It’s a Monday morning in Durham County’s eviction court, and Joseph McMoil’s home of four years is on the line.
McMoil, a stout 51-year-old man, shuffles to the witness stand. Dressed in a faded navy-blue T-shirt and old jeans, he settles into a swivel chair and gazes out at the smattering of people in the courtroom.
“Mr. McMoil, what do you want me to consider as it relates to your case?” Judge Shamieka Rhinehart asks.
“Um … um … the fact that the times that I missed the rent,” McMoil mutters into the microphone.“During that time, I wasn’t receiving as much of a gross amount of money as I usually do. Because of my work.”
When McMoil’s employer, a retirement home in Durham, reduced his hours early on in the pandemic, his income shrank to $1,800 a month, according to court documents. From April to September 2020, he couldn’t pay the $868 monthly rent for his apartment on Campus Walk Avenue.
Though McMoil has paid his monthly rent since September 2020, he still owes $10,104.36 in accumulated rent and late fees, according to court documents.
Morreene LLC, the company that owns the apartment, wants an order for possession of the property.
McMoil’s plight isn’t unique. With the pandemic causing layoffs and diminished hours throughout Durham County, many tenants have struggled to pay rent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium ended in late August, meaning many more Durham residents could face eviction in the coming months.
Durham Social Services (DSS) offers rental assistance, and Legal Aid, a nonprofit law firm, helps residents navigate the court system. But eligibility for rental assistance depends on earnings: residents can qualify only if they make less than 80% of the county’s Area Median Income, which is $48,400.
McMoil says he doesn’t qualify now that his income has returned to pre-pandemic levels.
“Have you thought about applying for any of the [COVID-19] assistance that’s available?” asks Charles Carpenter, a tall, thin attorney representing Morreene LLC.
“I’ve called all those numbers,” McMoil says, exasperated. “I’ve tried, yes. They are looking into what I make presently and [the fact] that I’m doing well now.”
Carpenter pauses. “But you do acknowledge that there still are a number of months of rent that remain unpaid?”
“Yes,” McMoil says. “I’ve stayed at this place for a long time. Before [COVID-19], I paid every time. I was a good outstanding resident.”
“We don’t doubt that, Mr. McMoil,” Carpenter says. His shoulders droop. He appears to hold no enthusiasm for evicting McMoil.
“I was a very good resident before this happened,” McMoil says, his voice growing desperate. “So if you make it where I pay a little extra and catch up or come to an agreement where I can improve it, I would very much like to stay. I love where I stay.”
A long silence hangs over the courtroom. Rhinehart glances back and forth between Carpenter and McMoil.
“Anybody want to be heard?” she says, her chin resting on her hand, exhaustion in her voice.
“Just briefly, Your Honor,” Carpenter says. “We certainly feel for Mr. McMoil. I will point out, to his benefit, that when we proceed, that doesn’t cut off his avenue of discussion with us about the possibility of working something out.”
Suddenly, the mood in the courtroom shifts. Despite McMoil’s testimony about his failed attempts to qualify for DSS rental assistance, Rhinehart sits up in her seat and asks a lawyer to find the phone number for the program. Various attorneys talk over one another, trying to find the contact information.
“Mr. McMoil, we’re trying to get you some help, OK?” the judge calls out amid the hubbub.
When the commotion dies down, Rhinehart issues her judgment: “Mr. McMoil, it is unfortunate that I have to grant possession to the claimant. They met their burden.”
“However,” she quickly adds, “you did hear Mr. Carpenter state that although I have entered a judgment, that they may still be willing to work with you.”
Judge Rhinehart recommends that McMoil go immediately to the third floor to find DSS representatives and assigns someone to escort him there.
McMoil walks slowly down the aisle, a gloomy look on his face. He has lost his home for now, but maybe there’s still a chance to save it.
The Regulator Bookshop, the iconic Ninth Street store that has been shut down for the pandemic, plans to reopen its doors in early June.
Co-owner Wander Lorentz de Haas told The 9th Street Journal that employees are busy restocking and preparing for customers to return in the next two weeks.
“I think every staff member is just really excited to reopen and get back to showing people great books,” said Lorentz de Haas.
Like other bookstores, The Regulator closed in March 2020. The store was able to adapt to the pandemic by offering customers curbside pickup or delivery for books ordered online or by phone.
But while many other stores have reopened to the public, The Regulator kept its doors shut. That left many Durham bookworms puzzled. As crowds returned to Ninth Street, it seemed every other shop was open. Why not The Regulator?
“We didn’t feel in a particular rush to do it,” Lorentz de Haas said, “we just want to reopen right.”
Their top priority was to guarantee COVID safety. Elements that made the store unique suddenly posed challenges. “The veteran staff combined with the small intimate store during a pandemic became two huge problems for us” said Lorentz de Haas.
All staff are now vaccinated and the building has improved air filtration.
Shutting the store was also a wise business decision.
Their “survival strategy” was to return much of their inventory back to publishers for credit. Keeping a full inventory would be pricey, especially if only a limited number of shoppers would be permitted in the store. So they lowered their inventory, shut their doors, and focused on getting online orders to customers.
“We basically converted the store into a warehouse.”
As a result, the inside of the store had been transformed. Now, they are restocking and returning the store to its familiar layout. While they have not settled on a specific date, they expect to open in the first two weeks of June.
In a time where independent bookstores are threatened by corporate giants such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, owners of The Regulator were pleasantly surprised at the quantity of orders they have received, especially last summer and over the holidays.
“The support has been tremendous,” said Lorentz de Haas. “I did not expect that we would be doing as well as we did through the first of the year and even since then.”
Ready to leave memories of COVID times in the past, they are glad to get back to what they are good at: selling books in-person.
Bookstores are for browsing.
“Any of the books we have in the store you can find online – no question about it, but many of them, some of the ones that become our bestsellers, you really have to do some digging to find them,” said Lorentz de Haas.
Business has returned to normal for the boutique furniture store Vintage Home South. But when the pandemic struck in March 2020, owners Jennifer and Rich Devlin were not sure their Ninth Street store would survive the month.
January and February 2020 had been their best start to a year since they opened their doors in 2016. So a 50% drop in revenue in April, their second-worst month ever, hit hard.
“We’re thinking, ‘Holy crap! What are we going to do and how long is this going to go on?’” Rich Devlin recalled.
They had cash to survive four months only. If that ran out, they would consider selling rather than going into credit card debt, as they had done to get started.
It would take decisive action to stay afloat in the “refined casual” furniture business. A ramped-up focus on customer service and sharp upticks in the housing and home décor markets have done it for them – so far.
Last spring, as soon as they could leave their house, “we would go to the store five or six days a week and go, ‘Okay, what are we going to do to make money today?’” Jennifer Devlin said.
Mary Moyer, the shop’s only full-time employee, saw the Devlins’ drive. “They weren’t gonna sit around and see what COVID had in store,” Moyer said. “They got busy, and they did a website.” The new online shopping site attracted new customers from all over the country and now contributes 5% of total revenue.
The Devlins also started making Instagram videos. There were instructional furniture videos, such as “Wall Décor Hanging 101.” Others were light-hearted; one of them featured their one-take singing to announce the website launch, with Rich playing guitar and their dog sitting on Jennifer’s lap. Old and new customers watched.
Rhonda Fawzi, a Wake Forest resident, learned about Vintage Home South from a WRAL news feature when lockdowns began. Seeing Jennifer on TV, she thought, “I need to support this chick. I’d probably like her. She’d be my friend.”
A patron of local boutiques, Fawzi made her initial shopping trip to Vintage Home South via video call, something Jennifer started to try to stay afloat.
“I probably bought $100 worth of stuff from her, and she drove it to my house!” Fawzi said. “Doesn’t that strike you as something?”
Jennifer and Rich Devlin had met in 1998 while they both worked at a Ritz-Carlton hotel in San Francisco in the catering and banquet department – where, as Jennifer put it, “you dazzle them with customer service.” This “lost art” of customer service underpinned their founding of their own business.
Acquiring a new customer in Fawzi helped. But an existing customer base pulled Vintage Home South through the pandemic. Customers have continued to purchase despite delivery delays, sometimes waiting up to 24 weeks for a piece that would normally take four, largely due to raw material shortages and understaffed production lines.
Some have followed Jennifer’s interior decorating design consultations from in-person to video-call format. The consultations provide approximately 20% of total revenue and have been important for client relations, leading to more furniture purchases and repeat customers.
In some ways, lockdown even helped business.
“Now everybody’s trapped at home,” Jennifer said. “Because people were fed up with sitting on uncomfortable furniture, they came in over the summer and bought all this furniture.”
The new business made September 2020 the second-best month in Vintage Home South’s five-year history, and business has been solid since then. But the Devlins still worry about continued effects of the pandemic.
“All of the unpredictability that’s thrown in from this otherwise not normal stuff going on, that’s been the biggest stress,” Rich Devlin said. “How long is this going to go on? Is there ever going to be a regular normal again?”
People fill the outdoor seating along Durham’s sidewalks downtown, on Ninth Street and everywhere in between. Friends dance with beers in hand. Music blares out, permeating the street. The night seems unrecognizable compared to its hard lockdown a year ago.
Life is back at Durham bars.
Gov. Roy Cooper eased COVID-19 restrictions in late March, raising indoor bar capacity from 30% to 50% and lifting an 11 p.m. alcohol curfew. Before that, many bars went a full year without significant income and faced harsher limitations than other establishments, like restaurants and breweries.
To keep taps flowing, some bar owners got creative. They changed menus, set up shop outside and asked regulars for support. But not every bar made it, and the ones that have stayed open aren’t all following COVID-19 restrictions. One Durham nightspot – Shooters II – has recently drawn official complaints about the breaking rules, city officials say.
When the pandemic hit, Kingfisher cocktail bar owners Sean Umstead and Michelle Vanderwalker recognized that restaurants could open up much earlier than bars under state health rules. So, they became a restaurant, transforming their parking lot into a burger joint, QueenBurger, in August.
Hunky Dory, a hybrid retail and bar space on Ninth Street, increased outdoor seating to accommodate beer-hungry Durhamites. Manager Taylor Bates said that by creating more standing space and spots outdoors and staying vigilant with cleaning and distancing, the bar has been able to bring back much of its customer base. New drinkers are coming in too.
“Many of our regulars have been vaccinated, and our employees as well. And that gives everyone another layer of peace of mind,” Bates said. “It’s been so nice to have people come in and start having this normalcy back in their life.”
Crowdsourcing and fundraising have also saved bars. The Pinhook created a Patreon, where bar owners and employees sell art and host online events, like karaoke. Arcana Bar and Lounge opted for a similar strategy, selling tickets to virtual poetry shows, bi-weekly art shows, and recipe cards.
“The Patreon contributions, combined with other employment, will hopefully be enough to allow us to reopen when it is right to reopen, without taking on crippling personal debt,” Arcana owners Lindsey Andrews and Erin Karcher wrote on Patreon in January. Andrews and Karcher are beginning a soft reopen for Arcana, according to an April 12 post.
Downtown Durham Inc. CEO Nicole Thompson has seen a significant increase in people venturing downtown as the states slowly lightens rules.
“It’s obviously been gradual and our nightlife looks a little different right now. People aren’t staying out as late, and they’re still wearing masks. But, people seem to be more comfortable,” Thompson said. “People want to be out again. They missed downtown, they’ve missed the places that they haven’t been able to visit in over a year.”
For some bars, though, crowdsourcing and creativity weren’t enough. The Atomic Fern, which used to be located on Parrish Street downtown, fell victim to the pandemic’s financial burden. Despite Twitch streams, Facebook lives, and a GoFundMe started by a group of bar regulars, the business couldn’t pay rent. A landlord evicted The Atomic Fern in February, and the bar won’t be reopening.
Owner Kevin Slater pins the closure on state and city apathy. For bars like his with no outdoor seating and little indoor capacity, the government didn’t provide enough financial relief and legal support, he said
“Even if we were able to open up at 30% capacity indoors, that still ends up being only eight people plus staff. That doesn’t pay the bills,” Slater said. “We didn’t want to reopen. We’re in the middle of the pandemic, so we knew that it felt irresponsible to reopen.”
Slater filed a lawsuit against Durham and North Carolina for damages of $25,000 in January. Though he doesn’t anticipate his lawsuit going anywhere in court, he hopes to make a statement and point out the frustrations of small business owners. He said he feels that he and the bar community were ignored.
“The government is saying now ‘Look we’re letting you reopen and now you can make money and you can pay your landlord,’ but, really, how sustainable is that? Bottom line: we’re all going to still be in debt,” Slater said.
Stepping out of line
Though most bars have been compliant with COVID-19 safety guidelines, Assistant City Attorney Anna Davis said some may have broken the rules. Davis said her office has only received a COVID-19 citizen complaint-driven report for one spot: Shooters, a favorite bar of Duke undergraduates.
Davis received multiple citizen complaints about unmasked crowds at Shooters in November. In response, she sent owner Kim Cates a letter right before Thanksgiving asking her to comply with COVID-19 health restrictions.
After that, Davis said complaints mostly decreased. On April 5, however, Davis’s office received a report from the Durham Health Department citing violations at Shooters. The Duke Student Government president and Durham Mayor Steve Schewel expressed concerns too, she said. When law enforcement visited Shooters a week later to observe, though, they saw no restrictions violated, Davis said.
“It tends to be a game of Whack-a-Mole with these people,” Davis said. “They step out of line, but then once there are complaints, people get back in compliance.”
Schewel said nightlife crowds — specifically at Shooters — are one of the city’s greatest concerns as new variants of COVID-19 start spreading in Durham.
“They’re loosening restrictions, but it’s critical that the city stays vigilant,” Schewel said, citing large crowds of indoor, unmasked young people.
9th Street reporter Rebecca Schneid can be reached at email@example.com
At top: Mask-wearing bar-goers drink inside Boxcar, a Geer Street joint where visitors can play arcade games. Photo by Sho Hatakeyama
On March 13, 2020, only one hour and 45 minutes remained in the school day when Lindsay Johnson, a fourth-grade teacher at Forest View Elementary, learned that all Durham Public Schools were shutting down.
Teachers immediately wondered what this would mean for their students, and for DPS families. They sent parent volunteers running to their copy machines, to prepare as much school material as possible to send home with students. They frantically bagged up the healthy snacks donated each week by a local nonprofit, so the food would not go to waste when students left the school.
When school buses arrived to take the students home, no one knew how long they would be staying there.
“We had to make sure — if this is our last moment with our kids, for whatever length of time — they have everything that we can give them,” Johnson recalled. “We all hugged our kids and saw them off to the buses, not knowing what this was going to mean for the months ahead.”
Johnson, 28 years old, has been a teacher for seven years. As her students drove away that afternoon, she figured that DPS would just have to reschedule spring break. This pandemic would blow over, and the school community would be back together in about a week.
One year later, students had yet to return to Forest View Elementary.
Transitioning to the new normal
While DPS staff developed plans to continue learning during the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson kept in touch with her 21 students and their parents via telephone. She checked in to make sure they were OK and gathered information on what resources each family needed for remote instruction. Educational materials were distributed by mail and at scheduled pick-up locations.
Students had learning packets to complete each week. Not every student had access to a device that would allow for classroom Zoom sessions, so teachers stayed in touch with them individually.
But some students couldn’t Zoom or video chat; for a geometry lesson, Johnson texted pictures of drawings to them.
Johnson often taught each lesson three different times, depending on the group of students and their means of learning.
Most of her students had family computers or parents’ smartphones, so she scheduled Zoom lessons with them. For other students, Johnson taught the same lesson using the mobile app Duo to video chat. But some students couldn’t Zoom or video chat; for a geometry lesson, Johnson texted pictures of drawings to them.
Teachers offered whatever emotional or academic support they could. Johnson met with her students about their packets three times a week for an hour and a half.
“Some of us were leading morning meeting sessions, and really focusing on social and emotional learning. Some of us tried to create a semblance of normalcy for students and went more of the academic route,” Johnson said.
“[The protocol] was: however you can get connected with your students, whatever you need to do to provide whatever it is they need — academics or social and emotional — do what you can. It varied from building to building and class to class of what that looked like.”
Even with the new difficulties this pandemic year would bring, Lindsay Johnson kept her focus on making each child feel confident and successful.
She had known she wanted to be a teacher since she was a student herself, growing up in Fayetteville. Her seventh-grade teacher pushed her out of her comfort zone by encouraging her to answer questions in class.
“You have the ability to achieve whatever it is you want, and I’m going to help you build those skill sets to do what you want to do in your life.”
“I thought to myself, ‘I’m not smart, I’m not that kid,’” Johnson recalled. “But she continued to show me that I was capable and I was smart. It doesn’t feel good to feel that you’re not smart.
“I want to be the person that shows every student I come across, that you are capable and you are smart. You have the ability to achieve whatever it is you want, and I’m going to help you build those skill sets to do what you want to do in your life.”
With her fourth-graders, Johnson held social hang-out days, math lessons, reading lessons and science demonstrations. She hosted a book club for students who wanted more interaction with each other.
Her nine- and ten-year-olds were accustomed to using technology for games and entertainment, not for school. The transition to remote learning was difficult at first because Johnson had to teach her students how to use technology in a way to help them learn. She taught them the basics of finding links, understanding a URL bar, and how to refresh a web page.
In August, the start of the 2020-2021 school year paired Johnson with a new group of fourth-graders — children she’d never had the chance to meet in-person before the pandemic hit. It posed an even greater challenge for building relationships.
“Connecting with my students was one of my biggest worries,” Johnson said. “Being a fourth grade teacher, I normally see the kids come down the hall, and I normally see faces.”
Each teacher at Forest View Elementary holds a 30-minute meeting with their class at the start of each day, and this has helped Johnson connect with her students. The meetings are focused on community-building, with teachers sharing meaningful quotations and asking students about how they are feeling. Sometimes a school counselor will join the session.
“Sometimes the topic of the day hits really close to home, and students need more time to process and think about how they’re feeling,” Johnson said. “We take that moment to address where students are and how they’re feeling — because if they’re not processing those emotions, then starting the day would be a disservice to them. If we were to just start straight into academics, I think we would’ve seen a lot of kids disengaged.”
The constraints of remote instruction have made it difficult to cover as much academic material as in the past, she said. Teaching computer skills and focusing on emotional support takes time away from the standard subjects of reading, writing, math, science and social studies.
“If the students aren’t emotionally prepared or feeling supported, they’re not going to be in a head space to learn academically,” Johnson said. “There are so many other factors that we had to account for in this virtual setting that decrease the amount that we can actually cover in a school year, if we were to remain virtual versus being in the classroom.”
“I would rather ensure every child has a foundation in math than to throw everything I got at them, math-skill-wise, and see what happens.”
Rather than rush to teach her students each individual skill in fourth-grade math, she slowed down to focus more on the fundamentals.
“Math is so intricate, with so many skills and foundational pieces. So if you don’t have the foundational understanding and you continue to build on it, that house is gonna crumble,” Johnson said. “I would rather ensure every child has a foundation in math than to throw everything I got at them, math-skill-wise, and see what happens.”
Returning to in-person learning
When the DPS school board decided on March 2 to begin returning to in-person instruction, educators worried about the risk of increased exposure to the coronavirus. Johnson’s phone was flooded with text messages from fellow teachers, sharing resources on places they could get vaccinated.
Forest View Elementary resumed in-person instruction on March 15. Two days later, Johnson received her second dose of the vaccine.
“It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “Not that I let my guard down, because safety is still the number-one concern. It sounds weird, but it was like I wasn’t scared of death or the prospect of getting terribly ill any more.”
According to the DPS COVID Dashboard, Forest View Elementary has had zero positive COVID-19 cases since reopening, however DPS elementary schools as a whole have had 27 cases among students and 15 cases among staff since March 2021.
“It’s been really good to see students in the building,” Johnson said. “You can tell that they’re enjoying themselves. But … students are slowly but surely realizing that just because we’re in the building doesn’t mean things are gonna be like how they were prior to COVID.”
Although students and teachers are together again at school, they wear their masks and maintain social distance in the classroom and on the playground. Collaborative work, which normally would entail a table group with shared supplies that students would use to create something together, is often virtual.
The challenges of virtual learning are not over. Johnson is teaching a hybrid fourth-grade class now, with 10 students in person and 12 online.
“I’m still accounting time for making sure the students online feel connected and part of the classroom, and making sure I’m dividing my attention among both groups equitably,” Johnson said. “It’s a delicate dance. It’s definitely a dance that can be exhausting at the end of the day.”
“We’re still all in this together, even though there are some students who are physically in the buildings and some students who are at home.”
Johnson continues to use virtual platforms in her physical classroom. The students with her in the classroom have their laptops and tablets, and they often connect online to collaborate with students who are learning from home.
“So we’re still all in this together, even though there are some students who are physically in the buildings and some students who are at home,” Johnson said.
The challenges that the pandemic has posed on the education system are strong, but Johnson says she is still working based upon her belief that every child has a right to a quality education.
“Fourth graders are like sponges soaking everything up,” Johnson said. “It gives me a sense of hope for what our future can be.”
For revealing a Durham County jail inmate’s lethal exposure to coronavirus, 9th Street Journal reporter Dryden Quigley has won the 2021 Frank Barrows Award for Excellence in Student Journalism.
The North Carolina Open Government Coalition award recognizes student journalists whose work uses public records, open meetings or press access to shine light on how government performs.
In October, Quigley published a story revealing that Darrell Kersey died of COVID-19 at Duke Regional Hospital after contracting coronavirus while in the custody of Durham County Detention Facility.
The High Point man was sentenced to a state prison term by then. But he remained in the county jail due to pandemic-related delays in moving people to state prisons.
Sheriff Clarence Birkhead did not disclose the fatal exposure. Quigley, a Duke University senior, did after obtaining Kersey’s death certificate and scouring county and state records.
Those records detailed who was detained in the Durham County facility, Kersey’s criminal case and sentencing, and COVID-19 deaths among state prison inmates.
“During the past year, a wave of COVID-19 cases and related deaths occurred in North Carolina prisons and jails. Quigley’s use of public records and inmate databases situated Kersey’s death in the context of a statewide — if not nationally significant — story about health and safety in carceral facilities,” today’s award announcement states.
Read more about the award and Quigley’s work here.
At top: Dryden Quigley, a Duke University senior, covers Durham County for The 9th Street Journal.
A neighborhood email list promising leftover vaccines launched Bruce, a diabetic Durhamite, on an odyssey. In want and need of a COVID-19 shot, the 76-year-old said he walked through pouring rain to the vaccination clinic at Duke University.
When he arrived, soggy but hopeful, the nurses told him he had been misinformed — they were not taking walk-ins.
“It wasn’t the end of the world, but the principle of it just seemed so crazy,” said Bruce. “It’s just the whole vagueness and randomness of it all, you know?”
Bruce, who got the shot days later, isn’t alone. As the gates inch open, Durhamites are still hustling to get jabbed, flooding social media sites for tips to lock down fast-filling vaccination appointments or get leftover shots.
On reddit pages and Facebook groups, through neighborhood email lists or by word of mouth, people are sharing insights about how to get immunized faster. Many report signing up on waitlists for multiple vaccination sites in and outside of Durham. Some have driven hours to get to well-stocked clinics.
Most people The 9th Street Journal asked about their vaccine quests declined to share their full names. But their stories display how hard some people are working to get vaccines. Becca had more luck than Bruce as a walk-in. She got her first dose of the Moderna vaccine Tuesday by simply showing-up at the Walgreens on Fayetteville Street at the end of the day. Nabbing the leftover dose saved Becca from driving two-and-a-half hours from Durham to a coastal Onslow County clinic that she heard about on her neighborhood email list. But the shot stood for more than saved time.
“It means freedom!” cheered Becca as she waited 15 minutes in the store for potential post-vaccination side-effects. “It means I can hug my friends and go to the gym, and it means I can not stress about ending up in the hospital.”
Social media crowdsourcing
Durhamites discussing out-of-county vaccination options are flooding the r/bullcity reddit board.
User u/_Brandobaris_ said he couldn’t find vaccine appointments via the state health department, county health department or Walgreens when he became eligible in late February. So, he got creative.
“Using friends and reddit, I found hiDrb.com and a couple other NC counties and pharmacies,” he wrote. He joined their waitlists, too.
Ultimately, though, it was his wife’s incessant refreshing of the Walgreens vaccination site that ended up saving the day, he reported. She managed to get them both appointments at a location in Chapel Hill last week, where they received their first doses.
Lisa, a 42-year-old Durhamite whose health issues place her in Group 4, told 9th Street that she had visited over 16 websites trying to find a vaccine appointment. Her plea for help on the r/bullcity page generated hundreds of responses and guidance on where to get a vaccine. Lisa said she has a jab scheduled for Wednesday in Greensboro.
“It’s really difficult,” she said. “I’m a very savvy computer user, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone who’s less computer-savvy or doesn’t have a computer to try and navigate all this. There’s just too much information and not a single repository to have it all in one place.”
Bruce said he got on Duke Health’s vaccination waitlist back in December. But after weeks of waiting, he started looking elsewhere. He decided to call the Duke Primary Care Clinic. They put him on their waitlist, too.
“And then again, weeks go by and nothing happens,” Bruce said.
After his fruitless walk through the rain, he finally found the correct email to request an appointment. He received his second dose on March 2.
Bruce knew he wasn’t the only person having trouble. He said a friend has a competition among loved ones to see who will drive the farthest in order to get the vaccine. The friend’s nephew claims the top spot, having driven two-and-a-half hours to the Hertford County town of Ahoskie.
Jamal Patterson, a security guard from Graham County working at a vaccination clinic at Duke’s Blue Devil Tower on Wednesday, said he hoped to secure a leftover vaccine at the end of his shift. His boss said that extra doses might be available to him and his co-workers, he reported. That didn’t work out on two previous days, but he wasn’t giving up.
“At the end of the workday, if they have some leftover, I can be like ‘Hey!’” he said, hopeful it would be his day.
On May 26, 2020, working mom Cara August laced up a pair of roller skates for the first time in over 30 years. She swung open her front door and shakily skated out into her suburban Durham neighborhood, too excited to wait for her protective knee and elbow pads to be delivered. She was finally taking some time for herself.
“It made me feel empowered to make some sort of choice — to do something fun that was still safe and didn’t put anybody else in jeopardy,” said August, who works a day job in communications.
August joined legions of roller skating enthusiasts across the country who, over the past year, have strapped on a set of wheels and taken to the streets — whether in a city park or in a cul de sac.
In Durham, the activity became a way for locals to get outside and move during quarantine. That’s visible during a quick drive past open spaces downtown like vacant parking lots or Durham Central Park, where skaters freestyle moves across the pavement.
“We’ve seen a big increase in outdoor activity, and roller skating is part of that,” said Durham Parks and Recreation (DPR) Assistant Director Thomas Dawson.
With piqued interest among Durhamites, Dawson says DPR hopes to launch roller skating classes in 2021 or 2022.
In November 2020, DPR announced its plan to buy Wheels Fun Park, a historic Durham roller rink. The city aims to revamp the venue into a community and aquatics center in the next few years, and Dawson expects the roller rink won’t be going anywhere.
“Most likely there will be a strong voice for preserving the roller skate rink,” he said.
While he doesn’t want to make any promises until hearing directly from Durham’s community, he noted that “the purchase of this historic site has brought a lot of groups out of the woodwork who love the Wheels roller facility.”
Eddie Watson, founder of the Raleigh-Durham Skaters Association, is excited to see this Durham staple stick around. Watson, who has skated for 30 years, is thrilled that roller skating is “in the spotlight,” mentioning how he has seen the sport pop up on Good Morning America, in Usher videos and all over social media.
Increased visibility like this has caused a surge in demand for skates, especially during the pandemic. By May 16, 2020, U.S. Google searches for “roller skates” reached an all-time high.
“I ordered Moxi Skates and it took six months to get them because roller skating blew up so much,” August said.
Global brands like Moxi and Impala claim three-to six-month wait times, frustrating customers who are waiting for their wheels to arrive. The Wall Street Journal reported that manufacturing parts from China and Taiwan have taken twice as long to be delivered. The popularity resulted in supply-chain issues, which were exacerbated by coronavirus restrictions, including limited production from U.S. manufacturing facilities.
Roller skating dates back to the Victorian era when touch between young men and women was strictly forbidden. Socially approved skating permitted young couples to visit one another without the taboo of physical contact. Ironically, such social distancing is useful today.
In the 1900s, skating in the U.S. became integral to the civil rights movement. Some of the first protests against racial discrimination were skate-ins, where African-American skaters protested the segregation of roller rinks. As highlighted in the 2020 Emmy Award-nominated documentary “United Skates”, roller skating established “families” in Black communities, even after desegregation.
Still, roller rinks continued racial discrimination by terming Black skating events “adult nights” or soul nights. By redefining these nights to celebrate Black culture, regional and personal skating styles emerged. From Detroit’s “Open-House” Slide to Bill Butler’s “Jammin’”, style skating developed in tandem with new waves of electronic dance music.
Fun for the whole family
Gearing up to teach new and experienced skaters of all ages, Watson emphasized the physical and mental health benefits of skating.
“Physically, it helps your lung capacity,” he said. “[Mentally,] a skate rink for three or four hours maybe takes you away from any issues—especially with good music and good people.”
Both The American Health Association and the President’s Council for Physical Fitness confirm Watson’s words. Roller skating causes 50% less stress on joints than running, is five times less dangerous than biking, and provides a “complete aerobic workout.” It’s also a great way to get children moving.
On top of the physical and mental benefits, roller skating is a sport for all ages.
“I’ve seen six, seven-year-olds catch on real good,” said Watson, “and up to 80 and 90-year-olds still skating — whether it be just a regular shuffle skate type of thing or dance skate.”
After seeing their mom’s newfound love for skating, August’s daughters, ages three and seven, asked for skates of their own. By moving carpets, clearing furniture and opening doors in her house, August created a small roller rink where she could teach her two daughters to skate on the hardwood floors.
Parents have been particularly affected by the pandemic as they balance work, children and self-care. “We’re all stressed and scared,” August said, noting that it’s been hard to find time for herself.
According to recent PEW Research Center results, working moms are 11% more likely than working dads to say balancing life and work responsibilities became more difficult during the pandemic. With working women spending 50% more time on child care than their husbands, a new study by A Great Place to Work and the Maven Clinic says women are 28% more likely than their husbands to become burnt-out.
Pilar Timpane, a filmmaker and mother of two, describes it as two choices at odds with each other.
“You end up feeling like you should either be doing something for your kids or doing something for your work,” she said.
Wanting to find a hobby that she could easily learn while spending time alone, Timpane took up roller skating after feeling empowered by women she saw skating on Instagram. She quickly fell in love with the pair of skates she was gifted for Christmas.
“I think of roller skating as a good time; it’s just joyful,” she said.
Reminiscing on their preteen skating days, both Timpane and August quickly caught back on. They especially love skating because it can be a solo adventure or a family affair.
“We’re a family on wheels,” Timpane said, noting how she roller skates while her husband bikes, her three-year-old daughter scooters and her one-year-old naps in her stroller. When Timpane skates alone, she revels in the little moments to enjoy the physical activity.
Similarly, August’s family is her “little skate crew.” But August also makes time for herself. Putting on her headset and zoning-out, she “grooves,” she says,”skate-dancing” on Durham’s iconic American Tobacco Trail.
The roller skating revival is one silver lining of the pandemic. August sees it as a way to connect with her kids, too.
“Hopefully they’ll remember and look back on it fondly. Like ‘yeah, that year sucked, but at least we learned how to roller skate.’”
9th Street Journal reporter Eleanor Ross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Top: Before the pandemic, the Raleigh-Durham Skaters Association threw skating parties throughout the state. Photo courtesy of Eddie Watson.
Mayor Steve Schewel expressed confidence in Durham Public Schools teachers Monday as they began welcoming some children back to their classrooms for the first time in a year, but he said he was concerned about threats against school board members who voted — over the objections of teachers and parents worried about COVID-19 risks — to reopen the schools.
“Our teachers in Durham are so dedicated, and they are going to work their hardest to make this a fantastic experience for their students,” Schewel said in an interview. “Still, this is very difficult to have a classroom where you have to teach both in-person and remotely. It is really hard. It is still going to be an imperfect spring of schooling in Durham and across the country.”
The difficulties of balancing remote and in-person teaching caused hesitation over the decision to reopen. Happi Adams, a Jordan High School teacher, said she was disappointed that high schools will let students return to in-person learning this semester, rather than finish the year with online-only instruction.
“I don’t think in-person is going to a particularly meaningful or warm and connected experience because of the way we have to do things under the COVID safety protocols,” Adams said. “A few of my students from my classes will be in the building with me, and then the majority of the students that I’m teaching will still be interacting with us via Zoom.”
According to the DPS website, all schools will hold only-online asynchronous learning on “Wellness Wednesdays.” Elementary students will be in person for the other four days a week. Middle and high school students will attend on Mondays-Tuesdays or Thursdays-Fridays, in three rotating cohorts.
Elementary schools reopened their classrooms Monday. The four small specialty high schools (City of Medicine Academy, J.D. Clement Early College High School, Middle College at Durham Tech, and New Tech High School) will reopen for a cohort of students Thursday, while the remaining high schools and middle schools will reopen April 8.
Some teachers and board members had argued that the schools should not reopen until all DPS employees had been fully vaccinated.
Board members threatened
Disagreement over reopening has led to threats against DPS board members. Mike Lee, the DPS board vice chair, said during a board meeting on March 2 that teachers had threatened him and his family members. Schewel denounced the “vitriolic attacks and even threats” in a statement released last week.
Local law enforcement is investigating one threat from a parent, he said.
“One parent wrote on social media, ‘If my child is that one in a thousand that gets it and develops serious symptoms … I’ll shoot down every member of the DPS school board,’ ” Schewel wrote. “This is horrifying and scary. I denounce this language in the strongest possible terms.”
Schewel expressed concern about the “particularly profound” nature of threats leveled against Black and Brown board members. The school board’s vote to start reopening this week was 4-3, with all four Black members of the board in the majority. The board’s one Hispanic and two white members favored reopening at a later date.
“A threat like this is so much more threatening to a Black person than to white people because — even if it’s the exact same threat — Black people have so much more often been the victims of people who carry out threats like this,” Schewel said. “We have to acknowledge that, but the threats against anybody are not OK. The anger level that has built up around this is not helpful to our community.”
Schewel says he hopes Durham residents will “lower the temperature” on their anger and focus their political energy towards progressive fights. In Raleigh, he said, the General Assembly is “undermining public education at every turn” by underfunding schools and underpaying teachers.
“Durham is a city with a widely shared progressive vision,” Schewel said. “As I expressed in the letter I wrote, 20 miles from here in Raleigh in the General Assembly there are all kinds of things going on which are antithetical to the progressive consensus that we share in Durham. We need to be focusing our political energy not on angry attacks on each other but on doing the work that we need to do to get the state policy that we all agree on here in Durham.”
The sky was pitch black, but Hannah Slocum was on the move. Rolling out her purple yoga mat and cueing a new playlist, she turned on her Zoom camera and led a yoga class to the rising sun.
Slocum’s 6:30 a.m. virtual class via Yoga off East drew six online participants. Even her mother tuned in from Massachusetts. It felt like much of the world was still asleep as the sky turned from pink to blue. But Slocum, bright and attentive, slowly guided her students through each movement. Her instructions: “do whatever feels good in your body this morning.”
With over 36 million people practicing yoga regularly in the United States, the mental health benefits of yoga are proven. According to Yoga Alliance, 86% of people in the U.S. who practice yoga said it reduced their stress; 67% says it makes them feel better emotionally.
The global pandemic has exacerbated mental health struggles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, by June 2020, 40% of adults in the U.S. struggled with mental health or substance abuse.
“The world expects us to function as is, and just keep going as is,” said Stephany Mejia, a Triangle-based therapist and registered yoga instructor. “But the reality is that our functioning has been limited—[especially] living through a pandemic.”
Through her practice as a therapist and social worker, Mejia encourages her clients to practice yoga to help them live in a moment outside of their heads, adding that “yoga isn’t about debating the thoughts. It’s about being with the body.”
Durham’s yoga community has adapted with socially distanced alternatives to meet people where they are—at home. Most studios hold weekly sessions online.
“Yoga is an invitation to set aside judgment and inner criticism,” said Kathryn Smith, owner of Yoga off East. “It’s an invitation to meet yourself where you are without trying to fix anything.”
Aside from Slocum’s online class, Yoga Off East also holds outdoor, socially distanced classes at Oval Park.
“The whole point of a studio is to meet people where they are,” Smith said. “If people aren’t ready to practice [in-person] in the studio, we’ll meet you at home.”
With the pandemic’s restrictions, some independent yoga instructors created entirely new virtual studios. Shakira Bethea, an independent yoga teacher and massage therapist in Durham, began an online studio focused on community building and healing.
Partnering with Sahaja Space, a yoga studio in Durham’s Lakewood neighborhood, Bethea begins each morning at 7:30 a.m. by either teaching or joining in Collective Care, a daily yoga class she began to combat stress and “bring people to their center” during the 2020 presidential election. It continued blossoming long afterward into a community of up to 15 individuals. They begin each day with active yoga poses and meditation exercises.
Bethea explained that creating a “small, virtual space” offers a collective way to alleviate extra anxieties brought on by the pandemic and current affairs. It’s a space where, Bethea said, someone can help people “take on all the fear and worry” they harbor internally and “share it so you don’t have to walk with it by yourself.”
Bethea also offers a sliding scale payment system, with monthly prices as low as five dollars.
“Once we can take care of ourselves, we can have more care and more love for the people around us,” Bethea said.
According to Harvard Medical School, stressful situations trigger the “fight or flight response,” leaving people stuck in a trauma-based response system.
“If we don’t regulate our nervous system, some of the consequences are chronic health conditions,” said Mejia, the therapist.
This can include persistent anxiety and other related symptoms that have increased for many people in 2020. Mejia explained that when we are anxious, depressed, or worried, our bodies respond by increasing production of cortisol, the stress hormone. “[That] can result in a constant state of ‘I can’t calm down,’” she said.
According to a study published by the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, yoga reduces cortisol levels, which can decrease stress and bring relief in depression.
But achieving those benefits requires patience, a challenge Smith at Yoga Off East quickly realized the first time she practiced yoga 21 years ago.
“I didn’t like it at all,” she said. “I remember constantly looking at my watch. I was used to having a pretty full schedule and to step outside of that and be quiet and still—I found [that] extremely difficult.”
But after a few months, Smith began to experience yoga’s positive mental health impacts. She encourages newcomers to give it a try and to let go of perfectionism, explaining that yoga includes different positions for all bodies that can shift from practice to practice.
For example, one can choose to relax and refocus in a recovery position like downward dog, and later activate the muscles in a more active revolved chair pose. Smith said that with any position or yoga session, “you can add, subtract, make it yours.”
As the sun rose through Slocum’s yoga session last week, she asked the class: “how can you, yourself, best show up to meet these times, to meet these circumstances?”
For local yogis, the practice is as much about self-care as it is about collective support and healing. Bethea recalled how her yoga community supported her when she couldn’t make it to class during her parents’ bout with COVID-19. They sent her homemade food and care packages and lit candles during a guided meditation while her family healed.
“There’s so much isolation right now,” Bethea said. “[Yoga helps you] remember you’re a human here having this experience.”
For Smith, that’s the beauty of any collective yoga practice—online or offline.
“Two people can show up at a class having different needs and walk back into the world together,” she said.
9th Street Journal reporter Eleanor Ross can be reached at email@example.com
At top: Yoga students strike the same poses outdoors that they would make in a studio during an outdoor class. Photo by Sho Hatakeyama