From serving as the president of the Meredith Democrats Club during her time on campus to now serving as a director for both Advance Carolina and NC Black Alliance, La’Meshia Whittington, ’16, has played a pivotal role in Black voter turnout in North Carolina for quite some time.
Whittington’s work earned her the trust of elders within the southeast Raleigh community, who appointed her as co-moderator for a roundtable discussion with Vice President Kamala Harris during the presidential campaign in late September.
The discussion was held at White’s Barber Shop in Raleigh, a Black-owned small business that’s been considered a local treasure for over 50 years. Whittington called the shop a community hub and a lifesource for southeast Raleigh, making it the perfect place for voters to personally connect with Harris.
“We wanted Senator Harris and her team to know that if they wanted to come to North Carolina, they needed to meet the people who make North Carolina,” said Whittington. “We didn’t want her to just come and sit in a boardroom and talk with folks who are disconnected from the community.”
Whittington said it was an honor to be trusted as the person to introduce Harris and help moderate the discussion, a responsibility that allowed her to help bridge the gap that she says too often exists between the Black community and officials running for office.
“This event wasn’t our endorsement, it was our vetting process,” she said. “It was an opportunity to ask ‘why?’ Why should I, a Black Southern woman, support your administration? Why should my Black family support this administration? And why should our communities trust your leadership?”
After a productive discussion, Whittington bumped elbows with Harris on stage to thank her for making the stop. Someone happened to capture the candid moment on camera, allowing Whittington the chance to look back on the exchange and process all that it represented.
“When I saw the photo was being launched in newspapers across the nation, I became emotional,” said Whittington. “I noticed two things: the Meredith Onyx on my finger and the American flag behind me. It was very grounding.”
Whittington said seeing herself on that stage with Harris, with her Meredith class ring facing the world, felt like a full-circle moment in her career.
“You know, my work has really only just begun,” she said. “The road to Meredith wasn’t easy, that journey was very rocky and tumultuous. And so the work that was built there, through the support of my family and the love they had for me, combined with the love I had on campus from folks who invested in me, to be able to live through it and stay the course … it was a moment of feeling like everything had come full-circle.”
The photo is also a reminder for Whittington of everything she believes in and what she’s worked so hard to build within her community: change through relationships with elected officials.
“My heart is in community, my work is in community, and my fight is for the people of North Carolina,” she said. “This is not the beginning but the continuation of what I’ve been prepared to do: fight for the liberation of my people.”
It was just a couple of months after Harris’ roundtable discussion in Raleigh when she was announced as the first Black woman elected vice president. In that moment, Whittington said she felt recharged, like she could breathe. “I am regenerated because I have hope,” she said.
“I have hope because there are little Black and Brown girls looking at their T.V. screens right now, seeing Harris and thinking, ‘that can be me.’”
As a Black indigenous woman, Whittington is very much aware of the importance of representation in office. “At this point, what we have to see is that what is representative for our country is an opportunity to bring to the forefront that there can be unity,” she said. And for Whittington, that’s what Harris being in office represents: an opportunity for unity and for Black, indigenous people of color to understand the power that they already hold.
“We are more powerful than we realize,” she said. “We come from rich history and if we see the power that is within our own families, within our neighborhoods – we can make change. You can become vice president, too. You can be that mayor. You can be that governor. You can serve on that commission. You can chart this course.”
Helping communities understand the power that they hold at the local level is vital to Whittington’s work in both her role for NC Black Alliance and Advance Carolina. She became aware of this power herself when she was a student at Meredith, where she gained experience organizing for campaigns during the 2016 election.
“At Meredith, power is instilled in students by connecting them with the right opportunities in their next step towards a career,” said Whittington. “I use a similar model within my work now, by building power within communities and connecting them with local elected officials to help make change.”
Whittington came to Meredith as a transfer student and a working professional. Even as a nontraditional student, she couldn’t have felt more welcomed. She still remembers how special it felt to see her name on a reserved parking spot when she pulled up to visit campus for the first time. “I fell in love,” she said.
To this day, Whittington is grateful to her professors and advisors at Meredith, still keeping in touch and coming back to campus to speak with students interested in her field. She believes it is the current generation of students at Meredith that had a major impact on this year’s election.
This spring, Whittington is back at her alma mater to teach a class alongside her colleague and former classmate, Jovita Lee, ’16. The two alumnae are teaching a new course in the sociology department on racial equity and social justice.
“I’m super excited for the chance to come back and teach because we have to support our own,” said Whittington. “And there is nothing more powerful than women supporting women.”
Though students have already voted and a new administration is already in place, Lee and Whittington believe there is still important work to be done and conversations to be had about the current social climate.
“This class is a wonderful example of coming together and considering what’s next, what’s possible,” she said. “We’re asking these students important questions about what survival looks like for communities that they may teach in, that they may be a nurse in. There are so many lanes in which we go into the world where it is critical to have these conversations so that all of the responsibility doesn’t fall on this new administration.”
Whittington is also eager for the opportunity to teach because it’s a way for her to help support anti-racism and unification at Meredith. “Working with the College and being in a place where we can help foster and nurture a campus that we are familiar with, that we love – I’m excited for that.”
In the coming years, Whittington plans to continue using her strengths to support her home state of North Carolina in whatever way she can. “My people have lived, loved, prayed, fought, and died for this land and for our liberation for too many generations to count,” she said.
“I am my ancestors’ wildest dream and their deepest prayer. I will continue to ask the hard questions, challenge the system, and honor my people.”