Speaking to the TATA’s Leadership Academy & Training Program

It was my privilege and honor to serve as a guest speaker for a Leadership Academy & Leadership Training Program hosted by the Triangle Area Telugu Association of NC (TATA). This program was designed for high school students to assist them in developing leadership qualities based on their multi-cultural heritage. This program took place over 5 weekends, and it assisted students with their critical thinking, stress management, communication skills, goal setting, self-discovery, and in understanding and respecting their Indian Heritage in a multicultural society. I’d like to Mr. Ratna Sekhar Garimella for inviting me to speak to this wonderful group of talented and intelligent students, but, more importantly, I would like to thank all of those that established this insightful program which will benefit these young people in the years ahead. They do not realize how lucky and fortunate they are to have the support of parents and a community that will help them reach their highest potential. It was my privilege to present each of the students with a certificate for participating in the program and three of them with $500 scholarships from TATA.

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Durham Democratic Party’s Annual County Convention

This past weekend, I attended the Durham County Democratic Party’s Annual County Convention. The convention was extremely well attended and if the enthusiasm and excitement in the room were any indication then we can expect great results in this year’s election. The party elected David Dixon as its new Chairman. I would like to congratulate him on his election, and I look forward to working with him in the years ahead. I have known David since the time he was employed as a member of the staff of the State Democratic Party and we worked closely together during that time frame. The other officers elected were Ebony West, 1st Vice-Chair, Jackie Turnwald, 2nd Vice-Chair, Steve Rawson, 3rd Vice-Chair, Kathy Hall, Secretary, and Margaux Escuti, Treasurer. I was elected once again to serve as a member of the State Executive Committee from Durham. I look forward to working with this energetic team of new members in moving our community and our state forward in the years ahead.

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2019 NC Realtors Legislative Day

I recently met with representatives of the NC Realtors Association on their Legislative Day at the General Assembly. Each year, I meet with a group of realtors from Durham who always comes in extremely well prepared on who are willing to share their thoughts and perspectives on a broad range of issues that are important to our state. I’d like to thank them for their thoroughness and dedication, but, more importantly for advocating for issues that are good for NC.

Students Demand Action

I enjoyed meeting with a group of students from all across North Carolina this past weekend who came together to attend the Students Demand Action Gun Violence Prevention Summit held at UNC’s Genome Sciences Building. In the aftermath of the Parkland School Shooting, many students across America became interested and motivated in organizing to make certain that a Parkland type incident did not occur in their community or anywhere else in America. Students Demand Action has become a lead organization in this student-driven movement. They are active all across our country in supporting reasonable and sensible gun regulations and gun safety programs. Rep. Marcia Morey and I met with and answered questions from these students, and hopefully, we provided inspiration to motivate them. It’s great to see so many students active and engaged and openly and constructively discussing policies that will make a difference. I applaud them for their efforts.

 

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Press Conference to Raise Minimum Wage

Today, I participated in a news conference in support of legislation which has been filed in the NC Senate (SB 291) and in the NC House (HB 366) both of which would raise the minimum wage in NC over a 5-year period of time to $15 per hour. It’s important that we raise the minimum wage in our state since the national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour was adopted approximately 10 years ago and the cost of rent, food, and the necessities of life have significantly increased since that time. For example, in Durham, the livable wage in 2017 was $13.35 per hour, and in Orange County, in 2019, the livable wage is now $14.25 per hour. There are approximately 1.6 million North Carolinians who are paid the minimum wage. I would like to thank all of the coalition groups who came together today in support of this legislation. I would like to particularly recognize my primary co-sponsors in the Senate, Senator Wiley Nickel and Senator Mujtaba Mohammed as well as the primary sponsors of the House Bill, Rep. Susan Fisher, Rep. MaryAnn Black, Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, and Rep. Pricey Harrison. Please join the campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Testing Culture: A Community Conversation

This past weekend, I enjoyed attending a program that brought together educators and community leaders from across NC to discuss the use of standardized tests in our public schools. We were fortunate to have Dr. Diane Ravitch, Founder and President of the Network for Public Education, to participate in this conference by video link. While she was instrumental in establishing the No Child Left Behind program, she came to realize how standardized testing has resulted in teachers here in NC and across the United States focusing their teaching and their attention to helping kids to achieve high scores on standardized tests as opposed to using tests or their equivalents to diagnose student performance. One statistic that I discovered this weekend was that here in NC, during a student’s time in elementary school, a student will spend the equivalent of a full school year testing and preparing for tests.

It’s important that each child’s potential should be assessed, and the student’s progress measured in a constructive means that provides feedback to students, teachers, and families. Historically, teachers have been able to use their own tests to evaluate student performance, however, today, many teachers no longer have that option. Since they must prepare their students only for the information on a standardized test as opposed to using other means to diagnose the strengths or weaknesses of a student to help that student reach his or her highest potential. In my opinion, we need to come up with alternative means to evaluate students and to diagnose their strengths and weaknesses. I would also like to see teachers assist students in developing analytical skills as well as skills that will help them to become writers. I’d much rather see students explain their thoughts in an essay or short answer question as opposed to simply choosing the best of 4 multiple choice answers. I’d like to thank Dr. Jen Mangrum, the NC Families for School Testing Reform, and the other groups that collaborated to host this informative conference.

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2019 Rise & Shine Breakfast

This past week, I enjoyed attending the 2019 Rise & Shine Breakfast sponsored by Partners for Youth Opportunity. This organization is committed to helping approximately 125 Durham High school and college-aged youth in Durham pursue their educational and vocational goals. They run a wonderful mentoring program, in addition, they assist students in obtaining internships and even preparing applications for colleges. They’ve done a great job in inspiring the youth in our community and encouraging them to live up to their fullest potential. This program was established in 2012 when Susan McCraw and Julie Wells began the program with 20 students living in the West End Community in Durham. I am so very proud of all they have accomplished in shaping the views, visions, and aspirations of the lives of the students that have been a part of their program. I wish them continued success.

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An Evening with Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee

I recently had the privilege of meeting Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. He was joined by members of the Tribal Council. I was very impressed by the Chief, but more importantly, by the extraordinary work which the council has done in providing for a better future for those that are a part of their tribe. As a result of revenues generated from Harrah’s Casino, which is situated on the reservation, the council in recent years was able to build a new $80 million-dollar hospital as well as other public facilities. In addition, members of the tribe receive payments that average about $12,000 per year which has greatly improved the standard of living for many living on or near the reservation. It’s great to see these Native Americans charting a positive course for the next generation to follow in opening up pathways of opportunity and hope.

Durham Public Schools’ Legislative Breakfast

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with the Superintendent of Durham Public Schools, Dr. Pascal Mubenga, and members of the Durham County Board of Education to discuss their legislative priorities for this long session year. Among their priorities is returning school calendar control to local Boards of Education, increasing teacher and principal pay to assist them in recruiting and retaining top talent in our classrooms, restoring teacher assistant positions to their pre-recession levels, providing sufficient funding for school nurses, school psychologists, social workers, and guidance counselors, and obtaining authority to allow Durham to construct affordable housing for Durham Public School Teachers. I would like to thank the Superintendent and members of the school board for their commitment to excellence in Durham Public Schools and for creating an environment where all of our students can excel.

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The Sanford School of Public Policy Visits Governor Roy Cooper

This past week, I joined the faculty as well as alumni of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University for a special reception hosted at the Governor’s Mansion where Governor Roy Cooper provided aspiring remarks. It was great to see Dean Judith Kelley as well as distinguished alumni of the school who I have worked with including Lee Roberts, who was the State’s Budget Director under Gov. Pat McCrory, as well as Kristin Walker, who is currently serving as Governor Roy Cooper’s Deputy Budget Director. I’ve known and worked with Kristin for more than a dozen years, and she is a first-class professional who I deeply admire and respect. Over the last two years, I have also had the pleasure of teaching a course at the Sanford School of Public Policy and several of my students attended this reception. My Duke Law School classmate, Mac McCorkle, also participated in this event, and it was great to see him as always.

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