The neighbor had always been trouble, Jacob told the officer. His parents had constant arguments with him.

It was difficult for Grecko to comfort him. He wanted to keep Jacob’s focus away from what was happening, but it had been years since Grecko was around young children. As more people arrived on the scene, the officer asked what Jacob’s name was and about his birthday. Eventually, more officers entered the house with a chaplain, who relieved Grecko. By this time, the suspect had been taken away by another officer, and Grecko and Barker remained to recount their story to the commanding officers.

In September 2013, Jacob’s parents were killed after a long civil dispute lasting at least three years, according to neighbors. Jacob, who has asked to remain anonymous, was only 12-years-old at the time and this crime left him without a family. Many officers in the Asheville Police Department were touched by Jacob and his story, and were motivated into action in the days and weeks following the shooting.

Initial Interview

Jacob’s foster family led him into APD the day after he witnessed his parents’ death.  He was taken to an interview room, where Sgt. Charles Wells and Detective Kevin Taylor waited to ask him about what had transpired.

“It was kind of scary to me. I’d never been questioned by law enforcement or anything like that,” Jacob said.

Though it was a nerve-wracking experience for him, Jacob recounted what he had seen because he understood the officers had a job to do. Throughout the interview, Taylor noticed immediately that Jacob was a unique young man.

“He had this sense of memory recollection,” Taylor said. “He was able to tell us prior incidents where his parents and the neighbor got into confrontations and he could give us specific dates and years when these confrontations occurred.”

Taylor said it is common for people to remember events like these, but not many could recall a specific date for each incident, especially as a 12-year-old.

Jacob continued with what he considered pertinent information. He told the detectives his family had lived in the house for four years and that it had recently been repossessed, but they were somehow able to keep living there.

Wells also noticed something special about Jacob. He was highly intelligent and very articulate for his age, expressing concern about upcoming bills and other household maintenance issues.

“He immediately struck me as being mature way beyond his years,” Wells said. “It was almost like he was the parent of his parents.”

Jacob knew bank account numbers, when bills were due and other household functions that Wells said were astounding for a 12-year old to know. Many officers began to wonder if Jacob had been forced to grow up too fast.

Throughout the rest interview, Taylor said Jacob was very respectful and provided clear and concise information, but he was very concerned about the whereabouts of his parents’ killer.

“[Jacob] wanted to know is he in the room next door to me, is he in jail yet, is he going to see me? He was clearly fearful of his neighbor causing harm to him as well,” Taylor said.

The detectives tried to ease his concerns as they finished their questions, and offered their condolences at the interview’s conclusion. As Jacob left the department, some of the officers were moved to action on his behalf.

‘We had to do something’

As the investigation continued, detectives learned more about the life Jacob had been living before this incident. His home had been in an upper-middle-class neighborhood, surrounded by nice houses and landscaped yards, but the inside of his home didn’t match the exterior. Inside, the home was dirty and cluttered, and didn’t appear to have running water. Trash bags lined the toilets and leftover food filled the kitchen.

“We learned more about his upbringing, his home environment, and he never really had a childhood that you would expect a 12-year-old to have,” Taylor said.  “After we interviewed him and found out more about him, we knew we had to do something.”

Wells started by reaching out to other agencies in the area, and other officers in the APD, including Detective Germaine Weaver. Weaver is a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, a fraternal organization of sworn law-enforcement officers. In 2013, he was a newly-elected second vice president for the Asheville branch of FOP. Wells asked if FOP would be able to help provide Jacob with necessities and Weaver took it to the board immediately.

“I called the board together and said ‘this is what the deal is: this kid has lost both of his parents.’ It didn’t take them long at all to say we’re not just going to help with necessities. We wanted to do something bigger for him,” Weaver said.

After a vote, the FOP board decided to donate $1,000 to helping Jacob.

“It started with communication, reaching out to people within the agencies and saying ‘can you guys help?’ And it kept growing. It was touching to see everybody’s generosity,” Wells said.

As donations continued to pour in, Target heard about the situation, and decided to match the FOP’s offer. Wells was touched by this generosity and began to plan a trip to Target with Jacob.

‘A Red Schwinn Bicycle’

Two or three weeks after Jacob’s interview at APD, he came back to the department and walked into a room filled with the donations and the officers who donated them.

“It was very considerate of everyone involved,” Jacob said. “Overall, it was pretty generous of the entire department to do that for me.”

Three officers accompanied him to Target and let him start shopping. He started with practical, smaller items because at the time he wasn’t sure where the funds were coming from, and didn’t want to take advantage of the officers’ kindness. The officers began to point Jacob towards what Weaver called “the fun stuff.” Eventually, Weaver said they were able to get him on a bike and Wells said it was an interesting experience.

“He picked out a bicycle and jumped on it,” Wells said. “He took off not knowing how to ride it, and tore a rack of stuff down at Target.”

Jacob said he was not good at riding a bike at that time. Generally, he could only ride for short distances because he wasn’t good at balancing, he said.

“I remember it was a red Schwinn bicycle,” Jacob said. “I remember thinking: I wonder if I’m going to be able to ride this bike.”

Throughout the rest of the trip, Jacob got some more fun items, including a PlayStation 3. It was really important to the officers that Jacob had the opportunity to be a kid.

 ‘We’d be there for him’

After Jacob received the donations from APD, the officers never saw him again. His parents’ killer was charged with the crime, and Jacob was placed in a home with his mother’s cousin. Though they never saw him again, many of the officers still think about Jacob and the effect he had on their lives.

“I’ve always wondered, occasionally, how he’s turned out since then,” Taylor said. “I hope he’s in a much better environment.”

Weaver remembers Jacob’s attitude and how he made it through such a traumatic situation.

“He was just a blessing. His whole attitude and demeanor about the whole situation just sticks out and its one of those things that makes you come back the next day and do a better job at work,” Weaver said.

Jacob is now 16-years-old, and still living with his mom’s cousin. He is dual-enrolled at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, and hopes to graduate from high school with an associate’s degree.

“I basically live the normal teenage life,” Jacob said.

If he saw the officers again, Jacob said he’d like to thank them for both their generosity and how they handled such a rare and unfortunate case.

Wells said anyone should be willing to help someone who is less fortunate than them. In this case, Jacob was a victim who didn’t ask to be put into that rough situation. Wells said he was happy to help Jacob in any way he could.

“Most of us do this job because we’re called to do it. We don’t do it for the paycheck, we do this because we want to help people,” Wells said. “This was just an opportunity for us to go a little bit further than the normal call for service.”

Edited by Travis Butler