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Carolinian led women into medicine

04 01 Annie Lowrie AlexanderExcluding people based on their race, sex or other characteristics doesn’t just keep those individuals from pursuing their dreams. And it doesn’t just violate moral principles of human dignity and equality. It does great harm to others.

Think of it this way: among every human population that has ever existed, there is a wide range of skills, aptitudes and personal preferences. Some are good at talking, others at counting. Some thrive in large teams and crowds, others in small groups or solitary ventures. Healthy communities allow people to find their best “fit,” the best possible way to apply their distinctive combinations of talents to serve others.

Because some goods and services are particularly challenging to produce, requiring either special gifts or lengthy study to master, only some of us will be able to do such jobs really well. That’s why casting the largest net we can makes us all better off. It makes it more likely we will get what we need or want.

And that’s why discrimination, in addition to being wrong, is so foolishly self-destructive. It keeps companies from hiring the best people and serving the most customers. It throttles innovation. It makes our families and communities poorer.
When only white men were allowed to become doctors, for example, that artificially restricted the quantity and quality of medical care. One reason we are, on average, much healthier than our grandparents and great-grandparents is that healers of great skill, daring and determination smashed through that barrier.

One of them was Annie Alexander. She was the first woman to become a licensed physician in the American South. As I continue my survey of pathbreaking North Carolinians who deserve greater acclaim, and commemoration in the form of statues and other monuments, the case for Annie Alexander seems irrefutable.

The daughter of prominent Charlotte physician John Brevard Alexander and his wife, the original Annie Alexander, the young Annie was only 14 years old when a horrifying event prompted her to choose her path in life. It was 1878, and medical care for women was hampered by both law and custom. Out of modesty, a female patient of her father’s refused to allow him to conduct a full examination. The patient died.

Young Annie’s horror hardened into determination. After beginning her training under her father’s tutelage, Annie went off to medical school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ultimately moving to Baltimore, Maryland, to practice and teach medicine. When she and 99 men took Maryland’s licensing exam in 1885, Annie Alexander earned the highest score.

A bout of tuberculosis took her to Florida, then home to North Carolina, where she began a solo practice. It was revolutionary for women in the Charlotte area to be able to see a female doctor, although her practice wasn’t limited to women. And as it grew, Annie Alexander attracted both acclaim and opprobrium.

Some of her own relatives refused to have anything to do with her. Accepting whoever was willing to seek treatment, Annie struggled at first to pay her bills. She was “received with cold indifference by the professions and open curiosity by the laity,” she later wrote.

But Annie Alexander persevered. She joined the North Carolina Medical Society. In 1903, she cofounded the Mecklenburg County Medical Society, serving as its first secretary-treasurer and as its first female president a few years later. She cared for patients in local hospitals and for 23 years served what is now Queens University as its physician.

During World War I, Doctor Annie Alexander became Lieutenant Annie Alexander, treating soldiers at Camp Greene and helping to lead Charlotte’s fight against the Spanish flu epidemic. She served on dozens of boards and commissions. She championed freedom and equality. “Women nowadays,” she wrote, “can no more be withheld from her public duty than she can be exempt from taxes.”

Annie Alexander is commemorated by a historical marker on Charlotte’s Tryon Street. She deserves a great deal more than that, I think. Her influence extended statewide and beyond. Let’s honor her accordingly.

Keep on keeping on

03 01 5damesIn August seven years ago, five local women — all dear friends — and I were knee-deep in trying to put off an original stage performance, and only one of us had any idea what we were doing.

Bo Thorp, a founder of Cape Fear Regional Theatre and its longtime Creative Director, knows more than a thing or two about theater, but the rest of us were blanks slates, veterans of different worlds altogether. Bo had recruited us to tell our life stories onstage, which entailed writing them, trying to memorize them —although we had cheat sheets — learning how to move around on a stage in the proper order with music and overcoming stage jitters. Our little band included corporate CEO Terri Union; former teacher, Fayetteville City Council member, and Cumberland County Commissioner Rollin Shaw; real estate mogul Suzanne Pennink; Army brat turned judge and former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson; and me.

We bonded, named ourselves “The Dames You Thought You Knew,” and much to our surprise, performed to four sold-out audiences. We had been expecting family and friends. Human beings are innately curious about each other, though, and it was fascinating to learn about the lives of people we thought we knew well, but really did not. Some of it was funny — teenaged disasters and first loves. Some of it was painful — divorces and lost elections. All of it was very real. Years later, Bo conceived of and put together another performance, “LumBees: Women of the Dark Water,” featuring women of Lumbee heritage and put it on at CRFT. It, too, was an instant hit.

Seven years creates lots of change, and the Dames have been through our share. Three of us now live away from Fayetteville, mostly for family reasons. Two of us have been widowed. More grandchildren have arrived, and all but two of us are officially retired.

Those two Dames are still going at it in the working-world arena. Suzanne Pennink continues to work successfully in local real estate and is a downtown Fayetteville booster extraordinaire. She and her husband live downtown and open their city center home for various charitable causes. Pat Timmons-Goodson, the youngest of the Dames, whom the rest of us called “our baby,” continues her life’s work for justice in all areas of American life, having served as a Cumberland County prosecutor, a judge and a Justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court. She served as Vice-Chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights as an extension of her judicial work. She is the backbone of her large, extended family as well.

This year, Pat has volunteered for a new challenge as well. She is running for Congress and would be the first Fayetteville resident to represent us since Charlie Rose left office more than 20 years ago. She has chosen to take this on during one of the most toxic political climates in American history. The Dames are behind her all the way.

COVID-19 has given all of us plenty of time to think and reflect, and prominent among my thoughts these days are the value of deep and long-running friendships and how they shape and enrich our lives. Another is how time alters us all, sometimes so slowly we are not even aware of the changes and sometimes with knocks that take our breaths away. The Dames have evolved since this time in 2013, but each of us continues to play roles in our communities, whatever they may be at this point. Keeping on keeping on is one of life’s enduring lessons as well.

Pictured (left-right): Margaret Dickson, Suzanne Pennink, Terri Union, Rollin Shaw, Patricia Timmons-Goodson.

 

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.

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.

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.”

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