‘Unsung’ change agents honored

From left: Marcia Espinola, Raymond Payne, Chris Mumma
From left: Marcia Espinola, Raymond Payne, Chris Mumma

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A homeless advocate in High Point who formerly was homeless, a Chilean woman in Siler City who promotes race relations in that racially-mixed community, and a Durham lawyer who works to free innocent people from prison all have been honored for their quiet work efforts to make a difference in their communities.

Receiving the annual Nancy Susan Reynolds Awards for personal service, race relations and advocacy, respectively, were Raymond Payne of High Point, Marcia Espinola of Siler City and Chris Mumma of Durham.

The annual awards, presented for the 24th year by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, recognize “unsung people who are making an extraordinary difference in the lives of North Carolinians,” the foundation says.

Each winner receives $5,000 to use as he or she chooses, and also designates a nonprofit to receive another $20,000.

Payne, who once was homeless, works seven days a week, and often at night, going to homeless camps, abandoned houses and underneath bridges to give supplies and encouragement to people who are homeless.

Working through Open Door Ministries, he also manages a program known as Housing First, that serves 16 chronically-homeless people now living in apartments who get “wrap-around” services to help them get back on their feet and become self-sufficient.

Espinola, who moved to Siler City from her native Chile about 10 years ago, has championed better understanding and acceptance among Latinos, African Americans and whites living in the ethnically-mixed Chatham County community, where Latinos represent roughly half the local population and the other half split about evenly between African Americans and whites.

Espinola, arriving at a time of heightened ethnic tension, initially worked to ease the fears of Latinos and has focused on helping them understand local laws, regulations and customs.

Mumma, a former corporate executive, heads the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, which provides pro-bono advocacy for incarcerated people she believes are innocent.

She helped spur creation of a study commission on actual innocence that she directed and also works through her nonprofit to push for procedural reforms to keep innocent people out of prison and educate law students and other groups involved in the justice system.

“These remarkable people represent what is best about North Carolina,” Dr. Lloyd P. “Jock” Tate of Southern Pines, president of the Reynolds Foundation, says in a statement. “In every case, there are courageous. Their work is not easy, nor are their causes necessarily popular. And yet they labor long hours to do what they believe is right.”

At a ceremony in Asheville that attracted over 200 people, each award-winner also received a bronze sculpture of Nancy Susan Reynolds.

A philanthropist who died in 1985, she was the daughter of Katharine Smith and R.J. Reynolds and a founder of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

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