In addition to celebrating Winston-Salem natives that have moved on to do significant things outside of Winston, this blog will also celebrate local people who make a difference currently in Winston-Salem.
Wanda Starke is currently the evening anchor (number 1 rated 6 pm show) and a producer of a series of specials for the Piedmont Triad’s NBC WXII news station.
Starke said, “one of the many things I love about Winston-Salem is the warmth of the people—that sense of community. It’s felt like home since day one.”
Starke lived in eight different cities before arriving in Winston-Salem: Newport News, Richmond, Washington, Augusta, Norfolk, Greensboro, Los Angeles and Buffalo. “I liked all of them, except Buffalo,” said Starke. “I got used to the snow, but the lack of sunshine was intolerable.”
“Working as a reporter in Los Angeles was a dream come true. It was a thrill covering big-city news. I also liked the cultural offerings—theatre and jazz in particular. However, I found the traffic and smog somewhat annoying and many of the people a bit self-absorbed.”
She grew up in Eastern Virginia and graduated from the University of Richmond with a B.A. in journalism and speech communication. She also went to Howard University Graduate School.
Starke joined the WXII staff in 1994. She also produces a weekly segment called, “A Place to Call Home,” which profiles children waiting to be adopted. The issue is personal to Starke, since she was adopted as a child.
Starke received two Emmy nominations. One nomination came for a documentary, “To Kenya with Love,” where she followed the work of the Amani Children’s Foundation, helping abandoned babies in East Africa. She has received awards that include The President’s Award for Volunteer Service from President Barack Obama, The Maya Angelou Women Who Lead Excellence Award Honoring Women in Media from UNCF and the Anna Quindlen Award for Excellence in Journalism on Behalf of Children and Families from the Child Welfare League of America.
What charity/volunteer organizations are you still active with?
I am on the boards of the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina and the North Carolina Black Repertory Company. I volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters- Forsyth County and I’m a member of the Women’s Fund of Winston-Salem.
How has the Children’s Home Society grown during your time working on the board? Why is it so special to you?
The Children’s Home Society of North Carolina has grown to include a number of new services: post adoption, parenting education, teen pregnancy prevention and family finding. The one thing that is virtually unchanged is the number of children in foster care. There are about 10,000 children in the system — 3,000 of them legally cleared for adoption. CHS is near and dear to my heart because I was adopted as a young child.
Do you have two or three interviews you have done with WXII that hold a special place in your heart?
That’s a tough question…I’ve done so many. Every interview I did with Dr. Maya Angelou holds a special place in my heart. She was a mentor and I learned something new with each visit. She had such immense wisdom. I felt privileged every time I was in her presence.
I would say two children I interviewed for “A Place to Call Home” are among my most memorable. One was a young man named Shamor. We followed him through middle school, high school and college where he was finally adopted. He graduated from UNCG and then went to London to get a masters degree. Before he left the US, he tracked down his birth mother. She had lost custody of her children because of drug use, but was now clean and sober. Shamor was the only child who forgave her and wanted to reconnect. It was an emotional reunion. Shamor estimated he had about a hundred foster care placements before he was finally adopted. Despite his experiences, he is one of the most positive and talented people I have ever met—truly inspiring. Another memorable kid we profiled was so polite and sweet. He was 8 years old and had this almost angelic presence. At one point I asked him what he wanted to be when he grows up. He told me he wanted to be a child psychologist so he could “help children like me who have been sexually abused.” I had interviewed hundreds of children in foster care and heard many horror stories, but this was the first time a child had actually shared that information. I was immediately overwhelmed with sadness and had to leave the room.
Are there any events (natural disasters, celebrities, crimes, etc.) that you have covered over your two decades at WXII that stand out?
I would say my most memorable natural disaster was Hurricane Irene in 2011. My husband and I were actually on vacation at Atlantic Beach when we were forced to evacuate. We drove to New Bern where we stayed with his sister and rode out the storm. There was a lot of wind, but the rain was relentless. I filed reports during the storm, not knowing the worst was still to come. The next day we were stunned when we went to check on my mother-in-law’s house. Her street looked like a river. Her home was flooded.
I’ve interviewed hundreds of celebrities –many of them through appearances with the National Black Theatre Festival and the Piedmont Wind Symphony. My favorites include Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Phylicia Rashad, Dr. Phil, Itzhak Perlman, Rhiannon Giddens, Ben Folds, Nathan East, Hattie Winston, Rain Pryor, S. Epatha Merkerson, Richard Roundtree, Art Linkletter, Jerry Mathers, America, Three Dog Night, Al Jarreau, Andre Braugher and Yaphet Kotto. I’ve also had the privilege of interviewing Barack Obama when he was running for President and later Vice President Joe Biden.
Traveling to Kenya to cover the work of the Amani Children’s Foundation and its efforts to help abandoned babies ranks as one of my most rewarding experiences as a reporter.
Which Winston-Salem neighborhoods have you lived in?
When I first moved to Winston-Salem, I lived downtown. I now live in the Northwest part of town.
What is one retail store you wish that came to Winston that we don’t currently have? What about a restaurant that we don’t have?
Lord & Taylor might be nice. I definitely wish we had a Cheesecake Factory.
What are your top three favorite Winston-Salem restaurants?
That’s another tough question. I LOVE to eat out and my list of favorites is long: Sweet Potatoes, Milner’s, River Birch, Mozelle’s, Fratellis, Bonefish and Forsyth Seafood.
If you were on a stranded island and could just have one breakfast for the rest of your life, which would you choose: Moravian sugar cake, a Bojangles biscuit, or a Krispy Kreme doughnut?
I love them all, but I’m really sensitive to sugar, so I guess I would pick a Bojangles biscuit.
What is your favorite North Carolina Beach?
Where is your favorite place in the mountains of North Carolina?