The People, Places and Stories That Got Me Through 2020

In August, three NC employees of a Raleigh Bojangles say the restaurant failed to properly notify them that a coworker tested positive for coronavirus. (Image via NC Raise Up)

By Max Millington

December 29, 2020

Dunking on racism and bashing Bojangles: C&P’s Maxwell Millington on his best and most compelling stories of 2020 in NC.

What a year it has been. 

I wrote my first byline for Cardinal & Pine in June, four years after getting my B.A. in Journalism & Digital Media from Queens. I grew up in Charlotte and my wife and I now live in the heart of the Research Triangle so I thought I was pretty familiar with North Carolina. 

So far, this job has taught me that this state is so much more than meets the eye. I’ve been tasked to identify three of my favorite stories of 2020, but I want to highlight some of the most interesting people I (virtually) met along the way. 

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Let’s start with Catherine McMillian, a junior at Duke who started a Facebook support group for college students and turned it into a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that’s still connecting people in the Charlotte area to critical resources.

Along that same vein of taking matters into one’s own hands during a crisis, I was fascinated by Elon computer science professor Megan Squire, who told me her story of getting up on one Saturday afternoon and deciding to stand up to white supremacists in Alamance County. 

Over in western North Carolina, Page Lemel and Mike Hawkins risked re-election as Transylvania County commissioners when they rejected Trumpism and left the GOP. Hawkins told me, “I’m going to have grandchildren one day, and I want them to know that I did not support this.” 

Finally, before President-Elect Joe Biden officially announced Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, I spoke to NC Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls and three current or former Black woman leaders in NC about the significance of what will soon be the first Black and Indian American person to be vice president of the United States. 

It was hard to narrow down just a few people from this insane year, and even harder to narrow down these stories. But here they are, in no particular order: my three favorite stories of the year. 

The Hoop Bus

The anti-racist ‘Hoop Bus’ arrived in Charlotte in time for the Republican National Convention in August. (Image via Tyler Thompson)

The “Hoop Bus” was the brainchild of Nick Ansom, a French-born basketball player who created a league in Venice Beach, Calif., and Eliot Robinson, a Swedish social media star and storyteller. The mission: Spread love through basketball. The bus’ brand of love includes speaking out against racism and educating young people on the importance of voting and making their voice heard in the community. 

Ansom told the Charlotte Agenda, “We hoop for justice. We dunk on racism.”

The Hoop Bus operates like a traveling non-profit organization. A staff of more than thirty people traveled across the country and either slept on the bus’ bunk beds or in their own cars. The bus stopped in Charlotte during the RNC, protested, and even let passers-by dunk on a Trump balloon. The next day, I met them in Raleigh where they gave dunking lessons to kids and passed out laptops for school. Check out the full story and video

Don’t Risk It For the Biscuit

“Don’t risk it for the biscuit” became the new rallying cry for a group of fast food workers who went on strike in Raleigh. 

Like many other essential workers, this group risked exposure to COVID-19 as they were forced to work in person. The employer, Bojangles, known for fried chicken and Southern-style biscuits, gave employees t-shirts that said “Risk It For The Biscuit.” The striking workers were not amused. 

“It may be a joke to them, but for workers like me who are risking our lives to come to work every day, it’s no joke,” said Lisa Foster. Foster and her son, Dekembe Black, told me management hid rumors of a coworker testing positive for the novel coronavirus. The strikers claim that all employees were promised hazard pay, which they never received. 

Studies have shown fast food workers and other essential employees may face greater health risks due to being in close contact with the public. Like almost every other aspect of COVID-19, these risks are also disproportionate. Surveys report 73% of Black workers have gone to work even though they believe they may be endangering their health or a family member’s. Here’s the full story.

How NC addressed COVID-19 in Black and Latino Communities

North Carolina’s Black and Latino population make up a disproportionate number of coronavirus deaths and cases, respectively. In July, NC’s Department of Health and Human Services sent community health workers to historically underserved areas to connect North Carolinians affected by COVID-19 with needed services and support. I spoke to Winston-Salem sociologist Dr. Allison Mathews from the The Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity about the factors that have contributed to the spikes in Black and Latino communities. 

“There’s been historical and current experiences of trauma and exploitation and we have to acknowledge those things,” said Mathews. The recency of medical exploitation like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and the Eugenics Movement, have created a chasm between marginalized communities and health professionals, experts say. 

This has been amplified of late as recent polls show Black and Latino Americans are less likely than white Americans to get one of the two COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they become available. Mathews says that transparency and listening will be the key to bridging the gap of trust between these communities and medical professionals. Check out the full story.


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