Substantial magazine had the opportunity to catch up and chat with one of our Greenville/Pitt County favorites, Representative Kandie Smith to discuss her take on the impact COVID-19 is having on our community and the importance of us all taking care of ourselves physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
We don’t believe there are too many of our readers, let alone people that don’t know who Representative Kandie Smith is but just so we’ve covered the formal introductions; Kandie Diane Smith is a Democratic member of the North Carolina General Assembly representing the State’s 8th House district (Pitt). Smith is a fun-loving, hard-working, kind person who enjoys seeing people flourish and grow. Substantial magazine has had the pleasure of knowing Smith for some time and she has always had a serving spirit. Motivating others to succeed and ensuring equal opportunity for all has been a common thread in the number of roles she has held. Above all else Smith is a problem-solver. With that being said, she is also a believer in the little things and not taking life too seriously is one of them. Oh and we can’t forget to mention anyone who knows her knows she loves to laugh and dance. Now that you know a little about who Representative Kandie Smith is let’s dive into our sit down.
You’ve been serving in some form since we’ve known you. When did you know you wanted to serve your community and the state in a political capacity?
I made that decision in the moment. Some people grow up living politics and wanting to be a political leader—but that wasn’t me. I registered to vote, my momma made sure of that, but the thought never entered my mind to run for an office. I filed for my first race to run for the Greenville City Council during the last 10 minutes of filing and I only knew I’d be in politics after I won. Since then I have never stopped working as an advocate for the people of my community.
What does it really mean to serve your community as a Representative?
What it really means to me is that I am a liaison between the people and the state. There are so many circumstances where the people don’t know that the state can help them, so I always want to make sure I am filling that void. I put the people first in my work, because that’s what this is all about. I am elected to act as a voice for the people—and I will always make sure I am doing that.
Now you know we’ve got to address the current state of affairs surrounding COVID-19 and the impacts this pandemic is having on our community. Take a moment and tell us the impact you believe COVID-19 has had and will continue to have on our community and state?
I really think COVID-19 has brought a lot of stuff to light for people. I think this crisis has given us a new perspective on life in a lot of ways. One of the things I want to make sure I call attention to is how people and communities are helping one another right now. It’s easy to focus so hard on the negatives but to see people helping their neighbors in ways they never would have before serves as hope and belief in the greater good. There have been plenty of really awful impacts due to this as well. The economic impacts, in particular, there are a number of things regarding the economy we will have to be very aware of as we move forward, but I’m hopeful that this experience will be a catalyst for real change—because we are long overdue for some meaningful change in this country.
In times like this leadership is so important. What are some of the unique ways you are helping Eastern NC and the state right now?
Right now, my main goal is to be accessible to the people. During these trying times, people are finding themselves in a situation where they need to interact with the state government far more than they ever have before—for a lot of people this may even be their first time having to get through a process like unemployment. For those people I think it’s really important for me to be available and serve as a resource for them right now. That’s why I have always put such an emphasis on transparency and accountability in my office. This is unfamiliar territory for a lot of people, and I want them to know they have an advocate in me.
We had the pleasure of viewing the Virtual Town Hall session you held on Thursday, April 16. What inspired this event and did you get the response you hoped?
The public had questions and that’s really what inspired this. There is so much information coming out all the time about COIVD-19, so I wanted to make sure the people in our area (Eastern NC) had access to reliable information. This was the main motivation for assembling the group of local leaders we did. People have a right to know what is going on in their government and why certain decisions are being made, and I believe the best way to inform people of those things is to let them ask their leaders the difficult questions directly, and get answers directly. Overall I am very happy with how the event turned out. We received dozens of really great questions from the public and were able to get answers to all of them either during the live event or via email the following day.
Where do you believe the gaps are, and what will it take for us to address them?
Medicaid expansion is definitely the biggest gap we need to fill right now—and we’ve been trying to do this for some time. We also have to focus on things like equal pay, raising the minimum wage, expanding support for our minority communities, paid sick leave, and expanding support for teachers. Let’s be clear—all of these gaps have existed for decades, but this crisis is really highlighting these issues in a way people can’t ignore anymore.
Serving in Eastern NC (Pitt County) What do people need most right now?
Rural communities and minority communities are facing all of the challenges we all are right now, but they also have to contend with additional systemic issues that have always been prevalent in their communities. You look at these areas and when you take all of the challenges brought by COVID-19, and then you add in factors like so many of our rural areas being food deserts, or the closest hospitals being an hours drive away—these additional factors create really dangerous challenges for the people living in these areas. Employment also poses an astronomical challenge for the people in these areas.
How are some of the small businesses fairing right now? What advice/recommendations/resources do you believe they need to know about?
Plainly put—our small businesses are not doing well at all right now. The Federal Government has released billions in small business aid, and we need to make sure that money is actually getting to our small businesses. We talk about it all the time—small businesses are the bedrock of our economy, but now more than ever, we need to show that we’re serious about that, it’s not just something we say. I know our state Small Business Administration and Business Link North Carolina have been working very hard to offer support to business owners, and I would encourage any business in need of assistance to reach out to either of them or my office and we’ll get you the help you need.
When we had you on our Civil Talks and Substantial Conversation Zoomcast we talked about what does post-COVID look like in your mind—As you mentioned then is there a (post) COVID or is it life with COVID moving forward? Share you thoughts with our readers.
I think it’s more of a life-with-COVID situation looking forward. COVID-19 is here, that is our reality, and that is why it’s so important to focus on things like testing and getting a vaccine because this is not something that will just magically go away. The next few months will tell us a lot about what the future could look like, but until then, we have to do our best to manage the issue in the present.
What’s the message to our minority community right now? From those struggling to make ends meet, deemed essential and having to leave their families, to the small business owner and parent(s) that have to educate from home. Can you offer any words of encouragement?
At this time, we need to take lessons from our ancestors. Our ancestors never laid down and never gave up, and they put so much faith in each other and that’s how they survived. We have to stay rooted in our family structure because it really does take a village. We’ve been through hard times before — this isn’t a new place for us, but we are resilient, we are strong, and we will persevere. We have to put all of our experiences, our wisdom, and our knowledge together and we have to remember that we are stronger together as a community. This isn’t the first challenge we’ve met, and it won’t be our last.
WOW, strong, much needed words right now. So just for a moment let’s focus on Kandie Smith. How are you coping with this pandemic? How are you finding ways to live in some sort of new normal?
For the past few months I’ve been working from home, but I usually work from home so that isn’t out of the norm. I’ve spent a lot of time helping others and worrying about others, but I think it’s also really important to remember to take some time for yourself in quarantine. I’m taking some time to catch up on projects and work around the house and I’m spending a lot of time taking care of myself physically, spiritually, and emotionally which I think is really important. I really encourage others to do that as well.
Lastly, and you know we have to ask. With all that is going on in the world and our nation right now. Looking big picture, how important is this upcoming presidential/primary election? Do you believe it will be heavily impacted by COVID-19? How important is it that the minority community stay informed and be ready to vote?
The importance of this election can not be understated. 2020 was going to be crucial regardless, but as we see the impacts of COVID-19 across our state and country, it really is more important now than ever to have leadership that is willing to do what is right—and that goes for leadership up and down the ballot from the state House where I serve, all the way up to the Presidency. Our minority community, in particular, has the opportunity to play a big role in shaping the future of our country and I can’t say enough how important it is for you to get out to vote and to make sure that everyone you know is voting as well. We also need to make sure we are focused on filling out the Census as well because all of this stuff is related. I don’t think it is an understatement to say the 2020 election is the most important election of our lifetime and we have to do whatever it takes to get EVERYONE involved.
Representative Smith thank you so much for taking a few moments out of what I’m sure is a hectic schedule to talk with Substantial and as alway thank you for what you are doing to serve the community. How can folks reading this reach out to you and your office during this time?
People can reach my office by either phone or email by contacting 919-715-3023 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Feature images from wataugawatch, NC Leg website and Representative Kandie Smith.