Prior to establishing my own business, I worked for two Fortune 100 Companies - United Airlines and Nationwide Insurance. As a Flight Attendant with United Airlines, I witnessed first hand the tragedy of September 11th when several of my co-workers and friends perished in the World Trade Center on UAL Flight 75 - the same flight I myself had missed because my alarm was set to "5 pm" instead of "5am." The circumstances of that single day have formed almost every perspective I have as an adult. On the brighter side, exposure to the infrastructure and corporate governance of the world's largest airline at the time provided me with an incredible knowledge and fortitude of the grandiose scale of industrial operations. Simply observing how a massive company with billions in assets operates is fascinating. The incredibly varied skill sets of every one - pilots, flight attendants, crew desk, corporate body, and ground staff - combined together in amazingly brilliant ways. There is a superb magnificence in how efficient large systems can be and an absolute frustration in how inefficient they can remain despite every good attempt to seize a better method - even implementing a superior alternative that is sure to solve a dreadful dilemma can seem impossible ... but it's not. When you encounter a problem at 30,000 feet - and we had our share of problems - you must solve them there and then. There is no time for arguing in an emergency. I think we have not only a public emergency with the state of education in our country, but an existential crisis. While things may seem up in the air at trying times, thankfully, we have our feet on the ground as a people and can solve problems and achieve solid results. I firmly believe that eventually sound decisions take root, and I am a candidate because I want to see much needed growth and rejuvenation among our public schools.
With Nationwide Insurance, I was a property insurance adjuster. I visited homes and businesses and estimated the value of property damage, as well as determined applicable insurance coverage for losses. I enjoyed meeting with everyday people and getting them back on their feet - benefiting them at every opportunity for coverage they had paid for - but be hopeful you don't ever have to file an insurance claim. Many folks have terrible experiences with insurance companies - and I myself had a deplorable experience with my insurance company when I had to file a claim. I had expected the same level of competency and resolve for achieving an agreeable and amiable resolution as I had always implemented - how unfortunate it is that not every company is equitable and ethical. I've always believed in treating people fairly and with respect. The true value of any relationship ultimately resides in trust. You cannot put a value on trust because its worth exceeds any measurement in dollars - at least that's what I believe. Trust is the single most important element to upholding the faith of not only relationships, but enterprises and institutions as well. It is the cornerstone of the foundation worth building anything upon. I take great pride in how effective I was as an adjuster because it is a profession full of compassionate, fair-minded, and good people despite the industry's unfettered and reproachable experiences seeming to take center stage.
The National Park Service is notably America's favorite governmental institution - and the NPS Mission to "preserve and protect" the crown jewels of America's natural, historical, and cultural landmarks is a now global idea. Maintaining the balance of nature in wild landscapes and the integrity of historical places for "benefit and enjoyment of the people" in a way that leaves them "unimpaired for future generations" is one of the most challenging missions in an ever changing world. As a seasonal Interpretive Ranger, I led programs that amplified the unique cultural and natural heritage of the sites I worked - educating people of all ages "Why Parks Matter" and bringing knowledge and understanding of each site's significance closer to both heart and mind. At the conclusion of my final program "The Creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park," an older couple approached me and said, "That's the best program we've ever heard - and we have been coming to parks for decades." Everything we do makes an impact, and it is incredibly satisfying to know what a difference we can make in our world. I don't leave anything out, nor any stone unturned when looking for how to connect people in ways that are meaningful, lasting, and just plain right, and I believe maintaining the dignity and integrity of institutions every where is of paramount importance to anyone serving the public's trust.
I worked with Texas Windstorm Insurance Association at their most challenging time - in the aftermath of catastrophic Hurricane Ike in 2008. Texas Windstorm operates through a non-profit charter made by the state of Texas in order to provide insurance to properties for-profit commercial insurance companies will not cover because of the significant risks associated with their coastal locations. I was a claims examiner, corporate liaison, and damage estimator and processed hundreds of claims for homeowners who had lost their entire property - everything. Assessing the loss of a structure that has been completely destroyed is severely complicated in many ways, and we dealt with the spectrum of emotions total destruction wreaks upon all members of a community. Through-out my tenure I handled vastly complex claims and managed large and staggering losses for businesses and municipalities - working with engineers, attorneys, and contractors at all levels to negotiate fair and equitable settlements in a timely manner and ensure settlements were proportional to losses incurred.
My experience with a local independent adjuster firm was remarkable in ways that do not exist with large corporations and the US Government. I worked for RJMW as an independent adjuster both local and catastrophe claims. The responsibilities of an independent adjuster are enormous - we did everything but issue checks. and were responsible for every aspect of the claim, with the sole exception of causing a loss. I met with insureds, scoped damages, and provided professional and accurate reports to well over thirty different insurance companies - each with their own parameters and guides for handling and assessing losses, as well as compiling and submitting reports regarding the same. It was certainly a lot to manage - and you were obviously responsible for submitting all of your work on your own. Essentially, I was my own boss, and I enjoyed the flexibility and challenge it offered on a wide basis. Aside from the difficult and demanding work, what I appreciated most about the family run firm was that everyone was treated like family. A family run business has two major advantages - that may also act to its detriment if it does not proceed with caution regarding both. One, it can adapt effectively and efficiently to nearly every challenge - and swiftly. Two, it can be unable to address the simplest problems because it can be "stuck in its ways" and you are, essentially, dealing with all the complexities of a family and a business lumped together. One of the most memorable and noteworthy business practices I ever saw in my life was the owner, Bob McRorie, who had built the company from a handful of adjusters to a ready staff of over one thousand personnel, enter the Men's Room, and disenchanted by the way it looked, instead of sending someone else to pick up paper towels and clean sinks and such, he did it himself. I think if every CEO or Board Member approached problems with this type of positive can-do attitude we would have more solutions than problems. The hallmarks of success among so much of what we do resides in simply ponying up and doing it.
Having extensive exposure to organizations operating both effectively and ineffectively couples the advantage of "copy and paste" with the simple concept of "how do I do this?" Winning ideas never seem to be obvious - but oddly enough, their discovery is often hidden in plain view. In 2012, I began Dunx Coffee from scratch. I wanted to venture out on my own because I enjoy challenges, but much more so I did not want to always be on the road for my job and I had just begun a family. Fortunately or unfortunately, I had both the incredible advantage of having great credit where I did not need to get loans from a bank, and an idea that it seemed no bank would take seriously enough to offer me a loan! When the spark of determination burns inside, your wits are eager to ignite possibility for better or worse. And yet, the ideas you are sure to work, just don't seem to work out the way you envisioned. Owning and operating a business is always about adapting unless you have the dumb luck to reinvent the wheel. Time and again, it's about learning how to solve problems over and over. Each solution brings new awareness and wisdom. "Why can't I just get a great tasting cup of fresh, locally roasted and brewed coffee in Charlotte?" is the question that launched the thing that used to keep me so busy I never had a day off. I knew coffee could be better than what I found around town because I had great way of stumbling upon it in the wide expanses of my travels. I know many folks believe lattes and other frills are all the rage, but I always enjoyed coffee straight up, and needless to say, this just didn't exist in Charlotte like it did other places. There was no coffee guru who boasted an incredible selection featuring coffees of variety and distinction - and who knew everything you ever wanted to know about coffee. Well, maybe this person existed but they sure weren't traceable! In short, I learned how to roast, source, and brew extraordinary coffee, and within a few years was making a cup of coffee that customers still tell me is the best cup they ever had. Now, I do believe that great coffee is definitely better when you're on vacation, sipping it somewhere in a wonderful place or sharing it with outstanding company - but that goes without say for when many of our experiences are truly great. I am proud of having started a successful business on my own, and while I certainly was not indebted to any bank, it's taken years to pay myself back and I will never be able to remit all the help I received from family, most especially my father, brother, and wife without whom there would be no Dunx Coffee ... and the finest selection of coffee you've ever seen in one place.
My wife, Jenifer, is an emergency room nurse - but her real job is a short order miracle worker. She is the pillar of our family and I cherish her affectionate and loving heart and positive, up-beat and always ready for the day approach to life. We have been married for six years and have two children ages 4 and 2, Adelyn and Liam. Together, we have made the most of every day and overcome some of the most challenging times parents can face raising their children. We share many mutual interests - most notably that of giving our best to all we do. Our children attend half-day preschool, and we work with the flexibility of our schedules to manage life - both grateful and lucky to have grandparents who live close by and whose help is instrumental. My daughter's favorite day of the week is family day. My son earned himself the nickname "Buster."
Teachers are a huge part of my family! My father taught with CMS for over 35 years, and received his PhD in physical education. His commitment to teaching the fundamentals of physical exercise was amazing, and he challenged children every day. He was also a sports team coach. He has a five page CV, and is now retired. My father helped me renovate my house because it had become uninhabitable due to some serious disrepair when our daughter was born. His work ethic is extraordinary - and about ten years ago it was he who first told me "You'd make a good school board member."
My mother inspired me in countless ways, and at every opportunity. She had a habit of keeping my teachers on their toes with regard to my education, and was always there to keep school staff in check. When I was in elementary school she always made sure I delivered a jar of Christmas goodies to every teacher I had since Kindergarten. Back then, to me it seemed strange, but when I think of the appreciation it showed my teachers and the smile on their faces of seeing me grow up and year after year bringing a Christmas gift, I realized how important it is to show appreciation - especially in the minutest ways possible. For it is in the details that we see the overall picture.
My sister is a school teacher. I have several cousins who are school teachers. Education has been a part of my family since before I was born, and continues to be a career choice for many.
I made friends Plaza Pre-School whom I still maintain friendships with today. Pre-school is a great place to begin child development and to prepare for a lifetime of learning. Our kids preschool teachers are extraordinary - their dedication is definitely one of the most powerful things I know of on this planet. If only all children had access to pre-K programs! I definitely want to see pre-K programs expanded at CMS.
Irwin Avenue Elementary School was an Open School when I attended. My teachers were pillars among the students. My siblings all attended as well, and what I found most invaluable was that we all shared some of the same teachers. Stability among staff is imperative, most especially at Elementary schools where families can become familiar with teachers in a way middle school and high does not necessarily provide.
First Lady Barbara Bush came to visit Piedmont Middle School when I attended, and spoke to the entire student body in the auditorium. As I reflect on that today, I can see how utterly significant this was for the staff and administration for an official First Lady visit. Although the First Lady's visit is not the most outstanding memory I have of middle school, it represents what I believe we need to achieve everywhere. Back in those days, it seems rigor, grit, and hustle were part of the curriculum - and what drove teachers, students, and parents more than anything else was dedication to children. Piedmont Middle was an exemplary beacon of "how you do it." As a Board Member, believe me, I take pride in having a solid grasp and first hand experience for the way it was done back then. I don't believe the fundamentals have changed regarding how to teach kids and create leaders for both a brighter day and tomorrow. When schools fail, it's time for an intervention - not a "well, let's see what we can do" followed by "here's what we've done" - and what always seems to follow ... "and what we are going to do next." No matter the length of time, excuses will never become excellence. Our schools need intervention, not hope.
I graduated CMS in 1996, prepared for both college and the world as an eighteen year old can be. Why am I asking is this still the priority? Because many students don't feel the same now. West Charlotte was a very distinct school when I graduated. Its academics were on point and it was the largest school in the system, plus the county's demographics were reflected in the student body. It was a blend of cultures, races, religions, and everything else that essentially reflects what our area embodies - NEIGHBORS being NEIGHBORS. Teachers, students, and parents - again - made it successful. It was neither a School Board nor a Superintendent who did the hard work of creating a school like none other where achievement in all areas - academics, sports, leadership, skills, training - was collectively second to none. In many ways, a case can be made that it was mandatory, court ordered desegregation from the 1970s carrying over to the 1990s. However you look at the historical context students at WC were part of the Open Program concept, making it a magnet school anyone in Mecklenburg County could attend. plus a neighborhood school, and a school integrated by busing. When I think back of how far some kids had to travel just to attend, however, it makes me pause. Life was different twenty five years ago, but the wisdom of having sixteen year olds drive on freeways in rush hour traffic does not seem "enlightened" nor does a two hour bus ride or being at a bus stop at 5am. Now, there are 34 high schools in CMS compared to 11 high schools at that time - and there is no logical reason anyone's bus ride to a CMS zoned "neighborhood" school should incur a trip past two or three schools. If we are to have a frank discussion and identification of the problem surrounding low performing schools - of which WC is certainly considered today - then we had better start asking community "leaders" outside CMS how they can help solve this problem because the School Board alone is not bridging this gap and no "leader" within our community should be telling CMS "sorry, not my problem." It seems the School Board and a lot of candidates today want to somehow identify the problem of low performing, poverty stricken schools as only solvable by School Board policies. As an At-Large candidate I offer the most simple solution - quit putting our heads together because it has turned into a head butting contest, and instead work at all levels of government within the towns and cities of Mecklenburg County at a VERY ROUND TABLE to solve the crisis of equity in excellent education. When real leaders agree on real solutions, then we can start patting each other on the back and clapping our hands instead of pointing fingers. One thing I can guarantee you as an At-Large School Board member is that I will put grit, hustle, and vigor into making every school a success - and expect everyone do the same. I don't think it's fair to let "accountability" to get in the way of what we "ought to be doing" and very much believe that what we "ought to be doing" is not being done. We are at that moment in time where collaboration on solutions must replace collaboration on excuses and think critically instead of speaking critically. But we must ACT on student performance, instead of just "caring" and identifying it as a problem. I have no doubt we can provide excellent education to all students in Mecklenburg County - we simply need to quit doing the things that don't work. Our world has changed - and with it the way we prescribe remedies for low student performance. With so many maladies affecting student performance today, we can hardly expect "take two of these, and call me in the morning" to be the solution. But we can also hardly expect that treating what ails our schools with the same medicine is the cure all. We need to examine the school like we examine the patient, then prescribe treatment and follow-up. Identify the cause: identify the cure.
I attended UNC from 1996-2000 and graduated within four years with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English - meaning I could enjoy all the opportunities an English degree offers summed up in one way: you can do basically anything you want, and that's really your only option. I knew I would be responsible for forging my own way ahead and discovering what lay beyond "the normal path" from college to occupation with an English degree in hand, and most English Majors will usually be the first to tell you that we don't know why we didn't pursue a double major or perhaps some more "useful" degree, but I certainly don't regret having a degree in the arts and humanities. Writers, poets, and novelists whose work's survive today are in many ways windows into the past, but they also open up doors about our present because they are the keys to understanding and relating to the human condition. English Majors do a lot of reading and discussion about life. My favorite poets are Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and my favorite book is Don Quixote - though, of course, it was written in Spanish and I had to read a translated copy.
In 2007, I decided to make a documentary film about perils threatening Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I conducted interviews with National Park Service staff, US Senators and Representatives in Washington, DC, Scientists, Community Activists, and Folks who enjoy our Nation's Parks.
In 2009, I followed my instincts and ran the NYC Marathon and raised over $2,500 for diabetes research, documenting the entire 26.2 mile length - plus training and the moments leading up to the marathon's start. With the help of my best friends who were there to root me on and help film the day of the marathon, we made a great documentary 2 hours, 9 minutes, and 13 seconds long - the amount of time it took for the winner to finish. I was a lot slower due to an injury - runner's knee - that kicked in about two weeks before the start but still made it to the finish line.
Lovestruck Pancho is a feature film I released in 2011. I wore nearly all the hats - writer, director, cinematographer, editor, and producer - BUT it could not have been done without so much help from Charlotte. We filmed at all the hot spots in our community - parks, businesses, downtown, neighborhoods. We held our premiere in September 2011 at The Mint Museum Uptown, and it was a tremendous success. Lovestruck Pancho is a comedy - and the audience laughed in all the right places.
Through-out my life, I have collected quite the library of books and information. I have kept detailed journals about my experiences both abroad and locally, and when I "get the time," presenting all of the knowledge I have acquired it promises to be worth every word.
The reason I studied English in college is because I enjoy writing - the most demanding enterprise I can think of because you spend an incredible amount of time doing it, and no matter how good or useful your work may be, you're beholden to an industry that is, well, not what it used to be. "People don't read" anymore is the new refrain among writers, and it's sadly true. The amount of concentration and dedication it takes to collect thousands of words to form a coherent novel or work of non-fiction can best be summed up in one word: super! I say that in all levity, however. I spent the majority of my youth and post-college years writing at every opportunity about every experience, and now I - like most writers - always find myself just "wanting to write."
It all began with a Les Paul electric guitar I purchased in 1993 for $425 - all money I made from working a few months at my first job at Autobell Carwash where I vacuumed filthy cars for minimum wage. Since then, I've learned how to play the bass guitar and drums and recorded music and played at live events. It's hard to keep a band together through the years, and now I really enjoy the piano. First Baptist Church uptown was replacing their pianos a few years back, and offered two pianos for free - all we had to do was pick them up, so my cousin and I rented a trailer and rolled the pianos onto it and into our homes with every ounce of strength we could muster. Today, I certainly don't have as much time for music as before, but really enjoy hearing my two year old son play the piano. Every day he gets better.
I'm one of those guys who can fix anything. The trouble with being able to fix anything is first figuring out how it works. Although I'm a professional DIY, I've at least garnered the wisdom through the years to figure out what is going to take more time: calling a professional who does this every day or figuring out how to do it myself? I restored a cabin in Nashville, TN during the off-season as a seasonal National Park Service Ranger, and learned a lot from the old timer who grew up in the "log cabin home." Mr. Colley's main approach was to tell you how to do something, then show you how to do it. If a 90 year old man could do it, you had to believe you could as well! My work as an insurance adjuster led me to see exactly how things were built and what types of design flaws caused failures down the road - this direct knowledge of the building trade became more useful than I had ever intended when my wife and I purchased a home built in 1951 in South Charlotte with several issues that needed to be worked on - that much was obvious. What we didn't know, however, was the extent of all the hidden rot. When our daughter was born two months before her due date, the repairs had to be done immediately. Lots of people have shared the age old adage "you always have something to fix" - but that seems to always be a choice. This was an imperative. I will stick by my words that most fundamental community involvement can be helping your neighbor fix or do something. Right, I get it - what type of group, committee, non-profit volunteerism is that!?! Well, back in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo paid us a visit, it was all anyone needed and wanted. I wish I could see that type of community involvement - without the hurricane - again.
A photo of me at Irwin Avenue Elementary in The Charlotte News
There is something totally thrilling about hearing lions and tigers roar so close to you it shakes the ground.
When I was a Park Ranger, just after I had presented a program to kids entitled "Garbage Kills Bears," a man asked me where the local dump was so he could take his bride to see bears.
Only North Dakota remains ...
Did you know you can make ice cream by whipping cream, then freezing it? It's all about having the right amount of air in the cream. You may want to sweeten it, too.