SOT Meet Series

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

photo of Erin Byrd
Courtesy of Erin Byrd

Activist Erin Byrd grew up moving from one military base to the next – from Virginia to Texas to South Korea to Texas to Germany and back to the U.S. again. Throughout her childhood, Byrd witnessed military families get free dental care, free health care and reduced-price groceries. The government supplied these basic services to the military population, and she wondered why the whole country did not have the same benefits.

photo of John Hedley holding his book Saddle Up.
John Hedley

On his desk sits a bumper sticker that reads “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.” For John Hedley this statement is personal, not political. He vividly remembers coming home from Vietnam to angry crowds who branded him and his fellow service members “potheads, murderers and nutjobs.” His solution? Showing first-hand support for the next generation of soldiers.

photo of Levelle Moton and a referee in action
Courtesy of LeVelle Moton

College basketball is part of North Carolina’s lifeblood, and team allegiances are not taken lightly. Yet the head coach of North Carolina Central University’s men’s basketball team is deeply respected by both those who wear the Eagles jersey and those who compete against it.

photo of Tutu Alicante
Courtesy of Tutu Alicante

Tutu Alicante grew up in Equatorial Guinea, a small nation on the western coast of Central Africa. The country is one of the largest oil producers in sub-Saharan Africa, yet many of its citizens live in extreme poverty. The oil profits stay within the government, and long-serving President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo uses intimidation tactics like imprisonment or even execution to silence his critics.

Ron Stacker Thompson
Courtesy of UNC School of the Arts

Ron Stacker Thompson knew from a young age that he wanted to be a teacher. He grew up in Chicago, excelled in school, and loved his time in the classroom. He attended Illinois State University and went on to try his hand at teaching. But his work as a drama teacher quickly led to another career on stage.

photo of Bart Ehrman
Courtesy of Bart Ehrman

In academic circles, Bart Ehrman is regarded as one of the world’s most influential New Testament scholars. But after publishing his first book designed for the masses, “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” (HarperCollins/2005), Ehrman’s reputation expanded beyond the academy and into many American households. His unabashed willingness to perform textual criticism on the Bible was offensive and polarizing for many believers. But perhaps Ehrman understood their viewpoints better than they understood his.

photo of Jennifer Pharr Davis on a big rock with a plaque
Maureen Robinson

Hiking through fields and forests has been life changing for Jennifer Pharr Davis. She is a professional hiker and adventurer. At just 21 years old, she set off on a solo hike across the entire Appalachian Trail, a path that covers 14 states and more than 2,000 miles.

Photo of Sarah Gaither
Courtesy of Sarah Gaither

 Multiracial people are the fastest growing demographic group in the country. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the nation’s multiracial population will triple by 2060, but not much research has been done on this group. Sarah Gaither is hoping to change that. She’s an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, and she is also a biracial woman.

Photo of Carlton-LaNey teaching a class
Courtesy of Iris Carlton-LaNey

Iris Carlton-LaNey is often impressed by the resourcefulness and strength of those living in poor, underserved and rural communities. As a social worker, she has spent a career observing how many in those communities have a strong commitment to hard work, family and religion. And those are values she recognizes from her own upbringing on a tobacco farm in southeastern North Carolina, where education was valued above all. 

Photo of Rolonda Watts.
Courtesy of Rolonda Watts

Rolonda Watts began her career as a reporter for WFMY News in Greensboro, North Carolina. She moved on from there to New York City, where she is remembered as the local news anchor during the “Today” show.

McGuire's Miracle The Documentary

Alexander Julian is credited with the iconic revamp of Tar Heel sports uniforms. But his journey to creating the legendary Carolina blue argyle was a long time in the making. Julian drew up his first designs when he was a child, and he started working the sales floor at his father Maurice Julian’s haberdashery when he was in his teens.

Courtesy of Stephanie Elizondo Griest

Stephanie Elizondo Griest grew up between two cultural identities: her father is white from Kansas, and her mother is Chicana, or Mexican-American.

Courtesy Raymond Barfield

For most of his life, Raymond Barfield was a person of faith. He grew up in the church and maintained his faith right up to his early years as a physician. But his time working as a pediatric oncologist pushed him to the limits of his emotional and spiritual capacity.

Drawing of Donald Trump scrambling to charge his phone and continue tweeting.
Dwane Powell, The News and Observer

There was nothing in Dwane Powell’s upbringing to suggest he would end up a political cartoonist. 

L.A. McCrae holding a glass of her beer
Courtesy of L.A. McCrae

For L.A. McCrae, beer is a ministry. She owns Black Star Line Brewing Company – the first black-owned brewery in Western North Carolina. 

Courtesy of Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Gabrielle Calvocoressi was born with nystagmus, a visual condition where the eyes are constantly in spasm. It took Calvocoressi a while to learn how to walk and balance, so the young child spent a lot of time sitting on the floor, daydreaming and observing the world. 

Laura Pellicer / WUNC

Sijal Nasralla grew up hearing stories about the bucolic hills his father used to roam as a shepherd in Palestine. He also learned early on about efforts his family members had made to preserve access to land they had lived on for hundreds of years.

John Carroll Whitener
Courtesy of John Carroll Whitener

 John Carroll Whitener could have easily avoided being drafted into the Vietnam War. He could have truthfully checked the box marked “yes” on the military form that asked new recruits if they had homosexual tendencies. But doing so would have meant admitting a truth he was not ready to accept and facing the consequences of a future that did not include his family and church.

Music Maker Relief Foundation

Ron Hunter was born and raised in a log cabin on a sharecropping farm in the countryside near Winston-Salem, North Carolina. As a kid he wanted to be a cowboy. He often donned a cowboy hat and practiced country-western songs while riding a make-believe horse. Later in life Hunter found a deep connection with the stories he can tell through the blues, and he gained recognition for his unique style.

Courtesy of Kumarini Silva

 Kumarini Silva grew up in the midst of a violent civil war in Colombo, Sri Lanka between the government and rebel groups. She was mostly sheltered from the violence because of her father’s status as a U.N. diplomat, but her family still helped those they knew were in danger. They moved to Liberia when Silva was a teenager but had to leave after a few years after a violent conflict erupted inside the country.

Courtesy of Sarah van Gelder

Sarah van Gelder developed a sharp sense for injustice as a little girl when she moved to India with her family for a year and witnessed the poverty all around her. She decided that the only way she could make sense of her unearned privilege was to commit her life to making the world a more just place. 

Courtesy Western Carolina University

Davy Arch grew up on a subsistence farm in western North Carolina. As a boy, he learned the value of traditional Cherokee culture from his grandfather, who taught him the old stories, how to hunt and fish, and how to identify valuable medicinal plants.

Today Arch is a practitioner of traditional medicine, a historian, storyteller and a folk artist with work on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
 

Finbarr O'Reilly

Thomas J. Brennan first started writing about war through letters home to his wife when he was deployed in a remote village in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

Katie Wyatt poses with children from the program she co-founded, Kidznotes.
Ken Demery Photography

Katie Wyatt first fell in in love with classical music when she joined her school’s orchestra in third grade. Wyatt played the viola and appreciated being part of a group that created art together. Wyatt was a military kid, so her family moved around about every four years. But no matter where she lived, Wyatt found a way to plug into her community through music. 

Jocelyn Casanova
Courtesy of Jocelyn Casanova

Joceyln Casanova grew up in North Carolina and was a high achiever who dreamed of going to college and becoming a lawyer. A few days before she graduated from high school near the top of her class, a college interviewer revealed a secret her parents had kept from her her whole life: Jocelyn was undocumented. 

Duke University

Makeba Wilbourn has been immersed in the subtleties of language since she was a child.

As the daughter of a northern white mother and southern black father, she constantly changed the way she spoke to her own family. And as she grew older, she realized she had to be an expert at code-switching in order to succeed as a biracial woman.

Today, Makeba studies how children develop those differences in language, and how that might contribute to our racial biases.

Ray Williams
Elizabeth Eason / Ray Williams

As a teenager in England in the 1960s, Ray Williams soaked up the sounds of one of British pop’s most iconic eras. After spending years listening to popular music, he got a front-row seat to it all when he landed a job working for Cathy McGowan, presenter of the music television show “Ready Steady Go!”

Laura Pellicer

For close to two decades, Richard Joyner fought to get away from the farms of Pitt County, North Carolina. He grew up in a family of sharecroppers and repeatedly witnessed racial and economic injustices. His family was never properly compensated for their labor, and his father was treated poorly by white land owners.

Later in his life, Joyner became the pastor for the small 300-person community of Conetoe, North Carolina. Within one year, 30 of his congregants died from health-related illnesses. He decided to return to farming to grow healthy food for his community.

UNC Asheville

Growing up in South Los Angeles, Dwight Mullen remembers constant tension between the community and police. He specifically recalls the 1965 Watts riots and the impact it had on the city.

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