YES! Weekly’s People of 2019
*Editor’s note: A couple of clarifications have been made on the online version of this article.
As the dawn of a new decade draws near, YES! Weekly would like to dedicate our last issue of 2019 to some of the people in the Triad that made this year count.
Christy Johnson is a Triad legend and an up-and-coming “triple threat” as a professional actress, singer-songwriter and award-winning speed skater extraordinaire.
“I am honored and humbled for this recognition,” wrote Johnson when asked how it felt to be chosen as one of YES! Weekly’s People of 2019. “YES! Weekly has always been so supportive throughout my career. I am thankful for the many opportunities in which I’ve been afforded, and it feels wonderful to share the spotlight with other notable people from the Triad.”
The year 2019 was huge for Johnson. After winning her first speed skating gold medal 20 years ago, she won again this year in her division at Nationals in Spokane, Washington.
“My teammates and I also won several relays and hold the current national record in one event,” she wrote. “I truly enjoy skating quads and inlines for the Piedmont Speed Team, and I’m ecstatic to have been named their 2019 Female Quad Speed Skater of the Year.”
Not only that, on Nov. 7, YES! Weekly received a press release stating that The Producers Choice Honors Legends Series Event selected Johnson to “receive the accolade for ‘Outstanding Female Singer-Songwriter’ at the 2019 Las Vegas F.A.M.E. Awards” held on Nov. 13.
Johnson wrote that 2019 changed her life because it marked the debut of her journey as a solo artist in the music world. She has released three singles this year: “Shadows of My Soul,” “The Devil’s Den,” and “Fuel The Sun.” She wrote that all were co-written and produced by Tian Garcia of 502 Records and are now available for streaming on Spotify. Johnson has big plans for 2020 on the silver screen.
“I will be finishing up shooting and have also been cast as the lead in a high-budget feature film, although I am not at liberty to release any more information just yet,” she wrote.
Her goals for 2020 include finishing up pre-production for a music video for “Fuel The Sun” with SV2 Studios along with releasing more tracks throughout the year.
“I’ll also be busy shooting films, writing music, and speed skating. I hope to attend Nationals again this year in Cedar Rapids, Iowa,” she noted. “Look out for the 2020 release of my films, from V2 Pictures and featuring the track “Live For The Dream” from my melodic hard rock band Dreamkiller as well as from Jesse Knight Films and Mad Ones Films.”
Jamie Lawson is the artistic and executive director of the Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance. Lawson made the list because of his dedication this year to curating inclusive plays centering LGBTQ+ characters and voices.
“It is such an honor, and I am just flattered really,” Lawson said of being named one of YES! Weekly’s People of 2019. “But, the important thing to know about me is, for all the success that appears we have at Theatre Alliance, it is not just me. There are a lot of people behind me making those cogs turn. I am just kind of the face of the group. I couldn’t do what we do without a lot of help.”
Lawson said that seeing new faces both on and off stage, and retaining those people has been the most rewarding part of 2019.
“That is a wonderful feeling to be able to grow in that respect,” he said. “People keep participating on either side of the stage, and that gives you reinforcement that you are doing the right thing. Another thing I am very proud of this year, as in previous years, is our inclusiveness of all people that want to be involved with us. We really don’t discriminate at all. When you allow yourself to be open and free like that, it is amazing the results. We have people with all levels of talent, all skill sets, persons with disabilities that participate actively with our group. That is just rewarding and reaffirming that we are doing the right thing.”
Lawson said Theatre Alliance strives to have something for everybody because being a community theatre means representing the entire community.
“We don’t just want to be the white theatre or the gay theatre, or any theatre— we want to be a theatre for all people,” he said. “To me, it is important that we represent that on our stage and in our audience.”
Lawson said the crowning achievement of 2019 for Theatre Alliance was initiating its capital campaign to move into a new space at 650 W. 6th St. by summer 2021.
“[It] has been a very big learning experience for me as well as the entire group—something we have not really encountered on this scale before,” he said. “It has consumed us, and it will do that for the next year, too, until we get into the new space —which is actually a year and a half from now—just this year, it has been a whirlwind of trying to do what we always do, which is present 12 mainstage shows a year plus other special events and coordinating this campaign.”
Lawson said above all, 2019 was a growing experience for him and the rest of the Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance. Lawson said he self-identifies as “a control freak,” so he’s had to learn how to delegate and ask for help—which he admitted is a hard thing for him to do.
“I’ve had to grow, and the people around me and support me had to grow, too, because this year, they are doing things that they don’t normally do,” Lawson said. “I’ve just not ever been the person who likes to ask people for money—but with this campaign, I have really had to become more comfortable because the worst thing someone can say is no.”
Lawson said Theatre Alliance had been blessed in the past with generous supporters, and still do. However, this year, he said they’ve had to ramp up their fundraising efforts in order to meet their $1,500,000 goal. So far, according to the website, they have raised $950,000, which is 63% of their overall target. Lawson said these funds would go toward moving expenses and renovation costs.
“It has made us at Theatre Alliance very aware of things we do well; it has also made us aware of things we could do better and continue to improve upon from a community outlook. It gives us a place to grow to, and a goal to shoot for.”
Lawson said his personal goal for 2020 is to provide the best live theatre in the Triad.
“For the group, it is to have a successful capital campaign and work toward our new space and making it as inviting and as exciting as intimate as our current space, if not more so,” he continued. “And involve even more people in Winston-Salem and the Triad, because we are so passionate about theatre, we want everyone to experience it.”
Lawson said if anyone is not in a position to afford to see a live show, there are opportunities to come to Theatre Alliance shows by volunteering or ushering for an evening.
“Or if that is not possible, then just ask us, and we will find a way to get you in to see a show,” he said. “Live theatre should not be denied to anyone. We love sharing our talent and art with people because we all have stories to tell, and we all need to hear those stories.”
Lawson said end-of-the-year donations could be made via the Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance website at www.theatrealliance.ws. The second half of the season includes a staged reading of “The Absolute Brightness Of Leonard Pelkey,” on Jan. 10, 2020. Mainstage shows include “Disaster!” running Jan. 17-19, 2020, and Jan. 23-26, 2020; “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” running Feb. 14-16, 2020, and Feb. 20-23, 2020; “Evita” running March 13-15, 2020, March 20-22, 2020, and March 26-29, 2020; “Something Wicked This Way Comes” running April 17-19, 2020, and April 23-26, 2020; “Urinetown” running May 15-17, 2020, and May 21-24, 2020.
Alyssa Canty is a Winston-Salem native and the youth program manager for the national office of the nonpartisan, grassroots organization Common Cause. Canty said Common Cause fights for voting rights, redistricting reform, money in politics and prison reform. Common Cause also works with the census—which she noted is happening in 2020 along with the 50th anniversary of Common Cause.
“It is definitely exciting because I think it really does show how people are invested in civic engagement work and helping other young people vote,” she said in response to being chosen as one of YES! Weekly’s People of 2019.
One huge success that Canty had this year was winning the MTV Leaders for Change grant for her team’s “plans for increasing civic engagement from HBCUs.”
“With HBCUs not being the majority still, it has been like a lot of really cool recognition. I think it is great that recognition has been centered around my work with historically black colleges,” she said of winning the grant. “That is the thing that has been exciting, to be able to say MTV came to A&T. They were able to highlight and give that university a voice.”
Not only was this year life-changing for Canty, but it was also exactly what she needed to keep her passion for the work she does.
“It was a good motivator,” she said of 2019. “I think sometimes, there is so much to do with civic engagement, and it is not always going to be an instant win; it’s a lot of stuff over time. It was a nice motivator to know that we are doing good work and people know we are doing good work, so we have to keep at it. I think sometimes you get burned out, and I think that was something that was about to affect me—being burned out. I was in the same job for four years, so it was also exciting to see that other people see the great work we did in North Carolina, and they were ready to invest in something and expand it to other states. It definitely was a year that I needed to be like, ‘OK let’s keep pressing and doing this.’”
Another accomplishment she made this year was during her time as a campus outreach coordinator at Common Cause North Carolina. She said one of the things that she was working tirelessly with her team at Common Cause getting Winston-Salem State University’s voting site restored.
“We had great success with Winston-Salem State University this year as one of our campuses. They lost their voting site on campus for years. The school had to provide students with a bus so they could vote on election day.”
She explained that since WSSU didn’t have a voting site, early voting wasn’t even an option for the students.
“This year, our students were able to work with the board of directors and get their voting site back,” she said. “Not only does that benefit the campus, but the surrounding community that is also African-American.”
Canty said she is optimistic about what 2020 holds, especially since it is an election year.
“I am excited because I think that even though there is always that over-arching statement of like, young people don’t care—people of color don’t care—and there is apathy and stuff like that. But I feel like I have seen students and met students where they are at, and I feel like they have a completely different narrative. I am just excited about all the lightbulbs of the 25-year-olds and younger to just turn on and be energized. I am definitely excited about the energy around the election.”
Canty said her primary goal for 2020 is to continue to expand the work Common Cause does in the Triad.
“Personally, I [would like to] keep learning,” she continued. “To keep experiencing life as it comes. If the election season is anything, it could change in a matter of minutes or seconds. So just keep living it and experiencing different things and be ready for whatever.”
Canty said primaries would be held in March, and later on in the year closer to election day, Common Cause will need volunteers to help canvas and to do “election protection work.”
For more information about Common Cause and to keep up to date, visit the Common Cause website, and its social media pages.
Jen Brown is the founder of the Engaging Educator and Fearless Winston-Salem, which was established on May 30, 2018. This was a big year for Brown because her book “Think on Your Feet” was published by McGraw-Hill, and Fearless grew to over 4,000 members in only a year.
“Last October, I got an email through my info account on my website,” Brown said. “They filled it out, and it came in and said ‘Hey, I am from McGraw-Hill, would you like to write a book?’”
Brown said she couldn’t believe it was real until the publisher gave her a deadline of three months to write the book. “Think on Your Feet” was released on Nov. 8 of this year, and Brown said the book is about being a better communicator.
“Years ago, I was approached when I was living in New York by a publisher, and they asked me to write a book,” Brown explained. “I went back to my improv troupe and told them. The director, a gentleman, was like, ‘What do you have to say about improv that hasn’t been already said?’ And then one of my team members said, ‘Yeah, do you really have anything new to offer?’ So I turned down the publisher.”
She said she doesn’t regret it, but “I did it because of what other people thought of me,” and she ended up self-publishing years after that.
“So, when McGraw approached me this time, I was in a much better headspace to actually say yes to something like that. I really do think it is because I dealt with my own demons through having Fearless open.”
“I am very open about how I have PMDD (premenstrual dysmorphic disorder),” she continued. “I was suicidal, and I had every aspect of depression to the point where I was diagnosed with PMDD and severe depression at the same time. Part of my getting through it wasn’t just taking my medication and going to therapy, but it was showing up for [Fearless] consistently.”
Brown said that opening Fearless made her put up good boundaries in her life and also realize that she is not defined by her work.
Among her personal accomplishments this year, Brown said the big success for Fearless was that it became fully self-sustainable in September by its members (through Patreon).
“We have increased what teachers make when they have classes,” she said. “We started doing Small Business Saturday that we tripled in size since last year.”
Brown said Fearless has also recently rolled out its women-owned business directory, with over 300 businesses included.
“We are working with Flat Iron School to make it searchable and an app, and get adaptable for other cities,” she said. “So right now, Bentonville, Arkansas, wants to have a version of the app for their women-owned business community.”
Brown said the best part of the app and directory is that it will be free to use.
“These things exist in other cities, but it is pay to play,” she explained. “That doesn’t level any playing field. And there will be no logos because I don’t want people to make a judgment based on someone’s graphic design skills, or where they are at in their business, I want them to make a judgment when they go and try whatever the good or service is.”
Brown said membership at Fearless starts at $1 because “it shouldn’t be just here for people who afford it.” For those that can’t afford $1 a month, Brown said they could help her post on social media or do other odd jobs for the betterment of the space.
As far as 2020 goals, Brown said Fearless is looking to open a pop-up space for women-owned small businesses. She said this pop-up would give women the opportunity to run their business for a month and not have to pay rent.
“Just to give them a chance downtown,” she said. “To see both if their idea is feasible and to contribute to the greater good of women running businesses in Winston-Salem.”
Brown’s parting words of wisdom for the start of the upcoming decade is to “choose kindness.”
“A big part of the book is really thinking about what you want—thinking about what the person you are talking to wants— really listening and being present in the moment,” she said. “Attend to both wants and compromise in the middle.”
Miranda Jones is a special education teacher at North Forsyth High School and has been a steadfast activist with the groups, Hate Out of Winston and the Winston-Salem Local Organizing Committee.
“I am super honored,” she said of being chosen as one of YES! Weekly’s People of 2019. “What is more important is whenever I get recognition or acknowledgment, I look at it as ‘how can I use this platform to do more or do greater work for my community?’”
At the beginning of 2019, Jones was instrumental in getting the Confederate statue removed from downtown Winston-Salem, and toward the end of the year, she was one of the people fighting for a mandatory African-American class to be implemented at Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. Jones attributed Hate Out’s biggest accomplishment this year to get the statue removed from downtown.
“When the statue came down, for me, it was like ‘OK, what is next,” Jones said.
The WSFC School Board voted not to make the African-American class mandatory, which is what Hate Out was fighting for, but the board did establish more multicultural electives. Jones said that endeavor was both a failure and success. She explained it was a success because it is “a step toward equity,” and she said it was a failure because the class is still not mandatory.
“I did not take it personally, because we failed the children,” she said. “At my school, we had recently had national history day, and I went to ask the children, who is that on the board. When I went to this one board, and I asked two girls, ‘who is in this picture?’ They said ‘oh, that is Martin Luther King,’ and I said ‘no, that is Thurgood Marshall.’”
She said she sees children with misinformation going into the word, and perpetuating the issue that Hate Out has worked hard to fix. In 2020, Jones said that Hate Out and the LOC would continue to “engage and confront.”
“We plan to be at the board meetings,” Jones said. “We have already sent some recommendations for the African-American studies committee, they are going to start meeting in March, and they want to meet twice a year, but that is absolutely not enough. We also want to know who is going to be on this committee.”
Jones said her personal goal for 2020 is starting up a youth book club called “Mahaba” and hosting it at Fearless. Jones said Mahaba means “love” in Swahili, and she wants the book club to be centered around a love for African-American people and culture. Her goal is to get the book club up and going mid-January or early February.
“I really want to push literacy, cultural literacy, among young folks,” Jones said. “I want to be able to do it in a no holds barred kind of way.”
Jones said she is honored to be apart of the Winston-Salem Portrait Project, which will unveil in summer 2020. The Portrait Project is “a project organized by artists Kisha Bari and Jasmin Chang, through the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Public Art Commission. The project is envisioned as a photographic portrayal of the community. A portrait made of its many faces, displayed where people come together and where they are divided.” Jones said that she, among various other community members, would be posted on billboards throughout the Winston-Salem greenway.
“I am so ecstatic about that,” she said. “Just to be whatever I can be as a visual representation for black girls to harness their power and use it. That is super important to me, and to be apart of this is really important to me.”
Jones said, in 2020, she also wants to do more work with the LOC on voter education as well as with Siembra, established in 2017, as “an organization of Latinx people defending our rights and building power ‘with papers and without papers.’”
“Our mantra is, we want people to weaponize their vote, to vote smart,” Jones said. “When we look at the school board, we are going to remember there was only one YES vote, and all of these other NO votes; we want to take these people to task on that.”
Jones said the voter education workshop would launch in January and February 2020.
“We need to continue, for my people specifically, to say engaged so that we are not so reactionary,” Jones said. “Frederick Douglass once said, ‘Agitate, agitate, agitate.’ I want to see my people, specifically young people, young black girls and women, be powerful, continue to confront even when it is hard and when it hurts,” she said. “Don’t play easy, don’t play nice if you want to see real change.”
Gina Franco is a Triad mural artist who has literally made her mark on the area through her public art. Franco said she is honored to be chosen as one of YES! Weekly’s People of 2019 because “it is always nice to know that people are watching. Being recognized for me as an artist is important,” she said. “The fact that the public notices is the reason why I do it.”
This year was big for Franco because it was the year that she quit her job to become a full-time artist.
“I was working for Guilford County Schools up until the summer,” she said. “I was due back in August, but I decided not to go back.”
She said her biggest accomplishment was being able to paint “Rainbow Alley,” which is the alley off Washington Street in downtown Greensboro.
“Rainbow Alley was a big one, just as far as the shares it got, the size of it was like physically the biggest thing I have done, and just how many people it impacted,” she said. “It had the most reach than anything I have done so far.”
In 2019 alone, Franco can’t count how many public art installations she has done or contributed on both in the Triad and abroad.
Franco said her art has evolved from being more personal to incorporating more of the community and the people she is painting for.
“When [my mom] died of lung cancer, I was kind of responding to that,” she said. “A lot of my work had to do with addiction that I was processing. Now that I feel I have worked through that, I don’t feel the need to paint cigarette butts. So I think that is one big change, and also paying attention to what people are responding to.”
Another big accomplishment for Franco was her two installations at the High Point Furniture Market this year and her first gallery exhibition at the Wherehouse Art Hotel in Winston-Salem. This year, other than Triad murals, Franco has painted murals in Jacksonville, Denver, and Miami, at the famous Wynwood neighborhood known for its public art.
“It was like five people on one wall, but like I don’t care, I can die now,” she joked. “I kept saying every year, ‘I just want to paint in Wynwood,’ and it was actually a really legit wall right in the smack in the middle of everything.”
For Franco, this was the year of “no more excuses.” Her son turned 18, and she had decided a long time ago as soon as he was an adult, she was going to focus on herself.
“The sky is the limit now,” she said. “And of course, I still take care of him—feed him and stuff, but it is like I don’t have that where I can’t go out of town for two weeks if I want. Or if I am painting a mural until midnight, he is going to be fine because he is grown.”
Franco said she is excited for the coming year, and one of her goals is to do more public art, as well as play and experiment with another medium and 3-D art.
“I want to do a sculpture, even if it is just one,” she said. “I don’t know how it is going to be fabricated or what I am going to use.”
Franco said she wants people to interact with her art and take selfies with it. In fact, her next project taking place in early spring 2020 will be very interactive. She said it would be on the Southend of downtown Greensboro near Area-Modern Home Furnishing.
“It is going to be one of those destination murals,” she said. “If you walk by that thing and don’t take a picture, I didn’t do a good job. Even if you live here or just visiting, you are going to have to share with people that you are in Greensboro. I am really excited about that.”
Franco said that she is extremely optimistic about what 2020 holds and that the New Year will be “on and poppin’.”
“The Good Guys” at WTOB
Bob Scarborough, Richard Miller, and Ken Hauser
Three men have kept the “Good Guy” reputation of the WTOB radio station alive ever since they took over about five years ago. Ken Hauser is a co-owner and marketing/sales representative of the WTOB radio station, located on Trade Street in downtown Winston-Salem. The Good Guys were chosen as YES! Weekly’s People of 2019 because of the work they do to promote and highlight local music as well as their dedication to serving local nonprofits.
“It feels really good, and we appreciate that very much, and we really appreciate the partnership we have with [YES! Weekly] on the local music scene,” Hauser said regarding how he felt being chosen as one of YES! Weekly’s People of the Year. “The three shows that we are doing: ‘George Hamilton V Piedmont Opry Time,’ ‘Chuck Dale’s Combo Corner,’ and ‘Your Local Music Checkup with Dr. Jon Epstein,’ one of the things we really wanted to do is highlight the music scene here in this area.”
Hauser said that a big accomplishment of WTOB this year was helping raise money for children with down syndrome through Farmstock in July.
“It was held at Rizzo’s in Clemmons, and we had 16 bands,” Hauser said. “It was sort of a tribute to Woodstock.”
He said that this year changed WTOB because they noticed a demographic change from the older crowd to the younger generations. “That is a really refreshing thing that we haven’t expected, young people calling up,” he said. “To have a local DJ in the window that you can call and request a song, that is rare.”
For 2020, Hauser said WTOB is excited to continue to grow and make a difference in the community. Hauser said WTOB has a big music festival planned for July 2020 that honors George Hamilton IV, a Winston-Salem native who went on to be a country music icon in the 1950s. Hauser said the festival would take place at and benefit the Crossnore Children’s Home & School. There is also a Halloween bash planned for 2020, in addition to other promotional events, both new and old.
In January 2020, Hauser said WTOB is partnering with a/perture cinema for an event that will lead up to the art-house cinema’s red carpet party for the Oscars.
“We want to be the radio station of Winston-Salem,” Hauser said of one of his long-term goals. “Anything the city needs, we are here for them.”
Co-owner Bob Scarborough’s goals for 2020 are to expand WTOB’s news department and coverage, as well as expand and have more sales representatives.
“We are doing nothing more than what broadcasting was meant to do, and serve the people that the signal covers,” Scarborough said. “That means entertaining, informing, challenging, and finding ways to solve issues.”
For more information about The Good Guys at WTOB, visit the website.
“No Punching Bag” designers Angel, Tenijah Renée, and Danielle Fant
Angel Fant and her daughters Danielle, 19, and Tenijah Renée, 18, are all co-designers of their socially-conscious fashion clothing line called “No Punching Bag.” Angel said they started designing as a family in 2015, and the name “No Punching Bag” comes from their experience with domestic violence. This year was significant to the family of designers because their work was featured at both New York Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week.
Angel said they choose different various social issues and design clothing to express it. The theme they chose to present at New York Fashion Week (in September 2019) was gun violence awareness, and for Paris Fashion Week (in February 2019), it was domestic violence.
“We basically choose our inspiration based on social change,” Danielle said. “We choose what we want to focus on and what is very important to us at the moment.”
For the “everyday wear” category, Angel said they designed clothing that showed how “everyone is affected by gun violence.”
“Each one [of the 15 garments] represented a different industry such as education, medical, public safety, celebrities, government,” Angel said.
Angel said that each outfit was also stitched with orange thread because orange is the color of gun violence awareness. For domestic violence awareness, Angel said they used purple because that is the color associated with domestic violence awareness.
“We were selected as trendsetters in Paris by Fashion Week Online, and quite a few other magazines in Paris,” Angel said, describing one of NPB’s biggest achievements of 2019.
“Probably Paris,” Tenijah Renée said on what she thought their biggest accomplishment of 2019 was. “Although I was excited about New York.”
As for their plans for 2020, the Fants want to take NPB across the globe.
‘We have global invitations everywhere,” Angel said. “We keep getting messages from people to do February, but we keep saying no‑September because it can get very costly with designer fees.”
One of their goals in 2020 is to raise enough funds to attend Milan, Paris and New York Fashion Weeks.
“We usually don’t raise money until three months before, but it might be something we have to fundraise for all year long,” Angel said. “We haven’t decided if that is the way we are going to do it or not.”
“I don’t agree with the system, and I am hoping it changes next year, internationally,” Tenijah Renée said. “You are banking on the designers, and the designers are not getting everything they need, and they should probably have money coming from the show since they are paying for it.”
Another goal that Tenijah Renée has for the New Year is launching her own beauty and skincare line she calls “Hajinet Beauty.” Hajinet is her name spelled backward, and she wants her brand to “embrace your natural beauty.”
“It is in the process of being trademarked,” Tenijah Renée said. “It’s about embracing your natural beauty and connecting with nature. I have a glow body butter, and basically, it is like things that replace makeup.”
Her tagline is “own your beauty with Hajinet Beauty.” Presently she has developed shampoos, conditioners, facial cleansers, mascara oil, and more. The line will be released in January 2020.
Coming up, the Fants plans to collaborate with an Egyptian photographer with a photoshoot of their designs sometime in January 2020. In April, NPB also has a showcase planned in collaboration with Venture Café. For more information about NPB, visit their website and to keep up to date with their upcoming events and news, check out their Facebook page.
This year was full of trials and tribulations for Faith McKnight, owner and baker of The Sweet Truth Baking & Catering in Winston-Salem.
“That feels like I have arrived finally,” said McKnight on how it felt to be chosen as one of YES! Weekly’s People of 2019. “That is a high accolade. You are the only newspaper that has done a story on me.”
McKnight’s biggest achievement this year has been moving her baked goods into a brick-and-mortar space as well as expanding her inventory by adding her own bottled drinks to the menu.
“I got certified by the state to start bottling my own drinks at the Enterprise Shared-Use Kitchen. I am also one of their caterers and bakers.”
McKnight had a rough year with her family. She lost her grandmother in March, her mother in July, and her grandmother’s sister also in July.
“That changed my life because I am the matriarch of the family now,” McKnight said. “I am the oldest child, so everyone is looking to me.”
But this year wasn’t all bad. Her daughter got accepted into five colleges, including her first choice, East Carolina University, and McKnight’s other daughter just had a baby recently. She also said she won a portion of her compensation from the alleged sexual assault she experienced while she was in the military.
“I’ve had some losses, but I have also had some blessings,” she said. “You know how God moves some things around for you. Some things have to be removed for other things to come into place. I feel that is what happened to me, and it just made me stronger.”
McKnight said she is “going hard” into 2020.
“They had an official ribbon cutting for me in November with D.D. Adams and Jeff MacIntosh— that brought me a lot of exposure,” she said. “I am also live on Yelp now, and it drove up to my business 63%. My gross from last year tripled.”
Her goal for 2020 is to apply for financial assistance from the City of Winston-Salem to help continue the upkeep of her space.
“For 2020, I am looking to expand and hope I keep up,” McKnight said. “I am still a one-woman show, and I am trying to find a baker.”
McKnight said this year really showed her what it is like to be a business owner and now a brick-and-mortar owner. She said she hopes to expand into a bigger space and move her certified bakery from her home to her shop so that it is all in one place. Eventually, she wants to create a café setting. Another one of her goals is to establish her catering business as well.
“I really want to stay in my community,” she said, noting that she doesn’t plan to move out of her neighborhood.
With the space she has, she also lets other women in the community who don’t have a shop of their own sell their stuff out of her brick-and-mortar.
“I am getting ready to throw a party, an end of the decade dance on Dec. 27 in Thomasville at Bella’s Event Center,” she said. “The words of wisdom [for 2020] is no matter how many things get thrown at you, always stand your ground and keep moving forward. Never look back because the past is behind you, and that is why it is behind you. You are supposed to keep your head forward.”
The Sweet Truth Baking & Catering is located at 2723 Farmall St. in Winston-Salem.
Paula Spring is a High Point-based artist and the founder and co-organizer of the first-ever High Point Pride festival held at COHAB in November.
“I am very happy and honored,” Spring said of being chosen as one of YES! Weekly’s People of 2019.
Spring said her biggest achievement this year was organizing and putting together High Point Pride.
“I have never done anything like it, and all the planning and new experiences of it—I had to get out of my comfort zone and talk to a lot of people, network a lot, email a lot, talk on the phone—yeah, it was definitely my biggest achievement.”
Spring said she believes High Point Pride was a success because she was aiming for 300 attendees, and that is about what they got.
“It was just really nice to see people from my community, and a lot of people I knew from school and local businesses in High Point, it was awesome,” she said. “I am already in the works of planning the next one, but I am also trying to plan smaller events throughout the year to keep the High Point LGBTQ community active.”
Spring said, coming up in the New Year, she wants to try to have an event every month starting with one in January.
“Not too big or small, just to have this community doing something constantly,” she said. Along with this goal is another to build a force of volunteers to help her with the next Pride festival in 2020.
“I am really excited for next year,” Spring said. “I have a few other projects, hopefully coming into the works next year.”
One of those is a collaboration with organizer Gui Portel, and their project “No Esta En Venta,” which is an immersive exhibition giving Latinx and undocumented artists a platform.
“I am excited, and I am ready to continue Pride, I don’t want it just to be a one-time thing,” Spring said. “Looking toward the future, hopefully, I will be doing more art and more community work. Follow High Point Pride on Instagram to stay up to date on news and upcoming events.
Marcus Deon Smith
By: Ian McDowell
Kay Smith said her brother Marcus Deon Smith often expressed that he wanted to live the rest of his life in Greensboro. Tragically, he did, after begging the police officers, he’d asked for help to stop hurting him. As previously reported, Smith died downtown during the 2018 North Carolina Folk Festival, after being fatally hogtied by the Greensboro police officers he asked to take him to the hospital. The officers, who never put him under arrest, have stated they restrained him because they feared he might kick out the window of the patrol car in which they intended to transport him in. Although the autopsy found drugs in his system, the State Medical Examiner ruled his death a homicide, citing its principal cause as the restraint.
In the Greensboro Police Department press release, and in Chief Wayne Scott’s introduction to the compilation body cam video of Smith’s death, the restraint used on Smith was repeatedly referred to as “RIPP Hobble,” a term trademarked by RIPP Restraints International. The term is also used in the GPD’s directives manual, which warns of its potential danger. After YES! Weekly reported that RIPP Restraints ships their device with instructions to “NEVER HOGTIE A PRISONER” (the other side of which depict how to use the restraint to keep the detainee from kicking without putting them in a potentially fatal position), the police claimed to use “RIPP Hobble” as a generic term for a variety of near-identical restraints which, they allege, come without instructions. In July and again this month, the GPD refused to comply with public information requests for purchase records of the specific device used on Smith.
The controversy has come up at every Greensboro City Council town hall meeting in 2019. At one particularly dramatic meeting, South Carolina pastor David Kennedy (who was played by actor Forest Whittaker in the 2018 movie Burden) led a packed and largely African-American audience in singing a song calling Chief Wayne Scott a “lying racist” and demanding his firing, to the obvious consternation of council. Such outbursts led to the council’s controversial attempts on imposing “civility” and even restricting what matters the public can address when speaking to them from the podium (as previously reported, the latter seems to have been largely abandoned).
In April, the Greensboro City Council announced it would vote on an independent investigation into Smith’s death, only to table that motion two weeks later, after the Smith family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the eight GPD officers, the city, and two members of Guilford County EMS. In August, Chief Wayne Scott announced his upcoming retirement at the end of January 2020 but stated the decision was not influenced by the Smith case.
On the last day of the 2019 North Carolina Folk Festival, the anniversary of Smith’s death was remembered with a candlelight vigil on the 100 block of Church Street. Many attending the vigil said they’d first heard of the tragedy from local rapper and folk musician Justin Harrington, aka Demeanor, speaking about the case at A&T and the Blind Tiger. Harrington, now planning a project with his aunt, Rhiannon Giddens, has told YES! Weekly he intends to continue to publicize the case.
Meanwhile, Marcus Deon Smith’s parents Mary and George Smith, and his sister Kay Smith continue to mourn.
“This Christmas is very hard for our family,” Mary said. “Marcus would be 39 today if it weren’t for what eight Greensboro officers did to him last year. He would be at our house cutting his brother’s hair, and his dad’s, if it weren’t for a police department that thinks it’s okay to kill people who they assume don’t have families and communities that care about them.”
The full statement from the Smith family can be read below:
This Christmas is very hard for our family. Marcus Smith would be 39 today if it weren’t for what 8 Greensboro officers did to him last year. He would be at our house cutting his brother’s hair, and his dad’s, if it weren’t for a police department that thinks it’s okay to kill people who they assume don’t have families and communities that care about them. Marcus would be making us all laugh and eating up his Mother’s cooking and having a good time with the family if police in Greensboro – officers A.G. Lewis, M. Montalvo, J. Bailey, L.A. Andrews, J.C. Payne, R.R. Duncan, and Sergeant C. Bradshaw, and Corporal D. Strader thought that there might be repercussions for their actions when they took our son to the ground and chose to use a device to tie him up like an animal, knowing full well that doing so was medically dangerous and knowing he just wanted to go to the hospital. Marcus Smith would be joking with his father – who’s health has gotten so much worse after watching a video of his own son being killed by the Greensboro Police Department – if it wasn’t for the violent, racist culture that Chief Wayne Scott has encouraged in his police department, which let a group of 8 officers believe they could kill our son and get away with it.
On Jan. 30, 2020, Marcus would turn 40 years old. That’s a prime time for many people when they should be having a big celebration with family and friends. Marcus had plenty of friends, and even though he was living in Greensboro when he died, we would have made a trip up to Greensboro to celebrate him. This year, we won’t get to celebrate with him living. Instead, on January 31st, 2020, Greensboro Chief Wayne Scott will be retiring with a taxpayer-funded pension. Yes, the Chief who lied to the people of Greensboro, and to the family of Marcus Smith when he said that our son was “suicidal” and “combative” and had “collapsed” in the street. Yes, the Chief who then continued to lie about the details of the case to the media, to the press, to the city, and to the family after the facts came out. Yes, the Chief who tried to cover up our son’s homicide death and who still hasn’t come clean about the facts, even after Mayor Vaughan has said that he obviously lied. Yes, he plans to retire and continue sucking money out of the city of Greensboro, while they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars on a lawsuit that should have never had to have been filed over our son’s death, and he’s going to keep living off the city as he draws a pension he doesn’t deserve.
That’s what’s about to happen in Greensboro, and so we’re going to come up there at the end of January to celebrate Marcus’s life and to try to speak to the city about why they are letting the person who covered up our son’s homicide death – the lying Chief Scott – retire with a pension.
Our family is not wealthy. We have spent too much money burying our son and traveling up to Greensboro to try to get the City of Greensboro to do the right thing. Marcus’s father, George, has had to stop working because of the stress and his deteriorating health. Kim, his sister, loses money every time she closes up her shop to drive with us up there. We all have had to make sacrifices so that we can call for “Justice for Marcus Smith” but we aren’t going to quit, because we don’t want this to happen again to anyone, and as long as there isn’t accountability, we believe this will happen again.
The city just passed a resolution to fund a mental health emergency response team, but they botched that piece too. They said that this would help prevent another incident like Marcus Smith, but we know it won’t because the city’s new mental health program doesn’t stop the police from showing up when people are in crisis. It simply provides more people for the police to call on.
What the city won’t admit is that the problem is not people with mental illness and it’s not just a lack of resources for people who are homeless and have crises. The problem which the city is ignoring is the over-policing of these communities and the fact that the Greensboro Police – who according to the city’s new plan will still be the first people on the scene when someone has a crises – are used to brutalizing and doing all sorts of things to people and getting away with it, because of the culture of violence and racism that Chief Scott and others have let fester and build up in the Police Department. So, we don’t want our name attached to this new Mental Health program, because it doesn’t stop the police from potentially killing people and letting another incident like what happened to our son happen again.
It’s almost Christmas, and everyone knows the old story about how Jesus didn’t have a place to be born. There are a lot of people in Greensboro who also don’t have a place to stay, and those are the people that come in contact with the Greensboro Police Department. The Homeless Union of Greensboro did a report about how the Greensboro Police look for and target.
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.