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

Remembering UNC’s African-American history with the Black & Blue Tour

By Jessica Snouwaert

The wooden door of the UNC-Chapel Hill Visitors Center flings open. Two college-age women scurry in and beeline their way through the people milling about the marble foyer.

“Professor Porter, we’re coming on your tour today,” one of the young women, Jasmine Pourtaheri, says as they approach a jovial-looking man standing near the front desk.

“I’m glad you could make it,” Porter says. “We’ll start the tour soon, so let me get everyone outside.” Jasmine nods and blends into the crowd.

“Welcome everyone to the Black & Blue Tour Part II,” Porter says. “We’re going to get started, so let’s head outside.”

He marches across the foyer, leading the crowd out into the gray February afternoon.

The crowd follows.

They all stop at the edge of McCorkle Place when he points to a white, marble obelisk a dozen yards away. He explains some of the history about the obelisk, noting that it marks the grave of UNC’s first president, Joseph Caldwell.

“I won’t go into too much detail about that now,” he says, “But keep it in mind for later on in the tour.”

He marches onward, attendees in tow, and calls back, “In spite of my Southern accent I walk like a New Yorker.”

Jasmine glances at the other young woman with her and giggles. She knows this is not going to be an average tour.

Viewing UNC’s history from a different angle

The Black & Blue Tour focuses on African-American history at UNC.

Robert Porter, a lecturer in African, African American and Diaspora Studies (AAAD), started leading the tour after its founder, AAAD professor Tim McMillan, resigned in 2015.

Black & Blue is one of the most popular tours given by the UNC Visitors Center as a part of the Priceless Gem tour series. The series of walking tours aim to give attendees an in-depth look at UNC’s history with the insight of an expert guide.

“It’s an interesting way to view UNC’s history from kind of a different angle,” Lindsey Waldenberg, manager of the UNC Visitors Center said. “It’s always interesting to take a look at the past through different lenses, so I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of it.”

But much of the tour’s vibrancy is thanks to Porter’s satire of what he calls “the typical American tour.”

“I’ve learned more about how to do this tour by looking at what all the tours I’ve been on do wrong,” Porter said. “Have I really learned anything about how to do a tour right from the ones I’ve been on? Huh, not so much.”

Porter has attended hundreds of tours, many of which he says treat African-American history as a sidebar, and deemphasize that fact that African-American history is American history.

Porter’s tour seeks to set the record straight. He wants attendees to walk away with a profound appreciation for African-American History.

As a child, Porter was enthralled by this history. When most children idolized Batman, Superman and Spiderman, Porter saw Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Abraham Lincoln.

Porter found inspiration in the stories of his heroes – the heroes who worked to make their lives better in the face of adversity.

“They had difficult lives and they went through a lot of hellish things to be sure, but they made their time on earth count,” Porter said. “They made a difference.”

Now he tries to make a difference by sharing the stories of the history of UNC’s campus, Chapel Hill and North Carolina. Stories just like the ones he learned as a child.

“Uncovered history that has not been told”

Leading the pack, Porter makes his way to the School of Government. The attendees trail behind down the uneven sidewalk.

Seteena Turner, a master’s student at UNC and staff member, walks amid a clump of her colleagues from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. The cohort decided to attend the Black & Blue Tour together as an office outing.

They chatter about the stops made on the tour so far: a controversial sculpture hidden behind Manning Hall, the dedication of the student stores to a racist publisher, the Lenoir food workers strike and student protests for a Black cultural center.

“There’s a lot of uncovered history that has not been told,” Turner said. “I’m grateful there’s a place and space for it to be told.”

It is a history speckled with strife.

As the tour makes its way into the inner reaches of the basement in the School of Government the chatter falls to a hush when Porter stops in the middle of a sideline hallway.

“Time to catch up and fill this massive hole in your education,” says Porter, gesturing to the mural that extends the rest of the wall’s length.

Everyone gazes at the mural.

It is a scene of influential African Americans from North Carolina sitting at a diner counter. Harriet Jacobs. David Richmond. Ella Baker.

Some hold cups of coffee. Others read newspapers.

All are giants in American history, Porter says. He then muses to the group that everyone must have learned about them in school, right?

But in truth many of their stories have been left out of the public school curriculum.

Remembered icons

The cemetery is wedged into a square tenth of a mile plot.

Yellow, white and pink flowers rest on proud slabs of granite. Other craggy headstones sink into the ground with indecipherable names. Some have no name at all.

Porter stops at various graves noting the lives of those who lie beneath. Members of the tour listen attentively, a few scrawl furiously into notebooks.

But when the tour reaches the western end of the cemetery their pens stop.

Among the pines a few fieldstones lie in the grass.

Porter explains that this end of the cemetery was the African-American section. Many of the fieldstones used to mark graves were moved or destroyed as tailgaters would park their cars in the grass, leaving many graves unmarked.

“This is devastating,” says Turner, looking across the field void of gravestones.

But out among the remnants of burial markers standing alone is an obelisk and a plaque.

The sandstone obelisk is stained by time with moss and lichen growing around its edges. It once marked the grave of Joseph Caldwell, the first president of the university.

Now it marks the grave of Wilson Caldwell.

Wilson Caldwell was born a slave to University President David Swain. Once emancipated, he became a justice of the peace, town commissioner and head of the campus workforce.

His father, November Caldwell, was a slave to Joseph Caldwell. His son’s grave is now marked with his enslaver’s former obelisk.

The plaque, which stands several feet from the crowd, honors those buried there with unmarked graves.

A poem by George Moses Horton is engraved on its face. Porter begins to read:

“Thus we, like birds, retreat

To groves, and hide from ev’ry eye;

Our slumb’ring dust will rise and meet

Its morning in the sky.”

From enslavement to remembered icons, Porter sets the record straight for yet another tour group.

Edited by Caroline Metzler

Top of the Hill’s journey to conquering Chapel Hill’s coveted corner

By Molly Smith

Scott Maitland sat in a dark office with the door closed at 7 p.m. on a Monday night in 2012, his eyes red with exhaustion as he scanned over finances for the ninth time that hour. The names of his 150 employees raced through his mind. He knew their retirement plans, their health issues and their kids’ names.

The nearby bustling intersection seemed eerily quiet when a realization hit him. He called his wife.

“It’s not just about me anymore,” he told her. “I better run this business good, because it’s a whole ecosystem.”

“We’ll bounce back soon enough,” she said.

Later, Maitland would reflect with regret. The recession in 2008 made things expensive and difficult, and they haven’t gotten any easier since then.

“I appreciate everyone thinking we’re doing so well,” he said, “but unfortunately, we don’t make as much as people think. In retrospect, we shouldn’t have done any of it.”

Maitland has every key to Chapel Hill success: hard work, money, a loyal staff. He takes on the roles of father, homeowner, landlord, lecturer, restaurant owner, distiller, board member and veteran.

But he thinks of Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery as a North Carolina business, not a Chapel Hill one. It’s exemplified in the menu, the atmosphere and the customers. Chapel Hill recovered rather quickly from the economic setback. North Carolina did not, nor did Top of the Hill.

West coast to West Point: the origin of values

Growing up in Whittier, California, Maitland felt suffocated. The air was smoggy, the sun was sweltering and the streets were unsafe.

“I was ready to get the hell out of there,” he said, “and I knew when I left, I was never coming back.”

There, his longing for community was born. He remembers walking through Los Angeles crowds seeking any spark of connection, but feeling no attachment to the city. “One day,” he thought, “I’ll be a part of something more intimate.”

In 1984, Maitland hopped on a plane to West Point, New York to attend a military academy. Four years later, he would become a combat engineer in the Army.

It was there that Maitland learned the fundamentals of entrepreneurship: one — attention to detail; two — perseverance; three — servant leadership and putting your team before yourself.

He sees combat boots and camouflage mirrored in the aprons and button-ups of his restaurant staff. Top of the Hill’s doors mark the borders of the battlefield. But the main lesson that propelled Maitland forward after his time with the military wasn’t the philosophies of success he carries with him now.

“I left the Army with a firm conviction that I would never let someone stupider than me be in charge of me,” he said.

Top of the Hill defies expectations, begins to boom

Two years after returning from Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia, Maitland opened Top of the Hill with an incomplete law degree, $50,000 inherited from his father and a plan to save Chapel Hill from the intrusion of a TGI Friday’s.

Again, he felt out of place in his community. He didn’t quite belong with his classmates, who were five years younger. He didn’t feel connected to the “second career” folks, who had children. He didn’t spend his free time with faculty, though he interacted with them the most.

“There was no place where these three groups could mingle,” he said. “That’s been in our DNA since the beginning. If the Carolina Inn is the living room of the university, we’re the front porch.”

Maitland trusted his gut when dozens of people advised against opening a restaurant on that corner.

“There’s no parking,” they said. “It’s not even on street level.”

Ten years later, he would be introduced to speak at town events as “the guy who kept the corner of Columbia and Franklin Street alive.”

He became a leader in the business community — his stout presence, infectious smile and booming voice couldn’t be missed at meetings of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce to the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.

The corner became a place where students put out tents to reserve seats for rivalry basketball games, a home to just the second microbrewery in the state to distribute beer in a can, a must-go for touring families with eager smiles and “Carolina Dad” gear. Maitland created the magic where the sidewalks meet.

He’s motivated by the countless stories from professors, students and administrators about life-changing moments in the restaurant. Things were lively for a decade after opening.

Then, in 2008, the recession hit.

The event space and bar opened in 2010. The distillery came in 2012. And with them, came success along with a slew of troubles.

“The last 10 years I’ve felt like it could all come crumbling down,” Maitland said.

An unclear future for Franklin Street foodies

Greg Overbeck, the owner of Lula’s — the restaurant across the street — and a few other eateries, empathizes with Maitland. The last time the two saw each other, they commiserated about another unlucky fall — this time about a poor football season, a hurricane and an uptick in protests downtown.

“If we could get somebody to take over the spot where Lula’s is, we’d think long and hard about giving up the lease and moving on,” Overbeck said. “I’m not optimistic about the future of the town.”

Franklin Street has become a near-impossible market to break into. Scarce parking, an oversaturated market and alternate dining options on campus have made business turnover high.

Maitland has stood at the helm of attempts to revitalize the street — most notably, lobbying for a bill that allowed Chapel Hill restaurants to sell liquor before noon on Sundays in 2017.

“Chapel Hill was getting left in the dust of the brunch trend,” said Meg McGurk, community safety planner for the town. “He (Maitland) was a gregarious leader there, and it showed in an increase in sales for the businesses.”

But every high came with a low. Brenden Dahrouge, a longtime server at Top of the Hill, said the bill didn’t help Maitland’s own restaurant.

“It wasn’t advertised enough,” he said. “People didn’t know we opened at 10 a.m. on Sundays, and servers weren’t getting tips for two hours.”

Local restaurant owners see him as an example of coveted prosperity in the fickle Franklin Street business scene. Looking from the outside at the filled seats, they wonder how he does it.

“He’s worked really hard to make that place a success, and it’s paid off for him,” Overbeck said.

Maitland doesn’t match Overbeck’s pessimism about the future. He thinks Franklin Street is the best it’s ever been.

“It has to change to grow,” he says. “It can’t be a museum.”

He plans to move the distillery to a bigger home, continue teaching entrepreneurship classes and give his children ownership of the restaurant when he retires.

“People think they have to be Mark Zuckerberg or they’ve failed,” Maitland said. “This isn’t failure. If setbacks aren’t part of success, I’m not a Chapel Hill success story.”

Edited by Jack Gallop

Carolina Hip-Hop Institute lets students form own culture and experiences

By Brandon Callender

Where Is It? 

Hill Hall is a quiet space on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus. The building is tucked away on North Campus, far behind the yellow bricks of South Building. Continuing past the Old Well, it’s still possible to miss it. It’s not a building most people spend time in, and it is often almost empty. The only sounds are the clack of heels against the tiled floors and students in the middle of rehearsal.

This is true every day of the week except for one.

On Friday afternoons, Hill Hall becomes electric. Behind the doors of Room 109, the sounds of pounding basslines can be heard. But there is no live instrumentation or band rehearsal scheduled.

Songs from the Billboard Top 40 fill the tight hallway with sound. The songs don’t sound the way they normally do, and at times they feel faster or the pitches sound different. However, the transitions between the songs are almost seamless. This is normal. Everyone’s used to the extra bit of noise.

Cracking open the room’s door leads to a musical (and UNC-CH-themed) wonderland. Entrants are greeted by a graffiti art mural of Ramses scratching on a turntable with lightning shooting from his equipment.

What Is It? 

Hill Hall Room 109 is home to the Beat Making Lab, a project started by Mark Katz, a professor in UNC-CH’s music department. The Beat Making Lab is used as part of several courses focusing on hip-hop production and history. This summer, Katz is planning to take these courses to the next level. During the upcoming Maymester, Katz will serve as director of a new initiative from the music department: the Carolina Hip-Hop Institute.

The institute is made up of three classes: the beat making lab, the rap lab and MUSC 286: Dance Lab, a newly-created course. Katz hopes that word will spread about the institute because of its popularity and how quickly the courses fill up during the academic year.

“We call it an institute because it’s not just a collection of three classes,” Katz said. “These classes will collaborate. In the beat lab, beat making students will spend a lot of time [in the beat lab], but the rappers will come here to work with the producers. The beat makers will make beats for the dancers as well.”

The institute is 11 days of intensive workshopping where students get experience creating their own beats, lyrics and dance routines.

How Did It Get Started?

Katz started the Beat Making Lab in 2012 when he chaired the music department. He had been teaching courses about DJing since 2006 when he started teaching at UNC-CH. However, there was no way for students to get actual experience.

“I’d get questions from students asking how they could take classes in rap, beat making and how to create music,” Katz said. “Unfortunately, my answer was, ‘you can’t.’ I knew there was demand and it wasn’t being met.”

In 2011, Katz applied for a grant to create the courses students wanted. He wanted to combine entrepreneurship, artistic practices and community artists to create what he believes to be “a new kind of music education.” With the grant money, he purchased equipment for the Beat Making Lab and hired co-teachers to teach for-credit courses during the academic year. These courses include MUSC 155: The Art and Culture of the DJ, MUSC 156: Beat Making Lab and MUSC 157: Rap Lab.

“I remember the first time we taught [the Beat Lab course]. I had a huge waitlist and people were almost harassing me to get in, in a nice way,” Katz said. “It was touching and almost inspiring to see how dedicated they were.”

Who Will Be Involved?

The institute courses won’t be taught by professors, but by professionals from their respective fields.

Dasan Ahanu, a spoken word artist and community organizer, will teach the rap lab. Ahanu was an assistant professor of English at Saint Augustine’s University and a Nasir Jones Fellow at Harvard University. Junious Brickhouse, the founder of Urban Artistry, an organization seeking to preserve urban dance culture, will teach the dance course. Kerwin Young, a member of The Bomb Squad, the production crew which backed the hip-hop group Public Enemy, will teach the beat making course.

Jan Yopp, the dean of Summer School, praised Katz’s recruitment efforts.

“This is all due to the great connections our faculty have with their colleagues and professionals across other institutions and out in the profession,” Yopp said. “The people Mark Katz will be bringing in are people that he’s worked with in these hip-hop programs elsewhere.”

Katz said there is a possibility other guests will come through as they finalize instructor contracts. He hopes students make meaningful experiences out of the coursework.

Why Is It Important? 

“I want people to be able to find powerful ways to express themselves through art,” Katz said. “That can be extremely transformative for people. I’ve worked with lots of people who are either artists or students who have had difficult lives, and they find ways to heal through art.”

Mu’aath Fullenweider, a senior enrolled in the rap lab course, has grown more comfortable expressing himself because of the class. He’s able to recite some of the lyrics he memorized from one of his verses about forgiveness and love.

“I’ve been able to approach different topics,” Fullenweider said. “Left to your own devices, you get comfortable writing about things you can access. With the class, he’ll throw a topic at you that you haven’t thought about before.”

Davis Kirby, a junior also in the class, is happy courses like the rap lab exist, because it brings unique groups of people together.

“Music is one of the most diverse things,” Kirby said. “Not just diverse in culture, but generally. I went in expecting to see more students of color, a different culture than my other classes at Carolina. It’s lived up to my expectations and because of that, I’m a lot more comfortable.”

Edited by Molly Sprecher

UNC-Chapel Hill graduate to pursue Broadway dreams

By Madeline Pennington

“I just knew that if something didn’t change I’d kill myself.”

Mckenzie Wilson, 23, remembers this moment like it was yesterday.

With a one-way ticket in her pocket and a floor to crash on in Manhattan, Wilson boarded a plane at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Her mom didn’t support the idea, but Wilson felt stagnant after her sophomore year at UNC-Chapel Hill. She needed something to change. She was sure of one thing: her love for theater.

Wilson’s life is defined by moments of becoming herself. As an actor, director and person, she hopes to make people feel capable, curious and safe. She uses theater to encourage others to reflect on themselves. Along the way, she hopes to tell her story as an actress and director.

Wilson embraces her weirdness

From the moment she learned about Broadway, Wilson dreamed of Manhattan. Her mother described her as a ham and encouraged her to act in middle school, but Wilson didn’t pursue the art until eighth grade.

Wilson was an off-beat tween. She ignored what others thought and reveled being the quirky girl at Charlotte’s Ardrey Kell Middle School. After joining theater, she transferred to Northwest School of the Arts for high school.

She spent a week at the arts school. Every student was the quirky kid, the drama nerd or the off-beat one. Kids broke into song at a moment’s notice. It was exactly what Wilson thought she wanted.

Something about her week at that school made her shrink. She wasn’t special. She was just another student — a talented student, but just a student.

When Wilson transferred to Ardrey Kell High School, she entered traditional high school culture. She dated a nice Christian boy, kept her grades up and won homecoming queen. She put the quirky girl to bed, but her love for theater wouldn’t sleep long.

At the end of ninth grade, she directed her school’s production of “Romeo and Juliet.” But this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill production. It was Romeo and Juliet with a touch of voodoo culture and a few ghosts here and there.

Wilson embraced her weirdness.

When she graduated high school, Wilson led the school’s theater program. Though she jokes about the size of her ego then, Wilson felt confident about her ability to act and direct her peers as a high school senior.

How to love UNC’s drama department

She wasn’t out of the woods yet. After two years studying communication and dramatic arts at UNC, Wilson lost herself.

She couldn’t connect with her busy professors. She didn’t love UNC’s department of dramatic arts. She felt hopeless as a student and a person. She wondered if UNC was the right decision.

Wilson told her woes to a professor who made her feel special. Julie Fishell, a graduate of The Juilliard School and former professor of dramatic arts at UNC, gave Wilson the advice she needed.

Fishell saw the fire in Wilson’s eyes after class one day. She encouraged Wilson to continue acting, go to a city and soak up the city’s energy.

With a newfound determination, Wilson left for New York City in June 2016. While there, she took what she calls “Clown Classes,” which were unconventional acting classes which got people out of their comfort zones to reflect on the past.

Despite entering the city with no money and no plan, Wilson felt rejuvenated when she left. She said things cosmically aligned that summer. She reignited her love for acting and UNC.

She was grateful for her experiences at UNC that she would’ve missed at a conservatory. She recognized how UNC molded her into a tenacious artist who created her path instead of following others’ footsteps.

Her summer filled her with enough life to keep going. In 2018, she graduated with a bachelor’s in communication and dramatic art. She stuck around Chapel Hill where she found herself for the third time in her young life.

“Our Place” teaches Wilson about the present

In October, Wilson returned to UNC to direct Terry Gabbard’s “Our Place” for the student-theater group, Company Carolina.

The show held a special place in Wilson’s heart because Gabbard was the high school drama teacher who first helped her reclaim her weirdness. Throughout high school, Gabbard became a father figure to her.

Wilson used her experience directing “Our Place” to wrestle with post-graduation limbo. It was a battle between being unsure of her life’s trajectory and being anxious to leave Chapel Hill. She felt nostalgic for the good times past and anticipation for the future.

However, “Our Place” taught Wilson to live in the present.

Gabbard came to see the closing show, and Wilson says that full-circle moment gave her the closure to build her future.

Wilson will move back to Manhattan in June to focus on acting while daylighting as a barista. While there, she plans to apply for master’s programs in directing at Yale University, Brown University and Columbia University.

She doesn’t want to worry about her future though. The majority of her time in college passed in a blur because she was too anxious about the future.

She focuses on her health and happiness, using her opportunities as a director to encourage others to find themselves.

She is sure the next time she stands in Charlotte Douglas International Airport with a one-way ticket to Manhattan, she won’t be escaping anything. She’ll fly confidently to her future.

Edited by Erica Johnson

RTP local makes luxury accessible with start-up company, Rewardstock

By Virginia Blanton

Jonathan Hayes could not believe his older brother’s magic worked: He scored two business class plane tickets to South America for $2.50 apiece by strategically applying reward points after months of research.

Boarding the flight, Hayes awaited the moment when he and his brother would be ushered to the plane’s last row. But when the stewardess hovered by their spacious seats, the only thing she asked was if they wanted champagne or orange juice.

At that moment, Hayes decided everyone needed to experience luxury treatment at least once in their life.


The birth of Rewardstock

That voyage in 2011 inspired Rewardstock. Based out of Raleigh, North Carolina, Rewardstock is an entrepreneurial venture that helps users go on vacations they would otherwise be unable to afford.

Hayes left a steady, 7-year investment banking career at Citigroup in 2014 to create Rewardstock and be present with his family, leaving Wall Street for the City of Oaks.

“Our success implies that people all over the world are having cool experiences. Experiences are ultimately what matter in life and enrich your time here. Fancy, glass-case things don’t have that power,” he said.

Inspired by his brother Jason’s frugality, Hayes tested his own hand at reward point magic a year after their South American excursion. With the help of reward points, he and his wife were able to go on a $40,000 honeymoon in the Maldives for just $200.

“We googled ‘paradise’ and went with the first image that came up,” his wife, Alison, said.

Alison and Jonathan flew first class and stayed at a luxury resort for eight nights. That’s when Jonathan realized he could make this game a legitimate business.

By using reward points most Americans overlook, Rewardstock’s algorithm shows users how to take advantage of frequent flier miles and credit card points to cash in on extravagant trips.

“Everyone knows that flier miles and card points are valuable, but Jonathan has gone beyond that –– he figured out the pathways for exchanging miles for points and back again in a way that expands the value of your holdings,” said Patrick Conway, an economics professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Hayes’ last Citigroup bonus financed the first seed funding for Rewardstock. The website went live in 2016. Traffic was fleeting. What they were doing wasn’t working.

Hayes had been growing an impressive beard at the time. One day, he woke up and decided to shave everything but the thick handlebar moustache. He claims the facial hair change was symbolic of the need to approach Rewardstock’s mission differently.


Into the shark tank

Out of the blue, cyberspace delivered Rewardstock a support ticket that changed the company’s trajectory –– a casting director from the TV show “Shark Tank” reached out to the Rewardstock team to come on the show, which helps budding entrepreneurs break into their desired industry.

Hayes and the Rewardstock team agreed to give the show a chance.

“We encouraged him to write out his speech word-for-word, memorize it and rehearse it a thousand times –– also prep for anticipated Q&A,” said David Gardner, Hayes’ first investor.

In November 2018 Hayes pitched Rewardstock to the country on ABC.

Kevin O’Leary and Mark Cuban sat up in their chairs when Hayes mentioned he was a former investment banker. He wasn’t just a great presenter, he also knew how to calculate margins.

Hayes said one difference between the broadcast show and his actual experience was that the “sharks,” or investors, actually talk to the contestant for close to an hour, firing dry questions that don’t make for good TV.

“America doesn’t care that we are incorporated in Delaware,” Hayes said.

There were no second or third takes –– Hayes only had one chance at making an impression.

From binging prior episodes, Hayes observed the difficulty founders faced pitching their apps once enclosed in the tank. There is no advantage of a physical product or freebie to give out.

Enter the fire twirlers, leis and coconut drinks. Hayes outfitted the “sharks” and gave them a cultural performance to replicate the experience of traveling.

Hayes walked away with a $320,000 deal from Mark Cuban. Since the episode aired, Rewardstock has helped explorers across North Americ save a total $250,000 in travel fare.

“We have tons of Canadians trying to sign up right now. Shark Tank is very popular in Canada,” he said.

Hayes presents his company to the ‘sharks’ on ABC’s television show “Shark Tank.” Since the episode aired, Rewardstock has helped North American travelers save a total of $250,000.

The investors’ roles don’t end with the show’s closing credits.

“Mark is very engaged. We communicate about once every other week via email. He has the fastest email response time ever,” Hayes said.

He jokes that he has the real Mark Cuban and the Mark Cuban of the Southeast, David Gardner, on his side.

“We often talk of the ‘quants’ of Wall Street that bring algorithms to stock trading. Jonathan is bringing his algorithm to the use and trading of another asset: miles and points,” Conway said.


Looking ahead

Hayes has no plans to move to a more cosmopolitan or traditionally entrepreneurial zip code. There are a lot of resources and opportunities in The Research Triangle. It is Jonathan’s home. He loves the great quality of life, the low cost of living and the modern, socially-conscious environment.

“In Silicon Valley you can’t buy food and groceries with shares of your company,” he said.

Jonathan wants his children to grow up believing that anything is possible for them. He reads his 3-year-old daughter the children’s book “Rosie Revere, Engineer.” There’s one line he makes sure to stress:

“The only true failure can come when you quit.”

Hayes presents his company to the ‘sharks’ on ABC’s television show “Shark Tank.” Since the episode aired, Rewardstock has helped North American travelers save a total of $250,000.

Edited by Paige Colpo and Bailey Aldridge. 









She’s the First tea brings students, community together to support education for girls

By Marine Elia

At 22 years old, Shimul Melwani left her hometown of Mumbai, India, fleeing an arranged marriage. She wanted to forge her own path and headed to America to earn her master’s degree in industrial and labor relations at Cornell University.

After obtaining her Ph.D. in management and organizational behavior at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Melwani is now an associate professor of organizational behavior at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill.

On Sunday, March 3, she spoke as a panelist alongside two other women for the annual She’s the First tea to celebrate International Women’s Day under the elegant chandeliers of the Carolina Inn. She’s the First is a student organization at UNC-CH that seeks to combat gender inequality by fundraising for girls’ education in the developing world.

“My parents didn’t speak with me for my entire first year in grad school,” Melwani told the audience, “But seeing all that I’ve accomplished, they’re very proud now.”

Sipping tea, sharing stories of empowerment

A group of 30 undergraduate students and community members listened attentively to the experiences and professional advice of the panelists, sipping Earl Grey and noshing on cranberry scones as they nodded in solidarity with the sentiments they shared with the panelists.

Viji Sathy was next to address the group. She was born in Chennai, India, but grew up in Hope Mills, North Carolina after moving there as an infant. Like Melwani, she also pursued higher education to evade an arranged marriage. Sathy is a triple Tar Heel — having earned all three of her degrees from UNC-CH. She teaches quantitative psychology in the Department of Neuroscience and Psychology and works alongside some of her former professors as colleagues.

“School was presumed for me at the undergraduate level, but it’s when I pursued a higher degree that my parents wanted me to start thinking about getting married,” Sathy said. “It was this cultural clash of myself being raised in America.”

Born into a family of female educators — her mother was a middle school math teacher and her grandmother a math professor — LuAnne Pendergraft taught history and museum studies courses at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina. She then used her journalism and history degrees to establish a career in public relations and nonprofits. For seven years she served as the executive director of Northeast North Carolina’s Center for Hands-on Science, an interactive children’s education initiative.

“I wanted to have a space where young girls can use pipettes and microscopes. You should see how their eyes light up,” Pendergraft said. “We want to build that confidence in young girls by showing them what they are capable of by presenting them with women who are doing great work, whether it be in science or in other fields.”

Building self-confidence has not proven to be an easy task, even among women with doctoral degrees undertaking large projects. When Sathy and a female colleague were offered a book deal, she admitted they were timid during the negotiation process.

“We weren’t sure how we would be perceived if we wanted to negotiate, we didn’t know what to do,” Sathy said. “Were we supposed to stay with the number they offered us? Were we supposed to counter? We were hesitant, but reached out to others in the business and realized, ‘okay, yeah it’s expected of us to negotiate.’”

She’s the First club member Jiselle Vellaringattu reflected on the advice the panel gave to young women on how to exert confidence and voice their thoughts in classrooms and offices.

“I don’t want to think about my gender identity before my qualifications as that will allow me to excel as I apply for internships in the male-dominated field of STEM,” Vellaringattu said.

Facing the pressures of being a young woman in college and specifically in the STEM field as a computer science major, Vellaringattu realized she often restrains herself from asking questions. In order to give the impression that she is more knowledgeable about the subject than she actually is, Vellaringattu said she tends to avoid asking male teaching assistants questions, and instead only seeks the help of her female TAs.

Supporting the next generation of women leaders

Beyond the sea of brightly colored Lily Pulitzer dresses, porcelain teacups, and the statement jewelry for auction, the tea recognized those who do not share in the same privilege of the attendees and panelists.

On the tables next to the clotted cream and the assortment of strawberry and apricot jams were flyers of the young girls sponsored by the UNC-CH chapter of She’s the First. Ester, Keerthara and Sweetie’s smiling faces showed guests the students whom their contributions are benefitting.

Ester is from Guatemala where she attends eighth grade at the MAIA Impact School. On weekends, she rises at 5 in the morning to help her mother cook and sell Guatemalan-style tamales called chucitos in front of the Catholic Church of Sololá.

At the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project in Bangalore, India, Keerthara loves to color pictures and learn English in her first grade class. Sweetie is also in first grade at the same school and cites coming to school for the first time as one of her favorite memories.

Allie Savino, president of She’s the First at UNC-CH, reflects on the four annual teas she has helped come to fruition. In the event’s first year, only 20 tickets were sold.

“We organize it every year because it’s a great way to celebrate women while at the same time raising money for a cause we’re all passionate about,” Savino said.

The tea raised $2,000 for tuition and school supplies for the sponsored students, all while empowering young women preparing to emerge in the professional world.

Perhaps in several decades, Ester, Keerthara, and Sweetie will be the panelists inspiring the next generation of women at the She’s the First annual tea.

Edited by Mitra Norowzi

When buying ice cream supports kids battling brain cancer

By Molly Horak

Allison Nichols-Clapper frantically rushed into the room. Her body racked with fear, but she pushed the feeling down. She needed to be strong.

It had been a few days since she had last seen Howell Brown III. He was a regular where she worked at Maple View Farm. When she received the call letting her know that he was in the hospital, she dropped everything.

This was it.

She met Brown several years earlier after working with Kids Path, a hospice for terminally ill children and their families, and Sam’s Wish Fund, a program that grants wishes to terminally ill children. A mutual friend introduced Nichols-Clapper to Brown, who was living with stage four brain cancer.

The two instantly clicked. They spent holidays together, ate ice cream together at the store and were even invited onstage together at a Kenny Chesney concert.

And suddenly, they weren’t. Brown died in August 2017. It was one week shy of his 15th birthday.

“When he passed away, I felt so broken-hearted,” she said. “There were times when I didn’t want to get up and get out of bed, but I knew that I had to because that’s what he would have wanted me to do.”

A day doesn’t go by that she forgets to think of Brown. But Nichols-Clapper can’t slow down: There are other children that need her. As a leader for Team Tumornators, a group working to raise money for the Angels Among Us 5K to benefit the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University, Nichols-Clapper is dedicated to helping children and their families as they battle brain tumors.

Superheroes unite at Maple View Farm

On a Wednesday afternoon, Hannah Riley and her son Ridge Riley walked down the fourth-floor hallway of Duke University Hospital. Chemo day.

Jessie Curtis and her son Brody Curtis also made the trek down the same hallway. Chemo day for them, too.

Both boys suffer from inoperable brain tumors: Ridge Riley is 5 years old and was diagnosed in September 2015; Brodie Curtis is 6 years old and was diagnosed around the same time.

The families connected instantly.

“We were both moms alone in this journey, and we both felt that there weren’t other people who understood what we were going through, who understood the fear of waiting for a scan, the pain of seeing your child in pain or the uncertainty about the future,” Riley said. “No one else really got it. And, having [Jessie] there, we were and are each other’s support systems.”

The boys, along with Jake Ingham, Dominick Lawrence and Brown have become the face of Team Tumornators. Each have adopted a superhero persona to represent their strength as they battle the biggest villain of all: their tumors.

On a frigid Saturday morning in early February, the boys were the stars of the Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast event at Maple View Farm, a fundraising event to raise money for the brain tumor center.

Families, college students and friends huddled for warmth as they waited in a line that wrapped around the parking lot. Children, wearing their favorite pajamas, gleefully pressed their noses to the glass counter, incredulous that their breakfast would be a sundae covered in cereal, donuts and waffles.

Everyone was smiling. The joy in the air was palpable.

“Brain tumors touch us more than we know,” nurse Lucille Rice said.

Arms crossed across her chest, Jan Oldenburg bounced from foot to foot. She did anything she could to stay warm as she stood with her husband and son Thys Oldenburg in the Maple View Farm parking lot. The wait was nothing, she said. She would do a whole lot more to express her gratitude to the research team at Duke University.

In October 2017, Thys Oldenburg was severely injured during a football game at Orange County High School. He suffered a brain bleed. For six weeks, he was in a medically-induced coma.

Thys Oldenburg was treated by the Duke Department of Neurology, Jan Oldenburg said. While not directly affiliated with the brain tumor center, she feels what families are going through and wants to support in any way she can.

“It’s been over a year [since Thys Oldenburg’s injury occurred], but it’s great to be out here supporting a cause so near and dear to our hearts,” Jan Oldenburg said.

A few feet away, just inside the doors of Maple View Farm’s serving parlor, Lucille Rice slowly spooned her sundae as she milled around and chatted with friends.

A nurse at Duke University Hospital, Rice never thought that “brain tumor” would be a word that regularly comes up in conversations. But 25 years ago, a boy in her daughter’s kindergarten class was diagnosed with a brain tumor and began receiving treatment at the hospital.

Her daughter’s friend died at 7 years old. To honor his memory, their elementary school in Durham began participating in the Angels Among Us 5K. For years, Rice said, her family would spend the day with current patients and survivors, showing their support.

Years later, tragedy struck again. Her close friend, Alan Stephenson, was diagnosed with a tumor near his brain stem.

“Brain tumors touch us more than we know—if you had told me 15 years ago that Alan would have a brain tumor in his lifetime, I would have looked at you like you were crazy,” Rice said. “And, then he was diagnosed, and the whole world turned upside down. It was absolutely one of the scariest times of my life.”

Stephenson survived. But, many others don’t.

“I’m one of the very lucky ones. I made it through,” Stephenson said as he stood at the Team Tumornators table in the corner of Maple View Farm’s store. “Now, I try to do all that I can to give back. There’s a long road to go, but every step counts.”

Allison Nichols-Clapper tastes sweet support

Sugar pounding through their veins, kids clad in superhero costumes and fuzzy pajama bottoms wove through the crowded picnic tables. They laughed and smiled. Two professional entertainers were dressed as Batman and Wonder Woman and posed for pictures with event-goers. A group of students from UNC-Chapel Hill passed a football back and forth.

Riley stood, watching her son play with his friends. Seeing the outpouring of support gets her through difficult times.

“It’s days like ice cream for breakfast that get your mind off of it. You get out of the house and are doing something fun,” she said. “Watching your kid smile and play feels so normal for a split second. And, that’s all us parents want, for our kids to be happy and be kids.”

At one point, Nichols-Clapper stepped to the back of the room. Tears filled her eyes. She wasn’t sad, rather she was overcome by the sheer number of people who showed up.

“There was this moment where I felt so overwhelmed but not overwhelmed from stress—the kind of overwhelmed where you just want to run through and hug everybody standing in that line and just thank them and tell them that just purchasing ice cream is such a big thing to these patients and their families,” she said. “Whether they’re there because it’s ice cream for breakfast or they’re there because they know what we’re doing, just knowing that they came means so much.”

Edited by Erica Johnson

‘We lost the interesting stuff’: Maintaining Franklin Street’s character

By James Tatter

On the most historic street in Chapel Hill, the premier restaurant owners had a warning for the newcomers.

“If I don’t tell you anything else in your whole life, it is ‘Do not get into the restaurant business,’” said Greg Overbeck, one of the operators of prominent local eateries like 411 West and Lula’s.

When Carolina Coffee Shop on Franklin Street went up for sale in 2017, a group of former UNC-Chapel Hill students felt impassioned to revitalize the old haunt and sought advice.

There was a couple of athletes, Heather O’Reilly, an Olympic gold medalist soccer player, and David Werry, a Morehead-Cain scholar and UNC men’s lacrosse player. There were the Schossows — Clay, one of “America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs,” according to BusinessWeek, and his wife Sarada, a primary care provider. And there was Jeff Hortman, a screenwriter and a content advisor for Universal Media in Los Angeles.

The restaurant novices were bound together by the idea of returning the nearly century-old campus institution to its old glory. The eclectic group sat outside of Squid’s, a seafood restaurant owned by Overbeck and his partners in the Chapel Hill Restaurant Group.

They knew the risks that came with purchasing a restaurant on this sliver of road: Rent soars, parking is scant and the market is oversaturated.

Franklin Street — the landmark that underlines the small-town feel of the nationally acclaimed university — is starting to lose touch with its community, and losing the old Carolina Coffee Shop would hurt.

Overbeck told them what they already knew.

“We tried to talk them out of it,” Overbeck said. “Do. Not. Do. That.”

But the advice was ignored.  Though, he couldn’t blame them, because he was once enticed by the same stretch of street.

The History

The original builders found sawdust in 1813 when they dug up the lot for the building that now houses Carolina Coffee Shop.

The building, one of the first retail buildings on the street, was constructed on the site of an old mill. It would still be another 100 years before the iconic part-bar, part-diner coffee shop would be conceived.

UNC was just forming within a swath of forest, and the mill supplied timber to the growing construction project next door that was the first public university in the United States.

Carolina Coffee Shop opened in 1922 as a soda fountain.

Now the oldest continuously operating restaurant in North Carolina, the shop can trace its historic roots, from the dirt road in the woods to Chapel Hill’s most prominent street.

Overbeck remembers visiting Chapel Hill for the first time as a member of his high school choir from Charlotte in 1969. The 100 block of Franklin Street had no traffic lights and only three crosswalks. Cars had to stop if anybody wanted to cross that main stretch.

“Chapel Hill at that time was very bohemian, there was a real counter-culture, almost hippy-ish,” Overbeck said.

Retail outlets including record stores, clothing shops and bookstores dotted the road. There weren’t many restaurants, but when Overbeck arrived as a UNC student in 1972, he recalled it being an interesting place to go to school.

“We had the mojo,” Overbeck said.

The Problem

Sitting in a booth at Carolina Brewery, about four blocks west of the Carolina Coffee Shop, Anne Archer recalls how West Franklin Street was shunned during her childhood in Chapel Hill.

“No one came up here,” Archer said.

During her childhood, the university was just beginning to grow into the international research institution that it is today. Basketball was big, the community was small and Chapel Hill was the peaceful village that hosted the school.

“The university today is a monster compared to what it was,” Archer said.

Crooks Corner, a notable southern cuisine restaurant, opened on the west side of Franklin in 1978. It started a rush of restaurants that populated the blocks between Crook’s Corner in the west and Carolina Coffee Shop in the east.

Mickey Ewell operated Spanky’s Restaurant at the busiest intersection in between. He employed Overbeck and Pete Dorrance, brother of the famed North Carolina soccer coach, Anson Dorrance IV. The two lived together and were joined by Kenny Carlson when he moved down from Connecticut.

After years of grunt work at Spanky’s, Overbeck, Dorrance and Carlson decided to go out on their own. With the blessing of Ewell, the boys started Squid’s.

The group eventually came back together and started the Chapel Hill Restaurant Group. They now own eateries across the Triangle area, including Lula’s (formerly Spanky’s) and 411 West on Franklin Street.

In the meantime, the street had evolved from a retail hub to a restaurant hotspot. A few prominent groups stood out and helped usher other owners onto the block.

But it quickly became too crowded. Choked of parking and swelled with rivals, businesses began to fold. Overbeck remembers lecturing his wife for shopping online for clothes.

“Honey, you’re not supporting local business,” Overbeck said.

But he thought about the new Franklin Street, abound with corporate outlets and chain restaurants.

“We lost the interesting stuff,” Overbeck said. “It’s almost ‘anything goes.’”

Archer has heard from her childhood acquaintances about what they think of these changes.

“Friends that don’t live here anymore, they just squawk about how it has changed,” she said.

The Future

Today, Overbeck is pessimistic about the future of Franklin Street.

“If we drove down Franklin Street right now, I’ll bet I could point out ten restaurants that won’t be there in the next year,” he said.

But still, amidst the constant closing of local establishments, a few survive.

Sutton’s, that’s the heart,” Archer said, listing off the spots she remembers from her childhood. “That’s been around since forever. Four Corners… Probably Sutton’s is the only place that’s left over from that bygone era, and Carolina Coffee Shop.”

The fortunate few places that persist on Franklin Street have a character that echoes through the generations of UNC students and Chapel Hill locals that have frequented them. The drugstore counter at Sutton’s is one example.

“With Suttons, there used to be a few ladies who worked behind the counter and they were always there,” Archer reminisced. “The camaraderie of people sitting around the counter, that’s one of those threads that keeps that place alive, keeps the personal feel to it.”

The businesses that persevere are the ones that become a destination for students and locals, as much as a place to eat.

When Hortman came back to Chapel Hill from Los Angeles, he remembers being attracted to Carolina Coffee Shop because of his memories of it as a gathering place and a campus lounge of sorts.

He had to save it.

And that is what keeps Franklin Street alive with the spirit of two-and-a-quarter centuries worth of students.

Some restaurants come and go. But the rest of the places that can cultivate the culture of Chapel Hill beat the chains, living to tell the tale of a street that has defined the town and the campus since it was nothing but a sawmill and a stretch of trees.

Edited by: Diane Adame 

Finding Faith: One student’s experience with weight-loss surgery

By Karen Stahl

Faith Newsome’s heartbeat increased as she gazed at her family crammed around her. The bare, gray walls stared back at her.

“Tell him to get the IV out,” she told her mom. “I’m scared. I don’t want to do this.”

Her mom, Shannon Newsome, looked at Faith’s thin gown hanging on her body and the cap containing her thick, brown curls. She knew her 16-year-old daughter faced death if she did not undergo the surgery.

“Think about how hard you’ve worked to get to this moment,” Shannon said. “If you give up now, what was it for?”

Three hours later, the doctor made it to Faith’s room. Her mother, wracked with nerves, gave her a kiss. Within minutes, Faith was asleep.

She had always been larger than her peers. On her first birthday, she hit 30 pounds. When kindergarten came, she walked into school at 110 pounds with a smile on her face and her brown curls tied in a bow.

By the time she turned 15, Faith had reached 273 pounds.

Just a few months before her surgery, she sat in the Campbell University gymnasium, supporting her brother at the North Carolina Science Olympiad competition. The gymnasium was built in the 1950s, and the seats seemed smaller than average.

She shifted her weight as the side handles on the seat pressed uncomfortably into her thighs. Her mom had brought up weight-loss surgery a couple weeks before, but she resisted.

Now, unable to fit in the gymnasium seat, she knew what she had to do. She turned to her mom.

“Call Duke,” she said. “I’m going next week.”

Promising herself

Faith’s eyes fluttered open. Her family sat in the room, this one larger than the bare, gray one where she had fallen asleep.

“Did you text my friends that I’m okay?” she asked Shannon, who was hovering over her.

“That’s what you’re worried about right now?” she responded.

At the suggestion of the doctor, Faith decided to get up and walk around to avoid blood clots. She slowly lowered herself to the ground. Her abdomen felt heavier than before the surgery, despite the fact that the surgeon had reduced the size of her stomach.

A commercial for a Ruby Tuesday hamburger came on the TV while she walked around the room.

“I’m going to throw up,” she thought.

She knew her appetite would come back eventually, but minutes after the operation, waves of nausea washed over her. All she could think about was not rupturing her stomach.

It was June, which meant two months of recovery before returning for her junior year of high school. With newfound confidence in her body, she decided this was the year to try an organized sport.

Tennis tryouts were approaching, and she would make a full recovery before the season started.

For the first time, Faith promised herself she would be there.

Tumbling down

She hit the ground without warning.

Faith was goal-oriented, and the instructions were easy enough – run to the cone at the end of the relay track, put on the oversized adult clothes as quickly as possible, run back down the track and tag the next teammate.

She took a deep breath at the starting line, trying to release the pressure that came with being the slowest child in her class. Her weight made field days increasingly anxiety-inducing, and the other kindergartners had already made it clear that Faith was not their most valuable player.

And they were off. Sweat poured down her temples as she lunged forward with every step.

“Why does she have to be on our team?” one of the children shouted from the sideline.

Breathing heavily, Faith kept running. She made it to the cone. She quickly grabbed the oversized T-shirt and slid it over her damp curls then pulled the pants over her shorts and bolted for the end of the track.

Her determined panting underscored a sudden snag of her pants on her shoe. Before she knew it, she was tumbling into the grass in the middle of the track.

She got back up with determination and hiked the pants up. She felt the scrape on her knee as she crossed the finish line back with her teammates, putting them in last place.

Faith sat behind the line and placed her flushed face in her hands. Her mom quietly ran up.

“You just tripped,” she said. “If you wouldn’t have tripped, you would’ve done great.”

Faith fiddled with a piece of grass on her shoe.

“I know, Mom,” she responded. “If I wouldn’t have fallen, I’d made it. I really feel like I would’ve made it.”

Lunging forward

Sweat poured down her temples as she lunged forward with every step. She was determined to be faster than her 5K time from the day before.

“Show yourself what you can do now,” she thought.

It was nearly five years post-surgery, and her 190-pound frame propelled itself on the pavement. Her familiar panting filled the warm September air. This time, Faith’s brown curls were damp with sweat, but she was not in last place.

“She always tries to get me to run with her,” her friend, Olivia Manning, said. “I’m not a runner. So I let Faith handle that.”

Faith’s head was clear. The crippling anxiety that plagued her as child melted away. She was no longer faking sprained ankles in elementary school gym class to get out of physical activity.

Now, she listens to her body and its needs. She pushes herself beyond her boundaries.

“She is going to stick with it until she gets it,” said Jonathan Newsome, her dad. “No matter what it is.”

Faith is no longer the girl begging to rip the IV out of her arm in fear. Faith is no longer retreating.

Faith is lunging forward with every new task that comes her way.

“Surgery is what gave me my voice,” she said. “Make the most of your time here. Show yourself what you can do.”

Edited by Joseph Held