Robeson County October 2021

Population
131,315

County Seat
Lumberton

Median Income
$34,976

Population Density Designation
Rural

In Robeson County, we began our day at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP). Located less than 20 miles from the South Carolina state line, UNCP is the third oldest public institution in North Carolina. After an introduction to Robeson County and the university’s strategic focus, Chancellor Robin Cummings guided our group on a campus tour to see the developments that would benefit future students.

UNCP is an NC Promise institution, committed to making the university experience affordable and accessible to all through reduced student costs. Its current enrollment is just over 8,000. As enrollment grows, the administration is working quickly to expand student housing and improve academic buildings. A new state-of-the-art School of Business building is in its final stages of construction.

UNCP faculty and administration are working hard to make students feel connected and supported through individual attention. During lunch we met with Chancellor’s Ambassadors. Yaqot Nassar, a senior biology major, spoke of her love for campus life. She says her experience at UNCP has been “absolutely amazing. [She has] met so many amazing people,” and the campus is “very diverse,” which she loves.

Diversity is nothing new to the university. It is deeply connected with the Lumbee Tribe and was founded as a place for First Nations people to come learn. The university was established in 1887 as the Croatan Normal School, built to train American Indian teachers. In 2005 the school was declared “North Carolina’s Historically American Indian University.”

While on campus, we visited The Museum of the Southeast American Indian. Nancy Fields, the museum’s director and curator, led our group through the museum, provided the history and context of tools used by her ancestors, and detailed the university’s origins with the community. Chancellor Cummings and his team hope to make UNCP the American Indian education hub and are proud that their school has always celebrated inclusion throughout its history.

Our next stop was the Lumbee Tribe Cultural Center – only five miles from the university. The Cultural Center serves as a gathering space for tribe members to engage in community gardening, pow wows, talking circles, cultural ceremonies, theatrical performances and more.

We met with leaders of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, including Harvey Godwin, Jr., Chairman, and Tammy Maynor, Director of Governmental Affairs. These leaders told us about the history of the Lumbee Tribe in Robeson County and the tribe’s community engagement efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. They hosted food distributions, delivered fresh food to elders, provided education about COVID-19 and vaccines, and administered testing and vaccinations. The Chairman spoke about the importance of non-clinical approaches to healing and well-being that improve the overall health of the Lumbee community, specifically the tribe’s cultural practices like gardening, talking circles and cleansing rituals.

We learned that isolation and lack of access to health care continue to be an issue. Blue Cross NC President and CEO Dr. Tunde Sotunde asked what basic health care looked like for members of the tribe. The leaders told us that there isn’t a free clinic available. They are forced to recommend private health care, which is costly and often out of reach. “We have to do better,” Tunde said.

At the end of our visit, we were able to see the KaBOOM! playground that Blue Cross NC volunteers built in 2019. The playground celebrates accessibility and includes several structures at the center for children living with different abilities. It has proven vital for the community and has provided a safe place for families to enjoy during the pandemic.

Our final stop of the day was Robeson Community College. Upon our arrival, President Melissa Singler welcomed us into an atrium where students in several disciplines demonstrated their work. Students offered haircuts and massage therapy to community members (and our group!) and displayed their robotics projects. The culinary arts students outdid themselves with “A Taste of Robeson County,” a sampling of local produce and products (pimento cheese, collards, homemade doughnuts and more). During a roundtable discussion, we heard about the college’s efforts to provide resources for students during the pandemic. The school was able to offer many classes virtually and quickly adapted to a student population that was struggling with job loss, family caregiving, financial strain and more.

Meet Dr. Algie Gatewood

Dr. Algie Gatewood is only the fourth President to lead Alamance Community College (ACC) since it opened in 1958. During Dr. Gatewood’s tenure at ACC, the college won its largest ever bond referendum – nearly $40 million – in 2018 to fund a number of major capital projects and expansions. The college also secured $16 million in county funding in 2014 to build the Advanced Applied Technology Center. Other notable accomplishments include creating a Biotechnology Center of Excellence, introducing an Early College, facilitating an apprenticeship program, and introducing nearly two dozen new academic programs and articulation agreements with state universities.

U39702, 12/21