Kenchen Optimistic Despite Economic and Political Challenges

The November elections and the ensuing couple of months have been cause for considerable contemplation for me, both about my work and about my place in the world. I’ve talked to countless friends, attended forums where experts analyzed the economic, political, and social state of our nation and our state, and read article after article.

And while I absolutely agree that we are in an extremely tense time in our communities and in our nation, I remain optimistic.

The statistics are challenging. More than 18% of North Carolina residents are living below the poverty line; 25.8% of them are children.  Our statewide demographics are shifting, as 24 counties have a declining population, yet by 2035 North Carolina will have an increase of between 1.5 and 2.5 million residents over the age of 65 and more than 1 million of the state’s total population will be Latino.

Each of our 100 counties has a significant shortage of safe, decent affordable housing, with about 1.2 million families cost-burdened.  18.6% people in NC are food insecure with child rates reaching about 27%.  Many of these residents have limited access to fresh, affordable healthy food.

And our middle class is deteriorating.  In many communities this means there are fewer resources to help those in need.  Numbers that aren’t counted anywhere yet are a day-to-day reality to many.  The $20 you give to a cousin or friend for gas money so they can get to work. The $300 to a sister who has a gap in the rent.  Fewer gifts to the local church or the food pantry….Losing the middle class means that we lose an economic anchor that we often devalue and don’t fully understand.

Even in knowing all of this, I remain optimistic.  North Carolina has a strong business community. We drive innovation, have a strong community college and university system, and have a robust group of citizens who advocate for transparency and equity.

Most of all, I am optimistic because of our greatest asset – Our People!  At our core, North Carolinians are good, decent people.  I am optimistic that the vast majority of us believe in some foundational democratic and moral principles.

We must believe that each person should be able to exercise his or her right to vote even if we don’t agree with what the ultimate vote may be.  No matter what our religious beliefs, we have to accept that no major religion or faith advocates hatred or treating humans as inhumane.   While we may disagree on the method, we all must agree that all of the children of North Carolina should be properly educated.  And that in spite of their circumstances children should not experience hunger.  And we share the belief that those who have sacrificed the most in protecting our country should not be homeless or without adequate care.    I am convinced that we as a State can agree on underlying principles, thus I am optimistic that we work together to create solutions to effectively educate all of our students, to make sure that working families can find a safe, decent affordable place to live, and to ensure that we are maximizing the potential of all our residents.

The NC Community Development Initiative has been quietly investing in NC communities and its people for years.

We make bold choices to align ourselves with thoughtful community leaders attacking problems in innovative ways.

Click on our new 2015-2016 annual report for highlights of our recent work to repair and strengthen struggling communities. Read about our creative deal with Wake Habitat for Humanity to expand their reach by 20%. Check out our work in Bertie County to retool an integral local community facility.  If you haven’t already, please sign up for our email list.  Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. And reach out to us get involved.

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