Continuing our recognition of Black History Month, we connected with Tammy Hall McDowell, HCC Board of Trustee member and Assistant Director of Programming for Lake Junaluska Assembly. Read the Q & A below to find out about the importance of education in her life, finding peace and balance, and the power of pursuing dreams.
Interview with Tammy Hall McDowell – February 2021
Tell us about the impact of education on your life.
My parents encouraged my siblings and me to excel in school and encouraged us to further our education. My mother attended Livingston College and my father attended NC A&T University. Unfortunately, they were unable to finish. My father went into the army, and afterward, they married. Life, marriage and children prevented them from completing their education. After the army, my father worked at Champion International Papers and retired after 35 + years. My mother was a homemaker until we were all old enough to attend pre-school or elementary school and began working at the Head Start Program in Canton at that time. It was their dream for their children to finish college.
Your mother was very involved in Early Childhood Education in Haywood County. Tell us about her work and how it impacted you.
My mother worked for Mountain Projects at Head Start. She started working in Canton and took classes in Early Childhood Development. She eventually became the Director of the current Head Start location in Clyde when it first opened. She passed away unexpectedly in 1993. Sometime later, Mountain Projects renamed that location the Edwina G. Hall Head Start Center.
Tell us about your work with Lake Junaluska Assembly. What do you most enjoy?
What I enjoy most about Lake Junaluska is the people that I have encountered. I have been blessed with the opportunity to meet a diverse group of people, ranging in age, ethnicity and religious beliefs. I have met people from the southeastern United States and beyond, to people from different countries throughout the world. I enjoy watching the transformative effect that people have when they experience all that Lake Junaluska has to offer.
As a Board Member and community member, what opportunities do you see for HCC in the near and long-term future?
I see an opportunity for growth at HCC and in our community. As the surrounding counties continue to grow, Haywood County will continue to grow as well. This will continue and increase the need for what HCC offers to provide education and training for the workforce in this county and beyond.
What advice would you give someone who is thinking about taking their next steps in education (starting college, transferring, etc.)?
I encourage everyone to further their education. There are obvious academic achievements to provide better opportunities for employment. More importantly, in my opinion, is gaining the ability to think for yourself. These skills carry over into everyday life. It develops self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment, boosts your brainpower and expands your thinking. It allows you to better understand and respect others while gaining the respect of others in maintaining your own belief system.
As a leader in the community for equity issues, what do you see as most important for fostering a welcoming, supportive & inclusive environment for all? (in work, school, and/or community)
I think that the first step is understanding and being aware of our unconscious bias. Then we must communicate and manage these bias to create and foster inclusivity. I think that this can only be accomplished by having "hard conversations" and diversity training programs to help community leaders, staff, and students understand how cultural differences impact how we interact with one another.
What hobbies or activities do you most enjoy?
I am an avid Dallas Cowboys fan and I enjoy spending time with my family. I love going to the beach, traveling and exploring new places that I haven't been to before.
Do you have any advice to share on self-care & wellness during these challenging times?
Take care of your mental health as well as your physical health. Acknowledge that this is a stressful time and none of us were prepared for it. Find balance. Eat well, exercise and find ways to reduce your stress. More importantly, find ways to reach out to your friends, family, loved ones and others who may not have anyone else. Find your peace!
Any good book or podcast recommendations you'd like to share?
I am currently reading and recommend the book "Love is the Way – Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times" by Bishop Michael Curry.
Anything else you'd like to tell us about yourself or share?
Langston Hughes, an African American poet and writer, wrote the poems "Dreams" and "Dreams Deferred." They are two of my favorite poems.
My parents' dream for me and for myself was a dream deferred. I went to college for a couple of years after high school and like my parents, life happened. I almost let my dream die, but something inside me (Perseverance) and my desire to make my parents proud prevailed. I went back to school, starting with an Associate's in Applied Science in Legal Assisting and a Bachelor of Business Administration and Masters in Management and Leadership. I didn't give up on my dreams, no matter how long it took. This was not only an accomplishment for me, but more importantly, I set an example for my children and hopefully my grandchildren to follow their dreams and never give up.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
A Dream Deferred
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?