INDY Week 11.17.2021

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Raleigh Durham Chapel Hill November 17, 2021

Sixth Pack North Carolina’s redrawn 6th Congressional District packs Democrats into one of three blue seats. Will the March primary be a race to the left? by Leigh Tauss, p. 12

North packs


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What happens when a non-LGBTQ+ affirming church-meetscoffeeshop comes to a particularly queer part of Durham? P. 14

CONTENTS

PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

NEWS 6

How should funding from the federal infrastructure bill help Durham's Hayti community? BY THOMASI MCDONALD A judge ordered lawmakers to fund public schools under the Leandro plan this month. It's been a long time coming and it's still not a certainty.

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BY JASMINE GALLUP

12 14

North Carolina's new sixth congressional district is packed for Democrats. How far left do voters want to go? BY LEIGH TAUSS A church in downtown Durham is finding itself somewhat out of place. BY SARAH EDWARDS

ARTS & CULTURE 17

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Two four-star-rated new albums are awash in the light of experience and inexperience, respectively. BY BRIAN HOWE AND GRANT GOLDEN Phil Cook dedicated his 40th year to the piano. The result: All These Years. BY DAN RUCCIA

20 Presenting Whoop, a new rock band with a sharp debut and a rage for the stage. BY BRIAN HOWE

CORRECTION: Last week's piece on the CAM Raleigh exhibit Malik: Sovereign of Faith misstated the exhibit runtime. The correct runtime is through August 29, 2022.

THE REGULARS 4 15 Minutes

5 Quickbait/Op-ed

COVER Design by Jon Fuller and Annie Maynard

WE M A DE THIS PUBLIS H ER S Wake County

MaryAnn Kearns Durham/Orange/ Chatham Counties

John Hurld EDITOR I AL Editor in Chief Jane Porter Managing Editor Geoff West

Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards

Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods

C RE ATI V E

A D V E RTI S I N G

Senior Writer Leigh Tauss

Contributors Will Atkinson, Madeline Crone, Grant Golden, Spencer Griffith, Lucas Hubbard, Layla Khoury-Hanold, Brian Howe, Lewis Kendall, Kyesha Jennings, Glenn McDonald, Anna Mudd, Dan Ruccia, Jake Sheridan

Creative Director

Annie Maynard

Wake County MaryAnn Kearns

Staff Writers Jasmine Gallup Thomasi McDonald Editorial Assistant Lena Geller Copy Editor Iza Wojciechowska

Graphic Designer

Jon Fuller Staff Photographer

Brett Villena

Durham/Orange/ Chatham Counties John Hurld

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BACK TA L K

First, a clarification: A sentence in our story on voting rights last week erroneously implied that voters can only request a mail-in ballot a week before Election Day. In fact, voters can request a mail-in ballot several weeks before an election, but the cutoff for requesting a mail-in ballot is one week before Election Day. New laws could mandate that voters would need to request a ballot two weeks before Election Day, leaving them less time. That said, some of our readers disagreed with our story’s premise that Republican lawmakers are trying to make it more difficult for some voters to cast their ballots.

“In North Carolina no id is required to vote,” wrote reader Terry Duff in an email. “17 days of one-stop early voting. Any registered NC voter may request an absentee ballot for any reason. Special accommodations for anyone who wants them; people in care facilities, blind, visibly impaired, curbside voting, receiving help from a non-family assistant for just about any reason; including a voter who is unable to mark a ballot without help and Illiteracy. “And if all that fails you can go to a voting place on voting day and you can ALWAYS file a provisional vote. “Voting doesn’t need to be easier or more accessible but it certainly needs to be much more secure because I want my vote to count. There are so many opportunities to have fraud in our current system. Yes, I know you will say that no one has been caught in a major fraud, yet but I have not ever heard of a single person whose legitimate vote was not counted.”

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Raleigh

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15 MINUTES Jackie Ferguson, 47

PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

Cofounder of The Diversity Movement BY LEIGH TAUSS ltauss@indyweek.com

The Diversity Movement is a Raleigh-based consultancy firm specializing in helping companies implement diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices in the workplace, including training managers and employees on gender equity, LGBTQ+, disability, and mental health issues.

How did you get into your work? I was born into DEI, and I say that because I come from a multiracial, multigenerational, multiregional background, so I was lucky enough to have my parents and my grandparents in the house with us. I got to really understand that people view things very differently based on their experiences, so understanding and learning how to message each person individually and also how to receive thoughts and feedback that is different from my own is integrated into how I grew up. I spent some time working in human resources, working in marketing and sales throughout my career, and had some experience with DEI from the HR perspective but also understood that being able to communicate in a way that is inclusive for all people is so important. And especially as our society becomes more diverse, we need to understand how to probably communicate with everyone we are speaking to.

So what exactly is The Diversity Movement? The Diversity Movement is an organization that was started by CEOs, entrepreneurs, business executives, and DEI professionals who have come together to create an organization where we can help organizations put their people first. That means their employees, clients, customers. As our society becomes more diverse, we are able to better lead with better methods and communication. We are consultants, so we do consult. We also have e-learning, basically online learning, where it’s self-paced, accessible, and meets you wherever you are on your DEI journey.

We use all the tools we have available to not only educate but reinforce that “people first” mind-set. In doing so we find that organizations perform better. They are more profitable and their employees are more productive. It can transform your business.

What are the biggest obstacles companies face when implementing DEI practices? When we are talking about DEI, you are talking about changing the way people talk and engage with each other, and that’s difficult. Understanding where people are in that journey, understanding how to lead from where they are, and how to engage them from the start and move them in the right direction is a challenge for organizations that don’t have the right support and tools to do that.

What are the benefits of implementing DEI in the workplace? Studies have shown that organizations that do well with their DEI practice—it’s not a program, it’s not an initiative, it’s something that’s integrated into your business, all the way through strategic planning to the way you work day to day—create 19 percent more revenue through innovation. That’s because when you have more voices at the table and more people that feel that they can contribute and have value to add, the more ideas you are going to get. Another study showed that employees that are happy are 13 percent more productive. That boils down to basically an entire day of additional productivity a week per employee. So when you are really creating an environment and a culture where your employees are happy—they feel safe, supported, and valued in the workplace—they are more productive. W


Q UICK BA I T

OP - E D

No Show

A Lifeline Our essential workers, including public transit bus drivers and staff, will be crucial to sustaining our region’s growth. We need to pay them more now.

BY LEIGH TAUSS ltauss@indyweek.com

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unicipal elections simply don’t see the same voter turnout general elections do. While more than 75 percent of registered voters in North Carolina turned out for the presidential election in 2020, just 16 percent of registered municipal voters statewide cast ballots on November 2. The fact that several municipalities delayed elections until 2022, including Raleigh, could contributed to low turnout this year. Still, the stats will make you sad—and here they are:

BY NATHAN SPENCER backtalk@indyweek.com

Statewide turnout

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veryone is talking about growth, but once again the focus is on new jobs that pay $200,000 instead of the lower-paying ones people already have that make the creation of those new jobs possible. I’m talking about our public transit bus drivers. As it turns out, GoRaleigh, which has boasted not having to cut service during the pandemic, has been able to squeak through by having its drivers work significant overtime and having supervisors—whose job it is to solve problems and ensure that buses are running efficiently—fill the voids. And while drivers have seen their pay increase (by 5 percent overall—to a starting pay of $16.25 an hour), the maintenance and cleaning staff who are equally, and sometimes more, exposed to COVID-19 haven’t seen any of that bump. Just a few short months ago we were calling these workers—many of whom lost loved ones to the virus and kept showing up—heroes. Now everyone is suddenly surprised they aren’t lining up for positions that start at 20 percent of the forthcoming Apple salaries—in fact, they’re leaving them. But without these essential workers, the lack of reliable, efficient, and affordable transit will drive up the cost of living and make everyone’s commute—whether to work or the grocery store—longer. Without transit connecting our communities, both the people who have to make the trade-off between paying rent and living close enough to a decent-paying job and those who can easily afford to do so will compete to live closer to job centers and current transit. That increases rent and purchase costs and pushes out longtime residents, many of whom are older adults on fixed incomes. Plus, more motorists—because of a lack of public transit—means more congestion and more harmful emissions.

“We need to address our bus driver shortage because it directly affects our ability to grow as a region.”

Wake County turnout

16%

20%

Registered voters in N.C. municipalities holding elections: 2,081,396

40,909 ballots cast out of 201,166 registered voters

Ballots cast: 337,800 We need to address our bus driver shortage because it directly affects our ability to grow as a region. This begins by paying them more. In most of Wake County $34,000 is not enough to live on to pay for childcare, food, and other essentials. In the long run, municipalities that want to connect are going to need to raise taxes a little to pay for it, but we can start right now by prioritizing some of our sales tax funding for them. This might affect some of our Wake Transit Plan projects, but there will be no bus rapid transit crisscrossing Raleigh if we don’t have anyone to drive the buses. We can find some savings through consolidation, too. People don’t care which municipality is footing the bill or what is written on the side of the bus if it helps them get to work and relieves the road congestion. We need to be thinking regionally if we are competing that way—our essential workers are a major lifeline of our economy and that long-term idea of an affordable and thriving area. W Nathan Spencer is executive director of WakeUP Wake County, a 15-year-old nonprofit that advocates for sustainable and equitable growth in the Triangle. He also serves as vice chair of the Raleigh Transit Authority.

Durham County turnout

Orange County turnout

15%

31,327 ballots cast out of 203,656 registered voters

23%

16,984 ballots cast out of 73,816 registered voters

Voting method statewide: One-stop early voting: 26 percent

In person on Election Day: 71.5 percent By mail: 1.5 percent Provisional: less than 1 percent Counties with elections in 2021: 91 Candidates: more than 2,500 | Contests: 890 INDYweek.com

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N E WS

Durham

Reparative Justice Community advocates have ideas about how funding for communities destroyed by “urban renewal”—such as Hayti—can use funding from the new federal infrastructure bill to rebuild. BY THOMASI MCDONALD tmcdonald@indyweek.com

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.M. “Mickey” Michaux, North Carolina’s longest-serving member of the General Assembly before he retired in 2019, grew up in Durham. Before he was elected to the state house in 1972, Michaux worked at his father’s law and real estate offices on the 800 block of Fayetteville Street. His father’s business was one of many in the Hayti District that was upended by the “urban renewal” of the 1950s and ’60s that promised new wealth and prosperity but instead drove the Durham Freeway through the heart of the community, displacing thousands of residents and business owners, Michaux told the INDY this week. “We had to move,” Michaux recalls. “We succeeded, but there were those that did not.” Now, decades later, the federal government—whose urban renewal program, initiated by President Dwight Eisenhower, destroyed Hayti and other burgeoning Black communities across the United States—is proposing to help rebuild a part of Durham’s most historic Black neighborhood. On Monday, President Joe Biden signed into law the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that promises to rebuild the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, and strengthen its water infrastructure and internet, while creating well-paying jobs and a better economy. The new law is purportedly designed to make good on the decades-long broken promise to rebuild Hayti and similar Black communities with the creation of what the Biden administration describes as “a first-ever program to reconnect communities” that were buried under a federally funded highway system under the guise of urban renewal. 6

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“Too often, past transportation investments divided communities—like the Clairborne Expressway in New Orleans or I-81 in Syracuse—or it left out the people most in need of affordable transportation options,” the White House stated in an infrastructure bill fact sheet. But the bill has already fallen short of the president’s initial ambitions. Biden originally sought $20 billion to finance the project, noted Fred Broadwell, an organizer with the Durham Freeways to Boulevards Justice Project—a group that works with the company Congress for New Urbanism, which advocates for smart growth—in an email to the INDY in early November; by then, the funding had decreased to $4 billion. This week, when Biden signed the bill into law, the funding had dropped to $1 billion. With violent crime soaring nationally in neighborhoods most affected by urban renewal, for some observers, reconnecting the communities with new roads does not begin to address the inequities that were left in the wake of the urban destruction. Broadwell, a West End resident and urban planner, says his group was one of the “instructive chorus of communities” that helped persuade President Biden to include funding to address the damage caused by urban renewal in Black communities. Broadwell also noted that the $1 billion will likely be used for planning and design, while an additional $4 billion in the Build Back Better legislation, currently pending in Congress, will be used for construction. Broadwell describes a national movement slowly gaining steam to tear down urban freeways that have destroyed African American communities. He says instead of

The Hayti Heritage Center on Fayetteville Street in Durham Durham residents trying to determine how to best live with the freeway that’s becoming more and more congested during commuter hours, get rid of the thing and replace it with a boulevard lined with affordable housing and retail leading into the downtown district. “The freeway cuts off the Hayti area from downtown. That’s a critical problem,” he said. “If you remove the freeway, that frees up a fair amount of land for affordable housing. You could build a significant amount of affordable housing along that corridor, and end up with a better street.”

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ayti and similar communities across the country thrived against all odds during Jim Crow and created businesses, homes, and most especially, community. Michaux recalls a self-sufficient community that “didn’t have to go across the tracks for anything,” unless it was to do business with Mechanics and Farmers Bank, Mutual Savings and Loan, or the N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Company; the all Black-owned enterprises on Parrish Street eventually earned the moniker “Black Wall Street” as a tribute to the community’s economic success. When urban renewal “reared its ugly head,” in Michaux’s words, in Durham between 1955 and 1960, he had just returned to Durham after attending graduate school at Rutgers University and worked at his

PHOTO BY BOB KARP

father’s business full-time while attending law school part-time. “They promised to come in and do away with the blight and build a general hospital, and that’s what we fell for,” says Michaux, who first ran for office near the end of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott at the behest of a young Martin Luther King Jr. who became a close friend. Though Durham’s general hospital was built as part of the federal government’s ostensible renewal of the area, Michaux notes that it’s not at all in the heart of the Black community. The Durham Regional Hospital, which first opened its doors on October 3, 1976—merging Watts Hospital north of downtown and Lincoln Hospital in Hayti—sits miles away from Fayetteville Street, on North Roxboro Road. Michaux says Fayette Place, the public housing apartments that were eventually built, were initially an improvement from the blight removed by urban renewal. But today, only a vacant lot remains after Fayette Place was demolished more than a decade ago. “It’s more blight there now than what was there in the first place,” Michaux says. “So basically, we got screwed.” Michaux says Biden’s program should benefit people who lost their businesses and homes as a result of urban renewal. And he thinks businesses and homeowners who remained in the community and are


now paying higher taxes as a consequence of gentrification should benefit from the federal funding. “[Highway] 147, because of urban renewal, ran straight through White Rock Baptist Church,” Michaux says of one of the city’s oldest and most storied congregations. “White Rock had to move. Is there something that could be done for White Rock? There are arguments for and against. My argument is for rebuilding the community.” Marion Johnson, a consultant with Frontline Solutions, a Black-owned firm that supports local nonprofits and foundations with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, said in an email to the INDY that she thinks the “most urgent use for the Build Back Better funding is housing.” “Not just building more affordable housing, but also extending an eviction moratorium until this pandemic is actually over,” Johnson continued. “That includes funding rental assistance to accompany the moratorium, because pausing evictions without pausing rent really just becomes a horrible game of delaying the inevitable.” Angela Lee is executive director of the Hayti Heritage Center, the former home of the old St. Joseph AME Church that was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. According to a joint 2016 report by the city’s historic preservation commission and the city-county planning department, the old church was “a center in the Hayti community” and “remains today as the last authentic physical reminder of early Hayti.” Lee told the INDY this week that the infrastructure funding, coupled with funding from other groups that want to invest in the district, makes this the right time for city officials to redevelop the Fayetteville Street corridor and offset the damage done by Highway 147. Lee noted that although Hayti sits in the shadow of downtown, it’s not currently mapped in the downtown district. Lee says the St. Joseph’s Foundation in 2018 received a grant as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School, which would reconnect Hayti to downtown by creating a safe walking route from the Hayti District to Parrish Street. “It’s less than a mile away,” Lee said about the proposed route. “It would encourage our residents, especially our seniors, to get out and walk more and enjoy the beautiful scenery that could be created.” Lee says the infrastructure funding could be used to perhaps shut down the Fayette-

ville Street exit off of the Durham Freeway and the adjoining bridge to develop an even more expansive walking route into downtown. “It would be a beautiful thing,” she adds. “The bridge is dangerous, and so many people have to walk that way with no barriers on the sides. I think it’s important for the health of the community to close off the exit and create a walking area. I’m not a planner, but I wonder what that would look like.” This summer, during the city’s Juneteenth celebrations, Henry McKoy, a professor of entrepreneurship in N.C. Central University’s business school, introduced Hayti Reborn, a $1 billion proposal to transform the vacant 20-acre Fayette Place into a “global equity project,” anchored by “the world’s first equity research and development park,” to “systematically close racial wealth gaps by creating global networks of equitable cities.” McKoy envisions a sparkling global-minded environment where people in the community live, have access to centrally located resources, visit the Hayti museum, study at an innovation school and research lab, work at a biomanufacturing facility, shop at a grocery store, enjoy food halls and retail spaces, and have structured parking. This week, McKoy told the INDY that the Hayti Reborn concept proposes reconnecting the two sides of the Durham Freeway “to represent what needs to be mended from the past harm.” McKoy says the federal funds set aside for reconnecting communities could be used in Hayti in at least two ways: First, the city could set up a reparative justice fund, he says, and collect the names of families who were displaced residentially or business-wise from the [Highway 147] project and the urban renewal. “The reparative justice fund could compensate those individuals or their families directly—or purchase them replacement homes or businesses from what was destroyed,” McKoy says. “Likely [it] would be for their descendants. But [it] would try to address a past harm.” Then, McKoy says, the city could set up a fund to support the same for the next generation, because African Americans were harmed by the highway. “The number of homes and businesses destroyed without adequate compensation could be replaced currently and ensure they are owned by African Americans,” McKoy explains. “This could hopefully lay the foundation for a rebirth of the community, based on direct reparative justice or indirect.” W INDYweek.com

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NEWS

North Carolina

A Long Time Coming A superior court judge ordered lawmakers to fully fund public schools under the Leandro plan this month. The Republicans in charge have other ideas. BY JASMINE GALLUP jgallup@indyweek.com

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n 1994, the year Kathleen Leandro sued the state on behalf of her eighth-grade son, Robb, legislators gave $4.1 billion to public schools. It sounds like a lot, but in reality it was almost $500 million less than funding over the previous year. Today, the situation is much worse. In the past five decades, the share of money given to public schools in annual state budgets has dropped by 13 percent. Despite criticism from teachers, par-

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ents, and even some students, legislators have continued walking down a path they started down years earlier—a path toward defunding public education. The Leandro case started out as an effort to improve education for students in poor school districts, but over the years, the focus has shifted to the quality of education as a whole. It raises questions that school systems and parents across the country are grappling with, such as “Do we

Five poor school systems sue the state and state board of education, arguing NC has failed to educate all students equally

Judge Howard Manning orders the state to provide the “resources necessary” and highquality staff to schools to comply with Supreme Court ruling

LEANDRO II— Supreme Court affirms 1997 ruling, but says state should be given an opportunity to propose a solution

Manning orders the state provide a “definite plan of action” to comply with Supreme Court rulings

1994

2000-01

2004

2015

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1997

2002

2010

2016

LEANDRO I— The NC Supreme Court rules all children have a right to a sound, basic education

The state appeals again to the Supreme Court

Education improves for a while, but postrecession budget cuts make it impossible for the state to meet its obligations

Manning retires and Judge David Lee is appointed to the case

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have enough teachers?” and “Is my child getting enough attention at school?” Like many pillars of politics, these issues all boil down to money. And since 90 percent of the state’s public education money goes to staff salaries and benefits, teacher pay has come under the spotlight. For teachers, it’s analogous to working for a company that lays off half its staff, then decides they weren’t needed anyway. The 2008 recession hit a lot of companies hard, forcing them to cut costs. But even after the recession passed, many stuck with a limited staff. After all, the job was still (mostly) getting done. Why pay for two teachers when one can teach math and science? Unfortunately, teachers and support staff who are being asked to do more while being paid less are quitting. In September, Wake County reported a shortage of 274 teachers, a relatively low vacancy rate, but one that reflected an uptick in retirements and resignations. The school district also reported vacancy rates of 15 percent and more for bus drivers, child nutrition workers, instructional assistants, and maintenance and operations staff. The loss of teachers and support staff during the coronavirus pandemic was a body blow to schools. Fewer teachers, more

State BOE asks to be released from the court’s authority

Constultant WestEd releases its report

BOE and plaintiffs submit a comprehensive, 8-year plan to the court, based on WestEd report and recommendations from Cooper administration

2017

2019

March

Still no state budget. NCGA proposals don’t come close to funding Leandro plan. Lee gives lawmakers a deadline.

Sept.

2018

2020

June

Nov.

Lee denies BOE motion, orders consultant WestEd to make recommendations on how the state can meet its Leandro obligations

Lee finds that that despite many state initiatives, children are still not receiving a sound, basic education; orders BOE and plaintiffs to develop a Leandro plan

Lee orders state to implement plan

Lee orders state to comply with financing first two years of Leandro plan

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“For 17 years, [this court] has granted every reasonable deference to the legislature to put together and implement a plan.” students, and less money for programs such as English as a Second Language all combined to put schools in a dire position. Now, exhausted and frustrated with a lack of pay raises, bus drivers and cafeteria workers are striking in protest. On Tuesday, hundreds of cafeteria workers called in sick to protest low pay and poor working conditions. Their walkout followed a similar protest by bus drivers last month that resulted in lengthy carpool lines. Such was the situation when, last week, superior court judge David Lee ordered the legislature to hand over $1.7 billion to public education. The money would fund the first two years of an eight-year, $5.6 billion plan to improve education for children in low-wealth districts, dubbed “the Leandro Plan.” Under the plan, teachers would get a 5 percent pay raise in 2021–22, principals would get a pay raise, and schools could hire more teacher assistants, school nurses, school social workers, and school counselors. The state’s pre-K program would also be expanded so 75 percent of eligible children are enrolled by 2028, and money would go toward programs in poor school districts for students with disabilities, disadvantaged students, and English learners. Lee’s court order comes after years of inaction from the state legislature, which was directed to take measures to improve public education back in 2004. A decade of litigation in the Leandro case ended that year when the state supreme court, again, ruled that the state has a constitutional obligation to provide all children with a sound, basic education. Since then, judges have given the state multiple opportunities to comply with the ruling by increasing education funding, either through individual pieces of legislation or via the annual budget. The Republican-controlled legislature, however, has failed to develop a plan of action or make a sustained, comprehensive effort at expanding programs proven to improve public education. Until Monday, Republican lawmakers and 10

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Governor Roy Cooper were at a stalemate when it came to the budget (and how much money should be given to schools). Even after the state Board of Education, alongside the Leandro plaintiffs, agreed on the comprehensive, eight-year plan earlier this year, legislators failed to fully fund it in their proposed budgets. Weeks of fruitless negotiations prompted Lee to give lawmakers an October deadline to fund the Leandro plan, which they ignored, and then, earlier this week, to order state officials to transfer $1.7 billion to the Department of Public Instruction, Department of Health and Human Services, and University of North Carolina System. “For 17 years, [this court] has granted every reasonable deference to the legislature to put together and implement a plan,” Lee said last week. “No budget has been passed … despite the significant unspent funds they have.” Five days after Lee’s order, state leaders finally reached a compromise on the budget. And while it does give more money to public education than previous proposals, it still falls short of the Leandro plan. For example, while it would increase teacher pay in low-wealth school districts, it calls only for an average raise of 2.5 percent for teachers instead of 5 percent. The budget is expected to land on Governor Cooper’s desk by Friday. Republicans have been vocal in their opposition to the Leandro Plan, calling Lee a “rogue judge” and expected to fight the ruling. On the other hand, state superintendent of public instruction Catherine Truitt, also a Republican, has been mostly silent on the issue. She sent a letter earlier this month urging lawmakers to pass a state budget, citing the “many crises on the horizon” should they fail to do so, but didn’t specify how much money should be allocated. For now, Lee’s order is still standing, a ray of hope for many education advocates. After 27 years, with the Leandro case drawing to a close, perhaps Kathleen Leandro’s grandchildren will finally get the education they deserve. W


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NEWS

Nort packs

North Carolina

Sixth Pack North Carolina’s redrawn 6th Congressional District more tightly packs Democrats into one of just three safely blue seats statewide. Will the March primary be a race to the left? BY LEIGH TAUSS ltauss@indyweek.com

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emocratic North Carolina congressman David Price first won election in 1986, the year the last of Durham’s cotton mills closed. With the exception of a single narrow defeat in 1994—the notorious red wave that ousted 34 House Democrats and birthed the modern GOP—he’s held on to the left-leaning 4th Congressional District ever since. The district’s heart is the Bull City, but it also encompasses all of Orange, Granville, and Franklin Counties as well as parts of Wake, Chatham, and Vance. Price “is the epitome of a statesman and public servant,” North Carolina’s other longtime Democratic congressman G.K. Butterfield said recently, which certainly rings true. Price, 81, has a well-earned reputation as an effective, no-nonsense lawmaker; he’s cerebral rather than attention-seeking and would rather get things done than stand on ceremony. He’s helped push through education and consumer protection and has secured funding for a slew of state projects from the construction of Raleigh’s Union Station to an EPA lab and headquarters for the North Carolina National Guard. Last month, Price announced he intends to retire at the end of his term, leaving his seat wide open for a Democratic successor in 2022. The district—which has been recalibrated as the 6th—is one of three precious safe havens for Democrats in the new, heavily gerrymandered congressional map. Republicans would be poised to secure up to 11 seats, giving them nearly 80 percent representation in a state where there are more Democrats registered to vote than Republicans (North Carolina has about 2.5 million registered Democrats, 2.4 million registered Independents, and 2.2 million Republicans). Lawsuits are already challenging the legality of the Republican-drawn maps, and courts will ultimately decide if they stand for the March primary. The candidate filing period for the primary doesn’t 12

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open for two weeks, but campaigns for the seat are already in full swing. State senator Wiley Nickel, who currently represents Wake County, threw his name into the ring the same day Price announced his retirement and has already amassed a quarter-million-dollar war chest. Last week, Durham County Board of Commissioners member Nida Allam, the first Muslim woman ever elected to public office in North Carolina, launched her campaign and instantly raised $50,000, a figure she’s already doubled. And outside Durham’s North Carolina Central University Monday, air force veteran and small business owner Nathan Click announced he, too, would be vying for the coveted congressional seat. Several other big-name candidates are rumored to be entering the race, including state senators Valerie Foushee and Mike Woodard and former state senator Floyd McKissick Jr. But the full candidate roster won’t come into focus until the state’s filing deadline December 17. Price’s district has long been a Democratic stronghold—Price won with 67 percent of the vote in 2020— but the new 6th District condenses it into an even more tightly packed blue district by eliminating the rural areas north of Wake County. It’s now expected to swing 74 percent Democrat, according to a recent analysis by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, making it tied with the 9th District, which covers Charlotte, for having the highest concentration of Democratic voters.

“They made it a safer Democratic seat so they could make other seats more Republican,” says political consultant Gary Pearce, a former advisor to Governor Jim Hunt. “Democrats are looking at a bad year next year and what they need to be looking at is how they are going to dig out of that hole down the road.” The question isn’t if a Democrat will win the 6th seat but which, and in turn what brand of progressive politics resonates most strongly with 2021 voters. If Price represents the best of North Carolina Democrats of yore, what type of candidate will represent the party’s future? Will it be a young firebrand progressive, like Allam, or a tried and true establishment candidate with deep political ties and a lengthy history of service, like Foushee? With Butterfield’s district now competitive, could the 6th be North Carolina’s best chance to send a progressive candidate to Washington? You won’t have to wait a year for the answer. The district is so packed that a Republican wouldn’t stand a chance against a primate. November’s election will be decided in the primary. Just because the 6th is safely blue, that doesn’t mean a lot isn’t riding on it. Midterm elections typically spell mayhem for the party in power—see: the 1994 Republican Revolution following the election of President Bill Clinton and the Tea Party’s sweep of the 2010 midterms after President Barack Obama’s election. If Virginia’s recent gubernatorial election—where Republican Glenn


“How are Democrats going to guard against fascism? That’s the essential challenge Democrats are going to be grappling with for years to come.” Carolina’s old model for electability is broken. Cal Cunningham, your typical white, middle-aged lawyer, was the perceived safe bet in 2020 Senate primary. His campaign tanked amid a sex scandal weeks before the election, all but handing Republican Thom Tillis back his seat. “The lesson of all that is there’s a hunger for younger new blood,” Pearce says. Allam, 27, certainly fits that bill. If elected, Allam would be the second-youngest person in Congress, behind Madison Cawthorn. In some ways, she’s Cawthorn’s inverse: Cawthorn fabricated his origin story—lying about the car accident that paralyzed him, falsely claiming he was accepted into the Naval Academy—while rallying supporters of President Donald Trump with fearmongering over socialism and liberal indoctrination. Allam also has a unique origin story, but hers is real. She was driven toward local politics after three of her best friends were gunned down in a racist attack in Chapel Hill in 2015. She sees herself as the progressive Democrat poised to not only inspire young voters but take swift and meaningful action on the issue that matters most: climate change. “This is our chance for North Carolina to elect a progressive fighter and not just a status quo Democrat,” Allam says. “I’m the candidate in this race that understands the urgency of this moment, our moment, because our generation and the next is going to have to live with the repercussions.” Nickel, 45, has a lengthy résumé that includes working under Vice President Al Gore in the nineties and in the Obama administration. He says his experience is what separates him from the pack. “I’ve worked for two White Houses, held two terms in the state senate, and having

that national experience—I’ve flown on the planes, helicopters, I’ve been on the motorcades—I know what we need to do to make change,” Nickel says. While Nickel may have the financial backing needed to run an effective campaign, Reeves thinks he will face an uphill battle because most of his base is in Wake County. Nickel disagrees, noting about 40 percent of the voters in the 6th District are in Wake. Allam, on the other hand, has a lot of name recognition in both Durham and Orange Counties. A slew of political newcomers will surely join the race in the coming weeks, but most of the major candidates interested in the seat have deep party connections, including Allam who served as vice president of the North Carolina Democratic Party. Nickel has ties to Washington, and the names Foushee and McKissick are legacies in their own right. “Party politicians consolidate behind one of their own,” Reeves says. “Especially given the contours of this district, we don’t think a lot of them really have their finger on the pulse of the district. “This is a much more liberal area now and it needs a representative who is going to reflect that,” he continued. “I think people are going to raise a lot of money, but it’s really going to come down to who excites the liberal base more. Right now, I’m seeing two candidates who can kind of do that, and one who can do it better.” The 6th might not be Price’s district— it’s smaller, more urban, and younger— but Durham will continue to be its crux. Mayor Steve Schewel believes Bull City voters are looking for candidates that embody the city’s core values, with racial and economic justice being at the top of the civic agenda. “I think that voters everywhere want somebody with a good strong record of achievement who has bravely represented the values of this community and has achieved victories for this community over time,” Schewel said. “Durham, in particular, wants a good, strong progressive who is going to go and fight for our values.” After three decades–plus in Washington, Price said in a statement that despite his many accomplishments, retirement won’t bring a complete sense of closure. Democracy, more fragile than ever, “remains a work in progress.” “Looming over it all is the frightful legacy of the last four years and urgent questions about the future of our constitutional democracy,” Price said. “So while it is time for me to retire, it is no time to flag in our efforts to secure a ‘more perfect union’ and to protect and expand our democracy.” W

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Youngkin defeated former Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe—is any precursor, 2022 is poised to be disastrous for Democrats in Congress. A red wave next year could see Republicans easily take control of the House, which Democrats hold by a mere eight seats, and the currently deadlocked U.S. Senate. With Republicans controlling the legislature and Supreme Court, President Joe Biden would be effectively muzzled and at the mercy of a runaway GOP train. The most pessimistic prognosticators believe the subsequent descent into fascism will be swift and unrelenting. This makes the 6th Congressional District all the more critical. “How are Democrats going to guard against fascism? That’s the essential challenge Democrats are going to be grappling with for years to come,” says Blair Reeves, cofounder of Carolina Forward, a progressive nonprofit. “Someone who casts a vote and stays out of the fray, that’s not really going to cut it anymore.” “The great debate among Democrats is: Do we want to appeal to the center or do we simply want to fire up the base? And it’s always hard for me to understand why people even have that debate because to win at politics you’ve got to do both,” Pearce says. “It may be easier to win running as a fire-breathing progressive, but what we need in this country and what this district ought to be in the lead in sending to Washington is someone who has progressive views but is able to get some things done in Congress.” The challenge in this election will be standing out in a crowded field, with viable races for Democrats and so many great progressive candidates packed into one district, says Maggie Barlow, one of the most sought-after Democratic campaign strategists in the state. Barlow thinks candidates of color and women will have a competitive edge, but they’ll need to appeal to urban progressives and highly educated voters. “Female candidates represent our best opportunity in a lot of these electoral environments,” Barlow says. “It’s going to be someone who can really put together a strong operation very quickly and raise a lot of money by having a lot of institutional support.” Pearce is quick to point out that Black women are the most reliable Democratic voters. In terms of demographics, he agrees a woman of color would have the best chance at winning the seat. Of the major candidates running or rumored to run, all but Nickel and Woodard are Black or people of color. And, Pearce says, if 2020 proved anything, it’s that North

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Durham Pioneers Church PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

New Church on the Block What happens when a non-LGBTQ+ affirming church-meets-coffeeshop comes to a particularly queer part of Durham? BY SARAH EDWARDS sedwards@indyweek.com

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t would be hard to find a more desirable real estate location in Durham than 408 West Geer Street. The building, built in 1948 and situated at the intersection of Geer Street and Rigsbee Avenue, is the former home of Weeks Motor Company and Hutchins Auto Supply and contains a sleek, immaculately white showroom. Floorto-ceiling windows gives the space the feeling of a fishbowl. Over the years, prominent local businesses have tried to lease the space, but longtime landlord Mark Hutchins demurred. For several years, the property—which, in conjunction with the adjoining Hutchins Garage space, has an assessed total fair market value of $1,530,187, according to county tax records—has mostly sat empty. In early October, signs appeared advertising the new business taking over the space: Pioneers Durham, a “project of Pioneers Church‘’ offering “Coffee. Tea. Baked items. Events. Co-working. Faith. Community.” A QR code directs 14

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to a website introducing future parishioners to lead pastor Sherei Lopez Jackson and her husband, Daniel Jackson, both graduates of Duke Divinity School. Pioneers Durham, the coworking space and market, will operate in the showroom during the week; on the weekend, the space will flip to become Pioneers Church, a church plant of nearby Trinity United Methodist Church. The church and business spaces have different tax statuses, and the business portion, according to church leadership, will not be tax-exempt. “We are pioneering a vibrant and fresh approach to church uniquely for the people of downtown Durham— where creativity, compassion, belonging and purpose come together to bring hope to the heart of our city,” the website reads. It outlines the organization’s aims, including facilitating “redemptive enterprise and social entrepreneurship” and providing a “space of commerce for micro-businesses and start-ups to flourish and a ‘church space’ that is open

every day of the week as a local community resource to come rest, eat, dream, gather, and play.” The church’s website invokes a blend of references— Black Wall Street in one section (which the name Pioneers is intended to honor), a call for “city renewal” with hopes for seeing “Durham’s bright future manifested in our time” in another. “Did you move to Durham because you wanted to be part of the weird, creative, and diverse leg of the Research Triangle?” the “Who is Pioneers for?” section of the website reads. “Are you in a creative, technical, or medical field and dreaming or playing in the startup wonderland that is Durham?” Soon, skeptical comments on social media proliferated— my own among them—as residents questioned the message that Pioneers’ name and Millenial-Id-adjacent language sends to a gentrifying Durham. The church’s affiliation with the Association of Related Churches—an umbrella organization that helps fund and plant churches and that does not affirm LGBTQ+ members—furthered that unease. Numerous churches in Durham also do not doctrinally affirm LGBTQ+ rights, including the UMC denomination that is planting the church. Still, a conservative church in such a prominent location has caused waves. “I’m very concerned about you opening a church in a very diverse, queer community given ARC’s discriminatory stance on marriage,” local journalist Matt Lardie commented on the Pioneers Instagram. “Will you openly welcome and bless ALL members of Durham’s community?” To this, Sherei Jackson sidestepped Lardie’s question and instead invited him to chat over coffee. Though Lardie declined, several people did sign up for a virtual “Sunday Coffee with a Pastor” event posted on the website. Jackson, who got into a car accident later that week, was unable to attend. As social media chatter piled up, comments on the church’s social media accounts were turned off, several commenters (including Lardie) were blocked, and the Instagram account for the business arm of the church was deleted. Dialogue about the church briefly quieted; then, in mid-November, Jackson released a series of Instagram slides clarifying Pioneers’ position on LGBTQ+ rights. Although the church will “prioritize love and welcome because we follow Jesus,” she wrote, both UMC’s and her own principles prevented her from marrying LGBTQ+ couples. “I, personally, hold an interpretation of scripture that Christian marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman and believe that sexual intimacy has the potential to be at its healthiest in that context,” Jackson wrote. The Sunday morning after the slides went up, a pair of women were seen pouring a thick perimeter of salt around the church storefront—a rite traditionally performed to cleanse a space of negative spiritual energy. The salt lingered for several days afterward.


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n person, Jackson, who was 37 weeks pregnant when we met, is passionate and eloquent. It is easy to see why she was drawn to being a pastor. On a sunny October afternoon, she showed me around the space. The project is still in the early stages and Jackson says that she anticipates that the church will begin operations in February or March 2022. Still, several months out, the space is already polished, with one side of the room flanked by a bar that will serve locally sourced coffee, tea, and baked goods made by businesses that have “a real ethos around equity.” At the back of the room, olive-green bookshelves built by Jackson’s father line the wall. Here, 100 display cubbyholes will be available as artist vendor rental spaces for $50 a month (more prominent booth spaces go for $200, plus a cut from sales), with priority going to “people of color and women.” Upstairs, an airy room overlooking the downstairs will be the coworking space; Jackson hopes to lease memberships on a modest sliding scale of $25 to $50 a month. (For comparison, average WeWork memberships go for $199 a month.) Another small room will potentially provide childcare so that parents can drop their children off while they work. “I get really cringy about church spaces that are open for like an hour on Sunday for service and then take up massive real estate and sit empty,” Jackson says. “I have a lot of curiosity about how that space could be stewarded in a better way. So I started to ask about this, and the question that we’re trying to answer is the loneliness question— how can we create that third space, the ‘Friends couch space’?” Jackson became interested in this question of loneliness while doing a demographic study of Durham at Duke Divinity. The loneliness describes, she says, many of the transplants who have moved to Durham and who are “interested in technology and start-up culture and who came to Durham because they want to be part of the new South.” As a half-Latinx child in a military family, Jackson says she identifies with the transient identity and made it an outreach focus. “I’m not native to Durham,” she says. “But I’m also not native to anywhere.” A “third space,” she says, will be attractive to millennial and Gen Z transplants seeking connectivity, especially after pandemic isolation (Jackson, who is in her early thirties, considers herself an “elder millennial”). To help guide people, she plans to have placards on the tables for people to signal whether they are plugged in and working or want to share a table and chat. Her

view of the wave of young professionals is optimistic. “The hopeful thing about all the transplants—many of the transplants, not all of the transplants—is that they are actually politically left of center, which often indicates that they have a social concern for how their money is spent,” Jackson says, explaining that her projections anticipate that the income made from the business— the coworking rentals, coffee station, market rentals, and 10 percent sales from market items—will be enough to cover the operational costs of the building, and 80 percent of the church tithe from parishioners can be allotted for neighborhood partners. “We’re paying attention to what’s happening right here in Durham,” Jackson says when asked which community partners she hopes to support. “I mean, TROSA is right here. There’s another school system right here. We’re really excited about the neighborhood that we’ve landed in.” Still, the initial brand launch in the neighborhood was bumpy. When resident Monica Byrne commented on an Instagram post and asked if Jackson had a relationship with NorthStar Church of the Arts, the community space founded by Nnenna Freelon and the late Phil Freelon a block down the road, Jackson said that she had “read the website” and suggested that NorthStar reach out and welcome Pioneers to the neighborhood. On the other side of Pioneers, meanwhile, is Cocoa Cinnamon. The coffee shop’s staff posted on Twitter in early October that they had asked Pioneers several times to take down a photo of the Geer Street Cocoa Cinnamon storefront, which lived on the church’s homepage with the script “Pioneers Church” overlaid on it. When asked for comment, Jackson said she had never got any of the messages from the coffee shop and would have “happily taken it down” had she known there was an issue. By the end of the day that the tweet was posted, the image was off the website. “Whenever you’re dealing with churches,” Jackson says, “it seems like it’s this big corporation. But it’s just me.” Krista Nordgren, co-owner of The Mothership—a coworking space and retail showroom for local goods that was formerly located directly across from Pioneers and shuttered in 2020 due to the pandemic— reached out to both Jackson and the INDY to express concern about the new space. “I’m opposed to homophobia wherever it lives, but I’m especially concerned about the presence of Pioneers in this particular neighborhood because safe spaces are so rare and important to queer people,” Nordgren, who ran The Mothership space

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alongside Katie DeConto and Megan Bowser, said over the phone. “This neighborhood has traditionally been so welcoming. Because of the community-facing business aspect, I fear that people will unwittingly stumble into Pioneers, not knowing that it’s not a place where they’re celebrated or embraced.” “Durham is very much about queer people, and I love that. I think a lot of people really embrace that as an identity of the city,” added DeConto, who identifies as Christian. “For any place to not be affirming of queer people and then say that they’re a space for everyone—[they’re] not being honest.” Nordgren herself came out at the age of 29 and credits The Mothership for giving her the courage to do so. “My expression of love is the most dignified part of my life, and you can’t understand my humanity, let alone respect it, if you feel like my love is undeserving or outside of your paradigm of godliness and health,” Nordgren says. “It’s a surprise that one year, there’s a place that is so affirming it can actively draw out this really tender part of me that was kept hidden and let me step into this really beautiful new life— and then a year later and like 10 feet away, there’s a place that’s purposefully opposed to me living that life.”

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herei Jackson’s road to ministry, as a female pastor, has not been easy. In a Facebook post from June 2017, she detailed a lengthy list of sexist pushback she had received from people who did not believe women should have church leadership positions. This, she says, is why she pursued ordination within the UMC in the first place. (Although she has not been ordained yet, she is a LLP, or licensed local pastor; Daniel Jackson, meanwhile, is an LLP at Trinity UMC in Durham and is not a pastor at Pioneers, though he has a bio on the church website.) “The United Methodist Church has many growing edges and, of course, these things happen within its context as well,” Jackson wrote in the post. “The difference is the United Methodist Church very actively affirms the ordination of women and works to destigmatize the issue.” To many, the UMC is progressive, and Pioneers—with its millennial aesthetic and emphasis on food, friends, and fellowship— is a far cry from its stuffy counterparts. In some ways, this perception is true: The evangelical church at large is in crisis. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center between 2018 and 2019, 65 percent of American adults “describe[d] themselves as Christian when 16

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The Pioneers Church storefront at 408 West Geer Street asked about their religion”—a number that reflected a dramatic 12-percentage-point drop in the last decade. Black storefront churches struggle to afford rent, churches with older congregations struggle to fill pews, and denominational schisms within the church don’t help balance the scales. The United Methodist Church is in the middle of such a divide: In 2019, worldwide delegates from the UMC—once the second-largest Protestant denomination, with 13 million members worldwide—voted to uphold its ban on the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ+ people. The denomination, which is broad enough to count both Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush as members, is expected to split at the 2022 General Conference into two factions: a conservative faction and another that affirms LGBTQ+ congregations. The Association of Related Churches, the organization from which Pioneers receives support, including a proposed loan of up to $50,000, also maintains that marriage is only between a man and a woman. It also does not support female pastors. (The loan, on top of a $50,000 church-planting grant from the UMC and some donations from “friends and family” is how Jackson says the church affords rent) The ARC is a resource and not an organization to which Pioneers is theologically accountable, Jackson says. But when initially asked about her own stance, she hedges. “It’s a really tender question that needs to be handled relationally,” she says, adding, “I want to protect freedom. That’s my priority, so why would I politically advocate for someone else’s freedoms to be limited,

PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

when freedoms are so essential to what it means to be a part of this country? I’m saying all that to say, I don’t always think that there is a relationship between a theological conviction and a political conviction.” Not all UMC churches in Durham are loyal to this thusly called distinction between theological and political convictions: Several have actively pushed back against the UMC ruling on gay marriage, including Elizabeth Street UMC, just five blocks away on North Elizabeth Street, which was the first outwardly queer-affirming UMC church in the state. Duke Memorial, meanwhile—a prominent, steepled structure on West Chapel Hill Street—hosts an annual “Queerly Beloved” service and has been known to drape its exterior in rainbow banners. In January 2020, Duke Memorial lead pastor Heather Rodrigues took historic action when she stood alongside 11 other UMC pastors and married Durham residents Caleb Parker and Thomas Phillips, who became the first gay couple to be married in the history of the 112-year-old Duke Memorial. Complaints were later filed against Rodrigues to church leadership, though Rodrigues was able to reach a “Just Resolution” mediation. (The more severe risk that UMC pastors and ordained elders run in officiating the weddings of same-sex couples, Rodrigues wrote the INDY over email, is the loss of ordination orders.) But Jackson is called, she says, to make space for multiple perspectives. The Pioneers Instagram Story also reiterated this. “I hope to teach and create conversation around sexual formation with humility, listening, and compassion towards the ways

that this interpretation has caused deep harm,” Jackson wrote. “Our leaders commit to listening, apologizing when necessary, and continually growing in love, kindness and healthy relationships. We commit to surrounding ourselves with voices unlike our own, so that we might be better spiritual friends to Durham.” As our interview ended, Jackson—whom I had never met before—shared how, earlier that day, she had prayed about our interview and had had a vision of me “running away from something in a wedding dress” and that maybe there had been a period where “you were saying yes to something you didn’t want to say yes to.” Leaning forward intently, she asked, “Does this resonate with you?” I said that I didn’t think so, though as time wore on the comment lingered uneasily in my mind, its imagery and message both vague and specific enough that it could resonate with almost anyone. Outside, it was after five and the sun was filtering into hazy early evening light. People were beginning to trickle past the antique orange car—referenced, on the deleted business Instagram account, as being an Instagrammable spot—outside the storefront and out toward Rigsbee Avenue. The car isn’t new, but the view it looks out toward is: on this street alone, multiple new luxury condo developments are springing up, including a 20-story project with rooftop penthouses near Motorco. A recent News & Observer tally outlined more than a dozen developments in the works that will account for more than 2,000 market-rate downtown units. It is true, certainly, that the city is changing and that an affluent young professional class, one which likely does long for connection, is at the fore. Whether that intended connection extends to everyone—the new and old Durham, those lower-income and those well off, the queer and the straight— is a harder task and an open question. Pioneers is certainly not alone in encountering these questions: United Methodist churches across the United States are answering them, with varying degrees of welcome, in real time. The difference, perhaps, is that most churches do not double as a business, do not attempt the language of both radical and conditional acceptance, and are not as visible, as keenly on display, as Pioneers is in its glass showroom. “Diversity can be really challenging,” Jackson says. “It can also be really beautiful. It can lead to a really rich life, to be walking with friends who have diversity of thought, and to be able to take a step away from a lot of echo chambers, to be able to see the humanity of one another. It is what I hope we live out here at Pioneers.” W


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November Sunrises Two local releases are awash in the hopeful light of experience and inexperience, respectively BY BRIAN HOWE AND GRANT GOLDEN music@indyweek.com

JOSH MOORE: SUNRISE

RODES: ALL OF MY FRIENDS

HHHH

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[Self-released; Nov. 19]

[Self-released; Nov. 19]

Josh Moore doesn’t pipe up all that often, but when he does, the sweetest sound comes out. The Carrboro-based singer-songwriter and guitarist hasn’t released an album since Parted Ways in 2015, and his gentle, laconic personality shows through in homespun tunes that refuse to make a fuss about themselves. But if Moore is something of a best-kept secret among local indie Americana fans, he’s well known among local musicians, as the pedigree of his quiet, intimate new record attests. Sunrise features supporting players such as bassist Casey Toll, guitarist Ryan Gustafson (of The Dead Tongues), and harmony singers Skylar Gudasz and Libby Rodenbough (of Mipso). Coproduced by Moore, who recorded himself for the first time, and drummer-pianist James Anthony Wallace, the record is in tune with the most tasteful side of modern country music, like a more reserved Chris Stapleton or a humbler Jason Isbell, and also harks back to the tenderest moments of The Band and Gordon Lightfoot. The title track could be a demo of a future radio hit, if the future were 1973. Moore’s voice, honest and plain yet softly brushed with graceful expressions, floats easily and alights softly, like a cloud of fireflies leading us through a sort of warm summer night of the soul. Allyn Love’s and Whit Wright’s pedal steels spray starlight over superbly simple arrangements that either move at an easy, lonesome canter or ache in empty space. At its most retiring, the record can almost resemble a kind of campfire ambient music, an impression reinforced by the new age flavor of lyrics about the beauty and healing power of the world. These general reassurances are contrasted with relatively finer grains of experience on standouts like “Hard Road Ahead,” but even when our dulcet-voiced companion turns personal, less is Moore. —Brian Howe

MK Rodenbough’s debut as Rodes, All of My Friends, is a revelatory record that magnificently captures the anxieties and pitfalls of early adulthood. Produced by Alex Bingham (Hiss Golden Messenger, The Dead Tongues), the album is a pastiche of pastoral folk and evocative nineties indie rock that finds Rodenbough ruminating on love, loss, and insecurities. But despite the serious nature of the subject matter, Rodenbough’s songs contain a hesitant sense of hope, making All of My Friends a remarkable ode to resilience. Album opener “Eyes” is the record’s most upbeat, catchy track. With distorted guitars and a bouncy drumbeat, Rodenbough delivers an earworm of a hook that outlines the internal struggles that come with anxiety. “Eyes are watching / eyes are on me / Hold me closer, please, somebody,” Rodenbough sings in the song’s refrain. This juxtaposition of contemplative choruses and catchy melodies make a record full of weighty topics a surprisingly easy listen. Rodenbough’s song-writing skills are further embellished by the musical stylings of standout Triangle musicians, including Skylar Gudasz, Ryan Johnson (American Aquarium), and MK’s sibling Libby Rodenbough (Mipso). Bare-boned, folky jaunt “So Well” is lifted by Bingham’s bouncy bass lines and Johnson’s lilting lead guitar, while “Better Felt’’ is a slow-grooving, fuzzed-out tune that eschews the album’s southern twists for subtle psychedelic swirls. While the record is packed with plenty of musically compelling moments, Rodenbough’s light shines brightest when their evocative storytelling takes the forefront. As the album closes with the sobering “Them, Not Me,” Rodenbough laments that “I should have gone out … but I couldn’t shake this feeling of weight on me / And I couldn’t take … the way it comes easily to them, not me.” Rodenbough’s gripping self-awareness washes over the listener as they croon these closing words. It’s a brilliant blend of grit and grace that closes the chapter on the struggles and triumphs of a young adult exploring uncertainty. —Grant Golden W INDYweek.com

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PHIL COOK: ALL THESE YEARS

[Psychic Hotline; November 19, 2021]

Phil Cook PHOTO BY SHERVIN LAINEZ

What was it like going back to the piano after years of focusing on other instruments?

When I came home, I had these goals in mind. I got a keyboard and headphones, and I started waking up at six. I would do a daily meditation, and then I would sit at the piano and improvise before dawn. I thought about my relationship with the piano and how I wanted to grow in that relationship. Your relationship with an instrument is an extension of you. It was a way to kind of have an inner dialogue while I was taking in all this information and all these layers from the outside world—my home, my marriage, my kids, my community, my neighborhood, and then we’re going broad field into society. The world is still even more overwhelming of a place when you’re an adult then sometimes it can be when you’re a kid. I was a kid who was very sensitive. The outside world was a lot for me and I lived in my head quite a lot, and still do. When I discovered piano, I found a balance. I am still hanging in that balance all these years later. How did you go from those early morning improvisations to this album?

Balancing the Scales Phil Cook dedicated his 40th year to the piano. In doing so, he manifested All These Years. BY DAN RUCCIA music@indyweek.com

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ulti-instrumentalist Phil Cook is probably best known for his exuberant playing in groups like Megafaun and Hiss Golden Messenger. That his latest album, All These Years, is entirely introspective piano instrumentals comes as a surprise. But for Cook, it makes intuitive sense: it’s a way to reconnect with the expressive potential of his primary instrument while also expanding on the personal connections that bring him meaning. Ahead of the album release, the INDY caught up with Cook in his home studio in Durham, where he interspersed his thoughts with little bits of the songs from the record. Cook is an expansive storyteller, so this conversation has been edited. 18

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INDY WEEK: Why a piano album now? PHIL COOK: I had already planned to be home in 2020,

to take that year off the road. So that was not a shock to me and didn’t alter my life or my plans. When I arrived back home, I was freshly 40 years old and I decided for my 40th year that I would rededicate that year to the piano, which was my first and main instrument. When I was 14, I met Bruce Hornsby at a music festival. He was a big hero of mine, and he was very encouraging. Bruce is now somebody that I talk to on the phone every other month. He informed me that when he was 40, he took a year off to relearn the piano. He reapproached everything, he wrote his own technique. I knew for like the last four years that I wanted to redo this when I’m 40.

Last fall, I wrote an Arts Council grant to go do a writers’ retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I stayed in a place that was built by a musician that had a studio room. It had an incredible window overlooking Grandfather Mountain and this big valley. Almost every single hour was spent journaling, walking in nature, or playing all day every day, early morning till late at night. I had an incredible spiritual journey there. I had some really meaningful phone calls with friends and started to share this journey with people that I’ve known my whole life. At some point, all these cosmic things started to happen. I had a dream about my first cousin, Brian Joseph, who is a mixing engineer. We’ve always been really close. I called him, and he said he was just about to call me because he had a dream about me. I said, “I think I want to make this piano record with you.” He laughed so hard and said, “That’s what I was calling you to tell you. I want to make a piano record with you!” This record is about space. When I started to spend time with my cousin—I did two weeks of pre-production in his studio in Wisconsin—what we were doing was cultivating this space between us. He had recently survived cancer and was going through a divorce. We both were using each other to process inner questions in our story, walking and talking and just leaning on each other. It’s also about this sacred space in downtown Durham, NorthStar Church of the Arts, where my wife worked for a long time. They had just gotten this Steinway L from 1923. When I went to that piano, I hit a note and it was like immediately my heart opened as soon as I played it. I called Brian and said, “We’ve got to do the record here.”


“When I discovered piano, I found a balance. I am still hanging in that balance all these years later.” When you were recording the album, did you have the songs already composed?

There’s so much spontaneity and trust and openness on the record. I think four of the songs were compositions and the other ones are all improvisations. None of the songs are technically difficult. I call it “hymn-provisation” because it is spiritual but also the songs feel like hymns and prayers to me. At Brian’s house, there was this creaky, 100-year-old upright piano that had duct tape on the hammers. One day, I went to the piano when we were having lunch and I hit this note. It sounded so broken, and the song “Brothers” just came out. It was immediately followed by “Bicycle Song.” Both songs came out that lunchtime, and I recorded them as I wrote them. At NorthStar, I was playing “Bicycle Song,” and I fucked up. As soon as it happened, I let go and just started farting around and I didn’t think anything of it. As soon as I let go, the spirit of the song leapt out. I keep that song, mistake and all, because it’s the spark moment of that song and it releases after that. I was in an unfettered zone that’s just so free and liberating. It was a little cosmic lesson and a tap on the fanny for me. This space that we cultivated over the year has been an act of me getting out of my own way and having it not be about anything other than what needed to come through in a moment. That isn’t me that’s coming through. I can’t even take credit for it. There’s just so much divine, cosmic beauty and meaning in that entire experience. W

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M U SIC

WHOOP: WHOOP!

Porcelain Records; Nov. 19 | Album-release livestream: Nov. 20, 9:30 p.m. | facebook.com/whooptheband

Whoop bandmates (from left): Nick Clarke, Fal, Will Perronne, and Steve Bigas PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

Bottled Rockets He’s a 48-year-old Grammy winner. She’s a 22-year-old musician who has never fronted a rock band. Their new act is ready to whoop with a sharp debut and a rage for the stage. BY BRIAN HOWE music@indyweek.com

T

he son of immigrants from Greece, Steve Bigas grew up around Toronto, where his father worked in a factory all week and played the accordion in Greek weddings on weekends. His brothers blasted rock, and his neighborhood rattled with reggae and soca. He picked up the guitar early, quitting school to work for a lighting and sound company. “I had a really good Canadian fake ID,” says Bigas, a gregarious, big-bearded 48-year-old, via Zoom from his home in Willow Springs, just south of Raleigh. In the razzle-dazzle alt-rock nineties, his band, King Clancy, decamped for Los Angeles. As they strove for a record deal, Bigas—an acolyte of the sound-design guru Daniel Lanois—burnished his résumé as a pro20

November 17, 2021

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ducer, an engineer, and a backing guitarist involved in Grammy-winning projects by the likes of blues legend Taj Mahal and reggae dynast Ziggy Marley. Not long before the millennium turned, The Band’s Robbie Robertson signed King Clancy to DreamWorks Records, a subsidiary of the movie giant. Bigas was in his mid-twenties. At the same time, but a country’s breadth away, Fal— just Fal, rhymes with “pal”—was born in North Carolina, where she mainly grew up in Garner. In a house filled with classic R&B and hip-hop, she was especially drawn to neosoul artists like Erykah Badu, though hearing Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes” on retro alt-rock radio was also a formative experience.

But it wasn’t until her mother brought home a Taylor Swift CD that she thought about playing herself. “I didn’t know who she was—I was in second grade,” Fal remembers. “I realized I wanted to play guitar and write songs. Taylor has this very structured verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus-type layout, and I got inspired by that.” On an eight a.m. Zoom call, the 22-year-old is sitting on an unmade bed with exactly the kind of serene composure you’d expect of someone who teaches day-camp kids yoga, guitar, and dance for a living. After putting a few of her songs on SoundCloud over the last few years, Fal started performing at open mics shortly before the pandemic. At Imurj in Raleigh, she bonded with Nick Clarke, 24, who got her into a traditional studio to collaborate. For months, she heard about Clarke’s mentor, Steve Bigas, and this studio he had out in the country, which sounded more appealing than a recording booth. One day, Bigas showed up and played some impromptu guitar, and they all decided to jam at “the barn,” which is really a converted two-car garage stuffed with the fruits of decades of vintage-gear farming. Whoop’s first jam was one year ago, in November 2020, with Fal on vocals, Bigas on guitar, Clarke on bass, and Taha Arif on drums, though he left the band after the recording of its debut album, Whoop!, out November 19. Will Perrone, a 30-year-old friend of Clarke’s, is the new drummer. “It was like, let’s get together on Friday nights after my kids go to bed,” Bigas says. “It was very mellow at the first jam, very downtempo, lots of space. The first thing we ever played actually became the second-to-last song on the album.” That was “Nash Park” (hi, Raleigh), an Eilish-ish piano respite from the procession of danceable grooves. “We all looked at each other like, next week, we all come with bangers.” The band spent months jamming, with Fal drawing her tough yet tender lyrics from the dozen journals she totes around, and then poring over the recordings to find parts to hone into songs. The exuberant result combines the crunching stomp of nineties rock with the buoyant bounce of nineties R&B, seamed with Bigas’s far-flung influences—notice the reggae axle turning the oiled riff of “What I Want”— and bound up in song structures of distinctly Swiftian crispness. “I’m really proud of the record, but I think we’re better live,” Bigas says. “That’s how we recorded it. We took a couple months to get tight with those songs, and then


it was literally Sunday morning for three hours to tape, live off the floor, banging out two takes of each song, and that was it. I’m the old guy, so there’s no better vibe to me.” Though Fal admits that fronting a raucous live band is new to her—and though it seems at odds with her introspective musical tendencies—she is an energetic, assured pop-rock singer and seems sanguine about making her live debut in Whoop’s livestreamed album-release concert on November 20. “My friends describe my music as chill and having coffee shop vibes,” she says. “I don’t ever write anything that goes to the level of hype we go to. I’ve always had that in me, but it’s always been just me and my guitar, playing a little something. But I have this itch to do it. Imagining I’m some rock-star character helps me, and the band boosts my confidence.” “She’s a natural,” Bigas adds. “There’s a deep spirit there, an old soul, and to find someone who has such a knack for melody is hard. All the reviews of the first single”—that would be “Cool,” which is kind of like a blustery garage-rock Breeders—“say the same thing: ‘Just another band until she starts singing; if some bro started singing some bro stuff, I probably wouldn’t have listened to the song.’ Which was the goal.” Though King Clancy made three records for DreamWorks during their decade in LA, none of them ever got released. More of Bigas’s success stems from his time as head engineer at The Mint, a unique hybrid of a recording studio and supper club in LA, where he recorded Taj Mahal and started his long collaboration with Lanois. After King Clancy, he and his wife lived in Canada for a few years before deciding they wanted to move to the U.S. East Coast, where his wife was from. “We literally went like this and pointed at a map,” Bigas says, covering his eyes. “I think it was all the trees that sold us.” Whoop is the first band he has been a core member of in years. If it represents new horizons for Fal, it’s a laid-back return to old ones for him, and perhaps this respective motion forward and backward explains how they span the generation gap between them. “I think ‘fun’ is the word that comes up most when we talk about our music,” Bigas says. “Keep it fun, keep it danceable and singable. The beautiful thing to me is, it’s just bass, drums, guitar, and vocals, so the genre is just whatever part you’re playing. It’s music, it’s all been done, so you always tend to play something based on something you’ve heard.” W INDYweek.com

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