Women who lead: American Association of University Women Salisbury branch host virtual discussion

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 15, 2023

SALISBURY — The American Association of University Women (AAUW) Salisbury branch hosted a virtual Women Who Lead: The Political Process panel discussion on Monday, Oct. 9, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Zoom featuring leading Rowan County women, Mayor Karen Alexander of Salisbury, Mayor Pro Tem Tamara Sheffield of Salisbury and Mayor Barbara Mallett of East Spencer. 

The event began with greetings and a charge for women in leadership from United States Congresswoman Alma Adams, who serves the 12th district in North Carolina. 

Adams congratulated the panelists and AAUW for the extensive work of service they have provided through the years and shared the importance of diversity and inclusivity in politics.

“You can’t change policy unless you change policymakers,” Adams said. 

Adams, a proven advocate for education and more, highlighted her platform of housing, healthcare, housing education and hunger; and charged the audience to reflect on the words of late congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who stated, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” 

Moderated by the branch’s president, Da’Tarvia Parrish, the discussion opened with candidates sharing introductions on their pathway to politics and their current platforms, followed by an in-depth look at AAUW’s current policies branched in three arms: Education, Workplace and Economic Equity and Leadership. 

Demonstrating a spirit of collectivism and mentorship, the candidates enthusiastically shared their beginnings and experience in navigating male-dominated fields such as architecture and ways they have aimed to provide gender-neutral environments through training and employment opportunities for others. 

Dr. Parrish shifted the conversation, asking panelists to provide solutions-oriented responses to a few challenges within the Rowan-Salisbury community, including livable wages and affordable housing for a growing community, crime and lack of police officers and the city’s water supply, highlighting the elevated levels of lead found in Mt. Ulla Elementary’s water and Salisbury’s water quality report. An extensive exchange unfolded when Parrish referenced the BCJI grant West End community meetings. 

“AAUW is for justice, and if these were country club residents, you would not ask these citizens to meet and plan to determine the best way to move forward with their future,” Parrish said. “You wouldn’t write a grant. Instead, you would solve the problem, and wouldn’t take over a year.” 

Mayor Alexander responded, saying progress has been made in the community, although not as quickly as some would like. The city has been awarded $800,000 to service the area, and arrests to alleviate the challenges in the area have been made. 

In a commercial break, AAUW Policy chair Tangela Morgan shared updates about Rowan County’s early voting, absentee ballots, Election Day details and the extensive new rules and guidelines of voter identification for North Carolinians. 

It was noted Rowan-Cabarrus Community College employees and students may vote with RCCC identification, and Livingstone College students may only vote with college identification. Catawba College or Hood Theological Seminary were not listed on the reference provided by the State Board of Elections.

Continuing in the higher learning spirit, representatives from Livingstone and Catawba colleges posed questions to the panelists. Addressed to Mayor Alexander, Deniyah Coleman of Livingstone inquired about affordable housing for students, denoting other cities with multiple colleges and/or universities that provide living accommodations for students only. Alexander stated the city welcomes independent contractors who do not extend that type of service. 

Further, she noted housing on Brenner Avenue, giving an example of what perhaps could happen within a property that may discount a percentage/portion of its units.

Suzie Rodriguez of Catawba asked Sheffield to share more about her platform, “People over politics.” Sheffield reiterated her passion for building relationships and recognizing not all people are the same. She stated, “Not all of the women here are the same,” but working together for a better community is the common goal. 

As Mallett mentioned in an earlier response a need for police officers, criminal justice major Nekhia Ray of Livingstone inquired about internship opportunities for college students in East Spencer that will accompany housing or wages. Mallett expressed East Spencer currently has a student intern, and housing options are unavailable.

Rounding out the higher learning component, criminal justice professor and Livingstone College AAUW representative Bessie Hutchins stated to all panelists, “With the extensive rich history and budding promises of business in Rowan County – will the city of Salisbury or East Spencer invest in funding faculty research fellowships to aid in the development of business enterprises or help to create or expand Rowan County as a staple in North Carolina, American, or world history?” 

Panelists shared their roles in education, with Alexander stating her work at Livingstone College and its partnership with Invertis University in Bareilly, India; Mallett shared her commitment to Head Start and solicited volunteerism from AAUW; and Sheffield echoed her involvement in Head Start and noted some key advancements at Catawba College. 

The meeting ended with the recognition of Columbus/Indigenous People’s Day, highlighting a shift in America’s from-margin-to-center approach to the holiday by student Nekhia Ray, and vice president for membership Diane Labovitz shared upcoming AAUW branch events for November and December. More information about the AAUW Salisbury can be found at https://salisbury-nc.aauw.net/