Sometimes they leave for love. Sometimes they leave for opportunity. Sometimes they leave because they want better restaurants, better dating prospects, a better music scene. And sometimes they just hit the road, without saying why.

But by and large, for myriad reasons, a lot of talented people in our area seem to be just passing through.

Think about it. If you’ve spent more than a few years in the Triad, you can undoubtedly rattle off a quick list of good people who headed out for bigger and better deals, never to return. John Coltrane, who left High Point for Philadelphia as a teenager and never returned, was one of them. Ken Jeong grew up in Greensboro before moving to California for roles in “Community” and The Hangover film franchise. Ben Folds hasn’t performed in his hometown of Winston-Salem in decades.

But most of the people who walk away don’t have recognizable names or go on to superstardom, though some surely do. They are our artists and teachers, our organizers and idealists. The one trait they share is that for a time they were here, and then they were not.

All of our subjects in this week’s cover story agree that the Triad was a great place for them while they were here. Our cities nurtured careers, saw families grow and provided the setting for plans that eventually led elsewhere.

We were lucky to have had them. We would have been luckier still had they chosen to stay.

Doug Bohr and Julianna Foster, artists and industry professionals

Julianna Foster and Doug Bohr (courtesy photo)


by Eric Ginsburg

Despite growing up near Guilford College, on Greensboro’s west side, Julianna Foster wasn’t familiar with Winston-Salem until after she moved away and returned. When the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art offered her husband Doug Bohr a position as associate curator, the couple decided to leave Asheville and make Winston-Salem their home.

It was 1996, and downtown was barely showing the first signs of resurgence. Foster and Bohr moved into an apartment on the corner of Sixth and Trade streets, the nerve center of what is now the Arts District, and Bohr built Foster a darkroom in the space so she could practice her craft.

After commuting to UNCG and finishing a design degree there, Foster started teaching at various levels, including at Wake Forest University. She had also worked with the Sawtooth Center’s outreach program, and the experiences helped her realize teaching was a vocation she wanted to pursue. That’s when she began thinking about leaving the area, knowing she’d need to obtain a graduate degree and that local options were limited.

Bohr, who received an MFA from UNCG while living in Greensboro before heading to Asheville, considers the job at SECCA his “first real, professional gig.” As a grad student, he gained some experience working with the Weatherspoon Art Museum on the UNCG campus, and developed an initial relationship with SECCA well before working there.

Winston-Salem is where Bohr says he cut his teeth, so to speak, and the same is true for Foster. When Bohr was offered a position with the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, the decision to leave was purely professional. Foster saw an opportunity to further her education, eventually obtaining an MFA in book art and printmaking from the University of the Arts, where after seven years of teaching as an adjunct she was recently offered a full-time position.

More than anything, they both miss the wonderful and talented people who not only became their friends during their six years in the Camel City but who also inspired them artistically.

“I owe a debt to a lot of the people,” Bohr said, speaking from a moving train bound for Washington, DC. “One thing I’ve really come to appreciate about Winston-Salem is that it was a very tight-knit, supportive group of people that were ambitious about their own careers as well as the broader city. We have found something akin to that in Philadelphia on a much larger scale. I’ve come to appreciate that collaborative, entrepreneurial spirit that we saw in Winston-Salem and were part of in Winston-Salem, too.”

Foster agreed.

“When I first moved to Winston, I didn’t really know what it was like to be a participant in a community,” she said. “I didn’t pursue that in my earlier life, so when I got to Winston and I met these really great people who were making some innovative art and performances and music and who were really motivated, it pushed me and challenged me in a lot of ways to want to do that.”

Bohr and Foster helped found the SEED Gallery, an art collective that still exists even in their absence. After they moved in 2002, Foster worked with a similar group called Vox Populi. And their experiences with community engagement in their downtown Winston-Salem community helped lay the groundwork for civic participation in their South Philly neighborhood.

Bohr, who is now the director of the Pew Charitable Trust’s Philadelphia Program, and Foster each said they’ve at least entertained the idea of moving back to North Carolina, though there would need to be a pretty significant opportunity to uproot their family that now includes two children, Foster added. But their fondness for Winston-Salem in particular is apparent.

“Doug and I both have a really soft spot for Winston,” Foster said. “We miss it on a lot of levels. I think we made the right decision coming up to Philadelphia, but there are so many wonderful people that we miss. I see what people doing and they are so motivated. I think it’s a place that just sort of nurtures that. It’s obvious that it’s a place to be. It’s not that we were unsatisfied but it was almost like, ‘What else do we want to do?’”

Jordan Grace Owens, illustrator

by Sayaka Matsuoka

She’s been in Martha Stewart Wedding magazine, on the Urban Outfitters blog, Pregnancy and Newborn magazine, and even created the second opening credits for “Suburgatory,” the sitcom which ran on ABC until last May.

Illustrator Jordan Grace Owens grew up in Winston-Salem and studied at UNC School of the Arts in high school and then at GTCC, a period which she refers to as her “formative years.” Owens considers the Triad her home and lived here her whole life until she finally left in the summer of 2012, moving to Charlottesville, Va. Along with her future husband, she initially left for the culturally vibrant city, home to Jefferson’s Monticello and the University of Virginia, because he landed a job there.

“I wanted to get away,” she said, in a voice as sweet as her paper dolls. “I wanted to get out.”



Charlottesville was different than Greensboro because it’s a smaller college town with a well-connected art scene.

“Every time you move, you meet a lot of new people,” she said. “You make new artistic connections.”

She noticed that in Charlottesville, artistic people worked closely together. Because of this, she was able to connect with other artists easily in the tight-knit community.

“There, the young people knew how to work together,” Owens said. “They put together shows and they were all so ambitious and motivated.”

As an independent illustrator, Owens mostly works from home and said that her work — which mostly consists of illustrations of people and animals — isn’t tied to where she lives. In fact, through her Etsy shop, Owens has sold her paper dolls around the world to places as far afield as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Now half of her business is international. She even sent a recent order to Kazakhstan.

“My work hasn’t really been affected by moving,” she said.

A year went by and Owens and her husband yearned to be in the Old North State. After deciding to move back, this time they landed in Durham. There, Owens found a temporary home for her art in a bakery while she continued creating from home. She participates in craft shows a couple times a year to make connections, too.

There are things she misses in Greensboro, like all of the delicious Vietnamese food, and she appreciates how supportive people here were of her ambitions.

“Maybe it’s partially because I started my career in Greensboro and people saw me grow, but I felt like there were a lot of people who wanted to see me succeed,” she said.

Though Owens still has ties to the Piedmont through different artists and venues, she understands why people move away. Usually the idea of wanting something different and new makes leaving to pursue it worthwhile. And for her, it worked.

Frank Eaton, political consultant and filmmaker

by Jordan Green

The last few years haven’t been kind to Democrats and filmmakers in North Carolina. For Frank Eaton, a longtime Winston-Salem resident who has fashioned a career by combining Democratic consulting with videography, you might as well multiply the misery.

“It used to be that all my clients were in North Carolina,” Eaton said by phone from his office in Manhattan last week. “I’m a Democratic filmmaker in a state with no Democrats and no film industry. As you get older, it makes sense to cast a wider net. There are really no big races in the state. Plus, in politics, the money is all spent out of DC anyway.”

A Mt. Tabor High School graduate and NC School of the Arts dropout who has done consulting work and video ads for Winston-Salem City Councilman Dan Besse and gubernatorial candidate Walter Dalton, among others, Eaton decided to leave Winston-Salem in July 2013 after living in the city for 26 years. His first move was to Raleigh.

Then, after the bruising 2014 election, in which Democrats lost a US Senate seat and failed to break the Republican supermajority, Eaton recognized he needed to make another move. As a national-level consultant, most of his work requires him to fly. Washington DC would have been the logical destination, but Eaton’s fiancée at the time — now his wife — lived in New York City.

“Being in Raleigh was a better place to be for political contacts [than Winston-Salem],” said Eaton, who is 40. “It slowly became apparent that was not close enough to the fountainhead of political thinking. It was DC or nothing. My wife was in New York, so I said maybe I can park myself next to JFK.”

As for the film industry, which lost its incentives program last year thanks to the Republican-dominated state legislature, Eaton said, “It’s really only going to take 12 months of people being hungry in Wilmington — or Charlotte or the Triad, or wherever — for people who work in the business to realize there’s no point in being in the state anymore.”

Frank Eaton (photo by Amelia Martin)


Even when he was based in Raleigh, Eaton never worked within a drive of his house. Last year, he worked on congressional and state legislative campaigns in Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Iowa and Alabama. Between campaign years, he picks up work for nonprofits. Recently he’s been working for a national gay-rights group.

“I’m shooting something for them on Monday,” Eaton said. “They won’t tell me who. I’m hoping it’s Lily Tomlin. I just know it’s a group of older women.”

Next year looms large on the horizon as most likely the biggest political year since 2008, with an open presidential contest and a whole raft of gubernatorial and congressional races going down the ticket. Democratic operatives like Eaton who work in the business — and anyone else with a political pulse, for that matter — view Hilary Clinton as the inevitable Democratic nominee for president and state Attorney General Roy Cooper as the likely nominee for North Carolina governor. Eaton is still weighing his options as to whether to stay in New York or migrate to DC.

He still owns a house in downtown Winston-Salem, and looks back with fondness on his 25 years there.

“There were no negatives about the community at all,” Eaton said. “It was never about, ‘I hate this place and I’ve got to get out of here.’ It was all about economics. There was some personal stuff about, ‘I’m just living here because this is the easiest place to live, and maybe I need to challenge myself.’”

The cost of living is more expensive in both New York and Raleigh, and Eaton said making the jump required him to work harder.

“I try to work a lot,” he said. “At the same time I don’t feel like I’ve changed a lot. Winston-Salem is kind of ingrained in my work ethic and my personality. That North Carolina identity is something I lean on a lot here. That’s my exotic persona that I get to wear in my business and personal life. It’s a benefit.”

Eaton said he runs into a quite a few North Carolinians in New York. In fact, there’s a fried chicken and barbecue joint in his neighborhood that is owned by a chef from Asheville.

“It’s because our education system is pretty good,” Eaton said. “North Carolina can compete. The folks you meet from North Carolina are well adjusted and have a solid foundation. We have a humility, myself excluded.”

Cherrell Brown, activist

by Eric Ginsburg

It would be challenging to list all of the things Cherrell Brown has been involved with, in Greensboro or since leaving. She left her mark here in a number of ways, ranging from community outreach and weatherizing work with Ignite Greensboro to participating in a civil disobedience protest at Greensboro City Council. Brown and others with the Spirit of the Sit-In Movement Initiative took over council’s seats during a break and willfully submitted to arrest, protesting council’s inaction on several police accountability issues.

For Brown, now a prominent activist in the national Black Lives Matter movement, the decision to leave Greensboro came suddenly. Brown grew up in the small town of Laurinburg, NC and moved to the Gate City to attend UNCG in 2007, later transferring to NC A&T University. Partway through her senior year, she started looking for work.

“There was a very pragmatic fear that I would graduate and not have a job,” she said. “That wasn’t an option for me. I didn’t have anything to go back to.”

Brown discovered that Equal Justice USA, a group focused on reforming the criminal justice system, was hiring an organizer. Figuring she wouldn’t land the job but that it would be good practice and networking to apply, she did. From there, things moved quickly.

“In the span of three weeks I went from being a college student to being offered a position,” she said. “It just felt right. This felt like a reason to leave.”

Brown accepted the full-time position, based in New York City, and finished her degree remotely. She’s been with the organization ever since, participating in a successful campaign to end the death penalty in Maryland, which she called “a watershed moment” in her life.

Observed from afar, Brown appears to be constantly engaged in social justice and liberation work, particularly around police violence and accountability. In August, she traveled to Ferguson, working alongside organizers there and later joining similar groups closer to home after the non-indictment in the choking death of Eric Garner. After a Palestinian delegation visited Ferguson, Brown traveled to Palestine with the Dream Defenders, finding commonalities with activists there.

Cherrell Brown (courtesy photo)


Her Instagram feed is a stream of photos of her engaged in the struggle alongside the grassroots leaders as well as prominent figures including Cornel West and Common. In one, she dons a bandana to protect against tear gas in Ferguson, and in another, her “Not Your Respectable Negro” sweatshirt on a national TV talk show. “The revolution will be IG’ed,” her profile reads.

Though Brown engaged in some form of organizing before arriving in Greensboro, this is where her activism sprang forth.

“I didn’t have the language for it until I came to Greensboro,” she said. “I didn’t realize that what I was doing as a teenager in Laurinburg was organizing. [Greensboro is] where I started to learn professionally how to do this work and it was where I was first affirmed in this work. It’s also where I was radicalized and politicized. I was taught to question everything I was always conditioned to accept.”

In 2008, she worked for the Obama campaign — back when she believed he would be a change agent, she said — and later connected with the Beloved Community Center and the fight against reopening Greensboro’s White Street Landfill. Learning from people who had been part of “historically tragic and triumphant events” ranging from the Greensboro Massacre to the Sit-In Movement was powerful, Brown said.

Brown didn’t immediately adjust to New York, but said the city has grown on her, especially because there is a seemingly endless stream of interesting events. Preparing to get off the phone, Brown said she was about to head to Riverside Church for a movement-related event, and can always find something like a free panel discussion on a Tuesday.

In the fall Brown’s next chapter begins, as she heads to Birkbeck, University of London for a graduate program on culture, diaspora and ethnicity. Lately she’s been focusing on the intersection of state violence and gender violence, she said, which is part of what she’ll study.

Expect to see her back on the front lines soon, either at the barricades or on a major TV network, soldiering forward.

Afika Nxumalo, songwriter

by Anthony Harrison

Afika Nxumalo was born in Greensboro, but his parents moved to the Triad from Hlatikulu, Swaziland three months before he was born.

Afika Nxumalo (courtesy photo)


“I like to tell people, ‘I’m a Southern man, on two continents,’” Nxumalo said.

Nxumalo attended Greensboro schools for many years — Grimsley High School, GTCC and UNCG. He finally left the area in 2013 to attend UNC-Chapel Hill.

“My friends and I always nicknamed Greensboro ‘Greensboring,’ because we thought there was nothing to do,” Nxumalo said. “A typical Friday night for us was spent in one of two places: Either in the parking lot behind Wendy’s on Battleground Avenue, music blasting, cell phones in hand, waiting for a call from a friend at a neighboring high school with news about a house party; or at a park in an undisclosed location that we lovingly nicknamed ‘Uganda.’”

In July 2014, Nxumalo moved to Brooklyn, following an offer from a New York City-based songwriting company.

“I chose to live in Brooklyn because of the insane amount of weird people here; everyone is outdoing everyone else’s weirdness,” Nxumalo said. “And it’s inspiring, especially if you’re in the arts. Since moving to New York, I’ve been writing songs for all sorts of artists — some here in New York, some as far as South Korea and the United Kingdom, some of them my own personal favorites that I grew up listening to.

“I’ve also been working on a solo project with a producer under my same publishing company,” he continued.

Nxumalo currently lives in Bushwick.

“We have a gym in the basement, and a hot tub on the roof, both of which are unheard of in NYC,” Nxumalo said. “So you can imagine the party crowds that flock to this building.”

Despite the opportunity, inspiration and social scene afforded by the Big Apple, Nxumalo misses good old Greensboring at times.

“The people don’t get any better,” Nxumalo said. “The warm smiles you get from complete strangers passing by, the tree-lined neighborhood streets with one-story houses. You don’t realize how much you miss one-story houses until you haven’t seen any in months. I miss large Out West Style burgers and banana fudge shakes from Cook Out; I miss Thirsty Thursdays at the Grasshopper games; I miss front-porch impromptu concerts with my friends; I miss going into bars and people knowing your name and your soul without you having to say a word.

“Of course, some of these reasons are the same ones that drove me to want something new, something fresh,” he continued. “But North Carolina really is a special place.”

Nxumalo said he’d return every weekend if he could.

“Work keeps me busy, and this city has a way of eating up your travel funds,” Nxumalo said.

But as to whether he would return to the Triad, Nxumalo remains unsure.

“One of my best friends and I often talk about how Greensboro talent tends to leave to go improve other already established cities, and then we daydream of triumphantly galloping home, guns blazing, banners flying, to revolutionize the city and make it a hub for all of our amazingly talented friends and classmates,” Nxumalo said. “But I could see myself settling somewhere with a growing scene that still retains its Southern charm. Asheville would be great; I think Austin I’d enjoy. Chapel Hill would be a nice town to retire in, and I’ve even thought about Denver and Los Angeles, even though they’re not in the South.”

After all is said and done, though, Greensboro, the Triad and the South remain home base.

“I love my hometown, and when my dreams come true, I’ll have a house there for my family,” Nxumalo said. “I love my time here in New York, and Grandpa Me will look back on these years with a smile and pride.

“But you can’t beat the South; you can’t beat the people. You can’t trade hustle for human connection. At least I can’t.”

Marshall Owen, musician

by Jordan Green

It wasn’t dissatisfaction with the Greensboro music scene or a sense that the city lacked opportunities for growth and creative development that caused Marshall Owen at the age of 24 to pack his bags and move to Austin, Texas.

“Austin City Limits,” the live-music performance program on public broadcasting, had been one of Owen’s favorite TV shows since he was a small child. A call from a friend in Austin with a job offer suddenly crystalized his interest in making the move.

“When the opportunity came up, somebody I knew here had a job opening, and I was like, ‘Holy s***, I didn’t realize I wanted to move there,’” Owen recalled. “Having a job lined up made it a little easier to move. As soon as I got off the phone with him, I called my mom and said, ‘Dude, home of the armadillos! I’m gonna move to Austin. That’s so great, right?’”

Driving across the Travis County line, where Austin is located, Owen noticed the display on his car clock — set on military time read 20:10. The date was Oct. 20, 2010. The numerical alignment seemed to be too perfect to be merely a coincidence.

Being a musician foremost, Owen places a high value on community — an asset far more attainable in Greensboro, at least initially. After four years in Austin, Owen has started experiencing something like what he misses so much in Greensboro.

Marshall Owen


“I didn’t move down here to be in tune with Southwest or on the pulse of something big or any of that bulls***,” Owen said. “There are tons of people who move down here because they think they’re going to be on the bleeding edge of something. That’s so ridiculous and unrealistic. It’s like auditioning for ‘American Idol’ or something.”

His band, Surly Gates, has played South by Southwest, but that’s by no means the highlight of his experience in Texas.

“I met up with these amazing people,” Owen said. “I play in a couple of bands. The primary one is called Surly Gates. I’ve been with them for about three years. We’re about to release our debut album. We’ve played Southwest. We’ve played probably a hundred shows, mostly in Texas. The one time we ventured outside of Texas we played in New Orleans. We’ve been super active building a name for ourselves.

“We also have worked as a backing band for some different recording projects,” he continued. “We’re about to start an independent label with a few other groups in town for pressing different releases, just like what you would expect of an independent community of musicians. That’s what I’m super grateful for. It’s amazing to go to a different place just for the hell of it, and find people who are just as incredible.”

In a sense, High Point lost Owen to Greensboro before Greensboro lost him to Austin. His family moved to the Triad when Owen was 10, and moved frequently between High Point and Greensboro. Getting accepted to Early College at Guilford on the campus of Guilford College at the age of 17 cemented his identification with Greensboro. There was nothing happening in High Point that was remotely as exciting, he said.

“Like comparatively you go to Greensboro, and there’s a scene of young people doing punk house shows, the DIY venues like CFBG and Seven Day Weekend, dive bars that are totally legit music venues,” Owen said. “There are groups of musicians that are doing things together that extends all across the Triad. There wasn’t anything like that, it didn’t seem to me, in High Point.

“I was 17 when I started going to Guilford College and meeting people there who were in jazz bands and things like that, and wanted to do more interesting stuff than my high school friends who were playing Weezer covers or making up original songs that sound like Weezer covers,” he continued. “There were people who were doing more interesting things than playing pop-punk and the blues.”

The same sense of creative adventure that motivated Owen to push beyond musical conventions in Greensboro prompted him to move to Austin.

“It was sort of random, to be honest,” he said. “I had been there for 14 years and was ready to just try something different, and so I seized the opportunity to get out of town. It was on a see-what-happens type of basis. It wasn’t like I’m going to permanently move to Texas forever. I’m going to go to this new place for a while and see what happens. No catastrophic event. It had been kind of stagnant being in the same place for so long without trying anything radical like moving halfway across the country.”

The main thing Owen misses about Greensboro, he said, is the people.

“It’s less about competition and less about trying to be that one thing that anyone knows about, and more about that sense of community,” he said. “Here, I have finally found some of the same thing, but it takes more work. In a big town that is focused on music and the arts there are so many people fighting and trying to rise to the top of the heap that people forget to focus on community. In the last year or so I have found that and been able to be a part building a community of good, earnest people who are also good artists.”

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