Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill March 17, 2021
ent m n r e ov y P. 12 G n i t s nc or e r W a e p h s T Tr a n
Raleigh 2 Durham 2 Chapel Hill VOL. 38 NO. 9
Al Strong's "LEVAS" is an ambitious jazz rendition of a song long considered to be the Black national anthem, p. 20 PHOTO BY CHRIS CHARLES
CONTENTS NEWS 8
In Raleigh, anti-choice aggression escalated into violence.
BY JANE PORTER
10 Orange County is working to make criminal justice more equitable. BY SARA PEQUEÑO
Durham school board members are the targets of threats due to their votes to reopen schools. BY THOMASI MCDONALD
The Foilies 2021: The year's worst in government transparency. BY THE ELECTRONIC FRONTIER FOUNDATION & MUCKROCK NEWS
ARTS & CULTURE 15 An HBO docuseries shines an overdue light on Woody Allen's victims. BY LEIGH TAUSS
16 An almanac for yoga, and the stars. BY JANE PORTER 17
Dr. Margaret wants to know about your love life. BY KHAYLA DEANS
Six of the Triangle's dopest hip-hop podcasts.
BY KYESHA JENNINGS
20 Al Strong's breathtaking jazz rendition of a classic.
BY ERIC TULLIS
THE REGULARS 3 15 Minutes
COVER Illustration by Caitlyn Crites/layout design by Annie Maynard
W E M A D E T H IS PUBLIS H ER Susan Harper
Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald
EDITOR I AL
Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño
Editor in Chief Jane Porter Managing Editor Geoff West Senior Writer Leigh Tauss
Copy Editor Abigail O'Neill Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods
Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards
March 17, 2021
Contributors Jameela F. Dallis, Michaela Dwyer, Grant Golden, Spencer Griffith, Lucas Hubbard, Brian Howe, Kyesha Jennings, Glenn McDonald, Anna Mudd, Dan Ruccia, Nick Williams Interns Emma Lee Kenfield
C RE ATI V E
A D V E RTI S I N G
Director of Sales John Hurld
Annie Maynard Graphic Designer
Jon Fuller Staff Photographer
Raleigh Sales Manager MaryAnn Kearns
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wrote about the Raleigh City Council’s decision to allow people to sell produce from community gardens within city
welcomed the news.
Durham “An inspirational as well as an informative article,” wrote reader JOHN SIMPSON. “There’s a saying that ‘records are made to be broken;’ if that’s true and I think it is (at least with time and repetition) then the corollary to that rule is all codes and laws are written to be properly and timely amended. Our Constitution came about after the failure of the confederacy and then the original document was amended 10 times before the ink was dry on that just completed text. That speaks volumes against any ‘strict constitutionalist’s’ debate. Our (A) city needs to evolve with and for our people and this article shines a light on how that evolution is best managed. Your service is to “get the word out” and you did. Let’s hope that others ‘run with it’ as well.” Reader DANIEL MCGUIRE also enjoyed the piece. “Thanks for the article on Raleigh UDO change,” he wrote. “It’s wonderful that I can now buy from local gardens. The next step for Indy is to publish a map showing where we can buy; I live in North Hills (NOT ‘Midtown,’ ick) and want to buy in my area. Much as I love Arthur Gordon, I want to put money in my neighborhood. A follow up would be most welcome! Thanks.” On our website, Sara Pequeño wrote about frat-related partying at Duke resulting in a weeklong campus lockdown due to COVID spread. Readers on Facebook brought the one-liners. “Why are fraternities still a thing,” wrote commenter LAURA DENNSTEDT MCNAUGHTON. “Duke students not brilliant after all!,” wrote VICTOR LANCASTER. “Trust fund kids paying for friends strikes again lmao,” wrote AARON EDGE. “The best and the brightest!,” wrote ERIC CARLSON.
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15 MINUTES Brooks Fuller Director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition, assistant professor of journalism in the Elon University School of Communications
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SUBJECT
BY GEOFF WEST firstname.lastname@example.org
N.C. Open Government Coalition is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the public’s understanding of transparency laws and access to government information in North Carolina.
What is Sunshine Week and why is it important? Sunshine Week is an annual national celebration of government transparency as a public good. It’s also a call to action. Every year, transparency advocates from around the country conduct programming to remind the public how important government transparency and accountability are to our lives. It’s an annual reminder that government information belongs to the public and each of us is entitled to attend meetings about public business and get records of government work at minimal cost and on demand. During Sunshine Week, we also celebrate government officials who take these responsibilities seriously and do tremendous work informing the public of what’s going on in government.
How does your organization help in the fight for government transparency? We think of our fight for transparency primarily through the lens of education. If North Carolinians are unaware of their rights and the legal rules related to transparency then it will be much harder for them to get information when they need it. So we hold events during Sunshine Week and run a hotline to field calls from citizens and journalists who need help understanding the law. We also contact public officials when we see transparency problems that need their attention. For example, as public bodies have navigated the “new normal” during COVID-19 and started holding more meetings online, we’ve tried to flag best practices for them so that the public can be more engaged. We try to stick up for all
North Carolinians to make sure they’re treated fairly when they need information from public servants.
In what ways could the state’s public records law be improved? There are two big categories of exemptions that we think the legislature should revisit. The first is the personnel records exemption. Right now, a citizen can only get a limited amount of information about a public servant, including their salary, date of hire, contract terms, and other similar information. But when a public servant is disciplined, most of that information remains confidential unless and until the public servant is fired. And even then, most of the underlying records remain secret. This means that the public is left in the dark in some cases of major malfeasance. The law could be modified to strike a better balance. Another major area is the meeting minutes requirements for public meetings. The law is not very clear on the standard for meeting minutes and a lot of public servants and citizens are left wondering what public bodies have to put in their minutes. For closed sessions, these minutes are kept secret and don’t become public for quite a while. The law could be improved if there were clearer standards for what minutes should include and when they must be published after a closed session takes place. There are a lot of other examples, but these are two that really frustrate citizens who are trying to engage with their elected and appointed officials. 2 INDYweek.com
March 17, 2021
Oliver Egger and his twin brother, Leo
PHOTO BY ZACH HERSH
The Year of Loss Passing 500,000 COVID Deaths: A Reflection on a Mural BY OLIVER EGGER email@example.com
n May 24, 2020, I saw the front page of The New York Times: “U.S. NEARS 100,000 DEATHS, AN INCALCULABLE LOSS” followed by a list of rolling names. I was moved, especially by the word incalculable, as if this senseless death toll was beyond what we could comprehend. In some macabre sense, it felt like a milestone: incalculable, the peak of loss before the valley. My twin brother, Leo, and I received a call from our family friend, Sarah Bryce. She had an idea to pitch to us. The Times’ entire front page could fit only so many names on it, meaning the layout could only partially capture the sheer number of deaths. She suggested we create a mural of the front page which would fill a whole wall to show what incalculable really looks like. So Leo and I made it happen. We went to a local FedEx store in Durham and copied a few hundred of the newspaper print covers, made some wheat 4
March 17, 2021
paste on the stove, bought some rollers, put on our overalls, and went down to the Free Expression Wall at Duke University. Within a few hours, with masks covered with wheat-watery glue and glasses all fogged up in the sticky spring evening, the mural was done. Leo climbed up the wall and wrote in black spray paint: “100,000 LIVES.” Then we took a picture with Sarah standing in front of it—but six feet away from us, socially distanced. As the days passed, some press followed and the image was posted and reposted across Twitter. We were on the local news channel, we were written about in the local paper, a few New York Times writers reposted it, and then it was over. We expected the covers to peel off into the road and that it would be painted over by another artist. But instead, the mural has become almost an interactive art space for the moment. I remember after George
Floyd was murdered on May 25, my brother and I biked to a protest in Downtown Durham. We swung by the mural and saw gold-dripping graffiti written across the pages: “POLICE STATE BURN.” Then a month later: “THE BLOOD IS ON HIS HANDS.” And then, as more months passed and the death count mounted, someone came and crossed the “1” and replaced it with a “2,” then the “2” with a “3,” and then the “3” with a “4.” Just this past week, the “4” was crossed through and now there is a “5”. Maybe the “5” will even become a “6”—I hope not, but who really knows? It is true—a new future may be coming. With more hope and more joy. Perhaps we can sit together at a table, enjoy a meal, and smile when, 15 years from now, our children will ask, “How did you do it? How did you keep going?” I want to be able to answer that we did it through the expression of art, or through family, or through love, or through something that fits nicely in a narrative. And while that is all, of course, true, I think fundamentally it is something a bit more simple and sad: we were forced to look at this unfathomable loss of life directly in the face because to turn away from it would be a disservice to more than half a million Americans (and still counting) who died, and to ourselves. We read the names, we hear the voices, and we cry about the artists and family members and long-time lovers who will never make art again or sit at a table again or love again. It is mourning what we have personally lost: perhaps a friend, perhaps a family member, evenings of lightness, meals with grandparents, the college or high school experience, holidays we will never get back, days and months we won’t regain. It is staring into the darkness of what we have learned from this time: we live in a system that doesn’t serve or protect most people, especially people of color. We are servants of nature—no matter what, we cannot crush it into submission—and we are mortal: dying, breathing, and scared. I am proud of you. You should be proud of yourself. You haven’t survived this nightmare yet but you are surviving now. You are surviving. And you are in mourning. Today, the pages we posted close to a year ago are now covered in red paint and peeling off the wall. You can still read a few of the names: Alan Finder, 72, Ridgewood, N.J., unflappable New York Times journalist. Eastern Steward Jr., 71, Annapolis, Md., veteran with a gift for peacemaking. Donald Raymond Haws, 88, Jacksonville, Fla., administered Holy Eucharist to hospital patients. The mural would be five times as big as it was back in May of last year. Lots of stories and lives lost since then. Incalculable: then and now. 2 Oliver Egger is a sophomore at Wesleyan University currently studying remotely in Brooklyn. He is from Durham.
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March 17, 2021
In Raleigh, Crime Is Down
BY JANE PORTER firstname.lastname@example.org
aybe it’s a residual effect of last year’s lockdown orders but, for whatever reason, crime in Raleigh (and the nation) was down during 2020. According to Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown’s recently released annual report, crimes against people were down 9.74 percent over 2019 and crimes against property were down 8.8 percent. Shootings, unfortunately, rose slightly. “We are seeing younger people who are victims,” Deck-Brown told the Raleigh City Council at its meeting last week. “We are seeing younger people who are suspects. And not all of them are living to tell the story.” Here are some more highlights from the report.
Your week. Every Wednesday. News • Music • Arts • Food
Shooting victims (up from 100 in 2019)
Arrests related to protests
25% Fewer calls to 911 (223,372 total)
Guns stolen from vehicles
Fewer residential burglaries (773 total)
Drivers stopped at traffic stops in 2020 Black drivers White drivers Other
Total traffic stops (down 44.2 percent over 2019)
March 17, 2021
Shots Fired Anti-choice protesting, harassment, and intimidation tactics are becoming more severe across the country. A self-inflicted shooting in Raleigh marked an escalation into violence BY JANE PORTER email@example.com
n the morning of March 6, 50-yearold Phillip Claiborne Todd was standing next to another man who was assembling a tripod in order to film patients and volunteers outside a Raleigh abortion clinic when Todd’s gun went off. Blood pooled, and it was soon clear to dozens of people outside A Woman’s Choice healthcare clinic, located next to a block of apartments on Drake Circle, that Todd had shot himself in the leg. Someone called 911 at 9:17 a.m., according to records from the Raleigh Police Department. Officers interviewed witnesses about the accidental discharge and secured a small handgun that had been in Todd’s pocket at the time, according to an RPD statement. Todd drew a weapon charge—state law prohibits bringing a gun to a protest. “Police pretty much acted like everything was fine and normal,” Kelsea McLain, a volunteer coordinator and founder of the Triangle Abortion Access Coalition, told the INDY that Saturday afternoon. Officers didn’t shut down the protest and disperse the protesters and volunteers. They didn’t search anyone else for weapons. “We are genuinely confused and concerned why the protest was allowed to continue uninterrupted,” McLain said. Statistics show a “disturbing escalation” of intimidation tactics, clinic invasions, and other activities aimed at disrupting abortion services, harassing providers, and blocking women’s access to care across the country, according to a July report from the National Abortion Federation (NAF). 8
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In 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, clinic invasions more than doubled, with 19 incidents reported, up from eight in 2018. Abortion providers reported an increase in threats of death and harm from 57 in 2018 to 92 in 2019. NAF identified more than 1,507 trespassing incidents—the most ever since recording began in 1999—up from 1,135 in 2018, the previous record. Hate mail and harrassing calls increased by 125 percent over 2018, clinic obstructions by 11 percent (at 3,387 incidents), and 123,228 instances of picketing were recorded, far exceeding any other year since the NAF began tracking this data in 1977. “Since 2016, there has certainly been an escalation around the state in terms of how many people are showing up to protest at clinics and how they are getting more aggressive,” says Tara Romano, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, which works to protect and advance the reproductive rights of North Carolinians. “You had four years under an anti-abortion White House ramping up rhetoric and appointing three anti-abortion Supreme Court justices. That has made folks feel ready, like abortion access is going to be re-criminalized.” The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the stress for patients, clinic staff, and volunteers in the last year as many of the protesters had little regard for safety precautions against the virus. They regularly flouted state-imposed limitations on gatherings, clinic staffers say, and wouldn’t wear masks or socially distance.
Kelsea McLain and clinic volunteers from the Triangle Abortion Access Coalition PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
“It shows their blatant disregard for patient safety and health, and not just for patients and staff, but for our community,” says Amber Gavin, the vice president of advocacy and operations for the three A Woman’s Choice healthcare clinic locations in North Carolina. “That’s disturbing and upsetting, and for folks who claim they’re all about being pro-life, it is the exact opposite of that.” Like McLain, Gavin says RPD’s response to the incident on Saturday was “outrageously insufficient.” “We have been asking for RPD’s support for years and they’ve been dismissive of the harassment, intimidation, threats, and acts of violence against our staff, volunteers, and patients,” Gavin wrote in a press statement about the incident.
She called on Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin and the city council to investigate the police officers’ response and, now that the regular protests have escalated into violence, to mandate a buffer zone outside clinics to protect abortion patients and providers. In a message to the INDY, Baldwin said she and the other council members are concerned about the clinic’s staff and patients’ safety and that the council will direct city staff to see if there are any actions the council can take to ensure safety, balanced with protesters’ constitutional rights. RPD insists it acted appropriately, writing in a statement that it had “no information suggesting that anyone else present was connected to criminal activity” and therefore allowed the protest to continue.
“RPD investigated the incident and witnesses cooperated in providing details,” the statement continued. “The suspect was transported for medical care, his weapon seized, and individuals on scene were observed in prayer and other lawful activity.” In response to Gavin’s statement asking for RPD’s support, a spokesperson told the INDY that RPD has worked with the medical facility and its staff and that it will continue to do so. “Violations of the law by visitors to that location are not tolerated,” wrote RPD’s public affairs manager Donna-maria Harris in an email. “At the same time, the department also understands and respects the rights of peaceful protesters … Certain places, like sidewalks and street rights-of-way, are considered by the courts to be ‘traditional public forums’ where public speech is given the greatest protection.” As far as public forums for protected speech go, the Drake Circle clinic and another Raleigh abortion clinic on Jones Franklin Road are highly problematic ones. Since 2016, 212 calls to 911 have been placed in reference to the Drake Circle clinic; for the Jones Franklin address, it’s 488 calls, an average of 35 calls and 81 calls per year, respectively. In 2018, callers dialed 911 from the Jones Franklin clinic 186 times and 118 times in 2019. Complaints from callers range from reports of harassment, to trespassing, to noise violations, to obstructing traffic. Gavin says this is typical. “[The protesters] frequently block and prevent traffic, redirect traffic from the clinic, and wave patients into nearby parking lots in hopes they’ll be towed,” Gavin says. “There is no way to enforce a sound ordinance. I just don’t think RPD is equally enforcing what they say is free speech. The threats and intimidation that our patients and staff face would not be tolerated at any other facility or job. [Police] have not done a good job mediating or reducing this harassment and intimidation.” McLain says volunteers used to joke that it would take someone getting shot before RPD would do anything to intervene with the protesters. “[The protesters] think they are going to be treated with kid gloves, and it makes these situations so much worse,” she says. “It was pure luck that the gun was pointed at [the shooter’s] leg and not out into the crowd. The protesters bring children. As much as we hate what the protesters are doing, we don’t want to see them harmed.” 2 INDYweek.com
March 17, 2021
Orange County Orange County Court House
The Weight of the Law Orange County is taking steps to make its criminal justice system more equitable BY SARA PEQUEÑO firstname.lastname@example.org
ash bail, whereby prisoners have to fork up money, pretrial, to buy their temporary freedom is a concept as old as the most rudimentary of justice systems. But only recently in the United States have we come to seriously scrutinize a system that has racism baked into it at every level. In the weeks following George Floyd’s murder and the beginning of Black Lives Matter protests, Governor Roy Cooper created the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice. The task force, which included Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall, submitted to the governor in December more than 100 recommendations to make the justice system more equitable, including one to eliminate cash bail for certain low-level charges. “A criminal justice system that allows different outcomes for people of color needs change and these recommendations begin to help chart a more equitable course,” Cooper said in a statement following the report’s release. But Orange County was already implementing several of the recommendations to the pretrial process outlined in the report. By January, the county added two more. 10
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The newest additions to Orange County courtrooms are efforts to understand the person behind each case, not just the crime they’re charged with committing. “We’ve done a ton of work over the last five years to make sure that we were instituting best practices within our own work as a pretrial agency,” Caitlin Fenhagen, director of the Orange County Criminal Justice Resource Department, told the INDY. “But our stakeholders here have been doing things differently than a lot of places for some time.” Fenhagen came to the Orange County justice system in 2015, when the Criminal Justice Resource Department became a separate government entity. Race is an even clearer factor in Orange County—while the area is over 75 percent white, more than half of the inmates currently in the county jail are Black men. The area’s unhoused population is also majority Black. To try to combat the weight of race and class, Orange County implemented a questionnaire for magistrates who determine whether or not to hold someone in jail on bond. A person arrested on a non-violent misdemeanor ranging
PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
from Class 1 to Class 3 has the opportunity to be released while they await trial, with a written promise to show up to their first court appearance. The system appears to be working: the Orange County Corrections Center has fewer than 50 people currently sitting in jail, nearly all of whom have already had their first court dates. This time last year, there were more than 80. The county also dropped charges in 1,500 cases in 2020, according to media reports. Woodall says these were mostly traffic violations and low-level misdemeanors. Instead of arrests, the county is encouraging law enforcement to issue citations. Anna Richards, the former president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, says this could be because of COVID-19’s impact on protocol. “The influence of COVID, along with the influence of engaged members of the community and advocates, has made a difference,” Richards says. Aside from the county government’s years-long work on pretrial justice, the county’s two NAACP chapters and several religious groups formed the Orange County Bail/Bond Justice Project in 2019 to advocate and provide some financial assistance. The county’s current focus is on why some folks may not show up for their first court appearances, something Jessica Smith, a professor at the UNC School of Government, says is “quite new” for North Carolina. People may miss their first appearances for a number of reasons: not being able to get time off work, not having a car, or losing track of the court date. Normally, an arrest warrant is made and a bail is set; now, magistrates have a way to evaluate the person. “It’s essentially a more nuanced approach for dealing with missed court dates,” Smith says. “The judge always has discretion to have the harshest sanction for that missed court date—nothing about this dictates what the judges do—but it encourages the judge to consider whether there’s good cause, and if this is a first missed court date in a lower level case.” Despite the strides in Orange, Richards says that determining “progress” is based on your frame of reference. “Leading the state of North Carolina, it’s still North Carolina,” she says. Some members of the General Assembly are pushing for reform at the state level, too. Representative Marcia Morey (D-Durham) has drafted four criminal justice bills for the N.C. House since the start of the 2021 session—one about when cash bail is used, one about how soon someone is seen by a judge after being brought into custody, and two about how we try juveniles. Orange County Representative Verla Insko has sponsored all four. “As a former judge, I saw too many people spend weeks in jail simply because they could not afford a $500 bond or 15 percent of a posted bond to pay a bondsman on minor charges like trespassing, shoplifting, simple possession of marijuana,” Morey said in an email. “By the time the person came to court, they had already served more time in jail than a judge would have sentenced them to.” 2
Uncivil Discourse Durham school board members are targeted for their votes to reopen schools BY THOMASI MCDONALD email@example.com
ven during the height of the civil rights movement, there were no reports of Durham’s elected officials receiving death threats during those volatile times in the city’s history. But last week, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel issued a statement condemning violent threats that targeted members of the county’s board of education after the board narrowly approved students’ return to classrooms on Monday. “Durham is a rough-and-tumble political town, and that can be a good thing,” Schewel says. “But when school board members are being threatened because of a difficult, heart-wrenching decision, when someone threatens publicly on social media to ‘shoot down every member of the DPS school board,’ we’ve got to make a change.” Schewel says all of the board members have been subjected to “vitriolic attacks and even threats.” But he noted an uncomfortable racial component since the school board’s vote to reopen in-person learning was four to three, with the board’s four Black members voting in the majority. He added that the four Black members are justified in feeling the threats are real. As previously reported in the INDY, board member Matt Sears, who voted against reopening, believes teachers were blindsided by the decision and that reopening would undermine the trust the school board has established with Durham teachers. “Delaying the reopening would help teachers,” he says. Board vice-chair Mike Lee, who is Black, says after he and his fellow board members voted to reopen he was subject to vitriol,
bullying, and personal threats from unlikely sources—school employees. “The hatred, the threats to myself, and the mention of my children in a few different comments showed me everything I needed to know,” Lee says. “Because it was all coming from staff. It was all coming from teachers.” Schewel says public officials are consistently attacked in emails and over social media and that he’s wounded when personally targeted. “How much more threatening, then, and how much more legitimate is the fear for our Black and Brown board members?” he says. “We must acknowledge the inequality of the harm suffered here at the same time that we denounce these kinds of attacks on all board members.” The mayor focused on a Facebook post by a parent who threatened all of the multiracial board members. Board member Jovonia Lewis shared a screenshot of the post with the INDY. “People are only worried about the teachers being vaccinated,” the post read. “What about the students’ health? Why can’t it wait till (sic) the students are vaccinated ... A full “herd immunity” as they call it ... Sure, Maybe it’s less likely to spread in younger kids. But if my child is that one that gets it and develops serious symptoms ... I’ll shoot down every member of the dps school board. Save it, write it down...Chisel it in stone. But YOU WILL NOT put my child in any danger.” Schewel called it “horrifying and scary.” “This is a threat that must be taken seriously, and I am glad that local law enforcement has investigated this threat.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF ISTOCK
Lewis says racial considerations did not guide the board’s vote to reopen the classrooms. “It might be a point of concern for the community, but I think that our board members have a variety of perspectives,” with some members believing that students, particularly ones from economically vulnerable households, should have the opportunity to return to classrooms. “We know that children are better prepared to learn if they have breakfast, which we provide for free,” Lewis says. “We have learned with COVID that children are not able to thrive when they are in isolation. There’s a loss of learning around issues of connectivity, and teachers not having access to artifacts needed to assess kids, or how to move them along.” The board member also pointed to a virtual learning process beset by technical issues, like audio challenges between student and teacher who can’t hear one another. “We can’t continue like that and allow students to be left behind,” she says. Lewis echoed the sentiments of Durham Superintendent Pascal Mubenga, who in November said that more than 50 percent of students who matriculated from kindergarten during the previous academic year were below grade level and current kindergartners may face insurmountable odds without the benefit of in-person learning.
Schewel says the African American members who voted to reopen “were responding most powerfully to the families, including Black and Brown families, who desperately want their children back in school to (combat) the learning loss of the COVID year.” “But here is what is more important,” he concludes. “All of the school board members—all seven of them—have a solid history of fighting for the success of all of our children as well as fighting for the rights and working conditions of teachers.” Reopening has not been an easy sell to the public. In November, the school board voted to allow elementary students to return to in-person learning in January despite receiving nearly 500 comments from parents and educators in which opposition outnumbered support by about five to one. The plan was scrapped in January after a rise in COVID cases. In February, however, the board voted to begin in-person learning in March, then reaffirmed its decision with its four to three vote. “The school board has been faced with the impossible task of making a good choice about when to return to in-person schooling when there are no good choices available,” Schewel says. “We never had a decision as difficult as this one.”2 INDYweek.com
March 17, 2021
Recognizing the Year’s Worst in Government Transparency Compiled by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and MuckRock News, Illustrations by Caitlyn Crites firstname.lastname@example.org
March 17, 2021
he day after the 2021 inauguration, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) took to Twitter to declare: “Biden is making transparency cool again.” This was a head-scratcher for many journalists and transparency advocates. Freedom of information—the concept that government documents belong to and must be accessible to the people— has never not been cool. Using federal and local public records laws, a single individual can uncover everything from war crimes to health code violations at the local taqueria. How awesome is that? If you need more proof: there was an Australian comic book series called Southern Squadron: Freedom of Information Act; the classic anime Evangelion has a Freedom of Information Act cameo; and the Leeds-based post-punk Mush received 7.4 stars from Pitchfork for its latest album Lines Redacted. OK, now that we’ve put that down in writing we realize that the line between “cool” and “nerdy” might be a little blurry. But you know what definitely is not cool? Denying the public’s right to know. Since 2015, The Foilies have served as an annual opportunity to name-andshame the uncoolest government agencies and officials who have stood in the way of public access. We collect the most outrageous and ridiculous stories from around the country from journalists, activists, academics, and everyday folk who have filed public records and experienced retaliation, over-redactions, exorbitant fees, and other transparency malpractice. We publish this rogues gallery as a faux awards program during Sunshine Week (March 14-20, 2021), the annual celebration of open government organized by the News Leaders Association. This year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is publishing The Foilies in partnership with MuckRock News, a non-profit dedicated to building a community of cool kids who file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and local public records requests. And without further ado, here are four COVID-related FOIA faux pas, including a doozy from one of North Carolina’s very own state agencies.
The Pharaoh Prize for Deadline Extensions
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot
With COVID-19 affecting all levels of government operations, many transparency advocates and journalists were willing to accept some delays in responses to public records requests. However, some government officials were quick to use the pandemic as an excuse to ignore transparency laws altogether. Taking the prize this year is Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, who invoked the Old Testament in an effort to lobby the Illinois Attorney General to suspend FOIA deadlines altogether. “I want to ask the average Chicagoan: Would you like them to do their job or would you like them to be pulled off to do FOIA requests?” Lightfoot said in April, according to the Chicago Tribune, implying that epidemiologists and physicians are also the same people processing public records (they’re not). She continued: “I think for those people who are scared to death about this virus, who are worried every single day that it’s going to come to their doorstep, and I’m mindful of the fact that we’re in the Pesach season, the angel of death that we all talk about is the Passover story, that angel of death is right here in our midst every single day.” We’d just note that transparency is crucial to ensuring that the government’s response to COVID is both effective and equitable. And if ancient Egyptians had the power to FOIA the Pharaoh for communications with Moses and Aaron, perhaps they probably would have avoided all 10 plagues — blood, frogs, and all.
The Most Expensive Cover-Up Award Small Business Administration
In the early weeks of the pandemic, the Small Business Administration (SBA) awarded millions of dollars to small businesses through new COVID-related relief programs—but didn’t make public the names of recipients. When major news organizations including ProPublica, The Washington Post, and The New York Times filed public records requests to learn exactly where that money had gone, the SBA dragged its feet, and then—after the news organizations sued—tried to withhold the information under FOIA Exemptions 4 and 6, for confidential and private information. A court rejected both claims, and also forced the government to cough up more than $120,000 in fees to the news organizations’ lawyers.
The Secret COVID Statistics Award
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Seeking a better understanding of the toll of COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic, journalists in North Carolina requested copies of death certificates from local county health departments. Within days, officials from the state Department of Health and Human Services reached out to county offices with guidance not to provide the requested records—without citing any legal justification whatsoever. DHHS did not respond to reporters’ questions about why it issued that guidance or how it was justified. Some local agencies followed the guidance and withheld records, some responded speedily, and some turned them over begrudgingly—emphasis on the grudge. “I will be making everyone in Iredell County aware through various means available; that you are wanting all these death records with their loved ones private information!” one county official wrote to The News and Observer reporters in an email. “As an elected official, it is relevant the public be aware of how you are trying to bully the county into just giving you info from private citizens because you think you deserve it.”
The Juking the FOIA Stats Award
Centers for Disease Control
The Wire, the classic HBO police drama, laid bare how police departments across the country manipulate data to present trends about crime being down. As ex-detective Roland Pryzbylewski put it: “Juking the stats ... Making robberies into larcenies. Making rapes disappear. You juke the stats, and majors become colonels.” The Centers for Disease Control seems to love to juke its FOIA stats. As the non-profit advocacy organization American Oversight alleged in a lawsuit last year, the CDC has been systematically rejecting FOIA requests by claiming they are overly broad or burdensome, despite years of court decisions requiring agencies to work in good faith with requesters to try to help them find records or narrow their request. The CDC then categorizes those supposedly overbroad requests as “withdrawn” by the requester and closes the file without having to provide any records. So those FOIAs disappear, much like the violent crime reports in The Wire. The CDC’s annual FOIA reports show that the agency’s two-step juke move is a favorite. According to American Oversight, between 2016 and 2019, CDC closed between 21 and 31 percent of all FOIA requests it received as “withdrawn.” CDC’s closure rate during that period was roughly three times that of its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, which on average closed only six to 10 percent of its FOIAs as withdrawn. After American Oversight sued, the CDC began releasing documents. 2 INDYweek.com
March 17, 2021
March 17, 2021
Two Shows, One Night PHOTOGRAPHY + WORDS BY JADE WILSON
Two shows. Sixty minutes each. Jooselord made his return to the stage this Saturday at The Pour House Music Hall. With him onstage was his DJ, Iron Mic, and hype man Jovi Mo$coni. Even with the Raleigh music venue operating at 20 percent capacity, and masked attendees limited to their tables, nothing stopped Jooselord from delivering an insistent and passionate performance. 2
ALLEN V. FARROW | HHHH
Streaming now on HBO Raleigh's Community Bookstore
A still from Allen v. Farrow PHOTO COURTESY OF HBO
Listen to the latest podcasts on Bookin’ Available
Sam Cohen, Sarahland: Stories Virtual Event
Crimes and Misdirections A four-part docuseries on HBO may be one-sided, but after decades of acclaimed director Woody Allen dominating the media narrative, focus on his victims’ stories is long overdue. BY LEIGH TAUSS email@example.com
oody Allen has always been center stage in the Woody Allen story. The opening scene of Annie Hall begins with Allen monologuing directly to the camera with his hallmark blend of wit and pessimistic, self-deprecating shtick. The New Yorker cuts a diminutive figure, with a long face partly obscured by a bushy yet balding hairline and thickrimmed glasses. In a cinematic era dominated by machismo, from the clean-cut Robert Redford to the ruffianly Al Pacino and the ghoulish Jack Nicholson, Allen offered an alternative version of masculinity that audiences latched onto—here was a small man,
a nonthreatening man, a funny man, an honest man. He groomed all of us. Allen’s predatory behavior—from his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his longtime partner Mia Farrow, to the allegation he molested their adopted daughter Dylan Farrow—has been widely reported without any real consequence to the 85-year-old auteur’s career. His side of the story has dominated the media narrative, painting Farrow as mentally unhinged and Allen as a victim of true love and a vengeful ex. Allen v. Farrow, a four-part docuseries that recently concluded on HBO, tells
the other side of the story, bringing into focus not only Allen’s victims but the powerful PR machine that has shielded Allen from reckoning for decades. It’s a one-sided account that centers the story on Dylan, who says she was just seven years old when Allen led her to the attic, told her to focus on a toy train, and molested her. Like Allen’s films, the docuseries begins with Allen, highlighting what drew Mia Farrow and the rest of the world to fall in love with him. But quickly, Allen’s endearing mask falls away as friends and family recall his routinely inappropriate behavior with Dylan. The second episode focuses on Allen’s grooming of Soon-Yi, three decades his junior, starting when she was a teenager. The same year Allen allegedly molested Dylan, Farrow discovered sexually explicit photos of Soon-Yi, then a first-year college student, in Allen’s apartment. It’s not the graphic details that make this documentary compelling, though, but the way Allen was able to control the media narrative, elude legal consequences, and continue to hide in plain sight. His movies, more than 70, often star him alongside much younger women (in his 50s in the movie Manhattan, he dates a 17-year-old), yet with Allen controlling the script, he’s cast as a flawed but loveable hero, sidestepping public scrutiny. Allen declined to be interviewed for the docuseries. He maintains his innocence and denies ever sexually abusing Dylan. As the series unravels, the focus shifts from Allen to Dylan—the child she was and the woman she is now—and the enduring trauma of sexual abuse. After a nightmare, the monster vanishes when you turn on the lights. As Allen recedes behind a PR machine, his victims are stepping into the light. This is a reckoning long overdue. It’s time to hear them and close the curtain on Allen for good. 2
Shep Rose, Average Expectations: Lessons in Lowering the Bar with Cameran Eubanks 7pm Marie Bostwick, The Restoration of Celia Fairchild with local craft book author Rohn Strong 3pm Libby Hubscher, Meet Me in Paradise with Virginia Kantra 7pm
All events are online. Register for Quail Ridge Books Virtual Events Series at www.quailridgebooks.com. www.quailridgebooks.com • 919.828.1588 • North Hills 4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, Raleigh, NC 27609 Offering FREE Media Mail shipping and contactless pickup!
March 17, 2021
PAGE MINDFUL MUSEUM: VIRTUAL SPRING ASTROLOGY AND MEDITATION WORKSHOP
Tuesday, Mar. 23 at 6:30 p.m. | Tickets at ncartmuseum.org
The Reawakening To advertise or feature
The Yoga Almanac aligns the practice with the four seasons a pet for adoption, and the please astrological year BY JANE PORTER firstname.lastname@example.org contact email@example.com
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To advertise or feature a pet for adoption, please contact email@example.com
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March 17, 2021
he release of Lisette Cheresson’s and Andrea Rice’s book, The Yoga Almanac: 52 Practices and Rituals to Stay Grounded Through the Astrological Seasons, coincided exactly with the outbreak of the coronavirus. The writers scrapped plans to promote the book when it became clear a year ago that the virus wasn’t quickly going away—a shame that it didn’t receive the recognition it merits, as it is a comforting, engrossing guide to have around during a time of international crisis. Separated into four sections, the seasons and their themes, and subdivided further by the 12 signs of the astrological calendar, To advertise or feature a pet for adoption, the book begins in spring, please contact email@example.com a time of revival, renewal, and growth, and takes the reader through summer (the time to flourish and thrive), autumn (the time to embrace tradition and find equilibrium), and, finally, winter (the quiet journey inward). I could certainly have used such a book last March when, holed up at my parents’ home in Wilmington, North Carolina, hunkering down with them and my two-yearold, working remotely, I watched the state shut down and the death count tally up. Yoga, which I was learning to do by following a teacher on a screen rather than in a classroom full of fellow practitioners, helped me relax and clear my mind during a time that was filled with dread, anxiety, uncertainty about the future, and what we didn’t understand. Near daily, I’d end a short yoga practice curled up in Balasana, or Child’s Pose, with which The Yoga Almanac begins and describes as a symbol for “entering into the world in a vulnerable position,” “a shape in
which we feel at home in our bodies.” As we move with the book through the zodiac, and the seasons, we’re guided with poses, words from the Dharma, stories, rituals, and activities connected to broader goals and objectives to consider. Moving ahead to the winter, and the sign of Pisces, described as “the healer of the zodiac”—an “ethereal, mystical energy that soothes and calms”—I think of how apt that description has become for this season, this year. Armed with the COVID vaccines, February and March gave us the first hopeful indications of healing, a promise that the virus that has plagued us for the longest year now is finally beginning to wane. While accessible to those with even a passing interest in yoga and to longtime practitioners as well, The Yoga Almanac likely isn’t for everyone. If you appreciate astrology, this book is a gem; if you’re turned off by the woo-woo stuff, it’s probably best to give it a miss. Next week, coauthor Rice, who is also a Raleigh-based yoga teacher, ushers in the awakening energy of spring with a virtual two-hour meditation workshop designed around current astrological patterns in partnership with the North Carolina Museum of Art. All skill levels are welcome, and Rice will offer mindfulness meditations and prompts for journaling and self-reflection. If you missed The Yoga Almanac when it was released last year, now is the perfect time to pick it up and dip in. Spring, or the vernal equinox, arrives next Saturday at 5:37 a.m., coinciding with the start of the Aries season. It’s “a metaphor for new beginning,” The Yoga Almanac says, “and a cosmic rebirth.” 2
TheLoveLife with Dr. Margaret
thelovelife.tv Margaret A. Brunson PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
All We Need Is Love Durham leadership coach Margaret A. Brunson’s new show takes a comprehensive approach to the thing we all need most BY KHAYLA DEANS firstname.lastname@example.org
hat does it mean to be loved and to love well? This is a question that Margaret A. Brunson asks often. The Durham-based life coach describes herself as a leader and a luminary who uses love as a strategy to help people authentically connect—both with their inner selves and with other people. “Love is my journey,” she shared with me in a recent conversation about her new talk show, TheLoveLife with Dr. Margaret, which launched in January and is streaming on YouTube and Facebook. Brunson, a warm and charismatic presence, was born and raised in North Carolina, and her academic roots in the area run deep. She earned her BA in psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill, a master of public administration from North Carolina Central University, and a PhD in leadership studies from North Carolina A&T State University. The inspiration for TheLoveLife with Dr. Margaret came from a moment when a friend asked about her love life. It’s an ordinary question, one normally asked in reference
to romantic love, and one that anyone single is bound to encounter multiple times. This time, though, the question made Brunson stop: she answered that she is single but experiences an abundance of love in her life. After the exchange, she couldn’t stop thinking about how she wanted to define her love life. “What does my love life look like?” she says. “It could be spending time with my niece and nephew and feeling really loved by them and experiencing that joy that comes from loving and from being loved. I felt like this is the lens that I want to see my life through.” With this new lens, Brunson began to live her love life out loud. On social media, she created the hashtag #TheLoveLife(TM) and began to document her experiences of love. As her love lens sharpened, she took notice of other people’s fulfilling lives that are rich with love for their family, work, passions, food, or other things. This inspired her to reframe the question that her friend asked, and develop a show exploring the concept. TheLoveLife with
Dr. Margaret, now two episodes in, has featured a church leader and the founder of a lifestyle brand; at the top of each episode, Brunson asks each guest that not-so-simple question: “How is your love life?” Answers, so far, have led into life-affirming conversations about friendship, spirituality, creativity, and wellness, among other topics. The conversations on TheLoveLife also provide tools and resources. One resource, referenced in the show and again in my conversation with Brunson, is the acclaimed book All About Love by the scholar and critic bell hooks. Brunson counts hooks as one of the teachers who taught her how to practice a love ethic. Published two decades ago, hooks’ masterfully crafted new vision of love still resonates today. “What resonates most with me is just the idea of the book at all,” says Brunson, who was a senior in college when she first read hooks’ treatise. “The fact that this Black feminist scholar, years ago, decided, ‘I’m gonna center so much of my work around this seemingly very simple thing’…is profound.” That need for love has radically shifted, this year, as people have tried to survive multiple crises amidst a global pandemic. As Brunson and I talk, we both observe that people are returning to love in a season where state-sanctioned wounds cut deep, and people are actively seeking out ways to heal. The collective responses—or lack thereof—to the pandemic have displayed where love shows up, and where it falls off. But, as hooks says in her book, even when lovelessness abounds, “the light of love is always in us, no matter how cold the flame.” She adds that love is the foundation of humanity and this pandemic is teaching us that a lens of love is a fundamental facet of human needs. “You think about love and belonging as a basic need, yet it’s one of the things that we most ignore, especially in spaces where it actually needs to be lifted up,” Bunson says. “I hope that love will begin to proverbially be on the table in conversations, where it normally doesn’t show up,” she adds, encouraging listeners to bring a love ethic into public spaces like the workforce, classrooms, and legislative rooms, just as we work to explore love and intimacy with our loved ones. In the pilot episode of TheLoveLife, Brunson had a quick epiphany, stating, “Love introduces us to ourselves.” During our conversation, she continues that train of thought adding, “I think a lot of us are meeting ourselves for the first time or even being reintroduced to ourselves in a new way. It just makes me feel good that we are in this really tough moment and love is where we are leaning.” Out loud, I wonder if we are leaning toward love in this difficult time because there is no other choice. “Love is the last one standing,” Brunson says, adamantly nodding in agreement. “Where else can we go, but love?” 2 INDYweek.com
March 17, 2021
Her Take: On Carolina Hip Hop ILLUSTRATION BY JON FULLER
Hosted by mainMAN Where to Listen: WHUP 104.7FM, WAVE 87.9FM, Apple Podcasts, Spotify
The Triangle Voices Keeping Hip-Hop Fresh Six of this year’s best local hip-hop podcasts BY KYESHA JENNINGS
email@example.com | @kyeshajennings
oday’s digital landscape has radically shifted how we consume information and listen to music. With multiple mainstream streaming platforms a click away, radio is no longer our only source of information and entertainment. The shift away from mainstream radio has led to a surge in podcasts and podcasts listeners. According to Forbes “in 2020, an estimated 100 million people listened to a podcast each month and it’s expected to reach 125 million in 2022.” Across the Triangle, hip-hop creatives and journalists have tapped into this genre-focused medium, and contributed to that boom—especially, when it comes to music. Below, find a few of the area’s dopest hip-hop-focused podcasts. 18
March 17, 2021
Currently nominated for 2020 Podcast of the Year by Yes! Weekly, Radio Unfriendly is hosted by the self-proclaimed “unfriendly neighborhood mainMAN,” the moniker of die hard, true school, hip-hop head Jermaine Monroe. “The show spotlights Carolina hip-hop heads and educates listeners about the art form,” Moore says. Radio Unfriendly was inspired by his love for the underground radio programming of the ’90s. Instead of complaining about the missing gap in today’s radio, he set out to create his own platform. “I knew that I wanted it to be raw and gritty and street unlike mainstream radio so I am very intentional about the people I invite to be guests on the show,” he says. “My vetting process is an intense background check for dopeness. I consider myself a Golden Era extraordinaire.” Targeting a mature demographic of 30+, Radio Unfriendly, now in its third season, has amassed 13,000 monthly listeners. The show plans to eventually shift its content to YouTube, with the goal of prioritizing visuals and broadening its fan base.
DX Daily Podcast
Hosted by Ashia Skye and Ayeeedubb Where to Listen: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Stitcher, iHeart Radio App Presented by HipHopDX, DX Daily is a daily news podcast that keeps listeners updated on everything happening in hip-hop culture. The podcast combines short-form news with some humorous insight, analysis, and opinions from the hosts, two North Carolina-based hip-hop-enthusiasts, Aisha Henry (Ashia Skye) and Alexandra Wurst (Ayeeedubb). “The inspiration for the podcast was to create a new fun way to deliver hip-hop news in a never before done daily pod-
cast format,” Henry says. Both hosts are based in North Carolina and are K97.5 Radio personalities. The show is recorded in Raleigh, and North Carolina, according to Henry, is one of DX Daily’s top five demographics. Ashia Skye and Ayeeedubb’s wide range of experience have allowed them to quickly gain visibility and obtain 35,0000 downloads. Not to mention that DX Daily has cracked the top 50 on the charts for Music Podcasts in the U.S. on the Apple Podcast charts, coming in at #49.
Hosted By Karim Jarrett, Justin Thorton, and Patrick Edmundson with reappearing guest host Candy Carver Where to Listen: Facebook, Youtube, Twitch, SoundCloud For millennial Black folks, the identities and labels “Intelligent” and “Ratchet” are not mutually exclusive. And for the Intelligently Ratchet show hosts, the name captures not only their multifaceted identities but also the diverse identities of their target audience in a necessary, specific way. Averaging around 500 live viewers per episode, the livestreaming structure of their podcast-slash-video hybrid allows for real-time engagement with their audience. “Intelligently Ratchet is a truly interactive experience,” host Karim Jarrett says. “Viewers, who we refer to as “Ratcheteers” watch and comment online during the live broadcast. We want everyone to join in and be a part of the conversation.” Jarrett realized that the best conversations about politics, news, and pop culture are typically held at dinners, social gatherings, barbershops, or over a strong drink. And, usually, those conversations are undocumented. With Intelligently Ratchet, Jarrett and his co-hosts sought to change that. “[The show] plays out like a group of good friends casually discussing some of the day’s most important issues,” he says. In addition to covering national topics, the show acknowledges its roots in Durham by including a segment titled “The Bull In The Bull” that’s dedicated to Triangle-area news.
Like the meaning of “intelligently ratchet” the show, according to its hosts, is “equal parts fun, information, and entertainment. We bring important everyday conversations to life and thrive on relatability and interacting directly with our friends [and] supporters.”
“Ya Dig?” The Hip Hop Show Hosted By Art Royster Produced by Markia Bonner
Where to Listen: YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Spotify Structured as both a visual and audio show, “Ya Dig?” The Hip Hop Show is hosted by UNC-Charlotte graduate Art Royster and produced by Markia Bonner, a Georgia-based attorney who specializes in contracts and intellectual property. “[Our] show pays homage to hip-hop culture and its contributions to the world,” Royster says. When reflecting on what inspired the creation of the podcast, he says that the shifting sonic changes and commercialization of hip-hop made him uncomfortable. “Listening to hip-hop my whole life, my wife felt it was important to preserve hip-hop, and that it should be done by the community that originated the art form and has constantly pushed it forward,” he says. Ya Dig? uses a historical lens to shape show content and invites anyone who is interested in learning about the “backstories, development, [and] origin of slang” to tune in. Structured into specific creative segments, such as “Let’s Rap,” a conversation examining important connections between Hip Hop and external factors, or “Hip-Hop Legacy,” an examination of the life and career of the artists and entities that developed a well-known legacy in hip-hop, Royster is primarily interested in offering his audience context to better understand and engage with the culture in a meaningful way.
Hosted by Dub Floyd, Rick Lucas, Cash Collective, Claudius Moore, and Ken CEE Where to Listen: Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Google Play, Stitcher, Podcast Addict What do you get when you place a group of creatives who equally love hip-hop and comics in a room—a dope podcast! Hip-
Hop Marvels focuses on the relationship between Marvel Comics and the culture of hip-hop. Comparable to a superhero team or collective, the podcast hosts, some of whom are from North Carolina, came together at different times to celebrate the art and culture of comics and hip-hop. Celebrity guests thus far have included Chris River, the son of legendary Mc Big Pun, rapper Keith Murray, and Afua Richardson, a self-trained artist who has designed covers for five issues for Marvel and who notably also designed the Orinthia Blue comic book art featured in HBO’s Lovecraft Country.
Hip Hop IS Higher Education
Hosted by Summer Willow and Stephanie Reed
Where to Listen: YouTube, Anchor, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Play Recently launched and revised, Hip Hop IS Higher Education (formerly titled The Ladies Love Hip-Hop Podcasts) is a monthly podcast hosted by Summer Willow and Stephanie Reed, two self-proclaimed hiphop heads. “We were inspired to do the podcast together because we both had similar goals for utilizing hip-hop as a tool for education and empowerment, and of course, we equally LOVE hip-hop music. We also saw the tremendous value hiphop has in the marketplace and its innate ability to educate and uplift people through the genre of music as well as the culture,” Reed says. Through engaging guest interviews and features, the podcast explores the ways in which hip-hop provides a form of education—often in the form of things like the elevation of self-knowledge and self-improvement. In its new iteration, the podcast has a unique niche providing counter-narratives to the stereotyped, limited perspectives often associated with both hip-hop and higher education. The show is a place to demonstrate how hip-hop also cultivates intellectual curiosity and with each episode, we explore that curiosity. Originally based out of Philadelphia, the podcast aims to prioritize celebrating local hip-hop artists from North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Willow and Reed are also interested in acknowledging community organizations that engage hip-hop as pedagogy or practice and often feature hip-hop entrepreneurs, producers, and executives. 2 INDYweek.com
March 17, 2021
AL STRONG: “LEVAS”
With One Voice Al Strong’s “LEVAS” is an ambitious jazz rendition of a song widely considered to be the Black national anthem BY ERIC TULLIS firstname.lastname@example.org
n 2018, local jazz trumpet virtuoso and The Art of Cool Project co-founder Al Strong washed his hands of Durham’s high-profile Art of Cool Music Festival. It was a big shift in direction; that same year, though, he found himself spearheading something bigger than anything he’d ever recorded: a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Now, three years later, he’s released “LEVAS,” a breathtaking, eight-minute jazz rendition of the classic song. It’s packaged with stunning visuals. It all began in Raleigh during St. Augustine’s University’s 2018 annual CIAA Jazz Brunch, as the Al Strong Quartet intimately scorched and bopped across tunes as usual. “We were in a vamp,” says Strong, now 40. “Then we just sort of transitioned into this vibe. So I began playing the “Lift Every Voice and Sing” melody over it and the musicians jumped on it. There was a reaction from the audience. Once everyone knew what song it was, they stood up and saluted. It was a really powerful moment.” The song was originally written in 1899 as a poem by writer and activist James Weldon Johnson; soon after, Johnson’s older brother, the composer John Rosamond Johnson, put the three verses of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to music. The hymn debuted in February of the following year in the brothers’ hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, where 500 students of the segregated Stanton Normal School (where James Weldon Johnson was principal at the time) sang the mighty tune as part of a larger celebration. 20
March 17, 2021
In the 121 years since then, the song has been widely accepted as the “Black National Anthem” and canonized as one of the most important songs in American history. In 1972, it struck a mainstream chord when soul singer Kim Weston sang it from the historic Wattstax benefit concert stage; it also captured public consciousness in 1989 when a snippet from a Branford Marsalis’ cover accompanied the opening credits of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. In recent years, Beyoncé covered a chunk of it during her extravagantly pro-black 2018 Coachella performance and last month, the National Football League tapped Alicia Keys to perform a rendition for it to air during the Super Bowl LV pregame ceremony. Still: Strong saw room to explore. “I try to do as much research as I can before I cover songs and I didn’t hear any arrangements out there like this one,” says Strong, also an adjunct trumpet professor in N.C. Central University’s Music Department. “It’s such a sacred song in our community and I thought that it may be a little risky.” Far be it for anyone to suggest that there aren’t certain risks involved in reworking such a revered hymn, but more remarkable is the rebellious audacity that Strong’s jazz arrangement of “LEVAS” is armed with, as the song crescendos from the horns’ nobility to the strings’ keen rage. “Just about every version I had heard was really down the middle in terms of it being a hymn, which is how it was originally intended,” says Strong. “We stepped away from it in such a big way.”
PHOTO BY CHRIS CHARLES
Shot by director Chris Charles in black and white at various locations throughout Durham, the video for “LEVAS’’ features Strong and his supporting band performing the song in the Hayti Heritage Center. There are also appearances from various Black families, activists, artists, and students, prominent murals across the city, and footage of African-American pioneers such as Ida B. Wells, James Baldwin, and Malcolm X. Youth dancer Bria Thompson, glides and guides us from scene to scene,
angelically interpreting the song’s lyrics, “Yet with a steady beat/ Have not our weary feet/ Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?” “This is my attempt at a positive depiction of the Black community. It combats some of the things we saw popping up online over the course of the pandemic,” Strong says. “I wanted to keep this as artistic and uplifting as possible. I felt like that eight minutes told the story of the Black experience as much as we can offer.” 2
g’s lyrics, not our for which
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March 17, 2021
KEEP IT ! L LOCA
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March 17, 2021
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March 17, 2021
IT’S BACK! the most recognized award throughout the Triangle
Best of the Triangle Reader's Poll
Nominate your favorite bar, veterinarian, bookshop, hiking trail—whatever it may be, there are over 300 categories in which you can profess your favorite Triangle treasures Nominations begin Friday, March 26th vote.indyweek.com For promotional opportunities, please contact email@example.com