Editor’s note: We wanted to recognize the great contributions women have made to our nation and local communities. “Remarkable Women” is part of a nationwide Nexstar Media initiative to honor the influence that women have had on public policy, social progress and the quality of life.
We are highlighting four local women who inspire, lead and forge the way for other women. It’s not just about one day or one month — it’s about what they do, day-in and day-out.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – She’s a preacher’s daughter and a first-generation college graduate. Born and raised in Eastern North Carolina, Pitt County Commissioner Mary Perkins-Williams said she has her upbringing to thank for who she is today.
Just looking back at my upbringing, since you asked, I became a better person because of the neighborhood I grew up in.Commissioner Mary Perkins-Williams, Pitt County District Two
Perkins-Williams grew up during racial segregation in Pitt County. It was a time when opportunities for African American youth were limited. But her passion for education and helping others would take her far. While studying at North Carolina Central University, Perkins-Williams would travel home to read the weekly paper to her parents who didn’t know how.
When voting rights came around, those who wanted to exercise their right to vote were required to either read the preamble to the United States Constitution or the First Amendment. Perkins-Williams said she realized the vocabulary in the preamble was a bit easier so it gave her an idea.
“I taught them to learn the preamble word for word. Then I worked on helping the rest of the neighborhood,” Perkins-Williams said. That’s what first sparked her interest in politics.
Perkins-Williams is one of the founding members of the Black Faculty and Staff at East Carolina University, which established the Ledonia Wright Scholarship. She has also served as an officer for the Democratic Party African American Caucus.
Perkins-Williams currently serves as Pitt County Commissioner for District Two.
Winterville Councilwoman Veronica Roberson, who nominated Perkins-Williams as a Remarkable Woman, said when she met Mary, she was working for social justice. When asked what made her nominate Mary, she said:
All of us that grew up during the Civil Rights movement, we just have a different perspective of the world. I think she just wants to leave this world a better place.Winterville Councilwoman Veronica Roberson
Perkins-Williams spends most of her days at the organization she’s created: The Northern Pitt County Improvement Association. There she advocates for the area’s well-being and economic growth. Her association provides youth programs, housing assistance, food programs, the LIEAP Program and work-force training.
“Anyone who comes in those doors down the hallway, once we open the door and say ‘come in,’ that means whatever I can do to help you I will,” Perkins-Williams said.
She said the best part of what she does is the smiles, not just on the lips but in people’s eyes.