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00:00:00 - Introduction: Biographical Information

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Partial Transcript: Awesome. So Morganton, North Carolina, and you lived there for how long?
Cortina Jenelle Caldwell:So Morganton, definitely all 18 of my first years. I went away to Greensboro and 00:01:00lived in Durham for a total of about seven years and then moved back to Asheville, or moved back to technically Morganton for a month, but I've been in Asheville since September of 2011. So I've lived most of my life in Western North Carolina.

Keywords: 1986; Asheville, North Carolina; Grensboro, North Carolina; Morganton, North Carolina; childhood

00:03:19 - What "Rural" Means to Cortina

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Partial Transcript: Cortina Jenelle Caldwell:
Yeah. What does rural mean to me? I mean, I think rural as far as how I was raised or grew up thinking about rural definitely was that it's a small town, so by self claiming of that term, Morganton has always considered itself to be a small town. And I think also it feels like there's some sort of a culture around 00:04:00what it means to be rural. There's definitely not necessarily going to be your big tall skyscraper buildings in a downtown area. A lot of the times, the landscape is very natural. There's sometimes rolling hills or just open land. So to me, those kinds of things feel like they're rural. And then I think there's also kind of a small town mentality or a small town culture, which is that you look out for your neighbors. And there's this real Southern hospitality I think to being a part of any Southern rural town is ... And at least for me, I was raised on some very strong values around hard work and kindness and community. So yeah, that feels like that's the rural way.

Segment Synopsis: Cortina discusses her thoughts on the term "rural."

Keywords: camaraderie; community; culture; landscape; rural; small towns

00:04:56 - Growing Up in Morganton and Going to College

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Partial Transcript: Amanda Wray:
Well, you mentioned liking girls and coming to that awareness at a "whatever point." We'll have a coming out story at any point that you want to share it. But how did you care for yourself in that time? We rationalize, we do things. How was that for you?
Cortina Jenelle Caldwell:
Well, I mean, I kept it inside. I recognized it in middle school, and probably by normal standards, I would have considered the person that I was involved with my girlfriend. But it was one of those things for me where it was like, I knew 00:12:00that I had this interest in this person being my girlfriend or whatever, but it was like, well, it doesn't really seem like that's an option, so can't really call her that. We're friends and we hang out, and that's fine. And then there was this part of me though that knew that inherently, right, knew that I couldn't share that. I couldn't be open about it. And it wasn't until I went to college that I started to reconcile that aspect of my identity,... It was complex for me.

Segment Synopsis: Cortina discusses her uprbringing in Morganton, North Carolina and her current relationship about the town. She also discusses how she began coming to terms with her sexuality when she went off to college. She also discusses coming out at the end of a five-year relationship.

Keywords: Morganton, North Carolina; black women; childhood; closeted; college; coming out; demographics; diversity; education; family; gay; growing up; identity; internal conflict; lesbian; living in community; poverty; relationship; school; self-acceptance; self-awareness; sexual assault; sexuality; siblings; socioeconomic issues; student resources; teachers; teen mom; trauma; upbringing; women of color

00:11:37 - Coming Out Journey

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Partial Transcript: "Well, I mean, I kept it inside. I recognized it in middle school, and probably by normal standards, I would have considered the person that I was involved with my girlfriend. But it was one of those things for me where it was like, I knew that I had this interest in this person being my girlfriend or whatever, but it was like, well, it doesn't really seem like that's an option, so can't really call her that. We're friends and we hang out, and that's fine. And then there was this part of me though that knew that inherently, right, knew that I couldn't share that. I couldn't be open about it. And it wasn't until I went to college that I started to reconcile that aspect of my identity,... It was complex for me.

And I have to also name this because this was also very much part of my journey with my sexuality, but I was sexually assaulted when I was younger. It made me compound this feeling that I had of, I like girls I think. Because I was like, well, what if the reason that I like girls is because I felt violated by this male bodied person and that it's just me being angry and trying to find something to do with this pain and this trauma? And I had a boyfriend in college originally. I was really there to focus on my studies, but at the same time, I knew that that was the thing that I was “supposed” to do when I was in college was go find my husband or get married and all the things that they say that we should do as women.

So it wasn't until college when I realized that I had to unravel the piece around being sexually assaulted, because I recognized that it was really caging me in my own body and that I needed to know whether or not I liked girls or felt that I liked girls was because I was angry or because I hadn't healed that part of myself. And so I went about that journey and actually had a therapist for the first time in my life in college because of it being accessible at the student health center. And through that process, started to integrate my own identity and find some of the questions and challenges I had had growing up and just not really having the space to talk about it or to have a language to explain some of the things that I was feeling or noticing about myself. And I think through that process and knowing that I was healthy and grounded and I was doing the right things that I should've been doing to take care of myself and recognizing I still liked girls. I was like, okay, so I'm actually probably a lesbian, because this is still here."

Segment Synopsis: Cortina explains "liking girls" and her journey in college addressing childhood sexual assault and unraveling that from an emerging sexuality.

Keywords: college; coming out; feelings; identity crisis; language; mental health; queer; self care; sexual assault; sexual violence; sexuality; therapy

00:20:51 - Living Black and Queer, School Experiences

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Partial Transcript: And I feel like for me, that was my experience for most of my schooling. And I realize how much of a privilege that is, because there are students who get profiled as problematic because of the color of their skin, or they don't learn in the ways that the teacher is teaching and that's considered to be problematic because they need more support, or they're being profiled because of the way that they're choosing to wear their hair or how they talk. And what was interesting for me was even though by identity, ethnicity, race, I'm a black person. Even in some of the black community coming up, it was like I was considered a white black person because I talked "proper" or because I was good at school or good at different things and was well-liked, and that was considered to be a white thing. And so for me, this is the other part where my experience being queer, I can't separate it from or exclude my experience being black because these are two oppressed groups of people and all around me, I was seeing people not necessarily have the same experience that I had.

And it wasn't even that I was trying to be a teacher's pet or trying to be people's favorite, but I was just so ... I loved to laugh and I was just such a happy kid...and I just loved learning things. So my curiosity was really what allowed me to connect with people in different ways while I as early as middle school, I was noticing my Black friends would always be in detention or ISS or get in trouble for small things. And that wasn't happening to me yet, and so I was aware of that. Even though it wasn't happening to me and even though I didn't know why, I thought at the time it was because I was a happy kid and I was the cute, chubby kid that people liked to make laugh. And I think I also, as I got into high school and even in college, I realized that it's not all the same for people who look like me.

Segment Synopsis: Cortina answers how it felt, as an adolescent, to come into knowing she was a lesbian.

Keywords: black girl; celebrate difference; church; derogatory language; homophobic environment; internalized homophobia; mental health; playground conversation; safety; self awareness; social isolation; suppression; talking white

00:29:04 - LGBTQ+ Role Models

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Partial Transcript: "I mean, my (LGBTQ) first role model honestly was Grace Lawson who wrote Coming Out Coming Alive. Honestly, she was my mentor from the pages in her book. And I think I probably picked up a copy of that book in my early college years. This is before any sort of classes or any conversations and still being closeted. And still to this day, I have that book on my shelf . . .

. . .

Segment Synopsis: Cortina applauds Grace Lawson as her first LGBTQ Role Model.

Keywords: Grace Lawson; Grandmother; LGBTQ Role Models; Reading; Role Models

00:32:11 - Leaving / Returning to College, Creating a NonProfit

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Partial Transcript: So I ended up taking a personal leave, and then I worked my first grown up job. I got a job at the front desk at a hotel in Greensboro, And I think it was then that I realized what I really wanted to do and that I knew I wanted to create a business that was not just about making money, but was about enriching people's lives and it was providing some sort of community development. And so that was the first time that I really saw it. So then I ended up working my way through management, and I ended up getting scouted to come work at this resort in Durham, which was how I ended up in Durham. But then it was like, when I had the breakup and I moved back to Western North Carolina, that's when I re-enrolled in school, and I ended up triple majoring in business, education, and social science.

And then I also got my master's too, and I was able to do it online which was the thing that I was probably missing earlier in school because I wanted to just live my life and not have school take up so much of my day. So yeah, that was my journey with school, and my master's I got in management and leadership in the business school.

Segment Synopsis: Cortina discusses her journey in higher education. After taking a personal leave, her sense of direction becomes clear. She discusses returning to college during Covid-19 pandemic. Master's in Management and Leadership.

Keywords: ADE Project; Arts; Covid19; Entrepreneurship; Personal Leave; Social justice; Therapy; education; nursing; service; service industry; social work; storytelling; training

00:36:58 - Artists Designing Evolution Project: Entrepreneurship, Storytelling, Service, Education, and Creative Facilitation

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Partial Transcript: So I think when I started Artists Designing Evolution, or ade PROJECT in 2018, I had no idea that it was going to be the thing that was going to really strike a chord with my life's work. But I think in having a grassroots community organization that really is focused on cultural inclusion for communities of color, but also self-sufficiency and really creating a more sustainable world where we're included in the narrative in a holistic way that both allows us to connect and understand our history from a contextual framework. So the places that we live and the spaces that we're convening, knowing the cultural history of some of the places. And then also being able to have this sense of purpose and identity that really allows us to show up and contribute to the world with our work and what it is that we're here to do, and I honestly believe the reason why there have been barriers for us in really reaching our full potential as a community is because there's this loss of identity or this lack of belonging in a lot of ways. So I think for me as an artist at my core, that's not really something that I always lead with, but I think like I was naming earlier, growing up as a kid I was always super imaginative and creative and wanted to understand the world and just experience things in a fun, artistic way. And I was always, even in high school, I was making my own clothes because we couldn't afford it, and I was like I'm not-

Amanda: You wanted some pockets in your own clothes. You have to make clothes for lady clothes to have pockets these days.

Cortina Jenelle Caldwell:
Yeah, right. So yeah, I think it's a culmination of all of my life experiences and I think just being aware that for me, this sense of belonging was this thing that I had been longing for my whole life but didn't have. And that also some of my traumas and my lack of success was because of being profiled by my own community or by others, and I think that's just a lack of connection. So with Artists Designing Evolution, our work is to really address some social and community challenges, and having this strategy to do, allowing us to lead from an artistic frame of mind both with artists or engaging in art making as a way to build community and to share resources with one another. And yeah, and so our five key focus areas are entrepreneurship, storytelling, service, training and education ... And, creative facilitation, a little bit. So that's our work . . .

Segment Synopsis: Cortina discusses relationship building that led to the artist cooperative, nonprofit organization ADE Project.

Keywords: AntiRacism; Art Making; Artists; Community organizing; Creative Facilitation; Education; Entrepreneurship; History of Place; NonProfit; Relationship Based; Shared Resources; Storytelling

00:42:43 - Moving "Back Home," Starting a Business, Early LGBTQ Community Experiences

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Partial Transcript: ". . . I came back for my own personal healing and also because I recognized that there ... I knew that I wanted to start a business in 2011. The business that I started at the time had its own successes and I learned a lot from the first real business that I ran on my own-

Amanda Wray:
And what was that? What business-

Cortina Jenelle Caldwell:
Visit & Venture, and it's a tourism product development company. And I had it until 2015 and there was a lot of work that came out of that, and offering workshops to craft artists to understand how to position with the tourism industry, being an adviser and kind of serving on certain kind of strategic committees with the CVB and the Tourism Development Authority holding workshops and convening partners. So there was a lot of different things like that that I was doing. And then I think ... So it was clear to me that I needed to come get that experience, and it just felt right to move back home to do that for some reason. So that's what I did. And then also, just the personal healing after the very sudden breakup and just also kind of wanting to figure out what I wanted to do next."

Keywords: 2010; Artist; Black LGBTQ; Blue Ridge Pride; Entrepreneur; Equality NC; LGBT Organizations; Pride Festival; Safe Zone Training; Spoken Word; The Block off Biltmore; Tourism; Youth OUTright

00:52:34 - Listening to LGBTQ Youth and Developing Leadership

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Partial Transcript: "The place that I'm in as a millennial makes it my responsibility and also my privilege to be able to still connect with middle and high school students in a way to where it doesn't feel like I'm so far removed from their present day experience that we can have honest conversations. And so I do have those relationships, and I have two leaders on my team with the work that we do with adé PROJECT, and they're involved in a lot of how we make decisions. And so for me, it comes down to not just listening to the youth of today, but also being willing to put them in positions of leadership or positions where they can learn and really develop into their potential. And I also recognize that I have had people do that for me over the course of my life, so I definitely want to do that for youth of now. And I think it starts there. I think once they kind of see us paying attention and not just listening for the sake of hearing, but then also doing something with the information, I think that feels important. And I think also, being aware that as adults, even at my age, even with me being close to them in whatever way, I think it's also important for us to realize that we don't know everything and that their experiences, just because they're youth, are not invalid. I feel like I knew a lot of core things that I already had figured out when I was younger, but I questioned them because of authority and society and all these things. So I think that's really honoring their own wisdom and their own guidance and us understanding that we're not always the ones in the teaching position."

Segment Synopsis: Cortina talks about LGBT youth organizing, including her experiences with organizations in Asheville. She discusses the need for easy and intentional intergenerational conversation.

Keywords: Bridging; Entrust Youth; Generational Gap; Generational Knowledge; Honoring Youth Wisdom; Intergenerational Conversation; Leadership; Listening; Millennial; Privilege; SONG; Southerners on New Ground; Youth of color; gay bar

00:59:35 - Shifts in LGBTQ Gathering, How We Socialize Differently

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Partial Transcript: "Whereas there were a lot of bars and venues and nightclubs where people could go and express themselves, some of those spaces aren't safe, either because of being over policed or something as simple as dress code violation or fights or even some shootings that we've had on the national level. It's really scary to be out, self-identifying that you're a lesbian or gay or LBBTQ at a venue and putting yourself in that position. Now it's a thing that we have to think about. And I think just in general with social media being introduced in my generation too, a lot of how we're choosing to engage does look like that. There are so many Instagram pages that you can follow that circulated around LGBTQ things. Anything you name, it's out there.

And that was not the case for me when I was in middle and high school, at all. And so just to kind of see as an adult, one, it makes me feel old, but two, it's like, okay, so actually the social connection piece doesn't just happen with going to a nightclub. A lot of times, it's happening in those kinds of spaces, and it's just getting incorporated in our everyday life. It's not a separate space, more and more. And then I think the other part of that is for me, I often ... I'm really the host type. I really love having friends and people that I love in my home and having house shows or themed holiday gatherings or whatever they might be. And a lot of the people that are there are LGBTQ. And it's just like, not because I'm trying to make it just for that, but this is my community. And so that ends up filling that social need, whereas we might've gone out dancing before. It's like now, we're actually gathering with our kids and friends and family members in people's homes, and that feels way more authentic to me."

Segment Synopsis: Cortina finishes her interview describing shifts in LGBTQ socializing, youth to adulthood. She also describes the intersectionality of rural and urban notions of place here in Western NC, especially as it relates to LGBTQ in/exclusion along lines of race.

Keywords: Alternative Family; Authentic; Gay Bar; Holidays; Internet Community; Intersectionality; LGBT Social Media; LGBTQ Family; Nightclub; Rural; Safety; social media