SOT Meet Series

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

Collins sits at a table under a George Floyd mural that reads "George Floyd Rest in Power."
Courtesy of Armando Collins

For Armondo Collins, growing up in a predominantly-black neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota meant several things. It meant that he had to pass through majority white, wealthy communities whenever he wanted candy from the corner store. And it meant that he got stopped by the police a lot. 

Two old photos of Smallwood
Courtesy of Arwin Smallwood

Arwin Smallwood grew up in the rural town of Indian Woods, in the northeastern part of North Carolina. The ten-square-mile community is the home to descendants of the Native American, African and European people who lived there over hundreds of years. Smallwood came of age there in the 60s and 70s. 

Gragg stands in front of a pink quilt top with yellow and blue squares. She is wearing a large necklace, drop earrings and a blue shirt. Her coily hair has streaks of blue.
Dare Kumolo-Johnson

Mavis Gragg never thought her work would “take her to the trees,” but that is where she has found herself. 

Author Carole Boston Weatherford reads to students
Carole Boston Weatherford

Carole Boston Weatherford wrote her first poem in first grade. She dictated it to her mother on the way home from elementary school in Baltimore. 

Courtesy of Jessica Yinka Thomas

Jessica Yinka Thomas grew up in both the United States and West Africa. Her father, a Nigerian economics professor, and her mother, an American computer scientist, raised their four kids between Miami, Nigeria, Senegal and eventually Maryland to get them ready for college in the states.

Sylvan Esso on stage performing for a standing crowd, backlit by blue stage lights.
Graham Tolbert

They are a Grammy-nominated duo of musical magpies. The shared nest of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn is woven with treasures from ambient, Appalachian gospel, EDM, post-rock, folk-pop and trap music. Yet Sylvan Esso is anything but patchwork. 

Courtesy of Richard Watkins

Richard Watkins has always moved in multiple circles. 

a colorful artists' rendering of the greenhouse effect
Jaime Van Wart

Eleanor Spicer Rice spent her childhood fascinated by ants, flies, maggots, bones and other natural curiosities. Her family encouraged that inquisitiveness — her father would take her on walks in the swamps near their Goldsboro home, and her parents never told her the bugs that enchanted her were gross.

Neuwirth stands in front of the exhibit with her two children.
Courtesy of Edward Neuwirth

As a child, Brandi Neuwirth remembers family chatter about her great-great-grandfather owning a school in North Carolina. But she was young and North Carolina seemed a world away from the life she lived in New York City. Her great-great-grandfather the Rev. Morgan Latta had a vision of a school that would educate the children of freed slaves.

Photo of Mia Ives-Rublee with her dog Vezzini
Chris Riggs / Courtesy Mia Ives-Rublee

Mia Ives-Rublee grew up surrounded by adults who were worried about her well-being. She has Osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic bone disorder more commonly known as brittle bone disease, and uses a wheelchair to get around. 

Red racecar speeding away.
Mark Menscer

Mark Menscer likes living between worlds. The “shock nerd” might spend the day chumming it up at a race track before heading home for a solitary night spent photographing the remains of a supernova. The Fayetteville native points to his unique upbringing for sparking his curiosity and wide-ranging interests.

Courtesy of Ronnie Pepper

Ronnie Pepper loves to hear stories as much as he loves to tell them. He grew up in the small Appalachian town of Hendersonville during the era of the civil rights movement in a house with no plumbing and only four rooms.

Ron Yorgason

Charly Lowry raises the hand-drum, strikes a heartbeat and begins reciting a song she wrote after leaving the comfort of her native community for college — “An existence so beautiful, so colorful/ deep rooted in originality/ eye-candy of shallow minds/ that was her reality, still/ she walks around with a smile/ for the whole wide world to see/ Inside’s ascreamin’/ Free yourself from strains of society.”

A poster board covered in magazine cut-outs and photos related to health and wellness.
Courtesy of Bahby Banks

When the movie "Outbreak" came out in 1995, Bahby Banks was in high school, good at math and ready to join the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an epidemiologist tracking disease. But the more she learned about the broader contextual issues of public health, the more she wondered about what happens after the numbers are collected.

The silhouette of a person in front of a broken stained glass window
Watkins Stained Glass Studio

Is it easier to turn the other cheek while packing heat? Like the Vedas, Torah and Quran, the New Testament’s verdict on violence and self-defense is a moving target.

Freelon sits on a tractor wheel with one of her tissue-paper pieces draped on the tractor.
Chris Charles for Garden & Gun

Durham artist Maya Freelon’s large tissue paper installations have hung in the halls of the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building and the North Carolina Museum of Art. She has received commissions from Google and Cadillac and was recently named one of five young artists to watch during Miami Art Week 2019. Her techniques transform tissue paper from schoolhouse craft to fine art and create community in collaborative quilt-making workshops.

Headshot of Holloway
Esther Hicks Photography / Courtesy of Karla Holloway

Karla FC Holloway was raised in Buffalo, New York in the midst of the battle over school desegregation. Her parents were both school administrators, and although she was not aware at the time of just how involved they were in that fight, she keenly observed their commitment to racial equality.

Carrie Knowles in front of a microphone
Courtesy of Carrie Knowles

Writing has been a central part of Carrie Knowles’ life since she was a young girl. She pursued creative writing as her major in college, even though it went against her father’s wishes.

Jeffries stands in uniform next to a sign that reads 'Lindsey Jefferies NC's First Female African AMerican Black Helicopter Pilot for the NC Army National Guard.'
Courtesy of Lindsey Jefferies

Captain Lindsey Jefferies was the first of her six siblings to graduate from college. As a child, her family struggled financially and was constantly on the move in search of better paying jobs and a lower cost of living. She hoped that getting a good education could be a ticket to a more secure future and set the goal of attending UNC-Chapel Hill.

Lind in his Duke uniform.
Courtesy of Laughinghead Photographers

Fred Lind recently retired as the top attorney at the Guilford County Public Defender’s office. A job he thought would only last a few years became a 45-year commitment to the community.

Hope in her cap and gown after graduation from Smith College.
Courtesy of Elan Hope

Elan Hope grew up in one of the wealthiest majority-African American counties in the United States: Prince George’s County, Maryland. She went to talented and gifted schools and attended a STEM-focused magnet high school.

Faber holding a mic during one of her comedy sets.
Courtesy of Lauren Faber

To be fair, Lauren Faber had one good shrink back in Philadelphia. Up until then, the 2016 Carolina’s Funniest Comic wondered why none of her friends would take her trauma seriously. That psychologist trained Faber to stop smiling while sharing painful stories. But 20 years of off-and-on therapy has left her wondering if counseling is a good fit.
 

black and white photo of Ricky Moore standing in front of his restaurant
Baxter Miller

Ricky Moore has been chasing taste for his entire life. He moved around a lot as a child because of his father’s military career, but when he was 11, his family settled back to Eastern North Carolina, in New Bern. He was surrounded by family, friends and country cooking.

Courtesy of Chuck Liddy

Chuck Liddy stumbled into a career as a photojournalist after he found out he could walk into  high school football games for free if he had a camera around his neck. But the photography enthusiast had already converted a bathroom in his house into a darkroom and enjoyed experimenting with the camera his dad had taken into the Vietnam War. Once Liddy was on staff at a newspaper, he began a career of taking risks and adopting the new technology of the day, from digital cameras to drones.

Holmes with a tennis racket.
Courtesy of Meredythe Holmes

Irwin Holmes had the early makings of an all-around star. He graduated third in his class at Hillside High School in 1956 at the age of 15. In addition to his academic prowess, Holmes was also a champion on the tennis court.

Andre Vann standing with a table of NCCU's history.
Courtesy of Andre Vann

Andre Vann has always been enchanted by the stories of others. He grew up in a small, tight-knit community in Henderson, N.C. that was founded by his great-great-grandmother. He was rooted to his family history in that neighborhood, surrounded by his relatives and close family friends.

Newton posed in a red beret and blue blouse on the balcony of The Carolina Theatre.
Beth Mann / Durham Magazine

As a kid Rebecca Newton loved performing for her family. Around the piano, she discovered her skill for harmonizing and found that showcasing her musical talents was a way to keep the peace in a tumultuous and sometimes violent household.

Tommy Coyote / Courtesy of Miriam Tolbert

How do local artists make it big these days? In the age of recommendation algorithms and music streaming, can a radio DJ spin an indie artist into fame? Miriam Tolbert is trying to do just that by slowly turning the attention of a commercial station back to the local scene. 

Yoo and his family with a family of African immigrants.
Courtesy of Lawrence Yoo

Pastor Lawrence Yoo’s vision for changing the world combines community service and entrepreneurship, and he has used this model in his own life.

Sonny Kelly on stage
Huth Photography/Courtesy of Sonny Kelly

North Carolina playwright, actor and teacher Sonny Kelly has made it his mission in life to inspire others. He aims to use performance and ministry to connect with people, especially marginalized kids. As a young man in the U.S. Air Force, Kelly felt like he had no real purpose or direction in his life.

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