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Nine Local African-American Heroes saluted at HCC


For the second year, Halifax Community College held its “Saluting Our Local African-American Heroes” celebration. Special honors were bestowed on seven community leaders and two HCC students during the Feb. 24 ceremony held at The Centre.
Heroes were chosen based on their commitment and contributions to the community, unselfish devotion to others, initiative, innovation and leadership, and willingness to share time and wisdom through community service. HCC student heroes were chosen based on their commitment and contributions to the HCC community, initiative, innovation and leadership, and demonstration of academic promise.


“American society often celebrates those who have obtained levels of greatness in the sports arena. A person who can run faster or throw farther can expect to be awarded multi-million dollar performing contracts and product endorsements,” said HCC President, Dr. Ervin V. Griffin, Sr. “The people we celebrate are all great in this way. They have chartered new courses and burnt new paths through the wilderness of fear and prejudice so that others could follow in relative comfort. For us, each of these persons has achieved greatness.”


Honoree profiles


Nathaniel Ausby (Assistant Manager of Plant Operations, Halifax Regional Medical Center) is currently the longest serving employee at HRMC. His passion for life safety can be seen in the projects that he has been involved in at the hospital, including significant upgrades that have been made to the sprinkler system as well as other safety systems. His team is also responsible for the setting up of the mass decontamination station at the hospital in the event of a major disaster affecting the community and he conducts walk-throughs of the hospital and training for area first responders to ensure their preparedness and the community’s safety.


Ausby is the fire chief for the Garysburg Fire Department, and was a founding member of the fire department in 1979. He is also a member of the Northampton Fire Association and serves on the steering committee for the emergency 911 system. Ausby serves as a deacon at Roanoke Salem Baptist Church, teaches Sunday School and participates in the church choir.


Vernon Bryant’s (Judicial District Manager of Community Corrections District 6A) has been a public servant in the state of North Carolina for 27 years and a community leader all of his adult life. His work with youth in Halifax and surrounding counties is well noted through his service with several youth programs as well as schools. Bryant has volunteered to coach basketball and soccer for 12 years, working mostly with at-risk youth who live in rural areas. In 1991, he co-founded Exodus for Youth, Inc., which is a volunteer non-profit organization that serves to mentor approximately 75 at-risk youth per year in a four-county area. In 1997, Bryant made history in Halifax County when he became the first African-American to serve on the Roanoke Rapids Graded School District Board of Education. 


In addition, he has served as vice chairman of the Board of Trustees for Halifax Regional Medical Center, past chairman of the State Employees Credit Union Advisory Board, member of the Roanoke Rapids Board of Realtors, and the Roanoke Rapids Recreation Department Advisory Board.  He was recently recognized in Raleigh as a finalist for the Dr. John R. Larkins Legacy Award for human service and commitment to human and race relations. Bryant is a graduate of both Fayetteville State University and the Correctional Leadership Development Program.


Roy Edmonds (Owner/Head Trainer, Jasard’s Boxing Club), Halifax County native and former professional boxer, is the owner of Jasard’s Boxing Club in Weldon. One goal of the club is to teach youth and adults the ideals and importance of dedication, preparation, hard work, and discipline. As a former professional boxer, Edmonds can impart to members the knowledge he has gained through participating in the sport, especially those who have professional aspirations.  He promotes a healthy and moral lifestyle, and instills traits such as confidence and self-discipline.


Jasard’s Boxing Club is a member of the North Carolina branch of USA Boxing, which is the national governing body of amateur, Olympic-style boxing, and is the United States’ member organization of the International Amateur Boxing Association. Many of his members have already participated in boxing exhibitions throughout the state. Edmonds plans to have members participate in future Olympic Games.


James E. Mills (Mayor, Scotland Neck) was born in 1949, in Nash County. At the age of six, his father died, and he and his two sisters and brother went to Tillery to live with his mother’s parents. In 1968, Mills graduated from Brawley High School. He then attended Edgecombe Community College, and from there, went on to attend the N.C. Justice Academy. Mills continued his education at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, N.Y. In 1984, he led a group of black Halifax residents in a historic law suit, which broke up the at-large voting system that denied Blacks the ability to elect black county commissioners. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1985, he was elected president of the Halifax Black Caucus.


In 1986, Mills began working in the manufactured housing business. During the years that followed, he won many awards for sales. In 1989, Mills became the manager of Family Housing in Roanoke Rapids. He was honored by the president of the company with the presidential award for two consecutive years. Mills opened his own manufactured housing dealership in 1997, the first African-American to open a dealership in Rocky Mount. In 1999, he sold his manufactured housing dealership to Palm Harbor Homes and became the first African-American manager for the company in the state.  In 2007, he ran for mayor of Scotland Neck, winning the election to become the first African-American mayor of the town.


Ayesha Neal-Harry (Lead Teacher, Murfreesboro Head Start) is not only the mother of two children, she is the “mother” of many kids in her community.  She volunteers her time by driving the Northampton County-East football J.V. and Varsity teams to all of their away games.  While at the games, she videotapes the game for the entire coaching staff.  Neal-Harry also drives the bus every Sunday morning to pick up kids in her community for church services that are held at Branch Chapel Baptist Church.  She is also the youth choir director for Branch Chapel and sits on the youth department board.


Neal-Harry has opened her home to many youth in the community. She is also a full-time student at Shaw University Cape in Ahoskie, where she is in her senior year and maintains a 3.1 GPA. She is majoring in education.  She also holds an associate degree from Roanoke Chowan Community College.


Rev. Robert E. Sessoms (Church Pastor, Roanoke Salem Missionary Baptist Church) is affectionately known in the community as a leading voice in the Roanoke Valley and surrounding area. He has served and continues to provide leadership for programs and initiatives that impact all aspects of the community and the region.  He is affiliated with the following civic organizations:  past first vice president of the Northampton County NAACP; past chairman of the Roanoke Valley Adult Day Center; chairman of the Northampton County Ministers Council for Education; former trustee of Roanoke Chowan Community College; past chairman of the CADA Board of Directors; president of United Community Connections, Inc.; president of United Faith Coalition; and member of the Union Mission Board of Directors.


Sessoms’ religious affiliations include past moderator of the West Roanoke Association; moderator of the Northampton County Association; member of the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina; and pastor of Roanoke Salem Missionary Baptist Church. He is also a retired educator, having been employed as a teacher at Bertie County Jr. High School, an instructor at Roanoke Chowan Community College, and dean of students at Roanoke Chowan Community College.


Jacqueline Taylor (Director, Halifax County Board of Elections) is a native of Halifax County. She graduated from Eastman High School and afterwards attended North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C., receiving a BA degree in history.  After marriage, she moved to the Washington D.C./Northern Virginia area and worked for Allegheny Airlines (Crystal City, Va.) in accounting for several years.


Taylor returned to Halifax County in the late 1970’s.  She was employed with the Department of Social Services as a Social Worker in 1980, and worked with the department until becoming Director of the Board of Elections in March 2000.  She is a member of White Oak Baptist Church in Enfield.  She is also a member of the Halifax Black Caucus, Concerned Citizens of Tillery, and Hollister REACH Organizations. Taylor loves to read and travel and is a sports fanatic. Her greatest love is for children, and especially the children of Halifax County.


Spinosa Gee (HCC Associate in Arts Student) obtained an Associate in Applied Science in Accounting at Halifax Community College, and is now working toward her Associate in Arts degree.  In her past three years at HCC, she has held an officer’s position on the Student Government Executive Board, as well as tutoring other students through the Student Support Services program.  At the same time, she is employed at Belk’s Department Store and is the mother of four children.


In 2006, Gee was chosen to attend the North Carolina Community College Student Leadership Institute, where she helped to create numerous workshops, and lobbied the state legislators on behalf of the community college budget.  She has since graduated from the NCCSLI and now holds a seat on the North Carolina Comprehensive Community College Student Government Association Executive Board as the Eastern Division Chair.  She is also the current vice president of the HCC Student Government Association. Gee has maintained more than a 3.0 GPA during her studies, and currently stands at 3.3 GPA.


Lagolia Price (HCC Advertising & Graphic Design Student) is an exceptionally conscientious individual who delivers without fail when asked to do something. Price excels academically, and currently holds a GPA of 3.94.  During the 2008-2009 academic year, she was the recipient of three scholarships with a strong merit component.  She is well organized, studious, and very personable.


For the past 14 months, Price has volunteered with the HCC Print Shop, the Office of Institutional Advancement, and the Cosmetology department. During this time, she has proven to have a remarkable work ethic and strong sense of responsibility. Her family and church are also important parts of her life. She currently attends St. Luke Baptist Church.


Black History Month Heros 2009

Heroes from left, Jacqueline Taylor, Rev. Robert Sessoms, Ayesha Neal-Harry, James Mills, Roy Edmonds, Vernon Bryant, and Nathaniel Ausby



Black History Month Student Heros 2009

Student heroes from left, Spinosa Gee and Lagolia Price