I love the state of North Carolina deeply. I grew up in a family with deep roots to our state. Our family members have committed themselves to growing businesses and opportunity for North Carolinians through a variety of businesses. We believed that providing the opportunity for more North Carolinians to have a chance at life-sustaining employment was one of the most important activities we could undertake.
Over the past five years, we have centered the philanthropic efforts of the John M. Belk Endowment around a similar pursuit.
Dr. Robert Ross, president of the California Endowment, has dedicated his life to advocating for and improving children’s lives. A few years ago, I heard him deliver a stirring keynote address to the Grantmakers for Education conference, which resonated with me then and now. Dr. Ross dared us, “to lift consciousness out of a deep slumber and into the fight for social change.” How many of us, he wondered aloud, are willing to shake off all traces of complacency and truly jump into the fray? From that day forward, our team at the John M. Belk Endowment has asked ourselves frequently what it would take for us to move forward with intensity, commitment, and purpose.
We knew a key part of our equation would be to continue to partner with those doing vital work on the ground.
We knew that we must have bold, aspirational goals.
And, ultimately, we knew that we must invest in work focused on rebuilding the postsecondary education pipeline to lead our state to stronger economic vitality.
Our investments in an array of organizations over the last year — including the UNC System, NC State College of Education, myFutureNC Commission, and others doing important work — were designed to tackle the systemic and cultural barriers that impact postsecondary access and completion, while helping to align postsecondary institutions with employers, industries, and the economic needs of all the people in North Carolina.
We have invested in these organizations because we believe in their capacity to improve the quality of life for North Carolinians.
Great work, however, cannot exist in a vacuum.
We’ve had the privilege of traveling the state for the past several years. We’ve met incredible people doing valuable work in leadership roles across the educational continuum, students who literally walk to school so they do not miss a class while their car is in the shop, faculty and staff members of community colleges who perform heroic work to keep students engaged, and business leaders who are determined to turn the narrative of their town around.
As the miles racked up and we collected more stories, we began to consider how we might amplify their great work.
EdNC has become a must read for those who care about the children of North Carolina from birth to 18. Last fall, the EdNC and JMBE teams began to ask ourselves what it would look like to extend EdNC’s work to the postsecondary space — with a particular emphasis around our community colleges.
We hit the road together, visiting campuses, meeting leaders, asking hard questions, and engaging in a conversation around the future of our state.
We visited Sam Jones BBQ in Winterville and Hole Donuts in Asheville. We saw students play with robots at Isothermal Community College, met aspiring nurses at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, and I even went up in a bucket truck at Nash Community College while we discussed their strategies to produce more electrical linesman to meet industry needs.
The EdNC team went to even more campuses without us. They visited our friends at Martin Community College down east and Catawba Valley Community College in the Unifour region. They have participated in the myFutureNC listening sessions and administered surveys across the state to bring North Carolinians into the conversation around the future of our education system.
Along the way they shared stories on EdNC, via their newsletters, and on social media.
Our Board and staff decided to make a significant investment in their work not just because they go on the road, although they do, and not just because they tell vital stories, although they have, but because they have the opportunity to be a force multiplier for our state.
We believe EdNC has the ability to set the stage and create the opportunity for systemic, long-term change by raising the issues that matter, raising them again and again, and engaging on the issues in a back and forth dialogue with residents across North Carolina.
This work will matter to the future of North Carolinians, but it will matter a lot more if you engage in this work with us.