This year’s Halloween controversy: How has candy corn survived?

By Charity Cohen

 Where did candy corn come from?

George Renninger, candymaker at the Wunderle Candy Company in Philadelphia had no idea of the polarization that his tri-colored candy creation would cause. Now, more than 140 years later, Renninger’s revolutionary candy, candy corn, is one of the most divisive seasonal treats.

Named for its corn-like appearance, candy corn’s legacy as one of the most popular Halloween candies remains undisputed — but, whether its taste lives up to the hype is the annual topic of debate. 

Jeremiah Holloway, a senior studying journalism and Hispanic studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, understands that candy corn is a staple for both fall and Halloween. 

“Candy corn is basically the equivalent of turkey because everybody knows that at Thanksgiving turkey is easily like the weakest thing on the table,” he said. “You just kind of have to have it.”

Regardless of the candy’s seasonal significance, the taste was less than satisfactory when Holloway tried what would be his first, and last piece of candy corn.

“It’s designed to be the candy of Halloween,” Holloway said. “It’s got its own reserved space, but when you taste it, it’s just underwhelming.”

Tracy Ridley, Jr., a junior studying European, German and African-American and Diaspora studies, appreciates the nodes of honey that he can taste in candy corn. He believes that the best way to eat candy corn is to simply just “enjoy it.”

“It’s candy,” Ridley replied flatly to Holloway. “It tastes good, it’s sweet, but much more, I don’t have these high expectations for candy corn. You take it for what it is, and enjoy it.”

What’s in candy corn?

According to Dr. Kimberly Truesdale, an associate professor of nutrition at UNC-CH, candy corn is mostly sugar.

“You’re eating pure sugar, boo,” Truesdale said playfully. “Nothing of any nutritional values, whatsoever.”

 Her analysis of this candy was accurate. The primary ingredients used in Brach’s Candy Corn are: sugar, corn syrup, confectioner’s glaze (shellac), salt, cocoa powder, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, gelatin, dextrose, honey, artificial flavor, sesame oil, yellow 6, yellow 5, red 3, soy lecithin, blue 1, and red 40.

All of these ingredients combined into those corn-shaped treats are enough to give Mikayla Cunningham, a senior studying psychology, African-American and Diaspora and sexuality studies, a bit of nostalgia.

Cunningham recalls the warm feelings that arose from eating candy corn as a child. They enjoy the smooth, sweet and roasted taste of the waxy treat because it is something that is familiar and sentimental to them — and they aren’t ashamed of this guilty pleasure.

“A lot of stuff that’s polarized and that people don’t think that you should do, I do because of my inner child,” Cunningham said.

The feelings of excitement and comfort that Cunningham felt as a child knowing that their favorite season, fall, has finally arrived are captured in each piece of candy corn that they consume. Eating pieces of candy corn layer-by-layer as they did as a child, starting with the white tip and ending at the yellow base, allows Cunningham to exist in a state of childlike innocence and momentarily escape the world around them.

Bryson Ellis, a sophomore studying economics and Spanish, had a completely different experience with candy corn as a child. For him, returning home from a long night of trick-or-treating to find candy corn at the bottom of his candy bucket always put a damper on his Halloween. Ellis could never adjust to the idea of candy and corn being coupled together.

“It tastes like two things that should not be together,” Ellis said. “I don’t know what the idea was in its creation, but candy and corn taste good separated, but together it’s like, ‘this isn’t supposed to be happening’.”

Science behind the debate

Dr. Truesdale said this phenomenon is not uncommon. Our minds will often trick us into having a predetermined taste for something and when we find that the actual taste is nothing like we imagined, we can’t come to terms with it. The tricks our minds play can also cause us to determine our likes and dislikes based on associations.

“There’s certain foods that you associate with an occasion,” Truesdale said. “You might not even like it but it just brings back some childhood memories, you could taste something and it could be that you don’t like the taste but you like the memory that it gives you.”

This association explains why Ridley and Cunningham cling to candy corn to connect them to their childhood and happiest memories.

 Recently, Ridley has ramped up his candy corn consumption. “The taste is mixed with just the innocence of childhood,” he said. “These past couple weeks there have been some very deep things going on, it feels just like everything’s moving a little too fast and so I guess that kind of gives me a sense of childhood innocence.”

Even with all of the dissent surrounding candy corn’s taste, its impact on the season is a topic that everyone can agree on.

“Candy corn is that symbol of the season changing and it gives you a happy feeling,” Truesdale said. “Even though it’s nothing but sugar and some dye.”

Edited by Jocelyn Quinn and Izzy D’Alo

Why doesn’t “Squid Game” violence faze Generation Z?

By Sammy Ferris

Netflix’s newest hit show

Game 5: hopscotch. Step on the correct panel, stay in the game. Step on the tempered glass, plumet to death. American men wear gold animal-face masks and drink cocktails, cheering as South Korean citizens gamble on their lives. The shattering glass and bodies crashing echo in their theater. The observers laugh along.

“Squid Game” is on track to be Netflix’s number one show.

Vulgar violence. English voice-overs and subtitles. A recipe for captivating America’s college demographic. It has taken over Instagram memes, Twitter commentary and Tik Tok videos. The violence of childish games and a disassociation from the horror are key ingredients to stomaching the savagery.

The Gen-Z perspective

This juxtaposition of innocence and violence is what captured Carson Smitherman, 21.

Teams competing in tug of war with a deadly abyss in between; contestants etching a perfect shape out of hardened sugar or executed on the playground.

He acknowledges that it is bizarre that he would want to spend over nine hours watching horrendous acts of violence.

“Yeah, that’s a good point. Why would everyone want to watch a show where people are getting point-blank shot? I am really sensitive to violence in the media, especially school shootings. I don’t know why I would want to watch a show like this. But I do.”

The dystopian feel to “Squid Game” is in part attributed to plot: hundreds of people with massive amounts of debt sign up to play a series of childhood games. The ruthless deaths of contestants who failed the first game pierces the scene.

In an instant, the players realize they are not simply playing for money: they are playing for their lives.

The show has six games, each one with the same stakes but intensifying difficulty. In the final episodes, ‘VIPs’, who are old white men betting on contestants, watch the last game in an exorbitant lounge. The protagonist, Seung Gi-Hun, wins the grand total of $38.6 million.

His victory is unrewarding in the face of his haunted future. Hanging like the storm clouds floating over the final game are his futile pleas to end the game before his final adversary dies.

Tik Tok was how Payton Walker, 19, first heard of “Squid Game.” She was in a social media rabbit hole when she saw a clip of the first game: Red Light Green Light.

Over four hundred Korean citizens dressed in matching teal jumpsuits. One huge doll commanding ‘Green Light,’ and the contestants run. When she chants ‘Red Light,’ they must freeze. Her supersized head swivels around like she is possessed. Her eyes narrow in on those who failed. Gun shots fire off, killing losers within seconds of their stumble.

Her neck quips back around, and the contestants hear: “Green Light.” The only way to survive is to play to the finish line.

When Payton saw contestants being mowed down, she immediately went to Netflix and told her roommate, Gray Perry, about what she was watching.

“Gray, I am watching this sick show. I just finished the second episode.”

“That sounds so weird. Why are you watching that?” Gray asked.

“It is so good. The concept of it is twisted, and I want to see how it unfolds. It’s similar to ‘The Hunger Games.’ The ultra-dark parts of it keep you invested.”

Payton went on to finish the entire series in two days.

Both Carson and Payton said that the game-like format creates distance between them and the violence. Carson went on to say that their generation’s tolerance to violence is higher, making it easier to watch the show.

“It doesn’t feel like ‘open society.’ Because it’s supposed to be a secluded game in a toy-like factory, it makes it easier to see. It doesn’t feel real.”

Not everyone is comfortable

Their surreal experience does not resonate with Jeri Rowe, father to a first year at UNC Chapel Hill.

He called his daughter on a Sunday and asked what she’d been up to. When she told him watching a new show called “Squid Game,” he and his wife decided to take a look. The same scene that hooked Payton on her 48-hour binge pushed Jeri to look at his wife and say, “No. We are not watching this.” One round of Red Light Green Light, and they decided to start “Ted Lasso.”

For Rowe and others in his generation, there is no desire to watch the cruelties of the world on a screen, even if their children are.

“The world is dystopian enough right now, you know. With Democrats and Republicans fighting each other. With millions of deaths from the pandemic. I watch television to escape. ‘Squid Game’ doesn’t help me do that.”

Gen-Z is different. As elementary school students during the Sandy Hook shooting and high schoolers during the Stoneman Douglas shooting; as young adults during the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor; as the rate of mental illness skyrockets in their age group – maybe this generation can tell the difference between what happens in a television show and what violence, pain, and suffering feels in their real lives.

Payton says that there are many factors that allow her to disassociate herself from the characters in the show.

“It would be hard to watch if it was something realistic to my life as a college student and very violent. Horror movies that don’t seem real don’t scare me, but if they are realistic, I can’t watch them.”

The show has captured social media, and conversations about it have not slowed down. Even if this generation can distinguish between what is relatable to them and what is not, their empathy and imagination are still strong.

U.S. college students digesting violence can still see the irony.

While the American VIPs in the show place bets and fetichize death, the American young adults have started dialogues. Through memes and Tik Toks, “Squid Game” opened discussions of poverty, inequality and Capitalism.

Payton, like many members of her generation, is left questioning what this means about places and people she does not know.

“All the white men at the end with money and power make you wonder if stuff like this does happen. Not to this extreme but somewhere in the world, something like this.”

Edited by Sterling Roberts

 

 

Craftsperson finds fulfillment in art after leaving job

By Sarah Gray Barr

Butterfly bush, summer lilac and orange eye. All names for the same plant which graces the silver pot on Charlotte Smith’s porch. Smith knows it best as butterfly bush, and the purple and red blossoms dye cut up strips of The New Yorker the palest shade of yellow.

Being a Helping Hand

Smith has not always had time to dedicate to her craft. In 2016, she left her job of nearly three decades. Smith found herself in the same position that people who left or lost their jobs in the pandemic face now: trying to find fulfillment when the previous way of life is gone.

Smith worked at Ipas, a nonprofit headquartered in Chapel Hill, which aims to protect women’s reproductive rights globally. Smith served as a program officer and traveled to more than 60 countries. During her travels, she developed a career-long habit of purchasing materials native to the country in which she was advocating. In Ghana and Nigeria, Smith picked up wax prints and batiks–textiles unique to the region. Materials such as these now find their way into her art.

The work at Ipas was not dull by any means. Smith has hiked through Northern Ethiopia and attended conferences in Kenya. She also recalled being one of the first Americans in Romania after the overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1989. Behind the former Iron Curtain, women’s rights were restricted. During her stay, Smith witnessed the new legalization of abortion.

Smith is a firecracker. At least, that’s how her friends describe her.

Katie Early met Smith in 1987. Early served as the executive director at Ipas and hired new administrators. She remembers first meeting Smith at that hiring interview. There were two candidates: Smith, and someone better qualified on paper for the job. Smith impressed Early with her dry humor and wit. Early recalled the interview fondly.

“We have a joke talent show at our staff retreat every year, do you have any good jokes?” Early asked.

“Oh, I have a joke, but if you want to hear it, you’ll need to hire me first,” Smith said.

Merrill Wolf, a colleague of Smith’s, agrees. Smith brought a spirit of fun to the Carrboro office. Wolf remembers creating the Ipas board game. Wolf and Smith used papier-mâché to build the board and the playable pieces. The game mixed Monopoly and Candyland together and contained a deck of memorable Ipas-related cards.

“‘The project organizer in a country steals three thousand dollars to build a pool, go back two spaces,’ is one card that I can recall,” said Wolf.

The Ipas office is now located in Southern Village, and the previous building became Gourmet Kingdom, a Chinese restaurant serving Szechuan specialties. But when Smith, Wolf  and Early worked there, art from their travels covered the walls to the point where nobody remembers the paint color underneath.

Moving On

When Smith left Ipas in December of 2016, she needed to find something to do with her time. She began crafting. For the next two years, she experimented. She stayed curious. She found a mould and deckle in her house, purchased from her college days, and tried her hand at making paper. She tested concoction after concoction, added flowers and seeds to paper slurries and searched for the perfect water-to-The New Yorker ratio.

Smith tried to find what sparked her interest.

She joined The 100 Day Project, a worldwide art project that builds creative confidence. She tried making something for 100 days in a row in 2018. She fashioned handmade envelopes, tree hangers, cloth bags and fabric puzzles. The next time Smith participated in 2020, she practiced photography, taking snapshots of nature’s insects and flowers. Smith began her most ambitious attempt at the project in 2021–she created 100 replicas of art by women or art depicting women. Smith stitched fabric onto old postcards and backed the pieces with upholstery samples. The collection includes fabric recreations from Billie Zangewa, Elizabeth Catlett and Roz Chast.

During this period, Smith developed a penchant for handmade paper adorned with sewn fabric designs. Art she could create in a day.

The table she presses her paper on is wrought iron, weathered by the sun and stained with the pulp of past projects. Her yard is something out of “The Secret Garden,” with flowers and vines covering as far as the eye can see. It is here that Smith begins the artistic process.

She experiments with different flora and vegetation to create natural dyes for her work. Today, that pot on her porch holds butterfly bush. Weeks ago, the pot held onion skins, creating a dark yellow dye. Before that, red cabbage dyed newspaper strips a deep purple, a mix between periwinkle and plum.

Smith blends the dyed paper shreds, pours the mixture onto a mould and deckle, and adheres the pressed liquid to large cotton squares. The handmade paper dries under Carolina skies before Smith peels it off to use in her next project.

The stacks of fabrics in Smith’s sewing room stretch to the ceiling. Bins sit next to her Viking sewing machine that boast polka dots, pinstripes, and paisleys. Boxes hold herringbones, harlequins, and houndsteeth. The sewing room is her oyster, and the dozens upon dozens of fabrics are her pearls.

Making the Meaning

Smith is quick and decisive. She knows what she wants to make. It may be a trial-and-error process, and it may take a few tries, but she envisions what the design should be and creates it.

She considers herself more of a craftsperson than an artist, affectionately dubbed a “gluepotter” by her older sister for her projects and creations decades in the making. Growing up and continuing into adulthood, Smith would choose to stay home and “gluepot” rather than go out. Smith battled boredom by crafting day and night with nothing but a trusty pot of glue by her side.

“It’s a family joke now, that we’re glued to our chair. We made it into a verb. What are you going to gluepot this time, you know?” Smith said.

“Gluepotting” aside, Smith is a jack of all trades, skilled in design, photography and fabric. An artist in every sense of the word. But what makes her work unique is its components: recycled papers and fabrics scraps. Smith breathes new life into them, bringing purpose and meaning to materials that others might throw away.

“I don’t envision myself becoming a famous artist, nor do I particularly want to,” said Smith. “I don’t need to accomplish anything. I feel like I’ve done enough interesting things in my life that I will keep exploring and having fun and try new things.”

To Smith, opportunity is everywhere and fulfillment is at her fingertips. Meaning can be found in things often overlooked.

Edited by Em Welsh

TikTok community becomes support system for UNC first-year student

By Benjamin Rappaport

Ainsley Edwards has been running cross country competitively since she was in middle school. She loves having a place to let out her energy, relax her mind and be in touch with nature. Edwards first started going on runs with her dad in the wooded trails near Salem Lake by her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

During the early months of the pandemic, those runs became Ainsley’s sense of sanity. They were also the place where she got her comedic ideas for her viral TikTok videos. 

Ainsley has amassed more than 245,000 followers and 12 million views on the short-form video app. She and her brother Tre Edwards started making absurdist comedy videos together in March 2020. 

“Me, Tre and my dad would just run for hours and riff the whole time,” Ainsley said. “There was literally nothing else to do.” 

Ainsley and Tre would talk about the latest social media trends and come up with potential ideas for videos. Their father, Mark Edwards, would usually lag both on the runs and on the jokes.  

The first few videos Ainsley and Tre posted together went viral because they reflected the comedic chaos of being trapped in quarantine. They were sporadic and disjointed, but that’s part of what made them so hilarious and relatable. 

“I don’t think we even understood our own jokes back in March,” Tre said. “We would connect ridiculous trends together and mish mash whatever our brains could come up with. It was comedic anarchy.”

The Edwards siblings used their restlessness and turned it into content. 

Quarantine bonding

Beyond the videos, being trapped inside also brought the whole Edwards family together. Tre is five years older than Ainsley, and prior to the pandemic they weren’t nearly as close. Mark was also typically traveling around the country as an investment banker, but he became closer with his family by working from home. 

“As much as I wanted her to have a normal senior year, I secretly really loved having Ainsley right outside my door,” Mark said.  

The two of them had their work-from-home computer setups right next to each other and would consistently crack jokes between, or sometimes during, meetings and classes. Ainsley would try to photobomb her dad’s consulting meetings, and then Mark would shout obscenities while Ainsley was participating in class.

Raised on comedy

While Mark didn’t necessarily understand all the social media trends that his kids’ videos were based on, he was the inspiration behind a lot of the humor in the Edwards household. From a young age, he taught Ainsley and Tre to not take life too seriously. He would force them to make short musical comedy videos for their church to preview the weekly sermon. They would spoof characters from “The Office” to teach the congregation about lessons of family or dress up like fish to discuss the importance of preserving resources. 

“As the youngest child, Ainsley always had to make her mark in those skits and put her foot in,” Mark said. 

Ainsley’s knack for comedy has only grown stronger over the years. It’s her outlandish flare that made her a hit in the church and now on the internet.

Pressure to please 

But as her followers grew, so did her internal pressure to produce for others. Ainsley said she has always been her own worst critic, but that internal voice only got louder when she started college at UNC-Chapel Hill this fall.

So much of her quarantine experience had been making videos at home with her brother, sharing jokes and experimenting with new formats. In college, she could not have this and it was hard for Ainsley and Tre to keep up their social media presence.

“Her and I are like the TikTok partners in crime,” Tre said. “When she left for college, it felt like that dynamic duo got a little less dynamic.”

Prior to her leaving, Tre had pushed Ainsley to start making videos on her own to prepare for what it would be like in school. To Ainsley, though, it never felt right without Trey.

“The reality was, we have this following, and we don’t want to let them down,” Tre said. “I wanted her to keep making videos because she loves doing it, even if it was no longer a thing we did with each other.”

Tre is out of school and pursuing a full-time music career. He has his own successful TikTok page to showcase his talents. He occasionally visits Chapel Hill from Winston-Salem. When he does, the two still make TikTok videos together, and it feels like they’re back at their house again. But with life picking back up, it’s hard to maintain the consistent stream of content they made over quarantine.

Ainsley is trying to make friends, join clubs, manage classes and adjust to everything else that being a college student entails in 2021. All the while, her thousands of followers constantly want more content.

A social media community

“I really want to continue this aspect of my life, but I am the biggest source of pressure for myself,” Ainsley said. “It’s hard to give myself some grace.” 

One of the ways Ainsley has learned to take space for herself is through connecting with other TikTokers with similar concerns. She has befriended several college-aged comedy TikTok creators, like Jack Martin, who told her that her content wasn’t everything.

“I remember when I first came to college and just trying to do all the things, the same way Ainsley is now,” Jack said. “I learned pretty quick something had to give and I needed to continue taking care of myself.” 

Jack is now in his third year at the University of Southern California. His TikTok following got him noticed by an acting agency in Australia, where he is currently filming the NBC show “La Brea.”

He and Ainsley became fast friends over their mutual understanding of what they call “TikTokery debauchery”—the struggles of being a young person and navigating the complex algorithms of TikTok to grow their platform. 

Young creators on TikTok have formed their own community to collaborate and solve problems together. It’s a collaborative environment of creativity that wouldn’t exist otherwise because it fosters connections around the globe.

“TikTok can feel like a really strange and isolating place at times,” Jack said. “That’s why I’m so glad people have reached out and invited me in. Ainsley was one of those people and she’s become one of my best friends because we just get each other.”

The community Ainsley has formed on the app has helped her balance all the chaos of school, life and maintaining a viral presence. 

Her support system, along with her runs, give Ainsley the peace of mind to keep her life and her comedy moving forward. 

Edited by Isa Mudannayake

Lavish to longing, a man who finds stability through tough times

By Jackson Moseley

Buddy Wayne Rayle is woken up at 6:30 a.m. by his pit bull, Amber, whose energy reminds Rayle of the vigor that he once had in his youth. He makes his way to the kitchen, puts on a pot of decaf coffee and gets ready for the day. After dressing himself, Rayle scrambles a couple of eggs with margarine, sprinkling in a handful of cheese.

The house is small — and over 100 years old — but comfortable. It sits tucked away on a plot of land in Haw River, North Carolina, next to a few other vacant houses. Rayle has done what he can to make it feel like a home.

After breakfast, Rayle takes Amber to a private dog park a couple of miles away, watching her run without a leash on the five-acre plot of land. He used to take her here every morning, but his recent spells of vertigo have forced him to scale back on the number of times he goes out of the house.

After taking Amber to the dog park, Rayle drives back home and puts on the TV in the living room once he gets back. Later that day, the landlord’s children stop by to chat with him. They enjoy listening to his stories and playing with Amber as much as he enjoys their company.

This is a typical day for Rayle. It’s lonely at times, but that has never stopped him from seeing the best out of his situation. In fact, seeing the best out of his situation is something that Rayle has been forced to do over the years.

The monotony of his daily routine belies the wild roller coaster of life experiences that Rayle has undergone. From growing up dirt-poor on a farm to making $1 million a year, Rayle has done it all.

A modest beginning

Known as Buddy to family and Wayne to just about everybody else, Rayle was born on February 6, 1939, on a farm in Guilford County, North Carolina, not terribly far from where he lives now. Since his family lived nowhere close to a hospital, he was delivered by his grandmother.

Rayle lived on a farm until he was 14 years old. For most of his childhood, there was no electricity and no plumbing. Only vast stretches of grass and, on that, the ragtag building that the Rayles called home. Without any friends nearby, Rayle had to make his own fun. He enjoyed adventuring in the woods with his pocket knife and the slingshot that he had designed using a tire innertube.

The smells of fresh air, grass, trees, and biscuits cooking in the morning. The sweltering heat in the middle of the summer. The buzzing of flies in the house as a result of the windows being down. These are all sensations that defined Rayle’s childhood.

Around Christmas time in 1954, the Rayle family moved to the edge of the city, where Rayle’s father had gotten a job at a service station.

That year, Rayle felt like something of a misfit. While all the other kids showed up to school wearing penny loafers and khaki pants, he had only his washed-out farming blue jeans. His parents couldn’t afford to buy anything else, so Rayle got a job delivering newspapers in the city.

From farming blue jeans to caps and gowns

Rayle’s father had dropped out of school after the seventh grade. His mother, the third grade. Despite his parents’ lack of education, Rayle graduated second in his class, never having missed a single day of school, and he was just as successful in his social life as he was in academics.

Mable Lane, one of Rayle’s friends from elementary and high school with whom he has kept in contact over the years, said that while Rayle was shy and reserved in elementary school, he was very outgoing and friendly in high school.

In addition to being class president, Rayle was on the basketball team and was a member of numerous clubs. But of all his extracurriculars, it was the drama club that left the greatest impact on Rayle. He hadn’t even thought of joining it until his English teacher, Miss Dixie Guill, who doubled as the drama teacher, approached him one day in the tenth grade and convinced him to join the club.

About a year after he joined the club, Miss Guill approached him one day after class and asked him about his plans for college.

“I’ve never thought about college,” he said.

“Well, Wayne, you’ve got to go to college,” she said. “We’re going to start applying.”

And there was no use in convincing her otherwise. She started applying to colleges for Rayle, and he was accepted into five different schools.

Rayle decided to go to Guilford College, which offered him a scholarship that would cover his tuition. He married his high school sweetheart in June after she graduated high school, the summer after his freshman year of college. They had two children together.

Rayle graduated college with a degree in economics and minors in history and religion. Over the next few decades, he worked for several insurance companies and, despite a few setbacks, enjoyed a great degree of success in his career, receiving promotion after promotion.

Fortitude in the face of uncertainty 

However, Rayle did not experience that same level of success in his marriage. His first marriage ended in divorce after six years. He married again and had two more kids, but that marriage lasted only eight years. He married a third time and had two more kids, and this marriage seemed like it might last.

Rayle started his own insurance agency in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1980. The company, and Rayle himself, enjoyed great success. Soon enough, he was making $1 million a year. He and his family lived in a nice house in a country club neighborhood with a pool in the backyard. On top of that, he owned two beach houses and even started construction on a mountain house by the lake.

Unfortunately, that period of success ended when Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989. Businesses that his agency insured were destroyed up and down the East Coast. The company that he worked with couldn’t pay their losses, so Rayle eventually had to close the insurance agency and declare bankruptcy. This, along with other factors, led to his third and final divorce.

After this, Rayle hopped around from job to job, but he never kept one particular job for very long, and he never again made nearly as much money as he once did. Eventually, he retired in 2017 at the age of 78.

Rayle has lived in his current house since October. The pandemic has only amplified his loneliness, but he still keeps in contact with old friends. Every few months, Cheryl Raiford, the woman he has been seeing since 2004 whom he describes as the love of his life, comes to visit him from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Jerry Blake, one of Rayle’s friends from high school who recently reconnected with him, said that Rayle’s internal fortitude was one of his defining characteristics. That fortitude, Blake said, allowed Rayle to push through difficult, dark times and to return to a stable and happy situation in life.

And perhaps there is no better word than fortitude to describe Rayle.

Edited by Montia Daniels 

Queer love & life on tour: reflections from a Phoebe Bridgers concert

By Claire Perry

When Jessie Gleason burned a custom CD for her girlfriend Eloise Williams, she included a questionable pick: Phoebe Bridgers’ “Graceland Too.”

“It’s a really sad song for a one year anniversary,” Gleason said.

“Graceland Too is about queer women with depression,” Williams added. “And we’re both queer women with depression.”

The couple had been planning to go to Phoebe Bridgers’ September 21 Raleigh concert since Gleason won two tickets in a highly-coveted Ticketmaster lottery back in July.

Gleason and Williams were among thousands of self-dubbed “Pharbs” who trekked to the Red Hat Amphitheater for the skeleton-suited songstress’ Reunion Tour, a celebration of “Punisher,” a sophomore album marked by synth beats and gothic lyrics in desperate need of family counseling and 200 milligrams of Seroquel.

It’s this brutal transparency, especially in reflections on queer womanhood in a heterosexual society like those in “Graceland Too,” that draws Gleason and Williams to Phoebe’s sadder tunes. Even after a year together.

“The lyric that stands out is ‘I could do whatever she wants to do,’” Gleason said. “It’s like, not asking for anything in return because I am in love with you, and I feel like even though it’s not reciprocated — like obviously here, it’s reciprocated, but when you’re young it’s not — that was really important representation.”

Not even the rain, or the musty fog that reeked of expensive beer and stuck Williams’ fishnets to her freezing legs, could shroud the magic of “Graceland Too”. Hand in hand, they snuck to the front of the concert during the intermission, eager to get a better look at the show.

As the band played “Graceland Too,” the rain would make it hard for Bridgers’ drummer turned banjo player to tune to F#. But no downpour could wash away the feeling Gleason and Williams had as they looked in each other’s eyes through the strobe-illuminated raindrops, knowing they would do whatever the other wanted. And the other would do the same.

“Whatever she wants.”

 

“Garden Song”

At 26 years old, Patty Matos was older than most people in the crowd.

She was born in the same year as Phoebe Bridgers, 1994, the year Kurt Cobain died.

Matos is no stranger to fandom.

In 2010, she started a fan event from her bedroom, concerning all things “The Cab,” a Las Vegas rock band, which was celebrated in four continents by its fourth year. The skeleton suits were just a Phoebe Bridgers-edition upgrade to eons of poster board love professions and thrown-on-stage Target bras.

They had heard the artist’s first big song, “Motion Sickness” four years ago, but only really became a fan when “Punisher” came out last year.

It wasn’t long before a single stream of the lead single turned into album listenings, merch buying, and playing “Punisher” so many times in the car that her skeleton-suited mom came to the show.

Tuesday’s concert was Matos’ second encounter with Phoebe this week. They went to the Charlotte show on Sunday, so she had already cried it out, and was unfazed by the fog machine and trumpet fanfare.

When Bridgers messed up the second verse to “Garden Song,” Matos’ favorite track, she stopped singing.

“Oops.”

And resumed.

Matos felt an intimacy to an otherwise ethereal artist, a connection different from any found in all their years of fandom. It was at the same time grounding and illuminating.

“Everybody’s human and we all mess up,” Matos said. “This song talks about getting better and being a better person. And that’s never a linear journey. So, in a way it kind of fits.”

With one mistake, this collision between the Phoebe Bridgers nominated for Grammy Awards and the Phoebe Bridgers who smokes in the Whole Foods parking lot came together in a cosmic and diminutive manner, as if the petals in her song were suddenly knocked down by the torrents cascading five feet from the covered stage.

As Matos grappled with the ethereal humanity 400 feet below her, she understood for the first time why Bridgers sang about her long-perished idol in “Punisher”’s title track.

“What if I told you I feel like I know you,

but we never met?”

 

“Kyoto”

Cora Martin, Gleason’s roommate and a fellow queer femme, stayed behind the couple, nearing the other end of the pit like they usually do at concerts. The pain in their joints makes it difficult to stand for long, but it didn’t stop them from wearing 3-inch-platform Doc Martens.

“Everybody is wearing the same shoes as I am,” Martin said. “I’m having a great time.” 

Atop their platform boots, the crowd wore fishnet tights, flannels and thrifted lace slips, homemade skeleton earrings and unnaturally pigmented hair dye. Bridgers’ own iconic look — glow-in-the-dark skeleton suit, baby-thin white blonde hair and rhinestone black guitar — was the inspiration for this gothic fashion show.

As Bridgers sang Martin’s favorite “Punisher” track, “Moon Song,” the cloudy sky made it seem like the red moon rising above the band on a projector screen was the only one in the galaxy. An anomaly only a Phoebe Bridgers concert could cause.

But that wasn’t Martin’s favorite performance of the night. It was “Kyoto.”

“This one’s for all of the kids who had to lie to CPS (Child Protective Services),” Bridgers said as she jiggled her electric guitar’s tuning pegs, preparing for a B Major.

Martin wasn’t expecting to be emotionally impacted. But that single line brought them back to their childhood with their estranged father. The acknowledgement of the hatred that comes alongside survivor’s guilt struck them suddenly through trumpet riffs and “Woos”, falling on their shoulders like the drops of waning rain.

“So much of what you’re “supposed” to feel is getting over things and becoming less angry,” Martin said. “But I think that there’s really a space for holding on to your rage, and not forgiving or forgetting.”

Their caramel hijab stood out in the crowd, a blanket of increasingly soggy warmth in a sea of black, white and neon. Even as Martin stood alone, away from Gleason, they didn’t feel it.

“When you are growing up queer, you feel so lonely, and then when you grow up and you find somebody that understands you, it still feels so fleeting because you’re so used to being alone,’ Martin said. “I think that that’s why queer artists are so important, because they really understand.”

Maybe the feeling was lost when Phoebe Bridgers, the artist, instantaneously switched places with Phoebe Bridgers, the person, during “Garden Song”. Or maybe, it was lost when she swung around the bra of an audience member, or acknowledged an expletive sign, or drank from a sweating San Pellegrino bottle on stage.

But as a community of peers — queer, femme, and footed in patent leather — shed bits of their own loneliness in the fresh gravel, left drops of it in empty water bottles and discarded wine cans, Martin felt a little less alone. And maybe that’s what loving Phoebe Bridgers is all about.

 

Edited by Peitra Knight

‘An adrenaline rush like no other’: Marching Tar Heels return

By Lindsey Banks

 

“Three, four…”

 

Joe Figliolo takes a deep breath. He raises one hand in the air as he pats his chest with the other, setting the tempo for the musicians standing in front of him. For a few seconds, all goes blank in his mind.

 

Then both arms go up. The fanfare begins.

 

Just a few minutes earlier, the Marching Tar Heels ran down the steps of a full Kenan Stadium for the first time in over a year. The COVID-19 pandemic had pressed pause on live band performances during sporting events. For many students in the stands, this is the first UNC football game they’ve attended during college: COVID-19 restrictions kept the stadium at limited capacity during the 2020 season. 

 

This is Joe’s first performance as drum major, and it’s the last UNC football home opener of his undergraduate years. 

 

“It’s an adrenaline rush like no other,” Joe said. “It’s been such a long time, so the crowd was excited to see us.”

 

The Marching Tar Heels are the soundtrack of the game – a soundtrack powered by an exchange of energy. The roaring fans feed energy to the band; the band launches its own energy into the crowd. 

 

“It’s why the band is behind the student section and not in front of them,” Joe said. “Because the band is there to create that energy for the crowd that recorded music can’t.”

 

The energy reaches the football players, who put on a dance performance in front of the student section before kickoff. This year, the band learned a song especially for the football team: “Halftime (Stand Up & Get Crunk!)” by the Ying Yang Twins. Band director Jeffrey Fuchs had heard that the team listens to it in the locker room as they prepare for games.

 

Down on the field, the band assembles for the pregame show. It’s the same show every game, and senior tuba player Jennings Dixon knows it by heart. The sun is low in the sky, but it still draws out a bead of sweat on his forehead. He waits for the signal.

 

Two thumps on his chest. Joe cues the band for “Hark the Sound.”

 

Jennings brings his tuba to his mouth and blows, moving the bell from right to left in time with the beat. The alma mater melts into his favorite song, “Here Comes Carolina,” then into “Carolina Fight Song.”

 

Fireworks erupt. The football team charges onto the field and exchanges high-fives. The crowd shakes the stands. The Marching Tar Heels play on.

 

The performance ends with the national anthem, and the musicians return to the stands, relieved. The season’s first pregame show was a success.

 

The hours of practice may go unnoticed by the crowd, but the band feels them in every deep breath and sore muscle. Game day begins long before 7:30 p.m. The band starts with an open practice at 3 p.m, and it plays for the team arrival at 5 p.m. Then it moves to the Pit, then to Wilson Library, then finally down Stadium Drive to Kenan Stadium. It’s an all-day performance.

 

Kickoff marks the official start of the game, and the band takes on the duty of meeting every Tar Heel success with the appropriate song. Joe assumes his position in front of the band for the first quarter of the game. He keeps tempo with his arms and cues songs with practiced gestures.

 

A hand under his chin. One finger in the air. Two thumps on his chest.

 

The band watches and reacts.

 

Three other drum majors rotate in between quarters, so Joe gets a break before the halftime show. He stands next to the band section with a headset, communicating with his director up in the press box. Each band member has an app called FlipFolder on their phone that automatically displays the sheet music.

 

Between songs, Jennings pauses and looks around. He can feel the energy vibrating through his chest as the crowd shakes the stands. He can see it as the fans wave their hands in the air and jump. He can even smell it: a combination of AstroTurf, giant pretzels and sweat. It all comes together and creates something tangible: Some might mistake it as humidity, but Jennings calls it magic.

 

“It’s not football unless there’s a marching band,” Jennings said.

 

At halftime, the band sets up on the field. Joe takes his position in front of the group and climbs up the ladder. He waits for his director’s cue. 

 

“We’ve got a treat for you,” Director Fuchs announces to the stadium. “From Lil Nas X’s new album ‘Montero’ that just dropped yesterday, here is our version of ‘Industry Baby.’”

 

Diana Godoy, a senior in the student section, recognizes the song from the first three notes. She smiles and looks to her friend, fellow senior Kayla Ausbrooks, who sits next to her. They both pull out their phones to record the moment. It’s their last season opener in the student section.

 

The band dances along, singing the words with their instruments. They have their own language, and for those few minutes, they don’t need a translator. Everyone in the stadium understands. 

 

Joe keeps the tempo with his arms. Jennings stands in the back, swinging his tuba left to right. Diana dances in the stands, singing along. Kayla shares the video with her friends on Snapchat. 

 

A round of applause.

 

The band returns to the stands for the final time that night and sends sounds of encouragement to the field from above. “Hark the Sound” marks another Carolina victory, and the band is joined by thousands of voices singing Carolina’s praises, shouting N.C.U.

 

The crowd disperses, but the excitement lingers for a little longer. Diana and Kayla hang back to listen to the band play everyone out of the stadium. With the band’s rendition of “Carolina in My Mind” by James Taylor, it hits the two seniors that their days in the student section are numbered. 

 

The song ends with another round of applause from the fans who stayed behind. Joe and Jennings unknowingly share a sigh of relief. It’s an emotional experience, knowing every performance this semester brings them closer to their last as Marching Tar Heels. But they’re both hopeful it’s going to be a long season.

 

“The better the team does, the more opportunities we’ll have to play and perform,” Jennings said.

 

The band will provide the soundtrack for the rest of the season. And if the team makes it to the ACC Championship – the sort of game you’d find in an epic sports movie – the Marching Tar Heels will play the score.

 

After all, what is a successful football team without its marching band?

 

Edited by Mary King

On and off stage, Drag queen Stormie Daie educates, builds community

By Ellie Heffernan

The recipe seems easy enough. You need makeup, sequins, a properly secured wig and last but certainly not least, a massive foam butt. Voila! You have something that looks like a drag queen. But it takes more than colorful eyeshadow and costumes to touch people’s hearts and minds.  

Raafe Purnsley knows this, and they’ve used their wit, musicality and a certain je ne sais quoi to become one of Durham, North Carolina’s most iconic drag queens. Don’t recognize the name? You probably know them as Stormie Daie, a queen who uses her platform to promote racial justice, sex positivity, LGBTQ equality and more.

Drag personas display such a wide range of intense emotions that audiences often view them as their own people. They fall in love with these larger-than-life characters, making it hard to accept that these vibrant personalities are always, on some level, a façade. 

Perhaps this is why no writers have dared to peek behind the sequined curtains that shroud Purnsley in mystery. They write about Stormie, but they forget that the person who created her is also worth getting to know. Purnsley defines Stormie — not the other way around — and learning about their life reveals what it takes to be an impactful performer and human being. 

The making of a performer, educator and community builder

Purnsley, who identifies as nonbinary, says their love of performing came from their family. Their mother frequently danced in North Carolina shag competitions, performing routines to speedy, swinging jazz. Their grandmother grew up jitterbugging. Men would toss her in the air, and she’d shoot right between their legs and pop back up, Purnsley said.  

Purnsley’s commitment to education and community building is also rooted in their childhood. During one of many summers spent visiting their grandmother in eastern North Carolina, Purnsley attended estuary camp on the inlet in Little Washington. They studied swamp systems, which motivated them to later earn a bachelor’s degree in environmental and ecological sciences from Elon University. 

Purnsley’s career in education began at the Center for Human-Earth Restoration in Raleigh, where they taught groups of predominantly students of color from kindergarten through ninth grade. Lessons consisted of basic science, local flora and fauna and Black and Indigenous history related to the land.  

Although Purnsley may have never taught them science, fans of Stormie have likely seen them “holding class.” Purnsley often weaves into their performances conversations about consent, HIV/AIDS, racial inequity, Durham’s rapid gentrification, and gender and sexuality. This summer, they read picture books about gender and sexuality at a kid-friendly drag storytelling event in Chapel Hill. 

“Drag gives you a chance to be something that society doesn’t want you to be,” Purnsley said. “You realize that once you’re good at drag, it’s a form of power. And then you can use that power to hopefully make space for people who also feel similarly to you and support being seen and heard in the ways you wanted to be.”

Purnsley has empowered people like Ellison Commodore, a Black queer individual who attended his first drag show when Stormie came to Carrboro in fall 2018. Commodore was initially nervous to attend the event, having often felt uncomfortable in predominantly white, queer spaces. He felt at ease when he saw a Black, queer person dance energetically, clearly having a good time.

Drawing the line between Purnsley and their persona

Stormie usually looks like she’s having a good time. She’s bigger, happier, sassier and more joyful than Purnsley, they said. Purnsley admitted that when Stormie shares emotions — even moody, negative ones — it’s a little superficial.

“Stormie’s like pieces of me, and there’s just more parts of me that aren’t necessary for Stormie to exist,” Purnsley says. “And those pieces are the ones that keep us real.”

Purnsley’s good friend Carlos Fernandez might disagree. Fernandez, whose drag queen name is Naomi Dix, said Purnsley and Stormie are almost the same person. Both are fun-loving, confident people who stand out in a crowd. 

Purnsley is so confident, woke, eclectic and highly educated that it made Fernandez feel threatened. The two did not initially click with each other. Today, Fernandez describes Purnsley as one of his favorite people and a “partner in crime” who balances him out. Fernandez is more reserved, but he has stronger organizational skills. Purnsley is a bit scatterbrained, but they exude confidence. 

The two perform together frequently, and they co-hosted the first “Sister Sister Drag Tour” in 2018, traveling to various colleges. They kicked off a second round of the tour this year.

Life outside of drag

It’s difficult to pin down the pieces of Purnsley that don’t shine through in Stormie. Purnsley basically has no schedule, they say, which aligns with Fernandez’s description of his friend’s organizational challenges. 

They typically wake up around 9 a.m. They lay down for another 30 or 40 minutes before actually waking up, frantically watering the plants they should have watered before going to bed and feeding their three dogs: Blue, Moon and Moose.

Blue and Moon are Chihuahua-toy poodle mixes. Moose is also a mutt, but he’s approximately the size of a Great Dane.

By day, Purnsley works as the Durham Co-op Market’s community outreach coordinator, where they determine how to use the cooperatively owned grocery store’s resources to support local communities. This work includes donating food or sharing information about community resources and events.

When they come home, Purnsley often spends time with their boyfriend of four years, Joaquín Carcaño, a public health worker with a background in infectious diseases and focus on HIV/AIDS.

The couple met at a potluck organized by mutual friends. Carcaño had brought some beers, and Purnsley began to drink one while they talked. At one point, Purnsley laughed so intensely at a funny joke Carcaño told that they spilled beer all over their future boyfriend.

Carcaño said he was drawn to Purnsley because they stand out in a crowd. They know how to make people laugh and put them at ease – a trait that became clear early on in their relationship. 

Recently, Carcaño was recovering from a surgery, and Purnsley brought flowers to his house for both him and his mother, who traveled there from Texas to care for Carcaño. Purnsley immediately hit it off with Carcaño’s mother, and they began chatting excitedly about shoes and drag. Carcaño had introduced other partners to his mother, but none had immediately bonded with her.

Anecdotes like this show that Purnsley is, in Fernandez’s words, a “mother hen.” Purnsley may be confident, creative, intelligent and even scatterbrained, but above all they are loving. This trait motivates them to do everything with the singular goal of building community.

Confidence and progress

Purnsley gave people the gift of Stormie Daie. But perhaps Stormie Daie has also given Purnsley, who used to be much less secure in their queer identity, a confidence they did not previously possess.

Purnsley recently performed a show at their alma mater, wearing a black ringlet wave wig and a copper sequin dress with bell sleeves reminiscent of the 70s. This was an era when someone like Raafe Purnsley would not have been welcome on Elon’s campus, but things are much different now. 

Edited by Caroline Bowers and Claire Tynan

 

Healthcare workers continue to fight in the battle against COVID-19

By Mary-Kate Appanaitis

Ema McCool takes a deep breath behind her mask knowing it will be a while before she can escape the feeling of being smothered.

She puts on elastic shoe covers over her scrubs, a surgical gown that ties behind her neck and behind her back, a scrub cap over her hair, two layers of surgical gloves, an N95 face mask, and a large plastic face shield.

Antiviral wipes in hand, McCool pushes the door open to check in on one of her several patients. It’s a one-sided interaction. Her patient is intubated, silent, and motionless. The only noise in the room is the shuffle of her shoe covers against the sterile floor and the persistent whirl of the ventilator.

McCool takes the patient’s vitals and updates the medical chart notes each day; continually becoming less hopeful as the damage of COVID-19 spreads and worsens.

McCool observes that the patient’s oxygen levels are lower than the day before. Aware that the patient’s time is most likely coming to an end, she prepares for the bed transfer, the paperwork exchange, and the new file that will be placed by the door when a new patient will be brought in.

When she signed up for her job, she was not expecting to become the last face that many people would see in their lifetime.

As a junior at North Carolina State University, aiming to become a physician’s assistant, McCool knew she needed hands-on experience in hospitals.

In a dark stroke of luck, Duke Hospital was desperate for positions.

The pandemic spurred a healthcare worker shortage, and the need was felt sharply throughout all units. McCool applied in September of 2020, and by October she made the first of many half-hour drives from her Raleigh apartment to the hospital in Durham.

On her first day of work, McCool arrived at Duke with no information other than the building address and her agreement to work as a nursing assistant.

She accepted the position knowing there was a high possibility that she would be around COVID-19 patients in any unit that she could be placed in, but her suspicions about her proximity to the virus grew as she greeted her new colleagues.

McCool quickly figured out that the procedures she was learning in her orientation were far beyond the scope of standard COVID-19 policies in hospitals. Extensive personal protective equipment covered all the features of her colleagues around her, leaving only their exhausted eyes visible.

Her group leader solemnly confirmed her worries. She would be working in the SICU.

The SICU, or Surgical Intensive Care Unit, acts as an overflow unit for patients affected by any illness, but in recent history, it has been teeming with those affected by the coronavirus.

When Duke’s hospital beds are full, those who have missed the cut-off are sent to the SICU. They remain there until either another bed has opened, they have recuperated enough to leave, or most likely, until they have passed.

While her family beams with pride at the work she’s been a part of, her roommates did not feel as enthusiastic.

Two of McCool’s roommates moved out by the end of the month in fear that they may be infected by McCool possibly bringing home COVID-19 from the hospital.

Despite all the precautions taken by McCool at her job, her four-person apartment shrank.

Hospital clothes were discarded in the parking garage before leaving the hospital, masks were worn indoors around others, and once home she immediately showered and placed all potentially contaminated clothes in the washer. But the fear of the coronavirus was too strong.

Over the past 11 months, McCool has watched a never-ending stream of patients come in and out of the SICU. As soon as a bed becomes empty, a new patient has arrived to fill their place. There is no time to mourn, or to process the loss, before another patient in failing health is placed into care.

Though she has accumulated notebooks full of knowledge that will set her ahead for her medical career, one of the most important skills McCool has obtained is the power to compartmentalize.

Every element of the SICU is overwhelming. Sweltering heat magnified by layers of protective gear, the stinging smell of disinfectant on every surface, and a constant fear that an inhaled breath near a patient was a little too deep and a little too unlucky.

But there is no time for any thoughts other than moving forward and assisting the next patient.

“You just can’t think about it,” McCool said. “You don’t let yourself think about any of the details because if you do, you know that you won’t be able to keep going.”

And so, the three twelve-hour shifts a week simply became another part of her routine.

With NC State returning to in-person classes, McCool’s calendar is strategically outlined balancing homework and studying with patient care. But the ability to separate work from everyday life is growing to become a challenge, as people closer to her own age, 21, are beginning to appear in her unit, requiring her care.

McCool has a front-seat view to both sides of the unfolding story. As a student, she watches as well-intended college parties become hotspots for the very disease that she watches kill her patients.

When her coworkers feel safe returning home to their families, McCool returns to a campus, where she feels there is still a high chance that she could be exposed to COVID-19. As a student, the need to be on high alert doesn’t fade for her when she leaves the hospital, unlike the rest of the staff in the SICU.

She watches as classmates refuse to receive a vaccine, and then appear in line for an overflow bed at Duke, praying for relief from the virus.

McCool’s ability to separate work from her own feelings dwindles with each dreaded zipping noise of a body bag closing, signaling space being cleared for a new patient, and a family’s loss.

A grandfather who spends his final days surrounded by photos of his family, when none of them were allowed into the building.

Zip.

A young mother who asks for McCool’s help in making concrete imprints of her hands, in the hopes that her three-year-old son could try to remember her touch.

Zip.

One of Duke Hospitals’ own workers, destroyed by the disease she fought to save her patients from.

Zip.

The sound of one phase of the cycle ending, and another phase of the cycle beginning. It doesn’t stop.

While the burnout from the work that McCool does may be growing, she has no plans of letting it stop her. Instead, she lets it propel her forward.

She sees each new patient as a new opportunity to help any to degree she can; to use her skills and knowledge to aid those who are sent to her unit when there is nowhere else for them to go.

She puts on her personal protective gear, sanitizes herself and everything around her, and prepares herself to do her job – to take care of her patients.

One more deep breath in, and she enters the next patient’s room.

Edited by Jake Jeffries

Former UNC women’s basketball player finds passion in faith

By Cailey Howard

It was never going to be enough.

The roar of the fans in the stands could not drown out the doubt Hunter West felt about herself. As she looked down at her jersey, she still could not believe its letters read “U-N-C.”

But, just when she should feel like she had it all, she realized that she really had nothing if she did not have Jesus Christ.

Destined for greatness

In elementary school, she played basketball with boys that now attend well-known colleges and some who are currently in the NBA.

She went home every night with scuffed up knees and a couple of bruises – they did not cut her any slack just because she was a girl.

As she played alongside them, she eventually sent them home from school with a few battle wounds as well.

When she played against her older sisters in the evenings, she beat them every time. The sore losers would cry and spit insults at Hunter in the midst of a temper tantrum. However, not even they could deny that she was a star athlete.

Even her travel basketball coach looked her mom, Sheila West, in the eyes and told her that one day her middle school daughter would be a Division 1 athlete.

She was destined for greatness, pure and gracious in the eyes of all who knew her. Her radiance touched the lives of her community.

Living her faith

The freshman students at her high school knew her as their math tutor. She stepped up to assist them with their homework when their teachers and parents thought they were beyond help’s reach.

Her teachers frequently confided in her about their troubled students, and even the troubles of their own lives. They knew Hunter would always lend a listening ear and a word of encouragement.

The people of her church marveled at her renditions of their favorite hymns and contemporary worship songs. The beautiful melody of her voice carried throughout a spirit-filled sanctuary.

As their youngest and last child, her parents knew her as their baby. The mischievous toddler that once stole earrings from their local Belk was now a varsity athlete with a full-ride scholarship to a prestigious university.

The same young woman that was praying for her friends and leading her teammates in devotion before every game became a roaring lion on the basketball court. Other girls feared her, and other teams did their research on her, trying to identify her weaknesses so they could take her down.

Hunter loved the sport. More than that, she loved the way it made her look.

She enthralled the hearts and conversations of her community. The feeling she got from their love and praise was her high, and she continued to seek any outlet to access this drug.

Stranger in her own body

It was no surprise when Hunter received notice that she was the newest member of the UNC women’s basketball team.

She had it all.

The girl who came from the town where the accents were thick, the Bojangles biscuits were plentiful and there were church bells ringing on every street corner had finally arrived in the eyes of her community.

Still, somehow Hunter had never felt like so much of a stranger in her own body.

Opinions of who to be and how to do everything come from every corner when you are a Morehead-Cain Scholar and member of the UNC women’s basketball team.

As Hunter played at practice, insult after insult escaped the lips of verbally abusive assistant coaches. They took every opportunity to remind her that she was not fast enough and she did not know the plays well enough.

As her coaches yelled the many ways in which she needed to do better, her ultimate desire was for them to be in awe of her. She longed so deeply for them to take an interest in her basketball career.

The game she always loved was now the thing she hated the most.

Walking away from the game

Hunter went to basketball practice and was the competitive athlete she knew to be and went to the classroom and worked harder than her peers.

She was stewarding her identities well as an athlete and student but disconnected from her true self.

The desire to seek recognition from others had bound her in chains from which she could not seem to be free.

She finally felt freedom when she did the unthinkable – walked away from the greatest opportunity she had ever had.

The games, team meet and greets, and prestigious opportunities left Hunter empty and more unknown and unloved than she had ever been.

She searched for something to fill her heart and to give her a sense that someone was satisfied or pleased with her, but she could not find that in basketball.

When she unlaced the Jordan’s, Hunter began to focus more on her academic career. Just like any other Morehead-Cain Scholar, she fell into the hamster wheel of thinking that she was going to make a bigger difference in the world than her colleagues.

Finding freedom in Jesus

Her internship for the U.S. Senate in Washington made her feel important for a while. However, when COVID-19 broke out, she went home and once again realized the immense amount of joy she lacked.

For the first time in a while, she was out of the public eye.

Since a global pandemic isolated her from all of her other friends, she had a lot of extra time to spend with Jesus.

The words she was reading in her Bible began to not only tell a parable about a Jewish man who lived a crazy and sin-free life, but they also started to penetrate her heart and wreck her view of how she was supposed to live.

Hunter realized she had it all backward. She was working to seek recognition and approval from someone or something when she already had the love and adoration of the “king of the universe.”

The same God that created the galaxies knit Hunter together perfectly.

It was almost as if when Hunter realized this, she could hear the audible sound of chains breaking.

She saw that her purpose in life was to share with others the goodness of God, and she did not have to do this to seek his recognition. He already loved her so much that he sent his son Jesus to die for her.

When she came to this realization, there was a new peace about her.

She sought comfort in knowing that she would never be good enough in the eyes of others because she had a new confidence that a holy god fiercely loved her.

Edited by: Austin Bean