Five Questions on Leadership, Health, and Equity with Rockingham County’s Merald Holloway

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’m a native of Rockingham County living as a partner/father/brother/son and dedicated advocate for economic empowerment and social justice within and across multiple communities and business sectors. One might say I’ve been a “grown-up” now for about 25 years, holding senior management roles in retail operations, staff development, nonprofit management, community development, and diversity and inclusion practices. Included in those experiences was 10 years leading projects and operational work with a national and mission-oriented community development financial institution. That work, among a few other things, inspired me to create and hold space in rural communities like the one I grew up in. I believe and support the fact 100 percent of our communities should have access to all resources available that support, create, and protect wealth and healthy outcomes.

Why is it important to invest in community leaders?

It’s critically important institutions and systems make authentic investments in community leaders and leadership development – especially in communities that find themselves marginalized based on things they can’t control. This is one tangible way to help create and support sustainable and resilient environments that thrive. The process takes time and trust. I’ve witnessed several well-meaning, compassionate organizations walk into a community, assess what they believe the shortcomings and struggles of that community are without taking time to build trust and strong, non-traditional leaders.

How have past and current health improvement efforts in your community affected your ability to respond to current crises?

I’m impressed with the way people and agencies in Rockingham County have come together to support folks in need and ensure those who are in good situations remain that way. I am happy to serve on the board of directors for the Rockingham Partnership for Children, where I have witnessed several initiatives to educate our leaders and other residents on how adverse childhood experiences negatively impact health outcomes. I personally feel that framing helped prepare the collaborative nature we have seen from local nonprofits, health agencies, and government in response to the coronavirus pandemic. For NC 100, it was easy to identify the right partners and gain entry to resources and information to share with our folks.

How does your work give power to voices that have not traditionally had power?

In addition to helping build capacity for other small organizations like ourselves, we rely on strategic relationships with mainstream organizations and institutions inside and outside of Rockingham County, as well as those in proximity to power. In partnership with the marginalized, we work to organize and clarify what work is most important to a group and help move it forward, while helping the powers that be understand and confront unknown or unseen barriers to access for the historically underserved and underutilized. Now more than ever, the safeguarding of our environments cannot be divorced from ensuring justice for the under connected and finding better answers to the structural problems of our most trusted public systems.

How has equity played a role in your work and contributed to the success in your community?

I’d argue our organizational commitment to doing the work it takes to be self-aware of biases and assumptions we personally bring into our work and learning how to check them has led to some success, as well as the ability to speak comfortably about inequity no matter the audience. Being a bridge to information or tools needed to discuss equity in a way that is candid, safe, and respectful of other viewpoints and life experiences allows us to do the work we have been called to do. We ask our partners to envision a reality where our residents in community are no more or less likely to experience society’s benefits or burdens based on genetics or zip code.