A CONVERSATION WITH WILLIE JOYNER
Substantial has had the pleasure of knowing Willie Joyner for some time. In fact, Willie Joyner was one of the first to receive a Substantial Award for the amazing work he puts in day in and day out for youth in his community and around the country. For those that know Willie well, they know he’s the son of the late Bishop Willie Joyner and Pastor Betty Joyner Haddock. He is married to the lovely Latoya Mewborn Joyner; the father of Kyra Joyner, Keturah Joyner and Mia Mewborn. He’s also a grandfather, he has one grandson, Julian Shamar Jenkins.
Willie Joyner is the founder of the HYPE Leadership and Performing Arts Academy and the HYPE Leadership Institute. Joyner has over 25 years of experience in Education and Leadership and started his career as a teacher in 1995. Joyner taught in the Career and Technical Education field for 12 years and since 2008 he has held the office of Assistant Principal. Currently, Joyner serves as the Assistant Principal at North Pitt High School in Pitt County and he believes that young people need a passion for something and parents should support that passion in order to change many of the issues of our society.
We caught up with Willie recently to revisit an early interview we had with him to talk about how he beat COVID-19 and how he is working hard to lift up the amazing stories of the young people having been affected in so many ways by this pandemic and the current national outcry for equality.
So who is Willie Joyner for those that may not know him?
Wille Joyner is a son, a husband, a father, a leader, an educator, a mentor, an author and a friend. Wille Joyner is a man with a cup overflowing with purpose and his message to young people has been made clear, “The decisions you make today will affect your tomorrow.” He addresses this in his recent book titled, “Behind the HYPE”, Boys Today Men Tomorrow. Joyner is passionate about changing the world through helping young people understand that they are in charge of their future regardless of what their upbringing looks like.
With all that is going on right now, what does it mean to be a Black Man In America?
To be a Black Man in America means that we must work harder to be the leader of the household. However, right now, the household is the entire black race. Many conversations are taking place about how to level the playing field in the justice system, employment, health care, and education to be able to visualize a brighter future for our sons and daughters. We have fathers telling their sons exact directions to take to get to their friends house or other destinations, as an attempt to avoid running into police. We take it a step further by telling them to call us when they have arrived, just to make sure they don’t have experiences that may put them in harm’s way. Efforts are being made by men to come together and hold each other up as to not be discouraged by the negative things happening around us. We also have to be the positive light in the lives of boys and girls to keep them encouraged to believe they can achieve greatness even in the midst of adversity.
Before we dive into some of the recent news and the impact COVID-19 has had on his life, we felt it was important to frame for you the type of community work Joyner is consistently involved in. We asked him to tell us a little more about HYPE and what he is doing to educate, inform and empower.
HYPE (Helping Yourself with Pride through Education) is an organization designed to help educate young boys and girls on the values of service, leadership and the importance of setting high academic standards. Our motto is “Thinking of ourselves today, developing ourselves for tomorrow.” The group is known for its step team and performance group, however, academics are of the utmost importance, with students being monitored and asked to maintain a “C” average to remain an active member of the performance group.
The group works with many families in hopes of giving young people the opportunity to see college life and learn about working to achieve goals. We conduct yearly workshops for the members centered around finance, budgeting, conflict resolution, life skills (changing a flat, how to tie a necktie, fold clothes, etc) and much more. The group has many testimonials of students who have changed their life whether it is from frequent suspensions to no suspensions or once failing grades to the principal’s list and honor roll.
Substantial helped HYPE celebrates its 25th Anniversary this May. Tell us about it.
This year we had to celebrate our annual event titled, “HYPEFEST”, a little bit differently. Due to COVID-19, we had the show virtually. I did not want to skip the event as we are celebrating 25 years. A special shout out to Substantial Magazine for assisting us with the technical side of things. Although it was a virtual show, we still had teams from St. Louis, Missouri, Columbia, SC, Valdosta, Ga and of course, North Carolina. The show gave our kids an opportunity to see each other after being apart since early March.
Given the recent state of affairs surrounding COVID-19, how do you believe this has impacted the community?
I believe this has changed our community and world in drastic ways especially for those who take it seriously. I believe we still have a segment of people who believe that this is somewhat of a joke or not as serious as leaders are making it out to be.
I’ve seen how this has affected everything from our schools, to the way we do business, shop and even family relations. Our schools have had to be creative with how students are educated. Social distancing has become the norm. Who would have thought you would be limited in the number of paper towels you could purchase at one time. Small Businesses are in jeopardy and reliant upon government assistance. Many have lost their jobs and have had to apply for unemployment. Professional sporting events and all events with 10 or more spectators have been canceled. Eat-in restaurants have had to close their doors to customers and offer curbside services. Health professionals and first responders are putting themselves in harm’s way each day. Families are disconnected and can’t get to each other if they live between states.
You yourself were diagnosed with the coronavirus. Tell us at what point did you feel you could have come down with it? For that matter how did you know it wasn’t just the common cold/flu or allergies?
To be honest, I have no clue when I could have come in contact with the virus. I just know, I felt bad on Tuesday evening March 10th.
I am usually a night owl but went to bed around 8 p.m. that night. One of my friends told me he was down for three days and the meds that he took to feel better. I started taking Alka-Seltzer Day and Night and it seemed to work. My wife and I had already started considering what if and we had to separate. This meant we were in separate places in the house and I was confined to my bedroom.
On Thursday my wife convinced me to go to the doctor. During the visit, they tested me for the flu which immediately came back negative. At that time, they decided to test me for the virus.
Tell us how you felt receiving the news you had COVID-19, more importantly, how did you get through it?
Initially, I felt defeated and depressed, however, my wife is a very positive person and immediately devised a plan to protect our family and nurse me back to health.
There were no meds that really worked. I started taking Tylenol every night for the body aches. At some point, I did call my doctor to ask for a prescription of Ambien so that I could rest at night. This helped as some nights I slept all night long. Now there were many nights that were tough, especially those nights when the coughing was really bad and it interrupted my breathing. I had to do a lot to control my breathing. Those were the scary moments.
I saw your social media message to all those that called, texted, posted and sent prayers/thoughts your way. We’re all truly glad you made it through this. Having fully recovered from what it seems like, what is some important advice you would share with others?
- Important that people follow the rules for quarantine if you have been exposed and tested positive. Try to get a place in your house to be away from your family members. This is important as I believe there are many who don’t understand the need to isolate if they test positive.
- If you feel bad “Stay Home!” Don’t run the risk at all. Don’t get this confused with allergy season and other symptoms. See your doctor if you have any of the symptoms or stay at home until you can see your doctor. Please don’t put others in danger.
- As a society, we have to be a little more sensitive. No one is out here looking for the coronavirus but all of us are one cough, sneeze or surface contact away from possibly coming in contact with the virus.
- I believe we should have more emphasis on recovery: We are constantly getting stats on how the numbers are going up, the number of deaths. However, we never double back to stories of recovery to give hope to those who may be dealing with this. People are fearful and automatically see this as a death sentence. I believe we can give people hope by showing recovery.Some great advice and, you’re right, we’re not really hearing about the number of recovers as we are the increasing number of confirmed cases and related deaths. Thanks for saying that and thank you for sharing that very personal experience with Substantial.
Given all that is still uncertain and being reported about this virus, why share you had it?
Since I was released by my doctor, I have had a number of people contact me wanting and needing advice on how to get through this. While I don’t have the answer, I can offer kind words and thoughtfulness.
One of my former students contacted me recently and he said he was amazed at my recovery but then went on to say that he had a family member who just got test results back and they were devastated. He asked me if I would call the family member and I did. He told me that the family member felt much better after our conversation. Another person contacted me and asked about my symptoms. He went on to say that he was having tightness in his chest, shortness of breath and fatigued with no fever. I told him he needed to get checked and not to return to work or anywhere else. I told him to isolate himself from his family until he can get results. There have been many others that have contacted me. If I can do a small part in helping to stop the spread of the virus so that we can get back to some normalcy, I will do it.
That’s amazing and is a true testament to your spirit and willingness to be of service to the community. What’s next? If we know you, it’s getting back to business as usual. How are you finding unique ways to connect with students, and those involved in your community work right now?
Yes, I have big plans for the future and can’t let the cat out of the bag just yet.
However, I love helping people and especially our youth. My wife is doing social media campaigns with her company and I am playing catch up for many work-related things at school.
Unfortunately, our work with HYPE is halted as it relates to face to face meetings. However, we are keeping the kids engaged with the help of our great coaching staff. We have created online sessions to meet with kids and families to make sure they are ok. We have also allowed the members to create videos of them creating their own routine and posting it for our families to see. We are encouraging them to follow the protocols established by the schools to make sure they are keeping up with their school obligations. I have joined a number of online groups dedicated to bringing attention to our community and helping to keep the community encouraged.
So I know you mentioned you didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag regarding some of the major projects you all are working on but I caught wind of a special interview you all had recently can you share a little about that opportunity with our readers?
We were recently contacted by CNN to participate in a segment to celebrate the Class of 2020. This was an honor as there are hundreds of programs around the world and they chose HYPE Crew. Our seniors will have the opportunity to be interviewed by CNN Staff and do a short performance during the video. We have 3 participating seniors, two of which are going to college. Nykeria Spellmon will graduate from Pitt Early College and is Salutatorian of her class. She will be attending UNC Greensboro with a full academic scholarship. Jakyla Harvey will graduate from Northside High School and will be attending Winston Salem State University in the fall. Joshua Bland will graduate from DH Conley and has decided to enlist in the United States Marines.
Willie, again it is always a pleasure when we have a moment to talk with such a Substantial member of our community and it’s even more of a joy when we know them on such a personal level. As I’ve said, “To GOD Be The Glory” and we’re glad you’re doing OK. If you’d like to reach out to Willie Joyner he can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook: @Willie Joyner