On July 3, I sat in a conference room at Duke University and signed a contract to work full time as a senior writer in the university’s communications office.

Before signing the one-page agreement I paused and told my new editor, Greg Phillips, that I wished my mom and dad could witness the moment.

My dad did most of the heavy lifting. His more-than two decades in the military helped pay for my college education. And my mom carefully nurtured my love of reading and the written word, destining my career as a journalist and writer.

Richmond County’s public schools integrated in 1969, and my mom, who would have celebrated her eighty-fourth birthday on July 21, purchased for me the first iteration of the World Wide Web: a brand-spanking-new set of the 1969 World Book Encyclopedia.

Like Malcolm X sitting in a prison cell and reading every word in a dictionary starting with the letter A, I sat in my parent’s tiny den and began with the “A” encyclopedia and read all the way to the “Z” edition of that pristine, cream and forest-green set with the gold lettering.

I have vivid childhood memories of sitting with my buddy Thomas and looking at the colorful snake pictures in the “S” edition. With a few more resources and greater support from his teachers, Thomas might have become a leading herpetologist, perhaps researching snake venoms that would lead to a cure for an incurable disease. Instead he went to prison soon after high school and became such a prolific re-offender that he became permanently institutionalized.

Meanwhile, my mom pushed books and newspapers on me like a dope dealer. Every morning, my dad would go to the nearby newsrack and purchase copies of The Charlotte Observer. Mom subscribed to our hometown paper, The Daily Journal. For a while she received issues of the now-defunct Charlotte News with its distinct green news pages that featured columnist Kays Gary and the athletic feats of the incredible UNC-Charlotte 49ers basketball team led by Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell, Lew Massey, and Chad Kinch.

She even bought a subscription to the Reader’s Digest condensed books series, and if that wasn’t enough, there were always copies of True Romance and other magazines around the house.

Outside of the home, I could visit my cousin and fellow-write-brother Barry Saunders whose mom had also purchased an Encyclopedia Americana set for him, plus subscriptions to Sports Illustrated and other magazines.

Along with raising just enough youthful hell to rank a cut above the Little Rascals with our gang, Barry and I hung out at our school and public libraries.

At the time, the only thing that exceeded our love of reading was basketball, and we dreamed of a path to the NBA that began with signing a grant-in-aid to play college basketball at some nondescript school like Atlantic Christian College. (Hey man, when you’re 12 or 13, all things are possible.)

In short, writers are readers.

So now my beloved parents are with Black Jesus, and in lieu of a picture of me in my hometown paper, flanked by them and their proud, beaming smiles while I sign a grant-in-aid to play basketball at Wingate College, I just signed a contract to write for Duke.

That said, every zig has its zag, every yin has its yang, every up has its down.

July 14 was my last day at the INDY, and I am so going to miss my fellow staffers: Lena Geller, Jasmine Gallup, Sarah Edwards (and Penny, her biscuit-eating puppy dog). I’m going to miss my beautiful editor, Jane Porter, along with the best publisher I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, John “with an H” Hurld, the paper’s one-man business office Mathias Marchington, our graphics editor Nicole Moore, and her quiet, intrepid assistant Izzel Flores.

I am grateful for the relationships I cultivated with staffers who are no longer with the paper—the exquisite Eric Ginsburg, arts editor Brian “Brother B” Howe, photographer Jade Wilson, the fantastic graphic artist Jon Jon Fuller, the brilliant, cantankerous Jeff Billman, scrappy Sara Pequeño, data wizard Geoff West, forever-intern Hannah Kaufman, along with the other best publisher I have ever worked with, the profoundly compassionate Susan “Sue” Harper.

I’ll miss how we managed—each week, and now biweekly—to punch above our weight and make a difference in the community where we serve primarily as a voice for the voiceless. Under tremendous pressure (while receiving little money and often even less appreciation) we provided full-throated, unapologetic support for diversity, equity, and inclusion—attacks from the Republican Party be damned.

Somebody needs to tell the attackers of the so-called “woke” culture that the Constitution guarantees us all the right to be left the hell alone.

Most of all, I’ll miss our readers and the immense pleasure I felt when one would stop me on the street or drop an email to tell me they had read one of my stories. It did not matter if they offered praise or cursed me out and called me everything with a handle on it. Writers, above all else, want to be read. 

Thank you all who thought enough of me to read my scribbles.

That said: I’m out, yo.

Peace and love.

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle. Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com

Support independent local journalism

Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.