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City Council candidate Latasha Wilks discusses past challenges, future goals

SALISBURY — Latasha Wilks remembers a specific moment in her life when everything changed.

“It was a case that was beyond my control,” said Wilks, now a candidate for a seat on the Salisbury City Council.

In 2008, Wilks was convicted on a felony charge of trafficking in controlled substances. She said the drugs were her roommate’s and that had she been a better advocate for herself at the time, she would never have been charged.

“I do remember asking the police officers back then, ‘Take fingerprints. Those are not my fingerprints. You can give me a lie detector test.’ Everything. And I couldn’t get it,” Wilks said. “I think, at that time, I just felt like I wasn’t being heard.”

Wilks said there was a muddy footprint in the bathtub leading to where her roommate crawled out. Beneath the window, Wilks said, police found one of the drugs Wilks was convicted of having.

Wilks said her five children were 2, 3, 9, 10 and 14 in 2006, when cocaine and marijuana were found in the home she shared with her roommate.

“I took a plea bargain during that time because I had been in court for two years. As a single mom who was stressed out that her life was getting ready to be changed, I went ahead and took the plea bargain because it kept me free,” Wilks said.

Wilks said she accepted the plea to a more serious charge because it meant she wouldn’t serve time in prison.

“Back then, I had nobody to speak up for me and I was so afraid of just being through the system and just having children and being away from them that I did not even really speak up for myself like I could have,” she said.

In the months after she was convicted in 2008, Wilks began to become an advocate for herself. She completed more than 2,000 hours of community service — far more than the 24 hours her parole required — and was released from probation early for good behavior.

“I realized that, in order to find yourself, you have to realize what you’re not going to tolerate. You have to tell yourself, and you’ve got to stick to it, what you’re not going to tolerate,” Wilks said.

In the years since her conviction, Wilks has pursued a bachelor’s degree in applied behavioral science, which she finished in 2016; to start a business, called Let’s Lend a Helping Hand LLC in 2011; and to become a minister at her lifelong church, Mount Zion Missionary Baptist.

Wilks is currently a full-time master’s student in psychology at Ashford University.

“It took me to go through what I went through to get out of it. And if you had asked me, ‘Is there anything good that came out of me being charged?’ it’s that it changed my whole entire life,” Wilks said.

Although her criminal record has kept her from getting jobs that she said she was qualified for, she said, the conviction also has given her a way to better connect with people — particularly young people — in the community.

“If it wasn’t for my past, I couldn’t relate to the children now that have gotten in trouble,” Wilks said. “I am one of the only candidates that feels comfortable going in any neighborhood where there is trouble. I can reach out to people who have been in trouble and let them know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

The theme of her City Council campaign is “truth, transparency and trust.” She thinks it is important to speak openly about her past.

“It was 11 years ago, but I want people to understand (that) when I talk about social, economic things, that I’m not just talking from something that I heard, but I’m talking from something that I know and something I have dealt with,” Wilks said. “And although the ‘truth, transparency and trust’ is between the government and the people, I want them to know that, hey, they can trust me and, hey, I can relate. When I tell somebody that I’ve been down that road, I’ve really been down that road.”

On crime

Wilks said she likes to get to the root of any problem she is trying to solve.

“And the root of the problem to me (on crime) is that people are feeling exclusion and inequality. I feel that people need to feel equal,” Wilks said.

The means there has to be more economic development programs and financial literacy programs, she said, adding that the Department of Social Services needs to be “properly funded.”

“A lot of times, people who really need that, when they go, (the department) may not have the funds to help. And it gets people upset; it gets people doing things, you know, with crime,” she said.

City Council members need to “sit down and talk” with their constituents about what they think needs to be done, she said.

“I commend what the Police Department has been doing. However, the situation that I do see is that we can’t just always lock people up. We’ve got to come up with other solutions,” Wilks said.

Wilks suggested a community survey to ask what residents want.

The roots of crime extend into the city’s youth, she said. Early prevention could help prevent future crime and drug problems.

She said a Big Brother, Big Sister program could alleviate bullying in schools and an elementary school D.A.R.E. program could help educate youths about the dangers of drugs.

On schools

Wilks said there are almost no after-school programs for youths after they turn 14.

“If they’re in high school, I would want some kind of program that gives them something to do. The only thing they have to do is the YMCA. And then people get bored after a while and they get in trouble,” Wilks said.

Wilks said she is a frequent volunteer in Salisbury city schools.

“What happens is, when I volunteer, I see that some of the children may be two years behind. And I think that, as a council, we need to reach out to work with the school boards to increase the literacy rates. I’m willing to meet with them (and) to work with them,” she said.

But she first wants to find out if the school board has similar programs already in place and if school leaders are open to suggestions.

“One of the things I can say is, when on the school board, they probably don’t see what somebody like me sees because I’m out there every week,” Wilks said.

Wilks supports periodic standardized testing to see what areas students need to work on.

On recruiting business

Wilks is frustrated by the number of businesses that look outside Salisbury for employees.

“I feel like when you step outside of the city to bring somebody in, (there are) already qualified people here. And it bothers me to see people drive two hours to Salisbury to work when we have somebody here locally who’s qualified,” Wilks said. “Are we going to advertise here first … or are we just going to stick it out there where somebody long-distance will see it online?”

If elected, Wilks said she will go to sister cities like Mooresville and Lexington to recruit businesses there.

“(I would) work with a lot of the employers who look like they may need to relocate and try to see if they could bring jobs to Salisbury,” she said.

Wilks said businesses should be more willing to hire people with criminal records.

“I think if they have gone to either prison or jail or done the probation and done everything that they need to do and have had to suffer for so long that at some point we need to say, ‘Hey, this person here needs to go on and be a provider for their family,’” Wilks said.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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