Edgecombe County February 2022

Population
52,394

County Seat
Tarboro

Median Income
$36,866

Population Density Designation
Rural

We were welcomed to Edgecombe County at the Rocky Mount Event Center, where OIC of Rocky Mount presented an overview of their work with Edgecombe County’s majority Black population.

Formed in 1969 and described by its President and CEO, Rueben Blackwell, as “unashamedly, unabashedly, a civil rights organization,” OIC of Rocky Mount offers workforce development and other forms of community support. For example, Edgecombe Community College offers classes in partnership with OIC.

Members of OIC’s leadership described how Rocky Mount is divided into both Nash and Edgecombe Counties, presenting challenges for developing citywide strategies to support its residents. This can be seen in the health disparities between residents of each county. According to research by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Edgecombe County ranks 97th in health outcomes among North Carolina’s counties. Nash ranks 76th.

As Blackwell put it, “Edgecombe County is at the bottom of every measurement that is bad. We don’t have time to take our time. It’s already been 400 years.”

OIC is working to reduce health outcome disparities in Rocky Mount by providing integrated health services. They build trust with patients by hiring providers who resemble the community, placing medical centers in areas where residents are most in need, and providing residents with educational programming to support healthy lifestyles.

Following OIC’s presentation, General Manager David Joyner led us on a tour of the Rocky Mount Event Center. The Center features an urgent care clinic, athletic facilities and spaces for community engagement.

Over lunch we heard from Ted Lord, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the Golden LEAF Foundation. He described how the organization funds local projects and provides scholarships for students from economically distressed communities.

We wrapped up our trip to Edgecombe County at Princeville Elementary School. Princeville was established by formerly enslaved residents in 1885, making it the state’s oldest town incorporated by African Americans. Like much of the town, Princeville Elementary is in a flood zone. The school suffered severe flooding after Hurricane Matthew in 2017, only reopening in 2020.

Dr. Valerie Bridges — who was honored as the Craig Phillips North Carolina Superintendent of the year in 2022 — outlined a vision for Edgecombe County Public Schools (ECPS) students to “graduate prepared to design their own futures, navigate change, and make the world a better place.”

Because Rocky Mount is in both Nash and Edgecombe counties, some Edgecombe students who live in Rocky Mount attend Nash County Public Schools (NCPS). Those students will be transferring from NCPS to ECPS in the coming years, as part of a planned “demerger” of Rocky Mount residents. They’ll be welcomed to ECPS by Donnell Cannon, Executive Director of District Transition and Redesign.

Cannon is in the process of using human centered design to solicit input from residents about the demerger. As he put it, “We want to be outside the hospital when you give birth saying, ‘Your kid is now an ECPS student!’”

Quarry Williams, ​​Coordinator for Alternative Learning at ECPS, shared a system he’s established to bill Medicaid for providing mental health care to students. ECPS is the only district in the state using this model, which can help bridge the gap between the mental health services available through schools and the lack of affordability and availability of these services in the community.

Seth Saeuling, Cofounder of the Rural Opportunity Institute (ROI), spoke of resources they offer to local residents. ROI works to “end generational cycles of trauma and poverty by preventing adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress for the community in Edgecombe County.”

Our trip finished with a presentation from Michelle Etheridge, Director of the Edgecombe County Health Department, on how COVID-19 has affected the county. Etheridege also shared her department’s multi-tiered strategy for addressing opioid misuse and abuse.

U39702, 3/22