As we enter our fourth year of publication, it’s important to remember that the VOICE was born out of tragedy.
Many of you will remember the spring 2008 murder of beloved UNC student body president Eve Carson, and how the two young black men, subsequently caught, tried and convicted, are from Durham. The late-night abduction and gruesome killing shocked and stunned the sensibilities of the bubble that is Chapel Hill, a presumably “safe” place, insulated from such heinous a crime.
A Chapel Hill “townie,” I too sought meaning from the senseless crime, but found no comfort in my anger.
I wanted revenge, but what I got was redemption.
The blessing came — as blessings often do — unbidden and unexpected.
Mai Nguyen, an associate professor in the UNC Dept. of City and Regional Planning, had been studying the high-crime, low-wealth area of Durham that the local police ominously called “the Bull’s Eye.” She emailed me to ask if a community newspaper for central Durham might help make a difference.
I remember holding that printout of Mai’s email; my hands were shaking.
INTO THE BULLS EYE
A year and a half later — after hours of one-on-one community organizing, meetings with parents and kids, talks with school administrators, church, neighborhood and civic leaders — we launched the Northeast Central Durham Community VOICE.
And today — after 40 online editions and 21 print editions, I’m convinced more than ever that the VOICE owes its success to what late CBS legend Charles Kuralt called “a conspiracy of good people.” That makes a long list of folks to thank.
To cut to the chase — journalism professors Bruce “DP” dePyssler and Lisa Paulin were the first to join the fledgling paper. Earl Phillips and Melva Henry from the City of Durham’s Neighborhood Improvement Services threw their broad shoulders behind the effort, connecting us with civic, church and school leaders in the neighborhood, dubbed “Northeast Central Durham,” by city planners in an effort to coordinate the efforts of the six neighborhoods of the “Bull’s Eye:” Old Five Points, Old East Durham, Cleveland-Holloway, Wellons Village and Hoover Road.
OUR BETTER ANGELS
Many are the blessings that have lifted the VOICE over the years — free printing from the Daily Tar Heel for our first year, free wireless from Time Warner Cable, a rent-free newsroom in the Golden Belt complex from Scientific Properties, Inc.
Make no mistake about it, our major funding we’ve raised ourselves — seed grants from Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation that launched and sustained the VOICE, while major donations and awards from Capitol Broadcasting, Met Life and North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. have sustained our work.
But other blessings, you never see coming.
Last spring, after the 5th anniversary of Eve Carson’s death and a laudatory column in the Raleigh News & Observer by Executive Editor John Drescher, I received an email from Dr. Randall Williams of Raleigh; he and his wife, Elizabeth, had read Drescher’s piece, and wanted to make a contribution to the VOICE.
But this gift was like none other; it was a fine Nikon 35mm camera belonging to their late son, Steele, a 26-year-old photojournalism major and graduate of the University of Montana who had photographed in the troubled Middle East.
The talented young man’s obituary told a story of a remarkable life lost too soon: “He was happiest when taking photographs that told a story about people…as a part of his journalistic tradition, he had strong principles about injustice, which came to the forefront while he worked in Baghdad, Iraq, last fall. Pictures he took in Iraq also showed that he was gifted at capturing a moment or an emotion with his camera.”
Over hot dogs at Suttons lunch counter, Dr. Williams handed me his late son’s camera. Amid all the laughter and good cheer of that iconic Chapel Hill cafe, the doctor’s eyes and mine locked; we knew what this exchange meant.
This camera was no ordinary piece of plastic, glass and computer chips. It was his son’s legacy. It would be put to good use, I promised.
And this past week, all that came to pass, as “Steele’s camera” was presented to Hillside High School and the Chronicle, led by journalism teacher Liz DeOrnellas, who revived that high school’s newspaper, thanks in part to mentoring and computers donated by the VOICE.
When I met the three young photographers for the Chronicle, Kristen Mayo, Breana Kea and Taylor Owens, and saw the photos they made from that Friday’s football game, I knew we had done the right thing.
When I sent Dr. Williams the photo of the Hillside three with Steele’s camera, he wrote back simply, ““It’s good to know that in times of loss, all is not lost.”
OVER MY HEAD
Last spring I got a phone call from Walter Phillips, a prominent Eastern North Carolina community newspaper co-publisher I’d known for years. He too had seen Drescher’s piece in the N&O about the VOICE.
“You’re doing great work,” he said. “How can I help?”
I gulped and took a chance.
“You can print us,” I said, my heart in my throat.
“I can do that,” Phillips said with nary a pause.
To be sure, he had to run the idea by his brother and co-publisher Lockwood Phillips, a force of nature and a man of considerable sense of humor with whom I’ve had a long and running relationship of punch lines and one-liners.
Long story short: the good folks at the Carteret County News-Times now print the voice, and this edition is their inaugural press run. We are forever in their debt.
That old friends and new angels come to our aid only tells me that the VOICE is on the right path, in the belief that great community media help build, nurture and sustain great communities.
Yes, I’m calling “the Bull’s Eye” a great community, albeit still in the building phase. In this we have faith. Because I have reason to believe.
Over my head, I hear the flutter of wings.
To make your own contribution, or to contact the VOICE, phone Jock Lauterer at 919-962-6421 or email email@example.com