Equity, Inclusion and Hope in Southeastern NC: Jessica Lowery Clark

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.

I have 21 years of nonprofit experience.  I have been at Robeson County Partnership for Children for 13 years as the executive director. The partnership is a private, nonprofit agency. We oversee Smart Start and North Carolina Pre-K in Robeson County. We also have the only children’s museum in Robeson County, Exploration Station.

What are the significant needs in your community, and how are organizations and individuals working to meet those needs? 

Poverty is the highest need that comes to mind that negatively affects our community. We are working to build up resiliency in our community among families. This is a target area because we know years of systemic racism and poverty brings toxic stress, which can later lead to significant needs in our community, such as high unemployment, homelessness, unplanned pregnancies—the list is endless.

We work to combat poverty in many ways. The pre-k program is free to eligible four-year-old children. We are also working to promote higher wages for childcare providers. In the Exploration Station, we offer scholarships for families to attend the museum at no cost.

Why is this work personally important to you?

This is the work I was born to do. I’ve always known I wanted to help others. It is a gift my parents and grandparents taught me at a young age. My family always helped others, and I often tagged along and helped as well. As a result, I’ve seen families get support and build a better life for their children. I plan to spend the rest of my life serving people in the most need because I know making a difference is worth all the effort.

What obstacles have you faced while getting the work established? What did you do to overcome them? 

The obstacles are as endless as the significant needs. I treat obstacles the same – I don’t give up. Persistence is my superpower. I know from experience that if I keep working on an obstacle eventually, I will start to overcome it. One example was the obstacle of ending corporal punishment in the public schools in Robeson County. This bothered me from the day I relocated back to this community and learned this was still a common practice, particularly in American Indian populations. I partnered with others, and we successfully ended corporal punishment in public schools in Robeson County. It took about 18 months of continued advocacy, but we didn’t give up, and it paid off. It was not a popular obstacle to tackle, but it was important.

When thinking about your work, what gives you hope?

I know there is good in this world. I know I am not the only one who has dedicated my career to improving others’ lives. Knowing that every day is an opportunity to help families rise out of poverty and make better choices gives me hope.