I first heard of Martin Eakes and Self- H elp in 2002 during a protracted tangle
with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina that ended with the
insurance company forsaking plans to convert to a for-profit corporation.
Some said Eakes’s stubborn insistence of conditions of the proposed con-
version under consideration by the state insurance department cost North
Carolina a health care endowment that could have been worth billions of
dollars. Others believed he was right to insist on the particulars of a deal to
make sure citizens weren’t cheated out of the tax breaks the nonprofit had
enjoyed for nearly seventy years.
That’s the way it is with Eakes. He puts every t hing on the line when he
goes into b attle. I began to see that more clearly nearly five years l ater, when
my daughter, Evan, who had gone to work at Self- H elp in 2003, invited me
to hear him speak one evening in Chapel Hill. For Eakes, there was nothing
special about what he had to say that night; it was a speech he had given many
times before. But Eakes has a way of turning the ordinary into the compelling.
Hearing, for the first time, his account of Self- H elp’s improbable rise from