An abiding commitment to civil rights, racial equality, and social justice has been the prime motivating factor in my personal and political life. In college in the mid-80s, that focus was on protesting apartheid and pushing for divestment from South Africa; my Master’s Degree was about the federal government’s counterintelligence program against civil rights and antiwar activists. After graduation I became a high school civics teacher because I believed that the most meaningful way to give back to community and create social change was through engaging young people. But after witnessing firsthand the institutional discrimination in schools and the limited impact I could have in the classroom, I resolved to go to law school. In 1994 I became a civil rights lawyer and have dedicated my entire career to addressing racial and economic justice. My early focus was on workers’ rights, and I represented the UNC Housekeepers’ Association and the Chapel Hill Black Public Works Association. Later I became involved in advocacy related to fair housing, school integration, environmental justice, and equal access to public services.
The same ideals and optimism that inspires my work as a lawyer influences my other experiences and engagement in the community. For 10 years, we owned and managed a nightclub in downtown Chapel Hill, where we provided employees with a living wage and free health insurance. We also made the bar a safe and inclusive space to all, and I am humbled whenever I run into one of the old regulars who tell me that the bar created a welcoming community for them at an important time in their lives. That experience is a constant reminder of the critical role that small businesses play not only for our local community, but on our broader quality of life. I have spent time sharing that background with and helping mentor other local business owners.
I still believe in the importance of education and our responsibility for “passing it on” to the next generation. I spent several years teaching history at Alamance Community College, and also at the law schools at Duke and UNC. It has been especially rewarding to see former students or interns becoming engaged community members and leaders. I’ve also been grateful for opportunities to work with local nonprofits, speak on panels, and collaborate with and support grassroots groups dedicated to racial and social justice.
Inclusion, engagement, and racial and economic equity are the ideals that underlie every aspect of my life, and those are the commitments I bring to the board of commissioners. I believe these principles also reflect our collective vision for Orange County, and I am certain that if we stay true to them, we can create a more diverse and nurturing community.
I hope you will give me the opportunity to continue this important work.
Visiting residents at the county’s emergency shelter after Hurricane Florence