Board approval

Story by KORRIE MCEACHERN and JULIAN LUCAS; Photos by KYLA GREENFIELD and SHY FRANKLIN

Two local politicians took time out of their busy schedules to visit Goldsboro High School this week to witness the many positive programs that exemplify who our students really are.

Wayne County Commissioners John Bell and Edward Cromartie began their visit by sitting in on our journalism class, and then spoke to the JROTC. Later, as they walked the halls, they said they were very excited about what they had witnessed — including several Communities Supporting Schools mentors meeting with their mentees in the Media Center.

“I was very excited about what I saw here today,” Bell told the Pride, adding that the community should appreciate the historic value of GHS.

He has been on the board since 2000, and during his seventeen-plus years of service to the county was, at one point, its chairman. Bell also served in the Air Force from 1953-1973 and, in his free time, loves to play the guitar.

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I’m very excited about what I saw here today.” — County Commissioner John Bell

Cromartie, who has been spotted at several GHS basketball games since his visit to the school, is newer to the board. He was elected in 2013 after a career in education that saw him teach in Cumberland County, serve as a principal, assistant principal and athletic director, and take on a role with the State Department of Public Instruction.

He, too, was impressed by what he saw — particularly how “the student population … is very respectful” — and told the Pride he was anxious to tell his fellow commissioners that what he experienced at GHS was far different than the negative things they might have read or heard about our school.

“I’m so impressed by the quiet learning environment,” he said. “The students should be proud of their school.”

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Fallen “soldier”

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By KORRIE MCEACHERN, JHAZMINE LASSITER, SHY FRANKLIN, CHRISTINA RICHARDSON and KYLA GREENFIELD

Desconte Bryant would have been a senior at Goldsboro High School this year. He would have worn his dress blues and competed in Drill Team competitions. He would have performed a moment of silence during the morning announcements. He would have done all those things if he hadn’t been gunned down last Memorial Day.

When we close our eyes, we can still see him — his perfectly pressed, deep blue ROTC uniform; the way he held his rifle or saluted at attention; how light bounced off the medals pinned to his chest. We can see the person who would help any and everybody that seemed to be struggling. That’s just who he was.

But when Aprile Hatch thinks about her son, she sees bullet holes on the back of that same military jacket and a blood-stained front porch. She hears gunshots, screams, a ventilator, and his final breath.

That’s not the way that a mother should have to remember her child. That’s not the way we should have to remember the friend we shared so many fun and valuable moments with.

So we won’t. His life was more than how it ended. These words are how his life should be remembered.

POSITIVE. JOYFUL. SUPPORTIVE. MEANINGFUL. POWERFUL. ENCOURAGING. WORTHWHILE.

We write them big because to us, Desconte was larger than life. And to those of us he left behind the night he was shot to death on his front porch, he still is.

Aprile’s earliest memories of her son are of a “big baby” — a “good boy” who was “mature” and “clingy.”

But the GHS student body will remember him for his commitment to the JROTC program.

“He doesn’t like sports. I could not get him to play a sport for anything. So I said, ‘Honey, you need to do something. I don’t care if you get on the debate team, the chess team. I don’t care what you do, but you need to do something,’” Aprile told the Pride. “When he got his schedule, JROTC was in there. He asked me, ‘What is that?’ So I told him what it was and he said, ‘That’s fine,’ because he wanted to go into the military. He wanted to be in the Marine Corps. I told him, ‘JROTC is the place to start.’”

But he wasn’t always the confident leader we saw walking up and down the halls or the kid who could do things with his rifle that most people couldn’t even imagine. In the beginning, Aprile said, JROTC scared him.

“He couldn’t remember the creed. He was crying and he said, ‘Ma, I can’t do it.’ I said, ‘Yes you can. You will,’” she said.

Being the best cadet became an obsession.

“We worked on that creed. Oh my god, we worked on that creed. I can just see it. We’d be in the house and I would scream across the room, ‘Desconte, what does the cadet creed say?’ When he got in class, he was the first one to remember it. There was no stopping him after that,” Aprile told the Pride. “It was the Drill Team, the Rifle Team, the Saber Team, the Color Guard. He’s come a long way. He really has. And I’m really, really proud of him.”

And life in the program made him a better human being, brother, son, and friend.

“He was very, very mature. He was always helping his brother with his homework. He’d help me cook. At a very young age, I had to teach my children how to stay home by themselves because it was just us,” Aprile said.  “He was the mature one in the house. He held everything down. You couldn’t even get him to leave the house unless he was coming to school or stayin’ after school to do something with JROTC.”

So although it’s tragic, it’s almost fitting that the night he died, he had dedicated every moment of the day until the shooting to his passion.

“He went to the parade earlier that day — the Memorial Day parade. I was at work and he called me probably about 9:15 that night. He told me he was at the Dillard Alumni building. He was going to work there for them. I said, ‘OK. That’s fine,’” Aprile said.

So when she got off work after midnight and he still wasn’t home, she wasn’t worried. He would be there soon, she thought.

And then, the unthinkable happened.

“Me and my youngest son were in the kitchen eating. All of a sudden, we heard gunshots. It was off in the distance so we didn’t really pay it no mind. It was probably about six seconds later, we heard gunshots at my front door — just tearing up my house,” Aprile said. “Bullets were tearing up my windows, flying through the walls. Me and my youngest son, of course, we duck and cover. After the gunshots stopped, we could hear ‘em going up the street. You could hear two different guns going off.”

For the next few moments, they sat there in shock.

“We were still in shock and we just happened to hear somebody on my front porch. They were moaning. You could tell they was bleeding because you could hear gurgling. They was gasping for air,” Aprile told the Pride. “So I told my youngest son to go get my phone so I could dial 911. I told them they need to come to my apartment — that my apartment’s been shot up and I don’t know what happened, but somebody on my porch was hurt.”

She had no idea that the real shock was waiting for her on the front porch.

“I guess he felt bad for whoever was on the porch — it sounded like they was in pain — so my youngest son walked up to the window and that’s when he seen Desconte. He started screaming. That’s when he ran out the door,” Aprile said. “I tried to catch him and when I opened up my screen door, that’s when I seen Desconte on the porch in his ROTC suit. I seen blood everywhere. Everywhere.”

She didn’t know what to do.

“Finally, I just stepped outside. I couldn’t do nothing but get on my hands and knees and touch him and tell him to breathe and focus. He looked like he was trying to fight with every breath to survive,” Aprile said. “He would pass out and I would shake him real hard. I’d tell him, ‘Wake up.’ He was fighting. He was. I’m just out there screaming, ‘Where is the ambulance.’”

Desconte had gunshot wounds on his back and head.

“It was just amazing that he didn’t die right then and there,” Aprile said.

Her son had always been a fighter, but what happened next still renders her speechless — and makes her emotional.

“He was trying to get up. The EMT had to tell him to be still,” Aprile told the Pride. “As the EMTs were taking him out, he saluted one of his best friends — the one who brought him home that night. I just couldn’t believe that. I wouldn’t believe it now if I hadn’t seen it.”

Desconte died that morning at 10:34. It was Memorial Day. April finds irony in the timing.

“He was looking to die in the military,” she said. “Not on his front porch.”

She gets by the best she can, but she sees his face every day. She misses the young man who loved to cook — the kid who “held it down” at home while she worked. And she leans on the people who loved him so much, his classmates, for support as what would have been her son’s senior year unfolds.

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“My son has a lot of supporters. There’s respect and love. If it wasn’t for these kids, I would be broken. They are everything to me. So, I’m still a proud mama. These kids, they are my lifeline. They are my link to Desconte,” Aprile said. “But it’s not easy. The hardest thing was making the decision to cut off his ventilator. Who wants to lose their child at the hand of someone else. You never think in your wildest dreams that you’re going to lose your child like that. It’s still a shocker to me now. It’s hard for me to believe. I want to tell myself every day that he’s over there at (a friend’s) house. He’s not gone. That’s what I want to tell myself. But as a realist, I know he’s gone. And it hurts. It hurts every single day.”

Aprile isn’t the only one hurting. Desconte’s story is something that will never be forgotten and will continue to be told by all the people that love him truly and dearly. And even though his life was cut short, there are goals that he has set forth for all of the lives that he has impacted while he was with us.

So his classmates are on a mission this year to make sure Desconte is never forgotten. So is his ROTC instructor Col. Inman.

“Desconte was the most disciplined and focused cadet that we had in the program. He was just a natural leader. We really respect what he did for the program and what he meant to the school,” he told the Pride. “He was always there.”

So when he heard about Desconte’s death, it was “the worst day of my life,” he said.

Classmate Jalin Barnes agrees.

“He was a great kid,” he said. “As far as Drill, Rifles, and Color Guard, he was the most amazing classmate I’ve known in my life. I was upset most of all because I found out that a fellow comrade had died. It was a hard thing to find out. But you have to realize that he is gone but he is not forgotten.”

His classmate, Tawana Richardson, was not only close to him, she and her older sister, Christina, were part of his family.

“I remember the first time we met. We were all play fighting. I thought he was listening to music trying to walk out of the range, but he scooped me up with one hand and dragged me out of the range,” Tawana said. “He was just a great influence on kids. Other people looked up to him. Rifle, Color Guard, and Drill Team looked up to him. And I know I did.”

And because she and her sister were so close to the family, his death hit them hard — and still does.

“My heart just gave up on me and it was crazy,” Tawana told the Pride. “At first, I thought, ‘He’s too strong for this. He will make it. It was a little shot he will be fine.’ But the next day when we went to the hospital, things were more intense. When I got the news that he was gone, I couldn’t hold back anymore. I started to cry.”

So when the JROTC put Desconte’s uniform on display inside its building and made dog tags for the students with his name on them, it gave her some peace.

“Everyday I walk by his uniform. I give him a hug or a kiss and let him know that I don’t forget about him. I wear him around my neck everyday,” Tawana said.

And when, tonight, city leaders, law enforcement, family, and friends come together at Desconte’s house to honor his memory — and to vow to bring his shooter to justice — she, like so many other GHS students who loved our friend, will be there.

“I make sure that I don’t forget about him,” Tawana told the Pride. “Something like that is unforgettable.”

Back ‘home’ on the stage

I got the sense that a younger Jennifer Sumler used to lose herself on the dancefloor — that, like me, when the music started playing, she felt like the only person in the room.

So when we talked about her upcoming participation in “Dancing Stars of Wayne County,” a fundraiser for Wayne Education Network that is kind of like the hit reality show “Dancing With the Stars,” I understood how much hard work it was going to take to pull off the perfectly choreographed routine.

Mrs. Sumler is the wife of Goldsboro High School assistant principal Kenneth Sumler, who said he is excited to witness the competition.

“I support and pray for my wife,” he said. “And she’s going to be outstanding.”

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The competition will take place November 3, but you can already vote for Mrs. Sumler — to vote, you make a donation to WEN — who has raised $150 to date. The event will take place at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Goldsboro. Different dance studios will be dancing with different stars. Mrs. Sumler is dancing with Desiree Autrey’s Academy Arts, a studio located in Pikeville.

However, as I mentioned earlier, this is not the first time Mrs. Sumler has taken the stage. She used to take dance when she was in middle school and high school in Michigan. So she knows what it takes to pull everything together for the big day.

Mrs. Sumler has already been practicing for weeks.

“We had one large practice and we are getting ready to ramp up,” she told the Pride. “I get along really well with the dancers … and we are working hard to become great.”

But the chance to take the stage again — like she did so many times as a little girl — is not the only reason she signed up.

“I’m very excited to raise money for a well-deserving, charitable cause,” she said.

To see the lineup of dancers and to vote for Mrs. Sumler, click on this sentence.

Cheering for a cause

By KORRIE MCEACHERN, JHAZMINE LASSITER and JULIAN LUCAS

The numbers tell a story.

One Brody Morton hard count that drew the Charles B. Aycock defense offside at the end of the game and gave the Cougars the ability to clock it.

Two Xzavior Bowden touchdown runs.

Three wins already this season for a Goldsboro High School football program that won zero last season.

Thirty yards pulled in on an amazing one-handed snag by Andrew McNeill.

Two hundred fifty-two rushing yards added to Bowden’s already impressive season stat sheet.

But there was one number that seems bigger than them all.

Friday night at GHS was about more than a rivalry football game. For members of the Cougar cheerleading team, it was a chance to give back. The young ladies wore special T-shirts and sold foam fingers — all to make sure a donation ended up at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

When it was all said and done and the donations were counted, the results left everyone amazed and in awe. The goal was one hundred dollars. The ladies surpassed — and nearly doubled — it. And when the check is sent, thanks to their effort and the compassion of the crowd, the amount will read one hundred seventy.

GHS’ cheerleading coach Bethany Stewart was so proud of her girls for exceeding their goal, but before the game, she was nervous because the seat cushions that were supposed to be sold as part of the fundraiser had not been delivered yet because of Hurricane Harvey.

“I want us to reach it and I think we will, but I am a little bit nervous about it, since the seat cushions aren’t here yet. They won’t be in (until) Monday. We actually thought they wouldn’t couldn’t come in at all,” Coach Stewart told the Pride before the game. “We were told Wednesday that they were actually destroyed by the flood, and we were called Thursday and (told) they’ll be here on Monday. We are very excited to get them, but we wished we would have had them before (the fundraiser).”

More stuff to sell means a better chance of hitting the goal, she thought. But members of her team overcame the adversity, just as they hope the two Wayne County children currently being treated at St. Jude do.

“Through this process we found out about these two (Wayne County) kids who are at St. Jude’s, and it’s great for the girls to give back. Truly it takes a lot … to care enough to give back. I knew about it, but I asked them if they wanted to do it and they said yes,” Coach Stewart said. “They are the ones who wanted to do it. It makes me proud of my girls.”

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Photos by TYLER KEARNEY