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Brunswick commissioner accused of and denies meddling in health department decisions



Multiple Brunswick County Board of Education members are uncomfortable with the health department
Multiple Brunswick County Board of Education members are uncomfortable with the health department's handling of a February notice to the school district involving the then-recent closure of South Brunswick High School. (Courtesy/Brunswick County)
Multiple Brunswick County Board of Education members are uncomfortable with the health department’s handling of a February notice to the school district involving the then-recent closure of South Brunswick High School. (Courtesy/Brunswick County)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY –– At least two Brunswick County Board of Education members believe Brunswick County Commissioner Pat Sykes intervened in a February school-related health department decision by pressuring the health and human services director to back off school closure determinations.

The matter colors how the school board views the health department, prompting mistrust and discomfort that lingers today, given the department’s alleged willingness to bend to political pressure.

Both Sykes and Brunswick County deny any impropriety and insist no change in procedure occurred.

RELATED: Charters call health director’s actions ‘inappropriate’ after requesting student records amid Covid outbreak

The matter remains relevant, important enough that the school board is willing to potentially risk its federal funding for school nurses by holding up a memorandum of agreement renewal with the health department past its Wednesday due date to squeeze in a new provision: All future recommendations must be in writing.

What happened?

On the heels of the largest statewide cluster reported at the time in Town Creek Elementary School, Brunswick County Schools was trying to adjust to a return to in-person instruction at the beginning of the year after a two-week remote-only start.

Information about Covid’s impact and transmission among young people in a school setting was scarce.

BCS was hit with a cascade of closures –– each lasting as little as 10 days to as long as 20. It shuttered Jessie Mae Monroe Elementary, Union Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, North Brunswick High, and South Brunswick High all within a three-week timeframe. Each closure was prompted by the county health department’s identification of a cluster among students at each campus, defined as a link between five or more positive cases.

The pressure from overworked parents and pending legislation to keep the schools open was palpable.

As school was preparing to let out on Friday, Feb. 19, the district announced a two-week closure of South Brunswick High School. The following Monday, commissioner Sykes placed at least two impassioned calls to two school board members, herself prompted by emails and calls from upset parents.

“She called me on the phone and was upset, very upset about quarantine activity,” school board member David Robinson remembered. Sykes told Robinson the district was making some sort of administrative error in closing the schools. “She had me convinced we had a problem,” he said.

School board member Gerald Benton had been fielding parent emails, letting them know the district was compelled to follow the health department’s recommendations. Sykes called Benton, angry about the emails and the SBHS closure. As the county commissioners’ appointee on the health board, Sykes told Benton she had a health board committee meeting within the next 45 minutes where she would see health and human services director David Stanley and would make him “do something about it,” Benton remembered.

Two hours later, Benton said he got a call from school superintendent Dr. Jerry Oates, who relayed unexpected news.

Stanley had called the superintendent and told him he was reversing the decision made just days prior on his department’s recommendation to close SBHS. The health department would also stop sharing closure decisions with the school district altogether, according to Benton’s recollection of his call with Oates, confirmed by Oates through a spokesperson.

No reason was given for the decisions, Oates said. Dismayed, the superintendent asked for the decisions in writing.

A watered-down version of the verbal notice arrived via email the next day, Feb. 23. Notably, it did not include any word on rescinding the SBHS closure. “Ultimately, decisions on school operations reside with Brunswick County Schools,” Stanley’s email to Oates –– which BCC’d the county commissioners –– concluded.

Since the notice, the health department has taken a more passive approach, school officials said.

Six months passed from the incident before a department representative appeared before the school board again and the department never recommended another school closure (Oates said he doesn’t recall there being a significant event after the SBHS closure that would have warranted similar guidance out of the health department, as Covid-19 trends were on the decline). The district did continue to receive guidance on Covid-19 outbreaks within the schools, Oates said.

Despite repeated requests to explain why –– most recently under direct questioning at a school board meeting last month –– health officials have never provided the reason that prompted the abrupt Feb. 22 communication. At the August school board meeting, when asked if he knew what happened and why Stanley suddenly withdrew recommendations from the school district, health services director Cris Harrelson said he didn’t know and turned to staff members in the audience to ask if they did (Stanley is Harrelson’s boss).

Asked specifically what prompted the February change, county spokesperson Meagan Kascsak said, “There were no changes in our procedures from Brunswick County’s end,” and redirected questions about operating procedures to the school district.

The county health department provides Covid-19 guidance to the school district, Kascsak explained, the authority ultimately responsible for making operational decisions.

“[The school district’s] decisions might factor in the health department’s guidance along with other needs such as their known staffing levels, resources, and any concerns among their staff, students, and parents,” she wrote in a statement. “Again, this process is the same one the health department has followed throughout the pandemic, and staff are not aware of any directives that changed this course of action in February or any other time.”

County chairman Randy Thompson said his understanding is the public health department only provides guidance to the school district.

“No action by me or the County Board of Commissioners has occurred to stop guidance being provided to the school system or any citizen of our great county,” Thompson wrote in an email.

Commissioner Mike Forte said if there was evidence the health department was interfered with, the school board should have already presented it.

Still tense

School board member Steven Barger, who said he can’t recall getting a call from Sykes or Oates that day, said he considers the health department’s recommendations tantamount to directives, given state officials’ repeated calls to follow established health guidelines.

“I’m willing to take the heat and the fault for decisions we make, but I’m not willing to take the heat and the fault for decisions another agency makes who’s supposed to be making recommendations to us based on their expert GFN,” he said, speaking to the importance of being able to transparently determine where a directive is coming from.

Barger trusts the health department’s expertise but supports his board’s move to get future recommendations in writing. “When I don’t trust the health department is when we get a recommendation over the phone, and then they turn around and say, ‘Oh, we had no part in that,’” Barger said.

In general, Barger and other board members take issue with Sykes’ involvement and public opposition to school-related decisions.

Robinson said especially after the February incident, Sykes has immersed herself in school board matters. “She has been a thorn in the school board since at least I have gotten on the board,” he said. “She will quickly blast us in public, but when we try to work with her, there’s no interest in doing that.”

At a June North Brunswick Republican Club Meeting, accompanied by school board member Robin Moffitt (the lone member to vote against masks in August), Sykes and Moffitt shared concerns about critical race theory and sex education. Sykes threatened to “shut down” the county’s public schools and make them charter schools, according to a witness’ account of the meeting.

The commissioner did not return a request to comment. However, a public records request shows Sykes forwarded Port City Daily’s questions and the county’s response to them to fellow commissioners, county staff, school board members, both health directors, the founder of the local charter schools, and a local conservative radio host. In the Aug. 19 email, Sykes wrote (in bold) she had “never given direct orders” to anyone, especially the health director. She acknowledged she’s disagreed with Stanley on several issues but added her role on the health board did not equate to having any authority.

The commissioner also denied being part of an organized group that has protested the school board’s recent meetings. “I am not [part of the group], however, I do agree with them,” she wrote. Recent protested issues include opposition mask-wearing and keeping board-led prayer, which the board quietly dropped in April under a legal threat.

Sykes’ email included an actionable request: she sought a private meeting with two commissioners, two school board members and the superintendent, three representatives from the charter schools, both health directors, the county attorney, county manager, “and anyone else that will help cleanup [sic] this mess.”

Meetings that involve two members of two or more elected boards are frequent, as they allow officials to quickly move through and debate issues without public knowledge or scrutiny while avoiding triggering the state’s Open Meetings Law.

Responding to Sykes, Benton said he wasn’t interested unless the meeting was public. “The school system and Charters deserve the right to publicly explain the inconsistent or punitive actions your Health department has taken against us,” the school board member wrote. “The idea of two members meeting in secret to clean this up is disgusting and most certainly in bad faith with the idea of transparency.”

(Seperately, the leadership of the local charter schools penned a letter Aug. 30, accusing Harrleson of taking “inappropriate and ​​precipitous” actions associated with the health department’s recent Covid-19 control measure orders, served to two charters by deputies. Harrelson said the severity of the outbreak and the schools’ violations of quarantine procedure warranted the strong response.)

RELATED: Charters call health director’s actions ‘inappropriate’ after requesting student records amid Covid outbreak

Benton told Sykes the school board did its job exposing the matter at the August meeting and made fruitless attempts to privately address the matter with Sykes and the county manager. “We need a reliable and consistent Health Department making recommendations based on science,” Benton wrote. “This department is either completely disorganized or are being politically pressured in their decision making.”

In a response to Benton, Sykes denied running interference in February. “The fact is there was no politics played with the Health Department, so I don’t know what you are talking about and yes, I do call David Stanley on issues that I get calls about daily,” she wrote.

After Barger responded to Sykes’ request stating his concerns with her approach with the school board, she responded stating she doesn’t think masks work –– “they are nasty and cause health problems,” she claimed, also acknowleding each person can wear one if they so choose. The school board voted 4-1 to mandate masks on Aug. 9 and Brunswick County required face-coverings in county buildings on Aug. 26.

The meeting could bring the parties together to unify the county, she wrote. It never happened.

Send tips and comments to Johanna F. Still at

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13 Horror Movies Perfect for Halloween Coming Out This Fall



13 Horror Movies Perfect for Halloween Coming Out This Fall

Many people out there might be sad to see Summer come to an end and the weather drop as Fall sets in. For others, however, it is a different story. Horror fans around the world tend to rejoice as we enter the Halloween season and what is typically the busiest time of year for horror movie releases and 2021 looks to be no different. From new additions to classic franchises to insanely unique and quirky new offerings, put out your Jack-o’-lanterns, grab your candy and check out the 13 best horror movies set to be released this Fall.

Horror movies are coming out in October 2021

Bad Candy

RELATED: Halloween Movie Madness Is Unleashed in Retro AOL Horror Ad

Bad Candy – September 2021

Bad Candy is written and directed by Scott B. Hansen and Desiree Connell and stars cult favourites Zach Galligan of Gremlins fame and Corey Taylor from the masked heavy metal band Slipknot. As an anthology based film, the movie will tell a number of separate spooky stories based on a Halloween theme in the vein of 2007’s holiday favourite Trick ‘r Treat directed by Michael Dougherty. Bad Candy follows local Halloween stories based on both myths and lessons learned in the community of New Salem. With its annual Psychotronic FM Halloween show, re-enactment radio DJs Chilly Billy (Taylor) and Paul (Galligan) weave the tales of the supernatural of years gone by, and if the trailer is anything to go by, this is certainly not a movie for the faint of heart. In the Corey Taylor narrated trailer, which lasts just under two minutes, our senses are bombarded with an assortment of evil imagery including zombies, blood splattered walls, an evil clown and some sort of horned demon creature that looks to be straight from the deepest depths of hell.

  • Bad Candy
  • Release date: September 10
  • Format: September 10 (VOD), September 28 2021 (Blu-Ray)
Addams Family 2

Addams Family 2 – October 1, 2021

Following the, somewhat surprising, success of 2019’s Addams Family animated reboot, it was quickly announced that a follow up would be going into development. This time, it looks like they’re going with something a little different. We’re going to be following the whole family on a road trip around the United States. Morticia and Gomez have become distraught that their children are growing up, skipping family dinners and slipping away from them, so they organise the trip in an attempt to bring the family together for one last family vacation. While not the scariest entry on this list, expect lots of pitch black comedy and supernatural hijinks a plenty in this star studded affair featuring the voices of Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Kroll, Javon Walton, Snoop Dogg, Bette Midler, and Bill Hader.

There's Someone Inside Your House

There’s Someone Inside Your House – October 6, 2021

Netflix have certainly upped the chill factor this year with their horror release slate. There’s Someone Inside Your House might not be among the most talked about Netflix releases this year but it certainly seems to be one of the most horrifying. Based on the 2017 Stephanie Perkins novel of the same name, the film follows Makani Young, who has moved from Hawaii to a remote town in Nebraska to live with her grandmother and finish high school. If that’s not stressful enough, students at said high school are, one by one, being stalked and gruesomely murdered. To top it off, the killer is committing these murders whilst wearing ultra realistic masks of the victims. It definitely sounds like a must watch for all the ‘die’ hard slasher fans out there.

Muppets Haunted Mansion

Muppets Haunted Mansion – October 8, 2021

Okay, so this isn’t technically a movie, it’s more of a special but I couldn’t leave it off the list because… well, it’s the Muppets! Earlier this year, Disney announced that ‘The Great Gonzo – world famous daredevil artiste’ who ‘has done it all, seen it all, and survived it all’ will be taking on the greatest challenge of his life this Halloween night by spending one very daring night in the most grim grinning place on Earth …The Haunted Mansion. Inspired by the iconic Disney Haunted Mansion theme park attractions, expect a whole plethora of puppet paranoia from all of your favorite muppets as well as a slew of celebrity cameos and three new original songs, ‘Rest In Peace’, ‘Life Hereafter’ and ‘Tie The Knot Tango’.


Lamb – October 8, 2021

This little Icelandic flick looks as if it’s definitely going to sit on the more left field side of the horror spectrum. Being distributed in the US by A24, a company that has never shied away from unique and offbeat horrors, the movie is about a couple who, upon coming across an abandoned baby on their farm, decide to take it home and raise it as their own. The twist? The baby appears to be some sort of mutant human-lamb hybrid creature. Other than that, not much else is known about the plot but it’s sure to be one hell of a ride. This supernatural horror stars Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason and marks the feature-length directorial debut of Valdimar Jóhannsson, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Sjón.

  • Lamb
  • Release date: October 8, 2021
  • Format: In theaters
Halloween Kills

Halloween Kills – October 15, 2021

What better way to kick this list off than with the latest sequel to the granddaddy of all Halloween horrors. Halloween Kills is a direct sequel to 2018’s box office hit Halloween which itself was a direct sequel to the 1978 classic of the same name. Jamie Lee Curtis will once again be back reprising her role, playing the totally badass protagonist Laurie Strode facing off against notorious masked mad man Michael Myers, one the world’s most iconic villains. Director/co-writer David Gordon Green will again be helming the project which precedes next year’s Halloween Ends, which is reportedly the final installment in this trilogy. Halloween Kills is expected to will pick up immediately after the previous movie left off with Laurie, her daughter Karen and granddaughter Allyson.

  • Halloween Kills
  • Release date: October 15, 2021
  • Format: In theaters, streaming on Peacock the same day.

Antlers – October 29, 2021

Partly due to the many Covid related delays it has gone through and partly due to the nail-biting trailers that have been released so far, the Guillmero del Toro produced Antlers is definitely one of most anticipated horrors of the year. Guilmero de Toro is never one to stick to the beaten path and judging by what we know so far, Antlers promises something absolutely deranged. Based on the short story ‘The Quiet Boy’ written by Nick Antosca, it follows a school teacher and her police officer brother in a small Oregon town where they become convinced one of her students is harboring a man eating supernatural creature. The film stars Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, and Amy Madigan and is directed by Scott Cooper (Black Mass (2015) and Hostiles (2017).

  • Antlers
  • Release date: October 29, 2021
  • Format: In theaters
Last Night In Soho

Last Night In Soho – October 29, 2021

Renowned director Edgar Wright is known to have flirted with horror genre frequently throughout his career, most notably with the terrifyingly funny Cornetto trilogy (made up of Shaun Of The Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013)). Last Night in Soho, however, marks Wright’s first foray into pure horror. The time-bending thriller stars Thomasin McKenzie as Eloise Turner, a young woman with a passion for fashion design. Somehow Eloise finds herself inhabiting the body of an iconic club performer named Sadie and is now living back in 1966 London. While as Sadie, she pursues a romantic relationship with a man named Jack, played by Matt Smith. She soon realizes, however, that Sadie’s life in the Swinging Sixties is not as glamorous as it appears to be and both past and present begin to fall apart with horrifying consequences.


Shepherd – November 5, 2021

Shot in ‘one of the most beautiful, remote and less filmed parts of Britain’, there seems to be a certain mystique surrounding the Russel Owens directed Shepherds. The plot centers on a man who, dealing with the grief following the mysterious death of his wife, takes a job as a shepherd in the remote UK countryside. While out there, he encounters a malevolent supernatural force. Soon his rural retreat becomes a heart pounding race to save his sanity and his life. Owens has been quoted as saying that the movie “allows its audience to decide for themselves the motivations behind (and the fate of) its protagonist by not giving its true foundations away,” only adding to the mystique. Bring on November.

  • Shepherd
  • Release date: November 5, 2021
  • Format: In theaters
Ghostbusters Afterlife

Ghostbusters Afterlife – November 11, 2021

After the mixed reactions and poor box office performance of the 2015 Ghostbusters reboot, fans of the series have been clamoring for some sort of redemption and it looks like that might be arriving this fall in the shape of the highly anticipated Ghostbusters Afterlife. The film certainly ticks a lot of boxes; it is a sequel to the original films set thirty years after and is directed by Jason Reitman – son of original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman. It even sees Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts reprising their roles from the original films, joining newcomers Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace and Paul Rudd. The plot is reported to revolve around a supernatural phenomena somehow connected to those seen in the original movie. This time round, though, it’s up to the original ghostbuster’s grandkids, along with their family and friends, to solve the mystery of their grandfather’s relocation and use the Ghostbusters’ equipment and, become their successors.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City – November 24, 2021

After an impressive six movie run starring Milla Jovovich, starting from 2002’s Resident Evil and finishing with 2016’s Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Sony Pictures have now rebooted the video game come horror movie sensation. The zombie survival flick stars Robbie Amell, Kaya Scodelario, Tom Hopper and Neal McDonough and has been directed by Johannes Roberts. The film is reportedly set in the abandoned wasteland of Racoon City. A group of survivors seeking the dark truths and secrets surrounding the town and the ‘Umbrella Corporation’ will have to make it through the night without being eliminated by an unspeakable evil that has been unleashed from below the surface.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – TBA, 2021

The new Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie is going to be a reboot in the same vein as the 2018 Halloween movie in that it will be rebooted in the form of a direct sequel to original 70’s classic, whilst ignoring the numerous sequels, spin-offs and reboots that have come in between. The movie will be directed by David Blue Garcia from a screenplay by Chris Thomas Devlin from a story that Don’t Breathe’s Fede Álvarez was involved in. While the exact date has yet to be announced, we do know that it is set to come out this year and fans of the original will be glad to hear that, like the first, it will be R-rated and the monstrous Leatherface will be definitely be rearing his (or his victims’?) ugly head once again.

  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  • Release date: TBA, 2021
  • Format: Streaming on Netflix
Jeepers Creepers: Reborn

Jeepers Creepers: Reborn – TBA, 2021

The Jeepers Creepers franchise has become somewhat of a cult sensation amongst horror fans, so it’s hardly surprising that it is amongst the horror franchises making a return this year. Currently in post-production, Jeepers Creepers: Reborn is set to be the beginning of a new trilogy for the franchise and follows a woman named Laine and her boyfriend as they attend a creepy horror attraction event. Laine begins to experience disturbing visions associated with the town’s troubled past and the notorious ‘Creeper’. Naturally, we expect the horror event to descend into blood soaked carnage. Exact information regarding the film’s release is still scarce but we know that it should be released by Screen Media Films later this year.

Topics: Halloween

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Fashion on Fifth: Week 2, Fall 2021 – The New School Free Press



Fashion on Fifth: Week 2, Fall 2021 - The New School Free Press

Welcome back to Fashion on Fifth, a beloved Free Press series showcasing New School students’ unique and wide-ranging style. After seeing how this creative community translated their personal looks to Zoom, our reporters are taking to the streets of Greenwich Village once again. This semester we are bringing you more in depth profiles and thoughts from your peers about their style evolution throughout the pandemic and since being back in New York City.

Via Ace

Photo by Alexandra Nava-Baltimore

Via Ace, a second-year Strategic Design and Management student at Parsons who hails from New York City, described her style as “bold, in your face, and open. “I’m not scared of putting myself out there,” Ace said.

Growing up on the South Shore of Staten Island, a more conservative part of the city, Ace felt “confined.” Throughout her life, she has lived in Staten Island, Manhattan and Brooklyn. Ace was surrounded by predominantly white people with conservative political views wherever she lived. They would often judge her for being an Asian American woman in addition to how she dressed, she said.

Photographs by Alexandra Nava-Baltimore

On this rainy September morning, Ace wore platform boots from DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse) and paired them with a chunky silver anklet. She has styled stackable silver rings from H&M with clip-on, gold hoop earrings from Amazon and a sleek high ponytail. “I like to mix my metals because I feel like no one does that,” she said. Ace tends to gravitate towards more oversized clothing, and here, she paired an oversized black T-shirt from Missguided with biker shorts from Aerie that have pockets along the side. To complete the look and protect her from the rain, Ace wore an army green bomber jacket from Zara.

Ace thrifts most of her clothing at the L Train Vintage in Brooklyn and on First Avenue in addition to other “random thrift stores” that she “stumbles upon.” She looks for her staples which include jewelry, tees, oversized jackets and jeans. Ace is constantly considering how her purchases will affect our planet and prefers to reuse and rework items over buying them new. She gravitates towards the men’s section in any store she shops at because she likes to mix more masculine pieces with feminine accessories and shoes. Overall, Ace said she draws a lot of her fashion inspiration from Rihanna and the “I don’t give a fuck’ attitude of NYC.”

Photo by Alexandra Nava-Baltimore

During quarantine and subsequent online semesters, Ace said she typically put makeup on every day for Zoom class but stayed in her pajamas. She feels a sense of relief being back on campus for in-person courses, as she can now express herself fully in head-to-toe looks. “[The more] I feel comfortable expressing myself, the better my work will be,” Ace said. “I feel like I can conquer the world. I can do anything.”

Ace described a renewed sense of “motivation” when picking out her outfits each day because she knows they will make her more productive. At The New School, Ace feels like no one will judge her, and she can wear whatever she wants.

Annelise Cornet

Photo by Shivam Sachdeva

Annelise Cornet, a second-year Strategic Design and Management major at Parsons, sported an effortlessly chic monochromatic look. She wore Yeezy Foam Runners, thrifted white silk pants and a graphic sweatshirt. Her accessories included a necklace, which is a family heirloom, and a Madewell facemask.

Photographs by Shivam Sachdeva

Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Cornet finds living in New York City to be extremely liberating. “There are certain pieces I can wear because no one cares! Versus a small town in the suburbs, where people would stare,” said Cornet. Comfort is Cornet’s guiding principle for all school outfits . “I don’t wear anything I can’t move around in,” she said. She shops at a variety of places, focusing on buying from small businesses and thrifting. Cornet is inspired to step out of her comfort zone by the breadth of fashion at Parsons. She said she is drawn to the intricacies of their outfits, and often feels inspired to incorporate similar elements into her own looks.

Reflecting on her style shift throughout the pandemic, Cornet said the main difference is her desire to experiment with combining pieces head-to-toe. On Zoom her outfits consisted of pajamas, sweatpants and leggings. “As long as I looked decent on top, that’s what mattered to me,” said Cornet. Now she is driven and excited about creating complete looks that illustrate her personal growth and renewed creativity. “Some days I am giving flower girl vibes and might wear a floral dress. Other days I’m giving more streetwear. It just depends on my mood,” said Cornet.

Cornet reflected on her personal growth throughout the interview and, like many New School students, she fully expects her style to evolve as she does. “Being in college, I think it’s time to try something different. I’ve lowkey been wanting to dye my hair! I also want to get into knitwear, specifically dresses, as well,” said Cornet.

Photo by Shivam Sachdeva

In closing Cornet offered some advice on discovering one’s individual style. She said, “Just do you! People who appreciate your style, or appreciate you as a person, will naturally gravitate to you. So yeah, just be yourself, which isn’t an easy thing to do, but once you start doing it you definitely will feel better!”

Ryan Minter

Photo by Shivam Sachdeva

Artist, musician and Lang student Ryan Minter shared their dynamic approach to style.

“I like looking like a cartoon character a lot of the time! But I also like to be simple and let my hair do the rest,” Minter, a second-year studying Culture and Media, said. Today, their look consisted of a chunky pair of ‘80s-inspired boots, thrifted women’s trousers, an Ed Hardy tank top and a Lacoste rain jacket that they found at a friend’s place. Minter said he is inspired by the oversized trend. “I’m really into oversized shirts [and] suits right now, which has been a big thing for me,” said Minter. Minter purchases most of their clothes from thrift stores at home in Atlanta, Georgia. “I don’t really have any favorite thrift stores in New York City, but in Georgia and Long Island there’s great thrift[ing],” Minter said.

Photographs by Shivam Sachdeva

They mentioned that they no longer feel pressure to constantly have the perfect outfit. Minter said, “I care a lot less. I remember before Covid hit, I thought I had to dress my best all the time. But after Covid I realized I really don’t need to. I can show up in a shirt and pants and call it a day!”

Minter describes picking outfits for class to be, “…kinda dreadful. When I wake up I am very focused on actually waking up, and everything else is on autopilot,” they said. “I have a bunch of go-to outfits – recently it has been big pants and a t-shirt.”

Their outfits often reflect work they’re doing in their classes. “In my advanced screen print[ing] class I usually leave with ink all over myself,” said Minter,“so I wear clothes I can get messy and be comfortable in. For my morning class, it’s my JNCOs and a t-shirt!”

Reflecting on the difference between Zoom and in-person classes, Minter said “I wear pants now, so that’s pretty wild!” Now that classes have finally returned to campus and there is a reason to be outside, Minter said they are excited to explore “interesting silhouettes,” and begin experimenting with layering as the seasons shift.

Photo by Shivam Sachdeva

Minter shared with The Free Press that they, “came out as non-binary over the course of the pandemic, which has been a big step out,” Minter said. “I’ve learned that I don’t have to be over the top to look decent.”

This new found confidence in their identity has unburdened Minter’s relationship to fashion and their personal style, bringing  about a new era of growth for them.“I can really, actually do what I want now and just be myself, which has been really good,” they said.

Paula Kim

Photo by Shivam Sachdeva

Paula Kim is a second year Strategic Design and Management student at Parsons with plans to minor in Fashion Communications. She described her style as a mix of girly, bohemian and chic aesthetics. “I think it’s kinda a good mix,” said Kim.

The outfit she wore for her interview with The New School Free Press highlighted the chic side of her personal style. She sported a pair of classic white, high-top Air Force Ones (which she thrifted for $15), linen Old Navy pants and a black turtleneck tank top from Uniqlo. Her necklaces hold a lot of meaning for Kim, as they were each gifts from her family. Most notably, the chain with her name, which was made from a baby bracelet gifted to her by her grandmother in her childhood. “The little bow is from the [original] bracelet,” said Kim. Her go-to outfit for school is anything comfortable. “I’ll probably do fun comfy pants and a cute little tank top,” said Kim.

Photographs by Shivam Sachdeva

Kim said of her shopping habits, “a lot of my wardrobe has been in my closet for at least five years, I have a lot of clothes that I’ve had since high school! This past year and a half, I’ve only been buying second-hand, taking my friends’ clothes or buying from consignment stores.” She is motivated by the electric energy and variety of the city’s street style. “I am always surrounded by inspiration,” said Kim, and described styling outfits for school as a double-edged sword: stressful yet exciting.

Photo by Shivam Sachdeva

Kim said, “overall clothes are fun!” Her refusal to be yanked around by the chaotic pressures of the New School fashion landscape allows her to maintain a fun, carefree relationship to her personal style. “Experiment and do not let any outside factors get in the way,” said Kim, advice she is intent on living by herself.

Kim is looking forward to fall and plans to experiment with layering. “I’ve been styling for myself, feeling comfortable and confident,” said Kim. “I’ve been [getting] more into personal style and staying away from just wearing a white tank top and jeans!”

Maggie Keene

Photo by Harry Batalingaya

Maggie Keene, a fourth-year performing arts student at Lang, described her love of mixing classic and contemporary aesthetics as well as the nerves she feels getting dressed for class at an institution so renowned for its fashion.

On Tuesday, Keene wore white sandals and a pink skirt she paired with a rainbow belt. With it, she wore a bright, teal linen blazer with a white T-shirt underneath. To complete the colorful ensemble, she accessorized with butterfly earrings.

Keene, originally from Massachusetts, described having several iterations of her personal style that she rotates between and combines. She said she has an affection for more traditional “blast from the past” pieces. “I have a lot of things from the ’50s and ’70s that I like,” she said. “Very feminine, older, housewife style is what I call that.” She mixes this classic look with “super colorful modern street style.” Keene admitted she sometimes opts for a more laid-back look when she simply needs to get to class. Her go-to class outfit is a fun dress or graphic tee with bike shorts. Either way, she always loves a color-coordinated outfit, including her makeup.

Photographs by Harry Batalingaya

Returning to in-person classes has prompted Keene to put more effort into her looks now that more eyes are on her. Opportunities to showcase her style have been slim during the pandemic, so Keene is now trying to take advantage of the ability to wear something nice to her in-person classes. Last year, Keene opted for very colorful shirts on Zoom, but since she could only be seen from the waist-up, she often opted for pajamas on the bottom.

Since returning to campus after nearly 18 months of virtual classes, Keene described how her confidence and willingness to take risks grew over that time. “I used to worry about wearing things that would make me fit in, but now I just wear what I want and wear what I like,” Keene said. Her go-to outfit for class varies but is usually “either a dress or bike shorts and a graphic T-shirt,” she said.

Photo by Harry Batalingaya

Keene shared that picking out outfits for school isn’t always easy, though. “A lot of the people who go here have such good style,” she said. She said she feels a lot of pressure to measure up. Keene said she often thinks, “Oh my God, they look so good, and I can’t wear any of those things. I’ll look like an idiot.” However, Keene insisted that whatever pressure she feels is primarily overshadowed by the excitement of assembling an outfit she feels good in. “I’m usually very excited to pick out outfits and have people see them… other than my girlfriend,” she said.

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Health concerns stemming from factory pollution becomes a campaign issue in Kalamazoo




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KALAMAZOO, MI — Multiple candidates running for four seats coming open on the Kalamazoo City Commission are taking aim at industrial polluters, presenting ideas to investigate environmental contamination and possible harm caused to residents.

The issue was hammered on several times during the city commission forum Thursday, Sept. 23. With no incumbents, a new majority on the commission will be selected from among the eight candidates, barring any write-in victories or other unexpected happenings.

Related: Kalamazoo City Commission candidates give opinions on guns, housing, contamination at election forum

MLive published reports in August revealing the state of Michigan, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and others, are investigating health concerns, air quality and the prevalence of asthma in a part of the city located next to the Graphic Packaging International factory and the city’s wastewater plant.

James Mitchell, Marshall Kilgore, Esteven Juarez, Stephanie Hoffman, Alphonso Harris, Qianna Decker, Don Cooney and Steven Chandler are vying for the four, four-year terms on the city commission.

WMUK Content Director Gordon Evans asked each candidate a question about the environment at the Thursday city commission candidate forum:

“What, if anything should the city do differently with regard to environmental contamination to better protect the health and safety of residents?”

Don Cooney, who served on the Kalamazoo City Commission for 22 years before retiring in 2019 and deciding to run again in 2021, suggested the city convene a “Blue Ribbon Committee” to come up with solutions.

“I think this is a huge issue,” Cooney said, referring to a study that shows a census tract on the north side of Kalamazoo, where there is “almost an epidemic of asthma,” and people living there have a life expectancy of 14 years less than the highest life expectancy in the county.

Related: Asthma is killing Kalamazoo family living near a stinking factory. Now the state is studying asthma in the neighborhood.

“So, we have to look at this issue very seriously,” Cooney said. “We know that the state has been concerned about this. I think we should set up a Blue Ribbon Committee, which looks at this issue, brings in experts and makes recommendations. People deserve to live in decent surroundings in a community, which allows them to thrive, and you can’t do that, when their whole neighborhood is being polluted.”

A Blue Ribbon Committee is a term the city has used in the past, most notably in 2015 during its creation of a group of advisors from the community to determine how the city would solve its revenue shortfall. The panel offered several recommendations, but none fully addressed the shortfall.

Afterward, the city administration continued to develop the philanthropic funded Foundation for Excellence model, which was later adopted.

Candidate Qianna Decker said the city definitely needs to review some of the policies that are in place when it comes to big businesses.

“We really need to take a look at some of the businesses and organizations that are here within the city of Kalamazoo, that could be causing some of these outbreaks, shall we say, and health concerns,” she said.

She also mentioned increasing use of solar energy and giving rebates to residents to make their homes energy efficient, as well as building up green spaces.

Esteven Juarez said educating residents about environmental issues is a huge thing.

“A lot of individuals growing up in the environment I grew up, we never thought about that stuff,” Juarez said.

“That stuff was never concerning to us and how harmful it can be to us, right, and so I think that’s huge. Education is a huge thing, educating our residents. The people who live here need to understand how that affects them.”

Juarez said he thinks it is good what the city has been doing so far, “but I feel that it’s super important to bring accountability to these individuals and companies that are causing contamination.”

We should potentially fine actors for causing contamination, Juarez said. Cleanups have been good for the city, he said, and we need more, especially in places such as homeless encampments.

Related: Kalamazoo will use boats and floating curtain to fish for river trash near homeless camp

Alphonso Harris said he is disheartened with what’s going on with Graphic Packaging International.

“I’ve lived on the Northside of Kalamazoo the vast majority of my life. I don’t think that the Northside should have to deal with so much pollution, so many health problems coming from this pollution in order to make a dollar.

“I think that the health and well-being of our residents has to be taken into consideration as well as making a quote living wage,” Harris said.

Marshall Kilgore said, “First and foremost, we’ve had a lot of folks say, we need to hold corporations accountable. That is true. But you know, I’m ready to also dangle that carrot and say hey, let’s provide incentives for folks who are protecting our water, soil, and air.”

During his remarks, he referenced MLive’s reporting about asthma and pollution concerns on the Northside.

Related: Asthma is killing Kalamazoo family living near a stinking factory. Now the state is studying asthma in the neighborhood.

“…the state is now researching asthma because folks are getting symptoms that they never have before due to some of the pollution that we have in our city. That is totally unacceptable and something that we have to address,” Kilgore said.

“The environment is one of my top concerns because it affects us all, and how we continue to make sure we have a safe environment is giving incentives to folks who are doing it the right way,” Kilgore said.

Stephanie Hoffman said she is a firm believer in holding big corporations accountable.

“One way that we can do that is hit them in the pocket. So, people are making tons and tons of money, and they don’t understand the voices of the people they choose not to hear the voices of the people,” Hoffman said.

“What if we begin to work with them and say, ‘Are you going to address that or not?’” she said.

Hoffman said it’s about valuing residents.

“Hitting them in the pocket, to make sure they understand that we as a city are serious about our residents and the health of our residents,” she said.

James Mitchell said one focus he has is on Pfizer Corporation. For 70 years, Pfizer has been sending their sewage from their Portage location for processing on the Northside of Kalamazoo, he said. However, Mitchell’s was cut off before finishing his point on the issue in the allotted time.

Steven Chandler said he thinks the largest thing that the city can do is help hold businesses accountable.

“The damage wasn’t done by residents just going about their daily lives and going through their work. It was the companies that are putting these things out into the water and out into the air, that they knew about, they knew about on day one. And they’re the ones that need to be held accountable to help clean up the mess that they’ve made,” Chandler said.

Read more: Kalamazoo spends $170K for PFAS testing following airport foam spill

Former city resident Brandi Crawford-Johnson, who has employed several legal remedies to seek justice for people in the Northside neighborhood affected by pollution, said she recently handed out packets of documents to the some candidates she met with last week. She has brought the concerns to elected officials before, and now she been seeking out candidates to talk about the issue.

Graphic Packaging

Brandi Crawford-Johnson, a resident of Kalamazoo’s Northside neighborhood, poses for a portrait across from Graphics Packaging International paper mill in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. Crawford-Johnson is upset about the pervasive foul odors in her majority Black neighborhood, which state officials attribute to the paper mill. The company has been cited for odors numerous times by the state in recent years and is undertaking an odor study this summer. (Joel Bissell | Bissell |

Crawford-Johnson said the documents include an explanation of health impacts and industrial pollution in Kalamazoo, and a toxicology report she had commissioned that she believes should warrant more attention and action from officials. She said she has been trying bring attention to the issue for years, but government officials have not taken enough action to protect people.

She said the documents were also provided to Mayor David Anderson, who is running for reelection, and has talked to his opponent, Benjamin Stanley, and several of the candidates about the issue. She said she hopes current commissioners and the candidates take it seriously.

Crawford-Johnson said she believes GPI is responsible for health concerns happening in the neighborhood. A former resident of the area who has since moved outside of the city, she said she won’t stop fighting until the truth is revealed and changes are made to protect people.

Meanwhile, the Kalamazoo City Commission is considering a recommendation from city staff at its Sept. 20 meeting to approve a 5-year tax abatement to Graphic Packaging International.

About 20 citizens including Crawford-Johnson, as well as DeAnn Winfield and her son, Deandre Jones, called on Monday to expressed health concerns that they believe may be tied to industrial pollution. Winfield and Jones both suffer from asthma and Jones uses a breathing machine to help him stay alive.

During Monday’s discussion, extending the tax abatement did not have the full support of the commission.

Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin said she was not comfortable providing additional benefits to the company and she planned to vote no on the resolution.

Instead of voting on the abatement, commissioners approved a motion to delay the decision to the Oct. 18 meeting.

They said this would allow citizens and officials to attend an informational meeting hosted by state officials to brief the public on air sampling activities around Graphic Packaging International in Kalamazoo, to address environmental and health concerns brought to the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy’s (EGLE) attention.

Graphic Packaging makes paper-based packaging for a variety of products, including cups, cartons, boxes and other food containers. The company produces paper material as well as folds and labels the products. Over the last several years, the company has made changes or additions to its processes requiring air permits through EGLE, the agency said.

“During the air permitting process, other environmental and health concerns were brought to EGLE’s attention,” an agency news release announcing the meeting said. “Some were discovered during routine inspections of the facility by EGLE staff and others were identified by nearby residents.”

GPI told MLive previously the state evaluated the potential for health impacts when it issued the company’s air permit, and concluded that there would not be a health concern. GPI said it is below the limits of the permit and are confident that we do not have emissions that pose a health threat.

EGLE’s online meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5. Community members with limited or no internet access can also call in to listen and ask questions.

There are two ways to join the meeting:

  • Join online via computer: Pre-register at any time, or join at 6 p.m. on Oct. 5
  • Call in to the meeting: 636-651-3142, and use conference code 374288

To address health concerns, EGLE has partnered with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the city of Kalamazoo to conduct air sampling. The air sampling program is currently underway and gathering both short-term and long-term air quality data, EGLE said.

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