A performance troupe achieves a mission with a future of uncertainty

The Pauper Performance Troupe faces financial stress that will require more than the power of music to alleviate.

By Karen Stahl

The young woman’s eyes brimmed with tears as she watched the director, Parker Jenkins.

Jenkins stood with his performance troupe in the stairwell under the children’s hospital cafeteria. They quietly rehearsed “Morning Glow” from the musical, “Pippin.”

“While we sing tomorrow’s song,” they sang. “Never knew we could be so strong.”

The woman, who had just checked her child into the hospital, patiently waited for the group to finish.

After the final note, she silently wept.

“It just made my day hearing you guys sing in this space,” she said between tears. “It just really touched my soul.”

Jenkins gave the woman a hug, and a doctor ushered her away. They were achieving the mission of the Pauper Performance Troupe – to bring musical theater into unreached communities.

But as they moved from the stairwell, Jenkins didn’t know how much longer that mission could last.

He knew funding was running out.

The Pauper Performance Troupe was established at UNC-Chapel Hill in spring 2017 and has always encountered money issues. Without funding from the student government, they rely entirely on donations.

In fall 2018, the troupe raised $300 in donations, their entire budget for the rest of the school year.

Prior to that, the troupe found free karaoke tracks to sing to online. They did not go to nonprofit organizations that required costly background checks before performances. They relied on members paying out of pocket for rides to venues.

Producer, Emily Pirozzolo said the donation funds have given the troupe the ability to travel to more areas in the community, but it does not completely alleviate the financial stress.

They still need a new speaker.

 A Lack of Resources

The 11 troupe members at rehearsal sat red-faced and sweaty in a circle after running the same dance number four times in a row.

“Y’all look dead,” Jenkins said with a slight laugh. “Energy is your best friend. And there was not much of it in us.”

One of the troupe members let out a sigh.

“Can we just sing?” she asked.

“She’s tired,” someone defended.

Jenkins queued the karaoke track, and they got up to rehearse the number a fifth time.

“We can’t hear the music,” called out troupe member Liz Kunesh.

Frustrated, Jenkins mashed the volume button on his laptop, which was connected to a small, black speaker through a tangle of thick cords.

The troupe continued, unsure of where they were in the song. When they finished, they stood panting and more flushed than before.

“I don’t know if it’s been a long day, or it’s a Monday or whatever,” choreographer, Claire Willmschen said. “But the energy was not there.”

Kunesh knew it was not the troupe but the lack of resources.

According to the university’s annual financial report, the department of dramatic art received $12 million in 2018 to support the program. This was the most funding ever donated to the performing arts program.

This funding primarily went to support both the PlayMakers Repertory Company, a professional theater company on campus and the academic side of the department of dramatic art.

The Pauper Performance Troupe did not receive any of the funding.

Music director, Andrew Knudsen still uses a piano app on his phone to teach the troupe songs, rather than an actual keyboard. Jenkins still books rooms in the Carolina Union since they do not have money for a rehearsal studio.

“I wish we could get a super amazing, fancy speaker,” Jenkins said. “But that takes time. It takes money out of our funding.”

And time is something the Pauper Performance Troupe does not have.

High Hopes Conquer Cold Feet

“I’ve improved. I’ve gotten better,” said troupe member Kenan Poole in rehearsal, as he worked on the mashed potato, a dance move where he rapidly flips his feet out and back in.

“Kenan, you have it,” said Willmschen.

Poole was trying to focus on what weight was on which foot. He was trying to slow it down. He was trying to remember what came next.

They were preparing for the next day. Traveling to Jordan Lake School of the Arts to perform for students with special needs was daunting, especially with only one night of rehearsal.

Poole was nervous. They all were.

Especially with what happened last time they performed there.

Troupe member Kunesh walked up to Jenkins before they ran the number, tugging at the bottom of her shirt.

“I don’t know this yet,” she said.

“You got to learn it before you play it,” Jenkins said to her.

She ran off to a corner and ripped open her binder of sheet music, quietly running through her solo as a hectic flurry of dance moves as conversations unfolded in the center of the room.

They had high hopes it would not be like last time.

Struggling and Overcoming Together

Everyone was packed in one classroom like a sea of awestruck faces leaning off of their chairs.

The students in the audience came from diverse backgrounds – some had Down syndrome, were on the autism spectrum or were sensitive to loud sounds.
But they all loved musical theater.

At the last minute, one of the male tenors from the performance troupe did not show up. Jenkins, having not rehearsed the number, decided to take his place.

The first notes of “Fools Fall in Love” from “All Shook Up” floated through the room, and some of the audience members stood up to dance.

Just as the troupe members’ nerves were beginning to melt away, the karaoke track screeched to a halt.

It was the speaker.

They had to stop the performance.

The kids in the audiences audibly complained as Jenkins examined the speaker. Poole began to sing the number without music.

“Struggling together makes it a little bit easier,” he said.

Without a source for sound, the troupe had to come up with theater games to play with the kids instead. They still felt like they were bringing theater into an unreached community, but were disappointed that they could no longer perform.

Feeling defeated, the troupe headed back to their cars and left the school.

Jenkins cursed that broken speaker.

A Future of Hope and Uncertainty

“Okay, last time we run this one,” said Maria Cade, the assistant director.

“I know that’s a lie,” Kunesh said. “We’ll do it more than one more time.”

Jenkins settled back in his chair and watched the troupe rehearse the final number of the evening.

He was upset thinking about the small speaker. He was nervous about the next day’s performance.

But he felt inexplicable joy watching his troupe fight through the challenges of bringing musical theater to the community.

“It really speaks to the power of music,” he said.

The troupe finished the number. With weary smiles and sweat pouring down their temples, they collected their bags to go home.

Jenkins knows they are achieving their mission of bringing musical theater into unreached communities.

But the future of the troupe is still marked with uncertainty – with every performance, their funds diminish.

All he can do is hope their speaker holds out a little bit longer.

Edited by Diane Adame 

Artist reignites creativity after surviving gunshot wound from his stepfather

By Megan Cain

The phone hadn’t stopped ringing for three days.


George Mitchell was lying on the laminate floor of his kitchen in his childhood home. He slipped in and out of consciousness.


Next to him was his stepfather, the man who had shot him in the neck with a shotgun three days ago. After shooting Mitchell, he turned the gun on himself. He was dead.


Mitchell could move his arms and hands but couldn’t muster the strength to reach the phone high above him on the wall.

“All I need is one. Just one of them to come by,” Mitchell thought.

Painting his pathway to success

Comic books and superheroes.

As a six-year-old boy left to his own devices on his family farm, Mitchell became obsessed with his action figures. He picked up his crayons and began to draw the ones he admired.

Before long, he realized he had potential. Mitchell’s artistic ability drove him through his early years, especially when he struggled with subjects like math. He hated math.

Mitchell remembers watching his mother scrape by to provide for him. She was a house worker with a grade school education, working long hours, determined to provide a better life for her son.

Mitchell knew he had to succeed in order to build a better life for himself and his mother, a challenge he accepted with open arms. He spent many late nights next to the gas stove that heated his house, scribbling through his math homework.

Those long nights paid off when he got a B in geometry his sophomore year. He knew right then he could do the whole college thing.

Classmate Faye White remembers Mitchell as a quiet, kind soul. Their class formed a lasting camaraderie through art, even painting a mural commemorating John F. Kennedy’s inauguration together. White and Mitchell won the superlative for “most artistic.”

During high school, Mitchell began working at the Museum of Life and Science under the guidance of the museum’s director and curator at the time, Richard Westcott. Westcott took him under his wing for three years, teaching Mitchell how to craft life-size sculptures, including dinosaurs that still stand in the museum today.

Later, Mitchell would credit this experience for putting him ahead of his classmates as he worked for his undergraduate degree at North Carolina Central University and his master’s at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Mitchell was the first in his family to graduate from college.

His mother attended his master’s exhibition, where he was the only Black student and one of the first to graduate from UNC’s master’s program.

“I had this big afro,” Mitchell recalled with a chuckle. “But she was so proud, so happy to see me succeed.”

He was offered a position at University of California, Berkeley, but he didn’t have the money or the support system to move across the country.

“So I chickened out,” Mitchell said.

Instead, Mitchell moved to New Jersey with his cousin and worked in a factory for 10 years. He kept creating his art out of a basement studio until he was offered his first teaching position at Morris College in South Carolina. He was the only art faculty there.

 During the four years he spent there, Mitchell experimented with collages because they were easier, quicker and cheaper for him to do. He was invited to speak on South Carolina’s educational TV network and had one of his sculptures published in a textbook.

But he was ready for a new opportunity. He packed his bags for Georgia and accepted a position at Albany State where his antics quickly formed a reputation.

The art department had few resources, but Mitchell pushed his students to their limits. For one sculpting project, Mitchell had students gather materials from around town.

Garbage, scrap wood, metal. Whatever they could get their hands on.

Willette Battle gathered a hodgepodge of materials, doused each piece in paint, and tried to build a sculpture that stood as tall as she did at 5 feet, 9 inches.

Sawdust, sweat and maybe a few tears swirled around the room as the students worked tirelessly to please their teacher.

When Mitchell walked in he took one look at the mess, chuckled, turned around and left.

“Only A’s and F’s existed in Mitchell’s class,” Battle said. “He wanted your all. There wasn’t any in-between.”

He was relentless — but with good intentions. If students were struggling, he made sure to meet them where they were and bring them up to speed.

“You just have to get past that hard crust to get to the soft middle,” Battle said.

Under Mitchell’s guidance, Battle went on to attend Howard University on a full scholarship to get her master’s in fine arts. She was the first student from Albany State to go on to pursue a higher degree.

“I knew I could survive anything because I survived Mitchell,” Battle said. “He made me fearless.”

But teaching was never part of Mitchell’s plan. It was simply a vessel for him to continue creating and to help others do the same.

As he aged, Mitchell began to receive more recognition for his work. His goal was to get a permanent display in a national gallery. He kept working and experimenting in different mediums — creating sculptures, collages and paintings.

Fascinated by Black athletes at the 1996 Olympics, Mitchell began painting their physiques on large canvases with bright colors. He used bold, distinct lines to emphasize their strength. Each athlete has one characteristic in common — blue skin. Mitchell says this is meant to represent their struggles as athletes of color.

He was working on this collection when he made a fateful journey home to check on his ailing biological father.

He’d never finish the collection.

Rediscovering his devotion to art

She wanted him to cook a steak. He had no interest in cooking a steak.

His occupational therapist was at her wits end. She sat down to talk to Mitchell instead.

“What would you like to do, George?”

He began to talk about his days of painting.

“I feel like I have my hands tied behind my back without art,” Mitchell said.

She encouraged him to pick up a paint brush — a feat he hadn’t accomplished in 13 years.

From there, he kept building and taking his art more seriously. In his condition, Mitchell can’t sit up for long periods of time without passing out.

Word traveled along the grapevine in the art community that Mitchell needed help. Eventually he was connected to Holly Phelan Johnson in Durham at ArtPost, a group that helps people with disabilities find ways to make art.

“I put coming to see him off for a month,” Phelan Johnson said. “I just knew he was going to be this grouchy old man given all he had been through.”

Mitchell was quite the opposite.

Phelan Johnson remembers talking to him for hours about life, art and his goals.

“And he wasn’t bitter at all. Just a warm soul that was dying to create again,” Phelan Johnson said.

She was astounded by the amount of art Mitchell had stowed in his house.

Piled in corners. Crammed in a decaying shed. Haphazardly strewn across his living room. His life’s work was shoved into each crevice of the house.

To help him continue creating, Phelan Johnson connected him to engineering students at Duke who crafted a special easel for him to use while lying down.

“I felt free again,” Mitchell said.

But he still required assistance. Anybody that knows him would say that’s hard for Mitchell.

He’s prided himself on his independence and work ethic his entire life, but now he requires the help of others to do the thing that brought him new life.

“They say Picasso had a blue period,” Mitchell said. “My whole life has been a blue period.”

You wouldn’t know it though.

Surrounding himself with art, friends and family keeps him going. When his show “Continuing the Dream II” opened at Duke on March 7, dozens of Mitchell’s friends dropped by to congratulate him but ended up staying for hours.

They gathered around his wheelchair, sharing laughs and words of encouragement.

White came from Durham, bringing other classmates along with her.

Battle made the drive up from Alabama, joking with Mitchell about gas money.

He’s still working on the Olympic series he started in the ‘90s, partnering with Phelan Johnson on a fundraiser to restore what he’s already made.

Sometimes he catches himself thinking about the incident with his stepfather in 2003.

He thought his stepfather’s mental health was declining, and he warned police because he was worried for his safety. They informed Mitchell they couldn’t do anything until his stepfather took action.

He doesn’t dwell on it, though. He can’t.

“I’m disappointed in what he did,” Mitchell said. “But I’m still here. And I’m going to keep doing what I love.”

Edited by Charlotte Spence.

Family honors son’s memory, supports patients with Me Fine Foundation

By Cee Cee Huffman

JOHNSTON COUNTY, N.C. – Two-year-old Folden Lee IV sat in a hospital room surrounded by toy tractors, bulldozers and dump trucks. He was from rural Johnston County and loved anything you might find outside, so his family brought it all into his sterile room.

His dad, Folden Lee III, was a dentist. His mom, Lori Lee, was a stay-at-home mom. When his older sisters, Anna Gaites and Wilson, were going to first and second grade, he was undergoing chemotherapy to treat his acute myeloid leukemia.

“How do you feel?” Lori asked.

“Me fine, mommy, me fine!” Folden said.

He was 17 months old when doctors found that his bone marrow was producing large amounts of abnormal blood cells and sending cancer through his blood, but Folden was always fine.

Folden Lee IV dressed in a Superman shirt in his hospital bed. Me Fine began calling monthly donors superheroes in honor of Folden’s love for Superman.

Finding support through new relationships

The Lee family was in and out of UNC Hospitals for nearly a year before they were living in the close quarters of the Duke Children’s inpatient care unit, where neighbors became family.

If they needed support, they reached out to each other. If they had extra, they shared with each other. They talked about what they’d lost while trying to save their children.

“Oh my God, y’all lost your house?” Lori asked.

“I mean yeah, we lost our house a long time ago,” a mother said.

Five-year-old Spencer had been at Duke Children’s for a year. He could finally go back to his family in California, but his old house was filled with lead paint. His weak immune system wouldn’t stand a chance. He would stay isolated in a hotel nearby.

“Who fixes that?” Lori asked.

“There’s really not organizations that do things like that,” a doctor said.

The beginnings of Me Fine

The Me Fine Foundation was created the day Folden died.

Me Fine provides financial and emotional assistance to families with children at Duke, UNC and WakeMed Children’s Hospitals who experienced a life-changing event, whether it be a terminal illness or a life-threatening accident.

Lori kept an online journal to update friends and family since Folden’s diagnosis in May 2003.

If she mentioned that the kids liked books, friends and family would send books. If she mentioned that the parents needed phone cards, they’d send phone cards.

“I don’t have any money, but I’ve got a strong back,” one man said. Lori could not tell you who the man was, but he wanted to help.

Then they started sending money. When Folden passed on Sept. 1, 2004, they sent $20,000.

“We’d go visit the hospital, and it was still families that we knew, and we knew what they needed,” Lori said. “Sometimes $1,000 would just clear everything up for a while. They could breathe.”

Lori’s friends jumped in to help. They found a small office in downtown Clayton down an alley and underneath an old printing shop. In the front, it looked like any other office with gray carpeting and wooden desks. In the back, it looked like Santa’s workshop with toy donations piled to the ceiling.

Lisa Brown had two children of her own and was a waitress at night, but she was free during the day. She worked directly with the families and social workers at the hospitals.

“We weren’t willing to say no if there was any possible way we could do it,” Lisa said.

Lori and Lisa wanted to help everybody, but their friend Anita Turlington stepped in to budget the money. She was also a stay-at-home mom, but if Me Fine only had $10, Anita would make sure it didn’t spend $15.

“I look back and I think, ‘It was so crazy,’” Lisa said. “None of us knew anything. The only thing we knew was that we wanted to help those people Lori had seen there.”

Lisa Brown (back, left), Anita Turlington (back, right), Tracee Norris (front, left) and Lori Lee (front, right) at dinner in 2018. They met in 1999 when their daughters took their first dance class together.

They took care of the patients that slipped through the cracks of other organizations, like the terminally ill 13-year-old boy Lisa remembers. He’d been accepted by Make-A-Wish, but, with so many children, Make-A-Wish can take a long time — time that he didn’t have.

“Can y’all please do something?” a social worker asked.

“Yes,” Lisa said.

With Me Fine, she had no fear of asking, so she called and asked anyone she could think of that day. They sent the boy and his family on a trip to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania.

He died a month later.

When the social worker called Lisa and told her that three of the children she’d been helping had died, Lisa was beside herself. She was sobbing at her desk. She wasn’t sure she could do it anymore.

“What you have to concentrate on is not that they died but what you did to make their families more comfortable while they were here,” Lori told Lisa.

They helped around 30 families during the first year. They renovated a family’s entire house. They paid mortgages for others. They went with grieving parents to funeral homes and helped them pick out caskets and clothes for their children to be buried in.

Growth through local partnership

Today, Me Fine has helped thousands and makes more money at its annual gala than it made in its first year.

And now there’s the Second Hope Shop, a thrift store in Princeton, North Carolina,  with hot pink letters on the front, where Mary Angel Bastin reorganizes the entire store to match the season. Reorganizing the store used to be her mom’s job, but when her cataracts worsened in 2007, Mary Angel took over.

Second Hope works to off-set Me Fine’s costs of operating, but it also supports the surrounding community.

Mary Angel remembers when she was a kid and her brother was sick. She and her sisters couldn’t afford the name-brand clothes like the other girls at school. Mary Angel now sells sells name-brand clothes at Second Hope to make sure other girls can afford them.

“It’s not like people are afraid or ashamed to say ‘I absolutely shop at Second Hope,’ or at Me Fine,” Mary Angel said. “Everyone knows us as Me Fine.”

The Second Hope Shop works to provide name-brand clothes for affordable prices. Second Hope, run by Mary Angel Bastin, also aids in paying off Me Fine’s operating costs.

But Me Fine still pays mortgages, light bills and gas costs for people like Valerie King.

“There’s so much they’ve done,” Valerie said. “I wish I could think of everything.”

When she was 16, Valerie’s cancer was so advanced that doctors didn’t think she’d recover. Thinking it may be Valerie’s last, Me Fine gave her and her little brother Christmas that year.

After chemo and surgery, Valerie’s scans were clear.

“I had to come meet you for myself because you are a miracle,” a radiologist said.

After seven years cancer free, Valerie relapsed, but Me Fine is still there if she needs it.

“One hundred people in a room and it only takes one to believe in you, to push you far,” Valerie said. “Me Fine has been amazing. They go above and beyond and have helped me more than any other foundation has.”

All because of 2-year-old Folden Lee IV who, no matter what he faced, was always fine. Because of him, other sick kids and their families will feel that way.

To donate, visit the Me Fine Foundation’s website.


Edited by: Sara Hall

Being Rameses: A student’s experience as the UNC mascot

By Molly Horak

Gripping the black trash bag with his life, Alex started the trek down to his dormitory’s laundry room.

He peered around the corner, making sure no one was watching, then darted inside. Walking up to an open washing machine, he scrutinized the interior, making sure nothing looked awry.

No color residue. No visible signs of damage. Hopefully, it would get the job done.

Carefully, he opened the bag, making sure no one saw the tangle of fur, yellow horns and stitched-on black eyebrows, placed along a furrowed brow, producing an angry stare. Setting the machine on delicate, he sat down to wait.

No one could know he was washing the Rameses suit. No one could find out about his secret identity as a school mascot.

Alex isn’t his real name. He asked to remain anonymous to honor the contract he signed to become a mascot at UNC-Chapel Hill, one that requires confidentiality about his position until his graduation. When Alex receives his degree in biology next spring, he’ll tell everyone the truth.

But for now, he lives a double life. His friends know him as a fun-loving flag football player working part time in a sea turtle lab. Fans across the country knows him as Rameses, the ferocious school mascot.

“Every time I’m in the suit, I get to do what I love and have had so many experiences I never imagined,” he said. “You get to see things, quite literally, from a different perspective.”

‘It’s fun in the purest form’

Alex was halfway through dinner at Chase Dining Hall when he felt his phone buzz. His tryout results were in.

“I remember seeing the subject line of the email and being so excited and so nervous and full of all these emotions, but I had to sit there and pretend like nothing was happening. I couldn’t tell my friends anything.”

Alex had first seen Rameses only months before. Like any sports-loving first-year, he remembers standing with a group of friends at the front of the student section at a football game watching Rameses play his air guitar solo. As an athlete his entire life, he wanted some way to get more involved in UNC sports. He said Rameses looked like so much fun.

Nothing came of his desire until the following spring semester. One day during his outdoor sports fitness class, he overheard some classmates talking about mascot tryouts. The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to be the ram.

The tryouts were rigorous. Each year, only two students are selected to join the mascot team, one Rameses and one Rameses Junior, better known as RJ.

Passion is often what sets the successful mascots apart, said Emily, a senior who plays RJ. (Emily is not her real name either. She signed the same contract preventing her from revealing her identity.)

“Our team is always cracking jokes, and they’re all super passionate about what they’re doing,” she said. “It’s cool to see all those passions come together for one thing, being the best mascots we can.”

At first, Alex said it didn’t feel natural to wear the suit. The shoes were clunky and felt too big, and it was hard to see out of the mesh-covered eyes. As he was walking to his in-suit audition, Alex tripped and fell down a flight of stairs.

But game after game, life in the suit became second nature. The nerves subsided. Alex grew comfortable mingling with crowds. Drawing back on his high school acting days, he embodied the persona of a “big, buff macho ram with all this swagger.”

“You’re dancing, you’re jumping, you’re getting the crowd pumped up. And no one knows it’s you, so you can be your ultimate self without being embarrassed,” Alex said. “I can be goofy, I can joke around, I can do anything. It’s fun in the purest form.”

‘It’s a huge commitment’

It’s game day. And Alex, Emily and the rest of the mascot crew have been mingling with fans for hours before kickoff.

People tend to disregard the unpaid time commitment, Alex said. Everything takes longer. For every two hours that a student attends an event, Rameses is there for four.

Even getting dressed is a surprisingly long process, involving lots of sweatbands, clipping things in place and making sure everything is tucked in correctly. Once inside the suit, Alex describes it as hot and smelly.

“My clothes are always drenched with sweat after a game even if I’ve barely moved,” he said. “When we’re up and dancing, it’s even worse, but you get used to it.”

The mascots attend every home football and basketball game, all Carolina Fever events, most big matches against major rivals and ACC and NCAA tournament games said Brown Walters, director of UNC spirit programs. Rameses and RJ also regularly attend fundraisers, campus events and weddings, totaling anywhere from 30 to 40 events a month, Alex said.

“Rameses is easily the most recognizable figure of UNC sports and symbolizes the athletics department as a whole,” said Cole Barnhill, who works in the UNC athletic communications office.

In the world of Rameses, everything revolves around seniority. The oldest members of the “Ram Fam,” as they call themselves, are the ones that get to travel to tournaments, film commercials and perform at the Duke basketball games.

It’s an incredible feeling to stand in the end zone as a football game goes into overtime, Emily said. But visits to places like a hurricane relief shelter or the UNC Children’s Hospital makes her realize the mascot’s larger meaning.

“Rameses is an incredible ambassador, not just to the fans but to the community,” Walters said. “The mascots give so much of their time to charity. It’s a huge commitment, and so much goes unseen.”

‘It’s a one-of-a-kind experience’

“Alex, I think Rameses sort of walks like you,” one of his friends commented.

“He walks like me? What does that even mean?”

“You have a similar walk.”

“No, you’re crazy. Must be some other guy.”

It’s been nearly two years since Alex first donned the Rameses suit. And yet, only his family, his roommates and his closest friends know the truth about how he spends his time.

The closer he gets to graduating, the more people have started putting the pieces together, he said. Questions usually arise when friends want to go to games together and he has to make excuses for why they can’t go together. He’s cited everything from taking photos to shadowing an athletic trainer to purchasing courtside tickets, he said with a laugh.

“I think the best way to describe the reaction when people find out is dumbfounded. Like, there is no way they can believe that I’m telling the truth,” Alex said. “When I told my roommate, who is one of my best friends, he was baffled. He was like, ‘How did you hide this for so long? You really do this?’”

His roommate, Evan, was more shocked that Alex managed to keep his secret hidden for three months living in a tiny room than he was to learn that Alex was a mascot. His personality suits the job, Evan said.

The lies and secrecy are a small price to pay for the endless happiness the mascot has brought to fans, Alex said. It’s the little things — like seeing the joy in a child’s eyes after getting a high-five or watching the students screaming as loud as they can in a close game — that make the mascot experience special, he said.

It has become his identity — even if no one knows it.

Alex said, “It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world.”

Edited by Joseph Held.

Fan’s passion project becomes key to Carolina basketball

By Chapel Fowler

In the spring of 2016, North Carolina made its first Final Four in seven years — and Chris Gallo ran into a problem.

He’d long been interested in not just sports, but how they worked. As a teenager, Gallo would dig through college football stats for fun during bowl season. Baseball sabermetrics intrigued him, and he was a longtime user of Sports-Reference.com.

So, naturally, he wanted to do the same with UNC basketball. How did this team — led by seniors Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson and rising stars Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson — compare to the 2005 championship team? Or the 2009 team? Or, for that matter, any other year?

“I really enjoyed that season, and I wanted to reference it,” said Gallo, a 2009 UNC graduate. “And I found it just really difficult to locate any old box score. It wasn’t that the information wasn’t available. It just wasn’t as easy as I thought it should be.”

Almost three years later, Dadgum Box Scores — the website Gallo created to compile just that — has flourished into something he never could have imagined.

It’s a two-part system. On dadgumboxscores.com, he lists each and every box score — 580, as of Wednesday — since Roy Williams became North Carolina’s head coach. The games are easily filterable: by year, by opponent, by location. There’s a separate page to track referees for each game.

And on Twitter, @dadgumboxscores provides something no other account does: immediate replays. Choose any big moment from UNC basketball this year, and Gallo has probably tweeted a GIF of it, within minutes of the play actually happening.

He also writes blog posts, produces infographics and edits longer videos. Gallo, now 32, has rapidly turned Dadgum Box Scores into an essential account for UNC basketball fans and media. Not bad for something that began as “purely a passion project.”

“To be honest,” he said, “I didn’t have a ton of expectations.”

Big things have small beginnings

Dadgum Box Scores took around a month to build from scratch. Gallo, who lives in Charlotte, chipped away at the site during nights and weekends. His day job — customer operations for Zipline, a company that helps retail brands communicate — still tookpriority.

From the start, he wanted his project to have a narrow focus. That meant immediately accepting that he wasn’t going to create a massive “encyclopedia of Carolina basketball.” Starting with the 2003-04 season worked for a few reasons. Finding box scores from earlier seasons was a challenge. Plus, lining up the project with Williams’ first year coaching UNC just made sense.

“A clean break and good starting point,” Gallo said.

Then, he had to choose a name, so he kept it simple. Williams has long been known for swapping curse words for euphemisms: “Jiminy Christmas,” “frickin’,” “blankety-blank.” Gallo took the most prominent one — and his personal favorite, as a longtime North Carolina resident — and popped it into the title.

His one hesitation? Spelling. With no universal style for dadgum, Gallo flirted with the possibility of using two G’s in the title. When he purchased his domain name, he even bought dadggumboxscores.com, just to be safe.

But one G has worked out just fine. Gallo debuted Dadgum Box Scores right before the 2016-17 season started. As North Carolina went 33-7 and won its sixth NCAA championship, Gallo was there to log every game.

On the side, he wrote occasional blog posts, breaking down advanced stats in a digestible way. He also collaborated with Adrian Atkinson, the creator of The Secondary Break, another UNC analytics site, in an effort to get more eyes on his project.

And then, on Nov. 10, 2017, Gallo struck gold.

Getting a jump on the competition

His wife Katrina was out of town that weekend, leaving Gallo home alone and bored. UNC was opening its season that night against Northern Iowa, so he had a full setup: the game streaming on his TV, the game streaming on his laptop and the Tar Heel Sports Network radio broadcast, his preferred way of listening, playing in the background.

“Since the radio is sometimes a touch faster, I could understand what was going to happen before,” Gallo said. “Which, for most people, is a frustrating thing. But for me, it worked out.”

He had a realization — that brief TV delay was his friend. If radio announcers Jones Angell and Eric Montross could alert him of a play a few seconds early, Gallo could be ready to screen-record it, convert it and post it within minutes.

On Nov. 11, he tweeted his first in-game GIFs. It’s taken off from there.

For the past two seasons, Gallo has been documenting the layups of Berry and the passes of Theo Pinson, the post jumpers of Luke Maye and the 3-pointers of Cameron Johnson. He’ll highlight smaller things, too: a good defensive possession by Kenny Williams, the first career points of reserve Walker Miller. It’s gotten to the point where followers, familiar with his work, will ask: “Did you grab this?”

“A lot of people think that analytics is just about numbers,” Gallo said. “A lot of it’s about video. I really think that’s the future of it. You’ve got to see what’s going on.”

Noticing the Dadgum difference

Dadgum Box Scores has also become a go-to resource for UNC media. Take Tuesday night as an example. When Nassir Little threw down an inbounds alley-oop from Coby White, giving UNC a 75-52 lead over Boston College, the game’s online play-by-play reflected just that.

But Gallo’s GIF revealed what happened right afterward on the broadcast: a slow zoom onto the face of Jim Christian, the Eagles’ head coach, who stood motionless, hands on his hips, deadpanning as his team’s deficit reached 23 points.

“When you can actually see it yourself, you’re able to process the play and get it to your readers in a much clearer way,” said Chris Hilburn-Trenkle, the sports editor of the Daily Tar Heel. “It’s easy visuals.”

“It’s one thing to say that Carolina scored a season-high 62 points in the paint,” Atkinson said. “But pairing that insight with a clip of several plays in which Carolina created paint chances can help provide the context behind the statistic.”

“If you’re trying to remember one specific play, there’s like a nine in 10 chance he has it up there,” said Sam Doughton, the editor-in-chief of Argyle Report.

When he talks about Dadgum Box Scores, Gallo likes to credit others. Atkinson, for helping him grow an audience. The UNC athletic communications department, for giving him his first behind-the-scenes look at sports (he interned there during and after his undergraduate career in Chapel Hill). And the men’s basketball team itself, for getting “pretty damn good,” to the point where people wanted to follow it fanatically.

“I’m not going to be the smartest one online,” Gallo said, “but I do want to try to contribute and be useful.”

With Dadgum Box Scores, he’s done just that.

Edited by Johnny Sobczak

Survivor makes convicted offenders of drunken driving hear her story

By Jamey Cross

She saw it coming. The pair of bright, white headlights had drifted across the center line and were coming at her head-on.

With no time to think, she cut her steering wheel to the right, pressed both of her feet into the brake, closed her eyes and braced herself.

Jodie Anderson had been in car accidents before. But the impact the then-51-year-old felt when the drunken driver’s pickup truck slammed into her car at 50 mph was more intense than anything she’d ever felt before.

Shock filled her body. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears. Moments later, as her husband dialed 911 from the passenger seat, the pain hit.

“It was beyond comprehension,” she said.

Dec. 5, 2007 is a night that would haunt Anderson for over a decade. She would spend a year undergoing seven surgeries and recovering from her injuries, but the pain would never fully go away. Now, the single, 63-year-old woman is sharing her experience with others, supporting victims and advocating for drunken driving awareness.

Anderson is originally from Chicago and has the accent to match. In August 2007, she and her husband moved to Charlotte, North Carolina with two of their three sons while their oldest stayed in Chicago with his wife and their new baby.

Her sons started their freshman and junior years at the local high school that August, and Anderson started a new job on Monday, Dec. 3, 2007. The Wednesday that followed changed her life forever.

The battery in her husband’s car died that morning. When Anderson returned home from work around 9:15 p.m., she and her husband decided to go to Target for jumper cables before it closed at 10 p.m.

The store was only 5 miles from their house, but they never made it. A drunken, 23-year-old girl unconscious behind the wheel of her pickup truck would stop them only a mile from their driveway.

The hardest year

The air bag broke Anderson’s neck. The seat belt crushed three of her ribs and lacerated her liver. Her right femur shattered and ripped through her thigh. Her left femur and tibia were broken in several places.

Her 5-foot-3-inch stature and the fact that she braced herself for impact with both feet on the brake contributed to the extent of her injuries, Anderson said. Her husband was able to walk away from the accident with a few chipped teeth and a sprained ankle.  The other driver was unharmed, aside from her sentence of two years on probation and a $500 fine.

The ambulance and emergency medical technicians were half a mile away, but Anderson said it felt like they were there instantly. They were faced with the nearly impossible task of getting Anderson and her shattered limbs out of the driver’s seat without causing more damage.

Anderson said she must have lost consciousness because she has no memory of being removed from the car, placed on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. She remembers feeling a pressure across her leg, as if it was strapped down or trapped. It was the tourniquet.

Her memory of that night resumes during the 30-minute ambulance ride to Carolinas Medical Center Main Hospital in Charlotte.

“That was the longest drive of my life,” she said.

 The next year was the hardest of Anderson’s life. A self-proclaimed “girly-girl,” she gets upset when she has so much as a hangnail, and the only physical trauma her body had experienced was childbirth.

 She spent the next six weeks in the hospital. After her first surgery, she was admitted to the intensive care unit. There, the pain became unbearable.

“I was dreaming that I was either being murdered or I was in hell,” she said.

Anderson spent most of her time in the hospital crying. After all, she hadn’t so much as broken a bone before.

Her accident was in December, so it wasn’t long until carollers and visitors began crowding in the halls outside her room. She remembers an elderly woman who played Christmas carols on a flute for patients.

“I so badly wanted her to shut up and go away,” Anderson said. “I was in no mood for noise, and hospitals are the noisiest places ever.”

When she wasn’t crying or on the phone with her friends and family in Illinois, the pain medicine kept Anderson asleep.

The hardest thing for her to find during her six weeks in the hospital was hope, Anderson said. She couldn’t shake the fear that she would die in a few weeks.

“You hear these stories about people getting into an accident and dying a month later,” she said. “So I thought, ‘If that’s going to be me, just let me die now.’ I kept thinking, ‘I don’t want to do this.’”

The aftermath

When she was finally sent home, after seven surgeries, she was still non-weight bearing for four months. Then, she had to learn how to walk again.

First, she began to walk with a walker. The first time she stood after the accident, the physical therapist asked Anderson’s husband to stand behind her for support.

He said no. That, Anderson said, was the first indication she got that their marriage wouldn’t survive her recovery. But the morphine took away her pain and her ability to care about what was happening around her.

When Anderson transitioned from the walker to a cane, the physical therapist requested her husband’s help again. He refused.

“He looked at me and said, ‘You can figure it out yourself,’” she said.

So, she did. A year later, Anderson could walk without assistance again, and she divorced her husband of 30 years a few months later.

During her recovery, her sons remained focused on school, sports and their friends, her middle son, Austin Anderson, said. They were used to their father being the primary caregiver, so not much about their lives changed. He said it was a weird time for himself and his younger brother.

“I could tell she wasn’t all there,” he said. “The drugs turned her into kind of a shell of the person she was before. But I don’t think I could comprehend what was really going on.”

Not all of her injuries were physical. Anderson’s oldest son was living in Illinois and had just welcomed his first son into the world. Before the accident, Anderson was able to meet her first grandchild, but missed many of his milestones during the first year of his life.

“I didn’t get to see him crawl or learn how to walk,” she said. “A grandmother wants to be there for those things.”

Moving on

The job she started only two days before her accident couldn’t hold her position while she recovered for a year. After she recovered, she divorced her husband, sold their home and found an accounting job.

Anderson remained on morphine for four months and on fentanyl for another eight. With or without the medicine, Anderson said she still experienced pain in her legs over the years.

Five years after her accident, she began seeing a physical therapist who performs myofascial release, a type of massage therapy that works to improve posture and ease muscle pain. Anderson began seeing the therapist once a week, and still sees her once a month.

Nearly 12 years later, Anderson is still living in Charlotte and is virtually free of pain.

Becoming an activist

Anderson developed a deep friendship with the physical therapist who treated her during her time in the hospital over a decade ago. When that friend, Sherry Simpson, suggested she get into victim advocacy, Anderson took her advice.

Soon after, Anderson met Rosaana Hudson, a victim services specialist with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and became a victim advocate with the organization.

Anderson participates in a monthly victim impact panel put on by MADD and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. In front of convicted offenders of drunken driving, Anderson shares her story and how someone else’s choice to drive impaired has affected her life.

She is also able to talk with other survivors of drunken driving accidents when they need support coping with their injuries.

“I didn’t have anybody when I was recovering,” Anderson said. “I was so broken, I had so much healing to do and I honestly didn’t think it was worth it. I don’t want anyone else to feel so alone during their recovery.”

Simpson said she thinks Anderson’s willingness to share her story and her passion for advocacy is admirable.

“When negative things happen in our lives, you can sit around and sulk and be bitter, but Jodie isn’t doing that,” Simpson said. “She’s taking this horrible event and turning it into something good. I think it’s really admirable.”

Anderson sometimes feels a tightness in her chest when she’s driving. She’s filled with dread when she drives past the scene of a car accident. She still feels some pain in her legs.

But there’s one lingering effect of the accident that she said outweighs the others: No matter what she might need, she cannot force herself to go to Target at night.


Edited by Natasha Townsend

‘Mental health is health:’ For student-athletes, pain goes beyond the physical

By Madeline Coleman

The beat echoed throughout Carmichael Arena, bringing fans of all ages to their feet.

A little girl in the center of the third row clapped her hands to the music. She spun in her red polka-dot dress, dancing along with the routine happening several yards away.

Young girls sashayed in between rows of seats while little boys ran around with pompoms. A few were dressed as princesses, others as superheroes. College students and athletes danced along with the music, cheering for their friends as the gymnasts competed on the floor.

The North Carolina gymnastics team stared at the audience during their floor routines, smiles etched across their faces at the fans’ reactions to their performances. It’s their favorite thing to see.

While on the surface the gymnasts were poised and smiling, there was a little thought lingering in the back of their minds during the Feb. 9 meet against Towson. The win paled in comparison to the night’s theme. It was the team’s first-ever mental health awareness meet.

The sport is defined by beauty and perfection, typically put under a microscope to see if it’s a sport or an art. It’s both, but that doesn’t help the mental health problem that runs rampant throughout gymnastics and the athletic community as a whole.

Starting the conversation

UNC gymnastics head coach Derek Galvin walked into a boardroom last summer for the East Atlantic Gymnastics League coaches meeting, eager for that day’s topic: mental health.

Towson gymnast Olivia Lubarsky started the university’s mental health campaign last year, labeling it “Own Your Roar.” It began with her personal struggle with anxiety and depression, and how she wanted athletes to own their mental illnesses rather than hide from them.

Galvin had heard about Towson’s mental health awareness meet and was interested in learning more. It’s a theme he had wanted to do for several years.

“I knew we wanted to do something around that area, but I didn’t know how to start,” Galvin said.

Galvin brought the materials home with him that the Towson coach had passed out during the meeting and met with Dr. Jeni Shannon, UNC’s director of mental health and performance psychology, and Cricket Lane, assistant athletic director for student-health development; he wanted to discuss the next steps for this meet. Between the rise of mental health issues in young adults and the trauma within the gymnastics community after the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, Galvin wanted to be one of the first people to start the conversation.

“For anyone between the ages of 16-25, life can be really rough sometimes,” said Galvin. “We can destigmatize the use of resources to cope and handle the struggles we all face at times … the pressures on young people can take a toll.”

Daniel Eisenberg, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, conducted surveys with student-athletes who participated in educational presentations from all 31 athletic teams at the university. As he stated in a USA Today article, Eisenberg found that most collegiate athletes who struggle with mental health illnesses don’t seek help.

According to his findings, 33 percent of all college students experience significant symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions. Within this group, only 30 percent seek help; however, only 10 percent of collegiate athletes do.

“We’ll talk about physical health all day long,” Shannon said. “In the athlete world, no one is ashamed to say they tore their ACL, but people don’t necessarily say they have depression.”

‘We’re people too’

The lights dimmed in Carmichael Arena as the video board came to life.

All eyes looked up as different UNC athletes came across the screen, laughing and smiling at what the person behind the camera said. Then, their faces turned serious.

“We perform on the field,” women’s lacrosse player Riley Harrison said.

“We excel in the classroom,” gymnast Jamie DeCicco said in the next frame.

A few more athletes were shown in the next few frames, commenting on how they help in their community and “bleed Carolina blue.” While this is something most fans know, the remainder of the video showcased different athletes talking about worries an athlete may deal with.

“We wonder if it will all work out,” men’s tennis player William Blumberg said.

“We struggle to be our best selves,” women’s tennis player Jessie Aney said.

The two-minute “Mental Health: More than a Tar Heel” video was created by the student-athlete representatives on the UNC Student-Athlete Advisory Council. Although several administrators, including Shannon, have talked about making this video for several years, the students took the initiative and volunteered for the video. Harrison wrote the script with the help of other athletes, while Shannon provided advice when needed.

The student-athletes want to encourage their peers to start a conversation about mental health in an attempt to end the stigma. Although they compete on a national stage, their thoughts and feelings are just as valid as others.

There’s more to an athlete than their sport.

“You are more than a Tar Heel,” men’s basketball player Brandon Robinson said near the end of the video.

The lights came back on and a few audience members wiped away a stray tear. Out on the concourse, Counseling and Psychological Services and Embody Carolina, a student group that’s dedicated to preparing students to have conversations about eating disorders, had set up tables with pamphlets and fliers for the attendees of the gymnastics meet.

In agreement with the UNC’s athletic department, the team debuted the “Mental Health: More than a Tar Heel” campaign video before and after its meet as a way to take a stand.

“It means that we’re more than the number on our back or the school on our back,” junior gymnast Mikayla Robinson said. “We’re people too, and I feel like people forget that a lot, because they’ll tear into you on social media and stuff when you’re not doing as well.”

The most important reminder in the video, according to several of the gymnasts, was that mental health is just as important as physical health – and should be treated as such, especially with athletes. Sometimes, the focus on mental health will get brushed aside.

“It’s important because when you look at athletes, you don’t necessarily think mental health is a big thing for them, but in reality, it is a big thing,” sophomore gymnast Lily Dean said. “I think competing for that and bringing awareness was important.”

Destigmatizing in an immediate culture

First, there were handwritten letters.

Then, the telephone and instant messaging on the family computer.

Now, cellphones and laptops hardly ever leave people’s reach.

It’s the age of immediacy, which has only fed into the mental health problem with the rise of social media.

“We’re seeing more and more evidence that social media, despite in theory (that) it’s supposed to be connecting us more, truly makes people feel more alone,” Shannon said. “It’s very brief, kind of less meaningful interactions, but I think the bigger part is everybody’s putting their best versions of themselves out there and everyone gets caught up in the comparisons, and it seems like everybody has a perfect life based on their social media posts.”

Pew Research Center conducted a study in 2015 that analyzed the connection between social media and young adult mental health. The most glaring statistic found in the study was that those who view social media platforms at least 58 times per week were three times more likely to feel socially isolated compared to those who use social media nine times per week or fewer.

In the age of immediacy with apps that are supposed to make people feel more connected, there’s a chance that they might cause more harm than good. Between the rise of social media and competing on a national stage, media scrutiny adds to the problem as well for student-athletes.

As more research is being done about this generation’s mental health, the NCAA and Power 5 conferences have pushed to make student-athletes’ mental health a priority. The NCAA in 2016 released “Mental Health Best Practices,” which offers guidelines for understanding and supporting student-athlete mental wellness. In January, the Power 5 conferences passed legislation to strengthen the mental health services and resources provided at universities.

For UNC gymnastics, the Feb. 9 mental health awareness meet was the team’s way of taking another step forward in destigmatizing the conversation.

“We’re really hoping to have mental health be treated exactly like physical health because mental health is health,” Shannon said. “And hoping by starting the conversation, it destigmatizes it in that way, and people are most likely to get the support they need, whether that’s professional help or support from friends or family.”

Edited by Brennan Doherty

Igniting a change for generations: How the Chapel Hill Nine started a civil rights movement

By Valerie Lundeen

“You all are not allowed to sit here and eat,” Big John bellowed.

The nine high school boys had ordered their food already. But unlike their usual visits to Colonial Drugstore, they hadn’t come for milkshakes.

They came to demand dignity, setting in motion a civil rights movement that has yet to end in Chapel Hill.

The teenagers sat in a booth at 450 W. Franklin St. It was February 28, 1960.

Because they were black, it was illegal for them to request food service like white customers did.

But the boys refused to budge.

The white owner of Colonial Drugstore, “Big John” Carswell, considered himself a friend to the boys. He sold medicine on credit to their families.

But that day, he called the police. Later he pressed charges for trespassing.

When the policeman arrived, he took their names: William Cureton, John Farrington, Harold Foster, Earl Geer, David Mason Jr., Clarence Merritt Jr., James “Jim” Merritt, Douglas “Clyde” Perry and Albert Williams.

They were Lincoln High School students, then 16 to 18-years-old, and were the youngest in the nation to organize a sit-in.

After the Chapel Hill Nine’s act of civil disobedience, the town would never be the same.

The return to where it began


Mason, Perry and Jim Merritt didn’t return to the site of Colonial Drugstore—now occupied by West End Wine Bar—for 59 years. Of the four living members of the Nine, only Williams had revisited the site.


On Thursday, February 28, 2019, all four men reconvened outside the spot where Carswell had refused them service. They gathered for a ceremony in their honor.


In November 2017, following a conversation with Danita Mason-Hogans, Mason’s daughter, Mayor Pam Hemminger created the Historic Civil Rights Commemorations Task Force. The team delved into the history of civil rights in Chapel Hill, picking the Nine’s story as the first to explore in depth.


The task force recommended that a permanent marker be constructed in honor of the Nine, whom many credit with catalyzing the town’s civil rights movement.


“It was us, the students from Lincoln High School, who started the civil rights movement in Chapel Hill,” said Williams. “We were igniters.”


The marker, dedicated Thursday, is scheduled for installation outside West End Wine Bar on February 28, 2020, the sit-in’s 60th anniversary.


Town Manager Maurice Jones began the dedication ceremony. His remarks set the evening’s message: legacy.


“I realize that I stand on your shoulders,” Jones said to the four men standing beside him. “And for that, I am eternally grateful.”


Following the outdoor ceremony, community members marched around the corner to North Roberson Street, belting “We Shall Overcome” on their way to another three hours of speeches, music and cake at First Baptist Church of Chapel Hill.


Throughout the evening, speaker after speaker thanked the Nine for sparking a tradition of civil disobedience in Chapel Hill.


A small movement marked history


In the days following the sit-in, Foster—the Nine’s leader—and other African-Americans met at the Roberson Street Community Center and formed the Chapel Hill Council on Racial Equality.


For eight months, activists protested at Colonial Drugstore, which lost 50 percent of its business as a result, according to the Marian Cheek Jackson Center—a community center in the historically black neighborhood of Northside.


The Nine’s actions “threw the entire town into shock and confusion” for years, said task force subcommittee chair Reginald Hildebrand during a speech Thursday.


Throughout the early ‘60s, protests against segregation abounded. The acts of civil disobedience—sit-ins, lay-ins, pickets, fasts, marches—were joint efforts of the young and the old, the black and the white.


Coordination between Northside activists and university allies, such as the Student Peace Union, gave the civil rights movement of the ‘60s traction, said Molly Luby, a town employee and task force member.


On January 13, 1964, the Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen rejected, for the second time, a public accommodations order to desegregate town businesses. “Protesters shut down Chapel Hill after that,” Luby said.


They sat outside the courtroom, blocking its doors. They clogged the intersection of Franklin and Columbia Streets on basketball game day.


In April 1964, two black students from Lincoln High School and two white students from UNC-Chapel Hill protested segregation with an eight-day Holy Week fast.


The Ku Klux Klan responded with a 700-person rally near Hillsborough.


In 1966, the town’s schools desegregated, 12 years after Brown v. Board of Education. Lincoln High School closed its doors.


Williams was hired as the town’s first African-American firefighter September 1, 1968. On May 6, 1969, Howard Lee was elected mayor of Chapel Hill, the first African-American to hold the office in any majority-white city in the South.


And that was only the ‘60s.



It’s more than a legacy of nine

Fifty-nine years of activists stand on the shoulders of the Chapel Hill Nine, but those teenagers stood on some shoulders, too.


Just 27 days before the Nine’s sit-in, four African-American college students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University sat at the lunch counter of Woolworth’s. The Greensboro Four inspired the Nine, who spent weeks planning their sit-in, said Mason.


The spark might’ve come from Greensboro, but the firewood came from Chapel Hill. The igniters of the civil rights movement in Chapel Hill stood on the shoulders of their families, communities and  churches.


“There are many more of the nine people who need to be honored,” said Andrea Wuerth, director of education and communication at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center.


For generations, the Nine’s families had worked for UNC-CH and other white-owned institutions in town. Williams said his mother and grandmother cooked for the university and for sorority and fraternity houses.


What the Nine did, said Wuerth, was bring light to the long-standing grievances of the local African-American community. Injustice wasn’t new. But the teenagers took action when many of their elders wouldn’t or couldn’t, for fear of losing their jobs, or worse.


Williams and Mason credit their activism to their community that raised them to value kindness, justice and respect. The men want their legacy to be a new generation of leaders, activists and kind humans standing up for their beliefs.


“It is my hope, it is my prayer, that the younger generations will be inspired by the actions that we’ve taken,” said Mason.


Akanke Mason-Hogans, 17, of Durham, embodies the legacy of the Nine—metaphorically, as a young activist and literally, as Mason’s granddaughter. Mason-Hogans spoke to Thursday’s crowd on the importance of intergenerational dialogue in social organizing. Learn from those who came before, she urged.


“It’s not a new thing to be young and active,” Mason-Hogans said. She’s involved with Rise to Run, a national, grassroots movement that mobilizes young women to be politically active.


Williams imagined a young person—perhaps a future daughter of Mason-Hogans—walking the streets of Chapel Hill in 30 years. She passes the marker commemorating the Chapel Hill Nine. What does she learn?


Williams says, “That we have to put up the effort to respect each other, understand each other, no matter our religion or the color of our skin.”


Edited by Victoria Young

For the love of dogs: Fundraising for a Sustainable Dog Rescue

By Natalia Bartkowiak

The setup of the space was rather informal, to the point that it was difficult to understand what to do once someone entered. At the front of Durham’s ReCity Network’s communal area was a large table filled with business cards, informational booklets about Yadid’it Dog Training and Sustainable Dog Rescue, and raffle items. 

The event included vendors selling their artwork, a table filled with food, and beverages for sale in the back. People sat and conversed at circular tables set up throughout the space, their plates full of food.

Another table had bricks of varying sizes laid out, which could be decorated for a monetary contribution. The bricks will be used in building the Sustainable Dog Rescue, part of the purpose for the fundraising event.

Kids ran around the venue, laughing and interacting with Yadid’it’s foster dogs. The students of Partners for Youth Opportunity, an organization that helps young people get involved in their communities, helped watch six of Yadid’it’s foster dogs, whom they had met for the first time earlier that night. Simply put, a lot was happening.

“This was the first event that we’ve done of this caliber in terms of the size, the space, the number of dogs,” Shana Yadid, lead trainer and founder of both Yadid’it Dog Training and Yadid’it Sustainable Dog Rescue, said. “But this event was designed in a way where we could have more dogs here, so that the experience was fuller. There was more happening around you, there was more bonding, and you could feel it in the space because there was so much of it going on.”

These dogs know fashion

The,“Dogs Make a Difference: Fashion Show” event took place on February 22 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. as a collaboration between Partners for Youth Opportunity (PYO) and Yadid’it Dog Training. It was hosted to not only showcase the dogs Yadid had available for adoption, but to also encourage people to donate to help fund the construction of the facility that will house Yadid’it’s Sustainable Dog Rescue nonprofit. 

The event’s main draw, however, was the informal dog “fashion show,” where the dogs wore glitter-encrusted party hats, while the PYO students wore necklaces made by one of the event’s featured vendors, Molly Made It, owned by Molly Chmura, a junior at Durham School of the Arts and Yadid’it Dog Training intern.

“This is my first event, but I came up with the idea [of Molly Made It] because I’m an art student and I really love art and I wanted to do something to help,” Chmura said, when asked about her art. “So, the art that helps me calm down helps these dogs get new homes. So I learned that what I do to calm myself down can benefit others.”

 During the show, PYO students led Yadid’it’s “founding fosters,” primarily pit bull mixes, around the venue as Chmura described each dog’s life story and personality. All of the dogs were taken from kill shelters to Yadid’s rescue. Everyone laughed when Elroy, a small pit bull mix, tried to eat his hat, and applauded when Wendy, a brown pocket pit bull mix with a torn cranial cruciate ligament (canine ACL) began walking on her front paws, as if she was trying to prove that she was able to do so; most of the time Wendy dragged her back paws, attracting a lot of love and attention. Another dog was Buck, who loved to give people kisses and whose almond-shaped eyes gave him an eternally soulful, caring gaze. Through the dogs’ adorable antics, the event slowly became relaxed and familial.

“I’m very proud of my dogs and how well they handled [the event],” Yadid said after the showcase, grinning. “It was their first time being handled by unfamiliar people at an event like this.”  

All six adoptable foster dogs were exceptionally well-trained and remained calm and friendly for the duration of the event, even in the presence of rowdy children and other dogs. At no extra cost to the adopter, Yadid offered to train the dogs once they are adopted to ensure that the dogs are less likely to be returned.

“Training is the way to mitigate a high return rate,” Yadid passionately explained. “The reason it’s such a consequential issue is because when a dog gets returned to a shelter, they have significantly higher chances of being euthanized.”

Despite some chaos at the start of the event, it was ultimately a success. As the night came to a close and dogs and people alike grew tired, Yadid spoke one last time to the event’s attendees.

“Tonight was all about understanding how dogs can make a difference and giving that theme a more tangible feel,” Yadid said, pointing in the direction of the dogs. “That leash? It’s a connection and it brings us together… Dogs teach people what unconditional love really looks like, and how they can embody that as well.”

At the end of the event, Yadid’it received three adoption applications. Several of the PYO students also voiced a desire to adopt one of the dogs at the event.

The dream needs help

“Bang! Bang!”

At the event, a small group of onlookers laughed as Yadid demonstrated how she had taught Ember, her own dog, to play dead. The large black dog rolled over onto her side, eyes completely focused on Yadid, who had two fingers pointed in the air and a huge smile on her lips. When people asked her questions about her passion, her dogs, and her dreams, she answered sincerely and confidently, completely sure of her answers. This is what she wants to devote her life to, after all. Now, all she needs is her community’s help to make her dream of a Sustainable Dog Rescue come to life.

“That’s what tonight was really about,” Yadid said at the event, “spreading the word that we are so close to seeing our vision in its own space and we just need that extra push from our community.”

Yadid has to raise $300,000 so that she can receive a loan for the $2 million she needs to build the shelter space and training facility of her dreams.

The building will be three stories high, and include training areas, a living space to allow 24 hour care, and will not only continue to provide dog training to adopters, but will also help Yadid provide programs for people who are victims of sexual trauma, including fully sponsored adoptions. The facility will be entirely self-sustaining, in that it will provide its own funding and will have a sustainable farm component to supplement the dogs’ diets and reduce the rescue’s carbon footprint.

“The cause [of the rescue] is a combination of wanting to help people and dogs and doing what we can to heal the environment,” Yadid said.

Yadid is perpetually faced with challenges, monetary and otherwise. When asked about what gets her through those challenges, Yadid answered without any hesitation, a loving tone in her voice.

“When I’m down, I look at my dogs. Honestly. I look at their little faces and they keep me going. They keep me moving forward because it’s not about me,” Yadid said. “They can’t do anything to change their struggle, only I can. That is why I do what I do, because I don’t want them to feel the struggles, I just want them to live happy, wonderful lives.”

Although there is no specific deadline for the funding, Yadid needs the funds as soon as possible. 

“The sooner, the better. That is the deadline,” Yadid said. “We’ve been expanding the offer on the property, and the seller is being patient with us, but the sooner we can raise the funds, the better off we are.”

The best ways to support this cause are by purchasing items from Chmura and services from Yadid’it Dog Training, who donate 80 and 10 percent of their profits respectively to funding the rescue. It is also possible to simply donate money directly to Yadid’it’s Sustainable Dog Rescue campaign on the crowdfunding website iFundWomen.

“We’re excited and we’re terrified,” Yadid said, “but I have been saying recently that if you’re both excited and terrified, you’re probably doing something right.”

Edited by Spencer Carney

From Abbey to AJ: a student’s journey through self-identity

By Laura Brummett

Imaginary grid lines split her leg into six sections. Her target, the middle section of the outside of her thigh, about an inch away from a small freckle.

AJ Briggs loaded the syringe, and took a deep breath. She held the needle poised over her leg for the first time, trying not to shake.

“Three, two, one,” Briggs counted aloud, and then stabbed.

She hit her target.

Pain came first, as expected, but excitement overshadowed all other feelings in her body. The pain would last for several days, but the overwhelming relief was the only thing that mattered. For Briggs, this was surreal.

It  then occurred to her that the next time she would have to stab herself would be during spring break. Briggs was going on a camping trip with her school’s rock climbing team.

Her friends on the team still called her Abbey, her birth name.

When she started at UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall, Briggs finally had the courage to go by her preferred name, AJ.

However, a high school friend joined the climbing team with her, and continued to use Abbey. Briggs couldn’t bring herself to correct them.

To her longtime friends and the climbing team, she was still Abbey. To her family, she was still Abbey Anne. But to herself, and any new acquaintances, she was AJ.

Finding her identity

For the first two years of high school, Briggs struggled to convince herself that she was truly straight and actually enjoyed wearing dresses.

She thought she had a crush on a boy named Alex Pryzbylo, and even asked him to her school dance their first year.

They posed awkwardly together for pictures before the dance, their arms barely touching.  Briggs stood with her hands by her sides and her shoulders slightly hunched, her long hair slightly curled at the ends.

Contrasting her black lace dress, she wore a bulky white watch on her wrist. It was her only piece of jewelry.

By Briggs’s senior year of high school, she was comfortable enough in her own style to wear a tuxedo to prom.

This time, her girlfriend, Lauren Levin, was her date. Their arms were wrapped around each other in every photo.

Despite preferring masculine clothing since fifth grade, it took Briggs most of high school to let go of the stereotypes expected by her family and society.

“She felt pressured to be the same image everyone had seen her as,” Levin said. “She was mostly pleasing other people and not wanting to stand out.”

Expressing her true self

Briggs now keeps her hair closely shaved on the sides, while letting the curls on the top of her head loose. She regularly wears flannels, men’s jeans and checkered Vans.

Underneath her loose T-shirts, Briggs’s ribs are squeezed tight, making her lungs feel cramped. Slightly moving her arm reminds her of the blisters hiding underneath her armpits.

The sight of her own chest disgusts her, so she keeps it tightly compressed in chest binding tank tops or elastic tape.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s supposed to be on my body,” Briggs said. “Sometimes it gets so bad that I want to rip my skin off.”

She squirrels all her money away in a large, keypad-protected safe in her dorm room. One day, she’ll have enough money to get transmasculine top surgery, and finally have a chest that she can be proud of.

Even after her careful steps to conceal her chest, she still knows it’s there. Constantly aware of its existence, and her inability to change her feminine features.

In public, the conscious thought that her chest might be noticeable haunts Briggs. She continuously pulls at her shirt, wanting to appear masculine.

While on a beach trip last summer with her friend Marian Gallis, Briggs walked into the women’s bathroom wearing gray basketball shorts and a tank top.

A woman in the bathroom immediately stopped and looked Briggs up and down.

“Are you looking for the men’s room?” the woman said.

The question shocked Briggs, and she awkwardly told the woman no.

“I was alarmed at how quickly people are to assume things about people,” Gallis said. “I’m 100 percent sure Abbey knew where she needed to be.”

Now every time she opens a bathroom door, Briggs questions if her presence is making others uncomfortable.

She avoids drinking water during classes so that she doesn’t have to face awkward looks from other people.

Appearance is everything

For Briggs, there is a fine, but distinct, line between appearing masculine and being a man.

On the first day of her psychology class in January, a student assumed Briggs preferred male pronouns. She addressed Briggs as a boy in front of the everyone, and now the entire class assumes she’s a boy too.

She doesn’t mind being classified as male by strangers, and even takes pride in it sometimes. But in her heart, Briggs knows she is not, and will never be a man.

Appearing masculine is what’s important to her, not specifying certain pronouns.

“That’s what makes me feel good,” Briggs said. “It’s how I feel comfortable.”

However, to Briggs, feeling comfortable is not worth the risk of losing friends. She avoids correcting people who still call her Abbey, afraid of jeopardizing relationships.

“I’m terrified to tell other people especially, people I’ve known for a while, that I’m not exactly what they thought I was,” Briggs said.

The image of who Briggs used to be is a safety blanket she keeps tucked away in the back of her mind.

Confronting her family

Around her family and old friends, she knows that as long as she continues to be Abbey, they will support her. The girl with long hair, slightly curled at the ends, standing in a black lace dress beside a boy, will always be accepted.

As she met more people in college who have only known her as AJ, Briggs slowly became more comfortable in herself.

She went home one weekend in February to take a break from dining hall food, and to visit her family.

She sat in her room that Saturday night, staring at a blank sheet of paper. She had known that she wanted to start taking testosterone for months, but she couldn’t bring herself to tell her mom.

She had settled on writing her a letter explaining how she couldn’t stand living in her own, non-masculine body, but now, the fear was getting too real.

She didn’t want to see the look of disappointment in her mother’s eyes.

When she finally finished the letter, she handed it to her mom and sprinted away back to the safety of her room. This way, she didn’t have to look at her face while she read it.

Though not thrilled, her mom agreed to let Briggs take a step toward being happier in her own body.

A week and a half later, Briggs was in a doctor’s office giving herself the first shot of testosterone. Broader shoulders, a more chiseled jaw line and a deeper voice would soon confirm her masculine identity.

The dream that had seemed so far off to her for so long had become a reality.

Edited by Nick Thompson