Carrboro Commons

Ridin’ the J Bus: J.R. and his saxophone

Posted on April 14th, 2011 in Features,J Bus,Music,Uncategorized by jock

Michael Bloom
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Back during the Jazz Age in New York City, you took the A Train to get to Harlem. But to get most everywhere in Carrboro, you take the J Bus. In the spirit of Charles Kuralt’s dictum that everyone has a story, Commons reporter Michael Bloom jumped on the J Bus and selected a rider to interview at random.

Jesse “J.R.” Rainey would love to go back to the summer when he was 12 years old.

It was the first time he was introduced to the saxophone, while sitting in church.

Jesse "J.R." Rainey has been playing saxophone for eight years. He's also a jazz enthusiast. He plays a sonata-style Lagara sax (Staff photo by Michael Bloom).

“I told myself then and there that this is what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.

Now 19, the Chapel Hill resident is an eight-year veteran of the instrument and considers himself a student of jazz — his favorite musical genre.

He brings his saxophone almost everywhere he goes, especially on the J Bus, traveling to and from University Commons, where he lives. Currently unemployed, Rainey frequently plays on Franklin Street in front of the Varsity Theater with other aspiring musicians.

“Saxophone was all I was ever really good at,” he said. “It allows me to escape. I see myself playing it my whole life. And I want to make it big.”

Rainey said he has grown a lot as a player since he picked up his first sax in 2003. He has seen his craft transform from being an amateur to a respected musician.

“When I started I was just awful,” he said. “I didn’t know which end to play out of. I stepped to the sax because in school I wasn’t really too popular, so I didn’t have a lot going for me. That’s when I said I really want to be serious about saxophone.”

Rainey was a member of the Southeast Falcon Marching Band in high school at Southeast Guilford High in Greensboro as a saxophonist. He plays a sonata-style Lagara saxophone and said his dream would be to play a Selmer Super Action 80 saxophone, which costs around $3,000.

He has played at Zydeco Downtown Restaurant and Jazz Lounge in Raleigh, along with various church bands and nightclubs in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area. He started performing at 14 and said he’s moved past his nerves and has dreams of playing in front of a large audience.

“I would love to have a sellout concert at He’s Not Here on Franklin Street,” he said. “I don’t think I’d be nervous. I would be more ready than I’ve ever been.”

Rainey’s favorite living jazz musician is James Carter, saying he admires his old-time, traditional style. He also likes New York rappers Jay-Z and Max B, trying to incorporate hip-hop into his repertoire.

But his all-time favorite musician is John Coltrane.

“He started jazz,” Rainey said. “He was one of the first cats doing his thing, and I really respect him for that.”

Rainey was born in Greensboro, but lived in Brooklyn for seven years. He’s since moved to Chapel Hill and  lives with his grandparents.

He said he loves the peacefulness of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area. He loves how music savvy Carrboro is, saying it helped him get acclimated to a new community.

He said he looks for jobs on Franklin Street frequently, but hasn’t gotten lucky yet. He wants to save up to go to UNC-Chapel Hill, but said being a “big-time” musician overseas is his ultimate goal.

Until his next move, it’s Franklin Street’s stage where he will showcase his craft.

“I’ve made a lot of sacrifices for this,” Rainey said. “Growing up I didn’t really have much of a social life, so playing saxophone took up most of my time.

“But I think it’s paying off.”

For a printer-friendly version of this story, click here.

‘Plutopia’ spices up Carrboro

Posted on April 14th, 2011 in Features,Food,Music by jock

By Trevor Kapp

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Pluto Richards stands next to his sauce at Weaver Street Market, where he worked for two years after moving to Carrboro from New York City. (Staff photo by Trevor Kapp)

As a child growing up in the parish of Saint Andrew in eastern Jamaica, Pluto Richards did not take Tylenol when he had a headache or a cold. Instead, he would wait as his parents went to some nearby bushes to find the right combination of herbs and spices for a healing tea.

“You get better,” Richards said. “I grew up like that—seeing how my parents utilized herbs.”

When he was 15, Richards left Saint Andrew, Jamaica, for New York City to pursue better educational opportunities.  He remained there for 10 years, working in graphic design at a printing shop.  On a visit to Carrboro with a friend in 1994, he fell in love with the town and decided it would be his next home.

When he made the move a few months later, though, Richards—who declined to give his age—realized he had a major adjustment to make.

“Living in New York,” he said, “you could get almost any kind of food you wanted. But here, you couldn’t.”  Confronted with this difference in culture, Richards drew upon his childhood.

“I started experimenting with a combination of herbs and spices, what my mom used to use and all that. From there, I…developed this spiced rub that I have now.”

Richards, who worked at Weaver Street Market following his move, said his popular jerk seasoning took him two years to master, but when he presented it to a group of friends one evening, they were immediately hooked.

“The first bite my friend took, he said, ‘You got to market this!’ And he kept eating—until about the sixth bite, he said, ‘You can call this ‘Caribbean Bliss,’” Richards recalled.

“And there it was born.”

Fifteen years later, Richards’ Caribbean Bliss is sold all across North Carolina—including at Weaver Street Market—and even in parts of Europe.

“It’s off the chain, man. It’s really good,” said Jeffrey Lindsey, 46, a drummer from Chapel Hill who said that he has been adding Richards’ products to his meals for several years.

He added, “I’ve been cooking since I was 5, and now I add the spice to my cooking. My girlfriend loves me for it.”

Richards declined to divulge the content of the rub, but said it relied heavily on red pepper.

While the sale of Richards’ sauces and dry rubs has exceeded his expectations and is his main source of income, his advertising budget is limited.  For this reason, Richards said, he must be extremely selective about how and where he presents his brand. He makes regular in-store appearances to promote his sauce and takes out the occasional advertisement in select magazines.

“Your product can be the best product in the world, but if you don’t market it right, it’s not selling anywhere,” he said.

In addition to producing seasoning, Richards is a guitarist and lead singer for Plutopia, the same local group that now features Lindsey.

“Meeting Pluto was a delight,” Lindsey said. “He will give you the shirt off his back. He’s outspoken, he’s giving—every time I go over to his house, he’s cooking for people.”

Richards said that despite his increasing fame, North Carolina is, and likely forever will be, his home. Though he acknowledged he has musical ambitions, he said he also realizes that the sauce has been his calling card and has made meals more enjoyable for thousands of North Carolinians over the years.

“I get emails from people all the time saying they love the sauce,” he said. “When somebody writes me emails, it’s really rewarding. I think those are the things that keep me going.”

For a printer-friendly version of this story, click here.

A picture’s worth

Posted on March 24th, 2011 in A&E,Features,Uncategorized by jock

By Will Bryant
Co-Editor

When Angie Brammer opened her computer on Friday, March 11, the last thing she expected to see was her former home in the middle of one of the worst natural disasters in human history.

Brammer taught English to high school students in Yamagata City, Japan, in 2001 through the Japanese Teaching and Exchange Programme. A decade after leaving the country, she read the news of the destruction and immediately called her husband, Chris Davidson, who also taught in Yamagata City in 2001.

“We just kind of freaked out,” Brammer said. “We didn’t really understand the scope of what happened. It was just unbelievable.”

A 9.0 earthquake devastated Japan in mid March, leaving behind a country with thousands dead, thousands more missing and the threat of widespread radioactive exposure.

The couple decided to reach out to the victims with the help of photographs. Through their online photography business, ABCD Images, Brammer and Davidson have started donating 100 percent of the profit earned from the purchase of any of their Japanese photo prints.

The photos are comprised mostly of bustling city landscapes and photos of everyday Japanese life that the couple took during their year teaching abroad.

Angie Brammer and Chris Davidson display some of their photos from their website, ABCD Images. All the proceeds from the sales of their Japanese photo prints will go towards helping those affected by the earthquake and tsunami. Staff photo by Will Bryant

“Both of us felt compelled to do something to help,” Brammer said. “The whole situation is overwhelming.I wish we could do more.”

Yamagata City received little damage from the natural disaster, and Brammer and Davidson have heard from friends in the city that it has become a safe haven for refugees.

Brammer said that from Sendai, a city that received considerable damage from the earthquake, there is really no way to go but west toward Yamagata City.

“If you go north you are going to run into more hard hit areas, and if you go south you are going to run into the nuclear reactors,” Brammer said.

Yamagata lies a little over 200 miles west from the devastated area of Sendai.

Davidson said they initially received good reports from their friends still living in the city. But recent updates have illustrated a lack of electricity, a shortage of food and a high fuel demand.

“Their biggest problem seems to be getting supplies to all those people,” Davidson said.

Brammer said the toughest part is not being able to offer help to those nearly 7,000 miles away.

“It’s difficult to watch it on the TV or the Internet from halfway around the world, and to feel like you wish you could do more to help,” she said.

But despite the 13-hour time zone difference separating North Carolina and Japan, the Carrboro couple has found a way to give back to the country that gave them so much.

Brammer said the inspiration for their charity work has come from hospitality they received from the locals during their year in Japan.

“Everyone we met treated us like royalty,” she said.

While looking at the pictures of the destruction left behind by the natural disaster, the couple say they felt like they had a close relationship to those in the photos, even though they were strangers.

“Even though I didn’t know those particular people, I felt like I did,”  Brammer said. “I wanted to go and put my hand on their head … just to say that it’s OK … that there is someone here thinking about you.”

For a printer-friendly version of this story, click here.

Always at home in Carrboro

Posted on March 24th, 2011 in Features,Uncategorized by jock

Richard Ellington stands in front of his childhood home on West Poplar Avenue, which was formerly known as Weaver Road. (Staff Photo by Allison Russell)

By Allison Russell
Carrboro Commons Co-Editor

The house where Richard Ellington grew up used to be painted daffodil yellow. Over the years it has been layered with different paints until it reached its current pale minty green color.

His father, a building contractor, built the house in 1937. Since its construction, the house has experienced birth, death and change.

“I’ve been uncovering Richard’s life through the layers of paint,” says Alfredo Balderas, who is restoring the house for its current owners, Scott and Charlotte Smith.

Ellington was born in his parents’ bedroom in the back of the house in February 1945. He lived at 115 Weaver Road — which is now West Poplar Avenue — until he left to go to college in 1963.

“You can tell that there was a woman who kept saying [to Richard’s father], ‘Honey, could you add another room here and here?’” said Scott Smith.

The house was renovated several times while Ellington lived in it, primarily because his family needed more room after he was born.

Ellington is the youngest of three children. His sister Priscilla, 78, and brother Boyd, 76, still live in Carrboro.

“We had relatives all over here,” Ellington said as he swept his hand up and down the streets surrounding his old house.

Ellington grew up surrounded by his grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins, thanks to the six acres of land purchased by his father and grandfather in the 1930s. His father took two acres to build his house, and his grandfather gave the rest of the land to his sons, Ellington’s uncles.

His maternal grandmother, who lived directly behind his house, was the only grandparent he knew as a child.

“I blame my lackadaisical attitude on my grandmother because she loved to fish,” Ellington joked as he looked off in the direction of where his grandmother used to live.

“Whenever she’d laugh, her belly would shake up and down, and that’s my fondest memory of her,” he said.

Ellington’s grandparents moved from Durham to Carrboro to pursue millwork in 1912, a year after the town was founded. His grandfather worked as a carpenter and spooler in the Blanche Hosiery Corporation Mill No. 4, the building that is now Carr Mill Mall.

Although his parents never worked in the mill, Ellington was raised to appreciate the value of hard work. His family raised pigs and chickens in their backyard, and Ellington was responsible for slopping the pigs each night after supper. He also worked with his father during the summer as a teenager.

“I worked one summer with my dad, and that’s when I decided I would go to college,” Ellington said. “Schlepping lumber as a 14-year-old, that’s hard work!”

The following summer Ellington worked part-time at UNC-CH in the registrar’s office. He didn’t know it at the time, but his job of assisting with summer school registration would lead him to a 43 year career of data processing at UNC-CH.

“I became interested in data processing because of that job,” said Ellington, who retired in January. “The university was beginning to use data systems [to automate student records], and when they offered me a [full-time] job it only made sense for me to accept it and stay in Carrboro.”

Although Ellington says he has “always been a Tar Heel” and he “bleeds Carolina blue,” he never had the desire to go to college at UNC-CH.

“I didn’t want to get lost in the number [of students],” Ellington said. “And at the time, I was intending to be a Baptist minister.”

Ellington chose to go to Campbell University because it offered a pre-ministerial program. He eventually changed majors at the end of his sophomore year and decided to study history.

“My wife tells me I was born 200 years too late. I should have grown up with trains and stuff like that because I love history,” Ellington said.

Richard Ellington stands in the doorway of the room he was born in at his childhood home on West Poplar Avenue. His father built the house in 1937 and he was born in 1945. (Staff Photo by Allison Russell)

Ellington has satisfied his love of history by co-authoring the book “Carrboro: Images of America” with David Otto. The book contains pictures of Carrboro throughout the century, many of which he was given by his neighbor Mack Watts, an amateur photographer.

Ellington attended school at Chapel Hill Senior High, which was located on West Franklin Street, during a time of social change in Carrboro’s history. When he was a junior, his school was integrated with Lincoln High School, Chapel Hill’s black high school.

“It was a non-event from the white community’s perspective,” Ellington said. “I was raised to respect a black man and a white man the same.”

Ellington recalls segregation in Carrboro, but said the town was progressive for its time, allowing black people to buy food from local restaurants, even though they weren’t allowed to eat in the establishment.

Ellington said he still sees room for the improvement of racial relations today.

“It’s still not what it should be for a town that’s as progressive as Carrboro,” he said.

When reflecting on the general sense of change that Carrboro has experienced, Ellison sees the town as “more transient” than it once was. However, he still believes Carrboro is bonded by its community.

“A lot of people look at little towns and [disparage the fact that] everyone knows everyone else’s business — but that’s not such a bad thing, is it? Social morals were enforced that way,” he said.

A value Ellington learned as a child is to support his community. One of the ways he does this is by participating as a member of the Carrboro Centennial Committee.

“The centennial celebration [on March 3] was pretty neat,” Ellington said. “When you live in one place all your life, everything has significance to you.”

Kim Andrews of the Carrboro Recreation and Parks Department rediscovered the old bell that tolled during the celebration. It is a remnant of the Carrboro Baptist Church that used to occupy the Century Center.

“I hadn’t heard that bell ring in 50 years,” said Ellington, who was among the dozens of people who rang the bell during the celebration.

Ellington said he has seen a great amount of change in Carrboro during his nearly seven decades as a resident of the town. To him, the change is most obviously manifested during the celebration of Carrboro Day, which falls on May 1 this year.

“There’s always a bulletin board in the Town Commons that allows people to show where they’re from. When I was a kid, everyone was from Carrboro, but today there’s a much more global population,” Ellington said.

Ellington sold his family’s home after his father died in the house in the 1980s. Despite the changes, Ellington says he will always consider Carrboro his home.

“Carrboro is my town,” he said. “It’s a town with a conscience.”

For a printer-friendly version of this story, click here.

Sacrificial Poets gives voice to teens

Posted on March 3rd, 2011 in A&E,Carrboro children,Features,Uncategorized by jock

By Megan Gassaway

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Have you ever met the yellow power ranger? Ever held hands with him at the bus stop, or wrestled with him in the basement once? I have. The Yellow Power Ranger and I used to be best friends…

Julia McKeown stands before an audience of peers, teachers and poetry enthusiasts. The stage is empty except for a microphone. She needs no props or backdrops. Her weapon is her voice.

McKeown is one of 10 teenagers who participated in Sacrificial Poets’ February Youth Qualifier at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham on Friday, Feb. 25. The slam, or poetry competition, is only one of several outlets for Sacrificial Poets.

Julia McKeown, fifth from the left, awaits the results of Friday's February Youth Qualifier. Ten poets, including McKeown, performed original poems at the Hayti Heritage Center on Friday, Feb. 25. Photo by Megan Gassaway

“It’s a spoken word poetry organization geared towards youth,” said Sacrificial Poets’ artistic director Kane Smego, 25. “It is a for-youth, by-youth organization.”

Sacrificial Poets is North Carolina’s premier youth poetry organization and the state’s only internationally competing youth performance poetry team, according to the Sacrificial Poets website.

Originally named the Chapel Hill Slam Team, the group has since spread to Durham and Carrboro. It hosts events at the Carrboro Century Center, performs at Festifall and works closely with poetry clubs at local high schools.

As the group evolved, the team shed the name Chapel Hill Slam Team and adopted Sacrificial Poets, which honors a founding member and close friend of the group, Ira Yarmolenko, who died in May 2008. The name also acknowledges the role of the “sacrificial poet,” a poet who makes a sacrifice by performing a poem that acts as the scoring standard for a competition.

While the Sacrificial Poets host slams and attend competitions, its focus is on open mics and other non-competitive poetry events. In this mission, Sacrificial Poets help youth to “construct a platform” for community organizing and building.

“For me, what we try to convey is a sense of sharing identity,” Smego said.

But when the poets stand before the microphone, they are no longer constricted to others’ perceptions. They take their identity into their own hands.

“Poetry is therapy,” Smego said. “Spoken word is an amazing tool for community building because it helps create bonds and webs of understanding that revolve around who people say they are.”

Smego said spoken word poetry is an “outlet for energy” and a place to share struggles and triumphs.

Whereas sports like basketball build community around a shared goal, poetry creates a unique community where interests intersect on a deeper level, Smego says.

“The thing we’re united around, the actual thing we share in common is a mechanism for getting to know ourselves,” Smego says.

The yellow power ranger and I were best friends, but you can’t catch childhood and put it in a jar. So we chased it like the wind in the summer, racing each other around the playground like tornadoes. We found the eye of the storm in our imagination…

“A lot of my writing comes from my emotions,” said McKeown, who has written about topics including sex and society, race and friendship. McKeown said the poem “Power Ranger” stems from a personal experience.

But McKeown does not write just to benefit herself; she hopes that others will relate to her poetry.

McKeown moved from the small town of Ashland, Mass., after her freshman year of high school. When she arrived in Chapel Hill, she didn’t know anyone and felt lost.

“I moved to Chapel Hill where standards were so high,” McKeown said. “I felt like I was falling off the face of the Earth.”

McKeown was introduced to spoken word poetry when Sacrificial Poets executive director and founding member CJ Suitt, 24, performed for an English class at Chapel Hill High. Following Suitt’s presentation, the teacher assigned a poetry project to students. McKeown not only wrote a poem for the class — she decided to perform the poem at a local slam.

She didn’t stop there. McKeown continued to write and perform her poetry, and, after coaching from Suitt, McKeown qualified for Sacrificial Poets’ 2010 Final Slam.

“I owe those guys, like, everything,” McKeown says about Sacrificial Poets. “The poetry they taught me to do was my outlet.”

The group provided McKeown emotional support, but also gave her a community.

“They support me and validate me,” McKeown said. “There’s an automatic community of people who support you. There’s stomping, clapping, snapping encouragement when you go on stage.”

Poetry has also forced McKeown to redefine her outlook on the world.

“Doing poetry, you reassess the way that you judge people. People get on stage and spill their hearts,” McKeown said. “When you get up, it’s about what you spit – the words you use. It’s like the entire audience is blind.”

I was in love with the yellow power ranger, but cartoon characters can’t quite reciprocate because they’re two–, or in your case, one–dimensional…

“Sacrificial Poets empowers youth to tell their stories and speak their truths,” says Mackensie Malkemes, a supporter of the group and a creative writing and English teacher at Carrboro High. “The focus on both exposing and provinding a call-to-action for basically every social justice issue one could think of is one of my favorite aspects of the group’s work. The members are involved in the community and inspire others to come together to promote positive change.”

“The Sac Po organization and the people who run it are people who let you tell your stories,” McKeown said. “There’s a general sharing of culture and fears. You feel that connection that is so lacking in society.”

Sacrificial Poets, or “Sac Po,” is seeking change throughout North Carolina, and Carrboro is no exception.

The group has come to fulfill a unique niche within the communities of Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Durham by building community and encouraging self-expression among local youth.

“It really is the only one of its kind in the area,” Malkemes said. “I think Sac Po no only encourages people to speak out about pressing societal and community issues, but the group really serves as a catalyst in producing informed, tolerant, impressive individuals.”

Smego says that at any of the group’s events “you can see a diverse crowd of poets that interact, respect and support each other, who often times would not have otherwise come into contact or forge friendships.”

At Friday’s slam, there was a “representation of black, white, Christian, Muslim, male and female poets,” Smego said.

“We like to think that every event we have is like a classroom where youth teach and learn from each other,” Smego said.

McKeown said that the group serves as a way for local teenagers to become more self-confident.

“Spoken word is no rules, and that is so freeing. You don’t have to rhyme and you don’t have to make sense,” McKeown said. “It’s a really good outlet for teenagers to say who they are and not be ashamed.”

I want to remember the 4-year-old yellow power ranger. I want to remember what it was like to have a best friend.

For more videos from February’s Youth Qualifier, go here: http://www.youtube.com/user/megsie513#p/u. For more Sacrificial Poets videos, go here: http://www.youtube.com/user/sacrificialPoets.

Ridin’ the J Bus: 14-year-old Treshawn has big plans

Posted on March 3rd, 2011 in Carrboro children,Features,J Bus,Lifestyles by jock

By Allison Russell

Carrboro Commons Co-Editor

Back during the Jazz Age in New York City, you took the A Train to get to Harlem. But to get most everywhere in Carrboro, you take the J Bus. In the spirit of Charles Kuralt’s dictum that everyone has a story, Commons reporter Allison Russell jumped on the J Bus and selected a rider to interview at random.

Although they may not know it, the people who ride the J Bus are in good hands when 14-year-old Treshawn Hackney steps onto it.

“I could probably fix the bus if it broke down,” says Treshawn, who is interested in a career in mechanical engineering.

Treshawn Hackney, 14, rides the J Bus home from middle school everyday. He aspires to be a mechanical engineer and loves playing football. “I come up with ideas that are brilliant,” Treshawn says.

An eighth-grader at McDougle Middle School, Treshawn rides the J Bus home from school.

“My parents trust me.…They know I won’t get into any stupid stuff while I’m on the bus,” he says.

Treshawn is the youngest of four children, and he is the only child to still live at home with his parents, Darlene and Mike.

“Sometimes, yes, I like being the only child [to live at home], but sometimes, no, I don’t,” says Treshawn pensively.

The 14-year-old spends his time at home doing homework and playing football or paintball with his friends.

“I love sports, and I would definitely consider myself athletic,” says Treshawn, who wears the number 52 jersey as a tight end on his middle school’s football team.

His favorite professional athletes include LeBron James and Michael Vick, whom Treshawn believes should be forgiven for his past of dogfighting.

“It’s very sad,” Treshawn says of the dogs that were hurt, “but everyone makes mistakes and deserves a second chance.”

In addition to being an avid athlete, Treshawn enjoys working with his hands to create projects such as model cars and airplanes.

He first became interested in hands-on projects after his brother taught him how to fix a car.

“My brother is a mechanic, and he helps fix my parents’ car when it breaks down,” Treshawn says. “He taught me how to fix a car when I was 7 years old.”

In class, Treshawn thrives on coming up with quick ideas to enhance project designs. He says he first noticed his ability to creatively improvise after he learned how to repair a car’s engine.

“I come up with ideas that are brilliant,” he says, with self-assurance that suggests he is twice his age.

Treshawn, who can solve a Rubik’s Cube, says his favorite subjects in school are math and science, and he especially enjoys studying chemistry.

“Right now [in math class] we’re doing geometry….In the end, with the equations, they always tie into each other. You can see patterns within them.”

Although Treshawn likes living in Carrboro, he says if he could go anywhere in the world he would go to Los Angeles.

“There are lots of famous people there, and I’d like to see how their life is like, what they’re doing when they’re not working.”

His favorite movie genre is horror, and Treshawn says he would like to meet Isabelle Fuhrman, child star of the movie Orphan.

“Some of my friends met her and they say she’s really cool,” he says.

If Treshawn follows through with his desire to meet the celebrities of Los Angeles, he says he won’t want to come back to live in Carrboro.

“I don’t want to stay here forever,” he says with a quick glance out of the bus’s foggy window. “I want to explore other places.”

Teaching vet wins Carrboro High Teacher of the Year

Posted on February 17th, 2011 in Features,School news,Uncategorized by jock

By Michael Bloom
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Sara Clay tells her Latin students at Carrboro High School she is 426 years old.

It’s an ongoing joke on how long she’s been around.

A part of education in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School District for 40 years, Sara Clay won the 2010 Carrboro High Teacher of the Year for her efforts teaching Latin. (Staff photo by Michael Bloom)

She’s seen a lot in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School District over her 28-year tenure. The Hillsborough native has been in education on and off for 40 years—all in the same district.

“I have taught at East Chapel Hill High School, Chapel Hill High School and Orange High School as well, so I only lack Cedar Ridge to have a clean sweep of Orange County,” she said.

Born in Iowa, Clay lived in Illinois and Maryland before settling into Orange County after college. She attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for undergrad and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for her Master of Arts degree in classical languages.

Latin is the only language she has taught during her teaching career. She’s taught at the preschool, middle school, high school and university level. She said she likes high school students the best.

She doesn’t consider herself a finished product and is always striving to improve. And she doesn’t know when she’ll call it quits.

“I guess I’ll stop when it isn’t fun anymore,” she said after hesitating for a moment. “I don’t want to be like that Harry Potter professor and be dead and not know it. I still want to be effective.”

Clay’s effectiveness in the World Language department at Carrboro High earned her the 2010 Carrboro High Teacher of the Year. She was honored in May along with Eric Stoffregen from Chapel Hill High and Hans Hiemstra from East Chapel Hill High.

But Clay is modest about the honor. She said all of the candidates who were nominated more than deserved the admiration.

“Winning was sort of serendipitous,” she said.

German teacher and colleague at Carrboro High, Patrick Bradshaw, thinks differently. He said Clay is a wonderfully dynamic teacher who cares a lot about her work. Bradshaw shares a classroom with Clay and sees her passion exemplified daily.

Artwork hangs outside Sara Clay’s Latin classroom in Carrboro High School. Clay has been teaching Latin for 28 years. (Staff photo by Michael Bloom)

“She has the perfect combination of caring, enthusiasm, professionalism and spunk that really brings her classroom alive and endears her to her colleagues in our department and throughout the school,” he said.

She raises her 7-year-old granddaughter with her husband at home. She said teaching is always a part of her.

“In teaching, everything is rewarding for me—even failures,” she said.”I would describe myself as a non-threatening, honorable and hyper individual.”

Teaching at all levels has given Clay a broad perspective of the education system. After teaching almost everywhere in Chapel Hill, she now sees the Carrboro school system flourishing.

“I like the variety of students, the diversity, distinctness and backgrounds of these students,” she said. “The system is so neat in the way it tries to reach out in many different ways.”

Clay is an instrumental member of the school-based Equity Team, “Study for Success” assistance program and has created a course package for Latin 5. She likes the challenge of teaching young adults—especially Latin—which she says students get a lot out of.

“Latin has this stigma of being a ‘dead language.’ I would argue that you can use it for anything,” she said. “It’s also a very inflective language that helps students immensely in higher education.”

Her most memorable teaching moment came during her middle school teaching years. She has a story about a sixth grade boy in Chapel Hill who came into her Latin class brand new. She said she would write the weather out in Latin and teach the students to translate what it means in English.

She said the student was so intimidated at first that he said, “…there was no way on earth I was going to get this.”

Clay said within a month, he was translating a week’s worth of weather with confidence. She said it was the most rewarding experience in her teaching career because he made it all the way to second-level AP Latin.

She has certainly made her mark in the district.

“Sara is truly genuine—I respect and look up to her greatly,” Bradshaw said.

Clay’s adamant about teaching Latin to all ages and levels of education. She said she wants to develop an after-school program for adults and post-high school students to take a foreign language that they’ve always wanted to. She proposed a plan to meet maybe twice a month.

It’s effort and will like hers that garners respect from her peers.

“Sara is a dynamic presence in the classroom and a continual source of enthusiasm and energy for our school,” said Kelly Batten, Carrboro High School principal. “She brings vitality to the study of Latin, challenging students to make connections between historical roots of the language with the world around them today.”

Batten said Clay is a wonderful ambassador for Carrboro High and they are proud to have her as their representative for Teacher of the Year.

While Clay was living in Chapel Hill, she saw East Chapel Hill High being built from her home across the street during the 1990s. Her daughter was a member of the first freshman class to enroll.

She’s literally seen this school district being built.

And she hopes to build onto it some more in the future.

Ridin’ the J Bus: Professor searches for discoveries

Posted on February 17th, 2011 in Features,J Bus,Lifestyles by jock

By Louie Horvath
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Back during the Jazz Age in New York City, you took the A Train to get to Harlem. But to get most everywhere in Carrboro, you take the J Bus. In the spirit of Charles Kuralt’s dictum that everyone has a story, Commons reporter Louie Horvath jumped on the J Bus and selected a rider to interview at random.

Emily Buss enjoys taking the J Bus around Carrboro and Chapel Hill, and she says she wants to “stay here forever.” Staff photo by Louie Horvath

As a newly minted graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s doctoral program, Emily Buss thought she would be participating in a brief two-year fellowship at UNC – Chapel Hill. Twelve years later, she is still here.

Now an associate professor at the UNC department of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery, Buss said she views Carrboro and Chapel Hill as the same place she originally fell in love with — including its transit system.

Part of the appeal was the transit system, Buss said.

“I like being able to take the bus,” Buss said. “I don’t like having to drive every day. It seems like a waste of time, gas and money. I like living in a town where you can get from one side of the town to the other in a reasonable amount of time.”

“You can get your hands around a town this size,” Buss said.

She has done just that, meanwhile giving the entire Chapel Hill-Carrboro area a warm embrace.

“Hopefully, I can stay here forever,” Buss said.

An avid gardener, she pointed out that the Carrboro climate is more conducive to a garden than both the Philadelphia area where she went to college and her Richardson, Texas, childhood home.

Buss said that during the summer she can create her own salad made out of only garden-grown food with lettuce, carrots and tomatoes.

“You can’t grow that in Philadelphia,” Buss said.

Even though she does not interact much with students as an associate professor at UNC-CH, she seems more than happy to spend most days in the lab searching for new discoveries in the ear, nose and throat field.

“I spend most of my time in the lab,” Buss said. “I’ll give occasional lectures, but most of the time when I work with students, they are coming to do projects in our lab.”

She said on that day, she spent most of her time trying to figure out how Cochlear implants are able to give deaf people the ability to hear, even though the implants are sending only rudimentary signals to the brain.

“It has been around for a while, but there is very little that is understood about how they work,” Buss said. “Some of the studies that I’m looking at have to do with which conditions they work best under.”

People associated with the university comprise the majority of riders on the J Bus since teachers, students and workers alike all take the J Bus to get back and forth to campus.

It is a distinction that Buss seems to relish and her excitement about going into the office every day is evident in the way she talks about her job.

“Every day it’s something different,” Buss said. “The bread and butter of research is what you don’t know the answer to. It’s always a challenge, and I like discovering new things.”

For a printer-friendly version of this story, click here.

Ridin’ the J Bus: Meet the walking man

Posted on February 3rd, 2011 in Features,J Bus,Lifestyles by jock

By Alex Linder
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Back during the Jazz Age in New York City, you took the A Train to get to Harlem. But to get most everywhere in Carrboro, you take the J Bus. In the spirit of Charles Kuralt’s dictum that everyone has a story, Commons reporter Alex Linder jumped on the J Bus and selected a rider to interview at random.

Mark Quattlebaum’s truck broke down for the last time on the side of N.C. 54 in 1993. The mechanic was not optimistic about its future, so Quattlebaum had it scrapped. He has not needed a replacement since.

Mark Quattlebaum, 51, likes to ride the J Bus up to Carrboro to buy groceries at the Weaver Street Market. He returns loaded up with even more bags. Staff photo by Alex Linder

Instead he gets around town in the oldest fashion way – by walking. Quattlebaum, 51, may not be famous in town, but his figure striding up the road with a couple of bags slung across his shoulders certainly has become a familiar sight in the community.

“I’ve built up a reputation,” he said. “People will see me on the side of the road coming into town and sometimes they’ll pick me up and give me a ride, but it’s okay if they don’t.”

Jeff Griggs, 54, of Pittsboro, remembered seeing Quattlebaum plenty of times before deciding to stop and see if he wanted a ride. “He kind of reminded me of Forrest Gump,” he said. “Just more localized.”

If Quattlebaum had an eHarmony account it would begin with, “Enjoys long walks… anywhere.” He estimates that he walks nine miles a day. On a good day his total can easily go up to 12 or 15 miles. “I’ve done it for so long, I don’t even mind it anymore,” he said.

Truck Bucks increase farmers’ market revenue

Posted on February 3rd, 2011 in Features,Food by jock

By Megan Gassaway
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

James Henderson’s first stop at the Carrboro Farmers Market is not a produce stall or bread vendor. Instead, he heads to a small table and trades the swipe of a card for several wooden tokens.

Volunteer Natalie Shrader, 17, stands at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market’s table. She awaits customers in need of Truck Bucks, the common currency of the market that can be bought using debit, credit or EBT cards. Staff photo by Megan Gassaway

Henderson’s card is not the usual debit or credit card. Instead, he carries an Electronic Benefit Transfer card. The EBT system, implemented in 2004, is part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program). The card allows users to pay for goods using their government benefits.

The tokens Henderson receives are “Truck Bucks,” the common currency of a program started May 1, 2010, that allows customers to pay for their Carrboro Farmers Market purchases using an EBT card or a debit or credit card instead of cash.

“Our original goal was to bring EBT to the program and to provide new revenue to farmers,” said Sarah Blacklin, manager of the Carrboro Farmers Market. “We are combining credit and debit with EBT to increase the revenue of the market.”

The market initiated the program with the support of Leaflight, an organization working for sustainable development that benefits communities, the state, nation and world, Blacklin said. Leaflight provides the market with a machine to read the cards, the tokens customers use as currency and an accounting system to track the spending, Blacklin said. A grant funded through Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA, along with support from the UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Public Health, provides additional program support and outreach.

From the program’s opening in May through December 2010, the farmers market saw over $56,000 in transactions through the machine, Blacklin said.

Of those transactions, 20 percent were with EBT cards while 80 percent were through credit and debit cards, Blacklin said.

“It’s mostly credit and debit users,” said Liz Greene, who has volunteered at the market since May. “But there always are EBT users every week.”

Next Page »