Durham News

2015 newsmakers: 10 who made news in Durham this year

DukeCoach Mike Krzyzewski walks out to the court with the Blue Devils’National Championship banners in the background. Below, from left, Barbara Lau, director of the Pauli Murray Project; Police Chief Jose Lopez and City Manager Tom Bonfield; and yoga instructor Jessamyn Stanley.
DukeCoach Mike Krzyzewski walks out to the court with the Blue Devils’National Championship banners in the background. Below, from left, Barbara Lau, director of the Pauli Murray Project; Police Chief Jose Lopez and City Manager Tom Bonfield; and yoga instructor Jessamyn Stanley. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Today we bring you the first of three special end-of-year issues. Look for our top stories of the year Wednesday and our annual year in photos issue one week from today.

Here is a look at 10 people or groups that made news in Durham, and in some cases beyond, in 2015.

Mike Krzyzewski

By anyone’s standards, Duke men’s basketball coach Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski had a good year professionally in 2015.

On Jan. 25, with Duke’s 77-68 victory over St. John’s University in Madison Square garden, Krzyzewski became the first men’s basketball coach to reach 1,000 wins.

On April 6, with Duke’s 68-63 victory over Wisconsin, Krzyzewski won his fifth NCAA championship. Only UCLA’s John Wooden, with 10, won more national championships.

On June 25, three more Duke players were first-round picks in the NBA draft, bringing the total number to 31 of players coached by Krzyzewski who went in the first round.

As December comes to a close, Duke is once again ranked among the nation’s Top 10 teams.

Seems monotonous, doesn’t it?

But Krzyzewski doesn’t always measure success the same way as other coaches. A devoted Catholic and a West Point grad (Krzyzewski married his wife, Carol “Mickie” Marsh, in the Catholic chapel at West Point on the day of his graduation in 1969), Krzyzewski is a philanthropist and powerful fund-raiser for Duke.

He’s helped raise millions for the university, and in 2006 established the Emily Krzyzewski Center (named for his mother) in Durham. The center’s biggest mission is to help underprivileged children achieve academically and in the community. The Krzyzewskis also have been longtime advocates for the Duke Children’s Hospital, Children’s Miracle Network, the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

As he said after a V Foundation for Cancer Research event Aug. 6 that raised more than $10 million, “While we raised millions of dollars, what we really raised was hope.”

Staff writer Elliott Warnock

Barbara Lau and Pauli Murray Project

The indefatigable Barbara Lau has long worked on restoring Pauli Murray’s childhood home in hopes of designating it a national historic site.

This year, Lau, the director of the Pauli Murray Project at the Duke Human Rights Center, along with the Southwest Durham Quality of Life Project and Self-Help Credit Union, saved Murray’s home at 906 Carroll St. from demolition.

Murray (1910-85) was raised in Durham by her maternal grandparents, Robert and Cornelia Fitzgerald. Her 1956 memoir, “Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family,” vividly described life in the West End neighborhood of the 1910s.

Currently undergoing an extensive renovation, the house will become the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice, whose work will honor the late African-American Durham activist, feminist, lawyer, author and Episcopal priest, the first black woman to be ordained in that church.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation named the house, built in 1898, a National Treasure this year. No cash comes with the designation, but it means National Trust staff are committed to assist in marketing, fundraising and historic preservation.

Correspondent Lisa Sorg

Jose Lopez

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez made numerous appearances in the headlines.

He defended the Police Department against accusations of racial bias. He appealed for the public’s help in fighting violent crime rate, which increased 16 percent in the first nine months of the year compared to the same time last year.

And he lost his job when City Manager Tom Bonfield announced in September that Lopez would retire at the end of the year. Bonfield had given the chief the options of resigning, retiring or being fired.

Over the past three years, Lopez and the Police Department have faced increased scrutiny after members of the community started to raise concerns about traffic stop data that indicated blacks were more likely to be stopped and searched than whites. They also expressed concerns about police actions and three controversial 2013 shootings, including the death of Jesus Huerta, a handcuffed high school student who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the back seat of a police car.

Lopez, who has maintained that bias doesn’t exist, said the traffic stop numbers reflect where crime occurs and where people ask for police help.

Complaints nevertheless prompted Mayor Bill Bell in September 2013 to direct the city’s Human Relations Commission to investigate. The commission concluded that a pattern of racial bias and profiling existed within the department.

Staff writer Virginia Bridges

Bill Bell

Mayor Bill Bell doesn’t just talk about addressing poverty and affordable housing but takes a personal and sometimes passionate approach to creating programs to address those problems.

In 2015, Bell continued to head an anti-poverty initiative, introduced and pushed for a rental-assistance program to create affordable housing in downtown and was easily re-elected to his eighth and what he says will be his final two-year mayoral term.

And to cap the year off, Bell ended 2015 with a call to revive the city’s downtown holiday parade in 2016.

In 2014, Bell made poverty reduction a long-term priority in his State of the City address. The effort focuses on two block groups in Census Tract 10.01, which covers much of Northeast Central Durham, an area where poverty, unemployment, crime and other social challenges have persisted for decades.

This year, task forces that focus on jobs, public safety, finance, health, housing and education, have assessed potential actions and taken some steps forward. Bell has asked them to focus on two or three priorities and ways to move forward in 2016.

Frustrated with the city’s limited ability to bring affordable housing downtown, Bell initially proposed that the city buy four condominiums in an upcoming project to reserve for affordable housing. Bell later dropped that idea in exchange for a push to explore creating a downtown rental-assistance program. A related consultant’s report on that proposal is due at the end of the year.

Staff writer Virginia Bridges

Nia Wilson

Everyone can think back to a time, Nia Wilson says, when neighbors looked out for each other: If the grandmother sitting on her porch saw a kid acting up, she’d tell the mom. Students who misbehaved in school landed in the principal’s office, where they faced appropriate consequences. There was no need to escalate minor situations by involving the police.

Wilson is the executive director of SpiritHouse, a community organizing nonprofit founded and led by African-American. Among its missions is Harm Free Durham, which aims to create more community-driven accountability rather than lean too heavily on law enforcement or the court system.

“Bringing accountability back to ourselves and to each other is our goal of this kind of work. It’s returning to what we already know,” Wilson says. “We’re not creating something new, we’re trying to resurrect something we remember and bring it back to what was.”

In her work with SpiritHouse and the FADE Coalition, Wilson has been a force for reforming the Durham Police Department, particularly in how it interacts with communities of color.

By using stop-and-search and arrest data, the FADE (Fostering Alternative Drug Enforcement) Coalition, argued police engaged in racial profiling. While the work did not directly force the resignation of Police Chief Jose Lopez, it contributed to City Manager Tom Bonfield’s asking Lopez to step down, as well as to changes in police procedures: written consent for searches without probable cause, deprioritizing misdemeanor marijuana arrests and regular, mandatory review of officer stop data. 

Correspondents Corbie Hill and Lisa Sorg 

People’s Alliance

For the past 40 years, the Durham People’s Alliance, or PA, as it’s known, has worked on issues of social justice: economy, education and affordable housing.

This year, the PA worked on a living wage campaign that encouraged local businesses to pay at least $11.03/hr. to employees with employer-provided health insurance ($12.53.hr. for those without). The nonprofit also held community forums on the privatization of public education, lobbied county commissioners on increases to the Durham Public Schools budget, and won emergency funding to pay DPS workers after a contractor defaulted. 

On housing, the PA worked with the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit on several initiatives, including affordable housing in a future development next to the bus station.

The group’s political action committee was instrumental in the election of Charlie Reece and Jillian Johnson to city council, representing a new generation of leadership.

Correspondent Lisa Sorg

Paul Modrich

When Paul Modrich won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Durham and the Triangle area were raised in stature just through association.

Modrich of Duke University and Aziz Sancar of UNC won for their decades of work in understanding how cells repair damaged DNA. They share the $960,000 prize with Swedish scientist Tomas Lindahl, an emeritus leader at Francis Crick Institute and emeritus director of Cancer Research UK at Clare Hall Laboratory in England.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the scientists’ work “has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions” and can be used for the development of new ways to treat cancer. Though they conduct research in the same general field, the three men worked independently on the discoveries that earned them the Nobel.

Modrich is the James B. Duke Professor of Biochemistry at Duke’s medical school and a member of the Duke Cancer Institute. He’s also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Michael Kaston, executive director of the Duke Cancer Institute, said a concentration of Nobel Prize winners can help Duke, UNC and the region attract more top scientists. But there is a greater purpose, too. “It’s great for the Triangle, it’s great for the universities, but more importantly, it’s great for our patients, “ Kaston said.

The recognition of the field of DNA repair is overdue, Kaston added.

“DNA damage causes cancer. DNA damage is used to treat cancer with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. And DNA damage causes the side effects of cancer treatment, “ he said. “It can’t get more important for cancer than that. The three individuals that are being honored with the Nobel Prize this year have made extraordinary contributions in our understanding of the DNA repair process.”

Modrich’s key contribution has been the identification of a mismatch repair system, in which a cell’s proteins “proofread” and correct rare errors that occur in the DNA code during chromosome replication. The discovery also led scientists to the genes for the most common form of colon cancer and about 20 to 30 percent of other spontaneous tumors, as well as Huntington’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Staff writer Jane Stancill

LeVelle Moton

LeVelle Moton has gotten used to the idea that people keep mangling his name. (There’s no “a” in LeVelle, that’s a capital “V” – and his family’s name has nothing to do with selling Morton Salt.)

In fact, little slights just motivate him.

“This world is cruel,” Moton once pointed out to members of the Durham Sports Club, saying that personal pain is a pwerful motivator.

Moton knows a little more about that than many coaches. He grew up in a Raleigh neighborhood that was rife with drugs, gangs and violent crime. But he used his All-State status as a basketball star at Enloe High to make it to N.C. Central in 1992. By 1996 he was the CIAA’s Men’s Basketball Player of the Year.

After a stint in pro basketball and then high school coaching in Wake County, Moton returned to NCCU as an assistant coach in 2007 and became head coach in 2009. Last year, he earned his master’s degree in special education.

Last spring, Moton’s team finished 25-8 and in first place of the MEAC for a second straight year (at 16-0 in league games), advancing to the NIT. He was a finalist for the Hugh Durham National Coach of the Year Award, also for a second straight year.

The start of 2015-16 has been tougher for NCCU, which saw the nation’s second longest winning streak for home games snapped at 38 games when the Eages lost to Howard on Dec. 7.

“It’s over, done. ... It’s a learning experience,” Moton said in his typical low-key fashion. “It has to hurt for a while. We can’t have a pity party. We need to focus on building an identity for ourselves.”

Staff writer Elliott Warnock

Marcia Morey

Marcia Morey is the chief district judge in Durham County’s District Court, but she is also an advocate of sorts for those who come before her as she has helped shepherd innovative programs to prevent them from being shackled with a criminal record.

In 2014, Morey started the youth misdemeanor diversion program with funding from Durham's Criminal Justice Center. She also has obtained a grant from the Governor's Crime Commission.

The project allows 16- and 17-year-olds charged with minor crimes to go through a confidential process of community service, counseling and a court appearance leading to dismissal of their arrest records without criminal charges.

North Carolina is the only state where the criminal justice system treats 16-year-olds as adults. Younger offenders are handled through a juvenile system that keeps their records closed, but after turning 16 any arrest is a matter of public record even if charges have been dismissed.

The related public record could haunt the teens for years to come when they apply for college, scholarships, housing and jobs. As of September, 116 teens had participated. All but one had completed the program. Seven have had new criminal charges since participating.

In September, city and county officials, including Morey, rolled out a second program that mirrored Morey’s initial program but targeted 18- to 21-year-olds.

Morey has also advocated for the state to raise the age for those who can be charged as an adult.

“What this issue is about is giving kids a chance,” Morey wrote in Point of View column for The News & Observer. “It is insisting that all youth be treated fairly, the same as any of us would want our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews to be treated. It is saying to our 16- and 17-year-olds who commit minor offenses that we recognize your age.”

Staff writer Virginia Bridges

Jessamyn Stanley

When Jessamyn Stanley’s aunt dragged her to bikram yoga – a series of poses or asanas done in a room heated to 105 degrees – for the first time at 16, Stanley hated it.

“I thought I was going to die,” she said. “Like my life was going to be over.”

But Stanley, a larger-bodied black woman returned to the studio and with more than 100,000 followers on Instagram has gained a national following among yoga practitioners despite not being the stereotypical face of yoga.

As a teacher, Stanley encourages her students to concentrate on how their bodies feel, rather than how they look. “It’s not just about your physical body,” she says. “It’s about your emotional, spiritual – all of these elements have to work together.”

Stanley said she struggled with her body image for most of her life, until she started practicing yoga. She said going into yoga with the goal of losing weight isn’t a helpful mindset; instead, it’s important to focus on mental healing. “How is your body ever going to look different because you’re hating it? Don’t hate it,” she says. “Just be OK with it. That was such a hard place for me to get to.”

Correspondent Hannah Smoot

More newsmakers

▪ Adam Klein: The chief strategist of the American Underground has overseen the rapid expansion and international recognition of start-up incubator space. Under Klein’s leadership, AU has outgrown the American Tobacco Campus and established additional offices in the 200 block of West Main Street, while changing the vibe of downtown Durham.

▪ Lauren Hodge: What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me? Pop-Up Chorus cofounder Lauren Hodge wouldn’t. She’d invite you to join the community sing-along of rock and pop songs. You don’t have to know how to sing, only how to have a good time.

▪ Meg Goodhand: The assistant principal of Efland-Cheeks Elementary School in Orange County resigned along with third-grade teacher Omar Currie after Currie read the fairy tale ‘King & King,’ which ends with two men kissing, to his class. LGBTQ advocates supported him. But Currie felt he had lost support of his administration. He left, and so did Goodhand, who is now assistant principal at Durham’s E.K. Powe Elementary School.

▪ Carlos Riley: The Durham Police Department, already criticized for racial bias and officer-involved shootings, found itself under additional scrutiny in the case of Carlos Riley. Officer Kelly Stewart, who is black, alleged Riley, also black, had shot him as the two struggled after a traffic stop. However, at trial, the defense argued Stewart had actually shot himself with his own gun. A jury found Riley not guilty of robbery and assault.

Correspondent Lisa Sorg