Most memorable stories of 2017

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As a busy year draws to a close, I wanted to put a list together of some of my best or more interesting work this year. Stories I covered in 2017 took me to Atlanta for the Toledo Blade and then — in a twist — I moved from Toledo to Atlanta.

Sometimes I get bogged down in the day-to-day grind of journalism: The frustration of waiting for public records, trying to get sources to return calls, keeping up with the news as it happens, and — more recently — learning a new beat, developing new sources, and navigating my way around a new city.

It’s easy to forget how lucky I am to be able to tell stories for a living. As I look at this list, I remember all the people who let me into their homes, who let me ask them questions as they cried while watching their home burn, who just picked up the phone when I called.

Here are some of my most memorable stories of the year from both The Blade and The AJC:


Gail Rayford stands in front of her family’s Mississippi church.


I spent the better part of two days searching for a high school photo from George Armstrong’s class in Alabama and ended up learning a lot about the Rosenwald schools in the process.


  • ATLANTA — Younger, educated blacks whose parents and grandparents migrated north are reversing that well-traveled route and moving south. They come for opportunity and stay for familiarity. It’s often a job that draws Rust Belt expats to southern boomtowns. But the diversity, culture, and family ties soon make their new city feel like home. Ohio posted net-migration losses among both college-educated blacks and whites from 2010 to 2014, but the African-American population fell at a greater rate.
  • Kristin Schnerer calls herself a “news junkie.” The Start High School social studies teacher engages her classes in discussions about current events, and fact-checks students when they spout false stories spread on Facebook. The task of sifting through what is true and what is not, what is opinion or fact, what is journalism or advertising has gotten trickier as sources of online information proliferate and the heat of political rhetoric rises. Miss Schnerer has a timely and practical solution: Teach students how to analyze the news. The Toledo Board of Education recently approved a course she will pilot next school year that aims to do exactly this. Media and Politics — a half-credit elective course for juniors and seniors — is like no other class at Toledo Public Schools.
Baby jamie smith jane doe

An old Polaroid kept in a box of mementos shows Jamie Smith, or Baby Girl Doe, or “Lisa,”  a few days after she was born and left in a car in Ohio.

van wert

Betsy DeVos kneels down to speak to a child in a Van Wert classroom

  • VAN WERT, Ohio — Barely a hint of the biting rhetoric that has dogged U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos from teachers unions and other public school advocates surfaced today as she toured Van Wert City Schools alongside an ardent critic. President Trump’s cabinet pick, controversial among many public school educators for her charter school advocacy, spent several amicable hours in this rural northwest Ohio district with Randi Weingarten, leader of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers.


  •  A jewel of Toledo’s resurgent UpTown neighborhood caught fire Tuesday, forcing residents of the 18-unit apartment building onto the street where they watched in disbelief as the 1897 structure burned. Michael McCarthy, 35, answered his husband’s phone call and tried to explain the magnitude of the flames that devoured the roof of the old rental complex at 321 16th St., where he has lived for seven years. “It’s all gone, OK?” he said. “It’s over.”


  • Tamar Quincey spent years lying about who she is. The 26-year-old grew up surrounded by devout Christians, who taught her traditional views of sexuality and gender. She told people she felt “called to celibacy,” or that she was waiting for God to send her someone to marry. Then she told the truth. Quincey first came out as gay in 2016. About a year later, she began transitioning from male to female after enrolling at the all-male Morehouse College.

Roberto Hernandez’s mural on Buford Highway in Atlanta. 

  • Raymond Partolan lifted his denim pant leg a few inches to reveal more of his brown boots. He offered an apology for his casual attire; it’s Friday — the one weekday where he can wear what makes him feel most comfortable to work at the Atlanta-area law office. He loves country music. The background picture on his cell phone depicts Georgia’s state flag. The state motto — “wisdom, justice, moderation” — is tattooed across his shoulder. “After being an American and identifying as a Georgian, thirdly my sense of identity is grounded as being a Southerner,” said Partolan. “I love the best parts of the culture here.” Ask this 24-year-old, who grew up in Macon, where he belongs and he doesn’t mention his birth country. He left the Philippines as a 15-month-old baby.Now Partolan, and thousands of other young, undocumented immigrants who live here, is grappling with the threat that it may not always be home.
  • Atlanta Public Schools is dealing with another cheating investigation. A quarter of the police officers in the district’s recently sworn-in force admitted receiving answers on a state-administered test. Disciplinary proceedings are coming for at least 18 employees. One dispatcher allegedly fed answers to 17 officers while they took the open-book, 30-question, multiple-choice exam.
  • Three sets of eyes are trained on a bank of glowing screens that wraps around the room. Data flashes. Charts fill a large panel. The systems engineers sit in front of smaller, desktop computer monitors. They scan information as it pours in and check for problems. The network operations center, which opened a couple of years ago in a former school turned technology hub, is the front line of the DeKalb County school district’s defense against hackers, cyberthreats, and data theft. “We get close to about 3,000 attacks a day, and so we are able to see it and constantly make adjustments,” said chief information officer Gary Brantley, who likened the onslaught to a barrage of missiles. “The biggest focus is, we are trying to protect kids. We are trying to protect student information.”