The way the numbers fall
he numbers are so big they don’t seem real. Since our CityBeat reporter started two weeks ago, our web traffic has spiked. For the last quarter of 2022, we’d attract between 5,000-15,000 unique visitors per week. This week, so far, we’ve gotten more than 37,000 unique visitors to our website, almost all of them — about 66 percent — here for our coverage of Greensboro and Winston-Salem city councils.
I got to my computer Tuesday morning to check the web numbers, only to see that more than 250 people were on the site at that very moment, around 7 am. That’s not a record — we’ve had more than 1,000 people on the site at once before — but it was enough to shake me awake before the coffee pot had finished brewing.
Tago, reporters used to throw elbows to get city council scoops, would scrum in the halls after meetings to nail down quotes from the voting members, goaded each other on social media — and before that, on the blogs — when we landed a big one before they did.
At least one of our assumptions about local news — that people want more of it, not less — rings true.
It’s all different now. Before Gale Melcher started the CityBeat at Triad City Beat, the only reporter who covered every single Greensboro City Council meeting was John Hammer of the Rhino Times, every word written from an unabashed conservative point of view. And while the Rhino once had a mighty and influential readership, most people in Greensboro under 40 years old have never heard of it. Neither of the daily newspapers in Greensboro and Winston-Salem have been regularly sending reporters to cover their city councils — though, if you notice, they started covering the decisions made there a little but in the last week or so.
So I feel pretty comfortable saying that at least one of our assumptions about local news — that people want more of it, not less — rings true.
And that’s the part that really floors me: We are not reinventing the wheel. City council coverage is a bedrock for local news, nuts-andbolts stuff. When I became a news editor in Greensboro almost 20 years
Ironically, now they don’t need to. Our CityBeat reporting, funded by a nonprofit, is free for anyone who cares to use it. That, friends, is the whole point: To inform people in our cities about the actions of local government. Maybe sooner or later they will come on board. But until then, we’re okay with keeping the traffic to ourselves.
THURSDAY Jan. 19
Youth America Grand Prix Auditions @ UNCSA (W-S) 11 a.m.by MICHAELA RATLIFF
SATURDAY Jan. 21
Intro to Yoga Beginners Series @ Pure Light Yoga (HP) 10 a.m.
SUNDAY Jan. 22
Bigger Than Roe Rally @ Bailey Park (WS) 12 p.m.
The “American Idol of ballet” features hopeful dancers ages 9-19 auditioning for Youth America Grand Prix to receive scholarships to schools and companies. Find more information and stream the auditions for free at yagp.org
Heart of NC Rockstar Networking Event
@ COHAB (HP) 6 p.m.
Tajia Lagomarsino and Kimberly Patchen invite you to a free networking event for like-minded business owners and other individuals to establish connections and build lasting relationships. Visit the event page on Facebook for more information.
FRIDAY Jan. 20
Cookies & Beer @ SouthEnd Brewing Co. (GSO) 2 p.m.
Pure Light Yoga invites those new to or curious about yoga to a four-part yoga workshop series focusing on proper alignment and safety of yoga poses, meditation techniques and more. Purchase tickets at wellnessliving.com
Dinner Detective Murder Mystery Show @ Greensboro-High Point Marriott Airport (GSO) 5 p.m.
Solve an interactive murder mystery while enjoying dinner during this Clue-like game. Tickets for this day are sold out, but visit thedinnerdetective.com where tickets for future dates are available.
A Silver Celebration @ Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts (W-S) 6:30 p.m.
Join in the fight for women’s rights during this fundraiser for local clinics serving women in the community. Find more information on the Facebook event page
Meta Quest Live: Pop Up Experience @ Transform GSO (GSO) 2 p.m. Be Great Foundation is hosting a virtual reality experience where attendees can learn more about VR and play games using a Meta Quest headset. Participants will also learn information that will be helpful for 3D design workshops later this year. Register on the Facebook event page
SouthEnd Brewing Co. is excited to announce their first annual Cookies and Beer pairing flight. Each flight features 4 different beers and 4 cookie flavors. Visit the event page on Facebook for more information.
Get the full events calendar by signing up for the Weekender, straight to your inbox every Thursday. pico.link/triadcitybeat
RiverRun International Film Festival celebrates its 25th year with A Silver Celebration featuring hors d’oeuvres, wine, music and a silent auction of film events. Auction items include a signed basketball by L.A. Lakers legend James Worthy, who played at the University of North Carolina as an undergraduate student and other rare items. Purchase tickets at riverrunfilm.com
MONDAY Jan. 23
Game Night @ Stock + Grain Assembly (HP) 5 p.m.
Grab your team and head to Stock + Grain for free game nights with classic games like Jenga, Connect Four and more. Visit the event page on Facebook for more information.
Kelly Smith has been unhoused for about a year.
“I was doing great; I had my own apartment,” she said. “I was actually receiving Social Security benefits and for whatever reason they sent me a letter and said that they found me no longer disabled.
“I have high blood pressure, COPD [and] emphysema,” she added.
Smith now resides in a Pallet shelter, one of 30 units assembled on Pomona Field at Billie Nall Park in Greensboro.
She described her typical day before moving in.
“Waking up in a freezing-cold car, looking for food… looking for a bathroom to wash… your most basic needs,” she said. “Just trying to find your everyday basic necessities is a struggle.”
The Pallet shelters are equipped with heating, which Smith said she feels blessed to have. “And a somewhat cushy place to lay my head,” she said.
During a special meeting held on Oct. 10, members of Greensboro City Council voted to pay for temporary pop-up housing and a Safe Parking lot for unhoused residents through the winter season.
Council members approved the programs and authorized the purchase of the Pallet shelters in a 7-1 vote, with District 3 council member Zack Matheny as the only member opposed. Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson was absent. Owned by the city, these units could also be deployed in case of disaster or if the need for temporary shelter arises. The purchase of the units was estimated at $535,014.
The Pallet houses and the city’s Safe Parking initiative are both currently installed
Although a request for proposals was put out on Oct. 14 of last year, the IRC was the only organization that applied to head the programs.
“We only got one application,” Matheny said during a Nov. 15 council meeting to approve the contracts. “I find that shocking when we have so many people that [do] outreach and social work…. I’m struggling with that. I think part of it is because of the 10-day time period.”
The resolution to approve the contract was passed by the city council in a 4-3 vote. Mayor Vaughan and Goldie Wells did not vote.
Funding allocated to the IRC for the Safe Parking Initiative is $184,000 while the Doorway Project’s funding is $200,000. $85,000 of the funds allocated to the IRC for the Doorway Project was designated for case management, and an IRC staff member is usually available onsite to assist residents in the Pallet community from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Of the $184,000 awarded to the IRC for the Safe Parking Initiative, $100,000 is dedicated to security services while $84,000 is intended for case management. Cost of security for the Doorway Project is also estimated at $100,000.
During the meeting, Matheny asked for clarification on what this money would actually go toward. Michelle Kennedy, the city’s head of neighborhood development, broke down the cost.
“It covers hiring of new staff, food, bus passes, and security costs,” she said.
Kennedy formerly served as an at-large city council member and as the executive
“ Just trying to find your everday basic necessities is a struggle.
A CityBeat story
The Pallet shelter community for the unhoused in Greensboro is open. Here’s a look at how it’s going.
by Gale Melcher
director for the IRC until she stepped down from both positions to take on the new city role in August 2021.
$15,000 of the funds allocated to the IRC for the Doorway Project go toward bus passes for residents, who receive four bus passes per day according to Kristina Singleton, IRC executive director. There is a bus stop across the street from the ballpark where the Pallet shelters are set up.
Those who would like to participate in the program can apply through a referral process, Singleton said.
“You have an agreement,” she said. “To be referred, you have to do a full intake process, and that determines if you’re a good fit. Once you’re accepted into the program… there are guidelines that you have to adhere to and sign off on before moving in.”
The agenda report for the Nov. 15 meeting also stated that “coordination with the [Guilford County Continuum of Care] is ongoing to allow for a streamlined referral process for City of Greensboro homeless service providers.”
How do residents feel about the program?
ames Martin has been unhoused since April 2022.
He told TCB that he’s been homeless because of long-term health issues including a leg amputation and a much-needed hip replacement.
“For the past three years I’ve been unable to work a full time job; it’s just too much pain,” he said. “If I work for three days in a row, I’m down for three,
hurting so bad I couldn’t do nothing but lay there.
“It sure is a lot better than where I was,” Martin added, “If they fed you here, that would be off the chain.”
There is no kitchen onsite so residents must bring their own food. A microwave and water kettle are available to use between 5-9 p.m. when the ballpark’s office is open.
Resident Larry Chambers had been unhoused for about a month before moving into the Pallet community.
“I had an apartment and everything, and I got injured at work so I couldn’t work,” Chambers said. He likes that the community is quiet. “It’s cool.”
An onsite IRC staff member interrupted TCB’s interview to speak with Chambers, telling him: “If you have a complaint, this is not the person to talk to.”
When Chambers was asked about his contentment with the resources available, he responded: “They said we can’t talk about that. No comment on that.”
Both Martin and Chambers are currently living in the community of 32 residents. Some of the shelters are designated for use as Americans with Disabilities Act compliant Pallet shelters which can house one person. The rest of the units are capable of housing two people each, so the total population that can be accommodated is a little under 60. The first resident moved into a Pallet shelter on Dec. 23, according to Singleton.
In an interview, she said more tenants are on their way.
“Sometimes it takes a minute to be able to get your client prepared to move in,” she said. ”As of tomorrow, the spaces that are not filled will be filled next week.”
Resident Mike Smith said that he found out about the Pallet shelters after reading a news article when city council first approved them.
Smith said the Pallet shelters, which measure eight feet by eight feet each, remind him a bit of LEGO houses.
“They’re put together well,” Smith said, and mentioned the storage capacity the shelters have. “We have a shelf at the back above our heater.”
“Brand new linen, I was tickled pink about that,” Martin added.
A dirt road is all that lies between train tracks and the fence surrounding the baseball park. An onsite IRC staff member acknowledged the noise from passing trains but suggested that the residents wouldn’t be bothered.
“You know what, here’s the thing: These people — I’m not trying to be rude — but our homeless community, our friends…they’re part of our community but they sleep outside,” they said. “I can guarantee you it’s probably not a thing to them, they’re used to hearing it.”
Curfew is 11 p.m. for Pallet residents. The gate is never closed and security is always onsite.
Singleton told TCB that the safe parking lot which is located next to the baseball field and opened Dec. 23, has a check-in period from 6-9 p.m. People can show up after 9 p.m. but onsite security have to contact IRC staff to do an intake with that person before they can spend the night..
Judy Le hugged her dog Cocoa while chatting about her experience in the Safe Parking program. Le has been unhoused for a few weeks.
“Hands down, I feel like this is the best one for me,” she said. “I don’t really like being around a lot of people. Being in the safe parking [lot], I can really just be by myself with my dog and not have to worry about nobody bothering me or looking at me crazy if I’m sleeping in a car.”
She said she feels safe and would recommend the lot to anyone else in a similar situation.
Plus, she gets to stay with her best friend.
Le said that Cocoa just turned one year old on Nov. 30.
“He’s my baby,” she said. “They let me bring my dog, that’s even better.”
While the agenda report for the Oct. 10 meeting mentioned that “daily food would also be provided to residents of the temporary shelters,” food is not provided onsite. IRC staff member Angela Parker mentioned that the Greensboro Urban Ministries on S. Elm-Eugene St. offers three meals a day and that residents can go downtown to grab some food at the IRC as well, suggesting that residents could use their bus passes to “get on the bus, go downtown, get their food, get their showers, get their case management and come back.”
She continued: “Does it work like that every day? No. Do we have some clients… that sit here… every day? Probably.”
The agenda report from Oct. 10 also mentioned that portable bathrooms and showers would be provided onsite, however they are not yet up and running. Residents are currently using the baseball park’s two restroom facilities; the women’s restroom has three stalls while the men’s has two stalls plus two urinals.
There are no outlets within the village due to fire-safety concerns, even though they were pictured in the original Pallet photos. Currently, IRC staff members charge residents’ phones between the hours of 5-9 p.m. while they are onsite to conduct safe parking check-in.
Residents can also charge their phones outside of those hours using electrical outlets in the restrooms. Each restroom has two duplex outlets capable of charging four devices altogether.
Because the houses don’t come equipped with kitchens and the bathrooms aren’t up yet, Parker told TCB that residents can get drinking water from the tap in the ballpark restrooms. They can also use their bus passes to get to the IRC which has showers and laundry facilities. The IRC is closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
“There are issues that need to be worked on, but I am blessed,” resident Kelly Smith said about the Pallet program. “If you’re trying to get out of the elements, you do have a shelter; a sturdy, stable shelter, a place to lay, warmth. But just know that it comes with a price, because you still are struggling daily with the basic necessities: food, drink, hygiene.”
Pushback on Pallet shelters
he Pallet shelters have been met with their fair share of critics from other organizations.
In an interview with TCB, Del Stone with the Working-Class and Houseless Organizing Alliance in Greensboro called the shelters “a very, very small Band-Aid on a massive problem.”
When asked to respond to criticisms, Kennedy said that it’s easy for people to share their opinions but that “ that no one [who is] airing any of those concerns is really bringing any other immediate options to the table.”
Executive director of Tiny House Community Development, Inc. Scott Jones has some ideas.
Jones said that the houses built by Tiny House Community Development, Inc. — which works to create permanent housing for the homeless — are typically 300 square feet and cost $135 per square foot.
“We’re talking about a one-bedroom, onebath, with a full kitchen and small living room versus a plastic shack,” Jones said.
Council member Matheny also leaned toward more permanent solutions.
“What other things have we done that could’ve been somewhat permanent?,” he asked during the Nov. 15 council meeting. “There are other places that we could buy to actually house people today.”
Singleton said in an interview with TCB that while she agrees with the need for permanent housing, the Pallet houses offer a “bridge” solution.
“You have to offer these bridge programs because there’s always the right-now that you’re dealing with,” she said. “People that are in dangerously cold temperatures that can’t afford to wait two more years before they have a permanent solution.
“As far as the Interactive Resource Center is concerned, the only real answer to people experiencing homelessness is being able to offer safe, affordable housing,” she continued. “I do believe that our community is closer to that than we’ve ever been,” she said.
Still, others who work with the unhoused year round like Jones argued during the Oct. 10 meeting that the city could have come up with a better solution.
According to the city’s website, the Pallet shelters will be disassembled in midMarch following the winter season.
As for the current residents, Singleton said they’re “hoping that this will move people quicker than if they were living in a tent, being at the Doorway Project.”
This piece is part of our new CityBeat that covers Greensboro and Winston-Salem city council business. CityBeat reporting content is made possible by a grant from the NC Local News Lab Fund, available to republish for free by any news outlet who cares to use it. To learn how, visit triad-citybeat.com/republish.
“We face this every year,” he said. “We’ve had six months to prepare for this before this winter weather comes. What have we been doing for these six months? Nothing.”
Jones urged the council; “Give it some time. This is too quick. This is a lot of money.”
Critics of the Pallet program like Stone believe that a better solution is out there.
“We need housing to be actually invested in,” Stone said. “It should be a human right and we have the capacity to make that happen.”
Not exactly what was promised
We need housing to actually be invested in.Del Stone
A CityBeat story
Winston-Salem City Council approves changes to meeting times despite public dissentby Gale Melcher
fter more than a decade of meeting at 7 p.m, Winston-Salem city council will now meet one hour earlier.
During Tuesday’s meeting, council members approved a resolution to shift regular meetings to 6 p.m. and committee meeting times to the afternoon. Though initially the item was placed on the consent agenda, it was removed so it could be considered separately from the rest of the agenda items.
South Ward representative John Larson made a motion for each of the items to be voted on individually. The amendment to the city council meeting time was approved in a 7-1 vote with Southeast Ward representative James Taylor Jr. as the sole opposing member. The resolution regarding the committee meeting times passed in a 6-2 vote with Larson and Taylor dissenting.
The changes are slated to go into effect on Feb. 1.
In previous meetings, city staff mentioned how employees don’t want to work late into the evening and how other cities like Greensboro and High Point meet at earlier times.
City Manager Lee Garrity and Assistant City Manager Ben Rowe initially recommended these changes to the council. During the Jan. 10 meeting Garrity said, “My intent with this recommendation was actually to help the citizens and to help all of you to make sure we can retain and recruit the top staff to try to deliver the best services for citizens.”
How the public has responded
he changes have been met with considerable pushback from members of the public and organizations such as the Coalition for Accountability and Transparency had called on city council to refuse
Initially, when the item was placed on the Dec. 5 agenda, Carolyn Highsmith, a representative for the community watchdog group, said the group emailed council because of the lack of public input.
“It’s a change to a city ordinance; it’s called a text amendment,” said Highsmith. “And when you have a text amendment it has to go through the appropriate city council committee, and then they’re supposed to hold a public hearing. And then the whole council discusses it.”
According to Assistant City Manager Ben Rowe, it is “the normal practice” for items to “come through a committee and then go before council, but they don’t always do that.” However, he said, there is usually a discussion before text changes are made.
Highsmith said the change will have a “huge impact on citizen participation in city government.”
Citizen Mackenzie Cates-Allen also shared her thoughts on the new changes Tuesday night. She said that earlier meetings could make it harder for people to attend.
“The citizens of Winston-Salem are who the government is supposed to represent,” Cates-Allen said. “And the citizens have very clearly spoken. The meetings are when they are. When you take this job, you know that.”
After receiving pushback, the city surveyed residents, finding that most preferred meeting times to stay the same.
Results showed that 57 percent preferred the 7 p.m. city council meeting time to stay the same while 40 percent favored an earlier time in the evening. Three percent had no preference.
When asked to choose between a 5:30, 6, or 6:30 p.m. start time, 55 percent
leaned toward the last option. Regarding committee meeting times, 68 percent preferred the current schedule.
Faced with the data, Council member Annette Scippio, representative for the East Ward, reminded citizens that they could email city council members with their concerns and watch the meetings virtually if they couldn’t attend in person.
“Our citizens have all the technology at hand and they must be encouraged to use that,” she said. “Almost everyone has a cellphone. The meetings are live, they are recorded.”
NCDOT IN COORDINATION WITH THE TOWN OF MATTHEWS TO HOLD A PUBLIC MEETING REGARDING THE PROPOSAL TO EXTEND GREYLOCK RIDGE ROAD FROM EAST
MATTHEWS - The N.C. Department of Transportation is hosting a public meeting in coordination with the Town of Matthews to discuss the proposal to extend Greylock Ridge Road from East John Street to Tank Town Road in the Town of Matthews.
The project also proposes a 10-foot multi-use path along the south side of the Greylock Ridge Road Extension and a 5-foot sidewalk along the north side. The purpose of this project is to improve safety for motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists along the corridor.
Based on Tuesday’s vote, the Community Development/Housing/General Government Committee, which currently meets on the second Tuesday of each month, will swap meeting days with the Finance Committee which currently meets on the second Monday of each month.
“Most things need to [be] discussed before they get to finance,” Northwest Ward representative Jeff MacIntosh said, adding that it seems to “make sense from a flow standpoint to have finance last.”
The Public Works and the Public Safety committees, which currently meet at 6 p.m., will be moved to 2 p.m., while the Community Development/Housing/ General Government and Finance committees will shift from 4:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The information will be presented at the meeting allowing for one-on-one discussions with engineers. No formal presentation will be provided.
The meeting will be held Jan. 26 at Matthews Town Hall, 232 Matthews Station Street. The public is invited to attend at any time between 5 - 7 p.m.
People may submit comments by phone or email at the address shown below by Feb. 13, 2023.
By Mail: Terry Burleson
NCDOT Highway Division 10 Phone: 704-983-4400 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 716 West Main Street Albemarle, N.C. 28001
NCDOT will provide auxiliary aids and services under the Americans with Disabilities Act for disabled people who wish to participate in this meeting. Anyone requiring special services should contact Tony Gallagher, Environmental Analysis Unit, at 1598 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1598, 919707-6069 or email@example.com as early as possible so arrangements can be made
Those who do not speak English, or have a limited ability to read, speak or understand English, may receive interpretive services upon request prior by calling 1-800-481-6494.
Aquellas personas no hablan inglés, o tienen limitaciones para leer, hablar o entender inglés, podrían recibir servicios de interpretación si los solicitan llamando al 1-800-481-6494.
JOHN STREET TO TANK TOWN ROAD IN THE TOWN OF MATHEWS STIP Project No. HL-0025
The citizens of Winston-Salem are who the government is supposed to represent.
OPINION EDITORIAL Jen Sorensenjensorensen.com
Local news and the slow, imperfect wheels of justice
Last week a federal jury in Charlotte found Donald Booker guilty in an elaborate scheme to defraud Medicaid of $11 million. The caper involved a drug-testing facility, a substance-abuse treatment center and a low-income housing provider, all acting in concert to swindle the federal government on the backs of some of the most vulnerable people in the community.
And they might still be getting away with it if it was not for Triad City Beat
We learned about Booker’s Greensboro organization, United Youth Care Services, back in 2019, when Senior Editor Jordan Green filed the first of a series of articles on Booker, his cronies and their caper.
The scam was brilliant, if somewhat crass.
Booker and his agents recruited people experiencing homelessness, telling them that if they could fail a drug test, they could get free housing. If they didn’t do drugs, UYCS could get them some, or provide dirty urine for the test. But the housing was substandard — clients described filth, broken appliances, power and water outages, and bugs in the Greensboro facilities. They were forced to attend substance-abuse classes even if they did not use. And the programs were entirely unprofessional.
As TCB reported in June 2020: “The result was a drug-treatment program where clients were per-
versely incentivized to use drugs, even as staff degraded them for doing so. Clients ostensibly there to get clean were placed in rundown hotels and apartments plagued with rampant drug use, and they were often times subjected to the arbitrary authority of site managers and security guards who were themselves using and selling drugs, according to interviews Triad City Beat conducted with more than a dozen former clients.”
“It’s really encouraged to do drugs,” one former client told us. “If you test clean, it’s frowned upon.”
Before our stories came out, Booker’s operation had been the subject of numerous complaints and several investigations, none of which found any wrongdoing. UYCS’ license to operate was revoked by the state in August 2019, after our story ran; an appeal allowed them to do business in Greensboro until September 2020. They had similar operations going on around the state, and in Kentucky.
Booker was convicted last week, more than three years later. There will be no relief for the thousands of clients he exploited, no remedy for the millions he stole. More on that in the coming weeks.
But it’s fairly illustrative of the power of local journalism to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.
John ColeCourtesy of NC Policy Watch
We learned about Booker’s Greensboro organization, United Youth Care Services, back in 2019, when Senior Editor Jordan Green filed the first of a series of articles on Booker, his cronies and their caper.
Nia Imani Franklin’s performance with the Winston-Salem Symphony is aby Michaela Ratliff
Like Cinderella, Nia Imani Franklin believes a dream is a wish your heart makes.
Most know Franklin as a classically trained opera singer, composer, conductor and beauty-pageant titleholder who earned the crown of Miss America 2019.
Franklin, who hails from Winston-Salem but currently resides in Brooklyn, NY, will bring her musical talents to her hometown to perform in concert with the Winston-Salem Symphony on Jan. 21 at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art. Running for Miss America as an advocate for the arts, Franklin knew music is what she was meant to do.
“I always knew I wanted to do something with music on a professional level. I just wasn’t sure how to get there,” she says.
Franklin graduated from East Carolina University in 2015, earning a degree in music composition. During her time there, she fine-tuned her skills by taking private composition lessons, learning how to write for orchestra and various instruments. To fulfill degree requirements of studying an instrument once a week, Franklin chose to strengthen her voice.
“It all started with my love for wanting to sing but also writing songs at a really young age,” she says.
The performance will consist of Franklin conducting the symphony through a catalog of her original songs, including the well-known “Chrysalis Extended,” a piece that went viral on TikTok last year with more than one
“dream come true”Musician Nia Imani Franklin grew up in Winston-Salem and graduated from East Carolina University with a degree in music composition. COURTESY PHOTOS
million views. This will be the second live performance of “Chrysalis Extended,” the first being at the National Sawdust in Brooklyn in 2022. She is also conducting a new piece called “Sculpted Pavilions,” inspired by Psalm 27 from the King James Bible. Franklin created the piece solely with string instruments, hoping the lush, light sound will provide a sense of calmness for viewers.
“I hope it can serve as 9 minutes and 30 seconds of serenity and peace for the people in the audience listening,” she says.
As a Black woman in the classical-music industry, Franklin acknowledges a lack of gender and racial diversity among performers. In 2019, she founded Compose Her, an organization that aims to employ more women in music and provide exposure through workshops, classes and more.
“My goal with Compose Her in the beginning was just to create more awareness about women in music, especially Black women in the classical musical field,” she says.
She appreciates being able to be a point of representation for fellow musicians and doesn’t shy away from shedding light on others — the National
Sawdust concert featured music by all-women composers, a move intentionally done by Franklin.
“I think there has definitely been, historically, a gap for women being able to be seen in these roles as conductors and composers,” she says.
As far as the performance with the Winston-Salem Symphony, Franklin describes it as a goal she didn’t even realize she had. Growing up, she wasn’t exposed to much classical music outside of the radio and television.
“I didn’t understand I could go to a live performance in my hometown,” she says.
She attributes this to a lack of awareness; however, that is why she does the work she does: to show others what’s possible. She hopes to see aspiring composers, brown faces and young faces in the room. It’s important to her to let them know the position she’s in is attainable for them, too.
“It’s so important to see someone that looks like you, even if you don’t know them personally, she says.
To go from never attending a symphony performance in her youth to now being a headliner, Franklin describes the opportunity as surreal.
“This is a dream come true to be able to say I’m doing a show with my hometown symphony,” she says.
Tickets for the performance with Winston-Salem Symphony are sold out; however, visit niaimani.com to listen to original compositions by Nia Imani Franklin. Learn more about Compose Her at composeher.org.
I think there has definitely been, historically, a gap for women being able to be seen in these roles as conductors and composers.
“ “Part of why she wanted to run for Miss America, which she won in 2019, was to advocate for the arts. In her spare time Franklin advocates for women to join the industry and creates her own music compositions. COURTESY PHOTOS
Nice White Parents 2016 sparks conversations about race, microaggressions and privilegeby Kaitlynn Havens
The stage lights illuminate a row of 10 perfectly aligned folded chairs, a cardboard cutout silhouette of a child angled against each one. “Hush Little Baby,” hums from beyond the stage curtains. Behind the row of chairs, a symbol seen on yard signs, T-shirts, bumper stickers and protest banners across the United States: the black-and-white flag, synonymous with Black Lives Matter. The striking difference is that this one reads, “Nice White Parents.”
Nice White Parents 2016, presented by Creative Greensboro and the theater arts collective Scrapmettle, is the story of a liberal, Southern town that finds itself immersed in the conversation, and inherent lack thereof, of race relations in 2016. Written by Tamara Kissane, the story explores when parents of young children, both Black and white, are forced to reckon with the activism happening around them in the wake of deaths of Black Americans like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice at the hands of police.HAVENS
The production, which is set to run in Greensboro Thursday through Sunday, offers a passing glimpse into the lives of the Berry family (a liberal, white, seemingly upper-middle-class family), the Campbells (a Black family whose patience for educating their white counterparts is wearing thin), Ray Shingle (a disgruntled, white father), and Principal Rosemary Jackson (a passionate Black educator who spends more time extinguishing fires than leading her school).
The audience is charged with questions from the opening scenes: Is the Berry family willing to do anti-racist work? Will Lorraine Campbell have an ally in her friend? Is it possible for Ray Shingle to recognize his obvious microaggressions? And as a Black educator, what does Principal Jackson owe her student’s families?
Writer Kissane is no stranger to the subject matter.
“To me, it was really important to emphasize that white people need to do
the work to dismantle racism both their internal racism and also the systemic and pervasive racism in our society,” she says. “It is not up to the BIPOC community to educate us or to do all of the heavy lifting in this regard.”
Keeping that emphasis in mind, both Kissane and director Todd Fisher of Creative Greensboro wanted to ensure Black voices were centered in the production. Fisher reached out to Angela Williams Tripp, who works in research and development for Scrapmettle, one of the premier Black theater voices in Greensboro, to collaborate.
Tomeka Collins, who plays Principal Rosemary Jackson, has been involved with Scrapmettle for eight years. Collins worked in education for over 20 years, an experience that informed her character’s development.
“What would you do as a teacher? What would you do as a parent? What would you do as a principal? The conversation of race will be here forever, there’s no going around it. So have the conversation,” she encourages.
Nice White Parents 2016 asks its audience to question their impact each time they put on blinders, take a break from the news or choose silence over conflict.
“Was it a march for peace, or Black Lives Matter?” Cindy Berry asks her children in one of the opening scenes. “I thought it was just general activism,” she nervously shrugs.
Fisher emphasizes the damaging effects of that sort of willful ignorance throughout the production.
“We came up with this idea of ‘swiping’ through the play like you would a social media feed,” he says. “It’s so much of what Cindy’s character does. Here’s a moment, now here’s another moment. Here’s one you don’t want to see. Here’s one you do. It matches the texture of the script and the way so many of us went through 2016.”
Kissane wants audience members to remember that year, and to examine its differences and similarities to today. But she also hopes to remind people of the communities that allow for difficult discussions, of their existence.
“As a white Parent,” she says, “discussion is essential for growth and understanding, but educate yourself before you open your mouth. Listen before speaking. Embrace and expect discomfort. Wade into these conversations with humility. And always remember, the kids are paying attention.”
Nice White Parents 2016 runs January 19-21 at 7:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. on Jan 22, at the Stephen D. Hyers Theatre in the Greensboro Cultural Center, 200 N. Davie St. Entry is free with a suggested donation of $10.