Meredith’s Voices of Change Provides Tools for Public Service and Political Leadership

Nineteen students recently completed the Voices of Change Political Institute, a Meredith College-sponsored program for college women of color. 

In North Carolina, Black women and women of color continue to be underrepresented in political offices—both appointed and elected. This program built on the foundation of two previous institutes and focused on inspiring young women to consider public service and giving them tools to help them be successful in this venture.

Participating were students from Meredith, Johnson C. Smith University, UNC-Charlotte, North Carolina A&T State University, Fayetteville State University, Queens University of Charlotte, UNC-Pembroke, Bennett College, and Beaufort County Community College. These women were from several areas of North Carolina, including Arden, Charlotte, Durham, Laurinburg, Greensboro, Greenville, and Raleigh, as well as from Virginia and South Carolina.

Meredith Professor of Political Science David McLennan and alumna Daphne Moore, ’19, co-directed this year’s institute, which was a residential program held May 31-June 3, 2023.

“I was impressed by each of the Institute participants. They arrived with different ideas about the changes they wanted to make in their communities, but bonded as a cohort and with the instructors to commit to helping each other achieve their short and long-term goals,” said McLennan.

The program included instruction in communication, emotional intelligence, and strategic planning. In addition, they visited the North Carolina General Assembly where they met with staff and legislators. Another event was an inspirational panel of appointed and elected women who gave practical advice on how to make a difference in public service.

Networking and Learning from Peers

Participant Kennedy Brooks, a senior at UNC Charlotte majoring in organizational communication, was drawn to the program because she wanted to interact with others interested in political leadership.

I was interested in the opportunity to network and witness public servants in action,” said Brooks. “I learned about career opportunities in public service, how to collaborate with other leaders, and about some pressing issues that activists are facing.”

Kimberly Edmonds Nelson is a senior in the Interdisciplinary Studies program at Johnson C. Smith University who describes herself as a passionate advocate. Through the Voices of Change Institute, Nelson “was able to join forces” with others in the program.

“We all felt a sense of calling to be there,” Nelson said. “The opportunity to have real dialogue and exchange about what we are experiencing strengthened us in more ways than we even expected.” 

Sadiya Johnson a rising senior at N.C. A&T State University majoring in child development & family relations also appreciated the opportunity to meet and learn from other like-minded students. She advises future participants to bring their own experiences to the program.

“Just be yourself … don’t be afraid to speak up and make connections, be open to learning, and also come prepared with knowledge in your own field whether it is politics, education, criminal justice, or anything,” Johnson said.

Developing Concrete Next Steps

An important part of the Voices of Change program was helping participants identify the next steps in their path to public service. 

“The participants were very committed to making their communities better places and had great ideas about what needs to be done at the local, state, and federal level,” McLennan said. “The Institute helped them develop concrete plans for starting their public service careers while in college and continuing after they graduate.” 

Brooks is completing a leadership certificate program and focusing on ethics in leadership. Johnson plans to earn a paralegal certificate and family mediation certification to support her goal of working with children and families in the legal system. Nelson was able to make connections with presenters during the program and her next steps involve continued networking with these leaders.

Nelson was also inspired by the goals of her fellow participants. “I was so proud of them taking full ownership of what they experienced through the program but also how they can see small steps that they can take, going back to their communities and lending their voices for change,” she said. “I’m confident that we’re going to keep each other accountable and leverage our resources and networks to help us advance.”

The Institute concluded with a panel of women public service leaders from across the state and a ceremony recognizing the participants. 

This is the third year Meredith has hosted the Voices of Change Institute, with funding from the Legacies of Slavery grant, through the Council of Independent Colleges, the Gilder Lehrman Institute at Yale University, the Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Learn more at

Melyssa Allen

News Director
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