Need a reason for hope? Meet these two Bridge Builders

Graduating senior Myles Jackson,  the Bridge Builders Award winner from Carrboro High School, sings "We Are the World" during award day ceremonies at CHS, May 23. This fall, Myles will enter North Carolina Central University in Durham. Photo by Jock Lauterer.


By Jock Lauterer

In their new book, “The Crisis of Connection,” researchers Niobe Way, Carol Gilligan, Pedro Noguera and Alisha Ali write, “At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we are beset by a crisis of connection. People are increasingly disconnected from themselves and each other with a state of alienation, isolation and fragmentation characterizing much of the modern world.”

Reading this gloomy and increasingly accurate description of our times, I am reminded of what former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn had to say about the work of re-connecting:        

“Any mule can kick down his barn;

            it takes a carpenter to build one!”

So it gives me a deep measure of satisfaction to announce the winners of the 5th annual Bridge Builders Award — a citation which celebrates Black and White graduating high school seniors from Chapel Hill-Carrboro who have proven themselves as such cultural “carpenters.”

This year’s honorees, Myles Jackson of Carrboro High School and Lenore Bronson of East Chapel Hill High School, both with impressive public service records, clearly embrace the philosophy of the late great UNC Journalism School professor Chuck Stone who said, “Multiculturalism is not the races putting up with each other — it’s the races celebrating each other!”

Receiving this year’s honor from the Lincoln High School/Chapel Hill High School Joint Alumni Association on awards day, May 23, at Carrboro High School, Myles Jackson stood at the podium in front of a gym packed with fellow future graduates, teachers, staff members and parents. And bending closer to the mic, he began singing, softly, a cappella, in a sweet clear voice:

“We are the world; we are the children,

            We are the ones who make a brighter day,

            So let’s start giving…Oh, there’s a choice we’re making,

            We’re saving our own lives,

            It’s true, we’ll make a better day,

            Just you and me…”

(Note: For those of you who were living under a rock in the mid-’80s, “We are the World,” a charity song from the 1985 LP album “USA for Africa,” was written and performed by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson who were joined by a super group including Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Bob Dylan, Diana Ross, Paul Simon, Tina Turner and others. The mega-hit album raised millions of dollars for African relief efforts.)

When asked why he chose to sing that particular song, Myles responded,  “I chose ‘We Are the World’ because right now, we are students at Carrboro High School — but once we leave, we will be a part of the world, and we will be a part of the ones to make decisions that could facilitate change in the world.”

But Myles, a 2022 James Cates Scholar, hasn’t waited to begin his world-changing work.  According to Danita Mason-Hogans, an award-winning local civil rights historian, writer, educator and activist, “Myles was a driving force in studying, documenting and sharing the history of James Cates, a Chapel Hill native who was killed on campus in 1970 and whose story was suppressed and largely forgotten. Thanks to the coalition work of which Myles was a driving force, the Department of Justice re-opened the 50-year-old case, and the University erected a monument on campus to honor the life of Mr. Cates.”

Lenore Bronson holds her Bridge Builders Award citation following awards day ceremonies May 24 at East Chapel Hill High School. Lenore will be entering UNC-CH this fall. Photo by Jock Lauterer.

Meanwhile, over at East Chapel Hill High School the following day, May 24, graduating senior Lenore Bronson was named the other Bridge Builder for 2023, with Bridge Builder Steering Committee member Dr. Carolyn Daniels citing Lenore for her prodigious record of public service that includes 205 hours of community service, providing 3,000 pairs of socks for the homeless, and for her physical and in-person work helping to build the new Habitat for Humanity apartment complex in Northside, Chapel Hill’s historic Black neighborhood.

When I asked Lenore how she felt about being named a Bridge Builder, here’s her reply: “I really couldn’t believe it when I opened the email. It was such a whirlwind of emotions, excitement, shock and pride. I am beyond honored that I was chosen to receive The Bridge Builders award. It truly stands for everything I have worked towards.”

And she reflected further, “Volunteering is not done to receive praise, and it is expected that the work we do very often goes unnoticed. This award has given me a very unique opportunity to continue to do my non-profit work that I am so passionate about, unhindered by financial constraints. It truly means the world to me.”

Standing on the threshold of her college career across town at UNC-CH, Lenore is already thinking ahead, saying, “I am thrilled to see what positive change I can help bring about during my time at UNC. It definitely feels like the world is my oyster!”

Never too late

In a society increasingly riven by discord, division and disconnect, it warms the cockles of this old optimist’s heart to see, meet and get to know these young people who are dedicating their lives to making our country whole again.

Raised during the era of high school segregation, the founding members of the Bridge Builders Award, sponsored by Lincoln High School/Chapel Hill High School Joint Alumni Association, came together in the winter of 2018 at the inspiration of Dr. John Allcott, a Eugene, Oregon physician who graduated from CHHS in 1963 when it was located on Franklin Street, just 9/10ths of a mile from Lincoln High School on Merritt Mill Road.

In spite of this close proximity, White kids at CHHS like Allcott, Richard Ellington and me, had no way of meeting, interacting or getting to know the Black kids, like fellow Bridge Builders Founding Steering Committee members Dr. Carolyn Daniels and Dave Mason, Jr., who were just down the road at Lincoln.

Now, all five of us, fast friends and the selection committee of the Bridge Builders Award, hope that we have helped, in some small way, to right that wrong. And so we have our motto: “It’s never too late — to be a classmate!”

Dr. Daniels explains, “Our schools were very close in proximity, but our experiences were very different. Now, we want to increase awareness and encourage activities to help bridge the gap between the various races and communities in Chapel Hill-Carrboro. And we will continue to encourage students to build bridges between races in their community because the Joint LHS/CHHS Alumni Association envisions a society with equity for all, free of racial discrimination.”

Watch them fly

Myles, the son of Patricia Jackson of Chapel Hill, will be entering North Carolina Central University in Durham this fall.  Lenore, the daughter of Kathryn Price and Joseph Bronson of Chapel Hill, will be entering UNC-Chapel Hill this fall with her sights set on majoring in international business. Both recipients receive an award of $1,500 to help with their college expenses. The new recipients and their families will be feted at the Bridge Builders’ annual awards dinner later this summer.

Myles and Lenore join the roster of Bridge Builder Awardees who include nine outstanding local college students, including new graduates.

Catching up on last year’s winners:

After graduating last spring from CHHS, Sol Ramirez just wound up a remarkable first year as a puppetry major at the University of Connecticut where he is studying on a drama scholarship. Here’s Sol’s impressive update: “It was an amazing first year. I wrote and performed two original pieces for the UConn Puppet Slam, led 3,000 participants through the Hillsborough Solstice walk with my company’s giant light-up moon puppet, joined a band named ‘Solgyres’ where I do percussion and vocals. Also I performed at Yale University for my Intercultural Ramayana shadow puppet class, worked at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry on campus at UConn, and am currently working with the people at Good Folk Podcast to produce ‘Good Folk Fest 2023,’ the first Good Folk festival celebrating North Carolina artists, musicians, and creators. My company 1,2,3 Puppetry will be performing a new showcase there.” 

NaTasja Jeter, a CHHS grad, is now a rising sophomore at UNC-CH where she is majoring in public policy.

Update on 2021 winners

Updating the progress of  the 2021 Bridge Builder Awardees: Phoenix Tudryn, a Carrboro High School grad, made the Dean’s List both semesters at UNC-CH, then spent a memorable semester studying abroad. Now a rising junior, he is double majoring in public policy and global studies with a minor in Spanish. This summer, he is interning in Boston with the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Kameron Walker, a Chapel Hill High School grad, is now a rising junior at Norfolk State University where he is majoring in psychology, with an eye perhaps on a career in counseling. This spring he again played third base on the NSU baseball team.

2020 winner progress

Victoria Fornville, a CHHS graduate, is now a rising senior at UNC-Charlotte where she is majoring in psychology with an added double minor in urban youth and communities and public health. Hannalee Isaacs, also a Chapel Hill High School graduate, is a rising senior at UCLA where she is majoring in political science and sociology.

The first-year awardees follow-up

Following up with the 2019 inaugural class of community service award winners: Corinna Johnson, a Chapel Hill High School grad, just graduated from cum laude UNC-Greensboro with her degree in kinesiology with full honors. Matthew Atisa, an East Chapel Hill High School grad, also graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in computer science. And Nicole Bell, a Chapel Hill High School alum, finished her undergraduate studies at Northeastern University in Boston and is pursuing her advanced degree in pharmacy, a course of study that will require two more years.

For the record

My fellow steering committee members/new classmates include: Dave Mason Jr., Lincoln High School,  class of ’61; John Allcott, MD,  Chapel Hill High School, ’63; Carolyn Daniels, D. Min., Chapel Hill High School, ’67; Richard Ellington, Chapel Hill High School, ’63; Terrell Tracy, Chapel Hill High School, ’63; and John Weaver, who attended CHHS his first two years, ’88-’89, before moving to Winston-Salem and graduating from Reynolds High School.

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.”

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 the memo line.

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