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New editor reviews Up & Coming Weekly vision, encourages engagement

02 April red and blueThis week, our publisher, Bill Bowman, yields his space to April Olsen, the new editor of Up & Coming Weekly.

It is a good week to be taking over the editor’s seat because this issue of UCW has great information about women, voting, protecting your finances and sage advice on dealing with stress from a dog named Champ.

This week while learning procedures around the UCW office, I also found out that Annie Alexander, a North Carolina native, was the first licensed woman doctor in the American South. On page 6, you can read about how she was tending patients and serving in the Army before she even had the right to vote.

I had never heard of Annie, but it seems fitting that I would read about her this month, as it is the centennial celebration of the U.S. Constitution’s 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. On August 18, 1920, the amendment was ratified. On August 26, 1920, it was certified by the U.S. Secretary of State, allowing eight million women across the U.S. to cast their votes that November.

I also felt a connection to Annie’s story because I, too, served in the Army. Although not a doctor, I traveled to many places around our great nation and ended up at Fort Bragg, right here in Fayetteville, where I retired a few years ago.
Serving in uniform and traveling to countries where citizens have so few rights helped me cherish my own American privilege of voting. It is something I take a lot of pride in, whether I am standing at the polling place or mailing in an absentee ballot.

You can find out information about voting in our cover story on page 13, written by Jeff Thompson. Some of you are active in politics, and some may be registering to vote this year for the first time. Whichever is your situation, I applaud your efforts. Research the issues and the candidates. Speak out for or against. Make your voice heard. Having a say in who our leaders are is one of the greatest things about America.

UCW is committed to helping you research local candidates when we receive submissions from them. On page 8, you can read what issues Dianne Wheatley is passionate about: education, health care, public safety and the economy. Wheatley is running for North Carolina House of Representatives in District 43.

Most of us are also concerned about the economy, especially since COVID-19 has shut down so many businesses and put so many people out of work. A health scare during these times can be especially stressful on a family’s finances. On page 12, we offer a quick review of four key areas to consider if you are in such a situation.

No matter what your circumstances look like, it is important to remember that taking care of yourself and your tribe is a necessity, not an afterthought. Licensed Psychologist Rebecca Crain offers her perspective on page 15.

If none of these articles help you face whatever challenge you are encountering, please flip on over to page 17. On occasion, dealing with a problem may require you to step back and catch your breath. Like Champ, Dan Debruler’s canine companion, you may need to seek refuge in your own quiet space.

Catching our breath is what we have been doing at UCW. Now is a perfect time to state what we want to accomplish in the community and review our vision.

UCW will promote good things happening and work to expose negative things for the good of the community. As social distancing allows, we will continue to highlight plays, concerts, sports, education, celebrations and a patriotic sense of serving a greater purpose.

That sense of purpose reflects our vision for the future of UCW — to share information on the many opportunities in Fayetteville, Fort Bragg and Cumberland County while being a champion of small business, highlighting the people making things happen, providing a platform for the public exchange of ideas and sharing an unapologetic pride for our community.

Our brand of community journalism carries a responsibility to inform, educate and entertain while being fair and honest. As the UCW editor, I will strive to meet this responsibility by including opposing voices and ideas to highlight the diversity we are blessed with in Fayetteville. I encourage our readers to submit your thoughts and ideas.

With so many options for print and online information, we appreciate that you spend some of your time reading Up & Coming Weekly.

Do Black lives matter in a new novel set in Raleigh?

16 Fowler Cover picDo Black lives matter in a good, almost all-white neighborhood in Raleigh?

The Black lives in this neighborhood are two of the main characters in Raleigh author Therese Anne Fowler’s latest novel, “A Good Neighborhood.”

Fowler became a literary hot property following her bestselling “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” in 2013 and “A Well-Behaved Woman” about Alva Smith Vanderbilt in 2018.

The new book opens in the middle of a not unusual neighborhood conflict brought on by the tearing down of an older home that had sat on a wooded lot in Raleigh’s fictional Oakdale neighborhood. The old house and trees have been replaced by a mansion-sized house and swimming pool. The old ambience is gone. That would be bad enough, but the pool construction destroyed the roots of a giant beloved tree next door.

The owner of the doomed tree and adjoining lot is Valerie Alston-Holt, a
college professor who is a well-liked fixture in Oakdale.

Valerie’s new neighbor, Brad Whitman, is a self-confident, self-made man who has built a successful heating and air conditioning business. His personal appearances on TV to promote his business have made him popular and recognizable in Raleigh. He is used to getting his way.

Brad’s wife’s daughter, Juniper, is 17. When she was 14, she and Brad participated in a “Purity Ball.” As Brad explained to a neighbor, “Well, the ball culminates a ceremony wherein the dads promise to protect and support the girls, and the girls promise to stay virgins until after the dads hand them off at their wedding.”

When we first meet Juniper, she is swimming in the new pool.

So, what does all this have to do with Black Lives Matter?

First, Valerie is Black.

Second, she and her late husband, who was white, had a son, Xavier, who is now a senior in high school.

Xavier is near perfect. Smart. Hard working. Courteous and considerate. Popular. A musician good enough to win a scholarship to a fine conservatory in San Francisco.

Xavier is popular with his contemporaries of both races. He cherishes the memory of his dead white father and considers himself to be both white and Black.
But outside of his family and friends, he is just another young Black male.

If you have already guessed that the book’s story line will revolve around a romance between Xavier and Juniper, you have it right.

And if you guess that Brad’s devotion to his stepdaughter and his latent racism might lead to a tragedy exacerbated by Xavier’s skin color, you already understand the Black Lives Matter connection to the story.

Fowler’s novel has appeared at a time when the Oprah-selected and bestselling novel “American Dirt” has been roundly criticized for having been written by an author who had not actually experienced the culture she so vividly described.
In short, the question for Fowler’s book is whether a white author can successfully write about Black characters such as Valerie and Xavier?

Critics have different opinions about “A Good Neighborhood.”

In The New York Times, reviewer Kiley Reid said no. She wrote, “Much like Uncle Tom, Xavier, the perfect biracial teenager, is presented as a nonthreatening fantasy for the book’s white
audience.”

On the other hand, Washington Post reviewer Jung Yun writes, “What Fowler has executed is a book in which the Black characters are thoughtfully rendered and essential to the story being told. Valerie and Xavier’s perspectives enrich and complicate a larger narrative about prejudice and how it can infiltrate even the most neighborly and seemingly open-minded of communities.”

I agree with Jung Yun. Fowler deserves admiration and praise for carefully developing her characters and telling a disturbing story that makes her readers confront Black Lives Matter.

A response to Dr. Anderson’s ‘Attack on city leaders was unwarranted’

02 01 city of fay logoThe July 31 edition of The Fayetteville Observer ran an opinion piece by Dr. James Anderson, former chancellor of Fayetteville State University, rebutting a Publisher’s Pen printed in Up & Coming Weekly July 21. Former contributor to UCW, Karl Merritt, took issue with some of Anderson’s points and reached out to both The Observer and UCW. He shares his thoughts below.

On Sunday evening, Aug. 2, I read an opinion piece by Dr. James Anderson, former chancellor of Fayetteville State University. His comments appeared in the 31 July edition of The Fayetteville Observer. Primarily, Dr. Anderson very strongly condemned what Bill Bowman, publisher of Up & Coming Weekly newspaper, wrote in a column titled, “Leadership: What Fayetteville needs now.” It appeared in the 21 July issue.

Almost five years ago, Bill Bowman invited me to write a column for his newspaper. We agreed that I would do so. My column was in the paper every other week until just recently when I ended it in order to take on some other projects. Over the years, I got to know Bill Bowman; got to see his love for others and for Fayetteville. I also quickly grew to appreciate his willingness to speak forthrightly regarding the challenging issues of our time. Consequently, reading what Dr. Anderson wrote was a gut-wrenching experience.

The following paragraph from Bill’s column gives a good feel for what apparently sent Anderson on his tear. Bowman writes that there is “… plotting to take away our freedoms and our country.”

The next paragraph says: “Fayetteville is only one microcosm of that malicious movement, and it boils down to our leadership. Or, in Fayetteville’s case, our lack of leadership. Mayor Mitch Colvin and Police Chief Gina Hawkins have perpetrated a harsh injustice on our community by not implementing and demonstrating leadership that is representative of the safety and well-being of all the citizens of the Fayetteville community. By encouraging, endorsing and siding with the protesting Black community, they left the white, Asian, Hispanic and Native American Fayetteville citizens wondering what happened to their representation and assurance of safety and protection?”

Anderson starts by accusing Bowman of “confounding several things.” I read the publisher’s point to be succinct. He says Mayor Colvin and Police Chief Gina Hawkins failed this community when they did not allow police and other appropriate personnel to stop the damage to property that took place during a protest downtown on May 30. That is a statement of fact. Mayor Colvin has made it clear that a decision was made not to attempt to stop the damaging of buildings. His argument was that the consequences would likely have been made worse by police intervention. The problem with that assessment is that government had a responsibility to protect those downtown properties. Failure to do so rightfully allows for questioning city leadership.

Then comes three comments from Anderson regarding Bowman’s statement that the actions “perpetrated a harsh injustice on our community.” The first contends that “leaders should be evaluated on their complete portfolio of work and not single incidents.” I contend that failure to protect those properties was so egregious that, taken alone, there is sufficient reason to question the quality and fairness of city leadership. However, go on to consider the chaos created by how city leadership has, and is, handling calls for tearing down the Market House, building the North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center, protesters camping out at the Market House to the detriment of downtown businesses, and promoting a climate conducive to economic growth. None of these issues are being addressed in a productive and unifying fashion.

Then Dr. Anderson writes, “Second, we have no right to assign motives for their actions if we have not asked them.” For all the time that I have been writing for publication, it has been my practice to give individuals about whom I write an opportunity to give me input. I have gone so far as to allow subjects to review my text for accuracy. I have consistently followed this process with Mayor Colvin. After the first couple of exchanges, when the mayor obviously disagreed with my opinions, he stopped responding to my email offers to consider his input.

The latest instance of no response from Mayor Colvin was an email I sent to him and all members of Council. It was sent on 16 July 2020. To date, I have not heard from the mayor. In fact, only a minuscule number of Council members have bothered to respond. That email offered each of them an opportunity to address an opinion piece that I am writing and the email summarized my focus as follows (The full email is available at karlmerritt.com under “Blog”.) “The focus is on how individuals, governmental officials, and various entities have responded, and continue to respond, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. It seems to me that the resulting efforts are so heavily focused on various conditions allegedly negatively affecting Black Americans that the white population is being neglected while, even worse, being painted as the enemy. Note, I am not alone in this thinking. I saw a post on Nextdoor recently where a lady said exactly the same thing. She and I are not alone.”

The point here is that I have zero belief that Mayor Colvin would have responded if Bill Bowman had attempted to contact him. Further, from reliable media reports and input from people in the downtown area, Bowman had sound substantiation for everything he wrote.

After a brief third point commending people who take on major responsibilities, Anderson moves to the prevailing argument that there are genuine protesters, then rioters and looters. Then comes his contention that because rioters and looters constitute a smaller percentage than the protesters, there should be conversation as to how their disruptions might be addressed. It would appear to me the first step should be to stop them from damaging the property of other people, while adversely impacting livelihoods. As to conversation, it would be interesting to see what groups would actually be invited and which voices would seriously be heard. In today’s environment, my guess is that white Americans need not expect an invitation and, if invited, should not speak unless they follow the Black Lives Matter script.

In the event all else fails, now Bowman gets hit with the race card. Anderson writes, “This is not the first time that Bill has applied the broad brushstrokes of race to indict a Black person.” Without giving the Black person’s name, he recounts how Bowman “…placed a Black man’s face on the cover of his newspaper and inserted this man’s face onto a facsimile of a wanted poster. This person’s purported crime was that he was running for public office while being investigated for some questionable personal quandaries.”

He is referring to Tyrone Williams, who was serving on Fayetteville City Council in early 2018. Following is a section from an article in The Fayetteville Observer by Greg Barnes titled, “Williams resigns council seat”:
“Williams came under fire nearly a month ago after The Fayetteville Observer published a secret audio recording of a December meeting during which he told a developer that he could resolve a minor issue with a property title for $15,000. The council immediately asked Williams to resign. When he refused, the council began a process of forcible removal that would have taken a few months.”

Williams was forced from office because of his action that Dr. Anderson characterizes as “some questionable personal quandaries.” He further minimizes the situation by saying that, to his knowledge, Williams has never been convicted. Was it wise for Bill Bowman to use that wanted poster in America’s “with no proof or fairness, racist around every corner” atmosphere? No. Does it show him to be racist? Absolutely not.

Finally, Anderson challenges Bowman’s contention that people are afraid to speak up; Bill lays those fears out. Anderson apparently thinks Bill’s comments here only apply to white citizens. I know, firsthand, that what he says in this regard is absolutely true. I hear it from Black and white citizens. The unsettling treatment I receive as a conservative Black Republican would apparently shock Dr. Anderson. Anybody who follows Bill Bowman’s advice and speaks up better be prepared for rough seas; but he is right, we better speak up and take action.

I have tremendous respect for Dr. James Anderson, but I will not be quiet in the face of his unjustified broadside on Bill Bowman.

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Picture: Spirited debate is a sign of a healthy democracy and has the power to bridge differences and influence change.
Up & Coming Weekly encourages the civil public discourse of ideas, which is a hallmark of our great republic.

Life is just a bowl of cherries

03 IMG 2628Have you been enjoying the year of our Lord, the very festive 2020? So far, it has been really swell, what with the Rona, the riots and the rational reactions. If you have spent any time on social media, you may think that 2020 thus far has stunk. Perish the thought. In a continuing effort to keep on the sunny side of the street, today’s stain on world literature will highlight some of the good things that have happened so far. Sit back, light up a stogie, pour a glass of your favorite adult beverage, and take a ride on the Reading Railroad to Happy Town, U.S.A.

Like the Overlook Hotel in “The Shining,” misquoting Mr. Halloran: “Lots of things have happened in 2020, and not all of them was good.” So, while the smell of burned toast may hang heavily in the air when you ponder the progress of 2020, as long as you stay out of Room 237 on your calendar, you should be OK. But you have no reason to go into Room 237 of 2020. So, stay out! There are places in 2020 that you should avoid. This column is not going into Room 237. You can get all the horror and anger you need by reading your social media feed. Today we shall put on a happy face.

Let us begin. Some really bad things that have not happened in 2020. There has been no invasion of body snatchers. The only evil pods that have shown up are the mystery seeds mailed here from our Chinese friends. There is no truth to your suspicion that evil Pods from another planet have replaced the loved ones with whom you have been confined while sheltering in place for the last five months. They are still the same people who existed in February — before cabin fever set in. They are not aliens from another planet, despite what you may think. It is still safe to go to sleep. You will not turn into a Pod. Take Sominex tonight and sleep safe and restful, sleep, sleep, sleep.

There has been no attack of the Mole Men this year. The Mole Men remain underground, digging diligently but silently like the Pennsylvania Miners unit of Union Army at the Battle of the Crater during the siege of Petersburg in the Civil War. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee the Mole Men won’t erupt if Dear Leader loses the election and refuses to leave office, triggering Civil War 2. To be on the safe side, buy a barrel of Talprid Mole Bait for any pesky infestations of Mole Men who may pop up in your yard after the election.

Another cheery thought for those of you who are gifted with the weight of many winters is that Soylent Green has not yet been suggested as a remedy for Social Security’s accounting issues — too many people, too little money. For those who don’t remember this excellent 1973 movie, “Soylent Green” is set in the far distant future of 2022. Life is grim, overpopulation, pollution and not enough food to go around. A big corporation has a monopoly on a food supplement called Soylent Green, which is supposedly made of plankton. It turns out Soylent Green is actually made of ground-up excess people. If the U.S. Department of Agriculture starts pushing Soylent Green instead of government cheese for the masses of unemployed Americans, at that point, you may legitimately begin to worry.

Recently TCM showed Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds.” So far, homicidal birds have been confined to Bodega Bay, California and Tippi Hendren’s bouffant hairdo. To be on the safe side, keep feeding the birds. We don’t want to rile them up. Birds descended from dinosaurs. There are more of them than there are of us. Mr. Google says there are about 7.5 billion people in the world versus about 200 to 400 billion birds. Keep buying bird seed, and all will be well.

There are good things that have happened, not just bad things that have not yet occurred in 2020. For example, Lassie came home and Timmy got out of the well. That’s a plus. Despite demands from Marvin the Martian to quarantine Earth due to the Rona, NASA recently launched the Perseverance Rover on a mission to Mars. The Rover will look for signs of life, and possibly bring Martian rocks back to Earth. Unless Marvin is able to build a great big beautiful Martian wall to keep us out, Earth will be knocking on Marvin’s door in February 2021. We shall boldly go where no man has gone before to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations and to spread Rona across the universe.

Now don’t you feel better already? There is some good stuff out there. Kindly focus on it. As John Prine once sang, “Blow up your TV/ Throw away your paper/ Move to the country/ Build you a home/ Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches/ Try and find Jesus on your own.”

As Floyd the barber once told Andy, “Time heals everything. Know who said that? My Latin teacher at barber college.”

The gift of marriage

16 N1907P37002CMy wife and I share a date with one of America's most memorable and celebrated events.

On the 20th of July in 1969, America claimed its place in history as the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle landed and the first human walked on the face of the moon. We heard those famous words, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” as they were first spoken and television news large and small worked tirelessly to deliver even the most minute detail of the historic event to a waiting world.

Just 10 years later, on July 20, 1979, Dorothy Aafedt said, “I do” in a remarkably unremarkable ceremony. Unlike the NASA mission, there were no television crews, no microphones or calculated illustrations — just a pair of kids surrounded by a couple of friends and family in a courtroom in southern Arizona. At the time, it seemed like a small step, but it has proven to be a giant leap as we've continued to mark time since that date. We recently celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary, and it's given me cause to reflect on all that's transpired since our historic first steps.

Time has allowed us several years in Europe with our three children and a home on both the east and west coasts of the United States. The small, quiet union of two youngsters from Kansas gave way to an eventual family of 18 — counting grandchildren and spouses. All but one now call North Carolina home.

As a military family, we share memories of being diverted en route — never once landing at our intended destination at the point of our departure. We've relocated to Germany as our belongings relocated to Okinawa and have lived in hotels and motels on two continents, while making new friends time and again.

Over the course of the last four decades, one thing has become evident: there is nothing more important in a marriage than the relationship between husband and wife. When other things became more important, such as careers, children, and personal pursuits, trouble isn't far behind. Though I've failed miserably at this on occasion, the facts show that when we make the relationship our top priority, the marriage
flourishes.

Just like any other married couple, we've had our share of trials. From the lack of to the abundance of money to devastating loss and health crises, we've navigated a lot of territory in the past four decades. And honestly, I don't know how we would have fared had we not put our faith in Christ early in the game.

God has proven trustworthy. When we faced struggles, we've been able to lean on the promise that there is more to this life than living and dying or meeting and missing bills. Even death has stared us in the face, but with God in our corner, though our knees have gotten weak at times, we never blinked.

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