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By Valerie Keys (LFNC Fellow – Pembroke)

July 23, 2020

As a recent college graduate and a young woman at the ripe age of 22, the world is constantly reminding me that I am not a “real adult.” Not to age my beloved grandmother, but she always makes a point to say something alluding to how different people were when she was growing up. At my age, she was married with her first child on the way, both of which seem like light years away from me.

When I originally accepted the position with Lead for North Carolina and the UNC- School of Government, I had no real idea about what I would be getting myself into. During our intensive training, our instructors kept reminding us that we would be entrusted with a lot of responsibility. And despite how many times our cohort would hear that in a day, I did not take it seriously. Largely because I did not see myself as worthy or capable.

I started working with the Town of Pembroke, NC on July 1, 2020. That day the town went into a State of Emergency following the events that took place at the peaceful protest on the previous Friday. The Town Manager, Tyler Thomas, came into my office (a corner in the conference room) and made me aware of the situation. He then proceeded to ask me what kind of message the Town should put out on social media reassuring the townspeople that this is a precautionary measure to ensure safety.

I looked at Mr. Thomas with wide eyes before I slowly turned my head to acknowledge my studio audience. I had not even been working there for a full day and he had already asked me for my input. This trivial moment in Mr. Thomas’ life was, dare I say it, monumental in mine. Living in this world as a Black woman, I have become conditioned to believe that no one cares about what I have to say. Whether my thoughts, feeling, or ideas have been drowned out on the basis of race or sex, I have subliminally started to prepare myself to be silenced or ignored.

Since then, Mr. Thomas has continued to normalize the importance of my voice by asking for my perspective, suggestions, or impressions on anything that we work on together. Unknowingly, Mr. Thomas has provided me with a sense of validation that I never knew I needed. He may not agree with everything that I say but by giving me the floor, he has shown me that not only should I always have thoughts to bring to the table but I should be confident in them as well.

The beginning of any new job can be frightening, especially as a “fresh adult.” We are walking into these already established worlds with our nerves cloaked by our bright eyes and bushy tails. Simply by being made to feel like a vital part of the Pembroke team, I have truly become the embodiment of what it means to walk by faith rather than sight. Even though this statement has religious sentiments, your faith does not have to be in a higher power. Oftentimes my faith is in the $100,000 PDF that I received from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Other times, the faith is in myself. In my four years of college I learned to be resilient and as I have begun to step foot into adulthood, I am learning to stand taller, walk with more confidence, and smile (beneath my mask, of course) knowing that I, just like everyone else in this building, am capable of doing what is best for this town, this tribe, and the university. #BraveNation