Thursday, June 4, 2015

"KHS 89 ALUMNI TEAM UP FOR A GOOD CAUSE" by Wanda Armstead Smith

Alumni networks are a great way to stay in touch with other former classmates! But even greater when members can actually come together and make a difference! However, Kinston High School class of 1989 graduates, Bonita Burney Simmons and Theresa Darden Hooker, are doing just that! The two are utilizing their alumni connection to make a difference in the lives of others by helping to raise funds to benefit post-incarcerated women who need help transitioning back into society. Bonita, who has founded a non-profit - Tried By Fire, Inc.- shares how she got involved.

"In 2000, as part of my ministry outreach, I began my journey of counseling and giving free concerts to inmates and those residing in mental hospitals. I soon realized that the recidivism rates of those who were repeat offenders was so great and that many of the inmates did not have a successful plan post-incarceration. Because of my obedience to God, it was then that I began working on the goal to make an even greater impact and began making plans to open a transitional home, My Sister's House."

Recently Bonita was planning the next fundraiser for her non-profit and knew she would need help so she turned to a few people in her network to help her with her Zumba® Fundraiser. Former classmate, Theresa "Firecracker" D. Hooker, who is a licensed Zumba® Instructor in Kinston, said she was more than happy to help. "While we may not have hung out together in high school, we both went to school and graduated together. I think this is such a great cause and when someone like Bonita asks for something, you try to do what you can to do it for her. I want to make sure that the program succeeds so I'm doing my part to help these women transition successfully back into society!"

On Saturday, June 20th, the two former classmates will join forces to host the fundraising event at Courts Plus of New Bern, NC from 10am-12pm. With just a $15 donation, participants will enjoy Fitness, Fun & Fellowship with a purpose to include 2 hours of action-packed Zumba Fitness® and inspiration by guest speaker, Wileasheara Barrera. Reservations are required by contacting Bonita (252) 637-2339 or Violet (252) 635-0711. Donations are also being accepted for those who are unable to attend but want to help. Please help these former classmates in their efforts @

About Bonita...
Bonita Burney Simmons lives in New Bern, NC. She is a minister and gospel recording artist who founded Tried By Fire, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit to benefit post-incarcerated women.

About Theresa...
Theresa "Firecracker" D. Hooker lives in Kinston, NC. She currently teaches Zumba® on Tuesday's at the Galaxy of Sports in Kinston from 5:30pm-6:30pm.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


The Kinston Family Network is now accepting submissions for contributors who would like to volunteer to write for their online publication, "Kinstonians in the News"

Check Out Some of Our Previous Publications-CLICK HERE!

-Excellent writing skills
-Great story teller
-Attention to detail
-Ability to meet strict deadlines
-Professional demeanor
-High level of integrity
-Kinston stakeholder preferred(does not have to be a current resident)
-Previous writing experience for other publications a plus!

-No degree required

Scope of Work:
-Research assigned subjects/topics
-Conducts interviews (phone or in-person)
-Write articles, short stories pertaining to Kinston or past/present residents

-Must be registered with the Kinston Family Network by completing the following:
1)Read Contributor's Brief
2)Sign Contributor Agreement
3)Submit Sample of Work

*Our contributors are volunteers who love to write and care about Kinston! This is currently an unpaid position.

Interested parties should contact Wanda Smith, Founding Director of the KFN -CLICK HERE!
Deadline: June 1, 2013.


Monday, May 20, 2013

LINCOLN CITY REUNION 2013 by Wanda Armstead Smith

Lincoln City...A Community Never To Be Forgotten!

The flood caused by Hurricane Floyd in 1999 may have devastated the Lincoln City neighborhood in Kinston, but the loss will never break the bond shared between those who survived it. Reportedly over 800 homes were destroyed during the category four hurricane that left many families homeless. (Watch Video) However, due to the efforts of several residents, the community has been reuniting each year since 2008 in celebration and fellowship. This year marks the 6th Annual Lincoln City Reunion, which is held in Kinston each year during Memorial Day weekend. In fact, the Memorial Day weekend was proclaimed by Kinston Mayor BJ Murphy in May of 2012 as "Lincoln City Reunion Celebration." (View Proclamation) This well-organized event is expected to bring in hundreds of past and present Kinstonians coming from all over the globe. Chaired by Bishop Eartha Mumford, the Lincoln City Reunion Steering Committee has put together a wonderful weekend of activities filled with fun for all who plan to attend.

(L-R DJ Uncle Verge & DJ Kid Tree)
For many who grew up around the neighborhoods of Lincoln City, it has been hard to return only to see their homes have been completely wiped out. However, memories of what was once a thriving, close knit neighborhood still live on in their hearts. For one former Lincoln City resident, the trip back to Kinston will indeed hold that special place. The Lincoln City Renuion will welcome home one of Kinston's very own popular DJ's, Virgil Loftin (a.k.a. DJ Uncle Verge), who will be traveling all the way from Atlanta, GA to DJ the event for the first time. "I lived at 1300 University Street for 15 years. The storm totalled my home and now the only thing left is the pine tree I planted in the front yard 15 years ago!", Loftin shares.

After the hurricane devastation, Loftin's family was displaced. He relocated to Atlanta, GA where he's lived every since. "I miss my friends and family in Kinston and I'm glad to be coming home! I can remember as a child growing up in Lincoln City and walking down the dirt roads with Kid Tree and Tony T...We used to go to Dan's Store on the corner of New York and Lincoln Streets...I miss the Commodore and Windmill cookies...And I miss the plum trees we all used to pick. I have fond memories of riding bus 91C (which was the bus that everyone in Lincoln City rode to school)...Also, I miss playing basketball with my friends at the court on the end of Adkin Street by the railroad tracks", he adds. Loftin says proudly, "So tell the world I'm coming home! On Sunday, May 26th, my WQDW friends and I will be doing the music at the Lincoln City Reunion at Holloway Park from 2pm to 6pm with some good clean family fun!"

Kinston DJ, Matthew Banks (a.k.a. DJ Kid Tree), who is also from Lincoln City, will be traveling from Atlanta, GA and joining Loftin on the 1's and 2's at the Official Afterparty on Sunday, May 26th to be held at the Hut (on OK Street off Hwy 258) starting @ 10pm. After the Lincoln City Reunion, DJ Uncle Verge and his crew will have the biggest old school after-party! "We're gonna do it like the Chic! It's a BYOB affair and only $5 to get in!" Loftin adds. (Click Here -To RSVP and for more event details on Facebook)

[PHOTO CAPTION: One of last year's vendors, Garry "Goldwater" Jones, will also be traveling to Kinston, NC from Atlanta, GA to participate, but not as a vendor this time. An accomplished author, he is honored by the interest and support of his books, however, he will take in the event this year as a participant. "I will not be selling books at the Lincoln City Reunion, but you can purchase one while I'm home. This time I want to enjoy myself at the reunion. Seeing people I haven't seen in a while is priceless!," Jones remarked.]



Saturday, May 25, 2013(Pearson Park 1:30pm-7:30pm)
Welcoming Reception for our Guest

-Food, games, entertainment
-Bring your lawn chairs or blankets

Sunday, May 26, 2013(Holloway Center 10:00am–7:00pm)
A Traditional Picnic in the Park

-Bring lawn chairs or a blanket for outdoor seating.
-Set-up a picnic spot (bring your grill, food, cooler, shades, canopy, etc.) or join us at the Share Table.
-Health Fair
-Special Musical Guests
-Door Prizes
-Prayer Service
-Hall of History
...And More!

*Special accommodations for elders and retired teachers.

Order your Lincoln City Reunion T-Shirts
Sizes S, M, L, XL - $12.00
Sizes 1X, 2X, 3X up - $15.00
To order, call Reesie Williams at (919) 583-1559 or Shelley Dorman (252) 686-6505
Make checks payable to “Lincoln City Reunion”

Mailing address: Lincoln City Reunion, P.O. Box 6123, Kinston, NC 28501
Facebook: View Group Here!

Primary Contact Numbers: (252) 566-7711 (252) 320-5211
Additional Contact Numbers: (919) 583-1559 (252) 525-7366 (252) 686-6505

2013 Steering Committee: Eartha Mumford (Chairperson), Reesie Williams, Mildred Brown, Shelley Dorman, Tina McNair, Lester McNair Ass’t: Diane Taylor, Henry Williams, Samuel Rufus

Videos of all previous events are available for purchase by contacting us via this website, or by emailing or calling us per the information below. These will also be available for purchase at every Lincoln City Reunion, where you will also be able to pre-purchase the current reunion video.

Photo Credits:
Bud's Photography
Virgil Loftin


Lincoln City Reunion 2012-Click Here!
Lincoln City Reunion 2011-Click Here!
(Courtesy of Bud's Photography)

"Lincoln City was created around 1914 when black residents of then-segregated Kinston began purchasing small plots of land in the southeast part of town and building houses on them.

The neighborhood initially comprised three blocks along Oak, Lincoln and University streets. The boundaries expanded over the decades, and everything within the rectangle of Queen Street, Shine Street, Holloway Drive and the Peachtree Wastewater Treatment Plant was considered Lincoln City." David Anderson (Kinston Free Press)


Other Memorial Day Weekend Events:
"Lincoln City Get Funky/Get Loose Party" will be held Sat, May 25th @ 10pm at The American Legion @ 300 N McLewean St in Kinston. Admission is only $10. Brought to you by Willie Dunk featuring DJ Master C. Free food & cash bar. CLICK HERE- To RSVP and for more event details on Facebook

(Disclaimer: This list of events is NOT all inclusive. Contact other event organizers for more info)


Article brought to you by the KINSTON FAMILY NETWORK! Join over 1,400 Kinston stakeholders from all over the world who are connected on Facebook - Click Here!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

"BONITA BURNEY SIMMONS" by Wanda Armstead Smith

...An inspiring story about a singer who ministers through music...

It was the summer of 1989. Shortly after graduation, a group of Kinstonians drove all the way to New York City from Kinston, North Carolina in support of fellow classmate—Bonita Burney—who was scheduled to perform at the famous Apollo Theatre. Although there was heavy competition, when Bonita hit the stage, she felt the love of her supporters all around her. And without fail, Bonita proved to the world what most people already knew—her voice was annointed! She was so good, in fact, she was even paid for some of her performances on the show. “I remember getting a check for $700! And I remember getting a check for $250 or something like that. Before I did the Showtime (which was televised), I did a couple of Amateur Nights (which were not televised back then) and I did place. At Amateur Night, if you win, they want you to come back. So if I would go back, I would place again. I won a couple of 1st prizes and one time I won 3rd,” Bonita recalls. While this was not her first time performing on stage, this was one of many memorable milestones.

Born to Sing...
Without a doubt, Bonita is truly gifted! “I’ve always loved to sing! It’s just what I like to do. I love it! It’s what I was born to do!” she exclaims. Born in Connecticut, Bonita was singing before she could even speak! She explains, “As far as I can remember, my mom says I started singing when I was 3. Now I’m not talking at that time, but I could sing music.” Although she doesn’t have any memory of it now, Bonita would hear lyrics on the radio and mimic exactly what she heard. She recalls how her audience was blown away during her first performance. People simply couldn’t believe such a big voice was coming from this skinny, little girl! “My first performance was when I was 5 or 7 in church. It was always—WOW! People just felt amazed just to see. But not only just to see me, but they felt what I sang,” Bonita says.

Honing Her Skills...
Relocating to Kinston, NC with her family in 1974, Bonita would hone her skills while participating in music programs offered in Lenoir County Public Schools. “My earliest memory was when I was 10 and I was in the 5th grade at Sampson School. Mrs. Shepherd (who was later murdered) was an outstanding teacher, but she was retiring and Mrs. Cogdell (Harold Cogdell’s mother) was my music teacher. I was chosen to sing 'The Way We Were' by Barbara Streisand and when I sang it, I heard there was not a dry eye. I think that was my first memory of actually singing before peers and singing before adults and I really enjoying being on stage. When I got to middle school (Rochelle), I was blessed to have Mrs. Martha Manor as a music teacher and she did more performances—they did music like fame. At middle school, we’re already hearing about what Mrs. Daves-Epps is doing (at Kinston High School) and we can hardly wait. But you remember there was no music department at the junior high (then Kinston Jr. High School)”, she explains. For two years, (8th & 9th grade) Bonita didn’t do anything in school, but she was always active in the community, performing at events like NAACP banquets or weddings. Bonita says she fell in love with more of the performance of it all. “I loved the clothes. When we were in chorus, we wore gowns and tuxedos for our events. We looked the part. We pride ourselves in our group with Mrs. Epps. We were chamber singers. We were the elite group. Our chorus, not just because we were singers, but we were the singers of the school,” Bonita says proudly.

To maintain a competitive edge, Bonita says she also took private lessons with a vocal coach. By the time she reached Kinston High School, she was already considered a professional singer—having opened for major artists like Shirley Caesar, The Winans, The Jackson Southernaires and Luther Barnes. In fact at age 12, she started her own gospel singing group, a trio called “Tried by Fire.” The youngest to reach this level, Bonita was humbled by the experience and harmonized quite well with her band mates (Juanita Garner & Sam Mattocks), who were twice her age. Bonita goes on to describe how she would perform with her group at concerts held at Sampson, Rochelle and other places. “At an early age, I already had some type of entrepreneurial skills and entertaining with live music. People were calling me to come places. When I was 12, gospel artists would come to town. Veronica Thomas (now a pastor and Bonita’s godmother/advisor) was one the program managers at WQDW and a promoter at the time. All of the big names at that time would come to Kinston and I would open the concert for them. Those types of things were real good training. I didn’t get paid but I got the experience. Throughout high school, I did concerts (seasonal and promotional) at the Holiday Inn in Kinston. Veronica would put it together and we would sell tickets.”

Overcoming Obstacles...
Bonita says, “Life affords you some detours that you sometimes weren’t prepared for.” From overcoming health issues, experiencing domestic abuse in a previous marriage to deciding against signing with a big record label, Bonita has met her share of challenges on her journey as a professional singer. “In the music industry, you have to produce like you’re on an assembly line and it doesn’t always work like that. Now I’m understanding why it was not the path that God wanted me to take. Being that entertainer that I wanted to be. Not on that scale. There are a lot of things that come with it. And He (God) knows my make up. I’m not a dishonest person. I can’t be in any type of business relationship and I’m manipulating. I’m not going to be in a business with you just for the sake of making money. I want to be able to be effective wherever I am,” she explains.

However, because of her tribulations Bonita feels she is much stronger now. Her life lessons are part of the tapestry that makes her the quilt and enables her to relate to hurting women. “When I write, sing and select music, it has to be music that speaks about our time and what we’re going through. At the same time what I am personally feeling or what I personally went through. I am very cautious of the music I select. I have to feel it. There are so many great artists, secular as well as gospel. I’m not boxed in to just gospel although that is my favorite genre of music. It just speaks more true to who I am than any other genre, but I can relate to many things that Mary J. Blige sings about”, says Bonita. And like Mary, her testimony enables her to connect with others through music.

At the Top of Her Game...
Bonita has defined her own success, choosing to embrace an obedient lifestyle according to God’s will for her life and career. “I allow God to do the navigation. It always works out. The mindset of God and doing the kingdom work—You can’t be in control,” Bonita says. This time she’s learned to depend solely on God to direct her career path. “If I make the way, then I’ll have to pay the way. But if I allow HIM to make the way, he’ll pay the way! It’s a learned behavior,” she adds.

Now at age 41, Bonita is enjoying the flexibility of being an independent artist. Happily married for 18 years with two young boys, her priority is to God then family. Currently residing in New Bern, NC, Bonita visits Kinston on Sundays to attend her late father’s church, Family Worship Center (where George E. Fields, Jr. is pastor). Although she gets time to perform and to record new music during the year, a normal day for Bonita would include helping someone through her ministry outreach or volunteering at her son’s school as Secretary of the PTO. “I am a mother. I want to be a good mother. I don’t want to have to take crap from some label telling me I can’t go to my son’s function because they’ve already sold so many tickets! I chose to be a mother. I didn’t actually choose to be a singer, it chose me because it’s the gift God gave me and I’ve perfected it over the years. I can choose the material that I put out. I can choose if I sign with you or not.”

Bonita’s singing career has been gaining momentum lately. She is currently in competition to win a spotlight on WeTv’s Mary Mary Show, where fans are allowed to vote online for her to win. (VOTE HERE!-Can vote daily-ends 2/14/13 12pm EST) She is also celebrating the recent release of her latest single, “I Surrender,” which is based on an old hymn. “I’m a mother of hymns, but I like to put my own personal testament on it. So I like to re-arrange it, but not too much so that it looses its authenticity. When I wrote “I Surrender” the open line is ‘I’ve been holding on to so much and letting go of very little.' So I surrender…everything,” Bonita explains of her new release. Her latest album, titled “Thank You”, is also slated to be released in early 2013.
Bonita Burney Simmons is now a licensed Minister and is grounded by her divine purpose—as a minister of music. She understands that her voice is like a channel, allowing God to minister the gospel to others through her songs. “When you hear people say I loved that song…but when you sang it, it gave me goose bumps…When you sang it, it brought tears to my eyes…It allowed me to rejoice…When you sang it, it made me feel God was speaking to me. That’s something that’s priceless. That’s something that a Grammy, though a great accolade, can’t even do. I would love to have a Grammy, but it will not give me what a woman at Raleigh Correctional Center, who’s serving maybe 10 years or 25 years, can. Who look me in the eye and say thank you for coming and sharing what God really thinks about me through song. You can see her face is just rolling with tears and you can see that she is truly thankful.” Bonita says profoundly, “Now that’s better than a Grammy!”

For Bookings, Contact:
B&S Productions
Attn: Eric B. Simmons Sr.
P.O. Box 12691
New Bern, N.C. 28562
(252) 637-2339


Single: "I Surrender"
Produced by William Oatman, Destiny Musik Group

Album: "Thank You"
Produced by Alegacy Music Group

"As long as I can remember, my only aspiration was to be a Gospel Music Superstar. I have learned much through the things I have suffered. So, I ask God to give me a song. Not a CD, not a record deal, but a song that reflected the hearts of the tired, downtrodden, outcast, and the dreamers whose dream has yet to become reality. Instead of seeking fame, in recent years I have sought the Kingdom. God has assured me that He will always have a platform for me to share His love through song. Once I became a servant it was easy to SURRENDER!"

If you would like to nominate someone to appear in "Kinstonians in the News", please send email to


Monday, November 19, 2012


This Thanksgiving holiday will bring hundreds of past and present Kinstonians together again in our beloved city! The biggest reunion in the city since Labor Day, this weekend will bring people from all over the country to Kinston, NC to enjoy dinner with their families and/or to attend the events happening throughout the city!

Whether you lived up the hill or down the hill...whether you attended Kinston High School or Adkin High School…whether you like hip hop or old school, THERE’S A LITTLE SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE to enjoy! After you get tired of Thanksgiving food, be sure to patronize Kinston restaurants and shops to help bring more revenue to the city!(Click here for a list of restaurants)

Spending Thanksgiving Day elsewhere? No problem! There's still time to make it to Kinston for a weekend full of events. However, if you do plan to be in town, come on out and show your support, even if it's just to say hello! To RSVP or for more info, click on the event title to be linked to their Facebook event page.

Here is a list of KFN's top picks:(not all inclusive)

.....FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2012.....

DREAM TEAM PARTYfeaturing Comedian Grave Digger
Hosted by: James Hodges (Mr. Chic)
834 Hardee Rd (behind Vernon Park Mall)
Kinston, NC
Come prepared to laugh hard and party hard at one of Kinston's newest upscale entertainment hotspots! Join the original Q97 Superstars @ this 1st annual "dream team" affair featuring Lester Jackson (L.J.), Steve Lewis, Trevor Ford (The Neckbone Rock), D.J. Slide, Captain Newborn (The Starburst Night Club), Tony Perry, James Hodges (Chic), Disco Tree & Master Cee
Cost: $10
Dress Code: No sneakers or athletic gear
Age: 30 y/o+

Hosted by: Virgil Lofton
The Glass House
601 N. McLewean St
Kinston, NC
This is a grown & sexy affair! Q97 Superstar, DJ Uncle Verge, will be returning to Kinston from Atlanta, GA to host this annual old school party at one of Kinston's most popular party venues.
Cost: $10
Dress Code: Casual (no sneakers)
Age: 25 y/o+

(Doors Open @ 10:00pm)
Hosted by: GCB Productions & Averett Entertainment...
...featuring D.J. Kaoss & D.J. Kente
Club Climax
1375 Hwy 285 South
Kinston, NC
Come see national artist, Mykko Montana, and opening acts SMG, Amtrak, Rich and TootToot perform live and dance to the top 40 R&B & hip hop music at one of Kinton's hottest night clubs.
Cost: $15-Advance (Tickets on sale now! Contact Joe @ 252-452-0119 or
Glenn @ 919-809-0404 or @ “All About Music Store”

Dress Code: No durags or t-shirts
Age: 21 y/o+
(Security will be strictly enforced!)

Hosted by: James Fields & Christopher "Mert" Murphy featuring D.J. Bubbalicious
House of Ester
1401 Old Snow Hill Rd
Kinston, NC
Come celebrate this 3rd annual all-class party & networking affair! Enjoy a live band and dance to some great music. This is a BYOB event. Rooms reserved @ the Holiday Inn Express for a limited amount of guests! Contact for availability.
Cost: $10 (advance)
Dress Code: Dress to impress
Age: Adults Only
(Security will be strictly enforced!)

.....SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2012.....

Hosted by: Willie Dunk & Chuck D...
...featuring DJ Uncle Verge
836 Hardee Rd (behind Vernon Park Mall)
Kinston, NC
Party with a purpose to benefit Toys for Tots. This event is back by special request! Also, come help Loretta Moye & Willie Dunk celebrate their birthdays. Wear your best 70’s or 80’s gear for a chance to win $50 & a trophy in the best dressed contest! Free food by Chef AJ and a cash bar.
Cost: $10 (w/toy) or $15 (without toy)

Age: 30 y/o+
Dress Code: 70’s or 80’s

Hosted by: Deek Harris & James Fields featuring DJ Dnice
American Legion
300 McLewean St
Kinston, NC
Join the high school fraternities, Lamdas and Sigmas, as they host a night of fun for all! Remember the Ebony Angels, Ques, Alphas, Charms and Deltas from KHS? Calling all old high school fraternities, sororities and all others home for the holidays who are coming together for a “Skool Daze” style party. (not a party for high school kids, street gangs or college Greek organizations). Come dance to hits from classes 1982-2012 for a night to remember; NOT a BYOB event!
Cost $10
Age: 25 y/o+(women); 30 y/o+(men)
Dress Code: Relax Casual (No college or gang gear)

The Kinston Family Network urges everyone to please drink & party responsibly!-Get a designated driver!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

"LAMONT -THE VOICE- COX" by Wanda Armstead Smith

...A Story of Poetic Redemption...

Many Kinstonians feel they have to move away for better opportunities. Lamont Cox has joined hundreds of others who share this sentiment. However, he didn’t leave Kinston because he doesn’t care about making a difference there because in many ways he still does. He simply feels that as a writer/poet, he would need to set his sails in a bigger sea if he is to reach his ultimate goal of some day earning a Pulitzer Prize, having his literary works published in major medias like New York Magazine or perhaps even be on the New York’s Best Sellers list.

Born in Greenville, North Carolina Cox lived in Kinston for 14 years. Unfortunately, like many talented artists in a small town, he began to feel he was a big fish in a little pond. “I’m not content! I want to be a medium fish in a big pond and soon to become a shark!” Cox says. And after careful consideration, he recently set off with his family in a courageous move to conquer Charlotte, North Carolina. “I’m taking the city by storm-MY WAY and making my presence here. I just want to make my mark!” he explains of his decision to move. “I just want to do great American literature that gives me vitality. I want to ultimately become one of the greatest writers in history; hopefully before I die. That’s my dream!” says Cox.

Many in Kinston have come to know Cox as “The Voice”, a name that was actually bestowed upon him as a joke during one of his past performances. His reputation as a talented poet and author afforded him other opportunities to showcase his love for the arts. Until recently, he hosted “Poetry & Jazz Night” at Sade Entertainment Complex, was a guest host for “Open Mic Night” at Illusions (held at the Kinston-Lenoir County Performing Arts Center) and Co-hosted for “3 G’s”, an internet radio talk show. One of his latest projects includes his role as Co-host of “Voice of the People”, a live-audience filmed television show that was created and produced by KinstonTV. Cox says he will continue to return to Kinston on the last Sunday of the month for filming. “I set up interviews with business owners, entertainers, singers, dancers as well as local politicians” he says of the TV show.

Cox admits he has not always been the man people have come to know and love. During our interview, he shares a powerful story of redemption and a testimony that has touched even the hardest of criminals. He shares how when he moved to Greensboro years ago, he was a stick-up kid robbing banks all over eastern North Carolina. However, he was eventually caught after someone snitched on him and he later turned himself in at the advice of his mother. “I went to federal prison and was locked up from 1/29/95-4/15/98. I would hit the bank (in Grifton, NC) at 4:30pm and was on the bus back to Greensboro, North Carolina at 7pm, with gun, money and all!” he shared candidly. “I never bothered anybody; I wasn’t a trouble maker, but my reputation preceeded me. Whenever I would come to Grifton to visit my family, I would be walking down the street and phone calls would be made to see if I had a beef with somebody when I was in town! They knew I was a stick-up kid but not about the banks. People would cross the other side of the street in my own neighborhood. That is not cool to have people afraid of you” he says. But he says he was somewhat of a Robin Hood. “If I knew somebody needed help, like a lady I knew with kids that had no food. I would go by and slip her some of the money (stolen during bank robberies).” While in prison, he would become the jailhouse poet! "I used to write letters and poems for inmates” he shares. In fact, he was turning over work in record time, earning money doing this. His fellow inmates, some who were hardened criminals, were so impressed with his writing skills they would hire him to write for them. “I would sit them down and ask them questions so it could come from them in case someone asked about it. And 20 minutes later, I was like-here you go!" At 21 years old, 6'1 and 160 pounds, they didn't know what to make of this J.J.-from Good Times-looking guy with 15 hairs on his chin. "This skinny dude robbed banks?" they questioned in disbelief. But to them, he was cool. "I was one of them!" Cox adds.

As a youngster, Cox spent most of his time growing up in Grifton, North Carolina. In fact, he spent the first 5 years of his life mostly with his grandparents, as his mother worked 3rd shift. There was no cable so he became very creative and developed a wild imagination. “I was making up stories when I was 3 or 4 years old. “I was fighting dragons and I would come and tell them ridiculous stories but nobody ever curved it. They would always listen and help me with my adventures” he recalls of his family’s support. The wisdom of his grandmother would leave a lasting impression on him. His grandmother always told him “words were very powerful.” After he realized she was not referring to super powers, he began to see he had something that most kids didn’t’, he was discovering his gift--The Voice. Cox had a high aptitude for reading. “I read on a 3rd grade level in the kindergarten! And I never failed a vocabulary test” he says proudly.

Cox’s journey would take him on a different path as a teen. “When I was in grades 9-12, if I had said I like poems in an urban surrounding I would be ostracized! Guys didn’t talk about poems but basketball and rap was ok” says Cox. Ironically, it would be his best friend—a drug dealer known on the streets— who would become his biggest supporter and ultimately save his life in spite of his own. Cox would gain street validation for his writings through his friend. “He would put me on speaker phone while on the block and ask me to read something.” He recalls how one day while hanging out with his friend, he would read his poems to him. He paints a vivid picture of riding shotgun while his friend dropped off a few deliveries to his street customers. Focused only on his writing material he recalls, “I had my laptop and the whole day he had me reading my stuff.” His friend was so blown away by what he heard, he later came to see him perform. “Dude, this is your way out! You can do this!” his friend pleads. That night his friend would round everybody in 3 to 4 cars to go see him perform. This lead to a pact he made with his friend that would change his life. “We had a deal. If he left the streets alone, I would do everything to pursue writing 100% with everything I got, but only if you walk away from the drug game”, he says to his friend.

The two, who were close as brothers, kept their promise and made strides towards pursuing their dreams. Cox was writing and performing regularly; while his friend pursued a business venture with plans to buy-in to a sports bar in Greenville, North Carolina. Sadly on New Year’s Day in 2009, his friend lost his life after falling asleep at the wheel. Cox recalls how he felt during that dark time. “I was devastated and went into a deep depression!” However, he knew he had to move forward as his best friend and family would want him to. Dusting himself off from the loss of his friend and his grandfather, Cox is now dedicated more than ever to living out his dream. “I got caught up in the streets but now I want to redeem myself. Yeah, I’ve paid my debt and I’m paying my dues in my life. I don’t have to wait 10-20 years. I want to have it all! Why can’t I?” he asks.

Cox has a powerful testimony of hope and redemption. He has been using his “voice” as an inspiration to others who want to follow their dreams. He especially wants to help those who are afraid to pursue writing or other careers that are considered taboo. “I want to inspire kids who even want to be dancer or a girl who wants to pursue football. I want people to know there are other ways out of the hood than just sports and rap. I want them to know it’s ok and to not be afraid to be different—It’s cool!” says Cox. He had the chance to speak with students in an English class at Parrot Academy. More recently, he had the pleasure to speak with some of Kinston’s youth during an event at Holloway Center. When he’s not performing, Cox shares his collection of endless short stories and poems with his fans on his Facebook fan page. He’s currently working on a new fiction novel that he has been perfecting for four years with the focus of writing engaging stories people can relate to like those of some of his favorite authors, Edgar Allen Poe, Langston Hughes and Ann White. He is amazed how he is also helping people through his testimonial writings about his depression, inspiring others to seek help. But overall, he plans to keep his promise to his deceased best friend and himself to never go back to prison, but to make something of his life. He hopes to leverage his experiences and build his fan base. “I’m just being me! I’m going to evolve so just hold on for the ride! I want to be a better person, a better man, a better father, a better husband,“Cox concludes.

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Photo Credits:
Bud's Photography
Geekboi Productions
D. Terrell Photography