LUMBERTON — Three Robeson County women recently spent the day with President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and other towering figures like television host Robin Roberts and activist Gloria Steinem.
Kim Pevia, Enid Cummings Begay and Deborah Dimery Locklear were among about 1,500 people invited to attend the White House Summit on Working Families on Monday. The event, with the help of a long list of celebrity attendees and supporters, became a trending topic on Twitter with the hash tag #FamiliesSucceed.
“Robeson County has all of the challenges that were discussed,” Pevia said on Thursday, still digesting nearly 10 hours of discussions and breakout sessions on rights for working parents. Speakers touched on the need for a higher-minimum wage, flexible schedules for employees caring for sick children and parents, paid maternity and paternity leave and more women in leadership.
Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Joe Biden and Maria Shriver were among the speakers who struck Pevia and Begay the most. But according to the two, the entire event — and how they ended up there — was a whirlwind.
After being invited to a meeting of Women AdvaNCe, an educational organization that works to empower women, Pevia, Begay and Locklear decided to start a local chapter in Robeson County, which they called Redefining Robeson.
“A couple presentations consistently used Robeson as the bad as example, as how not to do things,” Begay said of the statewide meeings. “… Since moving back, I’m rather disappointed. It’s not the Robeson I remember.” Begay, a small business owner living in Pembroke, grew up in Robeson County but lived in California for several years before returning. Pevia is the president of the Pembroke Area Chamber of Commerce and works as a keynote speaker.
Echoing the president’s statements at the event, Pevia and Begay say Robeson County employers should give workers more flexible schedules to care for newborn babies, sick children and aging parents.
“Our plans, our benefits are from the 50s and 60s … we’ve got a lot of single mothers now but we haven’t seen any changes,” Begay said, noting paid maternity leave in California made all the difference for her while caring for two premature babies.
According to a July 2013 Institute for Women’s Policy Research report, 68 percent of Robeson County women with dependent children work and 89 percent of men with dependent children work. Forty-four percent of all families and 65 percent of families in poverty were headed by a single mother in 2013.
It’s easy to say the White House is worlds away from Robeson County, but Pevia said the goals discussed at the summit are still relevant and realistic here.
“When you live in Robeson County, sometimes you can feel disconnected to some of those resources and even that thinking,” Pevia said.
The way to make these ideas a reality? Vote.
“What [Robesonians] need to do is to say my one vote makes a difference,” Begay said. “We have individuals that just don’t vote, don’t read the paper. Just start learning, just start reading, just start asking questions.”
According to Pevia, Robeson County women drastically out-vote men.
“And yet we haven’t necessarily voted for people who are taking our best interests to heart,” she said. “… We cannot have a county where there is not enough female leadership.”
In coordination with the summit, President Obama signed a memorandum asking federal agencies to provide more flexible schedules and also called on Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination against pregnant women. Obama also directed the Secretary of Labor to “invest $25 million in helping people who want to enroll in job-training programs, but don’t currently have access to the childcare they need to do it.”
On July 23, Pevia, Begay and Locklear will share ideas from the summit, along with a study on the status of women in Robeson County, during a meeting of Redefining Robeson. The meeting will be held at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Regional Center at COMtech, located on Livermore Drive, from noon to 2 p.m. Anyone interested in attending should RSVP by July 16 by calling 910-775-4000.
The purpose of the meeting, Pevia said, is to develop a plan of action for improving the lives of working families in the county.
“The greatest thing I want to inspire women to do is to be active … as families succeed our economy succeeds,” Pevia said.