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Leading in her hometown: A Conversation with Knightdale Mayor Jessica Day

Leading in her hometown: A Conversation with Knightdale Mayor Jessica Day

How Claiming A Seat On The Bus Began Her Legacy Of Taking A Stand

Mayor Day’s no stranger to local government and public service in fact she’d say it was her curiosity and love for her hometown that started her journey into leadership. Since 2000, Knightdale has seen rapid growth and has become one of the most diverse communities in the Triangle. It is one of the fastest-growing municipalities in North Carolina. Substantial got the chance to sit down with Mayor Day who shares what it means to be in leadership in her howntown.

KK: Let’s start from the beginning, can you tell us where you grew up and how that experience shaped your career path?

JD:I was born in Raleigh, only because we didn’t have a hospital in Knightdale but I grew up here. I went to high school at Southeast Raleigh High School. Another question I get asked often is, why didn’t you go to Knightdale High School? Well, Knightdale High School didn’t exist at the time. 

So how did it shape me? I’ve been able to see Knightdale grow dramatically over the years, when I was growing up here there were only about 1,500 people or residents in the Town of Knightdale. Now we’re expected to hit 20,000 

residents very soon. That is such a dramatic growth and I’ve been able to see it. I’ve seen it in the residents moving here and the people here but also in the housing and commercial and retail development. 

I remember the excitement when we got Chick-fil-A and when we got to Applebee’s, and so I’ve been able to see it grow to this point. And I’m excited about the future and the continued growth here.

KK: When did you know you wanted to start a career in politics?

JD: I love that question and it’s hard for me to answer because I never wanted to start a career in politics really. I really just wanted to serve my community. I say often that I got into this from a level of curiosity and a willingness to serve. Constantly asking questions like what we can do better? I’ve seen this happen, can we do this here? Can this happen? Why do we do this? Okay, I’ll consider being on this board and see how I can give back? Well, if you really want to do something, and you really want to give back, you should run for council. I was not expecting that. I said, “Okay, let’s run for council, and let’s do this”. 

Watch the full interview.

KK: As the first African American woman to hold the position as Mayor of Knightdale, how has that experience been for you as an African American woman in leadership in a rural setting?

JD: It’s been such a great growth opportunity. It’s been just amazing to be able to have that voice and to be in that room. I’ll say a lot of my life, I have been in rooms where I’ve been the only or I’ve been the first and you can put in several things you could say the only woman or the only Woman of Color, the only Black woman, or one of this age. 

There are so many different things that I can say that I’ve experienced along the way and been able to give some different viewpoints. When I start on the board, I hit a lot of those boxes and still I some times find myself being  the only female, the only Black woman, the only person of color or in some cases the youngest women. 

“So I think on one end, it’s creating that voice but then on the other end, it’s representation, being able to show other Women of Color that this is an option for them. This is an opportunity. This is something that you can do.”

KK : What would you like Substantial readers to know about Knightdale, NC?

JD: I would like them to know that Knightdale is one of the fastest-growing towns and it’s one of the fastest-growing because it is truly a great place to live. I love Knightdale but now I can say it’s not just me because people are moving here and you can see that. 

One of the things that I love about it is there are several factors that make up a great community. There’s housing, transportation, economic development, and education. I think one of the biggest things that makes a great 

community is the people that live in the town. Here in Knightdale, we have amazing people, people move here, and they say, I just love everybody, they are just so kind. I think that’s because we have a culture of diversity here in Knightdale. We’re one of the most diverse communities and that’s any way you look at it. 

KK: In honor of Women’s History Month, what woman or women have inspired you? 

JD: This one is a tough one because this list could go on for so long for me. One person that I will say, in particular, was Keisha Lance Bottoms, the previous mayor of Atlanta. 

I remember going back, this is before even thinking about being mayor, through the Atlanta airport and seeing her picture. I remember 

saying, “Wow, she’s the mayor, oh this is

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amazing.” That planted a seed that I didn’t even know was there. 

As I mentioned a little bit earlier, that’s what I hope to do. I hope that with me, I’m able to plant a seed for somebody else. I’ll also give Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia

representative, as an example. It was a huge example when she ran, I thought that was huge but for me, it was what she did after she ran. 

Lastly, I do have to say, and I know others may say the same thing but I really have to say this, my mother has been such a strong inspiration in my life. My mother is a server, she just cares so much and she gives so much of herself. She says, “How can I help those around me?”. I think that that’s where I got my culture of how I can serve. I see my mom doing so much that I need to do more. So she’s constantly an 

inspiration and my biggest fan. So I have to put my mom in there.

KK: What’s a fun fact, unknown talent, or hobby that you have? 

JD: I’m a Disney fan. I love Disney movies. One of my favorite movies is The Lion King. I actually worked at Disney World in Florida for six months during college. That was such a great experience. One, just to experience working with Disney but two, I pretty much lived in Disney World for six months, which was amazing. It was the kind of a moment that shaped a few things in my life.

You can learn more about Mayor Jessica Day and the Town of Knightdale by visitingwww.knightdalenc.gov. 

Follow Mayor Jessica Day and the Town of Knightdale via
social  @TownofKnightdale – Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

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