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Fate and fortune align for Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden restoration

Posted Nov. 30, 2021

Carolina News & Reporter
University of South Carolina

Editor’s Note: This package includes additional images, which can be found on the  Carolina News & Reporter site

BISHOPVILLE, S.C. – Pearl Fryar, South Carolina’s internationally-acclaimed topiary artist, and the garden he has nurtured for years are alive and well. 

Ask Mike Gibson, the Youngstown, Ohio, native who now tends the iconic clipper’s gardens. He moved to South Carolina in August to undertake a renovation of Fryar’s gardens in the 81-year-old’s signature style. If Gibson needs guidance, Fryar is only steps away in the home that adjoins the gardens that have drawn thousands of visitors.

Gibson, 35,  first visited Fryar’s celebrated topiary garden in 2016. Gibson, who calls himself a “property artist,” heard about the garden from his father, who is also an artist.

“I started trimming at seven; by 10, I was doing the neighbors; by 12, I was doing people in the community,” Gibson said. “Eventually, my dad said, ‘Son, if you’re gonna do this, you need to check out this Pearl Fryar guy.’”

Before joining Fryar, Gibson had been successful in his own right. In May, he starred on HGTV’s competition show Clipped alongside seven other topiary artists, earning himself the nickname “Gibby Siz.” He has also created hundreds of sculptures around his Ohio hometown, as well as his own brand, Gibson Works Property Art.

After his initial visit to Fryar’s garden, Gibson made sure to visit at least yearly, even proposing to his future wife, Brittanny, there in 2018. But Fryar’s declining health and the COVID-19 pandemic prevented Gibson from returning to the garden. In that time, Fryar became unable to tend to the garden in his traditional style, and so the garden fell into some disrepair.

Hedges became overgrown and were in danger of losing their carefully unearthed shapes permanently. One of South Carolina’s most organic historic landmarks was about to return to nature. 

Fate: Yard of the Month

Driving down the Bishopville road to Fryar’s garden, hedge-bush signs on both sides of the highway marks the entrance, A forest-green sign surrounded by elegant topiary greets visitors as they approach. Arriving at the garden, there’s no parking lot except an empty lot across the street, which Fryar’s neighbors offer to visitors. 

The garden, which surrounds the home Fryar and his wife, Metra, share, is painstakingly detailed. The care that has gone into the landscape’s creation is self-evident. 

“Every rock in the driveway, Fryar put it there,” Gibson said. “All of his trees started out as ten-gallon pot plants.”

The process of turning a home into an internationally-recognized garden began in 1981, when Fryar moved to South Carolina to work as a factory engineer for Coca-Cola, a job he would keep until his retirement in 2006.  

Fryar initially wanted to buy a home within Bishopville city limits to be closer to his work. The all-white neighborhood he wanted to buy in discouraged him from doing so, Gibson said. 

“He was denied the house because they felt he wasn’t going to upkeep his yard,” Gibson said. “There’s a bad stigma, uh, that black people don’t keep up their yards.” So, Fryar had a home built on the outskirts of the city and set out to prove them wrong. He began going to nurseries, picking up discarded plants and bringing them home. During one visit, Fryar saw a man cutting a bush into strange shapes. Intrigued, he asked for a quick lesson. 

“Pearl came home and cut up every bush he had, just started cutting, and then he would go back and get more trees and start playing and he caught the bug. He couldn’t stop. He just obviously couldn’t stop,” Gibson said, gesturing to the hundreds of sculptures in the garden. 

Pearl’s goals escalated as he set his sights on becoming the first African-American honoree of the Yard of the Month award given by Bishopville’s Iris Garden Club.

“That’s when he had a mission,” Gibson said, “He thought, ‘I need to show the city and everybody else that not only can I keep my yard, I’m going to do something so creative that nobody ever, nobody will even think of this, nobody can duplicate it.’” 

Fryar pursued the award relentlessly. When he wasn’t working in the factory, he would clip his hedges, standing on a homemade scaffold on the back of a truck to reach the higher trees. As his garden grew, he spent more and more daylight hours speaking with intrigued visitors, and worked long nights to make up the difference.

“He’d use the headlights on this car to shine light, he would drive it around and shine light on the bushes so he could keep trimming. They say he’d trim to two o’clock in the morning. I don’t know that I’d want to have been his neighbor then,” Gibson said, chuckling.

Four years later, in 1985, the award was his. Fryar set his garden apart using nearly-composted plants, often without fertilizer or pesticides. 

From there, Fryar’s career skyrocketed. He was featured  in Smithsonian magazine, became the subject of an award-winning documentary called “A Man Named Pearl,” and embarked on a nationwide lecture series. 

“If there’s any situation where you can make a difference, I think we should do it,” Fryar said in an SCETV interview. “That’s how we change our society… it’s always one person at a time. If I have just made one difference in one person, then it’s worth it all.”

Jerry Law, a retired interior designer from Bishopville, accompanied Fryar to a  lecture at a conference hosted by Southern Living magazine. Law said she has known Fryar for over 35 years, after meeting him almost immediately after his arrival in Bishopville. 

“We both had kind of an artistic mindset, so we formed a fast bond,” she said. 

At the conference, Fryar was “a rock star,” she said. “We couldn’t even walk around because of all the people coming up to Pearl. Everybody wanted to talk to him, and you could tell he was thriving off it.” 

The lecture Fryar gave illuminated his core philosophy, Law said. 

“The fact he created a garden out of what other people would throw away… that’s what he wanted people to do with their lives and with each other,” Law said. 

With this goal in mind, Fryar and the Friends of Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden nonprofit created a scholarship in 2008 to provide for local students traditionally ignored by higher education, specifically those with lower grades. 

“He really focused his platform on speaking to the youth of the next generation because he felt that these are the kids that need the most help,” Gibson said. “You know, it’s hard [for an adult] to accept some hard truths or artistically be inspired by something like this, versus a child coming here and it’s like going to Disney World.”   

Law recalled Fryar giving a tour to a group of students and gesturing at a sculpture of an upside-down flowerpot resembling a head. He reminding the students: “Don’t be a pothead.”

Waffle House, which the Fryars frequented almost daily, offered its support as well, donating $10,000 to his scholarship fund, annually. The Friends of Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden created a Waffle-House themed calendar as well, the sales benefitting the garden. 

Christina Schnipke, the 25-year manager of Bishopville’s Waffle House, remembers brokering a deal with Pearl over the restaurant’s front hedges. 

“He came over and I said, ‘You don’t have to pay for the Pearl Special, as long as you do my swirlies out front,’” Schnipke said.

The Pearl Special, Fryar’s usual meal, consists of wheat toast and one sunny-side-up egg “with a dot of grits,” as Schnipke put it. There’s even a sign highlighting the special menu item in Bishopville’s Waffle House. 

As COVID-19 arrived in Bishopville, the Fryars stopped coming into Waffle House – but they still stopped by for takeout.  

“He’d still take his car down to Waffle House and drive through the parking lot real slow and wave at the restaurant,” Schnipke said, “and we’d send him food every day.” 

Even now, Fryar still takes his car out occasionally, waving at employees and customers. 

Fryar’s story is a lengthy chain of events, an American story that isn’t over, Gibson said. 

“He was able to relocate his family to Bishopville for the Coca-Cola plant, got denied, came out here built the house, had the opportunity to go into the nursery and seeing that guy trim the topiary at that exact time,” Gibson said. “It’s like fate – it all just happened for a reason, and it kind of took off from there.”

Fortune: The Arrival of Gibby Siz

On one of his usual visits to Fryar’s garden in March, Gibson noticed a group of people surveying the garden with landscaping equipment. 

Immediately, he picked up a set of hedge clippers and began to assist. He didn’t know at the time, but the landscapers from Healy Horticulture had been contracted to repair Fryar’s garden by Jane Przybysz, director of the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum. The overhaul was funded by a $50,000 Central Carolina Community Foundation grant.

Gibson’s original plan had been to visit the garden the day prior, but avoided it due to rain.

“So if it didn’t rain, I would have came Sunday and I would have never met that crew. I would never have had an opportunity, there’s no way I would have found out,” Gibson said. He called the coincidence “divine intervention.” 

The landscapers quickly noticed Gibson’s skill and informed Przybysz. Soon, she was in Fryar’s garden, speaking with Gibson at length about his history with the garden.

“Mike had spent considerable time, you know, learning what Pearl does and how he does it, right, and seeing Pearl as his mentor,” Przybysz said. “Mike clearly has a skill set that people deem to be high quality.”

After the head horticulturist on the project had to step down due to health issues, Gibson was the clear choice. 

“I thought, ‘Okay, well, there’s Mike Gibson, he’s just kind of fallen from the sky,’ and so I worked to recruit Mike to relocate here for a year,” Przybysz said. 

Gibson moved to Columbia in August, became the McKissick Museum’s topiary-artist-in-residence, and has spent most of his days since in Fryar’s topiary garden. Gibson has taken care to restore Fryar’s abstract creations to their original glory, without alterations. 

As for future plans, Gibson fancies himself as Fryar’s protege. So does everyone else. 

“The goal was always to see if we could make this a long-term thing,” said Przybysz. “I can’t help but be hopeful because I think Mike is a really great advocate for this project.” 

An extension of Gibson’s year-long contract with the McKissick Museum is in the works, Przybysz said. In the meantime, Fryar’s garden and its legacy are one of a kind, and the man who has picked up the shears has found kinship with South Carolina’s topiary master. 

“There’s not a lot of topiary artists in the world, especially when we talk about an African American topiary artist. So in searching, I found Pearl and myself, and that’s it,” Gibson said. “it’s kind of how I fell so much in love with his story, what he was doing, because there was nobody else like him and there’s nobody else like me.” 

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That funny feeling: young climate activists face eco-anxiety

Posted Nov. 30, 2021

Carolina News & Reporter
University of South Carolina

Editor’s Note: This package includes additional images, which can be found on the  Carolina News & Reporter site

Climate activists are facing something different from burnout. It isn’t new, but it finally has a name: eco-anxiety. 

“For this generation, climate change isn’t something that we just learned in school and just heard about from the news, but it’s something that has arrived at our doorsteps and it’s something that we have faced the consequences of,” said Kiana Kazemi, an activist who lives in Berkley, California. Kazemi has dealt with eco-anxiety for her entire life.

An ode to Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want” to illustrate the potential effects of climate change. Illustrations by Mackenzie Patterson

The American Psychological Association defined eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom” in 2017. More recently, in 2020, an APA survey showed that 68% of adults report feeling some eco-anxiety and 48% of young adults feel stress related to climate change in their everyday lives. Many young adults cope with this challenge by immersing themselves in environmental movements and taking to make change.

Kazemi is head of community operations at Intersectional Environmentalist, an online organization dedicated to inclusive environmental advocacy that provides resources and education to activists about intersectional environmental issues. She is also a co-founder of Circularity, an organization that provides education and resources to people dealing with eco-anxiety to help them cope through an online community.

Kazemi is one of the young activists that grew up watching the effects of climate change start to shift the world around her. From flooding to pollution to earthquakes, the potential devastation of the climate crisis grew more apparent.

“On my sixteenth birthday I felt like I couldn’t really get out of bed, I was just really sad for no reason. I felt like I had everything that I possibly wanted and yet the future seemed really sad to me,” Kazemi said. “I think that is the case for a lot of people, especially for people that work in the movement.” 

Kazemi, now 21, grew up in New Zealand but was born in Iran and still has family there.

“It was difficult for me to see what my family still in Iran had to face. When we talk about air pollution it’s like nothing that we can imagine here; you know, people are literally dying from it,” said Kazemi. “That was something that I kind of grew up with and having that feeling of eco-anxiety really started to grow more and more.”

Kazemi started sharing her experience coping with eco-anxiety online and found a community that needed help. She said eco-anxiety can appear as a number of different emotions that people wouldn’t always associate with anxiety. For some people it shows up as fear or sadness, for others it could show up as anger.

Different organizations address eco-anxiety in different ways. Some take a wellness based approach to help with the mental stresses of the work. Others promote community-based or individual activism.

“Some people are just waking up to the realities of the climate crisis and what that means for people, so they’re only now starting to feel these emotions, these symptoms, and haven’t had that long period of time to really build those systems for themselves, to regulate those emotions,” Kazemi said.

The APA, Kazemi, and other activists agreed on an important point: communities of color and other marginalized communities
are disproportionately affected by climate change and, in turn, are disproportionately affected by eco-anxiety. Climate activists feel eco-anxiety as a result of the constant onslaught of news about the topic, but some communities feel it because they are watching climate change happen around them.

Jensen Quinn is the director of education and resource management for the environmental organization Post-Landfill Action Network. It focuses on a blend of social justice and environmental work on college campuses to help students facilitate change. Before joining the PLAN team, Quinn, who uses they/them pronouns, was involved in justice programs at the College of Charleston, where they were graduated in 2019. They now live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where PLAN is based.

“It is really hard, especially as someone who wants to be really engaged. Thinking about the time limit is something that comes up for me a lot,” Quinn said. “There’s not enough time, we’re running against this clock that is inevitably going to run out. There’s a lot of fear associated with that.”

Quinn, 24, sees the pressure that the urgency of the climate crisis is putting on young people in the movement in light of the recent IPCC report. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report earlier this year which concluded that we may have less time to handle climate change than originally thought.

Recent headlines from the COP26 summit in Glasgow led some activists to speak out online about the disappointment of seeing fossil fuel industries heavily represented at the climate conference.

“There’s a desire for me to distance from the onslaught of headlines and climate disaster infographics and the idea that the planet is dying and so are we. I think there’s in that messaging a lot of this collective sense within young people of ‘we are the ones that need to be the saviors of the planet,’” Quinn said.

Quinn, like Kazemi, grew up hearing about the climate crisis. They heard the language surrounding climate issues shift and watched new ideas enter the climate change playbook. Quinn said that activists are “living history now.”

Sammy Fretwell has been covering environmental topics for The State since 1995 and has seen people become more informed over time.

“I think the attitudes have changed, people are a little more knowledgeable about climate change just because it’s been written about increasingly,” Fretwell said.

He explained that the problems and the stories surrounding climate change have existed for a long time, but the troubles people were facing – including more violent weather and coastal erosion – weren’t being attributed to climate change. As South Carolinians became more informed, they began to understand that something was happening, even if they didn’t agree that climate change was a man-made problem.

In South Carolina, the climate change issue to watch is flooding from heavy rain and rising sea levels. Fretwell said that not much public policy is being introduced to prevent these disasters, but policymakers are making plans to react to the aftereffects. 

“There’s always a chance that something will be done but it just seems like there are so many hurdles to overcome to get some kind of meaningful carbon controls and other types of controls that it just seems like it’s gonna be difficult to do this,” Fretwell said. “We’ll see, maybe I’ll be wrong.”

The pessimism that Fretwell describes is particularly potent for climate activists who often share a bleak worldview about the pace of change, which can cause eco-anxiety. They aren’t fighting another person or a physical threat to the environment that they can easily defeat, they are fighting systems that often choose to react instead of act. 

“It’s this dichotomy of being really hopeful but also understanding that getting to where we need to be is really difficult,” Kazemi said. 

Despite this, Kazemi and Quinn cite getting involved with the community as a way to combat eco-anxiety while making productive change to prevent it in the future. 

“A lot of times we feel like we are alone in this and that we should deal with all of these emotions, all of these really traumatic experiences, on our own,” Kazemi said. “But, when we find that almost everyone else around us is feeling the same way and that we can lean on each other, we can support each other, we can share our experiences with one another, that just makes things so much better.”

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‘Prepackaged’ and taking the big city by storm

Posted Nov. 30, 2021

Carolina News & Reporter
University of South Carolina

Editor’s Note: This package includes additional images, which can be found on the  Carolina News & Reporter site

Dressing Miss Universe and Miss USA in a public bathroom is not in everyone’s job description. But for a small-town boy from Timmonsville, South Carolina, that experience is what makes his New York City gig different from the average office job. 

Marquis Bias has had to put in the hours to get to the top of his profession working as a set costumer during the week and a principal dresser for The Emmy Award-winning late-night show, Saturday Night Live.

Bias started working for SNL this past fall and is working with Ego Nwodim, a cast member on SNL.

Second to the left is Eskarleth Gonzalez-Vedamanikam, she was Marquis Bias’ assistant back in 2016. Bias started working in New York City in 2012. Photo courtesy of Eskarleth Gonzalez-Vedamanikam

“SNL has been exactly what I imagined it would be—a blast! I’m having the time of my life! Everyone is so friendly and helpful, they made me feel so welcomed and supported from day one. It’s very fast-paced and very transient. Often the costumes, wigs, and sketches are being edited up to the moment they are on stage,” Bias said.

Bias’ first passion in life was music. He started at the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, where he studied the flute. His teacher, Caroline Ulrich, encouraged him to continue his education at the University of South Carolina, where he planned to study music.   

But his love for the fashion industry and the support from a particularly inspiring professor led Bias to change his major to fashion merchandising and pursue a career in the industry. 

“I think what he had was already inside of him,” Sallie Boggs said, a longtime retail professor who is now retired. “It was being supportive and encouraging toward him so that he could think freely. He came to me prepackaged.”

Bias credits Boggs with helping him get where he is today.

“It was her encouragement and mentorship that made it possible for me to dream of such things as becoming president of Fashion Board at USC and creating Fashion Week at USC. I owe her everything,” said Bias. 

Fashion Board at USC is a student organization that helps its members grow in the fashion, beauty and retail industries. Bias is the creator of the student-run Fashion Week at UofSC, a week where different fashion-related events lead up to a fashion show featuring local companies as well as student work. 

According to Boggs, Bias would often come into her office and crochet scarves while bouncing ideas off of her. 

“It never bothered him that his ideas were big. It was always ‘What if we did this? What do you think about this? How about if we tried this?’ Fashion week was a huge idea. It was pretty amazing that he envisioned that and that we could pull it off and it become an annual event,” Boggs said. 

Sean Smith, a UofSC alumnus who is now also a costumer for SNL, met Bias in 2012 when he walked into the costume shop at UofSC’s Longstreet Theatre and wanted to learn how to sew. Smith and Bias met while Smith was working on getting his masters in fine arts. 

Smith said Bias wanted to learn everything and would come in during his off time. “He will always do what needs to be done and works really hard to obtain his dreams,” Smith said. 

“The most memorable and rewarding thing was working in the costume shop in the Theater department. When I was working there I never imagined that I would have a career in costuming, but I learned so much there about fabrics and garment construction, real skills that I call upon all the time now when I’m working,” said Bias. 

Smith said those who are new to SNL “go in like, ‘Oh, I am going to try and blend in. I’m not going to draw attention to myself.’ Marquis went in, like, ‘What do I need to be the best at this job?’ He was asking for tips from everyone.’”

Zakiya Dennis, a wardrobe supervisor in New York, picked up on that creative buzz when she hired Bias. “His energy is always right. Even if he is having a bad day, you can’t really tell. I think that is a good quality to have, not to mask it but to roll with the punches,” Dennis said.

Dennis added that it is not just the work he does, but the skillset, the tools and the resources he has that get him where he is going. “He is tunnel-visioned and he is going to make all his dreams come true,” Dennis said. 

Eskarleth Gonzalez-Vedamanikam worked with Bias as his assistant when he was the lead wardrobe stylist for the Miss Universe Organization in 2016. Her first impression of him was that he was intimidating but in a “I’m here for business. If you are here for a good time, this is not for you” way, she said. 

Gonzalez-Vedamanikam recalled one of her favorite memories when they were working together. They had double-booked shows where they needed to dress Miss Universe and Miss USA. Bias and Gonzalez-Vedamanikam had to dress Miss Universe and Miss USA in a public bathroom before hopping in a Uber for the next show.

“We asked ourselves who would do this in a public bathroom? But that was who we were as a team, we didn’t stop to think why. We were action-based,” Gonzalez-Vedamanikam said.

Bias knows how to balance between having his game face on and letting loose. 

“I love the way that he is when there is no one around, when it’s just you and him. He is so funny beyond words and is vulnerable,” Gonzalez-Vedamanikam said. 

With all the hard work that Bias has done, staying centered is a big part of how he is able to maintain the busy lifestyle of living in New York and working as a stylist. 

“Self-care is of the utmost importance. Personally, I get my haircut every Saturday and my nails done every two weeks without fail. If the entire world is on fire at least I know I have those few hours of stillness to do something for myself, to rest my mind and body and recharge my spirit,” Bias said.

He talked about how in the lives of creatives there will be periods of struggle. It’s taxing “mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually,” Bias said. 

Bias has impacted the lives of people he works with, from interning at Vogue Magazine in the accessories department to working as the Miss Universe Organization lead wardrobe assistant to his career in film and television.

Mikelle Street, an editorial director for Pride Media noted that Bias is why he majored in public relations and why he now thinks about the way he presents himself. 

Street, who also went to UofSC, told a story about a time that Bias left a lasting impression. When they were not quite friends yet, Bias had seen Street’s outfit in passing and tweeted about it in a negative light. It took Bias’ tweet to make him more conscious about what he was wearing and how should present himself for his work. 

“He’s my best friend, he was a key one in having someone who was there for me and could look out for me. Encouraging me when I need those words of encouragement to let me know what I was doing and that I could trust my gut because I had what it took,” Street said. 

Danielle Wilson, a friend from Governor’s School and UofSC, put it like this, “If he loves you, you’re set for life on having a really great friend. I cannot imagine my life without him.” 

Bias said he’s lucky to have his friends migrate with him to the big apple.

“I am very fortunate that due to growling up as a young artist in the south many of my closest friends from my teenage years all migrated to NYC around that same time as I did and we still remain very close today,” said Bias. 

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‘Does it capture the moment?’ An inside look at the Gamecock athletic creative media team

Posted Nov. 30, 2021

By  and 
Carolina News & Reporter
University of South Carolina

Editor’s Note: This package includes additional images, which can be found on the  Carolina News & Reporter site

It’s 9 a.m. on Carolina-Clemson game day, and as fans wake up to watch College Gameday on ESPN, Justin King and his creative media staff are ready to post their “game day” video on social media.

This is only the beginning of a long day of “organized chaos” for the Gamecock creative media team.

The game officially kicks off at 7:30 p.m., but at 3 p.m. the media team is already at Williams-Brice Stadium. After they arrive, team members pick up a helmet and place it on the field to post their traditional helmet picture.  

Then, at 5:20 p.m., it’s time for Gamecock Walk. King, who for three years has set the Gamecocks apart for its social media presence, and crew capture hundreds of fans lined up to welcome the football team to the stadium.

Justin King (second from right) and the USC athletic creative media team stand outside of Williams-Brice Stadium. It takes the entire crew to cover the whole athletic department. Photo by Nate Shirley

Next, it’s all hands on deck at the field pregame and during the game. The creative media team dashes around the field trying to catch whatever good content they can.

“It usually involves us running around like the wacky inflatable arms people, basically like that,” King said. 

Even though the game Saturday did not end the way that the Gamecocks wanted to, there is always a plan for how the crew handles how they get content out postgame.

“Right away we will do our wins graphic,” King, who heads the creative media team for the athletic department, said. “Then, we will do things that we captured but in order, a field scene, then a locker room scene. So, we shoot it and then I run and sit down and start editing. Everyone knows that if you have something good, export it, get it to me.”

Away games, on the other hand, are tricky for the team. King and his team are also responsible for shooting the coaches show after the game. This means that they will be one of the last ones to get on the bus to leave for the airport.

“There has been one or two times that I have been a little nervous,” King said. “Missouri 2017, right when I first started, we almost got left. The bus was leaving, and we were like ‘No!’ trying to chase it down. So away games are harder.”

King admits he has gotten used to working quickly for home games, but he’s always looking for ways to expedite the process.

His time in the industry has given him experience and knowledge that is utilized by his team daily. His “definition of quality” has changed over the years. 

“Quality doesn’t mean it was shot with one of these cameras super steady, or with a shallow depth of field, that’s not quality.” He now defines quality with three questions; “Is it entertaining? Does it capture the moment? Does it take people where they want to go?”

The creative media team consists of 10 full-time employees who are working around the clock to make sure each athletic team at the university can be as successful as possible.

King is widely known for hype videos he made during the glory years of Gamecock football from 2010-2014. Many Gamecock fans remember the videos he made after wins over Georgia and Clemson in 2012. 

The hype videos started as a hobby for King while he was a student at the university. He graduated in 2010. 

“I liked South Carolina football and I liked making videos,” King said. “I just wanted to make some videos that I liked. Then, I would put them up on YouTube and people reacted to it well.”

Besides working at USC, King has worked for ESPN and In 2017, he returned to his alma mater as Associate AD and head of the new and creative media department. That same year he was selected by 247Sports for their “30 Under 30” list of rising stars in the college football industry. 

“Wild, challenging, and fun,” King said of his journey through his career. “Lucky would be the right word. I’ve been able to surround myself with people who are just more talented than I am, smarter than I am.” 

Austin Koon, who earlier worked for the creative media team, has nothing but good things to say about his time with the team.

“It was unbelievable,” Koon said. “Justin is the man. He’s just a phenomenal guy and extremely talented. Not just with the way he creates videos, but with the way he manages. He does it at 100 percent and gives full effort.”

Collaboration remains a huge part of his job running the department. Of all the content the team posts, King said “there’s zero things that are individual.” One member of the team King relies on frequently is Jayson Jeffers.  

Jeffers, a graphic designer for Gamecock football, has worked full-time with King for four years.

“Justin is somebody who is super passionate about his job,” Jeffers said. “He went here; he’s from the state. You are not going to find anybody else that is that passionate about their job anywhere. I feel like Justin lives and breathes this.”

Many people see the videos and graphics that King and his team put up on the athletic teams’ social media pages, but that’s only one of the many things that the team is responsible for — they also play a key role in recruiting.

Their help with recruiting includes making graphics to send out to recruits and doing photoshoots while players are on campus. King and his crew focus on making each recruit feel like they are at home and have the best possible experience during their visit.

“It’s important that they have fun and that they feel what it’s like to be here,” King said. “I’ve learned over the years that we literally have to just be ourselves.”

Jeffers said during camp season in June, he and the rest of the team were in the building nearly every day in June doing photo shoots.

“Recruiting is a year-round thing,” Jeffers said. “Coach (Justin) Stepp came up to us earlier and one of his former guys just signed a big contract in the NFL. So, he was like ‘Can we do something about that?’ So, we will just make a quick hitter type of thing. It’s just making these kids feel cool on graphics and photos.”

King’s creative growth comes from both first-hand experiences and through studying other content. King said he has dissected movie trailers, figuring out what works and why it does, in order to produce better content himself. 

Not everything they create is seen or even used, as many of their creations are either used internally or don’t get to be used at all. “For everything people see there’s probably five things they don’t,” King said.

King describes the work as more of a lifestyle than a job — working in sports often requires unorthodox hours and many late nights. While he’s working on striking a balance, he said that “working in sports it’s just going to be that way regardless.” 

Another challenge the team faced this season was adjusting to a new football coaching staff.

While a near complete overhaul of the football teams coaching staff could have posed problems for his team, King said his relationship with first-year head coach Shane Beamer has gotten off to a great start. 

“I can’t think of anyone I’d want to work for more than Shane Beamer, and I’ve had a lot of cool, really good bosses,” said King. “He’s awesome with us. He understands the point of what we do, and he understands how we operate.” 

King also has been impressed with how “genuine” and “down to earth” the coach is.  “We don’t create a message around him, we just document it,” King said. “He is who he is, and who he is is pretty damn amazing. We’re lucky to have him.” 

Football does take an army to produce the content that King and his team produce. As far as the other sports go, King just hired a creative media producer for women’s basketball and a producer for the men’s basketball team.

Throughout his career, King has created lots of content ranging across a wide variety of sports. He said it is too difficult for him to select a favorite piece of work, likening it to “picking a favorite kid.” 

While it may seem hectic at times while they work, “there is nothing that happens in this room that’s not intentional,” King said.

With football season soon to end, King and his team will not have much of an off-season. They will be getting ready for the early signing day and off-season workouts.

Once the spring comes, there will be the February signing day and spring football. The only real downtime that the creative team gets is around July when camp season is done in June. 

“It’s a well-oiled machine,” King said. “As soon as we are done with this, we will turn our attention to signing day. We just focus on recruiting during that period of time.”

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A historically Black area in Columbia is changing, and residents question why

Posted Nov. 30, 2021

By Sebastian Lee
Carolina News & Reporter
University of South Carolina

Editor’s Note: This package includes additional images, which can be found on the  Carolina News & Reporter site

For more than 50 years, Moses Felder has clipped hair and shaved the heads of his neighbors at Hill’s Barber Shop. A few years ago, he started to notice something — more and more white people were moving into his Columbia neighborhood.  

Patrons who occupy the chairs at the barber shop on the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Barhamville Road often discuss what’s happening in their neighborhood near Columbia’s downtown, and they too noticed the presence of more newcomers.

Some of the city’s historically Black areas, like the neighborhood Felder has lived in for decades, are at risk of losing their identity as demographics shift and the black population shrinks, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Moses Felder, 82, owner of Hill’s Barber Shop has cut hair for 55 years. His clients often come in and discuss news of the day and any problems the community is facing. Photos by Sebastian Lee

Between 2010 and 2020, the non-Hispanic Black population in census tract 10, an area bounded by Harden Street, Taylor Street, Two Notch Road and Chestnut Street, has dropped by 42%, from 3,304 to 1,870 people. In the same time, the non-Hispanic white population has increased by 261%, from 171 to 621.

In two of Columbia’s historically Black neighborhoods, Edgewood, where Felder lives, and Celia-Saxon, the Black majority has dropped from 93% percent to 70%.

“I think this community is going to change a lot,” Felder, 82, said. “I’m not against diversity, but I would like to see people who look like me.” 

University of South Carolina academics who study the area say the data reflects larger trends in American cities. That includes an out-migration of Black residents to the suburbs and an inward movement of affluent whites who seek to gentrify established neighborhoods. Gentrification is the movement of wealthier people into poorer, urban neighborhoods, dislocating the former occupants.

There’s been a trend of Black residents migrating out of the city for over a century, according to Bobby Donaldson, an African American history professor at UofSC. Donaldson is an expert on Black life in downtown Columbia and the neighborhoods surrounding it. 

Each successive wave of urban development has pushed the Black community farther and farther away from the city center, according to Donaldson. 

“Would a middle-class white family want to live down the street from a working-class Black family living in a rental?” Donaldson asked. “That is rarely the case.” 

Hemphill Pride II, 86, who has worked as an attorney and civil rights activist in Columbia for nearly 60 years, said that the changing demographics are caused by gentrification.

“The future of that area is going to be whiter and whiter and whiter,” Pride said. 

For the past 80 years, two brick public housing projects, Saxon Homes and Allen Benedict Court, dominated the area around Celia-Saxon and Edgewood. As the projects aged and fell into disrepair, the prospects for residents also seemed to decline as more prosperous residents left the area.    

Saxon Homes, which opened in the 1950s, provided 400 low-income apartments. It was demolished in 2000 and replaced with Upper and Lower Celia-Saxon, which provided 59 cottage-style homes with one-to-three bedrooms.   

Allen Benedict Court on Harden Street was constructed in 1940 and housed more than 400 residents in 244 low-income housing units. After a carbon monoxide leak caused two deaths in 2019, it was demolished earlier this year.  

“That (Allen Benedict) was like the last of the Mohicans,” Pride said. “I don’t even go that direction, because I don’t want to see it.”

In the lot where Allen Benedict Court was once located, all that remains is the rubble from its demolition.

With the loss of these housing complexes, more than 800 mostly Black residents, were displaced, many moving out of the downtown area that anchored black life in Columbia for decades.     

That worries Todd Shaw, a UofSC political science professor and expert on African American politics, urban politics and public policy, who sees the out-migration of poorer residents as an affront to a livable city. 

“If you have to fundamentally displace working-class families or minority families from homes in order to redevelop an area, that’s not redevelopment in a balanced or even progressive direction,” Shaw said, “That’s dislocation on some level.” 

The changing demographics of the area reflect a larger, state-wide trend. In the last 10 years, the city of Columbia has lost 3.6% of its Black population and saw a 3.7% increase in its white population.  

Other cities across the state show similar trends, the most notable of which is Charleston. Between 2010 and 2020 the city of Charleston’s Black population decreased by 16% while its white population increased by 31%, according to a Carolina News and Reporter analysis of census data.

“These are the things that are being discussed in the barbershop,” Felder said. “We saw what happened in other cities, and people start discussing that the same thing is going to happen in this area.”

Felder sees the recent mayoral race and the election of a white mayor as a reflection of the changing demographics of Columbia. Donaldson and Pride concur.

Longtime city councilman Daniel Rickenmann was elected mayor after a runoff against fellow councilwoman Tamika Isaac Devine, who would have been the first Black woman to serve as Columbia’s mayor if elected.

Outgoing mayor Steve Benjamin, the city’s first Black elected mayor, has championed the BullStreet District project which will transform the old state mental hospital complex into a joint neighborhood and shopping area that is expected to draw more affluent people downtown. He has said the project will benefit all of Columbia and improve the economic prospects for residents in North Columbia, which is predominantly African American. 

“It’s a plan in all the cities to get white folks back in, to dominate the cities,” Felder said. “Some people think that with the money being put into BullStreet, that’s going to push this way.” 

After schools were integrated in the 1960s, many white families exited city centers for the suburbs. That “white flight” left Black residents in the cities. That trend has reversed with more and more white people moving back into cities, acquiring solid housing stock and then embarking on expensive renovation projects.  These projects tend to raise the property value of the area making it much harder for the lower income residents to remain in their area.

“I saw white people coming back to the city. They were coming back in large numbers,” Pride said, “(I thought) What’s gonna happen to my people?”  

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Living on Purpose: Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done

Dr. William Holland

Posted Dec. 6, 2021

By Dr. William Holland

God’s general will is His Word and knowing the divine wisdom of His knowledge reveals who He is and what He demands from us. You see, no matter what we have been taught, abandoning our will to God is not an option for those who seek to be an overcomer for His glory. I sense a burden this week to talk about the danger of living however we want instead of obeying what God is saying. Jesus is quoted in Luke 22:42, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.” Many fail to understand the Bible is not just a dialogue between real people who lived many years ago, but it is also a living revelation meant to speak to the heart of the listener today. The topic of the human will being surrendered to God is the foundation of the Christian life and yet there has never been a more unpopular subject. It’s not a secret that most people want all that God has, but rarely consider what God demands from us.

Though rarely mentioned, our carnal nature is so deceptive and rebellious that it’s common for people to believe that God is not paying attention to what we say or do. The few who become serious and take the time to fast and pray for discernment will discover the sobering truth that our depravity defends disobedience with denial. Our emotions couldn’t care less if we are spiritually wandering out in left field wearing a blindfold as long as our will can remain in control of our decisions. Adam and Eve chose to live according to their ideas despite God’s warnings and sadly this rebellious attitude is alive and well today and can only be harnessed through continuous spiritual warfare.

Many pray that God will have mercy on them, but invest little effort to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. We want Him to help us and deliver us from our problems, but often are not willing to lay down our will so that we can embrace His. We desire to live independently while proclaiming to be a Christian but fail to comprehend we cannot manage both successfully. In Matthew 6:24 Jesus plainly said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” A master is anything that enslaves us and when it comes to worldly adoration He uses money as an example of anything that we love more than God. Christ in Luke 6:24 relays a sobering statement about those who refuse to listen to His voice or live by His demands and yet still call Him their Lord. I passed someone on the side of the road yesterday holding a sign that said, “Jesus wants to be your Savior and your Lord.”

Each child of God has been called to do many things and has a unique role to play in His Kingdom. Our gifts, talents, anointing, and personalities are all different and He desires to use each one to accomplish His perfect plan. With those who are born again, life has been drastically changed because we are now building from a brand new spiritual blueprint. The plans and desires that we had in our old life may not look anything like what God has chosen for us to do now. The Christian’s call has certain responsibilities and for the rest of our days it is up to us to discover what they mean and how to accomplish them. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God which means we must operate in His strength and attitude for His plans to be successful. Those who attempt to compromise by combining their will with God’s will or to allow denial to lead them into a seemingly innocent rebellion will discover that no matter how excited or diligent they are to execute their goals, things never seem to pan out. Even if they forcefully push them through until they are exhausted from their labors, they are left empty and extremely dissatisfied. Why? Because they have yet to learn that God does not accept or bless our sacrificial offerings if they are given on our terms. Until we remove ourselves from our throne of control, we have not truly yielded our will to Him.

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The Old Hand-Dug Well

Tom Poland

Posted Dec. 6, 2021

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

Driving a country road, I passed an old well house. It didn’t look like a wishing well. It looked rustic, more like a shed, a practical structure. I stopped and took a photo of the well. Right by it was a fire hydrant, so I knew city water had made its way out into the country. Out with the old and in with the new.

A new and old source of water, a hydrant and an old hand-dug well.

Driving away I thought about those relics we call hand-dug wells. My family home had a hand-dug well, and as a boy I’d peer into it and see water trickling in from the east. To this day, hand-dug wells intrigue me. Classify them as an older way of living and file them alongside plowing with mules and smoking hams in a smokehouse.

In the last four years, I’ve stumbled across—not into—four. One sits in woods in Greenwood County, and one hides in vines in Georgia at my grandmother’s home place. Another sits near an abandoned shack in Edgefield County. Lined with large matching quartz rocks sporting a bit of green moss, it’s a thing of beauty. The rotten remnants of an old well house have collapsed around its opening. The fourth well hides in periwinkle near the site of Badwell Plantation in McCormick County.

Forgotten hand-dug wells open to the sky lurk here and there. In certain areas, laws require property owners to cover them, but I know and you know pitfalls hide out there. Now and then someone will offer me advice. “When you go into fields and woods, watch out for snakes and old wells.” I’ve seen more wells than snakes, but accidents can happen. Keep your eyes on the ground. Growing up, a tale of someone who had fallen into a well came along now and then.

Back in my day, I knew of no one who had a drilled well. These newfangled wells are just six or so inches wide and there’s no risk of falling into those, but falling into an old hand-dug well happens.

Remember Baby Jessica? In 1987 she fell into her aunt’s well in Midland, Texas. Rescuers worked 56 hours to get her out. She survived but lost a toe. The man who crawled into a hastily drilled tunnel to retrieve her wasn’t as lucky. He didn’t drown or suffocate but the well killed him some eight years later.

Despite suffering claustrophobia, paramedic Robert O’Donnell crawled through a hastily drilled tight-as-nails tunnel to get Baby Jessica, and he became a media darling. Hollywood courted him, he appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show, he shook hands with Vice President George Bush, and he liked all the attention. The warm glow of the limelight suited him. His fellow firefighters? Well, they wearied of his tales, experiences, and attention. But O’Donnell’s time faded and the day came when the media no longer sought him out. He became a forgotten man. In time, he found himself suffering depression, migraines, and painkiller drug issues. It got to be too much. On a scrap of paper he scrawled, “I’m sorry to check out this way.” Then the one-time hero put a shotgun to his head. He was thirty-eight.

O’Donnell’s tragic fate aside, when I think of old wells I think of dowsers and water witches. I think of wheelbarrows, picks, and shovels and the hauling up of buckets of dirt and rock. Hard labor in darkness with a lack of oxygen and the risk of cave ins? They had no choice but to risk it, these men who dug their way to an aquifer, an underground stream delivering the elixir of life. Without a spring or creek or river, with city water far off in the future, the old wells were blessings, godsends you could say, and a lot of them are still out there.

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Stuart Neiman Cartoon: Fake News

Posted Dec. 6, 2021

By Stuart Neiman

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The Allure of Barbed Wire & Cedar

Tom Poland

Posted Nov. 29, 2021

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

Out in the country skinny metal fence posts rule pasturelands nowadays. I seldom see old cedar-barbed wire fences, but when I do they unleash a flood of memories. I remember riding through pastures with Granddad Poland. Come sundown in a battered old car, he’d bump through pastures festooned with yellow bitter weeds, clunk past a lonely persimmon tree and ranks of white-faced cattle. Herefords, they were. From afar, those cows would amble Granddad’s way and when his jalopy closed in they would break into a stiff-kneed trot. To see the old man’s car was to see feed. My job was simple. Jump out the car and open and close the gap.

Rusty barbed wire stapled to cedar. An old farm icon endures.

Still, I have an ambivalent feeling as barbed wire goes. I recall a church baseball game. A fellow hit the ball high and long. I backpedaled and leaped high to snag it. It went over my head and I fell backwards onto a barbed wire fence. Barbs shredded my back.

Falling into a barbed fence is easy; crossing one isn’t a snap. It takes skill and balance. In my youth, I’d crawl under them or if I felt daring I’d grab a post and swing up and over the fence. I don’t see many left to cross these days but when I do another memory surfaces. The time granddad lost all his clothes. Granddad was working his moonshine still by the Savannah River when revenuers raided it. Granddad broke and ran through briars and brambles, through thorns and thickets, through woods, and over barbed wire and when he could run no more and had lost every stitch of clothing, they caught him. What happened next is a story for another day.

To me, and perhaps you, barbed wire strung between cedar posts symbolizes farm life. It’s picturesque and one of those vanishing acts older folks will miss and younger folks will never know existed. Seems I recall the larger posts, losing knots, would provide nesting sites for bluebirds. Bluebirds, good luck nesting in a skinny metal post.

So, there are a few reasons not to like barbed wire. The Indians called barbed wire “Devil’s rope” for how it ensnared buffalo. Barbed wire ended the era of the cowboy, one of America’s more colorful heroes. Railroad men didn’t want cattle straying onto their tracks and up went the Devil’s rope and out went the cowpokes.

Barbed wire tends to be abandoned. I come across strands of barbed wire in woods where forests have invaded fields. The wire grows into trees and you best watch your step lest you tangle up in it, like yesteryears’ buffalo. And, yeah, it shredded my back long ago at that church baseball game in a pasture.

Barbed wire elicits memories of my drives with granddad and childhood friend and friend still, Sweetie Boy (Jessie Lee) Elam. We coursed through pastures about lightning bug time. Images from those days endure. The grassy slopes … the fertile fragrance of pastures … the lowing of cattle … the distant line of dark trees sketched by an artist it seemed and fishponds smooth as glass where bullfrogs sang and fireflies lit up green clumps of rushes. And just ahead of granddad’s jalopy? A barbed wire gap and cedar posts. Time to leap out the car. Back then fences and gaps were everywhere. Today they’re rare.

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Living on Purpose: Desiring God more than anything in the world

Dr. William Holland

Posted Nov. 29, 2021

By Dr. William Holland

For those who ponder about the requirements for developing and maintaining a deeper relationship with God, we must include some vital components and one of the most critical is desire. Ask any business person or athlete about what it takes to accomplish a goal and they will always testify about the importance of vision, perseverance, and determination. Likewise, when it comes to drawing nearer to the Lord we must begin with old-fashioned enthusiasm. The next question is where does this passion come from? Most Christians will agree that Christ draws people to Himself and if you are having thoughts about your spiritual life, this is evidence that you are being stirred by His grace. One thing we can be sure of whether we embrace the Calvinist or Armenian theology is that God created us so that He could have a close personal relationship with us.
The New Year is a couple of weeks away and it’s common to think about rededicating our commitment to our Creator and making new resolutions that bring us peace and joy. So, how do we intensify our awareness of His presence? Fire in the Bible is often used to describe spiritual adoration for the Lord. A raging blaze within a heart for God describes a stronger faith and excitement while being lukewarm is related to discouragement, apathy and defeat. Ask Him to rekindle your embers.

An important nugget of wisdom is to know that we can be as close to God as we want. Nothing is preventing us from walking with Him except our resistance. We’ve heard the passage in Romans 12:2 that talks about not being conformed to the world but being transformed by the renewing of our mind. This means we worship the things we love and until our mind is changed we will not change our behavior. God’s warning that in order for anyone to advance with Him, we must make Him our highest priority. There are levels of spiritual commitment and unfortunately it’s common to live however we want while using Him as a backup plan in case our arrangements do not work out. This is not what God had in mind when He sent His Son to the cross to restore us back to Him. Many do not understand what it means to surrender their will to God while others have no intention to yield under His control. Whatever the reasons or excuses people make to refuse Christ as their Lord and King, each person will be held accountable for the way they lived. When it comes to our opportunities to choose whom we will serve, He is either Lord of all or He is not our Lord at all.
I appreciate all of you who read this column each week and for the encouraging emails and cards. I spend much of my time studying and writing and enjoy the blessings of being able to share God’s word and my thoughts. I earnestly pray for the Lord to draw us all closer to Him and I believe He is willing to help anyone come into the secret place of His presence if that is what they really want. I remember the old hymn, “turn your eyes upon Jesus” and I can honestly say these words are more meaningful to me now than ever before. As we continue to focus on what is truly important in this life, we will notice how the things of this world will grow strangely dim. “I surrender all” is another convicting challenge and as I dwell on this invitation, I realize how easy it is to sing but how difficult it is to live.
Let’s look at some practical actions we can take that will make an immediate improvement in our personal intimacy with God. Before we build we must have a blueprint and changing our lifestyle will require a fresh agenda. Find a quiet place where you can read a certain portion of the Bible every day. Begin a prayer journal and in this time of meditation, express your deepest thoughts to Him, ask Him to fill you with His Spirit, and begin to think about others and pray for them. Do not be surprised if those around you begin to think you are weird. This is a good thing because it’s exactly what He intended. If you desire to go even deeper, you can read about the power of fasting which increases your spiritual discernment and proves that you desire to know Him more than anything in the world.

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