2019 intern Beryl Bortey shares the magic of Tarboro in her own words:
In the past six weeks, I hiked in a parkland, was out-danced by six-year-olds, failed to entertain an infant during a boat ride, and watched The Bachelorette with a 90-year-old woman.
Oddly enough, the thrill of it all doesn’t really matter.
In the past six weeks, I’ve gradually drawn closer to understanding what community actually is.
Community is one of the most complex words in our lexicon. It’s a buzzword that’s supremely overused and irrefutably misunderstood. Community extends beyond a collection of bodies that co-exist in a geographically defined space. It’s not an internally homogenous group of individuals, and community is not a conflict-free zone.
Quite frankly, I don’t think an adequate definition of community exists. I don’t know exactly what community is, but I now know what it feels like to be a member of one.
Prior to sitting in the chair to get my hair cut, I realized that I didn’t have any cash with me. I immediately told the hair stylist I needed to go to the bank, and she told me to sit back in the chair. She would only let me go to the bank after she cut and styled my hair. She only knew that I was the “new girl in town” and that I was in college, but she blindly trusted me. This is what community looks like.
On my first day in Tarboro, a community member delivered pastries to our house and attached a handwritten note to the box. She was a stranger to me as I was a stranger to her. Upon meeting her, I immediately realized that “stranger” was not in her vocabulary. Rather, she regarded everyone as a potential companion. This is what community looks like.
I still receive random text messages from unknown (252) phone numbers. It’s always a message inquiring how I’m doing. It’s a simple, mundane gesture that elicits a visceral reaction within me every. single. time. This is what community feels like.
In the past six weeks, I’ve had intimate conversations in the aisles of Food Lion, debated with community members on what’s real peach cobbler, and eaten lunch with potential companions.
And that has made all the difference.
By Beryl Bortey, UNC-ch ‘22, ENCIP intern with Edgecombe County Public Schools
Eastern North Carolina is an often-overlooked region rich with history and culture. From the most remote barrier islands in the Outer Banks to the bustling downtowns of Greenville and Wilmington, this area has much to offer residents and visitors alike.
The county seat of Edgecombe, Tarboro is much more than your average small town. Our charming downtown Main Street area thrives with shops and restaurants in an age when the storefronts of many small towns are hollow. Our historic landmarks and museums draw touring history buffs; our Blount-Bridgers museum showcases fine art; thousands gather to watch our extensive Christmas Parade; and the NC Symphony performs every summer on the Town Common.
Speaking of the Common, did you know there are only two original chartered town commons left in the United States? One is the famous Boston Town Common, and the other is Tarboro’s.
Despite all the beauty and opportunity the town offers, Tarboro still faces issues of stark inequality, often along racial lines. Edgecombe is consistently ranked as one of the state's poorest counties. It’s an area that struggles with massive health and other social problems—ranking in the state’s bottom percentiles in behavioral, clinical, social, economic, and environmental health factors. When the county is 58% African American, it’s clear that racial inequality is a major part of these problems.
ENCIP’s internships are designed in partnership with community organizations that are working on the ground to solve and prevent these issues. All our internship projects directly contribute to these organizations’ work—so by coming to Tarboro as an ENCIP intern, you will be contributing to real community-based solutions. To learn more about the challenges and opportunities of rural communities, and to help this particular community work towards justice and equality—join us!