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Simpson vies in 'America's Got Talent' finals

Brooke Simpson of Halifax County will be vying to become champion of the “America’s Got Talent” competition tonight, and she is seeking support from area residents in helping her gain the title.

Simpson, a native of Hollister and member of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe, was one of 10 winners of the semi-finalist round last week. She won her spot as a finalist contender with her cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits.”

Judge Simon Cowell said after that performance that she has earned her spot in the final showdown.

That showdown will come at 8 p.m. tonight on NBC. Voting for the performances will begin tonight and end on Wednesday morning.

Simpson is no stranger to such competitions. In 2017, she won third place on Season 13 of “The Voice” after being coached by singer Miley Cyrus. Now, she faces a different form of competition as she vies against nine other acts from various genres.

“With America’s Got Talent, she is competing against people with all kinds of talents, not just singers,” Brooke Simpson’s father Mike Mills said Monday in an interview.

He and his wife Jimelle have nurtured Brooke’s talent since she began performing at the age of two and toured with the Mills Family Singers during her youth.

Now a rising star in the music industry, Mills said his daughter was asked to compete on “America’s Got Talent.”

“Usually, people compete in local and regional competitions before they get a chance to be heard by any of the judges on the show. But someone contacted her and suggested she try out because they heard her performances on You Tube videos,” Mill said.

Mills said Simpson was touring with her music before COVID struck the country and shut down many of the performance venues. He is hoping that the competition will bring her back into the national spotlight.

“Her social media presence has already seen a big boost since the show began,” he said.

After the Voice competition ended, Simpson came back to Hollister to meet with students at the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School. At that event, Simpson spoke with a Telegram reporter.

“You should never give up and always be proud of where you came from,” Simpson said in that interview.

Simpson has not been able to travel to North Carolina much since the pandemic began. However, she did perform in May at a hot air balloon festival in Louisburg, Mills said.

With more years and more experience behind her, Simpson is poised to do well in the final round of “America’s Got Talent.” Mills said the past few weeks have been interesting, watching from afar as Simpson performs at the event in California, the state she now calls home.

“It has been a roller coaster ride,” Mill said. “We have been in contact with her almost daily, usually though texts — she needs to rest her voice between practices and performances.”

Mills and his family will not be able to attend the final performance in person, though they will be there in spirit.

“Because of the pandemic, the studio is not letting in as many family members as they did in the past,” Mills said.

However, Mills is participating in a Facebook Live event that will be taking place on Brooke Simpson’s Facebook page.

Mills is urging local residents, family, friends and fans to support Simpson during the final competition by voting for her. People can cast their votes in two ways: by downloading the “America’s Got Talent” App or by logging into https://agt.vote.nbc.com. Voters are allowed to cast up to 10 votes by each method, Mills said.

Voting begins during the competition Tuesday and ends at 7 a.m. Wednesday. The results of the voting will be shown on Wednesday night’s show.

“At this point, regardless of how well the competitors perform, the decision really boils down to the vote,” Mills said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a North Carolina girl win?”

Teen organizes march to promote unity

Sixteen-year-old Kyliak Brockington of Rocky Mount wanted a “mandate for unity.”

To jumpstart his initiative, he organized the 252 Black Liberation March on Saturday from the Douglass block to Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

“We need to stay united with each other and make sure that nothing can tear us apart,” Brockington said. “We can’t be seen hating on each other, turning on each other. We’re better together.”

Local activist Cooper Blackwell told the crowd “the Black Lives Matter movement starts in the streets.”

“We as a community have to penetrate the system in order to beat it,” he said. “One way we can do that is to unite. Black people are power. We need to bring the trauma, the hurt, the pain out in the open and try to find ways to heal. I’m not here today to talk about solutions to what is happening in the Black community, I’m here to get you to rally around our cause.”

Blackwell singled out state Senate Bill 473, which was introduced in response to the Office of State Auditor Beth Wood’s May 15, 2020, report about a probe of the City of Rocky Mount.

“As a people, we have to be aware of what our government is doing and the decisions they are making that directly affect our people,” he said. “This bill is essentially saying that corruption in City Hall is the result of the actions of Black leaders. Senate Bill 473 is going to stop Black progress in Rocky Mount. As a result of having strong Black leadership, the powers that be are taking big steps to stunt our growth. The bill threatens to charge Black leadership with felonies and fines for small mistakes and oversights.”

Senate Bill 473 was introduced by state Sen. Lisa Stone Barnes, R-Nash, who said of the bill that “when local elected officials receive special treatment because of their likely position, or they fail to follow proper procedures and established policies, and this often results in waste of taxpayer resources and also (erodes) the public’s trust.”

The bill would allow local governments to garnish the compensation of officials who owe money and make it a felony for elected officials to financially benefit from their positions.

Speaker Jaquez Murphy told the crowd that as someone who works in youth services, he’s “aware of how policies and procedures in education are set up for people of color to fail.”

“The central office and board of education is currently trying to close three schools in our community because they do not want our children to be successful. They only want to do what’s best for children that look like them,” he said. “We need to let these decision-makers know that our children are just as important as theirs.”

Mother, boyfriend charged in infant's death

A woman and her boyfriend are charged with committing criminal offenses, including manslaughter, in connection with one of her children dying after that child and her other child accidentally ingested an opioid at a residence at an apartment complex in Nashville, the town’s police chief said.

The woman, Jorese Howard, 24, of 220 Richardson Court, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and possession with the intent to sell and deliver a controlled substance, Chief Anthony Puckett said Monday in a news release.

The boyfriend, Kameron Harris-Brooks, 25 and who listed a Charlotte address, is charged with the same offenses, Puckett said.

Generally, involuntary manslaughter is the killing of another person by recklessness or negligence.

Howard and Harris-Brooks also are charged with child endangerment, Puckett said.

Puckett said Nashville police officers at approximately 9:36 p.m. on Sept. 6 responded to 220 Richardson Court and assisted Nashville firefighters and Nash County Emergency Medical Services personnel, who were performing life-saving measures on a 1-year-old child and a 4-year-old child.

Richardson Court is in the southeastern part of Nashville.

The two children were transported to Nash UNC Health Care before being transported to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, Puckett said.

The 1-year-old child died on Thursday and the 4-year-old is in stable condition, Puckett said.

The Nash County Department of Social Services was notified earlier in the case and assisted in an investigation, Puckett said.

The probe revealed oxycodone had been on the bed in the residence and within reach of both children, Puckett said.

Oxycodone is used to relieve pain severe enough to require opioid treatment and when other pain medicines did not work well enough or cannot be tolerated.

However, oxycodone, when used for a long time, may become habit-forming and cause mental or physical dependence.

Nash County Sheriff’s Office records online said Harris-Brooks is in custody at the Nash County Detention Center under a $225,000 secured bond on the drug charge and a $35,000 secured bond on the manslaughter charge.

Puckett in the news release on Monday said Howard was jailed in the Nash County Detention Center under a $50,000 secured bond, but the sheriff’s office’s records online do not show her in custody.

Puckett on Monday told the Telegram via email that there are no other suspects in the case.

State Public Safety records online said Harris-Brooks was convicted in 2015 in Wilson County for felony breaking and entering and conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon.

The records online also said Harris-Brooks was convicted in 2014, also in Wilson County, for felony breaking and entering.

Statewide judicial system records online also show Harris-Brooks presently is charged in Nash County and in Wilson County with felony larceny of a firearm and in Wilson County with possession of a firearm by a felon.

Drug dealer sentenced to over 12 years in federal prison


A Nash County man was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in federal prison, both for committing a drug offense in 2019 and for committing a crime while under federal supervised release after having served a reduced sentence for a previous drug offense, U.S. District Court records said.

Costa Pender, 39, appeared on Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan in New Bern and received Flanagan’s decision.

Flanagan ordered Pender to spend 114 months in prison for conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute crack cocaine and cocaine in October 2019.

Pender also was sentenced to 114 months for distributing a quantity of crack cocaine in June 2019, with that sentence to run concurrently, that is, alongside the first sentence.

Flanagan also ordered Pender to pay a $200 special assessment and to serve five years under supervised release once he completes his sentence.

Additionally on Wednesday, Flanagan revoked Pender’s supervised release status in connection with the previous drug case against him.

And Flanagan on Wednesday ordered Pender to spend 37 months in prison in connection with that previous case, with the sentence to run consecutively to, that is in addition to, the 114 month-long sentence resulting from the 2019 case against him.

In that previous case, Flanagan in February 2013 sentenced Pender to 131 months for conspiracy to distribute and with the intent to distribute nearly 9.9 ounces or more of crack cocaine and a quantity of cocaine.

And Flanagan in that previous case ordered Pender to be placed under five years of supervised release once he completed his sentence.

U.S. District Court records online said that in May 2015 Pender’s 131-month sentence was reduced to 99 months and that in December 2015 his sentence was reduced to 80 months.

Word of Pender being sentenced on Wednesday to a total of more than 12 years came in a news release on Friday from Nash County Chief Deputy Brandon Medina.

Medina said in the news release that the 2019 drug charges against Pender were in connection with a case led by the Nash County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Division and the Wilson Police Department.

State Public Safety records online also said Pender had a prior record in Wilson County.

The records online said Pender was convicted in the following years in Wilson County for the following offenses:

  • In 2010 for possessing illegal drugs and maintaining a place for the purpose of a controlled substance.
  • In 2007 for receiving/possessing a firearm, possessing with the intent to sell illegal drugs and possessing illegal drugs.
  • In 2006 for maintaining a place for the purpose of a controlled substance and use/possession of drug paraphernalia.

Pender had listed an address in the 13000 block of Old Smithfield Road in the Bailey area, Medina said.