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Cyber celebrity: Pitt County native to appear on 'Roadtrip Nation'

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Antwan King, a Greenville native pursuing a degree in cyber security at University of Maryland University College went on a cyber security roadtrip. King's experience will be featured on a one hour special that will air on PBS.

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Sharieka Botex
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Greenville native who grew up seeing a limited future will be featured on a television show where he traveled across the United States for a special about cyber security.

Antwan King, a graduate of North Pitt High School, will appear on “Roadtrip Nation,” a PBS series focusing on cyber security. The road trip started in New York on Nov. 20 and ended on Dec. 19 in Washington. The one-hour special is expected to air this summer.

King said he traveled in an RV with producers, a cameraman and other cast members. There were three stops in California with each featuring interviews with different figures in the cyber security community.

“The first week is kind of overwhelming, crowded, no personal space,” King said in a telephone interview. “As the days go on, (you) become a family, learning from each other ... pick each other’s brains, wake up and just adjust with it. (You’re) forced to stay in this space, deal with every fear and doubt. The difference is I had two other people with the same issues, (it) made me get out of my comfort zone.”

There were few comfort zones for King during his childhood, he said.

“As a child I remember I couldn’t walk to the store, because of the crime and stuff,” he said. “Some days you would hear gunshots. You couldn’t play outside much and had to be watchful because of everything that was going on. Seeing family members and friends on drugs and visiting uncles and aunts in jail was like a weekend trip.”

While at North Pitt, King was unsure about his plans after graduation.

“If you weren’t in the top percentage of the class, nobody sat down and talked to you about doing anything else,” he said.

Crime-ridden neighborhoods and the absence of an extra push to pursue higher education didn’t stop King. Instead, he looked to positive role models that included his mother, Lynette Laughinghouse, grandfather, Emmanuel Laughinghouse, and godparents.

“I knew you had to work,” King said. “I knew they worked because they had to work for a family.”

King, now 32, graduated from Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., and is pursuing a master’s degree in cyber security. He said he always was fascinated by the field, but after having his financial cards and personal information compromised a few times, he delved into it more seriously.

For King, a career in cyber security is like serving as law enforcement for the internet. He said he has encountered challenges along the way as a black man in a field dominated by white males and because he is viewed as too old, even at 32.

Working to establish himself in the field, King submitted an application for “Roadtrip Nation,” a series focusing on cyber security. He was required to send in a video answering questions about what would make him a good asset and found out in September that he was selected for the show. 

Alex Gomez, director for “Roadtrip Nation,” said after talking to King, he realized he would be a perfect fit. Gomez said producers realized that one of the biggest demographics of people entering the cyber security field were individuals like King transitioning from a different career.

“This is something we look for in every series,” Gomez said. “We look for people that want to take the road trip, that will benefit and appreciate it. He was open and vulnerable about the struggles he was facing.” 

Bree Pitluk, program manager for “Road Trip Nation,” said the 15-year-old show partnered with the University of Maryland University College for the show that sends people on road trips to interview people who are leading their lives in a unique way.

The interviews are placed in archives that are used by students in high schools across the United States, Pitluk said. 

“Having cyber security represented in our archives was important because it’s such a growing industry,” Pitluk said. “That's how we linked up and made this whole initiative come to life.”

Prior to the trip, King worked full time in web applications and part time at UPS.  Between school, the two jobs and balancing life, he said he would occasionally sleep in the car. The road trip was a chance to network and build a name for himself.  

“I had a lot more wisdom and knowledge. ... I was looking for a mentor, but I was actually the mentor as well,” King said.

King said as the oldest person on the tour bus, part of his story line was trying to break into the field at his age. 

A  Dec. 1 stop in Washington featured an interview with one of King’s role models, Michael Echols, director of the Cyber Joint Program Management Office.

King said he met Echols at his home and while talking with him, he learned that they faced some of the same obstacles.

Meeting Echols provided King a chance to build a relationship in the industry. King said the experience was like being a kid on Christmas who gets the gift he always wanted. 

“I learned from a lot of the leaders ... especially being a black male you are going to have to work 10 times harder. (When) I’m told no, I like to go back to the same company. I learned to find your own path; this company might not be it for you. Sometimes we might have to stop kicking in the same door, find another way around, find a window and find your path.” 

King said the trip was a life-changing experience and a dream come true. The tour stops featured cyber security activities where King said he and castmates did things like hack into webcams to focus on the need for protection.

“I want to change the way people protect their everyday life because people don’t protect themselves,” King said. “It’s crazy how a stranger can send you an e-mail or a call. ... (If a) stranger asks the same questions we turn them down.”

King said he built a rapport with other cast members. Following the show, King said he plans to continue working on obtaining his degree and pursuing a career in cyber digital forensics.

He also wants to start a mentoring program geared toward black males to help expose them to different paths. 

The career choice has empowered King in some ways. “Growing up when you're in an environment and so much is going on, you can’t do anything about it,” he said. “I feel like I can do something about it now.”

Contact Sharieka Botex at 252-329-9567 and sbotex@reflector.com. Follow her on Twitter @ShariekaB. 

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