How Claiming A Seat On The Bus Began Her Legacy Of Taking A Stand
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“There have been so many times that I’ve been the only ‘me’ in the room. But always in the back of my mind, is my dad saying, ‘I paid a price for you to be in that room… You better act like you belong.’”
With grace, compassion, and the fierceness of her beloved LSU Tigers, Anita Brown-Graham is having a substantial influence on her community through her work as a professor of public law at the UNC School of Government and the director of the ncIMPACT initiative. The initiative is fueled by her calling to help members of the community to move past differences and collectively work on common challenges that no one person nor institution can effectively challenge.
Anita is no stranger to challenge. That lesson her father taught her came about from an experience in her childhood that she shared with great and intriguing detail: “Louisiana is not known for being on the cutting edge of progressive civil rights, and in 1982, I found myself on a school bus in the midst of a desegregation brouhaha. It may well have been that I was on the bus for five minutes before the bus driver made the other people on the bus reorganize themselves, so I could have a way to sit. But at fourteen years old, it felt like it was five hours. I remember I got to the school. It was my first day at this high school. And the bus driver went into the principal’s office and explained what had happened and I called my dad and my dad came to the school, and I was just bawling, and I said, ‘I cannot get on that bus anymore’. But dad, who usually was so supportive of me emotionally, had this steely look on his face. And he said, ‘You’re gonna get on that bus. You’re going to get on that bus this afternoon. You’re going to get on that bus the next morning, because I’m paying taxes, and you have a right to get on that bus. And when you step on it, you better step on it like you’re the law!’”
And she did. And she continues to show up and take a stand, including stepping up on stage to host her own show, ncIMPACT on PBS North Carolina! So, how did we get so lucky as to have Anita as an NC resident?
“I came to North Carolina in 1988 to go to law school at the University of North Carolina. I will tell you that I’m embarrassed to say it but it’s true – I’m not sure I was clear where North Carolina was on the map when I got here, but it was a way to get out of Louisiana. And it seemed good.
Coming to this state was the best thing that has ever happened in my life. And there are so many times when I’ve been asked by politicians and leaders in Louisiana, ‘Why aren’t you doing what you do in North Carolina back home?’ and there’s not a way to fully explain the magic in the DNA of the state in which people roll up their sleeves and they just get things done. But I have been captivated by that since the minute I got here. And even though I left after law school and went out to Northern California, it was only three years before I was lured back to North Carolina, because this feels like the place I was meant to be.”
Before the close of our time with Anita, we asked her to share with us the name of a woman she would honor for Women’s History Month, and she couldn’t pick just one! She chose her late and very good friend, Andrea Harris, who poured into her, never let her off the hook, and always pushed her to do better. She also chose her two daughters, saying:
“I have two daughters who are young adults, and they are my sheep. I cannot believe, with all of my flaws, that God has blessed me to raise these young women. They are so fierce. They’re fiercely different in some ways. I’m like, wait a minute, ‘How could two people who are so different have grown up in the same house?’ but it’s because they grew up to be their own woman, who they were destined to be. And every day I look at them and think to myself, “If I could have been who you all are in my 20s, I don’t even know where I’d be right now!’ Awesomeness personified!”
The answer to that question is right here in North Carolina where she’s meant to be! And we have no intention of giving her back!