By now, most people know your personal story of trying to navigate the criminal justice and bail system and feeling so alone. You talk a lot about how that brought you into Down Home as a member and how that inspired your campaign to run for County Commissioner in the county you grew up in.
Can you explain a little bit about how you came to see electoral politics as an important addition to activism?
Before coming to Down Home I always was a voter. I voted due to feeling like it was my responsibility to honor my ancestors who fought for my own right to vote. However, I didn’t understand the positions I was voting on. I not only didn’t know the people I was voting for, I had no clue on their platforms or beliefs.
It was not until attending Down Home’s Team Democracy working groups as a member that I was able to understand the connection between the problems in our community and elected officials. After attending meetings, I realized that we could demonstrate, email, make social media rants all we wanted but real change would not come until we shift the powers that be. We must elect individuals who represent the community and feel beholden to the residents that they serve. For this reason, electoral politics and activism can complement each other.
Down Home’s mission is to build up and empower our members into leadership positions in the community. Your own journey from member to candidate to leader of Down Home is representative of that. Can you share a little bit about what you learned as a member that helps you in your leadership of the organization today?
I am most grateful for the leadership development opportunities that I have had here at Down Home as a member. I learned how to facilitate meetings, learned about self-interest, and how to hold meaningful one-on-one conversations. The most useful training that I took as a member was narrative development. It taught me how to use my own story effectively to talk about issues such as criminalization of poverty, living without health insurance, and the struggles of being underemployed.
Now that you have taken the helm and are leading us forward, what are three things you have learned since you took the role of co-director at Down Home?
I have learned that multi-cultural and multi-class movement building is hard. It requires that race and class be put at the forefront.
There are so many ways that we have been taught in society to mistrust each other. We are often segregated from daily interactions outside of work and school. These challenges can be dealt with by having intentional conversations, applying our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training, and always remaining respectful of one another.
I also have learned that there is so much work to be done in NC. Before going into this leadership position, my view and focus of issues were very localized. Issues such as Medicaid expansion, living wages and other policy related issues are important and should also be a part of our focus. Holding local, state and national elected officials accountable is important to our members and the democratic process.
What are some things that you want to do at Down Home?
I would like to work to grow chapters across the state of NC, giving people in rural places a chance to have their voices heard and be at the table when decisions about their community are made. I would like to help develop leaders across the state by growing leadership development opportunities for members in our organization. These opportunities are the reason I have been able to transition from member to a member candidate and eventually to this Co-Director position.
What is the most important thing you want a Down Home member to know about our work?
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” That’s what Lilla Watson said.
No matter our differences, our liberations are tied together.
There are always things you can contribute as a member, no matter what your schedule is. No contribution to the work is too small. Whether you work a shift on a phone bank, write a postcard, help build our platform, help outreach to add new members, know that is welcomed.