02/12/18 — Planting the seeds of a pathway to success

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Planting the seeds of a pathway to success

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 12, 2018 5:50 AM

One of Karen Garris' responsibilities as teen director at the Wayne County Public Library is to develop and provide fun and interesting programs for youth.

February could have presented a challenge, she admits, but then she thought of her former co-worker at Southern Wayne High School, Nadia Jones.

"We taught together and we had a relationship," Garris said, explaining how she enlisted her fellow teacher to participate in Saturday afternoon's program, "Making Your Own History," featuring a panel of successful black professionals sharing how they got where they are today.

"And of course, I was ready and willing," said Jones, now a world history teacher at Goldsboro High School.

Geared toward 13- to 18-year-olds, the afternoon session was open to anyone, as the message -- to inspire and encourage the audience to achieve their goals and be successful -- is ageless.

Garris, after all, has her own success story.

"I went back to school when I was 30 and got my bachelor's degree in education when I was 38," she said. "And then I went back again at 54 and got my master's in library science.

"I always told my kids, anything worth having is worth working for and once you have it, no one can take it from you."

The invitation to be on such a panel provided an opportunity for the participants to be introspective.

BreAnna VanHook, director of the local Teen Court program, said she reflected on her own life and decisions made along the way.

Jonelle Stovall, a dentist in a practice formed by her grandfather and now working alongside her father, said telling one's own story was easy "because you've lived it."

She admits she had not set out to come back to her hometown, but after her education and residency, in Philadelphia, someone along the way planted the seed, suggesting she could learn much from her parents.

"I came back home (in 2010) and now, talking to my classmates, I realize this is the best decision I could have made," she said. "There's nothing like family."

The fourth member of the panel, Trebor Jackson, a juvenile court counselor, shared the blend of "good and bad" from growing up in Westhaven and going to Goldsboro High School at the end of what many considered its heyday.

"Some things you just knew -- you knew Friday you were going to go to a Goldsboro Cougars game, on Saturday you were going to get a haircut and Sunday, you were going to be in church and you were going to get chicken (for dinner)," he said. "I just think that I benefited from being in a time period where so many things were important and they were stressed."

A 1984 graduate of GHS, he was a football player and described the high school at that time as a prestigious one in the community. He appreciated the diversity, he said, as the school makeup then was 60/40, black to white.

All of the panelists had Wayne County ties.

Stovall said she also went to GHS, but the demographics were drastically different in 2000 than when Jackson was there.

"It was probably 99 percent black and one percent, what I would call 'other,'" she said.

VanHook spent most of her childhood in Dudley, graduating from Charles B. Aycock. She attended UNC-Chapel Hill and then N.C. Central University School of Law.

She credited her parents with being role models and encouraging her to achieve her goals.

Jones, whose family moved here when she was 9, is a first-generation college student. Education was very important in her family, reflected in the fact that she has earned a master's degree and is now a doctoral student.

During an ice-breaker, audience members were encouraged to mingle and ask questions of one another and the panelists, to get to know one another and discover common interests.

Victoria Hines, a Rosewood High School student, said she enjoyed the library program.

"I wanted to hear the struggles of other people and other races because I'm Hispanic," the 15-year-old said. "I would like to be better myself as a person and make sure I'm not hurting anyone else's feelings, and show who I am."

Her 9-year-old sister, Alhondra Hines, was also making the rounds, taking advantage of the chance to learn from others there.

"I came here today for my godsister, Jonelle (Stovall)," she said. "I thought her story was pretty cool."

The third-grader at Rosewood Elementary School has her own aspirations for the future, which she rattled off without hesitation.

"I want to be president, a lawyer and a famous dancer from Mexico," she said. "I want to be kind of a really famous person but not like a drama person."