This week, EdNC will be in Edgecombe County for our second iteration of public policy bootcamp — a project that I have had the privilege of working on this summer. It’s a special project for me, as it has brought me back to the community I have lived and taught in for the last years as part of Teach for America.
Edgecombe is important to me because it was my first home in North Carolina.
It is where I had my first job out of college. It is where I grew tremendously — both personally and professionally.
It is where I met some of the most incredible people who taught me the importance of community. From the staff of administrators and teachers at my school to the congregation of the church I attended to the families of the students I taught, I learned what strength and commitment look like.
When I first found out I was going to be teaching in Eastern North Carolina, the Northerner in me was ecstatic about living on the beach for two years. I didn’t know the difference between different styles of barbecue, but I quickly learned that Eastern North Carolina style barbecue was my favorite. I knew next to nothing of the great disparities between urban and rural North Carolina. I understood very little of the systemic disparities that people of color and the economically disadvantaged continue to face across institutions ranging from education to healthcare.
According to the 2016 Roadmap of Need, Edgecombe County ranks 99th out of the 100 North Carolina counties, meaning that it has the second-highest need when factors in health, youth behavior & safety, education, and economic development are averaged.
Edgecombe County has the lowest 3rd grade reading proficiency ranking at 32.2 percent of 3rd graders reading at grade level. I also learned that despite the statistics there are some amazing teachers and elementary school principals working in our public schools to improve the future of all of our children. Throughout my two years I saw the beginning of a turnaround that I believe will continue.
Edgecombe County has an alarmingly high teen pregnancy rate at 71.7 teen pregnancies per 1,000 females age 15-19. Yet there is an incredibly strong presence of faith and family based organizations across Edgecombe, working alongside plenty of mentoring groups aimed at empowering young women to reverse this trend.
Edgecombe County has the third-highest unemployment rate in the state, but it also sits equidistant from Rocky Mount and Greenville, two towns with recovering economies, and Tarboro is showing signs of revitalization.
My belief is that that the data does not do Edgecombe County justice given the energy focused around their turnaround. If you were to look at the data in the Roadmap of Need, without ever visiting Edgecombe County, you might assume that this county is desperate for leadership, but I have met some of the most dynamic leaders I could ever hope to meet who are either from Edgecombe County, or have made Edgecombe their home, and I believe that the recipe is right for a comeback.
Reverend Richard Joyner of the Conetoe Family Life Center is one of those dynamic leaders. He is a CNN Hero, and a hero to countless children and families that he has worked with. He has established a learning farm that has embodied the notion of seed-to-supper, and he has inspired many families to start eating healthier inside and outside of his congregation.
Superintendent John Farrelly has made tremendous things happen within the school district. He has drastically reduced the number of initiatives that the schools are a part of, reducing the strain on the schools, and empowering change to happen from the ground up. Schools and communities are in charge of setting their priorities. I have had the privilege of working for, and with, a number of the inspirational school administrators in Edgecombe County, and I believe that they and their students are destined for great outcomes.
There are so many dedicated, hardworking, passionate individuals in Edgecombe County that are working to make change happen.
Once all of these passionate individuals are able to join together for a common cause — highlighting the true “can do” spirit of Edgecombe County — outcomes will follow.
That is why I am excited to bring EdNC’s publi policy bootcamp to Edgecombe. I am eager to hear what our students have to say about the community issues and strengths they see — and how we can use our strengths to join together and create a brighter future for each resident of the county that I grew to love.