UNC senior brings the pianos of Graham Memorial to life

By Marine Elia

In the oak-paneled Graham Memorial study lounge, the room resonates with the heavy, melancholic notes evocative of a Chopin piece. The scene is akin to that of a 19th century drawing room, with dim lighting from the chandeliers illuminating students reclining on gleaming leather sofas. Emotion effortlessly flows from the piano into the ears of the people in the room. Tucked away in the corner, the varnished baby grand shines. The pianist, a girl in neon yellow overalls, is consumed by the music.

The pianist is Tianzhen Nie, a classically trained pianist and Hawaii native. During her brief spurts of spare time as a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she brings the pianos of Graham Memorial and Hill Hall to life.

“Pure bliss,” she said in response to how music makes her feel.

Nie may have trained classically from the ages of 6-17, but she hasn’t stopped improving her musical skills. When playing in spaces on campus, she frequently makes her impromptu performances interactive by calling on her audience to give an emotion for her to recreate on the piano.

“The thing about music, though, is that it’s really like acting. In that moment, when you’re playing, you can step into whatever mood or realm of feeling you want, even if it’s not the headspace you’re currently in,” Nie said. “It’s really like a kind of escape.”

Nie refers to improvising as her preferred form of playing. The inexorable connection she has with the piano allows her to play flawlessly without even glancing at the keyboard.

“I’ll ‘Bird Box’ it and look away or just close my eyes,” Nie said, alluding to the recent Netflix original psychological thriller.

A unique talent discovered and a special bond formed

Although she knows music is an innate characteristic of her mind and soul, Nie accredits her training to her piano teacher in Honolulu. Earning the endearing title of “Auntie Alice,” Nie’s teacher, Alice Hsu, continues to be her motivator and biggest fan.

Hsu aspired to become a professional pianist after graduating from music school in Vietnam, but switched routes to teach the next generation of young musicians. Hsu taught at Nie’s elementary school and first encountered her when she was a talented third-grade piano player—with awful technique. Hsu took her in as a student for private lessons.

“After the foundations were built by having the discipline to practice every day, that’s when her creativity and passionate [playing] started to show,” Hsu said.

Nie recalls Hsu’s piano studio where she spent endless hours rehearsing the standardized piano tests to advance to new levels of piano mastery.

Lessons would always begin with a conversation on how Nie was feeling, a demonstration of the warm, familial relationship between the teacher and student.

“She cared about not just how I developed as a musician, but as a student and person,” Nie said.

Overcoming obstacles

Like many tales of success, Nie’s did not come without its trials and tribulations. When she was in fourth grade, Nie rebelled against her parents and rejected the five hours a week spent practicing. It didn’t take much to quell an 11-year-old’s uprising as her parents stressed the importance of piano as an outlet and creative pursuit.

During the recession in 2008, Nie’s father lost his job, and her piano lessons had to be placed on a hiatus until he found employment. Nie’s piano career could have been canceled indefinitely if not for Hsu, who saw her potential and offered to give her pro bono lessons due to the magnitude of her talent.

“I was compelled to help,” Hsu said. “She was too unique for me to let her go.”

Early on, Nie’s independence and creativity were in the nascent stages of development as she chose the pieces she wanted to play under Hsu’s “democratic teaching.” It would be this sense of musical autonomy that led Nie to compose her first piece at 12 years old. As part of a project in middle school to create a video in iMovie, she used her talents to compose the background music. The impressive feat earned her the attention of her principal who wrote her a letter describing how proud she was of her.

“When I received the letter, that’s when I stopped and said, ‘Okay, yeah. I might just be good at this,’” Nie reminisced. To further her talents, she sought new spaces where she could grow, such as her church where she practiced improvising and accompanying the choir.

A creativity that can’t be bound

Last summer during a study abroad program in the Galapagos with her environmental studies program, Nie was inspired to once again unearth her composer persona. With a team of friends, including an aspiring documentary filmmaker, the group of students produced a short four-minute documentary for which Nie wrote the score.

Nie intends to start composing again, but with multiple art forms clouding her vision of a future as a soloist, the task of composing is an arduous one. As a cellist and having a background in Chinese zither as a nod to her Chinese heritage, Nie does not suffer from a lack of instruments to absorb her creative fluids.

At the intersection of creativity where talent runs in multiple veins of expression, music lends itself to poetry. Nie is a member of the UNC Wordsmiths, the spoken word team on campus. She represented the Wordsmiths at the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational, the national competition for college spoken word teams, for the past two years.

Her repertoire ranges from pieces parodying Donald Trump to statement-making feminist commentaries intent on changing the stigma around periods.

Mistyre Bonds met Nie in a poetry class her freshman year and is also a member of UNC Wordsmiths. She describes Nie’s writing style as “beautiful and powerful at the same time.”

Bonds envisions Nie “conquering the world” after graduation with her ability to connect to others.

Nie’s future abounds with possibilities. If she chooses to continue her education, she will pursue a master’s in environmental studies with a focus on environmental disasters and how they affect minority communities.

Earlier this semester, Nie began to flirt with the idea that her art could flourish into a successful career. Terence Oliver, who teaches motion graphics in the School of Media and Journalism, came across one of Nie’s spoken word performances on YouTube entitled “Person of Color” in 2017 and offered her $250 to participate in a video showcasing UNC’s talent and diversity.

Still waiting to discover if an artistic path will overtake an academic one, Nie said she will navigate her future with the mantra she applies to her musical improvisations, “When I make a mistake and hit the wrong note, I turn that mistake into a new melody.”

Edited by Mitra Norowzi and Natasha Townsend

Pursuing Hollywood dreams means leaving behind Southern expectations

Herman Phillips IV moved from South Carolina to Los Angeles to become a production assistant at HBO. He is currently working on the shows “Insecure” and “Euphoria.”

By Virginia Phillips Blanton

The trade-offs were immense when Herman Phillips IV packed up his 2008 Honda CR-V, abandoning White Oak, South Carolina, to traverse the country, running down a dream. He traded magnolia trees for palm trees. Crockpot mac and cheese for authentic street pho. Acres of land for a rent-controlled shoebox. The boldest compromise: leaving behind the family granite business for a production assistant job at HBO.

Phillips Granite Company was established in 1933. Herman always felt pressured to take over the family business and play the role of a good, Christian, Southern gentleman. When he was 9, he told his dad he wanted to be a filmmaker.

“I had two choices. To either embrace the expectations and lie to myself and others, or leave it all behind and reinvent who I was supposed to be,” he said.

From Hunter to Herman

Dora and Herman “Grady” Phillips III have five children: Hannah Brown, Ruthie, Mary Grace, Sarah and Hunter.

Hunter started going by Herman when he was 16. “It was too much of a stereotypical Southern boy name. I realized it wouldn’t be very good branding for who I wanted to be,” he said.

The Phillips children were raised as Christians in a town of 50 people.

“Our parenting philosophy was to bring our children up in fear and admiration of the Lord,” Grady said.

“There was no part of my life untouched by religion,” Herman said. He couldn’t read “Harry Potter” because it was considered a satanic influence. Any film he watched was vetted through biblical movie reviews. Church on Sunday was like clockwork.

“I always dreaded a Sunday morning in my house,” Herman said. “I would dread the process of getting ready, putting on my tie and pushing everyone out the door. We had to drive an hour to church and an hour back. It was the most boring drive. We would listen to a sermon on the way, stay the entire service, then listen to a different sermon on the drive back.”

A passion for film

“I remember the first duck, quail and dove Hunter shot,” Grady said. “I could read that it wasn’t a passion for him like it was for me. But he enjoyed us being together. We still hunt together when he comes home.”

The one thing Herman gleefully shot as a boy was footage. He started writing little scripts when he was 7. On a personal YouTube channel, he uploaded reviews of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” His parents allowed this online presence because he spoke with a brown paper bag over his head with eye cutouts to maintain privacy. When he was 13, Dora drove him on set to be an extra in “The Hunger Games” franchise.

Going out West

The first time Herman visited California was to tour colleges. Grady and Dora accompanied him. They passed out Bibles on the street in-between tours of the University of Southern California and Loyola Marymount University. Even then, they sensed their son’s attraction to Los Angeles.

Herman’s acceptance to the University of Southern California validated every unacceptance he felt in his hometown.

“But when USC didn’t offer me any scholarships or financial aid whatsoever, everything seemed to collapse around me,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been that distraught, before or since. It’s still hard to think about.”

The reality of $60,000 a year sunk in, and he enrolled in the University of South Carolina’s Honors College.

“He was very much a gentleman about it. He understood why he couldn’t go,” Dora said.

A chance encounter

Of all places, a Phillips family reunion kick-started his career momentum. It was the summer before his first semester at UofSC. He was deflated about settling in South Carolina. He had no idea his mentor was floating in the sea of nametags.

Hello My Name Is: Ben Patrick. A production sound mixer who resided in LA, Patrick connected Herman with Jim Kleverweis, a producer at HBO. Coffee and email correspondence with Kleverweis landed him a summer job working on the television series “Insecure,” directed by Issa Rae. Herman worked in LA every summer during college in some entertainment capacity.

“People have their cliques, their respective groups, their fraternities and sororities. I had never felt like I had found my people, my tribe, until I stepped on a film set,” he said. “Once I did, it washed over me ‘Oh, this is what it’s supposed to be like.’”

The City of Angels summoned him. The summer before his junior year of college, an assistant director on “Insecure” encouraged him to drop out and continue working with them. Heeding the advice, he loaded extra credit hours onto his schedule and plunged into his honors thesis, graduating a year early. His exodus from the East Coast began five days after graduation.

‘Just a bunch of weirdos’

Neighbors warned him that “traffic is going to be terrible,” and “they do it different out West.” But the difference for Herman is what drives him. Jack Kerouac-style, he sped through 10 states to his new home. The road trip was a formal education for his narrow worldview.

Los Angeles has not watered down his Southern mannerisms from sweet to unsweet tea. “Yes ma’am, no ma’am, yes sir, no sir” remain in his vernacular.

“He’s found great success in his first few years in LA, but that hasn’t changed who he is. He’s still the same old Herman,” said Matt Francis, his best friend.

A wide shot of Herman’s West Coast life doesn’t fit a single still. His White Oak routine was stagnant. Now, he facilitates physical production for the upcoming HBO series “Euphoria” with rising talent Zendaya. He just got asked back onto production for season four of “Insecure.” He grabs coffee for the directors and actors, wires mics and escorts actors to the camera. Everything is time-sensitive.

“One of the reasons he wears facial hair is to cover up the fact that he’s only 21,” Dora said. “On Monday, he had to drive 40 miles to be on location at 5 a.m. He woke up at 3:30 a.m. and got organized. Hunter is very organized. Everything is working in his favor.”

There is a familial structure on set that comforts him when he feels uprooted from his immediate family.

“We’re all just a bunch of weirdos trying to make it for ourselves,” Herman said. “We’re all here for the same reason. Because you feel like you’re contributing to something bigger than yourself. A film can change people’s lives in ways you don’t even realize. Making something beautiful is why it all works.”

Taking back the family name

Juggling a 65-hour work week, he has a standing call with his parents on Sunday afternoons, followed by another with his grandmother. This past spring, Grady and Herman went skydiving together. Herman jumped first.

“Once we were out of free fall, my tandem partner told me to look up. Hunter had jumped out first and we were the ones below him. How’d that happen,” Grady said.

The life Herman Grady Phillips IV lives isn’t guided by a predetermined headstone. “I’ve taken my family name and turned it into something totally different than what the name means in the South,” Herman said. “Even though I may not be the fourth generation Phillips making granite, I represent the fourth generation of my family as entrepreneurs.”

Etch that on his grave.

Edited by Karyn Hladik-Brown.

Olympian or not, Brandon Kelly has become a judoka

By Jessica Snouwaert

Linkin Park blared through his headphones as he paced the gym floor. His hands, clammy with sweat, fiddled with the black belt wrapped tight across his waist. He took a deep breath, his white cotton uniform hanging loosely on his slender frame. This was Brandon Kelly’s ritual before every judo match, but this wasn’t any judo match. This was his chance to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics. This was the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Beyond his headphones, the training center swelled with the sounds of competitors grappling. Kelly tried to block out everything around him. He needed to be clear-headed when it was his turn to step on the mat, ready to outwit his opponent. One point is all he needed to win his first match of the trial.

When it was time for Kelly’s match, he stepped onto the thick foam mat, face-to-face with his opponent: a young 20-year-old man slightly taller but not much heavier than himself. As they walked toward each other and bowed, a thought flickered in Kelly’s head: Would his elbow last the match?

‘Decisive for once’

Kelly, 22, started studying martial arts as an 8-year-old. By 14, he earned his first black belt. By the time he was 17, he had earned two more. What began as a way to stand up to his older brother became a dedication to a sport of physical self-expression and mental discipline.

“I’m a very indecisive person, but it seemed that whenever it came to competing and being on the mats with other judokas, I was very decisive,” Kelly said. “It was a split-second decision you had to make. I love that ability to be decisive for once.”

Kelly started out by taking weekly karate classes in his hometown of Pittsboro, N.C., and quickly realized that he not only enjoyed martial arts but was particularly apt for it. His low center of gravity gave him an upper hand in sparring matches; he could think on his feet. But most importantly, he practiced and his instructors noticed.

“Brandon, without even having to tell him, ‘Hey, you need to practice,’ would go off and do it on his own,” his former instructor, Chuck Longenecker, said. “And he would come back every week hungry for another lesson and willing to show what he’s been working on.”

Before long, Kelly was earning trophies, medals and plaques in competitions across North Carolina. His older remembers him coming home from matches with as many as six trophies at a time to add to his room, one already full of past awards. As he improved, Kelly evolved from student to teacher, helping other classmates and teaching classes of his own.

Kelly expanded his martial arts repertoire from karate to other forms, including taekwondo, Jeet Kune Do, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. But among the many forms of martial arts, Kelly gravitated towards judo. He wanted to study it and become a judoka, a term for someone with expertise in the sport. The style came naturally to him because judo is what he calls “smart man’s wrestling,” a physical game of chess, with opponents trying to pin each other to score a single winning point. For Kelly, the movements, balance and pace of judo felt right.

“I love that whenever we were in the thick of it, there was almost a cohesion even within the friction, the pushes and pulls of trying to get an upper hand,” Kelly said. “There is a cohesion that flowed so much like water.”

Traditional sports never interested Kelly until he reached high school and he started using judo for high school wrestling. The hours of judo practice, in which he learned how to sweep an opponent on their back with one decisive movement, proved advantageous in wrestling. By his sophomore year, Kelly was as much of an avid wrestler as he was a martial artist, with daily practices at the high school and weekly competitions around the county.

During that season, Kelly found himself in a daunting wrestling match. Trapped face-down beneath his opponent, he fought to sit up. Kelly tried to swing his weight and escape the hold, but his opponent anticipated the movement with a forceful block, dislocating Kelly’s elbow. He continued to struggle against the opponent thanks to an adrenaline high that dulled the pain. Kelly managed to break free, unaware of his damaged elbow. He won the match but missed the rest of the season.

The injury cut Kelly off from wrestling and sparring. During the recovery his motivation to fight dwindled. Without weekly practices and competitions, he decided to invest his time into a different passion: Boy Scouts of America. Kelly, now the organization’s international mobilization and emergency management specialist, was on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout after his injury. One day while working on his Eagle Scout project, he heard his home phone ring and answered.

“Hello … this is he …uh huh. Well, I’m not sure that I’ll be at that competition,” Kelly said. “I’m currently recovering from a dislocated elbow …who’s we?”

The U.S. Olympic Committee was calling, and they wanted to see Kelly compete in an upcoming judo competition. Giddy with disbelief, Kelly knew what to do he had to keep fighting. Even if he couldn’t make it to the upcoming match, Kelly knew he had to recover, train and compete.

But years passed with silence from the USOC, and Kelly was beginning the second semester of his first year at UNC-Chapel Hill. But that spring he received another call from the USOC. This time there was an invitation to attend trials for judo at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. Wanting to seize what might be his only opportunity to compete in the Summer Olympics, Kelly boarded a plane to Colorado Springs that summer.

Overcoming a ‘mental roadblock’

One minute and 15 seconds is all it took. One minute and 15 seconds into his first match of the trials, Kelly’s elbow became dislocated for a second time. Unlike the last time this happened, Kelly did not win the match. He bowed to his opponent, the loose cotton uniform he wore concealing his disfigured elbow. He headed toward the bathroom, holding back tears of disappointment and pain.

Alone, he screamed and cursed as he popped his joint back into place. This was his chance to go to the Summer Olympics and it was gone. Kelly rode the plane home in silence.

The next year was spent avoiding the gym or talking about martial arts. Kelly stopped competing and wouldn’t even watch movies of his martial arts idol, Bruce Lee.

“I just had this mental roadblock,” Kelly said. “I had no energy, I had no motivation. Like, ‘Now what?’ I felt a lot like the donkey with a carrot strapped in front of it; you’re pursuing, but you’ll never catch it.”

The role of judo waned in Kelly’s life but other passions developed. He took on a prominent leadership role in the Boy Scouts, organizing national events and statewide projects. While his involvement with the Boy Scouts flourished, he still felt estranged from judo. It took a trip halfway around the world to jolt Kelly from the painful memories of his last competition.

While traveling abroad in Israel during the spring of 2018, Kelly went out to visit the local bars in Jerusalem. He was enjoying a night out with friends when he saw a man forcibly kissing his friend. Kelly leaped to his feet and grabbed the man, telling him to leave his friend alone. The man turned and swung at Kelly. Kelly deflected the blow as four other men jumped toward him in a drunken rage. The next few seconds were a blur as Kelly subdued the five men.

Afterwards, his friends rushed over to him with a flurry of questions. How did he know how to fight? The answer was clear to Kelly.

He was a judoka.

Edited by Brennan Doherty

UNC senior balances identity and mental health in his raps

By Brandon Callender

To Paakweisi Krentsil, who is better known as “PK,” life is a series of performances. He reacts to the situations that happen to appear in his life. He refuses to let situations tie him up and prevent him from doing what he desires. Instead, Krentsil adapts. He understands how he needs to change himself to succeed, but that comes with its own sacrifices.

Krentsil is Ghanian-American; both of his parents were born and raised in Ghana, while he was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. He adopted the moniker PK primarily because it’s what his parents call him, but also because all of his white teachers and classmates in grade school simply could not pronounce his name.

Krentsil, 21, remembers his childhood and adolescent years as being part of what he describes as an “identity crisis.” He grew up in a home where it was always about African culture – he was reminded of his roots and Ghanaian homeland constantly by his parents. But when he left home, he was exposed to African-American culture. He was torn between two separate identities. Krentsil said he struggled in being a minority within a minority – he wanted to be closer to the default. Because of that, he embraced African-American culture more. That is, until he was an upperclassman in high school, when he met another Ghanaian student. Krentsil could not recall a time where he felt more at home.

“It was the first moment where I was like, ‘Okay, this is fine,’” Krentsil said. “I don’t have to do all these things I was doing, like letting people say my name wrong, or being okay with stupid nicknames. People would call me ‘Parcheesi,’ stuff like that. It was that moment where he was like, ‘Say your name the way it’s meant to be said.’”

Now, Krentsil grins when he says his name, exposing all his teeth. He said it to himself for emphasis: “Pah-Kweh-Si.” To him, learning to embrace his culture was just part of growing up. He’s content with the improvements and changes he chose to make. The biggest challenge he’s facing now is discovering his voice as a songwriter. Krentsil, a senior, joined The UNC Cypher during his first year, first as an observer, but later as a participant.

Cypher’s impact

“I think [Cypher] helped me realize what I wanted to actually do musically,” Krentsil said. “I hated freestyling. Didn’t enjoy it because I’m a perfectionist. If I’m going to perform or be in front of people, I want it to be as good as possible.”

Joshua “Rowdy” Rowsey, founder of The UNC Cypher, emphasized the freestyle aspect of rap. Rowsey wanted to see every member of Cypher come up with verses off the top of their head. Krentsil realized that others would end up using similar rhyme schemes or even reuse lines verbatim. That simply wasn’t enough for him. He credited Cypher for helping him get over his performance anxiety – but stressed that it still exists. He said he did not get the chance to develop his voice as a writer there.

During his sophomore and junior years, Krentsil struggled with mental health issues. He remembers periods where he couldn’t leave his bed for days at a time. But he said that these issues existed even before college. He remembers being bullied and having to deal with his dad’s anger issues at the age of five. Krentsil compares the relationship he has with his dad to Earl Sweatshirt’s. He said that Sweatshirt’s second studio album, “I Don’t Like S–, I Don’t Go Outside,” is what allowed him to make it through his sophomore year of college. When asked for a single favorite song by Sweatshirt, Krentsil couldn’t answer. He gave a list of songs, stopping at “Veins,” a song off Sweatshirt’s most recent album. Krentsil repeated Sweatshirt’s words a few times before nodding his head in approval.

“Earl’s so young,” Krentsil said. “He was wilding very young, so he has to be 25 and to have been through all the things that he’s been through. You know, getting sent away [to a boarding school in Samoa], all the addiction stuff he talks about. And now, getting to a point where he has to reconcile with the death of his father. Going through things like that so young, it will age you. You can hear the age in his raps because it’s coming from a place of clarity after having been through all of that.”

Krentsil is fascinated with Sweatshirt, describing him as “lightyears ahead” of his peers. Krentsil desires that quality. He wants to show how he’s aged in his writing too. Krentsil said most of the pieces that he has written have “heavy” tones. However, he’s concerned that currently his voice as a writer sounds too similar to that of Sweatshirt’s.

“As I’ve gotten back to writing raps, I find that like, from me listening to [IDLSIDGO] over and over again and sending it out to friends, they keep saying, ‘Yo, you sound like Earl,’” Krentsil said. “And that’s cool, but I’m not Earl Sweatshirt. I don’t want to be Earl Sweatshirt. I want to be me. I think Mac Miller said this in an interview, but there’s more to life than being sad. It’s about finding ways to write happier things. Giving the entire human experience, or at least my human experience, through the things I say.”

Figuring out his own identity

Krentsil wants to become the same type of honest, personal songwriter as the people he most enjoys listening to. He wants to make people feel something with his words.

“PK calls himself a producer,” Mu’aath Fullenweider said. “People will sometimes take ‘beat maker’ and that equals producer to them. I think a producer is someone who brings a song into fruition. Like a doula. If a baby is being born, the doula is there to help a baby be born. That’s a producer. They make sure the baby is healthy from the inception. I put out a record in January, but I ran it by him several times before mixing it. I’d ask him about [art] direction, what he thought about the sequencing of songs.”

His experiences have allowed him to become the individual he is now – one that does not allow the nihilistic zeitgeist of the decade to get to him. That sentiment bleeds into his own writing, as he has now gotten the chance to write pieces he considers to be happier. He pointed to a spoken word piece he performed last year titled “ILY,” about the journey he had to take for him to begin loving himself.

“It’s cool to be happy,” Krentsil said. “I feel like we wear being jaded and nihilistic as a personality trait and it’s not always like that. It’s okay to smile. To express positive emotion. There’s so much beauty in life. … People should write about these things.”

Edited by Caroline Metzler

‘All or nothing’: A transcontinental love story

By Jamey Cross

Nash Consing and Brianna Gilbert try not to let the 2,506 miles separating where they live come between them. Despite the physical distance, the two college sophomores have grown closer with the help of hours-long FaceTime calls and nonstop texting. 

“I love yous” written on gum wrappers and Post-its adorn the walls of the two college students battling time and space in their long-distance relationship.

Consing, a photojournalism and communications student at UNC-Chapel Hill, never saw himself in a long-distance relationship. Gilbert, a biology student at California State University in Fullerton, didn’t either. But that was before they found a relationship that made the inconveniences of long-distance romance worth it.

In January, Consing boarded a California-bound plane to meet a girl he’d fallen in love with over the internet. 

Finding each other

In 2014, Consing started posting his poetry on Instagram. By 2015, the account had more than 11,700 followers. Gilbert frequented her Instagram’s ‘Discover’ page, looking for inspiration and motivation. She found both in Consing’s poetry. 

“He wrote poetry in a way that kind of spoke my thoughts in a way I could never articulate,” she said.

Gilbert followed his journey as a poet, messaging him randomly over the years. When he announced that he would stop updating the page in January of 2018, she reached out to thank him for sharing his work for so long.

As the two returned to college for the spring semester, they casually kept in touch and grew to be close friends. They’d tag each other in dog-related memes on Instagram, Gilbert said, solidifying their relationship as “friendly acquaintances.”  

In May, they had their first FaceTime call, which lasted for 20 awkward minutes. Their second, the two took turns sharing details of their lives for over five hours. 

Consing had friendships grow as a result of his poetry account before, but felt something more with Gilbert. 

“With her it was different,” he said. “I had this gut feeling.” 

For the rest of the summer, they talked constantly. Without distractions, they talked for hours and learned more about one another every day. While the distance was a barrier, Consing said it did help them build a strong foundation for their relationship through honesty and openness. They had no reason to be anyone but themselves, because they had nothing to prove. 

When Gilbert realized she was having serious feelings for a guy who only existed to her through her cell phone screen, she was terrified. She had developed a close connection to Consing over the phone, so she knew she wanted to give it a chance. 

With school starting back in the fall and all the distractions that come with a new semester, they knew it would be a difficult transition for their budding relationship. But, Consing said, there was no hesitation.

“It was a question of how are we going to make this work, not if we were going to make it work,” he said. 

Gilbert fondly remembers the days when Consing’s former roommate referred to her as “Nash’s robot girlfriend.”

Up until that point, around August, they’d been taking their relationship one day at a time. Not putting too much hope into the idea that it would work out. 

Still, they decided they wanted more of a commitment. They dropped the “robot,” but Gilbert said Consing didn’t feel like her boyfriend. That word was too weak for what he meant to her. 

“He’s my person, that’s what I tell people,” she said. “He’s everything.”

New year, new state

In August, Consing decided to bite the bullet and buy a plane ticket to California. They’d been talking about trying to meet one another, but no concrete plans had been made. 

Consing said he remembered her getting home and just breaking down. She’d had a rough day. Her mom had been in a bad mood and work had been tough, so she confided in Consing, and he surprised her with the news. 

She kept crying, but now they were hopeful tears instead of woeful ones. It was real. 

The countdown began: his flight was Jan. 1, 2019. He booked the flight nearly four months early, with no hesitation or doubts in his mind. 

“Every day was a celebration, because we were one day closer to meeting,” he said. 

Overall, the days went by quickly, until around mid-December when Consing got home for the winter break. With no distractions, the anticipation nearly drove him crazy. 

As Gilbert’s final exams wrapped up, Christmas traditions with her large family started, so the nervous excitement didn’t hit her until the day of the flight.

She remembers pacing around her apartment, envying the calmness of her friends there with her. He remembers lugging his suitcase and camera equipment through airport after airport with sweaty hands.

He called her when he landed. She was already waiting by the terminal four exit at Los Angeles International Airport. Every time she saw a person in yellow, her heart would drop to her stomach. The second he saw her, his chest felt tight and his vision was shuttered. 

She watched, unable to control her wide smile, as he made his way to her. He wrapped his arms around her, finally holding his love in his arms.

“It was surreal,” they said. 

They hadn’t given much thought to the rest of his week-long trip, as most of their thoughts and anxiety had been focused on the moment in the airport. The busy parts of their week together were spent traveling across California, hiking in Yosemite and spending time with Gilbert’s family. 

Toward the end of the week, they got to slow down. They brushed their teeth and ate breakfast together—coffee, toast and peanut butter. Consing got to experience the compassionate, driven and open person he’d gotten to know online. 

“Nothing’s perfect, but that trip was perfect,” Gilbert said

With the intense joy they felt finally getting to be together, there was also a sadness in knowing he would have to leave soon. However, the recognition that he would be gone soon made them enjoy the small moments together even more. Gilbert said she made a point to remain present and experience their togetherness while she could.

“I just didn’t want to leave her,” Consing said. “It was never going to be enough time.” 

In a crowded LAX, they were forced to say their goodbyes.

Making it work

Edie Campbell is a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Campbell primarily works with couples, helping them grow as individuals and ultimately strengthen their relationships with one another. 

Campbell said in any relationship, communication is key. While physical intimacy and togetherness is not the most important thing in a relationship, togetherness does allow connection that can be hard to replicate over the phone. 

“Relationships are difficult enough in the best of situations, so in a long distance relationship especially, you have to be 100 percent invested,” Campbell said.

According to a 2012 article in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Counseling Psychology, as many as 75 percent of American students report having a long distance relationship at some point during college. In addition, at any given time, 35 percent of college students are in a long distance relationship. 

“I never thought long distance was for me,” Gilbert said. “I guess I just had to find someone who made it worth it.”

Gilbert and Consing are making plans for her to visit North Carolina in May. Bojangles and barbeque are at the top of the agenda. 

Consing said he and Gilbert are investing in their relationship. They’re working hard every day to make it work. He knows communication is healthy for all relationships, but says it’s crucial for a long-distance relationship.

Until May, Consing will feel close to Gilbert while he has his breakfast—coffee, toast and peanut butter. Postcards and letters she’s sent him adorn the walls of his dorm room. The plane ticket hangs over his desk. A white United States Postal Service box with “Brianna” scribbled across one side sits on his shelf holding other notes and trinkets she’s sent him. 

“When you do long distance, I think it has to be all or nothing,” Consing said. And he is all in.


Edited by Spencer Carney.

‘We all went through the same thing’: Competition unites UNC a cappella

By Molly K. Smith

Disco lights illuminate the dimly lit room, pulsing to the beat of a Mariah Carey anthem blaring from the television. An empty bin sits on the sticky kitchen table where used plastic cups lie dispiritedly, having served their purpose. Impassioned cheers drown out a drunken symphony of “doos” and “das” from Tar Heel Voices as the Walk-Ons gather in the center of the room for the next impromptu performance.

It’s 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 2, and this is a college a cappella party.

There are 11 a cappella groups at UNC-Chapel Hill. Intergroup mingling, while generally celebrated, is a rarity. Saturday night’s shenanigans had at least five groups represented after the UNC Walk-Ons, the Loreleis and Tar Heel Voices competed in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, or ICCA, at The Carolina Theatre in Durham.

The Results

Just an hour before the camaraderie commenced, the three groups were crowded among over 90 singers from other schools under hot stage lights, awaiting the South Quarterfinal competition results.

First, producers announced the special awards. Outstanding Soloist went to the Ramifications. Hearts fluttered. Awards for vocal percussion and song arrangement were given to Wolfgang A Cappella. Sweat dripped. No Ceiling took the prize for Outstanding Choreography. Faces fell.

Each announcement elicited shouts and whistles from families in the audience. They felt thunderous compared to the feeble smiles and scattered applause on stage.

Junior Faith Jones and sophomore Tyler Haugle of Tar Heel Voices exchanged defeated glances before the top three groups were called.

“Well, I think I can tell where this is heading,” Haugle said, his shoulder glued to students from No Ceiling as they prepared for a win by grasping hands and squeezing their eyes shut in anticipation.

Ten groups competed. Three groups placed. Those same three groups – from the College of William and Mary, North Carolina State University and Virginia Commonwealth University – won every special award. Zero groups from UNC earned enough points to advance to semifinals.

Final remarks gave way to a chorus of heel clacks on the stage floor as students rushed to greet loved ones. “Tar!” one UNC student yelled, laughing, in an effort to to instigate the college chant usually reserved for sporting events. “Heels!” others screamed back, locking eyes with one another in spontaneous solidarity.

The Camaraderie

The collective loss was the birth of the biggest UNC a cappella gathering in years and the resurrection of a long-forgotten bond.

“First of all, we were so hype to be invited to the after-party,” said Olivia Dunn, senior and Loreleis president. “But we thought it might be awkward if, like, one group placed in the competition and the others didn’t. While I was shocked that no UNC groups got recognition, it was nice that we were unified in thinking, ‘Hey, screw this.’”

By the time results were out, Dunn was so proud of her group she had forgotten there were winners and losers. When she expected to feel the competitive fire, she felt waves of relief.

“I wasn’t disappointed for our group – it had been six years since we did this thing, and we went into it with no expectations,” she said. “But I was surprised to feel frustrated that our school as a whole didn’t perform well by the judges’ standards.”

The judges score each group’s performance based on 16 factors, including rhythmic accuracy, visual cohesiveness and professionalism. With no cash reward, ICCA South producer Lindsay Howerton-Hastings said judge feedback is the main incentive for groups to compete.

“Our judges are all professional musicians or teachers, and they’re able to help groups develop who they are,” Howerton-Hastings said. “Good execution and originality always fare well with the judges, but no matter what, these kids are always grateful to perform, grow and love each other.”

Philip Riddick, senior and music director for the Walk-Ons, said the score sheets were not helpful.

“Most of the comments were incredibly arbitrary and nitpicky, and they had no artistic merit,” Riddick said.

While the UNC groups didn’t share their individual scores with one another after the competition to avoid further rivalry, they all agreed that the judges’ comments failed to spark concrete plans for improvement.

“It just seems like a shortcut to me,” said Emma Wilson, the ICCA coordinator of Tar Heel Voices. “We put hundreds of hours of work into this. Three people put 20 minutes into a discussion and get to decide we don’t deserve to be recognized.”

The Preparation

Hundreds of hours of preparation precede the 2-hour show, filled by 12-minute sets of animated choreography, full-throated background harmonies and powerful soloists.

ICCA, produced by Varsity Vocals, rose to the spotlight with its feature in the 2012 film “Pitch Perfect,” which shows the quirks and triumphs of fictitious college group performances. The actual competition is almost identical to the movie portrayal – minus the on-stage vomiting.

Students submit audition videos to be placed in regional competitions for quarterfinals, and the top two groups then advance to semifinals. Those who win each semifinal head to New York for the final competition, where one group is crowned the ICCA champion. Groups often incorporate sharp movements and daring song choices to edge out competitors.

“When I started this job, we sometimes had to cancel shows because groups wouldn’t show up,” Howerton-Hastings said. “Now we’ve grown in ways I don’t think anyone could’ve envisioned, and we’ll continue to expand. We thrive on inclusivity, not exclusivity.”

But before the competition, UNC’s a cappella groups grew more isolated from one another as the students prepared. Sets had to be a secret. Rehearsals were private. Even speaking with someone from a competing group created tension.

“Because it’s UNC and we’re all type A people, things get a little competitive with a cappella – and unnecessarily so,” Riddick said. “We don’t actually compete with each other on campus, so it doesn’t have to be this weird. We could all benefit from exchanging ideas.”

Coed groups, like the Walk-Ons and Tar Heel Voices, tend to clash with one another more often than other groups. Their similarities become battles, and their talents become weapons.

“I honestly feel like I’ve never interacted with any Walk-Ons,” Wilson said. “But after walking off that stage and bonding over our letdown, I feel like I know them better. We all went through the same thing.”

Dunn, leading the school’s oldest all-female group, believes the lack of interaction is primarily a scheduling issue. Maybe if there were fewer groups or students had emptier schedules, it would all work out.

“But I feel more connected to the community than I did in my first or second year, so I hope that growth continues,” she said.

For Riddick, future get-togethers may spring from a newfound appreciation for one another. When a cappella groups see each other on campus, it’s often in unrehearsed performances in the Pit or recruitment efforts outside first-year dorms.

“We don’t really get to see other groups performing at their best,” he said. “ICCA showed me that we’re not only all incredibly gifted, but we’re driven as hell.”

Edited by Bailey Aldridge 





Mediterranean Deli owner reflects on adverse childhood and success in America

By Laura Brummett

“I can’t. I can’t open it I’m too scared,” Jamil Kadoura, 19, said. The embassy in Jerusalem had rejected him at least a dozen times before. This time, he had traveled to the consulate in Tel Aviv. This was his last chance.

His friend took the papers from him and ripped them open. He slowly turned back to Kadoura, shocked.

“You got it,” the friend said. “You got the visa.”

After waiting for eight hours in a chair outside the consulate’s office, Kadoura saw a beautiful eagle staring back at him from the colorful documents.

It was 5 p.m., and he returned to his home for the past 11 years, a refugee camp in Israel. Kadoura was on a flight leaving the country by 7:30 p.m. He was leaving behind his entire family, all of his friends and the close-knit community where he had grown up.

Yet, he was lucky. Most Palestinian boys his age had dreamt of this opportunity ever since the first time “Charlie’s Angels” aired on their TV. Kadoura was going to America.

When he was 8 years old, Kadoura and his older brothers were playing with marbles on his father’s citrus farm. He had grown up on his father’s 100 acres of land with his two mothers and multiple brothers and sisters.

His “first mom” married his dad and had four sons and four daughters. Once most of the children had grown up and moved out, his dad married Kadoura’s biological mom.

His father was 41 at the time, and his mother was not quite 16. She had four more sons and four more daughters.

Just as the marbles game began to intensify, his mothers came running toward the boys, yelling.

“We have to go, we have to go right now,” his mother said.

The Israeli-Arab Conflict had reached them. It was 1968, and Kadoura’s family farm was located in Qalqilya, an area that the Israelis called the West Bank of Jordan. The Israelis were coming to claim the area as their own.

Kadoura’s family joined the line of Palestinian people escaping through the mountains with their belongings. Kadoura’s job was to carry the radio. He was young, so he didn’t have much to carry.

After about a day of walking, they stopped to rest in a cave for the night. When entering the cave, Kadoura stepped over a sleeping man’s body.

When he awoke the next morning, the man had not moved.

“Is he still sleeping?” Kadoura asked his older brother.

“Yes. Just let him be,” his brother said.

The sleeping man was actually dead. Kadoura would vividly remember seeing the man’s limp body lying on the ground for the rest of his life.

After one more day of walking, they made it to a United Nations refugee camp. The Israeli occupation was fully underway and Kadoura’s life would never be the same.

“Look how nice these people are, and we caused this”

Kadoura lived in the refugee camp until getting a student visa at 19.

The opportunity to move to the United States was a dream come true for Kadoura, which most Americans don’t understand.

“You have the freedom. Forget the finances and the money because not everyone that comes here does well, but you have America,” Kadoura said. “The America I came to was the most beautiful country in the world.”

Even though he had big expectations for what life in the United States would look like, Kadoura was never disappointed. In fact, he was shocked that the society was even nicer than he thought.

Kadoura, now 58, lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his wife and three children. Together, they own three restaurant locations, a market and a catering business.

The flagship restaurant, Mediterranean Deli, has won countless awards, including being named Business of the Year in 2012 by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m 100 percent sure that it’s because of my background and what I went through,” Kadoura said of his success.

His oldest daughter, Ambara Kadoura, started working in the restaurant five years ago when she was 15 because she wanted to be around what he had built.

“I felt like I needed to be a part of that because of how much he’s been through,” she said. “How could I be selfish?”

A few years after the deli opened in 1991, Kadoura experienced a drastic spike in business. The month of September 2001 brought the most sales the deli had seen to the date.

The community was coming to support Kadoura after the terrorist attacks, now known as 9/11. He was struggling with not only hurting for America, but also feeling guilty.

Kadoura tried to eject himself from American society, feeling like he didn’t belong. He referred to the attack as being done by “us” despite his friends reminding him that he was nothing like the terrorists.

As more people in the community showed support for Kadoura, he felt even guiltier.

“Look how nice these people are, and we caused this,” he said.

Kadoura’s close friends, along with his wife, worked to make sure he knew he was not to blame just because of his ethnicity.

“A lot of people didn’t realize we also went through difficult times because we’re Middle Easterners,” Kadoura said. “We were agonized, we were broken, but it made us love America more.”

You can have nothing and come back from it without hate

Kadoura wanted his children to have a good understanding of both his Middle Eastern heritage and their mother’s American heritage.

“I tell them to be proud of both cultures,” he said. “They’re very Middle Eastern but they’re very American at the same time.”

Two summers ago, the family visited Jerusalem to see Kadoura’s homeland.

“I miss everything about it. I miss the togetherness. I miss that people are close, not for financial reasons. It’s a very simple society,” he said. “Here it’s like life is on the run, but I wouldn’t change it for the world, being here.”

Kadoura’s childhood farm was never the same after the occupation began, and is now mostly a Jewish settlement.

Despite watching his father lose the land he had worked so hard for, Kadoura holds no bitterness in his heart toward the Israelis.

“Jerusalem belongs to everyone. I hope one day they make it a United Nations city where everyone can visit,” he said.

As the conflict around Jerusalem escalated over the past year, Kadoura has worked to share his experience with the community.

Ambara admires her father’s ability not to show hatred to any Jewish or Israeli people, despite the occupation. Kadoura uses his struggles as a learning experience, instead of a source for pain.

“Sometimes I don’t think like that. I get mad and think it’s not fair,” she said. “It’s a really hard thing to do.”

Ambara uses her dad as a role model for her own life. He’s taught her that you can have nothing and come back from it without hate.

“He has an impact on anyone he knows or comes across in life,” she said. “Everyone I know says how lucky I am to have him as a dad.”

Edited by: Madeleine Fraley and Jack Gallop

After ‘facing ghosts,’ this Durham woman is teaching others to be shatterproof

By Natalia Bartkowiak

In a small, rented house in Durham, Shawna Barito has been hard at work for the last seven months, putting together a program she’s spent most of her life developing. It’s undeniable that Barito has been through a lot. She’s faced trauma, poverty, cancer and the health issues of her two children. But after all that, Barito finally knows what she wants to do in life: be a life coach.

Barito continuously claims that unlike all the other career aspirations in her life, this one finally feels right. That notion seems to be plastered all over her home office. On her desk there is a picture frame with photos of her son and daughter. The photos face at her at all times, as if to remind her why she’s on this path. A large whiteboard details pricing information and a rebranding plan. Inspirational handwritten messages are taped on a wall: “Be Visible, Give Value, Make Offers,” “Speak your truth. Speak your value. Show your passion. Live you.

‘I wanted to leave a legacy’

The Shatterproof program was originally built for Chancler, Barito’s son and eldest child, who is now 24. When he was 3 years old, Chancler was diagnosed with autism. His doctors weren’t sure if he was going to be low-functioning or high-functioning.

“I decided that I was going to have a hand in helping him be the best ‘him’ he could,” Barito said. “I started educating myself on figuring out how to help him navigate while being super different.”

Barito wanted Chancler to be able to own his choices. She wanted him to be in control of his life and own what direction he was going to go from there. And it worked; Chancler grew up to be a respectable young man with a job, a girlfriend and a great future. As she observed his evolution, she came to a realization.

“Women in my employment situation had some of the same struggles: they were different and they didn’t know how to stand up for themselves, and they didn’t know how to own their choices,” Barito said. “I realized that I could teach them the same skills that I was teaching my son.”

About a year ago, Barito began turning what she had taught her son into a life coaching program.

“After surviving cancer, I wasn’t going to go back to corporate America. I wanted to do more, I wanted to leave a legacy,” Barito said. “I decided I wanted to start my own coaching business to help show women how to have unbreakable self-confidence, which is what the Shatterproof program is all about.”

Becoming Shatterproof

The Shatterproof program consists of five disciplines, Barito explained: embracing one’s evolution, owning what is one’s to own, being in integrity with oneself, honoring one’s virtues and values, and practicing self-compassion.

“The more I talk to people, the more I realize that the program is super easy to learn,” Barito said. “The program is so easy to adapt and use, that my own husband – who doesn’t do counseling – was able to start picking it up and using it.”

“So that’s a long story short on this program,” Barito said and laughed, realizing that she had been talking for fifteen minutes.

In the other room, her daughter, Ciarra, who had been sitting on the couch, also laughed. Ciarra has heard the summary of her mother’s coaching program many times. Too many, she claims.

“She’s told me about the program so many times, I know the whole thing by heart,” Ciarra said. “She’s so excited about it. I’ve never seen her so invested in something before.”

Barito and her family aren’t the most well-off people. They rent a house and essentially live paycheck to paycheck.

“To be honest,” Barito said, “we could totally be okay if I went back to project management work.”

However, she knows that it wouldn’t be right. Going back to project management would send her tumbling back to square one. She’s decided to live her program every day, so she can keep improving it and show that it actually works.

“I’d rather have a quality life than have the same stress level and the same broken home as before,” Barito said, “Family, love – I don’t want to sound like ‘love, light and laugh’ and all that other stuff – it’s serious, it’s super important. It’s the quality of your life over the quantity of things that is more important – that’s what I’ve learned the most.”

‘I was facing ghosts’

Of course, Barito’s life wasn’t always like this. Before cancer, before she was forced to apply the program to herself, she was a completely different person.

“I was a very cold, very driven, very narrow-minded individual before I was diagnosed with cancer,” Barito said. “I didn’t focus on my family; I put everybody on the backburner. I blamed a lot of people outside of myself, I was never at fault. Ever. I wasn’t a nice person. At all.”

When asked what she had been facing at the time that made her feel like she had to be like that, Barito’s eyes became unfocused. Up until that point, her blue eyes were piercing, making her seem intimidating, confident. Now, she was only half there. Her voice became smaller. Her response was short, but she knew it by heart.

“Ghosts,” Barito said. “I was facing ghosts. I felt like I had to be this cold, hard, calculating person and I realized, when I almost lost everything, including my life… that was wrong. You don’t have to be a monster to have a great life, because it’s all about perspective. It’s all about what’s important to you.”

Everything changed when a six-letter word came crashing into Barito’s life. Her entire world came to a screeching halt as she heard it. Cancer.

“When I was first diagnosed, it rocked my world, and not in a good way,” Barito said.

With that remark, she laughed. Unlike her previous laughter, it was almost humorless. It wasn’t clear if this was the kind of laughter others should join in.

“I lost who I was,” Barito said. “Which is the best thing that ever happened to me, but I literally lost who I was. I had wrapped myself up so tightly in what my career was and what direction I was going to go that when I realized I could no longer do that, then who was I? That was the hardest part for me: getting out of the victim mindset of ‘why me, why did I have cancer.’”

Barito slowly realized that the question wasn’t “why.” It was “what.” What now? So Barito did exactly what she had been teaching her friends and family to do: Apply the program.

“That’s been the last two and a half years. It’s been about taking myself apart, dismantling my entire (life): how I think, how I show up in life, how I feel. And there’ve been a lot of moments of, ‘wow, I really was an asshole.’”

She laughed a little, and the tension in the room lifted. She paused for a moment and her eyes darkened a bit.

“If I didn’t have this program I don’t know where I would’ve been because I certainly wouldn’t be where I am right now.” Barito said.

Barito is writing a book, The Art of Being Shatterproof, which will detail her program and how it works. She plans to have the book completed and published by 2020.

“I’m really excited about this. I fought this for a long time, but I realized that this is what I’m being called to do,” Barito said.

It’s clear that an empire is being born in that Durham home office. Barito is ready for the world, and the world should get ready for her.

Edited by Rachel Jones