2023: The year in pictures in North Carolina’s Border Belt

Carol Williams goes over the day’s activities at the Building Bridges after-school program in Fair Bluff. Fair Bluff has struggled to recover after losing a significant portion of its population and its business district following hurricanes Floyd, Matthew and Florence. The small Columbus County town is adjacent to the Lumber River. Photo by Les High
Whiteville firefighters block South Madison Street as it leads into a flooded downtown following Tropical Storm Idalia. The Border Belt Independent published several stories in 2023 related to flooding as recent hurricanes caused deaths, destroyed swaths of housing and had an enormous negative economic impact on local counties. Photo by Les High
Long-time guidance counselor and former Central High School interim principal Louise Turner looks at old photographs for a story for the Border Belt Independent written by reporter Kerria Weaver on “Principal’s Row.” The street is near Central High School, the former segregated high school in Whiteville. It’s where several revered Black principals and educators lived. Photo by Les High
Eckie Lancaster holds his hands in prayer after receiving communion at a Grace United Methodist Church service in Elizabethtown.  The Border Belt Independent examined the schism in the United Methodist Church over LGBTQ issues that caused a number of United Methodist churches to disaffiliate. Photo by Les High
Whiteville Primary Principal Kimberly Ward gives a hug to two students in the lunchroom. The Border Belt Independent published a story about concerns that private school vouchers approved by the General Assembly would further erode public education in the state. Photo by Les High
Whiteville Primary School students respond to a reading exercise. The photograph accompanied the private school voucher story. Photo by Les High
Timothy Jacobs talks about the takeover of The Robesonian newspaper in Lumberton 35 years ago. Jacobs occupied the newspaper with the late Eddie Hatcher to protest corruption in Robeson County. A short documentary accompanied the story. Photo by Sarah Nagem
Nursing students Alysa Anderson, left, Anna Russ, right, and Bladen Community College President Amanda Lee share a laugh with other students as Russ holds a pediatric training mannequin. The mannequin, which costs $20,000, can simulate many of the conditions students will experience once they graduate. The Border Belt Independent published stories on the three community/technical colleges and their presidents in Bladen, Columbus and Robeson counties. Photo by Les High
SCC President Chris English shares a light moment with Executive Vice President/Chief Academic Officer Sylvia Cox. English has an easy-going personality but is often described as laser-focused and persistent when it comes to new initiatives. Photo to Les High
Daisher Jones, left, enrolled in the cosmetology program at Robeson Community College when she was eight months pregnant. She said the school allowed her to adjust her on-campus hours. Watching her work is Robeson Community College President Melissa Singler. Singler dropped out of high school, got her GED, and through perseverance, rose to become president of RCC. Photo by Sarah Nagem
The Lumbee Tribe is one of the regular beats for the Border Belt Independent. This photo and the next one are from the Lumbee Dance of the Harvest Moon. In addition to cultural events, the BBI published stories on a potential casino and federal recognition issues. See a video from the Dance of the Harvest Moon here. See other Border Belt Independent videos on our YouTube channel. Photos by Ben Rappaport.
Another photo from the Lumbee Dance of the Harvest Moon.
The Waccamaw Siouan tribe of Columbus and Bladen counties and the Lumbee tribe, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, fought to overturn a rule by Classical Charter Schools of America that prevented boys from wearing long hair on campus. But the schools tweaked their policy following complaints from Native American and other families  who said long hair was an important part of their culture and identity. Submitted photo
Kevin Haidery at his business, All Model Auto Parts Salvage Yard, west of Chadbourn. Haidery learned the art of auto repair as a refugee in the Middle East. He later served as an interpreter and IT specialist in Afghanistan with the U.S. Department of State, allowing him to emigrate to the U.S. with his family. Photo by Les High
In the story, “Fabric of community: The legacy of the Jewish population in rural southeastern NC,” Reporter Ben Rappaport explored the remarkable impact Jewish immigrants from Europe had on numerous small eastern North Carolina towns. Ricky Leinwand, left, still runs his family’s retail store in downtown Elizabethtown with wife Eileen and son Michael. Photo by Les High
Curtis Hill, president of the Columbus County chapter of the NAACP, in front of the Brunswick Town Hall, where he serves on the town board. Hill and the NAACP became more active when racial tensions became heightened after Sheriff Jody Greene called sheriff’s office employees “Black bastards” and other derogatory names in a recorded conversation. Photo by Les High
In Reporter Ivey Scofield’s story, “A Robeson County preacher is on a quest to ban books. The school district says no way,” the Rev. Nicholas McNeill (center), pastor of Zion Hill Baptist Church in Rennert, hosted community meetings to inform parents of books he wants off the shelves of schools, including “Patient Zero” and “Nasreen’s Secret School.” Other pastors, including the Revs. Lawrence Garner (left) and Hedrick Jones (right), joined his efforts. Photo by Ivey Schofield
Farm tech Misael Chable mucks out the walkway of a pig house on the Michael Inman farm near Tar Heel in Bladen County. The photo accompanied the story, “The hog industry rules in Bladen County. But some farmers worry about their future.” Photo by Les High
Carli Brosseau of The Assembly and Editor Sarah Nagem published an extensive story about the investigation of former Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene, who was removed from office by a superior court judge. The story, “Clouds Over Columbus County,” reported that federal officials have issued numerous subpoenas in the case. The story also examined the history of past corruption in the Colcor investigation and convictions from the 1980s. Photo by Johanna F. Still
Carisa Collins-Caddle, the only outreach worker in Robeson County for the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, travels across the county providing counseling and giving out naloxone, fentanyl test strips and other supplies. Photo by Sarah Nagem
Reporter Rachel Baldauf examined mental health care for foster care children in her story, “Kids in foster care often need mental health care. But options are limited in rural NC.” Pictured are Amanda and Jonathan Price of Orrum as they attend a soccer game with their three daughters, whom they initially fostered then adopted. Photo by Les High
Police officers scan Lumberton High School football fans before they enter a game in September after 11 people were arrested following a shooting at an earlier game. Photo by Ben Rappaport
Dr. Jugta Kahai, chief of pediatrics, is shown in her practice in Whiteville. Kahai is active in the region trying to find solutions to the high number of children who have mental health issues as demonstrated in the story, “Crisis in children’s mental health takes a heavy toll in rural southeastern NC.” Unfortunately, mental health care for children in rural areas is woefully lacking. Les High photo.