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Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill October 7, 2020

Doulas like Maya Jackson are birthing new ethics to solve the Black maternal-health crisis BY THOMASI MCDONALD, P. 15

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VOL. 37 NO. 37

PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

CONTENTS NEWS 9 12 14

Is the Durham People's Alliance PAC concerned with progressive politics or power? BY JEREMY BORDEN BLAST aims to bridge the police-community divide. BY CHARLIE ZONG A movement for Black-owned banks takes shape in Durham. BY SARA PEQUEÑO

FEATURE 15 Doulas want to heal Durham's Black maternal-health crisis. BY THOMASI MCDONALD

MUSIC 20 Felipe Luciano came out of prison with a mission to elevate gangster rap. BY KYESHA JENNINGS

22 OC from NC and D.R.U.G.S. Beats join forces for one of the year's best hip-hop records. BY CHARLES MORSE 23 Three Lobed Recordings celebrates 20 years of weird music. BY WILL ATKINSON

CULTURE 24 Waiting on the Host is another example of the challenges of doing live theater on the small screen. BY BYRON WOODS

THE REGULARS 4 Voices

6 A Week in the Life

5 15 Minutes

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18 PHOTOVOICE

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Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald

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BACKTALK

This weekend, the INDY reported that U.S. Senator Thom Tillis tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a White House event with dozens of other Republican dignitaries, including President Donald Trump, who, as of Monday, was still hospitalized with the virus. Just hours later, his Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham confirmed he was sexting someone who wasn’t his wife.

The “sexts” in question, if you can even call them that, are about as PG as possible. “Amazing that we’re running out of elections where you feel good about either candidate,” Facebook commenter JOHN DUVAL wrote. “Well, were they actually having sex or just sextexting?” wrote BETTY LANIER. “Besides, trump has done worse, Giuliani, Grinch, hell, Gov Sanford left the country to be with his mistress for two weeks and told no one!! Meanwhile, we kicked out Edwards and Al Frankin (on false charges). I say we give Cal a pass.” “In normal times, this might be a deal breaker, but the alternative to Cal is 100x worse,” wrote Facebook user RENEWED MIND. “I do not condone Cal Cunningham’s actions, but there is no way I am voting for Thom Tillis Trump’s lapdog. Of course I could just decide not to vote, but of course this is what the Republicans want more than anything! They don’t care if you don’t vote for them so long as you don’t vote! Ain’t going to happen. I am voting straight Democrat and hopefully remove all these Trump enablers.” “Eh, so what?” wrote CHRIS HOWELL. “The GOP openly supports a man who has cheated on all three of his wives and pays off porn stars. Some less than steamy texts are barely a blip on the radar.” “I care MUCH more about Tillis’ health and science ignorance and his love of big pharma’s cash than I do about Cunningham’s inability to sext effectively,” wrote JEFFREY DAVID ZACKO-SMITH. “We have to nominate more women,” wrote ANTOINETTE BROWN. We agree.

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voices

Alexa, Let’s Chat How a little smart speaker went from invading robot to family member in just two years BY CHIKA GUJARATHI backtalk@indyweek.com

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bout two years ago, my husband won a smart speaker in a raffle, and my life hasn’t quite been the same since. I rate my reliance on technology and gadgets as average. I don’t get tempted by the latest and greatest, and much prefer the comfort and reliability of something I know how to use to keeping up with new upgrades and features. So that smart speaker sat connected for many weeks before I started using it to listen to NPR and my favorite podcasts. Next came keeping grocery lists, which until then had only existed somewhere in the deep crevices of my overworked brain. I was rather amazed at the ease of it all; I could just shout out a command from anywhere in the room and see it followed through perfectly. “At least Alexa listens to me,” I would catch myself thinking from time to time, and then feel stupid or guilty for comparing a smart speaker to my human family. These days, on most mornings, the first words to come out of my mouth are “Hey Alexa, good morning.” In return, she greets me so pleasantly, in her calm voice, telling me what the weather is going to be like, what my calendar looks like, and finally wishing me a good day before leaving me with the song I have pre-programmed her to play. She is a robot I understand, but there is something so genuine in her punctuality and friendliness that I can no longer imagine talking to any other human in my household until Alexa and I have had our morning chat over coffee. I thought I was the only one in this weird relationship with a robot until I started paying attention to my children’s interaction with Alexa. While preparing for a beach trip this summer, the question I received wasn’t about which beach are we going to or for how long. Instead, it was, “Is Alexa coming, too?” When I replied no, they were disappointed and disheartened. When the first day of school came around a few weeks later, their instinct wasn’t just to share it with their grandparents and cousins but to excitedly tell

“She is a robot I understand.” Alexa all about it. They ask her to play their favorite songs, to set timers for sharing toys and school reminders, to help them spell words, to hear jokes, and yes, they even tease her by asking really silly questions that leave her stumped. When they accidentally knock her off the shelf, they are quick to apologize, a favor not easily bestowed on their fellow siblings. Three kids versus Alexa is a lot to demand of a little smart speaker, though, and there are times when they all yell different commands at the same time at the top of their lungs. Somehow, instead of losing it, as I would, Alexa responds with a calm and collected “Sorry, I don’t know that one.” In those moments, I resent her slightly and wish I could be more like her. A smart speaker that is two years old is like 70 for a person. Which means there have been times when, in spite of using the proper voice commands, there is radio silence on Alexa’s end. When my children hear me frustratingly repeating the same command louder and louder for the fifth time, they are quick to defend her: “Mom, I think Alexa is just getting old.” Many of you might remember Spike Jonze’s 2013 movie, Her, about the relationship between a man and his operating system. I never watched the movie because I thought the concept was a little out there, but hey, look at me now! What seemed like a convenience two years ago has somehow become a member of our family. A third parent, a DJ, a storyteller, a peacekeeper, a friend who is kind enough to make suggestions on how to make our lives easy and fun. All of that, and she still has an off button. Voices is made possible by contributions to the INDY Press Club. Join today at KeepItINDY.com.

CHIKA GUJARATHI is a Raleigh-based writer and author of the Hello Namaste! children’s books. Her work can be found on her blog The Antibland Chronicles.


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Chapel Hill

15 MINUTES Angelica Edwards Co-founder and president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ UNC-Chapel Hill chapter BY SUZANNAH CLAIRE PERRY backtalk@indyweek.com

How did you come to start a chapter of NAHJ at UNC-Chapel Hill? A couple months before Julian [Berger] and I decided to start the chapter, I messaged Julian, and I was like, “Do we have an NAHJ chapter?” I was pretty sure the answer was going to be “no,” because I hadn’t heard anything about it—and it was.

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Where does NAHJ fit into the ongoing dialogue about the lack of diversity in mainstream newsrooms?

To advertise or feature a pet for adoption, I don’t think it’s an accident that we were formed while this Did you feel supported by the journalism school and conversation was happening. I would go on Twitter and see please contact advertising@indyweek.com fellow students? that our industry is going through a reckoning right now, and it One of the requirements to be a nationally chartered NAHJ chapter was to have a minimum of 10 people become paying members of the national organization. We sent out an interest form to all the Latinx journalism students that we knew about, and initially, I thought, “Do we even have 10 Latinx journalism students?” We decided to expand our membership to be inclusive of people who aren’t Latinx and people who aren’t in the journalism school: You just have to have an interest in Latinx media to join. We got about 40 entries in our form, and we now have about 20 members. As for support from the school, we’ve had two or three professors come forward and offer us money to help pay for our students’ membership dues. We had a UNC Hussman [School of Media and Journalism] alumnus offer to pay for 10 membership fees as well, so that was awesome. Honestly, I think that this should have been formed years ago.

reminded me we don’t have an NAHJ chapter, which would help Latinx journalism students at UNC in so many ways. Diversity in journalism is important because our audiences are diverse, and the people we’re talking about are diverse. It’s not OK for the white male gaze to be the only gaze we have. The journalism school is one of the best in the country, but there isn’t necessarily a space to focus on covering Latinx communities. Our organization is a way to find resources that cater specifically to us. For example, a lot of people assume that because we’re Hispanic we all speak Spanish, but many of us are on different levels of Spanish literacy. Working through that issue, and in the future, learning about how to cover topics like immigration, what do you do if someone doesn’t want to give you their name—working through those scenarios are things on our radar. The reason we exist is to provide a space on campus for our members. W

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A WE E K IN THE L IFE

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9/29

Wake County Schools announces changes, including the news that it will TRANSITION TO IN-PERSON CLASSES on October 26 for students Pre-K to third grade. All students through middle school will have in-person classes by November 16. CHAD DORRILL, a sophomore at Appalachian University, dies from COVID-19. Cases at the university have spiked the past few weeks, with a university dashboard showing more than 700 cases since June.

9/30

Governor Cooper announces that the state will be HEADING INTO PHASE 3 beginning October 2 at 5:00 p.m. In this phase, under Executive Order 169, bars with outdoor seating are allowed to reopen, and amusement parks, movie theaters, and outdoor venues are allowed to open at limited capacities. Restrictions come during an increase in statewide cases and will last at least until October 23.

10/2

Shortly before 1:00 a.m., PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP announces that he and First Lady Melania Trump have tested positive for COVID-19. Numerous people in Trump’s close circle, including Republican SENATOR THOM TILLIS, test positive for COVID-19. Earlier in the week, during a trip to D.C., Tillis voted on the Senate floor and attended the now-infamous Supreme Court nomination announcement for Amy Coney Barrett. On Friday evening, a conservative news site publishes intimate text messages between Democratic senate candidate CAL CUNNINGHAM and a woman who is not his wife. The Cunningham campaign confirmed that the texts—“sexts” or “romantic texts,” depending on your definition—were real. The married father of two has apologized and stated his intent to stay in the race. The Town of Chapel Hill CANCELS ALL HALLOWEEN FESTIVITIES, including the annual Franklin Street event that draws thousands, which somehow wasn’t canceled until now.

10/4

WAKE COUNTY reports a rise in COVID-19 cases, with a jump from 519 cases the week of September 20 to 651 the week of September 27. JULIE DAVIS, a third-grade teacher at Norwood Elementary School in Stanly County, dies from COVID-19. The school had implemented a mixture of remote and in-person learning.

10/5

(Here’s what’s happened since the INDY went to press last week)

An ETHICS COMPLAINT filed on Monday alleges that Republican legislators are using state funds as a piggy bank, collecting reimbursements for expenses like housing, travel, and more while also reimbursing themselves with campaign funds.


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October 7, 2020

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OP - E D

Place Value To solve the housing crisis, myths and stigmas about public housing must be dispelled BY LAURA MCCANN

backtalk@indyweek.com

viduals from participating in housing programs as residents or as landlords. Terms like “public housing” and “Section 8 housing” evoke images of institutional barrack-style communities. However, RHA’s design and management of new developments blend its properties into surrounding communities so that they are not distinguishable as subsidized housing. In the voucher program, homes are rented from private landlords, and RHA assists with rental subsidy. Voucher households are fully integrated into a variety of areas, completely independent from RHA managed properties. Another common misconception is that people living in subsidized housing don’t work. This simply is not true. The majority of adult residents capable of working do so, many working multiple jobs to increase their household income. Our residents work as teachers, paramedics, bus drivers, courthouse officials, and in other occupations invaluable to the fabric of our society. RHA provides housing to a variety of different income levels, which provides a way for families to have housing stability and a means to help break the cycle of poverty. RHA even offers an incentive public housing program that specifically aims to help individuals and families who work full time or are elderly and/or disabled. Those eligible for incentive housing based on employment have been working full time for two years prior to admission and must continue working full time for the duration of their assistance. Incentive housing encourages working families to transition into market-rate housing up to and including homeownership. One RHA resident says participation in an incentive housing program allows her to increase her financial self-sufficiency by working and going to school for a bachelor’s degree. This resident has been able to increase her credit score and save money and is in the process of purchasing a home for herself and her two children.

“The number-one thing low-to-moderate-income people stress over is, how will they pay rent and will they have enough,” she says. “I am grateful for the program and what it has allowed for me to do for myself. It wasn’t always easy, but I found a way to make it work.” Another misconception with subsidized housing is that residents do not go through a screening process prior to receiving assistance. RHA has a rigorous screening process that considers criminal backgrounds, rental history, sex-offender status, and more. Applying for housing does not guarantee assistance will be awarded.

“A common misconception is that people living in subsidized housing don’t work.”

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here is an increasing need for affordable housing throughout Wake County. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 12 million renters and homeowners spend more than 50 percent of their household income on housing costs. Considering that it has long been recommended to spend 30 percent or less of household income on housing, this leaves millions of American households struggling to afford everyday necessities including food, clothing, and medical care. This especially holds true during the COVID19 pandemic, which has caused drastic changes to personal finances. The Raleigh Housing Authority (RHA) is the largest provider of affordable housing in Raleigh. RHA offers public housing and Section 8 vouchers to approximately 5,700 families in the area. The agency utilizes subsidy from the federal government, allowing it to provide rental rates based on household income. Many households may qualify for assistance but be unaware of RHA programs and their eligibility criteria. Additionally, stigmas and misconceptions surrounding subsidized housing often deter indi-

While RHA is laser-focused on its mission—safe, decent, affordable housing—the agency helps connect residents with opportunities that will better equip them to improve their lives. Program policies and regulations may require residents to meet service requirements including homeownership classes, financial literacy classes, or community service hours. Furthermore, RHA partners with agencies and resident organizations to bring additional opportunities to its residents including food banks, YMCAs, mental health organizations, churches, and more. RHA encourages Wake County residents to explore ways they can help bolster affordable housing within their community. Individuals with rental homes can sign up as private landlords with Section 8 housing. Neighbors, friends, and family can assist others by offering access to things like phones, the internet, or help with appointments. Additionally, you can see if they need help understanding the process, following their lease agreement, communicating with their landlord, or paying their rent on time.W To learn more about RHA programs, visit rhaonline.com or call the main office at 919-831-8300.

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Durham

Power PAC A battle within the Durham People’s Alliance leaves some wondering if the group is more concerned with power or progressive politics BY JEREMY BORDEN backtalk@indyweek.com

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he votes had been counted and the surprising result was in: Alexandra Valladares had won the coveted People’s Alliance PAC endorsement for Durham School Board over an established, beloved incumbent and long-time People’s Alliance (PA) member. It was a big moment for Valladares and her supporters. She was poised to become the first Latinx person on the school board. But the endorsement, it soon turned out, wasn’t quite what it seemed. In many ways, the People’s Alliance PAC endorsement is vital in Durham politics. It comes with an army of volunteer campaigners and carries the prestige of the area’s most powerful and prominent progressive organization in this Democratic stronghold. The organizations are split by the PAC’s electioneering and the People’s Alliance’s issue-based grassroots work. All members of the People’s Alliance are members of the PA PAC and can vote on endorsements. The PAC’s endorsements tend to have a ripple effect, looked to by other organizations, including media like the INDY, for a sense of who possesses progressive bona fides. Its roughly 1,200-strong membership, many of whom are active citizens, is a powerful force in down-ballot state and local elections where endorsements carry particular sway. The alliance has accrued unmatched local power since its founding in 1976. It has fought for both candidates and causes, including the successful push for a $15 minimum wage for city employees. But in some ways, the alliance is a victim of its own success, reckoning with an increasingly prosperous city that’s still plagued by racial inequity, creating a divide in the organization and the area as a whole. With her endorsement sealed, Valladares thought her long night was over. But she learned there was some kind of hiccup at the PAC’s January endorsement meeting—the vote apparently wasn’t finalized after all, she tells the INDY. Someone had decided there needed to be a recount, and Valladares was asked to wait. And so she did, humiliated, agonizing over what was happening in a room that had gotten tense and cold toward her. She looked at the mothers with children in tow who had come to support her now forced to wait even longer before they could go

“Critics say Durham’s power brokers are using the language of liberal values without giving people of color the one thing that would truly foster change: access to power and wealth.” home after the grueling, hours-long endorsement process at a meeting of more than 600 people—the largest PAC meeting in the group’s history. Valladares didn’t want to wait for a recount of an endorsement in her bid against a white incumbent, Steve Unruhe, with close ties to the organization’s mostly white and longest-tenured members. At 38, she thought Durham schools needed its first Latinx member, a representative who could speak for a school community that’s 33 percent Latinx. For her, they couldn’t wait, either. Valladares also believed she had built up goodwill within the powerful local PAC in her time volunteering and organizing with them since 2015. She wanted to take a shot, working hard to develop relationships with the other grassroots volunteers and collaborating closely with them to earn the endorsement. Ostensibly, that’s something the group could have celebrated, too, especially once she won the hard-fought endorsement. She is a woman of color, from the working class, and a Durham public schools graduate. She was looking to organize and shake up the status quo on behalf of Black and Brown people in a Durham school district that has struggled with the gaps between students of color

and their white peers. What could be more progressive than that? In what should have been one of Valladares’s proudest moments, the sullen look on the faces of the leaders who had told her after the wait that she had, in fact, won the endorsement tarnished her victory. The nasty comments and sideways glances that came afterward—toward her and her mother, she says—created a tense dynamic. Then, several prominent members of the allegedly progressive PAC organized a campaign for the incumbent, endorsement be damned, and sent around a widely circulated letter touting him. Despite their best efforts, Valladares still easily won the election in March, and now serves on the school board. Valladares says her candidacy was a threat to what some white liberals think the proper role is for a person of color. She says she began to feel “othered” in People’s Alliance meetings, even by other people of color. “Somehow I think being able to have a seat at the table and become electable has threatened a lot of notions,” she says. “I think there is something to be said about the kind of help that is people staying in their place and helping them” versus people of color taking on a leadership role, she adds. An “old guard” versus “new guard” dynamic—one that also reflects power dynamics and, for some, implicit racism in the historically white group—has developed within the People’s Alliance, something that leaders acknowledged in interviews. It is also reflected more broadly in the Bull City as racial tension mounts. Durham city and county are seen as increasingly unequal for people of color, critics within Durham’s progressive political circles say, as the city’s upscale development becomes a hotspot for homebuyers, new jobs, and trendy restaurants catering primarily to white people. The question of who benefits and who is in power also emerges with the PAC’s bank account. Every candidate that has received the PAC’s endorsement since 2017 has contributed substantial sums, according to an analysis of campaign finance filings from the State Board of Elections. So far this year, contributions from People’s Alliance PAC endorsees represent about 75 percent of its total $46,807 budget. All of the candidates—100 INDYweek.com

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TENSIONS RISE

of the People’s Alliance and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People would meet and hash out shared candidate endorsements at the Chicken Hut on Fayetteville Street in the early nineties, Kenney says. That changed when the development of N.C. 751 and Southpoint Mall negotiations were underway. The mostly white People’s Alliance had environmental concerns, while the Durham Committee saw an opportunity to create jobs, Kenney says. “This massive political divide [developed] that is incredibly contentious, and in some ways the Black community sees it rooted in race, white privilege, white supremacy, and power,” Kenney says. Beasley says the struggle within Durham’s various groups—all ostensibly fighting for a more progressive future—will have their own version of what victory looks like. “Power has to be taken away, and when it’s taken away it has to be taken away in a fight,” he says. “Right now, we’re fighting for a piece of power, and I don’t see anybody giving that away.” Nana AsanteSmith, a PA PAC leader and coordinator, says the organization’s first step in addressing issues of inequity and white privilege starts with acknowledging them. “There has to be an acknowledgment of these issues through a racial equity lens,” she says. “It requires an organization largely founded … as a white organization that needs to be able to relinquish some sort of power.” Asante-Smith admits that asking anyone to give up control will be a difficult road. “The reality of the situation that exists is we’re still working within politics,” she says. “There’s a commitment [by individuals] to furthering those political agendas.”

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MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

percent—who contributed since 2017 are also PAC endorsees. But campaign money, which is not an explicit requirement for the People’s Alliance or Durham politics, is just one form of how wealth and privilege manifests. Critics say Durham’s power brokers are using the language of liberal values without giving people of color the one thing that would truly foster change: access to power and wealth. Omar Beasley, the chairman of a different local PAC, the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, says that Durham’s version of liberal values hasn’t done enough for Black residents. “It’s difficult for me to say Durham is progressive,” Beasley says. Specifically, he says that as Durham prospers, too few city and county contracts go to Black-owned firms, and leaders fail to appoint enough members of the Black community to coveted roles on boards and commissions. Sometimes those divisions are along racial lines, but that can often be complicated by leaders of color who aren’t seen as doing enough for the communities they should represent, Beasley says. “White Durham is telling Black Durham what to say about Black Durham?” Beasley asks, referring to the People’s Alliance. “We don’t need no white saviors. Give us an opportunity and give us a seat at the table.” Katie Todd, the president of the People’s Alliance as of this year, acknowledges the tension that has developed within the alliance and the city. She says that while the longest-serving members are mostly white, the group aims to grapple with the power dynamics coming to the forefront. “While these things are true, they’re not necessarily permanent,” she says. “We have been no stranger to the concerns and criticisms levied around the People’s Alliance.” Todd also says that other PACs and groups will be welcome at the table to help with reforms. “The door has to be open and the room has to be inviting,” she says.

arl Kenney, a pastor and longtime journalist who is also a member of the Durham Committee, says the ongoing racial controversy around Durham County’s Black manager points to an incredibly fractious environment. “Right now, we’re seeing the peak of racial tension in Durham,” Kenney says. “There’s a sense that the white liberals in Durham are clouded by their white supremacy.” At least among the area’s power brokers, it wasn’t always this way. Leaders 10

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ne way the power dynamic within the People’s Alliance has manifested itself is that candidates, many of whom are incumbents, give large sums of money to the organization. Of the $176,547 the PAC has raised since 2017, more than $85,000—nearly half of the total budget—has come from candidates it has endorsed, according to cam-

paign finance filings. The dollars raised from candidates versus overall donors has gone from 28 percent in 2017 to around 44 percent the next two years. So far in 2020, it’s jumped to 75 percent. Candidates give anywhere from $350 to $3,000 per election cycle from their campaign accounts. There are some exceptions; in a two-month span in 2017, Mayor Steve Schewel contributed a total of $5,000. For Valladares, when a PAC coordinator asked for $2,500 following her endorsement, she was shocked. “I was put under a lot of pressure to give money that week,” she says. “I was crushed. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I don’t have this money.’” Valladares and Asante-Smith later agreed on $1,000 whenever Valladares could give it; she made the contribution in February, her filings show. Ultimately, Valladares gave the contribution but believes the PAC should develop a process that respects candidates regardless of what they can contribute—for “the next underdog,” as she puts it. “I’m glad there are leaders that have a way to communicate, to value the person more than the money,” Valladares says of Asante-Smith. Asante-Smith, one of five People’s Alliance PAC coordinators, says the PAC asks for contributions from endorsed candidates in order to fund its operation. That has been a big part of why the group is successful at the ballot box, providing funding for poll workers and messaging for candidates that it believes will advance a progressive agenda, she says. “We raise money, we raise money well, and we raise money effectively,” she says. Asante-Smith says that the amount of money the PAC asks for from candidates varies depending on timing, strategy, the election cycle, and other factors. There’s no “uniform, concrete” formula, she says. That said, Asante-Smith says the group knows its history and image as a historically white organization, unwilling to share the spoils of its efforts or acknowledge the barriers to entry for those with fewer funds. She doesn’t believe that candidates’ finances play a role in endorsements—the broader membership,

which votes on endorsements, wouldn’t be aware of those details when casting votes, Assante-Smith points out. But she says that they should still make changes to become more inclusive. “It’s something I wrestle with as a Black woman,” she says. “I really believe that we as Black people have to be present in the spaces where we want to see change and take ownership. I don’t think that absolves the PA of doing what it must do to address these issues. I believe we’re aware of it. The real question is, what are we willing to do about what we know?”

A SCHOOL BOARD BRAWL

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hen Valladares began to attend alliance events starting in early 2015, she felt inspired. She soon took leadership roles and helped found the group’s Latinx caucus, “Nuestra Gente,” with Ivan Almonte in early 2018. She felt good. “I was like, this could become a political home,” she says. Once Valladares campaigned against Unruhe, the tenor changed. Members accused her of “scheming” to get the endorsement, she says. The pro-Unruhe letter circulated by some PAC members was a tough blow; Valladares felt she had to fight the same organization she had already supposedly won over. “Because this is about the power, then you do see progressive people fighting each other and trying to discredit each other’s work,” Valladares says. The letter touted Unruhe’s credentials without making mention of Valladares directly. However, it also said, “While it is rare for many of us to support a candidate outside of the PA endorsements, we feel in this case that Steve is the much stronger candidate.” The letter may have backfired. In response, critical race scholar Ronda Taylor Bullock circulated another letter on behalf of Valladares. She said that even though Unruhe was well qualified, opposing an opportunity for a qualified Latina to sit on the Durham School Board in a majority Black and Brown district would be wrong. “In the historical context described above, signing-on to support a white male over a highly qualified Latina woman is an act of white supremacy,” she wrote. More than 150 others co-signed the letter. The original letter didn’t explicitly break the alliance’s bylaws but, generally, leadership hopes members don’t collectively organize against endorsees. “I thought it was very insulting that took place,” Asante-Smith says. “The


message they sent on that occasion was very clear: It was that we are willing to defy our own [norms], benefits, and structure for a white man.” Since then, things have been fraught between Valladares and the group. New rules have been proposed against elected officials taking on leadership roles within the alliance, which Valladares believes target her. She has stepped down from her leadership roles and volunteer work within the group but hasn’t made a decision yet on whether to resign as a member. Mayor Schewel signed the letter supporting Unruhe. If he found himself in a situation similar to Valladares’s, “I would just think it was politics,” he says. Schewel has been a member of the People’s Alliance since its inception. He says the group used to be about 90 percent white, which has changed markedly in recent years, and its longevity is a testament to the organization’s strength. Schewel, who is white, says he views his work to push for more affordable housing and a better bus system—among other issues—through a racial equity lens. “The fight for racial justice is still the most important work that any of us can do,” he says. “It’s been that way for my whole life. It’s the most important work that I do.” Katie Todd, the People’s Alliance president, says the group is focused on racial equity and has begun a strategic planning process that will find strategies to ensure it’s a more inclusive organization, including racial equity training for its members. “As people continue to move to Durham, we must educate our transplants on the history of what has transpired and how they can be a part of eradicating systemic racism and creating a truly affordable Durham and that all folks have access to the economic opportunities many of us take for granted,” she says, adding, “We have no illusions that we’re not going to make more mistakes.” It’s unclear exactly how these tensions within the People’s Alliance or the city at large will be resolved, if at all. But given the power the group wields, the answer has dramatic consequences for Durham’s progressive image and the future of the left in this blue bastion. For Valladares, it’s hard to tell whether the alliance’s traditional power brokers are thinking of the group’s well-being and future or just their own. “I think Durham being the progressive beacon of the South, we can do better,” she says. W This story has been co-published with Jeremy Borden’s Untold Story newsletter. INDYweek.com

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Durham

BLAST Radius A new group aims to bridge the police-community divide BY CHARLIE ZONG backtalk@indyweek.com

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hen Chris Kenan pulled up to his childhood home in East Durham last month, he saw seven mothers standing resolutely with a crowd of children. He quickly realized that something was very wrong. While searching for an armed suspect, police had drawn their guns on three kids playing tag earlier that afternoon. The oldest, age 15, was handcuffed. The mothers were furious at what they saw as the latest example of unjustified harsh treatment by police. “The mom said, ‘The police just came over here and threw my child on the ground and pointed guns at the kids,” Kenan recounted. “I was blown away by what had just taken place.” Incidentally, Kenan had come to the Rochelle Manor Apartments to help run an event designed to bridge the police-community divide. Mayor Steve Schewel, who arrived on the scene to attend Kenan’s event, quickly arranged a meeting between the families and Police Chief Cerelyn Davis. “I thank God that we came right after it happened because we had the mayor there,” Kenan said. “It was able to escalate pretty fast without a lot of blowing up.” Helping families in communities like Rochelle Manor feel heard and supported by police and city leaders is why Kenan helped create BLAST, or Building Leaders for a Solid Tomorrow. Five years ago, the 32-year-old father of three—a physical education teacher and football coach at Neal Magnet Middle School—began giving away toys and bikes at Christmas to kids at Rochelle, where he lived as a kid. After George Floyd’s death in May, Kenan organized a rally for athletes to protest racial injustice outside the Durham County Courthouse. Some of Kenan’s former students, Duke University football coach David Cutcliffe, and members of the Duke football and men’s basketball teams attended. After that, Kenan and three friends decided to put a name to their efforts and launched BLAST, which now includes a team of around 30 volunteers made up of students, lawyers, doctors, athletes, and other professionals. In an era marked by fraught—and sometimes volatile—relationships between police and the communi12

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A police officer throws a football in a BLAST safe zone

PHOTO BY HENRY HAGGART

ties they serve, BLAST is working to strengthen relationships between residents and the police working in their neighborhoods. Chief Davis praised Kenan for creating “an avenue for positive community engagement between the police and the community” in a statement emailed to The 9th Street Journal. The chief was intrigued by Kenan’s passion, police spokesperson Jacquelynn Werner said. “Using the trust they built, and trusting us, we’ve been able to allow our officers to go to the events and start new dialogue, as well as continue some existing conversations,” she said. Persistent lobbying helped grow BLAST from a project by four friends into a group with significant buy-in from decision makers. “We send texts out to every judge, every lawyer, every city council member, the chief, the sheriff, the mayor,” inviting them to events, Kenan said. Some locals see efforts to better unite residents and police as urgent. Gun violence is on the rise. As of September 19, there were 689 shootings in the city this year. That’s up from a total of 495 shootings to that date last year. And after high-profile police shootings like Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor, relationships are frayed between officers and Durham’s Black residents in particular. Since July, BLAST has put on nine “Safe Zone Friday” events at Rochelle Manor and at four Durham Housing Authority complexes. Kenan and his co-founders hand

out groceries and school supplies and go door-to-door to sign students up for free tutoring. Over a dozen police officers typically attend, allowing kids to enjoy a few hours outdoors without the risk of hearing gunfire, Kenan said. “My biggest concern is simple,” he said. “Can the kids come outside and play?” After police body camera footage emerged in July of an incident in 2019 where a Durham police officer was accused of assaulting a high school student, and recent protests over the police treatment of the Rochelle Manor youngsters, BLAST’s mission has deepened. Now improving relationships between police and residents, especially youth, has become more urgent for Kenan. “People think that these matters are just national matters,” Kenan said. “I’m glad that we were able to have a real incident in this city that we can shine a light on but that nobody was hurt from physically. But we still have some healing to do.” Kenan’s personal history motivates him to help the community heal. Like Zakarryya Cornelius and Jaylin Harris, two of three kids at the center of the drawn-gun incident, Kenan grew up at Rochelle Manor, experiencing the social and financial challenges that many children living in subsidized housing still face. “My mom raised us in a tough environment, and she did a great job—I could never thank her enough,” Kenan said.


“My biggest concern is simple. Can the kids come outside and play?” Out of 10 childhood friends, he was the only one to graduate from college, he said. “Everyone else I grew up with is either dead or in prison,” he explained. At each Safe Zone Friday event, BLAST leaders invite adults and kids to speak out about their needs and any long-standing issues in their neighborhood, including gun violence and conflicts with police. That allows Schewel and other decision-makers who attend to hear directly from the community. A rainy day gave way to sunshine and a cool breeze by the time two dozen officers congregated on a recent Friday on a grassy corner at the Hoover Road complex shortly after 5:00 p.m. As children lined up for ice cream, Kenan and volunteers laid out food trays donated by Home Plate Restaurant, owned by supporter Brian Bibins, whose son was coached by Kenan. Loudspeakers blasted a song that put perceptions about policing center stage. It started with the sound of blaring police sirens. Then a male voice, raw and staccato, rapped about George Floyd’s death and the “shooting, shooting, shooting” of Black people by police. The officers, a mix of city police and county sheriff’s deputies, didn’t flinch. They talked and bumped elbows with kids and their parents. One deputy threw a football across a muddy clearing to a boy. After passing out food and goodies to the kids, volunteers ushered residents and officers into a large circle around a grassy clearing. Devonte Smith, a BLAST co-founder, stepped forward and offered help. “If you need to find a job, maybe we know somebody,” Smith said. “If you need better relations with the police, you come talk to us.” But mostly, he said, he wanted those present—including city council members DeDreana Freeman and Pierce Freelon—to hear residents say what they needed. “Education!” one woman offered. “Computers, basketballs, you know, simple stuff—a jump rope!” added another. Residents called for better parks and community centers, too. Several parents said they wanted safe outdoor activities for their kids. Kenan said BLAST plans to respond to that need with “Training in the Trenches,”

an after-school program BLAST will kick off this month. Police officers and former student-athletes, including some of Kenan’s former students, will teach kids sports ranging from football to golf. Officers did not speak during the circle at that Friday’s event. But afterward, Durham police sergeant Daryl Macaluso said that community policing—where officers are assigned to neighborhoods where they get to know residents—is essential. Macaluso is with the department’s Community Engagement Unit, which focuses on crime prevention in Durham’s public housing communities. The department doesn’t have enough officers to ensure that those who respond to a call know the people in neighborhoods where they are dispatched, he said. “I don’t think that would have happened if the officers knew the kids,” he said, referring to the Rochelle Manor incident. As the Safe Zone event finished, Hoover Road resident Dontray Cole, 45, was laughing and filming as BLAST volunteer Omar Humes, 50, played a spirited game of basketball with one boy. “Almost, man! Get it!” Cole chided as his neighbor’s son ran across the packed dirt, dribbling past Humes to try to make a basket into an old hoop shorn of netting. Cole’s expression became more pained as he described how he views the way police usually interact with Hoover Road residents. He praised one white officer who he said comes and speaks with the kids every morning. But some officers were “rude” and “hostile” to residents they perceived as dressing or appearing similar to gang members, he said. “It gets to your heart,” Cole said. “Don’t treat us like zoo animals.” Cole said that gunfire in and near the complex, which he attributes to gang members who don’t live in Hoover Road, is a problem. “The kids are way too young, the shooting gets to their mind,” he said. Cole believes that events like Safe Zone could help with both gun violence and residents’ relationships with the police. “That’s what we need—show their support,” he said. “Come check on how everything’s doing.” W This article was published in conjunction with The 9th Street Journal. INDYweek.com

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YOUR WEEK. EVERY WEDNESDAY. FOOD • NEWS • ARTS • MUSIC

Durham

Leonardo Williams, co-founder of Bank Black Durham

PHOTO BY JADE WILSON

Bank Accountably The battle against white supremacy is waged in every avenue of life—including where we keep our money BY SARA PEQUEÑO spequeno@indyweek.com

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hen Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf sent a memo to the entire company outlining the diversity initiatives they’d be taking in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, he included a note along with general promises to do better, writing: “The unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of black talent to recruit from.” Since Reuters broke the story on September 22, Scharf has been taken to task by everyone from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Karen Attiah, who argued in The Washington Post that Scharf’s statement showed the bank was “unwilling to move on from some of the worst, racist parts of America’s past.” Scharf has since issued an apology, saying the comments reflected his “own unconscious bias.” But his statements are indicative of yet another industry where Black people still face discrimination.

That’s why Zweli’s Kitchen co-founder Leonardo Williams and social media manager Craig Carter created Bank Black Durham, a movement to encourage folks to bank with local, Black-owned banks. In doing so, their goal is to increase Black homeownership by 10 percent in the next decade and grow the ranks of Blackowned small businesses by 25 percent in the next five years. “The law is not innocent, and neither are some of these infrastructures that we deal with, including and most definitely money,” Williams says. Around 30 people met at CCB Plaza on the warm October 3 afternoon to hear Williams, Carter, and other guest speakers get the word out on the importance of Black-owned and -operated banks and “creating tables” for Black North Carolinians, instead of waiting to be invited to the metaphorical tables set up for and by white

people. The group is pushing Durhamites to move their money to M&F Bank, whose Parrish Street location has been operating since 1908. It’s the second-oldest minority-owned bank in the nation, according to the M&F website. Carter thought of the idea as he walked past the bank and considered how he learned at a young age that banking was the best way to keep your savings. For Williams, the movement is personal: He says he and his wife, Zweli, kept getting denied loans as they tried to turn their catering company into a brick-andmortar restaurant. While Zweli’s eventually opened without the help of a bank or loan company, Williams had to take on more risk. Meanwhile, he says white friends with the same circumstances, credit scores, and incomes were able to get loans on the first try. Williams now banks with M&F; Carter says he’s in the process of moving his money over from Wells Fargo. Part of what they hope to do with Bank Black is to walk people through the transition, which is more involved than withdrawing your life savings at an ATM. “People have so many services: Netflix, Venmo, all that stuff that’s tied up with their bank,” Carter says. “They have to work to shift all that over.” Banking Black is about more than supporting a Black-owned bank: It shapes the amounts they are able to lend within the community. And while corporate banks like Wells Fargo and Bank of America lend nationally, local banks keep money flowing through the community. Yvonne Lewis Holley, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, says she and her family have always banked with M&F. Holley’s personal and campaign accounts are both with the company. “It is important to support the institutions that support the community,” she said in a statement to the INDY. As the rally wound down, Williams made it personal. He asked his 14-year-old son, Isaiah, to join him in front of the small crowd, saying that this was about investing in the future, too. “We’re not going to a corporate bank that only looks at us as a number,” Williams said. “We’re going right up that street, right over there, where they were started for us.” W


Doulas like Maya Jackson are birthing new ethics to solve the Black maternal-health crisis BY THOMASI MCDONALD tmcdonald@indyweek.com

TALITY OR

THE M O

ITY OF L A M R

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igh school senior Jazmir Taylor was excited about being pregnant. The petite 17-year-old Durham teen looked forward to having her baby, graduating, and then enrolling in college to study nursing. “She found out she was pregnant in late December,” says Jada Martin, her 18-yearold sister. “She was very excited and started to get even more excited when it was time for him to come, two months before. She knew it was going to be a boy and had already picked out his name: Juelz. She wanted it to start with a ‘J’ because all our names start with a ‘J.’”

Martin says while her sister was pregnant, she slept a lot, ate, and laid around the house. She had prenatal care and regularly went to the doctor for checkups. Jazmir Taylor gave birth to her son on September 3 at Duke Regional Hospital on Roxboro Road. Mom and baby went home on September 7. The next day, she started complaining about pain and went back to Duke Regional. “She was saying she couldn’t breathe, basically,” Martin says. “They couldn’t get her blood pressure down.” On September 10, Jazmir Taylor died in the hospital where she had given birth just a week before. She was a month shy of turning 18. Taylor was the youngest of five children. The teen’s devastated family isn’t sure what killed her, and officials at Duke Regional haven’t talked about her cause of death. Now her parents are taking care of baby Juelz—who just turned one month old—as they await Jazmir’s autopsy for answers. “She didn’t deserve this,” Martin quietly says. In a statement Doula to the INDY, Duke Health officials said although the hosMaya Jackson pital could not comment on individual untangles the cases due to patient privacy concerns, ethics ofDurham’s “our hearts go out to families grieving the Black maternal loss of a loved one.” crisis to providing excel“Wehealth are dedicated lent care to all of the communities we serve,” the statement reads. “We acknowledge the racial disparities in maternal health that we experience in our state and nation and have a long-held commitment to eradicating these disparities as one of the most important missions in our care of patients.” Black maternal-health advocates say Jazmir’s death is just one example of how the Black maternal-health crisis plays out in Durham. Every year, about 700 women in the United States die from childbirth or pregnancy complications, according to the CDC, giving this country the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed nation in the world. Within those numbers, the health disparities faced by expectant Black women and women of color are even more disturbing. Black women are about three times more likely to die due to pregnancy-related causes than white women, and often report being mistreated during their pregnancies. According to the NC Center for Health Statistics, last year in Durham County, Black women were 1.6 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. Black maternal-health advocates say INDYweek.com

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A short history of Black midwives and maternal health

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aya Jackson, the founder of Mobilizing African American Mothers Through Empowerment, traces the doula and midwife tradition back to when enslaved African women worked as midwives literally birthing America. “They were either helping massa’s wife deliver the baby, or then wet nursing white babies while our babies starved,” Jackson says. After Emancipation, newly freed women continued their work as midwives, particularly a group known as the “Granny Midwives” who delivered thousands of Black and white babies across the South, including North Carolina, she says. Jackson explained the Black midwife’s work was diminished during the Industrial Age when Black Americans migrated North and there was a demand for a more “sanitized” and “safer” hospital care in the maternal-health field. She also notes that some maternal health-care providers still subscribe to the notion that Black women cannot feel pain, which dates back to the tragic misuse of Black women’s bodies by the doctor James Marion Sims, the father of gynecology. In her latest book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles how Sims arrived as his discoveries in Alabama by conducting savage experiments on enslaved Black women that ended in disfigurement or death. “He refused to administer anesthesia, saying vaginal surgery on them was ‘not painful enough to justify the trouble,’” Wilkerson wrote. “Instead, he administered morphine only after surgery, noting that it ‘relieves the scalding of the urine,’ and ‘weakened the will to resist repeated procedures.’” With total control over Black bodies, Wilkerson added, Sims would “force a woman to disrobe and get on her knees on a table. He would then allow other doctors to take turns with a speculum to force her open, invite leading men in town and apprentices to see for themselves.” The medical profession’s attack on Black women’s bodies continued into the late 1970s. It took many forms, including a notorious eugenics program in North Carolina. According to a recent report co-authored by Duke professor William A. Darrity Jr., the 10-year program of forced sterilizations was designed to “breed out” what administrators considered a “surplus population” of unemployed Black women.

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the maternal mortality rate in Durham County is relatively low, owing to health, technological, and educational resources that are not available in rural areas. Yet in 2018, the Durham County infant mortality rate among Black newborns was more than three times higher than white babies.

Improving health outcomes, from the grassroots

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battery of local organizations led by Black women are trying to address the crisis by wrapping expectant mothers in a bundle of services to keep them and their babies alive and healthy. Equity Before Birth, a new nonprofit started in August, works to decrease Black infant and maternal mortality rates by identifying Black-owned and Black-led businesses to sponsor prenatal care and postpartum support for expectant Black moms. Of particular interest for the organization is supplementing the incomes of low-income mothers who don’t have paid maternal leave, Executive Director Joy Spencer explains. The nonprofit is sponsoring three pregnant mothers this year by supplementing their incomes and providing them with birth doulas. “Giving birth is very strenuous on the body,” Spencer says. “We have a lot of working-class women who have no choice but to work hourly wage jobs without a paid maternity leave plan. They have to go back to work, two, four, or six weeks before their bodies heal. But if they are given time for their bodies to heal, it improves their health outcomes over time, and spending more time with the baby promotes the baby’s health.” A second agency, Endayo, emphasizes wellness in its support of Black women with birth doulas, life coaching, and workshops. The goal is to create safe spaces and emotional support that affirms, empowers, and uplifts Black moms-to-be by focusing on their life experiences and wellness practices. The nonprofit Helping Each Adolescent Reach Their Spark, or H.E.A.R.T.S., educates and equips teen parents to become independent and self-sufficient. Birth doulas are at the center of Mobilizing African American Mothers Through Empowerment, also known as MAAME, which trains doulas and advocates quality maternal care for Black, Indigenous, and women of color. Meanwhile, a group called the Renée offers a discussion-based com-

She was young, Black, and on Medicaid. The health-care providers just wouldn’t listen to her. munity to address issues of pain in Black maternal care. The nonprofits are anchored by Sankofa Birth & Women’s Care, the only practicing Black-owned midwife center in the state. Maya Jackson, a trained doula, says she founded MAAME in 2018 to decrease maternal health disparities among Black women. “The United States has the worst maternal health outcomes among the developed nations in Europe and Asia. The United States is at the bottom,” Jackson says. “A lot of it has to do with our society not valuing birthing people as much as it values politics. We say we’re pro-choice and love babies, but the system doesn’t reflect that. A big issue in North Carolina is Medicaid has not been expanded. We have a lot of families who are falling through the cracks.” Spencer, the Equity Before Birth director, says the goal is to fill those cracks in order to catch anyone who might slip through. “What we want to do is bridge the gap between the community and medical institutions,” Spencer says. “We need the experiences of the people who have lived through these experiences to be valued.” Spencer points to an unofficial network of women whose own pregnancy experiences have taught them how to wrap support around expectant Black moms that’s not acknowledged by the medical system:


making sure new moms have access to food, doulas who help before and after birth, transportation, car seats, and even something as mundane and yet essential as shoulder rubs. “There’s a lens that those who are formally educated might not be able to see all the ways to heal,” she says. According to a study published in a 2019 edition of the Reproductive Health Journal, women of color who gave birth in hospitals and expectant mothers who face social, economic, or health challenges reported higher rates of mistreatment. Expectant moms who reported the highest rates included women who had unexpected events like cesareans and those who disagreed with healthcare providers about the right way to care for themselves or their baby. The 2,700 women who participated in the 2019 survey reported being shouted at or scolded by a health-care provider, being ignored, or their requests for help being refused. Some of the expectant moms also reported violations of physical privacy, and health-care providers threatening to withhold treatment or forcing them to accept treatment they did not want. It also found that expectant mothers— no matter their race—were more likely to be mistreated by health-care providers if their partner was Black. The study surmised that how people are treated during childbirth can affect the health and wellbeing of the mother, child, and entire family. For Jackson, it’s basic. “If the mom is thriving, the baby is thriving,” she says. “If mom is stressed, the baby is stressed.”

From left: Jazmir Taylor’s son, Juelz, and Jazmir Taylor PHOTOS COURTESY OF TAYLOR’S FAMILY

J

A life cut short azmir Taylor was laid to rest on September 16, following a funeral service at the River Church in South Durham. There were nearly 100 people in attendance, including at least 20 expectant mothers between the ages of 16 and 30 who were part of Taylor’s circle of friends. Whit McWilliams, a doula who recently moved to Durham, attended the memorial service. She has some ideas about what likely happened to the radiant teen. “She was young, Black, and on Medicaid,” McWilliams says. “That weighs on her story. The health-care providers just wouldn’t listen to her.” The words of some of Taylor’s friends that day stuck with her. “The community response at her funeral was heartbreaking but powerful,” McWilliams says. “Those who were pregnant were saying, ‘I need some type of support because what happened to her has scared me.’ And others were saying, ‘Man, this is another thing we have to worry about. We know about police brutality and the street violence that’s always there, but now the medical system isn’t safe for us, either.’” Readers who would like to donate to Jazmir Taylor’s funeral expenses and a trust fund established on behalf of Juelz Taylor can visit https://gf.me/u/yx2rc7. W INDYweek.com

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PHOTOVOICE 18

October 7, 2020

Bank Black Durham PHOTOGRAPHY + WORDS BY JADE WILSON

Bank Black Durham hosted a rally at CCB Plaza on October 3. Co-founders Leo Williams and Craig Carter were joined by Aalayah Sanders, Nimasheena Burns, and M&F Banks Chief Sales Operator Travis Rouse. Justin Minott of the coffee shop Nolia announced the speakers. Their movement is to combat racial economic injustice. (See story, p. 14.) W

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October 7, 2020

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M U SIC Felipe Luciano PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Barack Obama or somebody.” I spoke with him over the phone about what he learned in prison and his effort to modernize gangster rap. INDY: What does it mean to modernize gangster rap? FELIPE LUCIANO: I believe in the past, a lot of people that

Raising the Bars How Clifton Gordon, aka Felipe Luciano, came out of prison with a mission to elevate gangster rap BY KYESHA JENNINGS music@indyweek.com

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ne of the main values of hip-hop, as a culture and an art form, is as a creative outlet for Black and Latino youth to create art that reflects their lived realities. As the scholar Murray Forman reminds us, hip-hop is an entryway into conversations about the politics of race, space, and place. The storytelling and coming-of-age narratives within the music allows artists to offer introspective versions of their lives. This is exactly what Shelby, North Carolina native Clifton Gordon seeks to accomplish with his music. Musically, Gordon is known as Felipe Luciano, a name he was given by an elder gang member while he was active in gang culture. The name is fitting: The original Felipe Luciano is an Afro-Latino poet and community activist. In the sixties, he served time in prison for manslaughter. Upon his release, he attended college and became an influential leader in his community. Luciano was a member of the Last Poets, a Black Power-era group mentored by Amiri Baraka, whose politically charged music and spoken word 20

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performances laid the groundwork for hip-hop. He was also a member of the Young Lords Party, a radical Latino youthled activist group that was once gang-affiliated. Like Luciano, Clifton Gordon also spent time in prison. During his five-year sentence, he began taking college-credit courses through UNC-Chapel Hill’s Correctional Education Program (CEP). Since his release, Gordon’s time has been spent pursuing his music career and investing in the youth from his hometown. With the help of his wife, he launched Helping Our People Excel (HOPE), a nonprofit that focuses on historically underserved young people. The organization offers resources and programs that teach financial literacy, ownership, business development, and more—all themes that are present in Gordon’s music. “I remember growing up, we were super, super poor,” Gordon says. “I want to help kids that are in my position and give them a better chance because I felt like when I was younger, if I would have had that, I could’ve been like

did gangster rap, there was a lot of conscious undertones to what they were saying, like NWA’s “Fuck Tha Police.” A lot of the gangster rap after that just glorified drugs, murder, and calling women names. What I wanted to do was actually give heart and emotion to what’s going on. [The industry] will give you a film like Menace II Society or Paid in Full, or various albums like Doggy Style, but they don’t really talk about the important moments—the moments where you get incarcerated and you’re going through a series of emotions. I want to be as authentic as possible so that people can see what I’ve been through. These are real true-life stories. And if you know what you’re getting into before you actually get into it, then more than likely you won’t take that path. And if you do take that path, you do have somebody that can give you some type of advice or guidance on how to find an exit strategy. I think it’s important to have someone who understands a more realistic perspective instead of completely glorifying some of the aspects of a particular lifestyle. I’m always conscious that in hip-hop there’s a lane for everybody. Yo Gotti and Pusha T have a specific audience. Kendrick and J. Cole, they have a specific audience, which may be different than Gotti’s and Pusha T’s. Who is your target audience, and how have you been building your fan base?

I would say that I have a wide range of music that I do. The music that I’ve released as of now fits closely with Meek Mill and Yo Gotti’s sound and approach. But what I’m doing differently is, I’m expressing my story and the fact that I’ve been through certain things. I’m also sharing what I’ve seen—the good and the bad. I had a line in my song “Holy” where I say, “Get a line of credit if you show a hundred racks.” I’m talking about BB&T Bank. They have a program for business owners where, if you deposit $100,000 within a business account in a month’s time, they then offer a $500,000 line of credit. So, I’m sharing certain stuff that can get people out of the streets. I’m telling you my story, like, yeah, I’m a D-boy, I come from being a gang member. But listen, this is what you can do to get yourself out of that. Let’s invest into real estate, let’s do different things so that we don’t have to continue there. My plan is to just solidify who I am as an individual. I want my audience to grow with me over time and see how far I’ve come. My music is for people who listen to street music. My music is like high-class gangster music.


I want to talk in-depth about your experiences—the ones you are intentional about not glorifying. What do you think attracted you to join a gang?

A few different reasons. My father was killed when I was two years old. Although there was a male figure in the household, he wasn’t really much of a role model. We ended up moving to the West Coast. While in California, we moved to a gang-affiliated neighborhood. I used to get into it with these people all the time. You gotta remember, I’m not from there. I don’t know anything about gangs. I’m from a very small city in North Carolina, so I don’t know what’s going on. I’m getting jumped every day. It was rough. We then moved to a rival gang’s neighborhood, and they were just kind of like, “What’s up youngin.” They really embraced and helped me to develop and grow. They pretty much raised me and looked out for me. It was like a father figure, uncles and cousins—you know, a family that I didn’t have, in a big city that I wasn’t from. People view gang membership like this crazy thing, but everybody has rivals. Of course, with gang-banging sometimes it just goes too far left. But everybody has rivals—Democratic party versus Republican party. You got teams that are school rivals.

“My music is like high-class gangster music.” Can you tell me a little bit about your experience in jail? What were the top three things you learned?

My experience in prison was probably far different from a lot of people because I went to prison in North Carolina but with a California West Coast mentality. While in prison I witnessed the entire infrastructure of what I knew of being a gang member crumble around me. It was also very violent. It was so violent that I had to desensitize myself. And for a long time, it was difficult for me to express my emotions. The experience definitely taught me how to read people. It taught me that most people are just the same exact person just in different bodies. Meaning, they have the same behavior patterns. Being alone in prison and not having any visitors taught me that everybody is being used in the world. Some of us recognize that we’re being used and some of us don’t. What it comes down to is, if you feel bad about someone using you—if the exchange is not even—that’s the difference. I realized early on that there was a toxic usage of who I was as an individual. I had

to learn how to not give as much of myself to people, and if I started feeling used in a situation, it then became OK for me to leave the situation. I left prison with a lot of life lessons. Do you think that you were able to maintain your sanity in prison? If so, how? And if not, how did you get it back?

I believe I was able to maintain my sanity. There’s a mentor that I had in prison. He’s doing life with no parole. He was very violent if you tried him. But he was the most peaceful person that I ever came across in my life. When I first got to the prison, I was so angry with so many people, because I felt like they used and abandoned me, and he said to me, “Lil bro, you got to understand that just because we here it don’t mean the world stops.” He challenged me to think about how much stuff happens in a 24-hour period in my life when I was in the streets. He would say, “Just because you here reflecting and trying to change doesn’t mean all those other people that you dealt with in the past are reflecting and trying to change, too. So you gotta come to grips

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with studying yourself and trying to better yourself on a consistent basis.” He would say over and over again, “Study yourself, study yourself, study yourself some more, because you’ll never completely master self.” What he was trying to say is that there’ll never be a point where you’re a perfect human being, but as long as you’re studying yourself every day, having a time of reflection will allow you to be better. I began to have a quiet time where I reflected on what I did throughout the day, like how I interacted with other people, how I made those people feel, and what I could do differently moving forward. In prison, I became more respectful, and I became more conscious of how I treated people that were around me. Can you share with me about your new song dedicated to Black women?

It’s called “Black Girl Magic,” and it’s actually one of my favorite songs. The song came about through a conversation with my wife. I wanted to make something that Black girls and women can dance to and feel good about themselves. I just wanted to celebrate Black women and let them know they are the backbone of our communities. W

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M U SIC

OC FROM NC & D.R.U.G.S. BEATS: CROWN ROYAL

HHHH 1/2 [Self-released; Sep. 7]

Crown Jewels OC from NC and D.R.U.G.S. Beats join forces for one of the best hip-hop releases of 2020 BY CHARLES MORSE music@indyweek.com

G

ood rap music can be like soul food: made with hearty ingredients, not especially complicated in its preparation, but not easy to imitate. Without love and passion, it’ll never taste like your Auntie’s Sunday spread. There’s just something magical that happens when bona fide pros with decades of tradition and love sweat it out in the kitchen. If you’re looking for a rap album that will warm your soul and feed your hunger for wholesome bars and beats, Crown Royal—by OC from NC and D.R.U.G.S. Beats—is your Sunday spread. Based in Burlington, OC is a veteran in independent rap circles. Known for his effortless delivery of razor-sharp bars, he’s a man who doesn’t compromise his standards as an MC and makes the kind of music that he loves no matter what’s trending. On Crown Royal, he teamed up with Fayetteville’s D.R.U.G.S. Beats, one of the greatest sample-based producers to ever tap an MPC, who previously contributed to Dr. Dre’s Grammy-nominated album, Compton. This union is something that North Carolina hip-hop heads have been dreaming about for years, and the duo does not disappoint. The two artists have amazing synergy. D.R.U.G.S.’s production, though exclusively boom-bap, doesn’t sound precedented. He has a talent for finding pockets within samples that glide together with his drum programming, even easing back on the drums sometimes to let a riff loop out for OC to spit on. You hear this in “Anton Jackson,” where D.R.U.G.S. lays out some subtle drums for

OC’s first verse, then takes them out completely to let a vocal sample of a quartet loop as OC flows like molasses with a drawly pitched-down effect. It’s like Memphis bumped into Brooklyn somewhere on I-40 in North Carolina. Another high point is “Jameson,” which features a haunting, gritty sample of what sounds like a horror movie score, accompanied by heavily reverbed drums and a hyped vocal sample from Super Beagle. OC gets disrespectful on this one, with growling raps like, “‘Cause where I’m from you gotta up it, I ain’t even tough, it’s just here niggas ain’t really bluffin’.” Crown Royal is a testament to the fact that impeccable raps and beats will always be relevant in hip-hop. This project put two veterans who love their craft in the same room, and the result is an album that sits as one of the best hip-hop releases of 2020—and that’s not just by local standards. W


M U SIC Rayborn has put a pin in these plans until fall 2021, public-health conditions permitting. But Three Lobed is starting a series of releases in subscription form to celebrate two decades, with seven new records arriving every two months for the next year. The series begins October 9 with the release of Gunn-Truscinski Duo’s Soundkeeper. Calling from his law office in High Point, Rayborn recently spoke with the INDY about the upcoming release series and what it’s like to run a record label from home for 20 years. INDY: You’ve always described Three Lobed as something you do for fun, part-time, even as it’s gained considerable influence. After 20 years, does it still feel that way? CORY RAYBORN: It does. If it wasn’t, I

Twenty years of far-out music with Cory Rayborn’s Three Lobed Recordings BY WILL ATKINSON music@indyweek.com

wouldn’t do it. Every now and then people ask me, why wouldn’t you do it full-time? Music is weird. It’s taste-driven, to a degree. And it would be very worrisome to me to have to find a way to contribute toward my family financially through something based entirely off taste! But also, I think all the parts of the label would be less fun if they had different levels of weight placed on them due to it being a full-time job. It’s definitely still fun—it’s different today than it was five years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago. But it’s still just me. If you order a record, I’m the one putting it together. If you write to the label, I’m the one reading and writing back. If I’ve got to stuff a couple hundred records, I’m the one doing it while my kid’s asleep and then drop them off at the post office with my hands covered in corrugated-cardboard cuts.

T

Why do you think so many “big” artists, at least in indie terms—like Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo—seek out Three Lobed for some of their projects?

Cory Rayborn PHOTO BY REBECCA MANN RAYBORN

Opening the Third Ear here’s an alternate timeline in which, just a few weeks ago, Kings was packed for the annual Hopscotch day party hosted by WXDU 88.7 FM and Three Lobed Recordings. Always a festival highlight, the party tends to be an experimenting ground for artists outside of their official sets, regularly featuring one-off collaborations and some of the more far-out sonic experiments of the weekend (and more than a few references to the occult). As Three Lobed founder Cory Rayborn puts it, the only expectation is “to have no expectations.” Rayborn’s vinyl-centric label, which he runs when he’s not working his day job as

a business lawyer, turns 20 this year. When the coronavirus shut down live music in the spring, he was deep into planning an anniversary festival in collaboration with WXDU and Duke Performances. Although the festival never made it past the contracting phase, one can’t help but imagine what might have been: a three-night concert series across three venues on Duke’s campus, featuring the roster of left-field musicians who have forged longstanding relationships with the label: artists like Philadelphia psych-rockers Bardo Pond, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, harpist Mary Lattimore, and virtuosic guitarists Daniel Bachman, William Tyler, and Chuck Johnson.

I think as people have gotten to know me in various capacities, they realize that I do what I say I’m going to do. I’m not flaky. There are tons of people who have great ideas and never follow through on them. I try to come up with things that are doable, that you can actually see through to the end. Sometimes—like right now—things run on a slightly different schedule. But they still run the way they’re supposed to run, and they still look the way they’re supposed to look. I like to think the body of work has set an example of what the output will look like

when I work on something with you. You’re not having to talk to 10 different people. In the same way that, when someone orders a record or writes with a question, they deal with me, if I’m working with an artist on something, I’m the only person they have to ask any questions to. It’s them and me working together on whatever the end result is going to be. It’s probably more streamlined that way, especially to folks who are used to working with multiple layers of input. In place of this year’s Hopscotch, WXDU spent a weekend broadcasting recordings of previous WXDU/Three Lobed day parties. What was it like to hear those shows again?

It was fun. I listened in as much as I had a chance to over the course of the weekend. I’ve had copies of all those recordings the whole time, but some of them I hadn’t played in a while. And it was nice listening to everything in sequence and looking at input from people on social media who were listening along at the same time. It was not a substitute for the real thing, but it certainly was not bad. Are there any releases in the anniversary series that stand out to you?

I adore all the Gunn-Truscinski Duo output, so having the series kick off with [Soundkeeper] was very intentional. I really, deeply resonate with that material and being able to continue being involved with it means a lot. It was nice to be able to have that record be a part of this, and then have it be the lead-off record. Of the seven records, everything’s great. Of everything I’ve heard so far, a lot of this stuff leans to a certain degree into the slightly weirder side of what you may expect. Rather than have these things be safe and more traditionally accessible, a bunch of them are just weird, which is kind of fun. The Six Organs of Admittance record is very different from what people may think of from Ben [Chasny]’s catalog, and it’s kind of crazy. The Daniel Bachman is cut from a similar cloth as his last album, [The Morning Star]—it refines what he was trying to do to a degree, but it’s still a decent bit removed from his old solo guitar records. The Body/Head record is going to be a little bit different than the rest of their catalog. I’m excited for people to check everything out. W INDYweek.com

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STAGE

WAITING FOR THE HOST | HH 1/2

Through Saturday, Oct. 10 | Raleigh Little Theatre, online | raleighlittletheatre.org Waiting for the Host PHOTO COURTESY OF RALEIGH LITTLE THEATRE

Casting Doubt The struggle to shrink the proscenium stage to your laptop screen goes on in Waiting for the Host BY BYRON WOODS arts@indyweek.com

T

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he prolific horrors and absurdities of 2020 have repeatedly beggared description. The only reason we’d hesitate to apply CNN host Jake Tapper’s description of last week’s presidential debate—“a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck”—to the whole wretched year would be the credible fear that something even worse still lurks between now and December 31. Theodora, an Episcopal priest who’s a central character in Raleigh Little Theatre’s virtual production of Waiting for the Host, has plenty of company among those feeling godforsaken in the real world. There’s no shortage of theater artists in that number. Amputated from their audiences in the spring and evicted from live venues, they’ve been forced to reinvent themselves, almost overnight, as practitioners of another genre altogether: a weird online hybrid of film and television with technical requirements that impose an aesthetic fundamentally different from conventional theater. With few exceptions, the entire theatrical cohort has necessarily been learning to crawl ever since. Amid flashes of brilliance—and no small amount of beginners’ luck—in exceptional showings like the Women’s Theatre Festival’s Natural Shocks in March, theater groups have mainly struggled while trying to acquire new technical and artistic fluency. That struggle continues in Waiting for the Host. Artistic director Patrick Torres tries to recalibrate his cast’s performances from the overbroad gestures appropriate in a full proscenium theater to the subtler micro-gestures needed when acting for laptop cameras set only a few feet away. But with few exceptions, actors overshot—and overacted—on opening night. They were hardly helped by similar excesses in the underdeveloped characters and situations in Marc Palmieri’s uneven script, which was rushed too soon to market

after its April world premiere. It would be a challenge to overcome the wan stereotypes and lowest common plot denominators in a text that rarely rises to the level of sophistication we’ve come to expect from Raleigh Little Theatre. It was uncomfortable watching veteran actor Tina Morris Anderson reduced to a perpetually cringing clergyperson as Theodora, longtime theatrical yeoman George Labusohr to a template of a jilted lover with an ax to grind as Vincent, and up-and-comer Joey DeSena to a generic, pretentious big-city the-ah-tah director as Dodd. Palmieri tries to convey a present-day slice of American life as the characters gather on Zoom to rehearse a church’s Easter play that’s been forced to go online. Preacher’s kid and technical wiz Ben (Hakeem Abdur-Rahim) complains that “there’s nothing usual anymore,” before Effie (Gillie Conklin), an irascible but technically illiterate senior citizen straight from central casting, grouses about the onset of quarantine during Lent: “I was going to give up cheese. Then we gave up civilization.” Feeling all but literally godforsaken, Theodora pointedly ends the passion play at Jesus’s crucifixion, without staging a resurrection. When predictable consequences unfold from there, the future of the budding theatrical troupe hangs in the balance—even more so when Dodd breezily proposes a follow-up production of Oedipus Rex. But the gears repeatedly grind when the playwright abruptly shifts from low-level sitcom jokes to Theodora’s true but insufficiently supported moments of doubt and pain. Estranged characters reconcile without rhyme or reason, and Palmieri telegraphs a character’s arc with a single cough. This lack of subtlety in the text mirrors similar troubles in a production from a theatrical community that’s still out on the comeback trail. W


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NOTICES NOTICE OF DURHAM COUNTY GENERAL ELECTION Tuesday, November 3, 2020 PHOTO ID IS NOT REQUIRED TO VOTE The General Election for Durham County will be held in Durham County, NC on Tuesday November 3rd. All Durham County precincts will be open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. The following contests will be on Durham County ballots*: •President of the United States •State and Federal Offices •U.S. House of Representatives •N.C. Senate •N.C. House of Representatives •N.C. District Court •N.C. Superior Court •Durham County Board of Commissioners •Durham County Register of Deeds •Durham County Soil and Water *Offices will only appear on your ballot if you are eligible to vote for the respective contests. ABSENTEE ONE-STOP (EARLY VOTING) LOCATIONS • South Regional Library – 4505 S Alston Avenue, Durham • North Regional Library221 Milton Road, Durham • Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship4907 Garrett Road, Durham • Hope Valley Baptist Church- 6900 Garrett Road, Durham • Greater Emmanuel Template of Grace – 2722 E Main Street, Durham • Mt. Sylvan United Methodist Church – 5731 N Roxboro Road, Durham • East Regional Library – 211 Lick Creek Lane, Durham • The River Church – 4900 Prospectus Drive, Durham • Criminal Justice Resource Center – 326 E Main Street, Durham • Durham Tech – Newton Building – 1616 Cooper Street, Durham • NCCU Turner Law Building – 640 Nelson Street, Durham

• Duke University Karsh Alumni Center – 2080 Duke University Road, Durham • Southern High School – 800 Clayton Road, Durham • Main Library – 300 N Roxboro Street, Durham Early voting schedule: Thursday, Oct. 15th through Saturday, Oct. 31st, 2020 Hours are consistent at all fourteen early voting sites. • Weekdays: 8:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. • First Two Saturdays (Oct. 17th and 24th): 8:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. • Final Saturday (Oct. 31st): 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. • Sundays: 2:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ELECTION DAY POLLING PLACE LOCATION CHANGES • Precinct 15, previously located at Shepherds House United Methodist Church has moved to Holton Career and Resource Center, located at 401 N. Driver Street, Durham, NC 27703. • Precinct 17, previously located at First Presbyterian Church has moved to Durham County Main Library, located at 300 N Roxboro Street, Durham, NC 27701. • Precinct 35.3, previously located at City of Durham Fire Station #18 has moved to Triangle Bridge Club, located at 5110 Revere Road, Durham, NC 27713. • Precinct 48, previously located at Woodcroft Clubhouse has moved to the Boys and Girls Club of Durham and Orange Counties, located at 1010 Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway, Durham, NC 27713. VOTER REGISTRATION DEADLINE: The voter registration deadline for the November 3, 2020 General Election is Friday, October 9, 2020 (25 days prior). Voters that miss the registration deadline may register and vote during the Absentee One-Stop Voting Period (Early Voting). Voters who are currently registered need not re-register. Registered voters who have moved or

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