Black History Month (also known as African American History Month) is an annual celebration of triumphs and struggles by African Americans as well as a time to recognize their prominent role in U.S. history. The tradition was started in 1926 when Historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland sponsored a week to celebrate, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Since 1976, Black History Month has been officially designated by U.S. presidents.

To celebrate here at Piedmont Community College (PCC), we interviewed some of our Black and African American students, employees, and administrators to ask about their work at PCC, their heritage, notable moments in Black and African American history, and their honest perspectives on living life as a black individual.

Click a tab to read the various interviews below.

Dr. Shelly Stone-Moye

Vice President, Student Development/Title IX Coordinator

Portrait of Dr. Shelly Stone-Moye

Q. How did you come to work at PCC?

I came to PCC fresh out of graduate school with a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Boston University. I was working for Durham County Department of Social Services when I saw the job posting for Counselor open at PCC, so I applied, and I got the job! I remember for my interview they asked me, “So you’re just starting off your career in social work, why do you want to come here at PCC?” I told them, “I love helping people and at social services it’s a little different. It was, more or less, me telling people what they were needing to do; as to where, in this setting, people mostly know what they need to do, but they may not know how to do it. I would be able to guide and teach people the process versus telling and mandating them to do it.”

I started off half-time in Student Services and the other half in Human Resources Development. For a couple of years, I was doing everything from financial aid, to helping write reports, to registration. Then the opportunity came for me to be the Assistant Dean of the Caswell County Campus, eventually becoming the Dean of the campus, then I was promoted to campus Provost for about three years. Now, here I am in my current role as the Vice President, Student Development/Title IX Coordinator, still doing what I love, helping guide students to success.

Q. Is there a recent PCC moment or project that you’re currently working on that makes you proud?

I wouldn’t say that there is one moment or one project, but overall, I am proud to be part of PCC’s Student Services. I think the way we approach working with our students is holistic. We are not just looking at one part of what students need to do, but we are talking to them about everything: are you prepared to be in school, are you registered, do we need to look at financial aid? I love and I’m proud to work in Student Services because we prepare students to be successful in and out of the classroom, as they tend to go hand-in-hand.

Q. What does Black History Month mean to you?

I think about it in terms of awareness and discovery. I think it’s about the awareness of how we have contributed as a people and the awareness of our role in American history. But it’s also about discovering the countless things that we have done, from inventions, to entertainment, writing, medicine, and law. There are so many things that people just do not know, so I see this month as growing awareness about where we are, where we’ve come from, and where we fit in history and in America, but also the discovery of all the new things that may be happening now. Black History Month also provides people, especially the younger generations, an opportunity to see where we’ve come from and the victories we’ve had, so they can see what they are capable of. It inspires a new generation to do more, be better, and continue to progress.

When it comes to Black history and the making of history, no one group owns history. We all play a part in it. We say that it’s Black history, but it is really everyone’s history because it makes all of us who we are and you must embrace all of it; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Celebrate your victories, learn from your mistakes, and don’t repeat those mistakes.

Q. Is there a moment in Black History that you’d like to share?

I don’t have anything specific from “history,” but I want to talk about history being made today. The fact that we are having serious conversations about potentially having a Black female on the Supreme Court, that is historic. The reality of it is, there is history happening right now and history being made every day. So, it’s exciting that we could witness and be part of these historical developments.

Q. Why is it important that people of color be represented in your field of study?

If you see others in those roles, you can aspire to do it yourself. If you’re interested in a career or leadership position and have never seen anyone that looks like you doing it, then you may not think that could be for you. The bigger picture about Black history, going back to awareness, is making sure that people know that this is a possibility for them. Someone who sees more people who look similar to them may think, “Our hair is the same, our skin is the same, if they can do it, why can’t I?”

Q. What does it mean to be black and educated?

It is definitely an advantage that provides you with opportunities that you may not otherwise have, but it doesn’t protect you from the nastiness of the world. It doesn’t necessarily protect you from stereotypes, it doesn’t necessarily protect you from discrimination or racism, but it gives you more opportunities to grow, succeed, and reach your goals. Education is not some magic armor that protects you, but it is a wonderful thing that I would encourage everyone to get because without education, it is much harder to even get your foot in the door. That is what makes the difference.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who may read this?

I think for many young people, if I had any advice to give them: learn to love yourself, learn to love the skin you’re in, and learn to embrace your culture. I’ve always been proud of where I grew up. The people who were always around me, and the encouragement they gave, made it so I never had time to think about being anything other than who I was, because that’s what I was asked to be. I was asked to be who I am, a Black young lady, Black woman, and Black professional. I never thought of it as anything else. I’m just me and I happen to be Black.

Terri Royster

PCC Student, SGA President

Portrait of Terri Royster

Q. Why did you choose to attend PCC?

I chose PCC because of the diversity of opportunities that are available here. I wanted the chance to be a leader, which, as SGA (Student Government Association) President, I am, and I needed to obtain certification and experience to follow my dream career path as an early childhood educator. PCC could make my dreams come true. Now, I’m three months from graduating and I’m inching closer to seeing my dreams become my reality.

I also wanted to be a leader because when I was in high school, I never got that chance. So, I thought “why not pursue it at the college level?” I took that step, became an SGA officer, worked my way up to SGA President, and am now PCC’s nominee for the Dallas Herring Achievement Award within the North Carolina Community College System. I’ve had the chance to host events, run meetings, and advocate for the student body.

There are two particular things that we are advocating for. The first is to allow the PECIL (Person Early College for Innovation and Leadership) students to have the same opportunities as the PCC students on campus, specifically to be part of the SGA. And while PCC has a Minority Male Success Initiative, we would also like to see a program directed to support minority women as they pursue a higher education.

Q. What’s your plan/goal after you graduate?

My time at PCC has been so good, but also so fast. My goal is to be a kindergarten teacher, and I’d like to specialize with children in special education. But my personal dream goal is to own a daycare center, to be my own boss, to manage, to hire, and continue to build my personal and professional skills to be the best me I can be. It took some work to get where I am though. I first enrolled in the Medical Assisting program but realized that it wasn’t for me. So, I took a step back, reflected, and realized that I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. Now, here I am – I can’t believe it yet – just a few months away from graduating.

Q. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month is about the appreciation and celebration of my ancestors and their excellence, such as their fight for social justice and equality. There are a lot of moments in black history that I would love to share, but the particular moment that speaks most to me is when Barack Obama became the first black president. As someone who’s always wanted to lead and have a positive impact on the lives around me, and now that I have the perspective as the SGA President, this moment means so much to me. For a long time, the question “Would there ever be a black US President?” was debated and dreamed. Obama made it real.

I’m glad to see Black excellence prominently showcased throughout the month of February. But I hope things don’t return to “business as normal” once March comes. I hope that the celebration of Black history will continue to be showcased throughout the year, so Black representation can flourish instead of being highlighted for only 28 days.

Q. Can you tell us about a black role model that inspired you?

I thought about this question so hard. I thought about all the leaders before me who led movements to create equal rights and equal opportunity, and I’m grateful for every one of them. But my true role model is my mom. She is my personal example of a leader and she inspired me to lead. She inspired me to want to be a positive role model and positive influence on the next generation and people as a whole from all backgrounds. (Terri pauses to wipe the tears from her eyes) Oh, I miss her so much. Before her passing, she was becoming an early childhood teacher herself, so when I was thinking of coming back to school, I felt like I needed to finish what she started: get my degree in early childhood education and work with the people I love, kids.

She had a big heart, the biggest heart. She loved babies, and she loved being there as they grew, developed their personalities, and became who they were going to be. But outside of that, to my mom, if anyone needed help, it didn’t matter who they were, she was someone who wanted to be there to help everyone. I want to continue what she started, be that person who’s always happy to help, and be that figure for my community.

Q. What makes you proud of your heritage?

I’m just proud to be who I am, and I’ve always been proud to be a black woman. I’d like to answer this question by quoting two artists. The first is from Dave’s 2019 song ‘Black,’ “Black is beautiful, Black is excellent, Black is pain, Black is joy.” And in the words of James Brown, “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.”

Q. Why is it important that people of color are represented in your future field of study?

Black teachers have a different perspective to prepare their students to live in a multicultural society. They also provide representation for students of color, and they give those students someone that they can look up to and relate to. Because of Black teachers’ perspectives on the world, they can help all students be more understanding, accepting, and empathetic of other cultures, even in the same town.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. I’m 37 years old, back in school, pursuing my dreams and succeeding. Whatever it is you want, you can do it. What’s the worst that someone can say to you? No? If they do, pivot, and find another way to make it happen. If you truly want something, you’ll find another path and find another way to achieve it. Put your best foot forward and go get it.

Dr. Bryan Ruffin

Instructor, Education/Articulation Coordinator

Q. How did you come to work at PCC?

I came to PCC because, after spending most of my career in the K-12 school system, I wanted to grow and learn more about higher education. I also wanted to build relationships, network, and create opportunities for students to continue their educational journeys to make college more accessible and affordable. The interview committee was also very welcoming and friendly when I interviewed for my positions here at PCC.

Q. Is there a recent PCC moment or project that you’re currently working on that makes you proud?

There are several projects that I’m extremely proud to be developing. I’m currently working with universities to create and update articulation agreements to help students transfer after they graduate from PCC. These agreements are important because they will help ensure students have a smooth transition from PCC to a university. We’re also developing agreements with local businesses so students who want to join the workforce can do so seamlessly after they complete their program.

I, along with one of our other Education instructors, have recently globalized several of our education courses for students who want to graduate from PCC with global distinction. Not only will this set students apart from other graduates, but it will increase their knowledge about education practices in other countries.

Additionally, I’ve recently designed an honors level research course through UNC-Wilmington where students select a research topic, connect with professionals in the field, and review different types of literature related to their topic, which will culminate into a Capstone presentation. We are very fortunate to be a part of this research initiative. It has been an honor teaching the course so far.

Lastly, PCC has been selected to participate in the AASCU-ASPEN Transfer Intensive which is a yearlong partnership between PCC and UNC-Wilmington to help further develop our transfer processes. I will serve as the project manager for this initiative, and I am excited about the great things the team will learn and create over the next year to further simplify the transfer process for PCC students.

Q. Can you tell us about a role model or black leader that inspired you?

There are many people who have inspired me over the years. My parents have been huge role models because they taught me the value of hard work. My family as a whole has been instrumental in me becoming who I am, especially my grandparents, who were farmers. They instilled dedication, perseverance, and the value of hard work. They didn’t have a lot of money, but they taught their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, that they could have whatever they wanted and reach all their goals if they worked for it. My aunts, uncles, and cousins have also been great role models. I see them helping others on a regular basis which inspires me to do the same.

Many of my former instructors, mentors and friends also come to mind because they have collectively taught me different lessons to help me be a better person. They paved the way for others to see the possibilities and find success through their own accomplishments. I tend to admire individuals who are highly motivated and driven to reach their goals while strengthening their peers, mentees, and community, rather than going at it alone.

Q. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month represents a time to celebrate our history and celebrate the challenges we have had to overcome over the years. It’s a time that allows us to learn and share our history, particularly with the younger generations. Black History month helps ensure our culture is not forgotten, and it reminds us to continue striving for greatness. You know the saying “Out of sight, out of mind?” If we don’t talk about the history and remind others about it, it can be forgotten. By celebrating Black History Month every year, it prevents the history from being lost.

I think it’s important to celebrate Black history more than one month out of the year. We benefit from the contributions of Black people every day, so we should celebrate the history every day. If we celebrated the culture for longer than one month, then we could teach more of the history and give a deeper perspective to those learning it because we could further dissect it, digest it, truly learn from it, and make the world a much better place.

Q. Is there a moment in Black History that you’d like to share?

There isn’t one moment that I think should be emphasized over another. I think all of it is important to making sure the history isn’t forgotten. I recently re-watched the movie Hidden Figures, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae. From the movie, I learned about the significant roles that Black women held in the NASA Space Program during the Space Race in the 1950s and 1960s and putting the first man in orbit. Before this film, I wasn’t aware that we as a race had any significance in the NASA program, especially during the time of segregation. These types of accomplishments need to be shared with others to show that it is possible to shatter glass ceilings and make a difference in the world.

Q. Why is it important that people of color be represented in your field of study?

I am the youngest Black male to graduate from ECU’s Educational Leadership Doctoral Program. I have been the first or youngest Black male in many positions that I’ve held. Because I know my age and race can work against me when it comes to obtaining certain jobs, I use that as another reason to do my best so that it will hopefully open doors for others and encourage them to set high goals, achieve them, and make positive contributions locally and globally.

Q. How do diverse teams improve how we work?

Diversity improves how we work because everyone is unique and bring their own experiences to the table. Being open to others’ unique perspectives allows us to become more knowledgeable and accepting of different cultures – even if they may differ from our own. When we are open-minded and willing to work with others, we can create opportunities to help make the world a better place for everyone.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who may read this?

I would share my favorite quote by the late Maya Angelou, “Nothing will work unless you do.” What this quote means to me is, if you want it, you can have it, but you must work for it. I would also challenge others to be clear about what it is that you want out of life, set realistic goals, and work every day until those goals have been met – then set new ones. Be sure to enjoy the process and give yourself grace when you make mistakes along the way.

Nakeba Chappell

PCC Nursing Student, Student Ambassador

Q. Why did you choose to attend PCC?

First, I could afford tuition; the payment plan that PCC offers stood out to me. On top of that, the PCC Foundation has many scholarship options for students to utilize to make their higher education more affordable. The thought of being able to obtain my degree debt free was awesome.

Second, Person County is also my home and it’s where I’m raising my family. So, to be able to earn my degree and set myself up for success in a new career without having to move is not only efficient and necessary but comforting.

Q. What’s your plan/goal after you graduate?

After I graduate in May, my goal is to pass the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination), start working as a Registered Nurse on a medical/surgical unit, and start classes at N.C. A&T State University in the Fall to pursue my Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing.

Q. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black history month means a lot to me. It is the month where my ancestors’ achievements are remembered and recognized. But I personally feel Black history shouldn’t be taught and celebrated in only one month out of the year. Black history is part of American history, so it should be something that’s taught to our children as a part of all history. This way, early on, African-American children will recognize their greatness and embrace whom they are despite the color of their skin.

There isn’t just one African-American leader that inspires me, they all inspire me. They are all the true definition of perseverance. They laid the foundation to show us that no matter what is thrown our way, we as African-Americans, are destined for greatness and must never give up.

Q. Is there a moment in Black History that you’d like to share?

December 18, 1865, when the 13th amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution and thousands of slaves were freed.

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Q. What makes you proud of your heritage?

I’m proud of my background as a whole, including the bad things, such as slavery. Throughout it all, I was shown no matter how hard a person or people may try to break your sprit, it can’t be broken, and neither can I, like how nursery rhymes were made up to keep enslaved children occupied during the toughest time of their lives. How we may be perceived as mud to some, but in all actuality, we are the lotus flower blooming from the mud with the rise of the morning sun.

Q. Why is it important that people of color are represented in your future field of study?

It is not just important for people of color to be represented in my current field of study, but in every field of study. The history of our society, and parts of our current one, has conditioned our culture to feel incapable or even undeserving, when the truth is we come from a long line of greatness. The more that greatness is displayed, there will be more Black people encouraged and driven; and more people will be accepting of black doctors, black nurses, etc.

History has shown me that the sky is the limit. From individuals such as Dr. Daniel Williams, who performed the first successful open-heart surgery, to Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first black woman to graduate nursing school; they portray that nothing worth having is going to be easily obtained but hard work and determination turns dreams into reality.

Ms. Shirlrona Johnson

Principal, Person Early College for Innovation and Leadership (PECIL)

How did you come to work at PECIL?

I’m the founding principal for the Person Early College for Innovation and Leadership (PECIL). PECIL started in 2016, but before then, I was part of the joint committee between PCC and Person County Public Schools that collaborated together to produce an application to bring an Early College to our area. During this time, I was an intern working on my administrative license at Person High School. I was also the Instructional Technology Facilitator, one of three in the district. Because of both roles, I was asked to be on the joint committee to form what would be PECIL.

At the time that I was pursuing my administrative license, I wasn’t planning on going into administration quite yet. My plan was to wait a little closer to retirement, then pursue an administration level role, but as I sat on the committee and learned more about Early Colleges, I started researching more about them, nationally, in my free time. I learned about Early Colleges in Texas, which then led me to a company that helps promote the benefits of students attending Early Colleges across the country, Jobs for the Future. When I put all the pieces together and I learned about the innovation that goes into starting a new school, I felt confident that I could grow a school, that I could, specifically, grow this school. So, I applied to be the principal, was interviewed, then was offered the position.

This position has given me the best of everything I could’ve asked for in a career. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Business, I had small home business as a state-licensed daycare, I had a desktop publishing business on the side, and PECIL gave me the opportunity to utilize my business degree (in marketing) while applying the things I learned from earning my master’s degree (MASTER’S IN Instructional Technology and a K-12 Principal license . For me, it’s truly the best of both worlds while I get to pursue my purpose in life, my passion, and hopefully make a positive impact on young people. If I can help them accomplish their goals, then I’ve done my job.

Is there a recent PECIL moment or project that you’re currently working on that makes you proud?

I have two things, and one kind of rolls into the other.

1. For the past few years, PECIL has been part of a joint partnership with Wake STEM Early College and the Friday Institutes’ PBI (Project-Based Inquiry) Global Team under NC State. This year is our fourth year and we are partnering with just the Friday Institute this year, where we work with our students to teach them how to do problem-based inquiry. They research a problem, such as “Clean and Sanitary Water,” and come up with their compelling questions. This project gives our students a voice in this global problem, and the opportunity to take moral action to find a way to fix it, potentially even creating a product to solve the problem.

Our students do a pledge walk, where everyone walks with gallons of water imitating how many people may have to walk for miles to bring clean water back home. Because it’s a pledge walk, people will donate money as our students do this, which is then donated to Water for South Sudan, a charitable organization, to help build a well. All the water we use in our walk is then donated to the local Christian Help Center, so not only are we helping solve a global problem, but we’re also giving to our local community. This is a project that the entire school is involved in, including our teachers, who are getting support collaborating with the NC State Friday Institute PBI Global Team. This year, our kickoff started on Friday, February 11, where our new students lead the project while the rest of the school supports wherever they’re needed.

What makes me so proud of this project is that it hits one of our overarching goals of Character and Leadership. Our students not only learn hard work and innovation, but also learn to have empathy and compassion for others in the world and develop the will to want to do something that can help others. This now rolls into my second proud moment.

2. This year, PECIL was recognized, on the state level for, as a 2022 State School of Character. I think a lot of what we do as a school has led us to this recognition, but I’m sure our participation in the global project helped monumentally. Every year, selects schools from across the country as “Schools of Character.” This year PECIL was one of two schools in North Carolina to earn that recognition. Now we are in the running to be named a national school of character, but whether we win or not, the fact that we are such a young school that is being recognized for the positive values we instill in our students is quite the honor. We know this recognition is not saying that we’re perfect, and we don’t think that we are, but we are striving to make the world a better place.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Celebrating the achievements of African Americans, but also recognizing the struggle, obstacles, and challenges that were faced to accomplish anything; many of which are being faced today. Many African Americans still fight for the recognition of being able to contribute great things to the world. It’s good to have Black History Month in place, but I think that the achievements should be recognized along with everything else throughout the year.

Is there a moment in Black history that you’d like to talk about?

Durham’s Black Wall Street, Hayti, resonates with me because my family was part of that history. My grandmother Jacqueline DeShazor Jackson was the founder of DeShazor’s Beauty College, the third or fourth largest black business in Durham at the time. I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and women that were part of the Durham Business Professional Membership, and my grandmother was highly respected in the community as she gave thousands of women and men the opportunity to make a living and potentially have their own business focused around cosmetology.

What makes you proud of your heritage?

I’m proud of our heritage because, even though it is a heritage of challenges, obstacles, and struggles, it also identifies strength, resilience, perseverance, determination, and grit by people of color.

Why is it important that people of color are represented in your field of study and how do diverse teams improve how we work?

I’m in education, specifically public education, and the public is diverse. So, the workforce that serves the public should be equally as diverse. The public education system should be able to offer multiple perspectives and have a more rounded understanding of the lives of our students, so we can relate to them with more than empathy, but by having similar backgrounds as well. Going back to my introduction, the joint committee between PCC and Person County Public Schools that formed the application to create PECIL is a great example of what a diverse team can do. Diversity creates innovation and various ideas because of the different life experiences, cultures, and backgrounds (professional, educational, and life). All those different things can bring about a cooperative and innovative high school and develop what it should look like.

Do you have any advice for those who may be seeking further education or to overall reach their fullest potential?

All of us have room to grow, improve, and further enhance the life we already have. Education is always a door that opens to opportunities. Without education, you may be limiting your potential and opportunities. I would like for everyone to strive to be the best person they can be, to set goals in life. Even if it’s a goal that they think is out of reach, set it anyway, and have an action plan and strategy to accomplish that goal, then follow your steps to accomplish it. I always tell my students “AIM High! Always Imagine More,” which is similar to “If you shoot for the moon you may land among the stars.” Aim as high as you can. You may not get exactly what you’re striving for, you might, but if you don’t you might come close, you might surpass it, or you may find yourself in a different but better position that you didn’t imagine.

Trevares Womack

PCC DEAT Student, SGA Caswell Member at Large

Why did you choose PCC?

I felt like it was a solid place to start my educational journey before I take it further and transfer to a university. The options for financial aid were also a factor. I know that the costs here at PCC are lower than a four-year university, and that I would have a greater chance to utilize those financial aid options. All that said, I knew PCC would be a great place to begin my educational foundation while also saving money in the process.

Since I’ve been at PCC, I became the Student Government Association (SGA) Caswell Member at Large. This experience has taught me how to lead, how to coordinate and delegate, and it offers me experiences that I wouldn’t typically have. I’m thankful for the faculty and staff here at PCC because I wasn’t planning on joining SGA until Ms. Brown gave me a little push, then I wasn’t expecting to be part of it, but it’s been such an eye opening experience that’s made me aware of my personal strengths and shown me what I’m capable of. I couldn’t be more thankful for this opportunity.

What’s your plan/goal after you graduate?

Right now, I’m a first-year student pursuing an Associate in Applied Science Degree in Digital Effects and Animation Technology (DEAT), and I’m having the time of my life. I get to learn about my hobby and passion and how I can turn it into a full-time successful career in Game Design. For years, I’ve made 2-D game sprites come to life in my spare time, but I’ve also learned that I enjoy creating storyboards and atmospheric effects.

After I complete the course, I want to pursue my Bachelor’s Degree, although I’m not completely sure where it’ll be focused, but it will have something to do with digital art and animation. It’s something I’m looking into, but I’ll focus harder on my search this summer and during the fall semester.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

It highlights the things that Black leaders, Black individuals, and the Black community has done to change the world that isn’t highlighted as much in the other months. While we do celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in January, Black History Month allows the opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge everything that members of the Black community have done to make an impact and make the world a better place for everyone.

Is there a moment in Black History that you’d like to share? And can you tell us about a role model or Black leader that inspired you?

The one moment that speaks to me most is Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. We were taught about that moment yearly in school, and every year, it had more of an impact because I was older, and I understood more about the world, about my heritage, and about myself.

Chadwick Boseman is a celebrity that I’ve looked up to because of the roles he took on as an actor. He played Jackie Robinson in “42”, Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall,” James Brown in “Get On Up,” and T’Challa (Black Panther) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Throughout his movies, he courageously portrayed racial inequality in history and celebrated legendary Black icons in some of the most moving ways.

These two men are two figures I’ve looked up to, but there are so many notable people in Black History that I’m thankful for, it’s hard to name them all; from Malcolm X, to Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman, I’m grateful for all they did to push for freedom and equality for all.

I’m also thankful for the role models I have in my everyday life: my older brother and my dad. They both taught me to celebrate our heritage, give thanks to historical figures, and to continue the path that others have started to pursue total equality. They also taught me to stay determined and to stand up for myself and others whenever it’s needed.

What makes you proud of your heritage?

The strides that have been taken to bridge the gap of equality. The courage that others had to be the first person or the spokesperson for a movement. The successes and sacrifices before me, that gave me the opportunity to an equal education and are giving me, my peers, and my community the opportunity to an overall better life. I’m uplifted by my heritage and I’m hopeful that more change will come to continue to make the lives of Black individuals better. It isn’t perfect yet, but I feel like we’re going to get there.

Why is it important that people of color be represented in your future field of study or current major?

There aren’t as many Black people succeeding in the gaming industry as there are other races. Having people of color brings new perspectives to the table when ideas are being generated and when stories are being written. It also allows a more truthful representation when people of color are portrayed in a game. But more than that, when there are Black individuals succeeding in a career with low representation, it breathes perseverance to the next generation to seek that career and find success. That pattern continues for the next wave of employees, and the next wave, and eventually we’ll see diversity, equality, and representation throughout.

When I succeed, I’ll be the first person in my family to attain a designated career and I’ll have a college degree that coincides with that career.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Regardless of color, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. One of my pet peeves is someone telling others that they can’t do something. If there’s something you want to do, do it. If it’s a challenge for you, but you still have the passion and drive, then work harder, get better, persevere, be patient, and, eventually, you’ll reach your goals. 

Mr. Chris Davis

PCC Instructor, Information Technology

How did you come to work at PCC?

I was born and raised in Person County, graduated from Person High School in 1998, then for my higher education I was a bit a journeyman. I started at North Carolina A&T but got homesick my freshman year and came back here, where I enrolled in summer classes at PCC. I remember my first time stepping foot on this campus, and absolutely fell in love with the College because of its sense of community. I stayed to finish my associate’s degree, then transferred to American Intercontinental University to earn my Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Programming online.

I started in the workforce wearing a lot of hats, working as a Teacher’s Assistant at North Elementary School and working in retail at a jewelry store. Later on, I segued into the corporate world as a Shift Supervisor for eight years, then became a Continuous Improvement Leader, which were great positions, but they didn’t allow me to use my I.T. skills as much as I would have liked. So, I transitioned to an I.T. Help Desk role, then finally to a Business Analyst.

Once the pandemic happened, my position was being eliminated, so my previous company gave me the option to leave or transfer to a different department. I took this bad news and turned it into an opportunity to focus on myself, obtain my master’s degree, and find a career that would click with me. I came across an open position at PCC to be an I.T. instructor. I thought I had no chance, but I still wanted give it my best shot. Once I sat down for my interview, which is usually the most nerve-wracking part, I felt comfortable, and everything felt right. I was offered the position, I accepted, now here we are, half a semester into my first experience teaching and I‘m loving every bit of it.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

On a personal level, it’s nice to have a spotlight on Black culture. We have provided so many things to the world as a whole, and it’s nice for those individuals to have their achievements recognized, even if it is for a short time. I would prefer for that history to be mentioned throughout the year when it’s relevant, rather than cramming everything into one month because it’s almost unfair to segregate it. I recently learned that I have Scottish ancestors, which you wouldn’t expect, but it shows how much crossover there is just in our ancestry, so why should the explanation of our history be any different?

I would prefer for all history to be talked about, for there to be a level playing field, and for us, as instructors, educators, and leaders, to discuss it as a whole and lift the entire community.

Can you tell us about a role model or Black leader that inspired you?

When I was in 7th grade at Southern Middle School, our principal was Johnny Lunsford. He was the first Black administrator that I had ever been around. He was firm with every student, he was fair with how he handled things, he had a booming voice, which was simultaneously soothing. The way he guided the Southern Middle School ship, I couldn’t help but feel confident and comfortable at school every day. He knew every student by name, he interacted with them daily, and he encouraged them regularly. He always said to, “Keep pushing and always put your best foot forward.” I’ve taken that advice with me through the rest of my education, career, and overall life.

My grandmother is also someone who comes to mind. She passed away a few years ago but she left a powerful legacy with us. She was the glue that held the family together. She made the strangest of strangers feel welcome and appreciated in her home. Regularly, she would throw cookouts in the yard with, like, 30 guests; I didn’t know most of them. She’d greet people as they came in, “Come on in a grab a plate!” I’d ask her who they were, and she’d say, “I don’t know, but they’re welcome anyway.” That’s one thing that I try to repeat in my life and instill in my children, to be inclusive and be open to inviting someone new into my circle because you never know who could use that love and support.

Is there a moment in Black History that you’d like to share?

Ruby Bridges. Talking about her story with my students and discussing how difficult it must have been for this little girl to live in that environment and walk into a hostile situation just to get her basic education. I can only try to imagine the kind of challenge it was for her and her family to experience it firsthand, or to be part the watching nation to observe it and wonder how things will progress. That moment was so pivotal to bring us to where we are now. Without that moment, none of our modern society exists to have multicultural classrooms, multicultural courses, and to learn about each other and how we came to be.

Are there any barriers that you had to overcome to reach this point in your career?

Most of my experience where I had to overcome barriers was in the corporate arena. Growing up, I was an athlete, which opened doors for me to be included in more social circles that I may not have been part of if I didn’t play basketball well. But when it came to me working in the corporate world, I really had to earn my stripes. Even though I walked in with the same education and same qualifications as those with the same position, my salary was 50% percent less than the rest of the group. After raising the question to my supervisor, I learned that I would just have to work through it. So, I worked my tail off, set up new systems, and saved the company a lot of money, which had the company’s leadership view me as on par with the rest of the team.

Fast forward a few years, there was an 8-week training to prepare me for the Continuous Improvement Leader position. After speaking with my colleagues, who also were taking part in this training, I was the only one who was not immediately given the position and the salary before the training. I spoke to the leadership team about this, they replied, “That’s just the way we do things around here.” Once again, I stayed determined, finished the training, they gave me the position, and things were fine.

That’s been my experience with corporate leadership, but my experience with my colleagues is opening another can of worms. It took me three years of hard and dedicated work to earn their respect. Unfortunately, I learned why by being the only African American in the group. Even with the same education, same skillset, I had to go above and beyond to earn any form of recognition from my peers.

Growing up I never gave much thought to how people treated me, mostly because I grew up in a Black community. Now as a father of three biracial children, in the current political and socioeconomic climate, I’m developing more awareness so I can make sure I do my best to prepare them to navigate their future. Unless I educate myself, I can’t prepare them for what they may face. I know I can only help so much, but I would like to ensure they can recognize the signs of these situations ahead of time, so they know how to adjust.

Why is it important that people of color are represented in your field of study?

Representation matters. It might be cliché, but it’s true. When you think about I.T. as a whole, you think of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Tim Cook; even branching out a little more, going into e-commerce, there’s Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. The assumption as a young kid is that you have to have a certain look or fit a certain mold to be successful in the industry, which is not necessarily true. Being able to see other people of color represented in the I.T. field is beneficial because not everyone wants to grow up to play sports, to be in showbusiness, or be a social media influencer. Every industry should have someone that can help make that visual connection to show that it’s possible to be successful in that industry, no matter what you look like.

I mentioned before how I had an African American principal in middle school, which, from a career perspective, he showed me that the ceiling is higher than it appears. In elementary school, my teachers were mostly women, about half black and half white, but my principals were white men. For me to walk into middle school and see a Black male principal, helped me visualize the levels that I could achieve. I could be a lawyer, an executive, a principal; the glass ceiling may not be a ceiling at all, but it might be a window showing me the possibilities, I just need to figure out how to open it.

How do diverse teams improve how we work?

One example I can give from my time in the corporate I.T. world is when I worked with my boss to develop a system to track how many components were created in a certain amount of time. I had an idea of what we should do, but I had only seen three systems to pull references from, so we opened up the team to provide more outside perspective. This team now included me, my boss, and one other coworker, a young woman from India, a representative from China, one from Italy, and two from South America. Because we were all from different environments, we all thought in different ways, we solved problems differently, and we each had an overall different perspective. Those pieces working together typically spark creativity and a little confrontation, but in the end, we were able to develop a new and more efficient system that could benefit all of us.

Whether it’s in the classroom or at work, it’s important to have those different vantage points to get the best out of yourself and the people around you because you’re forced to think outside of your own experience. In the classroom, while I’m the instructor, my students are teaching me just as much as I teach them because the world they grew up in is completely different from mine. That different perspective helps me teach and connect with my students better, it keeps me on my toes, and it sparks creativity. All of that creates positive change; without it, we would stay stuck in our own patterns and habits, and it would take much longer to see progression, if ever.

What makes your proud of your heritage?

I’m proud of the things that the Black community has overcome year after year, generation after generation. If you look at history, every culture has blood on their hands from the horrible ways they treated another community, tribe, or race. But to come from a people who were captured, enslaved, put in work camps, have things given to them and taken way, who died from disease by the millions, and still be able to live and function in a society that we helped build without wanting to constantly take from it. To learn to forgive (not forget) and continue to build for future generations; that, more than anything, makes me proud.

What advice would you give to students, young people, or anyone else who is looking to reach their greatest potential?

Don’t quit. I was not the best student in high school because my focus was on athletics. I was a little better in college, but it took me a long time to figure out what I was passionate about and what I would be good at. I started in graphic design, switched to psychology, then changed my focus to I.T. You don’t have to figure out your career right out of high school, you have a little time to deliberate and learn what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about, and if something changes later, it’s okay to change with it. When you hit roadblocks and things get tough, it’ll still be your passion, so don’t throw in the towel. Figure out a way to overcome it or make a hard left if you need to and adapt, but whatever you do, keep moving forward.

Everyone has something they’re good at. It’s about finding it and learning how to use it to benefit you, your family, your friends, and potentially others. You may not think you can monetize or utilize your gifts, but nowadays we have more tools than ever to be successful.

Wallace Vaden

PCC Student / Bartlett Yancey CCP Fast Track Student

Why did you choose to take PCC classes while in high school (Career and College Promise)?

I was given the opportunity, along with a few other Bartlett Yancey High School (BY) students, to save the cost of two years of college and get my associate’s degree for free. The timing was perfect when members of BY and PCC presented this chance to be on the “Fast Track” and earn our associate’s while simultaneously finishing high school. When we were deciding if we wanted to do it, it seemed like an obvious win-win. On top of saving money, we can also get started in our careers faster, which means we can start our passion and start earning money much sooner too.

For some students, cost may not be a factor when choosing to go to PCC, or utilize Career and College Promise (CCP), but for me it was an advantage I couldn’t pass up. My mom is in college pursuing her teaching degree and my dad was pushed to go straight to work. I saw this opportunity as a way to not only help myself but help to my family because I don’t want to put any of my education’s cost on them if I can help it. Not everyone sees this program as saving much money, but I see it as saving a lot of money and time. If I wasn’t on the CCP Fast Track, I’d be in five classes a day at BY, but instead I’m taking four PCC courses, and I’m learning what it means to be an independent, responsible, and mature student.

What’s your plan/goal after you graduate?

In December, I spent two days at Duke shadowing a radiologist and doctor respectively, and I enjoyed it so much that I applied to be part of the Radiologic Science program at UNC Chapel Hill with the goal to be a technologist in the hospital and be a doctor/surgeon’s second in command. I plan to use that as both a starting point and a backup option if I wasn’t accepted into medical school, which is my overall goal after I complete my Bachelor’s Degree in Radiologic Science. If I was accepted, I’d go through the four years of medical school and choose which area I’d want to focus on.

Before this year, I wasn’t thinking at all about going into medicine, but when I took anatomy, I realized how much the subject piqued my interest. I just want to learn more and more, and the only way I have the chance to learn it all is to continue to pursue it over time. The other factor that’s driving me toward medicine is how rewarding it is to help others. 

What does Black History Month mean to you?

It’s a reminder of all the good that the Black community has done for our society, but it’s also a reminder to all races, including Black individuals, of the struggle that Black people have faced over the last 400+ years. This month can also give people hope by seeing the growth over the last 400 years. Black people have lived through slavery, unequal rights, and segregation, but when you compare those conditions to now, it gives you hope that one day we can all live in unity.

Is there a moment in Black History you’d like to share?

I recently went to Memphis and visited the hotel where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Standing near the balcony where it happened is a little eerie and ominous because you think, “I’m standing only a few feet away where one of the most influential people of color was shot.” The moment he was killed was a moment in history where it made people step back and reflect on how and why this happened. People knew Dr. King was put in prison, he was released, and he continued to march for civil rights and equality, but when he was killed, it made those who were fighting for civil rights fight harder. While it was a devastating and unnecessary tragedy, his death was not in vain, and it propelled the fight for racial equality in America.

Can you tell us about a role model or Black leader that inspired you?

My dad. He grew up in Pittsylvania County and, last summer, he took my family on a drive to show us his upbringing and see his roots. The house structures were so simple that many of them aren’t even there anymore, but he told us about when he was growing up, he and his five siblings all shared one bed. Now, he’s living comfortably (so are all of his siblings) and me and my brothers never had to ask for food growing up. That showed me what it meant for him to come from a background where he was always hungry, to work to change that and make sure his family never had to feel hunger to that level. He’s a very important person to me. 

What makes you proud of your heritage?

To know that we, as a country, can grow over time. There are times, currently and in our history, where we disagree, but my heritage proves how far we can come. Over the last few years civil unrest has come to the forefront and seeing the nonviolent protesters coming together to march with their signs as a unified group was important for me to see. It’s another good moment just like when Dr. King marched. Policy and viewpoints don’t change overnight, but it’s good to see the start of potential positive change and see that we can keep moving forward.

Why is it important that people of color are represented in your future major and field of study?

A lot of people who finish high school may leave to pursue greater opportunities. But if I become a doctor, especially being a Black doctor, I would like to come back to Caswell County to show other minorities that it’s possible. I don’t think I know of anyone that’s done that.

But to do more than inspire the next generation, I would like to bring awareness to the discrimination that still exists in the system, no matter how successful someone becomes. Recently, a Black female doctor, just graduated, completed her training, and was hired by a medical group. She went to a bank to cash a $16,000 signing bonus, and they said her check was fraudulent, which it wasn’t, so she filed a lawsuit. However I can, I would like to bring awareness to systemic discrimination and make things better for the future.

I also have members of my family that don’t want to go to the doctor. They feel like they may not be given the best care, especially with the current tension in our society. I don’t want to say there is purposeful discrimination in the medical industry, but there are differences in how medication varies between different ethnicities, and there needs to be more medical research focused on how treatments differ for different races. Historically, the majority of medical research has focused on White men, but a Black man who’s the same age may have an adverse reaction to the active ingredient or the same dosage of medication. Not only do I want to raise more awareness of this, but I’d like to do what I can to help make sure that everyone is getting the best treatment.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Keep your goal in front of you. My dad is a great example of this advice. His entire life, his goal was to work, come home, provide for his family, bills are always paid, food is readily available, never having to live check to check, and not having to live with constant stress. The only way you can reach your goals is to set them, create a plan, and work to reach them.

You can’t expect to get anything if you don’t work for it. You may have to work harder than others to find success, but if you want it, don’t give up. Dream what you want to dream, and with effort, perseverance, and willpower you will reach it.

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