Bridge Builders Award-winners target achievement gap


By Jock Lauterer

Note to the reader: In the interest of full disclosure, I am, in addition to being a columnist for The Local Reporter, a founding board member of the Lincoln High School-Chapel Hill High School Joint Alumni Association, which annually honors outstanding graduating local high school seniors with the Bridge Builders Award  for their work bridging racial and cultural divides in our community. A life-long “townie,” and a 1963 graduate of the segregated Chapel Hill High School, I am joined on the board by former students from all-Black Lincoln High School. Our motto is, “It’s Never Too Late — to be a Classmate!” Created with seed money in 2018 by CHHS ’63 classmate, Dr. John Allcott of Eugene, Oregon, the Bridge Builders this year taps its sixth class of local visionaries, each of whom receives $1,500 to help with their college expenses. Special thanks to the CHHS class of 1969, which has been a generous supporter of the Bridge Builder Award program since its inception.

With all three local high schools holding commencement exercises this weekend, for the first time there will be a Bridge Builder Award winner from each school.

When I asked this year’s winners of the Bridge Builders Award to bring something important with them to their official photo portrait sitting — a meaningful object, a memento — that would reveal something about their deeper selves, I suspected I’d be in for a surprise. And I was not disappointed.

Peyton Battle, of Chapel Hill High School, brought a framed set of aspirational affirmations she received from the NAACP. She told me she reads them for daily inspiration. A sample: “She is extraordinary…she is intelligent…she is authentic…I am she. She is me.”



Nadiyah Walker, a direct descendant of local music legend Doug Clark and iconic political activist/civil rights organizer Rebecca Clark, Nadiyah brought her pom-poms to symbolize her support for increased Black history in the curriculum, as well as support for her school, East Chapel Hill High, where she has been cheering since she was a 6-year-old.



And Nevaeh Hodge, of Carrboro High School, brought a book in honor of an enslaved descendant who, according to family lore, “taught himself to read by moonlight.” Nevaeh reflects, “Reading reminds me how fortunate I am to be able to get an education”.



Cutting to the chase     

This year, all three of our Bridge Builders focused on the same area of racial educational inequity: In a community with such reputedly excellent schools, why is the achievement gap here so large? It strikes me as notable that all three of this year’s winners, independently and from different schools, cited the same issue.

Defined as the difference in End of Grade Testing Scores between the races, the achievement gap in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School district is the second largest between Black and white students in the nation, according to multiple media and academic sources.      

Peyton Battle

A graduating senior at Chapel Hill High School, Payton Battle, the daughter of Renita and George Battle of Chapel Hill, will be entering UNC-Chapel Hill this fall, majoring in biology and exploring the possibility of med school.  Her bridge-building work at CHHS includes serving as co-president of the Black and Brown Student Union, being a senator in student government and serving as the representative on the School Improvement Team.

Of the achievement gap, she blames in part “the lack of opportunities and resources for students of color to succeed on standardized tests and in higher level classes,” adding, “Black students are often overlooked and are not provided with adequate support to be successful. In many of my (AP) classes…it constantly bothers me that I am the only Black student or student of color.”

Students of color are not encouraged to take upper level classes, and their parents aren’t informed as well, she asserts. Peyton writes, “In the ninth grade, I was told that you couldn’t take AP classes. Imagine my surprise when I found out that wasn’t true, and that many of my white peers were taking AP courses.” She thinks many white teachers often underestimate and misunderstand students of color, beginning (as far back as) in elementary school, making the problem systemic.  

Peyton says she thinks that “the dismissive attitudes from some teaching staff toward Black students creates unfair advantages for white students,” adding that “Black students are often discouraged from taking harder classes…some teachers believing that they are not smart enough to be successful in higher level classes,” and that “some teachers already have a perception of Black students before they even step into a classroom….and it’s a reputation that follows them through middle school and high school….I have seen some of my peers waste their potential because of these labels. They have been conditioned to feel that they are not good enough or smart enough.”           

Peyton’s bridge-building work at her school has been dedicated toward “encouraging more students of color to sign up for upper-level courses…and to encourage teachers to stop perpetuating harmful stereotypes.”

Nevaeh Hodge   

Nevaeh Hodge, the daughter of Lyn and Clark Hodge of Carrboro, is a graduating senior at Carrboro High School. This fall, she will be a first-year student at NC A & T University in Greensboro. She too is thinking about a career in medicine.

Of the local achievement gap, she writes succinctly, “It is like being in a race and you never hear the (starter) say ‘Go!’ — and your competitors are already ahead, and there is no way to catch up.”

To help right that wrong, Neveah says, “I try to encourage students who look like me and make sure they believe in themselves, because this is one of the ways we can close the gap.”

Her impressive bridge-building activities at CHS include, serving as president of the NAACP Youth and College Division, and as co-president of the Black and Brown Student Union. In Carrboro town government, she serves on the town’s Youth Council, and the Carrboro Youth Advisory Board.

Her honors include: National Honor Society, Secretary, Superintendent’s Equity  and Empathy Ambassador, James Cates Scholar and Student Government Equity Lead.

In all these outreach efforts, Navaeh says this is a life-long commitment because “I have experienced first-hand what it feels like to be uncomfortable in my school and community and feel like I don’t belong.” Clearly passionate about what she considers a calling, she concludes,

“I believe that change starts with you, and I live my life with this motto. Without people working to make their community a better place, the world would not make any progress.”

Nadiyah Walker

Nadiyah, the daughter of Sharie and Robert Walker of Chapel Hill, is a graduating senior at East Chapel Hill High School. This fall she will be entering Southern University A & M College in Baton Rouge, La., intending to major in criminal justice and psychology.

While she says the local achievement gaps troubles her, Nadiyah has poured much of her energy and efforts into promoting Black history as a subject that should be expanded dramatically and folded into the high school curricula. She explains, “It has pained me to see that Black history was not getting…the recognition it deserved,” adding, “Growing up around a family where Black excellence should be prioritized, I felt like at a school…where the Black kids are the minority, our voices need to be heard.”

Putting her thoughts into action, Nadiyah created a mural listing the names of Black individuals killed by police, made sure Black history notes got into daily school announcements and directed a school assembly devoted to Black history.

Of the Bridge Builders award, she says “It means that other people believe in me — because there have been times when other people didn’t.” And she credits her prodigious drive and energy to “my parents and my grandparents — who didn’t get the chance for the education I’m getting.”

For the record

The past 11 winners of the Bridge Builders award include:

  • from 2019: Corinna Johnson, CHHS, majored in kinesiology at UNC-G; Matthew Atisa, ECHS, majored in computer science at UNC-CH; and Nicole Bell, CHHS, in pharmacy at Northeastern U.
  • from 2020: Hannalee Isaacs, CHHS, majored in poly sci and sociology at UCLA; and Victoria Fornville, CHHS, double majored in psych; and urban youth and communities at UNC-Charlotte.
  • from 2021: Phoenix Tudryn, CHS; double majoring in public policy and global studies at UNC-CH’; and Kameron Walker, CHHS, majoring in psychology with an eye on going into counseling at Norfolk State University.
  • from 2022: Sol Ramirez, CHHS; majoring in puppetry at the University of Connecticut; and NaTasja Jeter, CHHS, attending UNC-CH.
  • from 2023: Myles Jackson, CHS; attending NCCU; and Lenore Bronson, ECHHS, attending UNC-CH.

Who we are

Originally designed to honor solely local Black and white students working to bridge racial divides, the Bridge Builders Award process has now been opened to all local graduating high school seniors.

My fellow steering committee members/new classmates include: John Allcott, MD,  Chapel Hill High School, ’63; Carolyn Daniels, D. Min., Lincoln for her first three years and then Chapel Hill High School, ’67; Richard Ellington, Chapel Hill High School, ’63; Terrell Tracy, Chapel Hill High School, ’63; and our Bridge Builder board chair, John Weaver, who attended CHHS his first two years, ’88-’89, before moving to Winston-Salem and graduating from Reynolds High School.

The Bridge Builders this year will also be honoring board member-emeritus, Dave Mason, Jr., Lincoln High School, class of ’61, and most notably, a legendary member of the heroic 1960s civil rights cohort, “The Chapel Hill Nine,” a bold group of Lincoln High School lads who staged an historic sit-in at the notoriously segregated Colonial Drug Store on West Franklin Street, sparking the local public accommodations movement of the early ’60s.

The annual Bridge Builder Award is administered by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public School Foundation, headed by Executive Director Madeline Blobe, who commented, “The Public School Foundation is honored to assist with the LHS/CHHS Alumni Award for students fighting for social justice.”   She is ably assisted by Scholarship Coordinator Pam Reed,

For more information, contact the school’s Scholarship Coordinator, Pam Reed.   Phone: 919.968.8819.  Donations may also be sent to PSF, P.O. Box 877, Carrboro, NC 27510.  Write LHS-CHHS AWARD in memo line.

Jock Lauterer is a longtime photojournalist, honored in 2020 by PEN America as a “Local Journalist Hero. He is a senior lecturer at the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media and is the retired founding director of the school’s Carolina Community Media Project. The author of six books, Jock is also the winner of the 1998 National Geographic Magazine Faculty Fellowship, among his many accolades

This reporter can be reached at

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