Jeanette Evans left Elizabeth City in 1963 upon graduating from Elizabeth City State University with a degree in education. The Northhampton County native says she never had plans to return here to continue her life’s work as an educator.
Since returning, however, she’s been an active part of the community and continues to strengthen her ties with the university she loves.
The current president of the ECSU National Alumni Association and her husband Charles would raise their son – also Charles, but not junior – in Baltimore, making it their home for 35 years. It was there that Evans would obtain a masters degree and then a doctorate in education.
It was also there that she became the first African-American English teacher in Baltimore after the integration of public schools.
Evans went on to become education specialist and director of curriculum and eventually spend nine years as chief of staff for Baltimore’s superintendent of schools.
She returned to Elizabeth City after her retirement to work for former ECSU Chancellor Mickey Burnim as his chief of staff. Although Burnim is now running Bowie State University in Maryland, Evans still works for him as a consultant in the field of enrollment management, when she’s not working here at home with her service organization, Links Inc.
The Daily Advance: You graduated from ECSU in 1963. Talk about what and how much has changed at the university over the past 50 years.
Jeanette Evans: When I came here in 1959 as a student, all of the buildings could be seen from the flagpole
in the quad; facility growth. The expansion of the campus; the curricula of course.
We did have an active campus. That’s where I was introduced to opera. We had the best of the best cultural experience. But when I go to cultural events I don’t see as many students.
We were very much secluded. We were protected.
TDA: In your ECSU Founder’s Day keynote address you talked about challenges facing students today. What are the most pressing challenges and how can they address them?
JE: The factors are pretty much the same as when I was a student. Access (to education) and affordability. … Having opportunities. We still appeal to our service area (ECSU services 17 regional counties) and those families are still having the same issues (access to education and finances).
TDA: What do you believe is the most important mission of ECSU today?
JE: Prepare leaders for a global society. While we have this little corner of the world, students are going to move beyond this environment and compete. … I think ECSU has a history of leadership. That’s why I’ve stayed.
TDA: How can alumni help to see that mission through?
JE: Giving back, which is what I spend a lot of my time doing. … My primary purpose of being involved in the alumni association is to recruit. The alumni serve as the ambassadors of the university and in that regard we see ourselves as the watchdogs.
TDA: What can the Elizabeth City community do to build stronger bonds with ECSU?
JE: That is a hard question because just as I’m involved with organizations that provide service, if the community wants to get involved there has to be a mutual agreement; an understanding that the community can add value by being inviting, like with what is going on in the community.
TDA: What can ECSU do to build a stronger bond with the Elizabeth City community at large?
JE: If ECSU has boards and committees then have an invitation to have Elizabeth City residents participate. They’ll know what’s going on and they’ll help promote the brand.
TDA: You are involved with Links Inc., an organization dedicated to taking aid where it is needed. What are some of the projects you are working on locally?
JE: Right now we’re working with Haiti. We’re working with P.W. Moore mentoring the students there. And the Fuel Up to Go program which is their health and wellness program. We’ve participated in Operation Christmas Child putting together shoebox gifts for children around the world. We’re doing the SOULS (feeding) program. We do Sundays once a month and we happen to be doing Easter this weekend. One of our major issues is health and wellness.
TDA: Both black and white members of the community have commented that we need to work harder to bridge the racial gap here. What do you believe can be done to bring the community together across racial lines?
JE: I think the Human Relations Committee is a good start. And more opportunity to discuss (issues). My own belief is we’re afraid to put certain issues on the table. Cultural and racial communication is the key. It’s like in your family … communication is the key.
TDA: Over the past 50 years what do you believe has changed in Elizabeth City for the better and what changes do we need to make for a stronger future?
JE: Although some people might not agree, I believe it’s more open and inviting. It’s not much different from when I lived in Baltimore. You just have people who don’t understand and you have biases. You just have to engage them and more forward. The one thing I would like to do as alumni president is to encourage our white students to come back and be active. … We have made it a role to do more outreach.
TDA: Describe what you would like to see for Elizabeth City over the next 50 years.
JE: I know the mayor has set up a committee to talk about ways to improve the city. I would like to do more to make it inviting. … Elizabeth City has a rich history. I think the town needs to be beautified. It doesn’t have the look of a tourist town.
I would like to see more culturally. I think a lot has been done. … We need to make the schools more inviting.