SOT Meet Series

The Monday Meet series features conversations with people with strong ties to  North Carolina who have compelling personal stories. Host Frank Stasio talks with a range of people about their life, work, and how the two intersect.

Ana Nuñez
Courtesy of Ana Nuñez / Fay and Grafton

Ana Nuñez was nine years old before she ever stepped foot inside a grocery store or tasted an apple. Nuñez grew up in Cuba with intermittent access to food and medicine and abundant electricity shortages. In 1991 her father defected to the United States, and a couple years later the family followed.

Courtesy of Noran Sanford

As a counselor in Laurinburg, North Carolina, Noran Sanford provided therapy to young people whose backgrounds weren’t too far removed from his own. These boys came from broken homes, struggled with poverty and addiction and lost family members to violence. But as he stood over yet another grave of a talented young man he had tried to help, Sanford knew he hadn’t done enough.

Laura Pellicer / WUNC

The Triangle knows him as the night jock for K-97.5/WQOK where he plays hip-hop and R&B. Dion “Showtime” Chavis joins host Frank Stasio to tell the stories behind the voice.

Courtesy Raymond Barfield

For most of his life, Raymond Barfield was a person of faith. He grew up in the church and maintained his faith right up to his early years as a physician. But his time working as a pediatric oncologist pushed him to the limits of his emotional and spiritual capacity.

Courtesy of Michelle Skipper

When Hurricane Matthew devastated her rural community, Michelle Skipper was there to help. She and her husband cooked and did laundry for hundreds of people staying at an emergency shelter in St. Pauls, a small town in Eastern North Carolina. 

Courtesy Sönke Johnsen

Sönke Johnsen was always driven by art. As a youth he captured documentary photos on the streets of Pittsburgh and developed them in a homemade dark room. Later he practiced and taught modern dance. But Johnsen's pursuit of artistic awe led him on a surprising path toward biology. Today, as a professor of biology at Duke University, he plunges thousands of feet under the sea, discovering mysterious marine animals that hide in plain sight. He has won multiple awards for his scientific writing, teaching, and mentorship.

Courtesy of Asha Bala / North Carolina Arts Council

When Asha Bala was born, her mother looked at her and declared that she would be a dancer. Her country, India, was a newborn as well, recently independent from British rule. So many parents were keen to revitalize ancient cultural and spiritual practices like Bharata Natyam dance, once practiced in the temples and based on epic tales and mythology.

Julie-Ann Scott-Pollock with her three sons.
Courtesy of Julie-Ann Scott-Pollock

Julie-Ann Scott-Pollock studies what it is like to live in the body of another person. She looks specifically at bodies that may make others uncomfortable, like those of people with memory loss or people who have bulimia. She transforms first-person interviews into performance pieces that explore perspectives on embodiment.

picture of Katie Mack staring up immersed in stars
courtesy of Katie Mack

Many kids take things apart to figure out how they work. They stare up at the stars and wonder how the universe functions. As a young child, Katie Mack did that too. But she eventually took that curiosity to the next level, and her childhood fascination led to a career in astrophysics.

Fred Nijhout poses with crossed arms in front of abstract
Megan Mendenhall / Duke Photography

Frederik Nijhout grew up in post-World War II Holland, and his childhood was full of stories from the war, including his father's imprisonment by the Germans and his daring escape with forged travel documents. As a child, he moved to Guatemala and later to Curaçao where he was captivated by the diverse and colorful nature.

Courtesy of Jason Brown

When he first started playing football, Jason Brown saw it as a business decision. He wanted to get a scholarship to college so that he would not be a financial burden for his parents.

Courtesy of Nicole Zelniker

For Maia Dery, sitting still has never been much of an option. Her teacher had her sit out in the halls to not disturb other students, and as soon as she had her precious drivers license, Dery routinely skipped school to escape to Duke Forest. As Dery says, she never did well in boxes.

Courtesy of Dr. Kimberly Johnson

Even though she grew up in a small, historically black community in Mississippi, Kimberly Johnson heard plenty of conversations about racism and discrimination.

Ashley Thomas posing with athletes from the Valor Games
Bridge2Sports

Each year the Valor Games come to the Triangle and give disabled veterans and those in the armed services the opportunity to compete in sports that help them build strength, confidence and tenacity.

photo of Candis Cox speaking at a podium with signs for the human rights campaign and equality NC
Courtesy of Candis Cox

Candis Cox was working as a representative with American Airlines at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport when she was thrust into the role of political activist. Cox is a transgender woman, and after the passage of North Carolina House Bill 2, she was told she could no longer use the bathroom that aligned with her gender identity.

headshot of serapio
Courtesy of Luis Carlos Serapio

Luis Carlos Serapio crossed the border from Mexico as an undocumented immigrant in the early 1990s. He was looking for a better life. He moved around, from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Utah, and then to the East Coast. After visiting Asheville for a wedding, he and his first wife fell in love with the city. They soon decided to take a leap of faith and just move there.

photo of tomlin overlooking newsroom floor with many cublicles
Courtesy of Robyn Tomlin

Robyn Tomlin oversees eight newspapers across two states. In January, she was appointed the first regional McClatchy editor for the Carolinas. But her relationship with newspapers started far from a bustling newsroom. As a 19-year-old mom running a daycare inside her apartment, Tomlin became an avid reader of The News & Observer. The paper was her lifeline to a world outside of dirty diapers and wailing children.

photo of 5 actors in nascar-type coveralls
Courtesy of Keith Harris

Fans of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” know him as Dr. Harlan Carson, but long before that R. Keith Harris was making a name for himself as an actor in films like “Big Fish” and “A Walk in the Woods.” Raised in Reidsville, North Carolina, Harris tried his hand at living in Los Angeles, but came back home with $40 in his pocket and very little to show for his five year investment. For most that would have been the end of the Hollywood dream. But for Harris, his acting opportunities have continued to expand.

photo of Erin Byrd
Courtesy of Erin Byrd

Activist Erin Byrd grew up moving from one military base to the next – from Virginia to Texas to South Korea to Texas to Germany and back to the U.S. again. Throughout her childhood, Byrd witnessed military families get free dental care, free health care and reduced-price groceries. The government supplied these basic services to the military population, and she wondered why the whole country did not have the same benefits.

photo of John Hedley holding his book Saddle Up.
John Hedley

On his desk sits a bumper sticker that reads “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.” For John Hedley this statement is personal, not political. He vividly remembers coming home from Vietnam to angry crowds who branded him and his fellow service members “potheads, murderers and nutjobs.” His solution? Showing first-hand support for the next generation of soldiers.

photo of Levelle Moton and a referee in action
Courtesy of LeVelle Moton

College basketball is part of North Carolina’s lifeblood, and team allegiances are not taken lightly. Yet the head coach of North Carolina Central University’s men’s basketball team is deeply respected by both those who wear the Eagles jersey and those who compete against it.

photo of Tutu Alicante
Courtesy of Tutu Alicante

Tutu Alicante grew up in Equatorial Guinea, a small nation on the western coast of Central Africa. The country is one of the largest oil producers in sub-Saharan Africa, yet many of its citizens live in extreme poverty. The oil profits stay within the government, and long-serving President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo uses intimidation tactics like imprisonment or even execution to silence his critics.

Ron Stacker Thompson
Courtesy of UNC School of the Arts

Ron Stacker Thompson knew from a young age that he wanted to be a teacher. He grew up in Chicago, excelled in school, and loved his time in the classroom. He attended Illinois State University and went on to try his hand at teaching. But his work as a drama teacher quickly led to another career on stage.

photo of Bart Ehrman
Courtesy of Bart Ehrman

In academic circles, Bart Ehrman is regarded as one of the world’s most influential New Testament scholars. But after publishing his first book designed for the masses, “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” (HarperCollins/2005), Ehrman’s reputation expanded beyond the academy and into many American households. His unabashed willingness to perform textual criticism on the Bible was offensive and polarizing for many believers. But perhaps Ehrman understood their viewpoints better than they understood his.

photo of Jennifer Pharr Davis on a big rock with a plaque
Maureen Robinson

Hiking through fields and forests has been life changing for Jennifer Pharr Davis. She is a professional hiker and adventurer. At just 21 years old, she set off on a solo hike across the entire Appalachian Trail, a path that covers 14 states and more than 2,000 miles.

Photo of Sarah Gaither
Courtesy of Sarah Gaither

 Multiracial people are the fastest growing demographic group in the country. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the nation’s multiracial population will triple by 2060, but not much research has been done on this group. Sarah Gaither is hoping to change that. She’s an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, and she is also a biracial woman.

Photo of Carlton-LaNey teaching a class
Courtesy of Iris Carlton-LaNey

Iris Carlton-LaNey is often impressed by the resourcefulness and strength of those living in poor, underserved and rural communities. As a social worker, she has spent a career observing how many in those communities have a strong commitment to hard work, family and religion. And those are values she recognizes from her own upbringing on a tobacco farm in southeastern North Carolina, where education was valued above all. 

Photo of Rolonda Watts.
Courtesy of Rolonda Watts

Rolonda Watts began her career as a reporter for WFMY News in Greensboro, North Carolina. She moved on from there to New York City, where she is remembered as the local news anchor during the “Today” show.

McGuire's Miracle The Documentary

Alexander Julian is credited with the iconic revamp of Tar Heel sports uniforms. But his journey to creating the legendary Carolina blue argyle was a long time in the making. Julian drew up his first designs when he was a child, and he started working the sales floor at his father Maurice Julian’s haberdashery when he was in his teens.

Courtesy of Stephanie Elizondo Griest

Stephanie Elizondo Griest grew up between two cultural identities: her father is white from Kansas, and her mother is Chicana, or Mexican-American.

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