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Losing Randall Kenan

14 71C4RqYdxtLHe had to tell me that my beloved Uncle Remus was not coming back — ever. Randall Kenan was jovial, kind and wise, not unlike the Uncle Remus he was taking away from me.

Kenan, died last week at a much too early 57. Like Uncle Remus, he was an expert on trickster stories, mainly based on legends from Africa and about animals and mischievous creatures who were cunning and smart and had an ability to somehow get around the powerful and the oppressive by tricking them.

That, I said, is just like Br’er Fox who tricked Br’er Rabbit into hitting and getting stuck in a tar baby figure.

Then the rabbit told the fox he could do anything with him, but “Please don’t throw me in the briar patch.” So, of course, the fox threw the rabbit in the briar patch, where the rabbit called out happily, “I was born and bred in the briar patch.”

I told Kenan that I loved these stories told by the old African American man to the young white boy, the son or grandson perhaps of the owner of the farm where Uncle Remus spent his life.

Kenan explained that the African-based trickster stories had been appropriated by a white man, Joel Chandler Harris, who put the stories into the mouth of Uncle Remus, who was a caricature of a subservient and happy black man, content with his subservient condition.

I tried to persuade Kenan to take the trickster tales and repurpose them. Reframe them, I said, so that current and future generations would have the same benefit of the wisdom that I had found in the Uncle Remus stories.

Kenan did not preach to me about the underlying racism in the Uncle Remus stories. He just smiled, shook his head, and said simply, “I don’t think I want to do that.”

Kenan had multiple other projects that worked better for him. In 1989, he published his first novel, “A Visitation of Spirits.” In 1992 came a collection of short stories, “Let the Dead Bury Their Dead.”

In 1999 he published “Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century,” a much admired account of his journey to African American communities across America.

A book of his short stories, “If I had Two Wings,” came out just a few
weeks ago.

Most important for him, he had his students at UNC-Chapel Hill to care for.

I liked him best when he wrote about food. In 2016, he edited “Carolina Table: North Carolina Writers on Food,” a beautiful set of essays about food in the South.

His essay in that collection was based on the foods served at funerals in his native Duplin County, specifically what neighbors brought when his great uncle died.

“People showing up heavy-laden with food to the homes of the recently deceased. Hams, fried chicken, oven-baked barbecue chicken, pork chops smothered in gravy, dirty rice, Spanish rice, potato salad galore, slaw, sweet potato casseroles, candied yams, hushpuppies, cornbread, soup, chopped pork barbecue, collard greens, pound cake, chocolate cake, coconut cake, pineapple cake, red velvet cake, sweet potato pie, lemon meringue pie.”

Kenan appeared on North Carolina Bookwatch twice and was guest host two other-times.

Those four programs are worth watching just to see the cheerful smiling twinkling eyes shining from his dark face.

At another time he could have passed for a younger Uncle Remus, but his wisdom, quiet intensity, and commitment to racial justice always shone through on Bookwatch whether he was asking or answering questions.

Thanks to his wise counsel, I have learned to live without Uncle Remus. But I am not sure how I am ever going to learn to live without Randall Kenan.

Some N.C. Republicans: We didn't leave our party, it left us

Back in 1984 when I was running for Congress, I ran into older people who explained why they could not support me, saying, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. It left me.”

Even in those days, the Democratic Party still had many conservatives who were loyal adherents. They had grown up in the times when the Democratic Party was more conservative than the other party. Some of those older Democrats were slow to give up their heritage and break away from the group in which they grew up.

But as the support in the Democratic Party for school desegregation, voting rights, Civil Rights, equal treatment in the workplace, and expanding the role of government in providing public resources to meet the needs of poor and underserved communities were viewed with skepticism by once loyal Democrats.

Republicans responded with a “southern strategy” that played to these concerns and, more and more, as time passed, former Democrats left their party. “I didn’t leave my party. It left me.”

Even after more than 35 years I remember that refrain.

Today, in the age of Trump, some North Carolina Republicans are, with regret, leaving their party, explaining, “I didn’t leave my party. It left me.”

In the Aug. 24 edition of The New Yorker, Peter Slevin wrote about three Republican members of the Transylvania board of commissioners who have given up their party affiliation.

Forgive this personal aside. One of the happiest summers of my life was spent in that mountain county in 1958, when I was a counselor at Camp Carolina near Brevard. On overnight hikes I told my campers ghost stories about Dracula. I had them believing that there was a connection between Dracula’s home in Europe’s Transylvania region and the Transylvania County where they were camping.

The three commissioners party change began when the commission’s chair, Mike Hawkins, heard about President Donald Trump’s speech at East Carolina University on July 17, 2019. The president attacked four Democratic congressional representatives and women of color, saying that they were “hate-filled extremists” and “You know, they don’t love our country.”

In response to the president’s attack on Representative Ilhan Omar, the crowd at ECU chanted, “Send her back!”

According to Slevin, at the next board meeting, Hawkins “called out the president saying that what happened was racist. It’s important that people identify hate for what it is—a poison to our state and to our country. And I wanted to say in a very public way that for whatever time I have remaining as an elected official, I will oppose this poison every way I can.”

After Hawkins, two other Republicans on the board, Page Ives Lemel and David Guice, offered words of support. Five months later, all three resigned from the Republican Party.

They could have been saying, “We didn’t leave our party. It left us.”

Guice had been a long-time active Republican and served two terms in the General Assembly.

Page Lemel owns and runs Camp Keystone near Brevard, as did her late father, Bill Ives, whom I knew when he served in the General Assembly in the 1990s. Bill Ives was conservative, public-spirited, open-minded and open-hearted, like his daughter.

Another prominent Republican in the mountains, former North Carolina State Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr, has broken with the president. He spent his life supporting the party and working for good causes until 2016 when he could not support Trump’s candidacy.

This year he is working hard against Trump, but refuses to leave his party. Obviously, he thinks he is more of a real Republican than the president.

Lemel says she has no intention of reversing her decision. That, Slevin writes, raises questions about the future of the GOP. History and logic suggest that the Party must pivot toward the center to remain viable in the years ahead.”

Or others will be saying, “We didn’t leave our party. It left us.”

 

Pictured Left to right:  Mike Hawkins, Page Ives Lemel, David Guice.

17 01 Hawkins Mike

17 03 David Guice 517 02 Lemel Page

How to avoid Civil War II

04 IMG 3238Has the world been too much with you lately, Binky? Social isolation and mask fights with total strangers getting you down? Can you remember B.C., the time Before Corona? Recall those thrilling days of B.C. when you could go to a restaurant without worrying the patron who coughed was going to send you into the tender arms of a ventilator to enjoy chemically induced coma dreams. We are now living in A.T., or the After Times. The Rona, like the Force, is with us. Times are frustrating if you believe in The Rona.

What if you don’t believe in The Rona? You are just as frustrated. In your world, the Rona talk is just fake news and fake dead people. Americans believing in Rona are sheeple to be scorned, or worse. You know the truth, and they don’t. The After Times is double-plus ungood because you are surrounded by dummies. According to Mr. Google, the QAnon believe “that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles running a global child sex trafficking ring is plotting against Donald Trump, who is battling them.” That’s a pretty dark place in which to live. No wonder you are upset.

One subset of Americans believes in A, and another subgroup believes in Not-A. This might not work out well. With the shutdown of much of the economy, many Americans are spending time binge-watching their personal cable news silo and social media feed, leaving little time for interaction with Americans who don’t believe as they do. If you don’t talk to people with different beliefs, it is easy to believe that your team is righteous, and the other team are evildoers who should be
locked away.

As the column ‘Can this marriage be saved’ in Ladies Home Journal used to ask back in the 1950s, can the American marriage be saved? Sure, it can. We need to find something both sides can agree upon. Like Merlin the magician, I have the answer to bring us together again. It is too much to expect both sides will like the same thing. Positivity is so 20th Century. If we can’t find something both sides like, admire the other side of the coin to find something both sides can dislike.

Negativity, like Bit O’ Honey candy’s old slogan, goes a long, long way. Hate will bring us together.

So, what should we hate collectively? Can’t be the Russians, as one side admires Putin’s strongman tactics. I pondered this question for at least five minutes before coming up with the answer. Like John Prine once said, “I’ve got muscles in my head that have never been used.”

Suddenly, a muscle in my head twitched. Imitating Archimedes in the bathtub, I yelled” Eureka!” I found the solution. Obnoxious TV commercials were the answer. These ads show up on Fox and CNN. They reach both audiences in America.

Everybody hates certain ads. Everybody sees them. Hate is all you need to reunite the country. As someone once said about the boxer Riddick Bowe, I had a spasm of lucidity which might save the country from Civil War 2.

Ponder the Navage Nose Cleaner ads for a product that will make your sinuses so clean that you can eat off them. It has salt pods. It has powered suction. It will suck the dust mites and cooties right out of your head with a device that resembles the space creature from the movie “Alien.” Remember that great scene in “Alien” where a critter jumps out of a space egg and attaches itself to John Hurt’s helmet and then into his sinuses? Every time I see the Navage ad, I think of a hungry space alien yearning to suck out my brains. It would not be much of a meal. But it is an ad that Don Draper of Sterling Cooper would be proud of because it is as obnoxious as it is unforgettable.

Another product which could unite Americans in dislike is “Pure Zzzs,” which Vicks advertises as Kidz Melatonin Gummies. It is a blend of “botanical essential oils, including lavender and chamomile,” which will put little Jimmy to sleep naturally without drugs. The ad says Zzzs are “natural berry-flavored gummies. Convenient and great tasting gummies that kids love — so you both will be looking forward to bedtime.” Remember candy cigarettes that tobacco companies used to push to get kids started on the sophistication of smoking? Mom, Pop and the little tyke will all look forward to Junior taking a hit of melatonin gummies to go to sleep and stop whining. It’s a win-win situation for everyone, particularly for Vicks. What could go wrong with a product that tastes yummy and puts kids to sleep? Kids would never think to dose themselves with what they think is candy would they?

Hate will keep us together. Think of commercials you can’t stand. Call up a former friend you stopped speaking to due to their political views. Tell them about commercials you hate. Renew “Auld Lang Syne.” Sing them some modified love songs substituting “Hate” for “Love.” Ask them to sing along with you. Here are some suggestions: The Bee Gees “How Deep Is Your Hate?” Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Hatred.” Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Hate.” Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in

Hate.” Sinead O’Conner’s “Nothing Compares to Hate.” Celine Dionne’s “The Power of Hate.” Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Hate You.”

You get the idea. All you need is hate to make America united again. Find an ad you despise and share it with a former friend. Instead of hating each other, hate commercials. It’s the American way.

Fayetteville Police arrest 40-plus following riots, more to follow

05 fayetteville police departmentIt has been reported that over 40 arrests have been made so far in the destruction and looting of the Walmart store located on Skibo Rd. during the violent protests and riots that raged in Fayetteville on May 30.

More arrests are expected as the Fayetteville Police Department continues its ongoing investigation as to who was involved in the looting and destruction of personal property in downtown Fayetteville and the attempt to burn down Fayetteville’s National Historic Landmark Market House.

The protest that began in downtown Fayetteville moved swiftly that evening to Cross Creek Mall, where J.C. Penney and other stores were looted and damaged.

City residents were able to watch the melee on televison and the internet as glass doors were broken and items such as televisons, electronics and clothing were carried out of stores.

Forty arrests are just the beginning of this enormous undertaking.

Fayetteville law enforcement officers are working diligently sifting through hundreds of videos and photos trying to identify the suspects.

Even with overtime and the publics assistance, it will likely take months to complete the full investigation.

A myriad criminal charges could result from the rioting, breaking and entering, larceny and destruction of public and private property.

Penalties for these crimes could draw up to two years in prison depending on a person’s criminal record.

Many local residents and business owners are curious to find out whether these criminal perpetrators were local residents or outside agitators like Antifa brought in to cause chaos and mayhem in support of the emerging Marxist/Socialist movement.

According to local news sources, District Attorney Billy West is on the record as being committed to handling each case individually to assure the rule of law is applied evenly and fairly to keep the process free of political influence.

Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin agrees. “While the city is committed to the First Amendment rights of free speech and peaceful protest, this sends a clear message that we are equally committed to holding those accountable who chose to engage in riotous and unlawful activities in our great city.”

These are reassuring words to Fayetteville citizens who are witnessing in real time the rioting, destruction, devastation and chaos taking place in cities where crime is ignored, police and law enforcement are disrespected, criminals go unpunished and crime victims are ignored as collateral damage.

It is refreshing to know that our mayor, police chief, district attorney and the men and women of the Fayetteville Police Department are working diligently together to pursue justice and keep our community safe and out of harm’s way during these very trying times.

Fayetteville/Cumberland County welcomes new industry, congratulates hometown utility PWC

03 01 PWC FHUIn spite of COVID-19 and Gov. Roy Cooper’s expansion to Phase 2.5, Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin and I had an in-depth conversation last week about the many opportunities (and challenges) facing our community.

We both agreed we had much to be thankful for and even more to look forward to in the near future. Despite COVID-19, Market House debates and Proud Boy infiltrators, there are good things happening in Fayetteville and Cumberland County.

Recently, the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation, under the leadership of CEO Robert Van Geons, announced that Dansons, a manufacturer of BBQ pellet grills and related equipment selected Fayetteville as their newest location for a distribution and customer service call center.

The facility will be located on Technology Drive and will create an estimated 118 full-time jobs for our community as well as a $10 million investment with growth potential two and a half times that. This is great news! Kudo’s to Mr. Van Geons, for shepherding this project through by working closely with the North Carolina Department of Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

Other key partners assisted in the recruiting and coordinating efforts by securing $400,000 from North Carolina’s “One NC Grant” and, a $175,000 job creation grant from our Cumberland County Commissioners.

In addition, the North Carolina Community College System provided a $91,000 training grant which will be managed by Fayetteville Technical Community College. This is a near perfect example that “it takes a village” to develop and secure successful economic development projects. It also takes dedicated leadership, keen minds and vision for what we want Fayetteville and Cumberland County to be for future generations.

Another recent example of leadership and vision was the action taken by the management team of our hometown utility PWC with its responsive customer service and quick reaction in assisting local customers dealing with the financial hardships created by the pandemic.

In March Gov. Cooper issued an executive order governing billing and utility cutoff procedures statewide. On July 29 these restrictions on billing and disconnects were lifted making normal utility usage payments due. Anticipating the difficulty and hardships some customers would experience in paying their bills, PWC automatically implemented special payment terms on past due balances extending payments over a six month period for all their customers. This was no small task since it affected nearly 30,000 local PWC customers and represented millions of dollars in past
due fees.

In addition, PWC has made customer service representatives available to counsel and direct those customers who still have difficulty with their payments to local resources and agencies for assistance. By being proactive and coming to the aid of local residents, PWC demonstrates the kind of dedication, commitment, talent, business leadership and vision that builds and maintains prosperous communities. It is doubtful that many utility companies across the country operate or respond to their customers like Fayetteville’s hometown utility.

I admit these are crazy times for everyone. COVID-19 and this annoying pandemic won’t last forever. Neither will the masks! No doubt this community has the resources, people and talent to attract organizations and great industries like Dansons. By working together (city, county, media), communicating with one another, sharing ideas, visions, and encouraging dynamic leadership, Fayetteville can be one of North Carolina’s greatest cities. Agree? Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

 

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