Mayor of Ahoskie

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WINTERVILLE — A lesser-known quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received top billing at Pitt Community College’s 10th Annual MLK Jr. Scholarship Tribute this week.

At Thursday’s event, held virtually for the second consecutive year, both Regina Garcia, who chairs PCC’s Multicultural Activities Committee, and keynote speaker Weyling White, the mayor of Ahoskie, quoted from words King spoke in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman,” King said in March 1966.

While another statement King made about injustice, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” is more often quoted, White said that the civil rights leader’s words on health care inequities have come to be some of his favorites.

“My passion is being a true advocate of health and racial equity,” said White, who leads the Care Share Health Alliance. “We cannot achieve health equity without first identifying and addressing racial equity.”

In 2019, at age 33, White became the first African-American mayor in the history of his Hertford County hometown. He was not the only history maker participating in Thursday’s event. Ricky Hines, who was sworn in last month as Winterville’s first African-American mayor, gave a brief statement to welcome about 100 people viewing online.

White, who has an undergraduate degree in exercise science and a master’s in health care management, said King’s words were instrumental in helping to mold him into the man he is today. He also shared stories of the shaping influences of his childhood in this northeastern North Carolina community of about 5,000, which White pointed out has a unique name among towns in America.

“I’ve seen the good, the bad and ugly of my community up front and close,” he said. “You will not find another Ahoskie anywhere. While this makes us unique, many of our conditions are not different from other communities east of I-95.”

White said factors including poverty, toxic stress and violent crime, along with lack of access to good jobs, nutritious foods, transportation and safe and affordable housing, affect the quality of life and the life expectancy of his community.

He recalled that while growing up in his grandmother’s home, he was forbidden from walking two streets away to an area referred to as “the corner” or “the block.” That section of town had a reputation for drug use and gun violence.

Although White’s family’s protective nature shielded him from many of the experiences some of his peers endured, he understood their harmful effects and has worked to make changes in his community. Following graduation from Winston-Salem State University and the University of Phoenix, White joined the Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center in 2013.

His work as director of Hertford Health Access involved helping uninsured residents of Hertford and Bertie counties to receive free or discounted health care services. He founded the TRIP transportation program, which continues to provide patients with free rides to medical appointments and other resources.


White said that many people in the region lack access to grocery stores, recreation and health care, although he lives in a neighborhood that places him in proximity to all of those services. It is a neighborhood where his grandfather was not welcomed, except to serve as a laborer.

“He could only be seen in my (current) neighborhood if he was cutting grass, doing plumbing or performing a service, and he had to be back across the tracks before sundown,” White said. “Just like Ahoskie, many cities across America were intentionally segregated by man-made lines such as railroads or highways that were put in systematically to segregate white and black neighborhoods.”

Last year, White became executive director of Care Share Health Alliance, a public/private partnership created to serve as a statewide resource to help communities develop collaborative networks to improve access to care and the health of low-income, uninsured and underserved people. Nationally recognized in 2017 by Communities Joined in Action as an emerging leader in healthcare transformation, he is also a member of the Vaccine Advisory Committee with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

White said there has been hesitation in the black community about the COVID-19 vaccine due to a history of mistrust of physicians. While he acknowledged that the sense of mistrust is not unfounded, the father of three is an advocate of the vaccine.

“When it comes to COVID-19, no matter where your beliefs lie, we all have a responsibility to do our part to ensure the safety of ourselves and those around us,” he said.

White said leaders also need to be mindful of mental health concerns in their communities, particularly following incidents of racism and violence in 2020.

“It reminded many of us that although it was different times then when Dr. King was making many of his speeches, many things did change,” he said. “However, many things in America still remain the same. I will say that in health, finally things are changing.”

White is grateful for other signs of change in his community as well. Twenty-five years after being prohibited from visiting “the block,” he stood in that neighborhood as mayor, helping to distribute food for Thanksgiving alongside of representatives of churches and other groups wanting to make a difference.

“Collaboration, peace, equity, these are all keys to moving our communities forward,” White said. “Dr. King said in his most famous speech, ‘the negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people. For many of our white brothers have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.’

“I believe in true collaboration and partnership to bring a healthy change to my community, no matter the side of the aisle,” White said. “I believe that we can all work together to bring sustainable change and achieve true racial and health equity in our communities.”

Contact Kim Grizzard at kgrizzard@reflector.com or call 329-9578.