Democratic state representatives told N.C. Central University students recently they are struggling with a veto-proof Republican majority and need help electing Democrats.
State Reps. MaryAnn Black and Graig Meyer, both Democrats, are social workers who now serve in the Legislature and spoke to NCCU social work students at the school’s third annual “Social Worker in the House” forum on Feb. 20. B
Black and Meyer told the students to consider a range of ways they can use their degrees to pursue a career but also talked about getting engaged politically even if they don’t run for office as Black and Meyer did.
“Your ability to organize, to connect people who need power to the people who have power is transformational,” Meyer said. “So even if your day job is going to be something that you love working directly one on one with people, I want your night job to be working to influence politics and policy.”
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Meyer said social workers get “super powers” from their educations, including the ability to understand systems, the ability to understand psychology, the ability to understand group dynamics and to organize and a moral code that centers them.
Meyer, who is chairman of the House Democrats’ recruitment committee, said he had spent the last year recruiting Democrats to run for Legislatyre positions. “We’re going to have competitive elections,” Meyer said.
Meyer noted that Black, who serves Durham County, and he, who serves parts of Durham and Orange counties, have fairly safe seats, but he urged his audience to get involved either by volunteering or donating in nearby counties such as Wake, Person, Granville, Alamance and Harnett counties, where Democrats face tougher battles to get elected.
Black said she was disturbed by the Legislature’s attempt to take over the duty appointing judges, rather than relying on local elections. “I think I’m a pretty smart lady,” she said, “but I tell you I’m not smart enough to say who should be a judge in 100 counties in North Carolina.”
Black and Meyer also addressed the challenge Durham Public Schools face as the Legislature allows a “Wild West,” as Meyer described it, approach to public charter schools, lifting the cap on the number of such schools that was decided on when they were first permitted. Both legislators said that charter schools have resulted in the resegregation of schools and a drain on the regular public schools as dollars are siphoned off to go to the charter schools.
When a student asked about holding police accountable for excessive use of force, Black said she hoped some of the students would become police officers so they can use their education and background to change police departments for the better.
“I see heads shaking,” Black said, “but this is about changing a culture and getting people who are on the streets, in administration, throughout the system, who would be interested in changing the culture and making sure things go well and making sure the people who are there to protect are being protected.”
She talked about how her father was the first black police officer in Florence, South Carolina, in 1949 and the struggles he faced. He would later go on to be a church pastor.
Meyer talked about a friend from graduate school who had been a police officer and used his social work background to serve in several roles in Chicago government until he was appointed superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools.
Meyer, who has served in the Legislature since winning a special election in 2013, said his background in social work stemmed from growing up in a working class neighborhood in Cleveland, where many of his friends couldn’t follow him to college. He received his undergraduate degrees in anthropology and sociology from the College of Wooster and a master’s degree in social service administration from the University of Chicago.
Meyer worked with North Carolina’s public school system for 16 years, helping students get into college, and continues to work with schools as a consultant in between his duties as a legislator.
Black, who was appointed to the Legislature in February 2017, said her background growing up as the daughter of a church pastor pointed her toward social work. She has a bachelor’s degree from Benedict College and a master’s in social work from UNC-Chapel Hill. She is vice president for community relations at Duke University Health System.
Black served as a Durham County commissioner from 1996 to 2002.
NCCU social work graduate student Melissa Black said after the talk that she doubts she will ever become a politician, but said, “it opened my eyes to the possibility.”
She also said that, while she’s not considering becoming a police officer, she has relatives who have thought about it but have doubts. MaryAnn Black’s comments about police work led Melissa Black to say she had decided to perhaps try to sway those relatives to go into the field.