This year marks the 50th anniversary of the North Carolina Fund, started by Governor Terry Sanford in 1963. I first learned about the North Carolina Fund in my North Carolina history class taught by Professor Jim Leloudis at UNC Chapel Hill. I learned about a program that sought to make North Carolina a true leader and remedy the issues effecting her. The North Carolina Fund’s primary aim was to solve issues in health care, education, jobs, and community development. Though I was not aware of this program until my college years, it is clear that the values that started the North Carolina Fund are the same values that make me a Democrat.
This program became a national template for programs such as Head Start for President Johnson’s Great Society. However, it is clear that the North Carolina Fund was North Carolina’s own War on Poverty at a time where nearly 40% of our state lived below the poverty line and almost 50% of our high school students failed to graduate.
Growing up I was largely raised by a young single mom who wanted the best for her children. Most people do not know that as a young child I had speech difficulties and needed a speech pathologist as a result. For my family, the only way I would receive such services was through the local Head Start program. Everyday I boarded a bus for pre-K that would take me to Head Start facility located in Cedar Grove in northern Orange County. It was there that I was able to learn vital communication skills and overcome the issues that were affecting me at such a young age, including anxiety and verbal communication. Today you wouldn’t know these difficulties as I’m able to speak articulately to crowds large and small, but my state's small investment in me paid off.
I continued to receive speech therapy in kindergarten, but by then I was already where many of my peers were in speech development. Many critics would argue that eventually you just “level out” in relation to your peers, but if it weren’t for pre-K would I have had access to the services that my family could ill-afford at the time? Would I have started kindergarten already further behind in terms of years and benchmarks?
Access to education programs has enabled me to learn more, navigate the world, and set me up for success as an adult. From Head Start to my K-12 education and my college experience at UNC Chapel Hill, it is because of this state’s investment in education that my path to a successful and rewarding life is possible. It is because of the Democrats’ commitment to education that I am able to dream big and pursue my passions.
However, many children won't receive that same opportunity. They're unable to receive access to pre-K programs because of legislative maneuvers designed to shut out tens of thousands of children, while losing valuable classroom dollars, shafted teachers, and fewer affordable higher education options. I worry that the opportunities that I once had, because of people like Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt, will not be available to future generations. That’s just one reason why I’m a Democrat.