We spoke to community leaders in and around our Healthy Places NC counties to gather their thoughts on leadership development, capacity building, and the role of equity in their work during this critical time in our state and country.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
I was born in McDowell County, and I’ve always lived within town limits. I worked in manufacturing for 31 years until I decided to go a different direction. I began this work in 2018 when the Community Engagement Project came to Old Fort, and from there we formed the Old Fort Community Forum. We formed a working group called People on the Move for Old Fort to address the lack of Black community members participating in the forums. We hope to bring the Black communities together and provide a safe space for them to voice their opinions.
Why is it important to invest in community leaders?
When you invest in community leaders, you’re also investing into the community itself. These leaders play a crucial role in holding everything up and bringing the community together, especially during hard times such as what we’re going through currently. They help drive change while also giving the community a voice through which it can share ideas, advocate, and be heard on a larger scale.
How have past and current health improvement efforts in your community affected your ability to respond to current crises?
This was definitely a curveball no one saw coming. You have to gain the trust of some people in the community, and they might be a little untrusting when it comes to community work. As we continue our work during these times, it’s been helpful that we’ve already begun to establish that trust. The partnerships and relationships we’ve developed have also given us the capacity to help those in our community who are particularly vulnerable right now. For example, People on the Move worked with Heather Edwards from the Foothills Food Hub to hold a local food drive and address the rising need we’re seeing.
How does your work give power to voices that have not traditionally had power?
African Americans are 30 percent of the population of Old Fort, but we never really had a voice at the table. We’ve always been here, but we haven’t been seen. We formed the working group to give the Black community a voice and encourage them to take their place at the table here in Old Fort. The forum is an opportunity for these folks to share their opinions and be part of the change that needs to happen around here.
How has equity played a role in your work and contributed to the success in your community?
Equity has been an integral part of the work for sure. When we first started out, there were hardly any Black people attending the community forums. The purpose of the Old Fort Community Forum is to build relationships and connect community members with the resources they need among other things. We realized that to do these things in way that truly promotes equity, we needed to build trust and unity with the Black communities in Old Fort.