Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
I grew up right here in the region. I am Native American, enrolled with the Lumbee Tribe here.
At 18, I moved away from Robeson County to pursue education. Much of my work within the community is with the Thomas Center Hub at University of North Carolina (UNC) Pembroke. The Hub provides opportunities for up-and-coming entrepreneurs and small businesses across the region at no cost. We’re making significant strides in the community, and we want to continue moving forward because there is still so much work to do in this rural county.
What are the significant needs in your community, and how are organizations and individuals working to meet those needs?
Growing up in this community, I know every little crossroad. I know the people, and I’ve seen disparities and inequities firsthand. The work that we are doing here at the Thomas Center Hub at UNC Pembroke is around education and infrastructure—building out new businesses where folks can stand alone to make a living and develop economically by creating new jobs and new opportunities.
We’ve just recently started some development work on a local CDFI, Community Development Financial Institution. It will be a great asset to have in the community to help us grow out businesses.
Why is this work personally important to you?
I knew that when I moved away, I would come back and do this work. Coming back into the community with my education, I still see many disparities and inequities that I did growing up. I want to use my knowledge and life experiences to help people in my community overcome challenges, gain access to education, build their businesses, and create jobs within this community.
What obstacles have you faced while getting the work established? What did you do to overcome them?
Most folks, especially the minority folks, don’t have a lot of collateral as they come in. They don’t have a lot of money or education, which continues to haunt folks in rural areas.
Because of a lack of trust, I must meet some people on their terms. Many folks don’t want to come into the office because they consider this office a place where they’re not supposed to be, but it is. It’s a community office. It’s sometimes challenging to get folks to understand that we want to work with them and support them.
When thinking about your work, what gives you hope?
Seeing more people come through the Hub to work on their business plans gives me hope. Community members are being equipped with the tools to create their own businesses. That’s more folks with the same opportunities, which will change the trajectory of our community. We’re hoping this access to education and business resources will resolve some of those inequities that transpired from one generation to the next, building forward instead of backward.