Community Champion in Southeast Raleigh

This story was originally published through 100 Million Healthier Lives and is brought to you through partnership with 100 Million Healthier Lives and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

Who I am...

I am Shemekka Ebony.

I am a Community Champion.

I Am a Voice to the Voiceless in communities.

I Am called to lead the way as a Steward for other Community Champions.

I Am drawn to lead in health equity because I value equity. 

I Am driven by my calling to Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. 

I grew up in a small town in North Carolina named Kinston.  Kinston is known for high poverty, low education, high crime, and high murder rates. Majority population is African American and majority in poverty. I was encouraged by many to leave Kinston for greater opportunities, and I found over time that "Kinston" is in all communities. I decided I could help my Kinston, by also helping other "Kinston" communities across the globe. 

I grew up in a poor family with a single mother and youngest to two older brothers. I was first to go away to college. I had no idea that I was poor at the time, I just knew there was a lot of things I could not have that my friend's had. It was my lived experience in poverty that shaped my fight for others to get opportunities they otherwise would not have access to acquire.  If it were not for my leaving Kinston and going away to college, I would not have known of so many other communities and people across the country that were just like mine. 

This is what drives my passion for being a part of changing communities.  I know that I Can Make A Difference in Community with my gifts and I can teach others to connect their gifts to make a difference in their communities too.

Click here for my Facebook profile.

This is ME!

This is My Calling

This is My Action to the Call

Our Childhood Commitment

Dr. Henderson and I grew up in the same public housing community and later on the same street in rented houses. We have been friends since 5th grade. We were both raised by single mothers working with little resources.  We found early that we had so much in common as we would often study and learn together.  We both excelled academically and were placed at different schools due to different academic programs.  We both had to learn early on how to thrive with the little resources we had. Luckily we had a library within walking distance of our homes.  We spent a lot of time there reading and being exposed to more things.  In middle school, we were taking advanced classes together and in high school, Dr. Henderson was chosen to go to a special high school for science and math.

My best friend Dr. Henderson and I at Grad Night 1998

Through the years we maintained contact and always found ways to bring other youth together to learn new things. Dr. Henderson  got us involved in a high school youth club called MENTOR. This exposed many low income African'American youth like ourselves to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, where professors looked like we did. We saw people of color in leadership roles and not just as janitors and lunch ladies like we visualized in our schools. Many of us were inspired to go to college from those college trips and opportunities to attend Black Engineers Conferences.

Dr. Henderson and his future engineers.

Having the opportunities like Dr. Henderson and I had, inspired us to want to share those with others. We both chose to pursue higher education in order to be role models in our families and communities.  Today Dr. Henderson teaches engineering classes at the University of Houston, and I engage communities across the US. We both have personal investment in giving back to our home community of Kinston and often come back to share and mentor other youth leaders that emerge back home.

Shemekka Ebony w/ #IAmBrilliant Youth Leaders from across the country during Duke Leadership Camp

Being A Part of 100MLives

In my commitment to be a part of positive change in community, I was led to the great opportunities of community change in Southeast Raleigh.  I was working in Southeast Raleigh as a community engager addressing Affordable Housing in the area.  I was serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA in the same area in which the Southeast Raleigh Promise was being developed.

I was happy to get involved as I was already well engaged within this community as well as living there.  This became personal for me because though Affordable Housing was an issue in this community, there were several other challenges the citizens were facing.  I saw the opportunity to serve as Community Champion as an opportunity to connect resources and voices to other challenges this community was facing with economic opportunities, education options, health & wellness, and leadership.

When I joined the Southeast Raleigh Promise Collaborative and Spreading Community Accelerators through Learning and Evaluation (SCALE) team, I did not know what to expect. What I found was a huge network SCALE communities within 100 Million Healthier Lives, SCALE measurable processes, improvement tools, and approaches that could make my local community stronger together.  What influenced me most with SCALE tools were equipping coalitions to become Communities of Solution. To Lead from Within, Lead Together, Lead for Outcomes, Lead for Equity, and Lead for Sustainability.  This became more important to implement within our coalition and community as I would see how strongly it impacted us at CHILA (Community Health Improvement and Leadership Academy) gatherings.  As we applied Improvement Science, and Habits of the Heart to our core team training and community sessions, I saw lives and leaders flourish.

Presenting Southeast Raleigh work to other VISTA peers at NeighborWorks Training Institute

CHILAs led to connecting with other Communities & Champions

Sharing with fellow Community Champions

Where I am headed now

SCALE Communities sharing with other communities about 100 Million Healthier Lives.

My path forward is to continue becoming the echoing voice of social, financial, and health equity within communities. I will further promote access for community residents to develop and engage their roles within their community's changes while promoting co-design practices. I will continue this work by asking organizations and community developers 'who is not represented at your planning tables and who is not thriving' within their proposed plans of changes. I envision that I will continue to connect community leaders with tools to further their work with scalable and sustainable impact for change. I envision a community thriving together as contributors and recipients of positive community change along with social, financial, and health equity for all.

I envision continued contribution as a partner of #100MLives sharing ways to improve engagement, innovation, and fellowship among people with lived experience and institutions seeking to connect with them.

Hosting a Community Engagement Event