Rolonda Watts: Famous Winston-Salemites

Winston-Salem is one of the greatest small cities in the world. Famous Winston-Salemites will feature some accomplished people that lived in Winston-Salem and now have moved on to do great things. All of the questions will be about their time in the Twin City.
Famous Winston-Salemite, Rolonda Watts, has many hats to fill as a novelist, motivational speaker, voice over artist, and radio and television talk show host. She grew up in Winston, where both of her parents worked in academics at Wake Forest (her mom) and Winston-Salem State (her dad).
Rolonda’s mom, Dr. Velma Gibson Watts, was an associate dean, and her dad was chairman of WSSU’s Fine Arts Department. She went to undergrad at Spelman in Atlanta and then to Columbia for a master’s degree in Journalism. She also holds an honorary doctorate from WSSU. After spending time as a reporter at WFMY in the Triad and WNBC in New York, she began her acting and correspondent career.
After working for Inside Edition, she had her own talk show, Rolonda, from 1994-1997. She then moved to California and began her acting career. She has done voice over for shows like The Penguins of Madagascar and Curious George. She spent time as the on-camera announcer for Judge Joe Brown and Divorce Court. She has also starred in several movies, including, Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Tough Love, and several television shows like The West Wing, 7th Heaven, JAG, and Day’s of Our Lives.
This past March, Rolonda released her first novel, Destiny Lingers. Dr. Maya Angelou said, “I fell for this story and the characters novelist Rolonda Watts introduced.” Rolonda currently lives in Los Angeles. Read her answers to questions about her favorite things about Winston-Salem below:
Winston-Salem Questions:
When all have you lived in Winston-Salem? When did your family come here?
My parents came to Winston-Salem as a young couple back in the 1950’s, each seeking teaching careers. in 1959, I was born in Katie B hospital, which was then, during segregation, the Black hospital. My parents bought our first house after I came along. It was a starter house in a new community on Caledonia Drive. Then we bought a larger home on East 5th Street, before moving to Woodberry Forest when I was 11. I left for Spelman College at 17 (1977) and have spent many years coming back for holidays at my Auntie Maya Angelou’s home.
Do you still have family in the area?
My mother, Dr. Velma Gibson Watts, is still in W-S.
How long was your dad at WSSU and your mom at Wake Forest?
My Father, Roland Smith Watts, a well-acclaimed wood cutter and graphic artist, served as Chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Winston Salem State University for about 34 years. He donated his artwork to the university’s archives, which today can be enjoyed on campus in the Diggs Library. My mother was at Wake Forest University for about as much time as an Associate Dean of the medical school. She has an endowment there in her name.
What different schools did you go to in Winston-Salem?
I attended Centenary Kindergarten, the first Black child there, thus helping integrate the W-S school system back in the early 60’s. From there, I attended Brunson Elementary, then Wiley Junior High, before moving to private school, Salem Academy, a college-preparatory school for girls, founded in 1772.
Who were some of your favorite teachers at each school?
My favorite teacher at Brunson was Miss Suite, my fifth grade teacher, who never spoke down to us and encouraged our curiosity and sometimes our very over the wall questions about the birds and the bees! At Salem Academy, Mrs. Jean Burroughs, who is still to this day like a mom to me. She inspired the performing artist in me and applauded my daring spirit. She recognized my drive and her belief in me was like gas to my engine. I feel so blessed to still have her in my life, still supporting me and cheering me on to this day.
Where all did you have jobs in Winston-Salem?
I worked in a pre-school toy supply factory. I was a camp counselor at Sherwood Forest Day Camp. I was a store clerk at The Limited at Hanes Mall. I was also a baby sitter. I had internships with the W-S Police Department and the W-S Journal.
What are your top three favorite local Winston-Salem restaurants of all-time?
I love The Village Tavern and have to go there every time I’m back in town, before or after my traditional shopping trip to Monkee’s! Sweet Potatoes and Bone Fish are two other favorites. (Does Krispy Kreme count as a restaurant? LOL)
Are you married?
No husband — No kids. I have a dog and a cat and have been waiting around for Mr. Right for so long — I have become the man I wanted to marry! LOL I’m currently performing a whole stand up comedy routine about it, performing my act at some of the most famous comedy clubs in Los Angeles – The World Famous Comedy Store, Flappers, and The Comedy Union. (I have a “Sexy Singles” show coming up on Valentine’s Day)
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 Krispy Kreme doughnuts?
HA! I love this question! Now, this is a really hard one for me! Hmmm. I’ll have to go with the Moravian sugar cake – it’s like nothing else and all that gooey goodness gloriously celebrates our Old Salem heritage. Reminds me of Easter Sundays and riding my bike up Reynolda Road to get a bag sugar cake from Dewey’s Bakery!
Do you have any siblings?
I have one younger brother, Brett, who lives in Florida.
What is your favorite North Carolina Beach?
Hands down – Topsail Beach — where my grandparents helped found Ocean City, the first Black beachfront resort area in NC. I grew up on Topsail, where I spent my summers, still vacation today, and where my new novel, Destiny Lingers, takes place.
Where is your favorite place in the mountains in North Carolina?
My favorite place in the mountains is Boone, where I learned to ski on Beech Mountain and hike. I also have some wonderful pieces of pottery from the area. I love the Native American spirit there and the arts and crafts. Apple-pickin’ in the Fall is fun too!
When did Destiny Lingers come out?
My first book, a contemporary romance novel called Destiny Lingers, came out in March and can be found at Barnes and Noble, as well as Amazon and Kindle. Endorsed by Dr. Maya Angelou, it is an interracial love story about an investigative news reporter in NYC who uncovers her husband’s affair and flees to Topsail Island to get her head together and while there meets the handsome police chief who she soon discovers was the boy she loved in childhood, but couldn’t be with because of segregation. Time moves on – but destiny lingers and the two star-crossed lovers have a second chance at first love. The laws that kept them apart could never separate their love.

Laurel Holloman-Notable North Carolinian

Writing about famous Winston-Salemites and local difference makers has been a great experience. Now I am ready to expand the blog to the great state of North Carolina to talk to some North Carolinians who have gone on to do extraordinary things. Notable North Carolinians will focus on these individuals favorite parts of the Tar Heel State.


Laurel Holloman (website) grew up in Greenville, NC and attended school in Raleigh and Chapel Hill, before going on to become a very successful actress and artist. Her most notable roles include a six-year stint starring with Jennifer Beals on Showtime’s The L Word and in the hit movie, Boogie Nights.

Holloman went to St. Peter’s Catholic School in Greenville, and then to EB Aycock for middle school, and Rose for high school for a year. She finished high school at St. Mary’s boarding school to in Raleigh. “I liked boarding school and wanted to go even though it was a tougher school,” said Holloman. “I thrived there and it made college seem easier.”



She went on to study at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she took an improv class during her freshman year. She took summer school at UCLA, and through those two classes she realized she wanted to pursue acting.

She also got into art during her time at UNC. “I took a sculpture class and made an A and the art teacher said, ‘you really think out of the box,’ maybe consider switching your major,” said Holloman. She was very focused on acting, and art was more on the back burner.


Holloman started painting more when she moved to California.  She painted to keep herself “sane” when she wasn’t acting.  “Painting made me feel more in control,” said Holloman. “Acting is all about getting hired to be creative and painting is basically having complete control of your creativity everyday.”

She has starred in several additional shows and movies (full list), and her art is now featured all over the world. She is known for her “vibrant use of color and large scale pieces,” which often capture “stirring emotions with movement in three dimensional effect.” She has an upcoming exhibit at the Museum Jan van der Togt coming this summer.


Holloman currently lives in Los Angeles with her two daughters, Nala and Lola. Below she answers questions about her favorite things about North Carolina:

North Carolina Questions:

Do you still have family in NC? 
Yes, both my parents and my two brothers and many cousins!!

Do your two children get to visit North Carolina very often? 
About once a year.  I love the beaches there and I love Asheville, NC.  It is a really great state.

Do you prefer Eastern NC barbecue or Western NC barbecue? 


Do you have a favorite museum in North Carolina?
Yes, the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.

What is your favorite beach of North Carolina?
Cape Hatteras because it is so natural still and untouched. I have gone every summer as a child and I  really love Ocracoke Island (I have camped there), and Beaufort. Oriental is another favorite, which is really sleepy, but fun.  I took my kids to Oriental last summer and they loved it. We went fishing and wake boarding. We caught a puppy drum and a local restaurant cooked it for us. We caught a Red Drum but he was huge so we put him back.


What about a favorite place in the mountains of NC? 
I love Asheville for the friendly people and the food. One of my  best friends just got married there.

What are your top three all-time restaurants in North Carolina?
Crooks Corner in Chapel  Hill  (I was a waitress there in college!!).  Fearrington House is another favorite for something special.  My dad loves ON THE SQUARE in Tarboro, NC and is a regular there, where he drives over from Greenville and it is really a special place for wine and food. I also like any oyster bar anywhere!! I love oysters and  grew up eating them because we had a second home on the Pamlico Sound and it had an oyster bed. Most people don’t know that they are a really healthy and a nutrient dense food.  I love Parker’s BBQ. Okay, I have to stop!


What do you miss most about living in North Carolina?
I miss the friendly people and how time slows down a bit. I love the beaches in the summer because the Pacific in California is so cold to me, and I miss the Atlantic Ocean. I also had a horse there, so I miss riding through the woods on a cold day!
I would say I miss North Carolina more than than ever now that I am raising kids. I remember wanting so badly in college to get out and get to NY or LA, but now that I live a very busy urban life, I appreciate what my North Carolina childhood offered. It offered me such an appreciation of nature and also the appreciation of family. My dad worked in apparel (and real estate investments), and he had summers off so we spent time at our house on the Pamlico Sound. We were free to run around and catch snakes, catch crabs from a crab pot, go skiing or tubing, and play with all with any of the kids nearby. There was no such thing as a scheduled play-date, we just walked over and played with nearby kids.
We all learned to drive cars or trucks on country roads at an early age. My brothers  and I could drive the two boats we had once we were old enough.  We also mostly ate what we caught. If we were in Greenville, we were at my brothers baseball games…… always  as a family.
As I got older, the summers were filled with horse shows. I showed North Carolina Hunter Jumper and Eastern Hunter Association.   My mom learned how to pull a double horse trailer for all of this.
This is what I miss the most as I raise kids that sit in LA traffic and have phones and iPads and scheduled play-dates and sleepovers.  I live near the beach in Los Angeles now, and I am very lucky in that regard, but I still live in a very large city. I miss the small town feeling  the most, and the friendly people that come with it.

Do you have a favorite concert you saw growing up in North Carolina? 
I dated a musician all through college so there were a lot! He took me to Neil Young, and I remember seeing Joe Satriani at the Rialto in Raleigh. I basically watched The Connells and Superchunk on a regular bases because most of the bands knew each other.  Frank, my college sweetheart played in Mary on the Dash. Chapel Hill was a big music scene at the time and full of lots of creative people. It was a fun time. I also went to  see Echo and the  Bunnymen at Duke and remember that being a really great concert. I think I wrote a paper on “The Killing Moon,” one of their songs. I really loved Chapel Hill and the  professors  I had. I credit that time in my life as a big creative exploration.

If you could only have one for the rest of your life, which would you prefer: a Bojangles biscuit or a Krispy Kreme doughnut? 
I’m a savory girl, so a Bojangles biscuit with ham.


What about sweet NC iced tea or Cheerwine? 
I’m addicted to iced tea, but I don’t like it sweet. I think I did when I was about nine though.

Did you grow up a UNC fan? Who are your favorite UNC athletes of all time? 
Yes I did!!! I would say Michael Jordan and of course Mia Hamm for soccer. They are examples of amazing athletes.

Laura Lashley: Local Winston-Salem Difference Makers

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. 

I knew Laura Lashley was a great person when I visited her studio in Downtown Winston, and she was working with an autistic artist, Jonathan Lindsay (30), who Lashley works with four hours a week. His parents were in his studio, and we realized that we had a lot in common, including that my mom was Jonathan’s speech teacher at Jefferson Elementary.

Laura working with Jonathan

Lashley’s art can be seen all over our great city. She has murals on Trade St. and at ARTivity on the Green. You can also pick up her colorful work at Design Archives on Fourth Street. It will be available at Kleur, which is between Trade and Liberty Street, and at Hoots Flea Market starting this May.

Lashley grew up in Davidson County, but her family had a Winston-Salem address. After going to college at UNC-Charlotte, she lived in Austin, TX, but was homesick for North Carolina. She officially moved back to Winston in 1997. She is engaged to Spencer Pickle, and they will be married soon. They live with their dog (Early) and two cats (GG and Samba).


Read Lashley’s unique answers below to find out why Winston-Salem is so special to Lashley:

Winston-Salem Questions:

Where is your studio? 
I share a studio with 13 other artists at 709 Patterson Ave.  We are the Electric Pyramid Studios. The building was originally a funeral home then became Pyramid Barber College.
In 2015 I painted lots of large paintings on buildings and walls downtown.  This year I have been working more in the studio and have very recently started working with a couple of students I used to have at the Enrichment Center. My dream is to open a gallery where I can feature the work of so many artists I know. They are adults with disabilities, but I don’t want that to be the focus because the artwork is so great no matter what!

Could you ever imagine leaving Winston-Salem and if so, where would you go? 
I love being so close to my parents and Spencer’s mom here in Winston (I can walk to my mom’s house). Spencer and I watch lots of travel shows on PBS and daydream of leaving the country one day. Sweden might be the top of the list. I also joke about living in Siberia and having pet foxes.More realistically- but still a fantasy right now- would be having a bit of land in NC or VA where we could have a small farm and artist’s retreat. Ideally we would have a little lake or pond (or be near a stream) and have lots of little renovated shipping container homes and a central lodge where people could come together for meals.


Which Winston-Salem neighborhoods have you lived in? 
I lived on Spring St.  when I moved here in ’97 and downtown was a ghost town. I had an apartment all to myself on the top floor.There was a gorgeous view from my windows and there was roof top access. I fell in love with downtown then! I lived on Madison Ave. in Ardmore after that and loved it there too. I got really into gardening at that house. I very briefly lived at the Werehouse (Krankies), before buying my sweet house on Devonshire St. in Sunnyside. It’s a tiny house built in 1923 that I absolutely love!


What different schools did you go to (both growing up and college)?
I went to North Davidson High School and UNC Charlotte.

Are there any local artists that have inspired you? Are there any famous artists?
There are lots of local artists: all of my Pyramid studio mates inspire me- especially Kat Lamp, Ian Dennis, Shawn Peters, and Andrew Fansler. I follow Woodie Anderson on Instagram and am always inspired by her. Some of the artists I want to feature in my gallery are Jonathan Lindsay, Ricky Needham, Adam LeFevre, and Raymond Mariani-all brilliant artists with their own unique style and vision. I have lots of Jody Ericson paintings in my house.She is from here but lives in Brooklyn now. I admire the work of Molly Grace Simpson too.
My current “famous” artist inspirations are Edna Andrade and Charley Harper. I have books of their work that I love to look through. Edna Andrade said, “I am concerned with geometric systems, ratio, color interaction, visual ambiguities, scale, archetypes. My ideas come from organic structures, crystallography, physics, gestalt psychology and from games, patterns, puzzles and sunsets at the end of Pine Street.”
I am in love with Charley Harpers style and admire his love and connection to the natural world.


What are some of your favorite changes that have happened in Winston as you have grown up?
It has been interesting to see Winston-Salem evolve. I love the evolution of Krankies. It’s fun to say, “back in the 90’s I saw naked fire dancers in the performance space.”  I love that they have food now and that they are doing so well. I have always loved the buildings that are now the Innovation Quarter. I love how they looked empty and abandoned and how they are now all shiny and new! I love a/perture and Camino Bakery and Mary’s Gourmet Diner. And Kleur! And the Art Park! I am a big fan of modern design so anything Stitch has it’s hands in makes me very happy. I CAN’T WAIT to see the quarry park!!!! I love all the bike lanes and Phuzzphest.

What are your top three Winston-Salem restaurants of all time?
Mary’s, Mooney’s, and Krankies.  There are SO MANY new places that I have heard great things about and hope to try one day.  (the honey pot is on the top of that list).


Are you more of a Hanes Mall or Thruway fan?
Not a fan of either!  I worked at Kinko’s in Thruway for about 8 years back in the day so I still have PTSD from that.

What is your favorite North Carolina Beach?
Hard question.  I have excellent memories of Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beaches but lately have also fallen in love with Nags Head and Ocracoke!

Where is your favorite place in the mountains in North Carolina? 
We love to take day trips to hike at Pilot Mountain, Hanging Rock, and Stone Mountain as much as possible.  My friend has a place in Boone that is magical also.

What was your favorite concert at the original Ziggy’s (Baity Street)?
The only concert I remember going to there was David Byrne-and it was amazing!