Brown-Graham named a Champion of Change

Aug. 01, 2013 @ 12:47 PM

One woman’s dedication to helping people make a difference in their communities was honored by the White House and named a Champion of Change.

Durham’s Anita Brown-Graham found out a couple of weeks ago that her efforts were being recognized by the president of the United States.

She was one of 14 people recognized under the category of civic hacking and open government who, according to the White House website, “pilot innovative programs to involve traditionally disengaged communities in local governance,” among other things.

This Champion of Change said that she came away from the ceremony with several ideas that she plans to implement here in North Carolina.

As the director of the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University, Brown-Graham works to link the public to information and to others who share interests in social and civic change and engagement.

“I really do believe that when people come together and are connected by a shared vision that they can accomplish, they are able to alter the realities of their communities,” she said. “I get excitement from creating those spaces where that happens.

“I’m not an expert with the answers but what I do is bring together a platform both physical and online where people can be very effective for where it is they want to go.”

Brown-Graham now is working on the Emerging Issues Commons, an online and physical platform that she describes as a place where “people can meet each other, compare their counties” and a space where “people can come together and work on issues in their communities.”

Brown-Graham started at the institute in 2007 after 12 years at UNC’s School of Government, where she worked with local governments across the state on economic development issues.

 “Each year we pick an issue that the state needs to focus on because it will be an obstacle for the state or an opportunity,” said Brown-Graham. “Once we get the state’s attention, then our job is to find out how North Carolina can prepare and position itself for what’s coming.”

Part of preparing for what’s coming is engaging people locally to stay informed and take action, she said. Despite an issue’s perceived size, Brown-Graham said, sometimes it just takes one person to get things moving in the right direction.

“The first thing is to recognize that you’re not by yourself and your community is not by itself,” she said. “We work to help people find that promising practice to work in their community and serve as that source of inspiration and empowerment.”

Despite the number of nonprofit agencies throughout the state and numerous volunteers, Brown-Graham said that she was shocked by North Carolina’s overall participation numbers.

“North Carolina has very low civic participation levels,” she said. “Not including voting, we are in the bottom 20 percent in number of people who go to public meetings or to support a neighbor, but many people can’t figure out an effective way to engage.”

Brown-Graham has found another way to help her community as the newest board member for the East Durham Children’s Initiative. So far, she’s only gone to orientation, but she is excited about the possibilities.

“I spend a lot of time working on issues all across North Carolina and all of those issues come down to how do we prepare the generations coming after us,” she said. “I am honored to be a part of EDCI. It’s the most amazing thing ever. It’s a macrocosm of creating a space that allows (social) it to happen.”