When it snows in the Piedmont of North Carolina, the television trucks from the Triangle always make their way to Person County. Touching the Virginia border, rural Person County sits at a slightly higher elevation, so snow events get exaggerated and look great on camera. That’s why the TV trucks come from big city areas like Durham and Raleigh every winter. A persisting question from folks in Person County is related to these yearly visitors: how much do we want issues and solutions from bigger cities to come to our smaller, rural county?
Down Home held a listening event last week at the Huck Sansbury Recreation Center in Roxboro. Person County had 39,097 people in the 2020 Census. The park served as a perfect small town weekend gathering spot: kids were playing volleyball in the gym while their families cheered; a sheriff candidate was holding a BBQ in the shelter; a family was having a Spiderman-themed birthday party for their young son; and folks were dropping in for early primary voting. In other words, it was a perfect civic Saturday.
While all this was going on, we were listening. Our listening sessions are intended to give the microphone to local residents so they can say what issues matter to them most. At Down Home, we are building power by supporting local leaders and joining movements and issues that happen across North Carolina. And folks in Person County had a lot to say
What we heard in Person County
1. Local government lacks transparency and is full of nepotism.
There was a sense that local politics is a game played by an in-crowd not open to outsiders. “There’s one set of rules for one group and another set of rules for everyone else,” they said. Even local janitor jobs go to family and friends instead of being an open hiring process, they said. You rarely see people of color in city or county jobs–because they’re usually filled by someone who knows someone.
2. The politics are too nasty
Our Person County locals criticized the nastiness of local political races. “It’s not just Republican versus Democrat,” said one person, “It’s Republican versus Republican, too.” There are even organized campaigns to send back campaign mailers with “Return to Sender.” People don’t trust each other to work for common goals, and this really came to a head during the COVID mask debates about schools.
3. Kids (and adults) need more opportunities
As teenagers roared their trucks and motorcycles behind us, the group discussed how there’s not a lot for young people to do in Person County. People want more activities, clubs, ways to get involved in the community. The most successful graduates leave the area and cause a local brain drain because there aren’t enough opportunities to come back to.
4. Legacy of segregation and racism persists
Schools, activities, and opportunities continue to be segregated by race. Perhaps because of this, problems become racial issues when race has nothing to do with it–such as when Person High School disbanded its all-girls drill team to consolidate it with the flag team. Positions in government continue to be overwhelmingly filled with the “good ol’ boy network.”
5. Education needs investment
Schools need an update, and teachers are leaving in droves. For a county that’s about 36% nonwhite, there are shockingly few Black teachers. People who are driving the education agenda don’t even have kids in the school system, and local GOP leaders are bringing politics from Fairfax County, Virginia, and Orange County into Person County–to the detriment of actual education. Kids who need extra help in the classroom lack services, and teachers don’t get support from their administrations when there are disciplinary or learning issues.
Down Home is hosting listening sessions all across rural NC as a part of our 10,000 Conversations Project. Our organization will be talking to 10,000 rural North Carolinians this year to hear what issues matter most to them, who they think is responsible, and what we can do to create change. Once we hear from all y’all, we will be creating a working class mandate to steer our endorsements and our work across the state.
Want to make your voice heard, too? Join our 10,000 Conversations Project by taking our online survey here.
Want to get involved in Person County? Great! Reach out to April at [email protected].