6 Outstanding Women of the Triad

Dr. Alma S. Adams Serves with Distinction in the U.S. House of Representatives

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

“My mother always said you can do whatever you set out to do,” said Congresswoman Alma Adams, a Greensboro native who represents the 12th Congressional District in the House of Representatives. “My mother had the greatest impact on me because she was a strong black woman who worked as a domestic.”

Education has always been important to Rep. Adams. She graduated from N.C. A&T State University in 1968 and received her master’s degree in Art Education in 1972. She earned her Ph.D. in Art Education and Multicultural Education from the Ohio State University in Columbus in 1981. For 40 years she taught Art History at Bennett College.

Dr. Adams began her political career in the 1980s when she was the first African-American woman ever elected to the Greensboro City School Board. “They were closing schools in the African-American community and I was an angry parent,” she explained. This experience prompted her to make a lifetime commitment to working for social change in her community and beyond.

In 1994, Dr. Adams was appointed to serve in the N.C. House representing District 26. She served there for ten years, becoming chair of the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus. She pioneered the Displaced Homemakers Bill and spearheaded the state’s first minimum wage increase in nine years.

In November 2014, Rep. Adams won a special election and was sworn in as the 100th woman elected to the 113th Congress. She was elected to her second term in 2016 and will be running again in 2018. She sits on many committees and serves as the Assistant Whip for the Democratic Caucus. She is the founder of the first Congressional Bipartisan Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Caucus, and is part of the Women’s Caucus, as well as many others.

During today’s time of deep political controversy, Rep. Adams reaches back to her childhood for strength. “My sister died of sickle cell disease. I remember how she stayed positive despite the pain … I try to stay positive.”

Rep. Adams had many great mentors that encouraged her throughout her career. “I had a great mentor in Eva Hamlin Miller. She was the first African-American Art Supervisor in Greensboro schools.” Rep. Adams is also an artist and a printmaker, and she and Hamlin Miller opened the African American Atelier Art Gallery in Greensboro, which just celebrated its 27th anniversary.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my work in all the elected positions,” Rep. Adams noted during a recent phone interview. “I think it was beneficial going through local, state and then national levels because it gives you an edge to have that experience.” She will continue to work on the issues that matter to North Carolinians. She is concerned that the state’s minimum wage hasn’t been increased since 2006. In the House, she is working on a living wage bill and paid family leave.

Rep. Adams is also concerned about seniors and knows her constituents are worried about Social Security, Medicare, pensions and the high cost of medications. “We need to make sure seniors can live out the rest of their lives comfortably,” she said. She is concerned about stories she hears about seniors having to make a decision whether to get their prescriptions refilled or buy groceries.

She believes there is much to be positive about right now, especially seeing more women running for office. “All issues are women’s issues,” Rep. Adams states. She encourages everyone to “stay involved, stay in touch with your elected officials.” She noted that seniors especially need to stay active. “Don’t give up ‘til you give out!” she declared, and continued, “You’re only as old as you think you are. Seniors have experience and wisdom. We need to be role models for the younger people.”

Women need a seat at the table, Rep. Adams said. Then recited a quote from Shirley Chisholm: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

Gayle Anderson a Champion for Business and Education

By Elizabeth Bergstone

After almost three decades, Gayle Anderson recently retired as CEO of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce. What we see now in the growth of the downtown area, and particularly the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter is, in part, the result of Anderson’s leadership and encouragement.

Many of us remember the dark days that befell Winston-Salem as first R.J. Reynolds moved their headquarters to Atlanta (a place that they deemed less “bucolic”), and Hanes, Piedmont Airlines, Wachovia, Sara Lee and other pillars of the business community experienced major corporate changes.

It was during this period of uncertainty that Anderson joined the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, first as Executive Vice-President, then rising in 1996 to the position of CEO and President.

With large corporations shrinking their employee base from a heyday of 18,000 employees to closer to 5,000, thousands of well-paying jobs disappeared. So too did the history of corporate benevolence and company-sponsored volunteerism that contributed so extensively to the arts and social services in the community.

Anderson supported several important initiatives that helped the business community adapt to the changes, including the establishment of the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. Anderson notes, “Twenty-five years ago ninety percent of opportunity for growth was in medical research, but we were hampered by the lack of a graduate engineering school. Now we have an undergraduate school in place, and the graduate program will follow.”

Anderson also worked with the Chamber’s 1,200 members and other community and business leaders to diversify the economy by supporting entrepreneurs, small businesses and business start-ups.

One of the major projects that Anderson worked on was securing state funding for the completion of I-74 – the western leg of the Northern beltway. “Once that highway is finished, it will open up the northeast section of the area to development,” she explains. “There’s plenty of opportunity for development in that area, but development can’t occur unless there’s a road to provide access to it. Development of the Northern beltway will create over 22,000 jobs.”

Anderson recognized the importance of incorporating technology learning into our local schools, and was active in raising money from the private sector to help fund this initiative. She also spearheaded the effort to pass four public school bond referenda to upgrade both the infrastructure and the technology in our schools. “Some of our schools were fifty years old,” she says. “We needed to keep pace with the growing population and the changing way of learning in our schools, so that our students would be ready to fill the needs of today’s workplace.”

As for retirement, Anderson says she figured out four or five years ago when she would retire, and offers this advice for those contemplating retirement: “Figure out what you’re going to do before you retire, so that you can make the transition smoothly.” Anderson says she plans to continue teaching yoga; she is currently working on a clinical trial for older adults with anxiety that compares the benefits of yoga with counseling.

Carol Jollay Interior Designer in the Furniture Capital of the World

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

Carol Jollay’s journey to becoming an interior designer started out on a cruise ship.

Growing up in Eastern N.C., Carol originally wanted to be a flight attendant, but after she was turned down by an airline, she was offered a job working on a cruise ship, where she worked for 14 years arranging shore excursions. She traveled the world and saw sights that she never would have imagined possible for a girl from rural North Carolina.

As she traveled, she developed a love of architecture and design as she explored different cultures. In 1982 Jollay moved to the High Point area to be closer to her family, but also to begin a new career. In her early 40s, she went to design school and knew that it was the career she was meant to have.

As an interior designer, Jollay has seen first-hand the ups and downs of the furniture industry. She remembers the years when furniture stores crowded downtown High Point, drawing customers from around the world, and she’s witnessed the closing of stores and empty showrooms. The downward spiral when furniture businesses moved from America overseas to China was heartbreaking. However, in the last five years, Jollay has seen a positive change with new companies opening that want to manufacture in America.

Offering superior customer service has always been the basis of Jollay’s design business. Word of mouth and referrals keeps her busy and brings in traffic to her gallery on Main Street. But her reputation is built on more than just her design work; she is also sharing her talents in the community as a volunteer. When the High Point Chamber (now Business High Point) moved to its new building, Jollay helped with the interior design and furniture selection. As a long-time Chamber member, she values the relationships she has built with other businesses. She was honored as the 2017 Volunteer of the Year and is a past recipient of the Small Business of the Year award.

Jollay has also served on the board of the Convention & Visitors Bureau and chairs the Design Services committee. The High Point Design Center is a group of 40 companies that open their galleries monthly to designers to bring in clients to view their lines. Jollay also oversees the Parade of Trees, an event where organizations and designers decorate holiday trees for viewing during the annual Holiday Stroll and Open House.

Hospice has always had a special place in Jollay’s heart and she has volunteered for 14 years, serving on the annual Taste of the Town committee. Jollay said, “It brings me joy seeing so many seniors giving of their time to put on this event because they have been touched by Hospice in some way.” This is one of the top annual events in High Point.

What she enjoys most is being a mentor to design students, volunteering with the Living Your Dream program that helps entrepreneurs get a “taste” of the design industry to determine if they want to go into the field. The highlight of her career has been serving on High Point University’s Advisory Board where she mentors students in the Interior Design program.

Jollay also serves as a Stephen Minister in her church, helping others in need. “That has been a particular blessing to me,” commented Jollay. She also enjoys spending time with her family. “All of us play music and we enjoy inviting elderly neighbors to join in.”

Jollay says that her secret to success is to do whatever it takes to be happy and especially take time to give to others. “Everyone has gifts to share.”

Dawn Morgan Mayor of Kernersville

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

If Kernersville is the “Heart of the Triad,” then Mayor Dawn Morgan is the “heart” of Kernersville. As Kernersville’s first woman mayor, Morgan is passionate about promoting her community, whether it’s helping to attract new industry or encouraging students to excel.

Mayor Morgan received her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia. While attending the University of Texas in Austin where she earned a master’s degree, she took a business law class and became excited about law as a way to help people. That led her to go to Wake Forest University, where she earned her law degree in 1993.

At that time, Morgan lived in Winston-Salem and worked in Greensboro for N. Carlton Tilley, Jr., a federal judge, and passed by Kernersville every day. After she married, she and her husband decided to move to Kernersville. Thinking about ways she could serve others and her community was always in the back of her mind. She remembered talking to a classmate at Wake who said she should consider serving on a planning board. Morgan applied, was appointed, and served for five years. That began her career in public service.

In 2001 Morgan decided to run for alderman and was the only new alderman elected that year. Then in 2008 she was appointed to fill the remaining term as mayor when Curtis Swisher became town manager. In 2009 she ran for mayor and was elected, the first woman mayor since the town was formed in 1871. She has been reelected four times, which shows how respected and admired she is in the community.

Mayor Morgan has seen many positive changes since she moved to Kernersville. Seeing a project go from idea to watching its progress and finally to see it come to completion brings her the most satisfaction in her job. She is especially excited about the new Paddison Memorial Library that is under construction and due to open in the fall. The library has been a popular place for seniors and the new library will offer more room for activities and groups to meet.

Public speaking is another part of her job that Morgan enjoys. She was honored to speak at the expansion of the Deere-Hitachi plant, the opening of the Kernersville Medical Center, and the Veteran Administration’s Health Center. She especially enjoys speaking to students and encouraging them to excel.

As for the future, Morgan is looking forward to seeing the growth and changes that Kernersville will experience. She emphasizes that Kernersville is a growing community of citizens who care for each other and are concerned for their community. She encourages everyone to be involved in community service, whether it’s through serving on a Chamber of Commerce event, volunteering at a nonprofit, or tutoring students.

Looking back, Mayor Morgan said she never thought that her first volunteer assignment making name tags for the Chamber of Commerce would lead to her being the first woman mayor. She is thankful for the support she received from Inez Davis, Margaret Burks, Phyllis Mendel, and others who have encouraged her in her career.

She has stood on the shoulders of these women who have inspired her to achieve success in her career in public service as mayor of Kernersville. Her leadership is encouraging other women to follow in her footsteps.

Christina Soriano Uses Dance and Movement to Improve Health

By Elizabeth Bergstone

Watching a group of about two dozen or so people, aged four to seventy-five, move about Brendel Recital Hall stage to the music of Bach, it’s tempting to ask: Which of these people is a professional dancer? Which one has no formal training whatsoever? How old can this person be? Is this person suffering from Parkinson’s?

But not when you’re watching “The Goldberg Project,” a work directed by Christina Soriano, dancer, choreographer, and Director of Dance and Associate Professor of Dance at Wake Forest University.

Questions such as these become irrelevant as the presentation unfolds and reveals the deep concentration, joy, and lack of self-consciousness each member of the cast experiences in joining and sharing in the improvised performance.

This exercise in movement is not just for fun: behind this presentation of movement and music, an array of serious purposes is being addressed. Soriano’s work is derived from years of study, not only in dance, but also in collaboration with scientists, such as physical therapist Glenna Batson, and neuroscientist Dr. Christina Hugenschmidt, PhD, Assistant Professor of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Soriano uses her creative expertise in the area of physical movement to address the needs of people living with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease or Mild Cognitive Impairment.

Cognitive impairment is defined as the loss of intellectual function, or the ability to think effectively. Approximately half the population over 85 shows permanently-impaired thinking, which is not only a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, but also occurs as a part of normal aging. People with any of these conditions often suffer falls and other symptoms such as depression, apathy, and isolation. Currently there is no established medical treatment for these conditions, but Soriano works on the theory that self-generated movement, or improvisation, can help address some of the challenges associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and its related conditions.

“Dance has been shown to improve balance, mobility and cognition so, in working with Christina Hugenschmidt, we’re pursuing the theory that maybe dance could also keep more patients out of emergency rooms.”

Soriano believes that practicing improvisation allows us to embrace change, which is a vital skill that we all need to develop as we age. “I teach improvisation to older adults because I believe they particularly need to practice a movement form that is change oriented. As we age we become acutely aware of changes in our bodies; these classes are not just for young, able-bodied people.”

Soriano is also involved in the Aging Re-Imagined Symposium, which will take place on May 3 and 4 at Wake Forest University’s Bridger Field House. The Symposium brings together the work of artists researchers, scientists and community members around the topic of Healthy Aging. She will continue her work as director of the Dance Program at Wake Forest University and also plans to create another Intergenerational Dance and Movement Event in August 2018.

Soriano is helping others dance their way to a healthier, happier life.

Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin is a Leading Lady in More Ways than One

By Elizabeth Bergstone

Without a doubt Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin qualifies as an “Outstanding Woman in The Triad” by holding top executive positions in not just one, but two notable Triad organizations: she is the Forsyth County Public Library Director, and she is the Executive Producer of the National Black Theatre Festival.

Born and raised in Winston-Salem, she graduated Winston-Salem State University with a B.S. degree in education, and went on to earn her M.S. degree in Library Science at Clark Atlanta University. Upon graduating, Sprinkle-Hamlin was offered a position on the staff of the Philadelphia Library system in Pennsylvania, which she had no qualms about accepting, even though it was far from “home.” In 1978 she was offered a position in the Winston-Salem State University Library, and so she returned to Winston-Salem.

Then, in 1979, two key events occurred that changed the course of her life in ways that she couldn’t have foreseen: she was offered a position with the Forsyth County Library system as department head for children’s outreach, which eventually lead to her current position as Director of the entire Library system. And she met Larry Leon Hamlin.

They met at a Saturday night gathering of a social group for black professionals. “He was very different, very creative,” she remembers. “I was the practical one. He was a dreamer.”

Hamlin was, at that time, the Director of the North Carolina Black Repertory Theatre, and he knew that his future would probably be uncertain. “He told me right from the start that if I was looking for someone to take care of me then he wasn’t likely to fit the bill,” recalls Sprinkle-Hamlin. “I promptly replied that I didn’t need anyone to take care of me – I could take care of myself!” she says, laughing.

They were married in 1981 and continued to work side by side to establish and grow the National Black Theatre Festival. During that time the Festival grew from 30 performances with 10,000 in attendance, to over 100 performances and 50,000 in attendance in 2005.

Two years later, Hamlin died after an extended illness. “That was in June,” Sprinkle-Hamlin recalls, “and the Festival was due to take place that year, starting in August. I didn’t want the Festival to stop when Larry passed. We’d worked too hard on it to have it die.”

Others stepped forward to take on leadership roles, and today the Festival continues to flourish, with Sprinkle-Hamlin at the helm. The most recent Festival, held in 2017, featured over 140 performances and had an estimated attendance of 85,000.

On the subject of retirement, Sprinkle-Hamlin advises other seniors: “Don’t let anybody push you into
retirement. You’ll know when it’s time to retire. Take your time – and stay active!”

Sprinkle-Hamlin follows her own advice by being actively involved in plans for two new, 20,000 square-foot library buildings, one in Kernersville and one in Clemmons.


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