LaRika Whitt is one of the foremost architects of Person County's future, having a direct impact on the community's teen population as the school social worker for Person High School. She decided after college to plant her feet in Person County instead of making a home in a larger city and she is dedicated to being an asset for her hometown. Her story emphasizes that supporting our youth is how we prepare for a brighter tomorrow.
Q) What was your upbringing like in Person County?
I grew up in Hicks Heights off Hwy 57 North in Person County. Those who are familiar with the Hicks Heights neighborhood know that it is a big, tight-knit community. Growing up in that neighborhood, friends became more like sisters and brothers and we all gained additional grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles from the adults in the community. Everyone who was raised there can definitely say we were raised by our village. Everyone looked out for each other. And no matter how far you’ve moved away, no matter where life has taken you, to this day we all know that Hicks Heights is home.
I was raised in the Person County school system and I graduated from Person High School in 2009. After high school I took a short drive down the road to Greensboro to attend Bennett College, which is an all-women’s school and a Historically Black College. Being in that environment gave me a sense of pride and encouragement as a Black woman and it really set me up for success. I graduated in 2013 with a degree in Social Work and since then I’ve also earned a School Social Workers certification from NC State University and a Professional Educator's License.
But Greensboro never felt like home to me so I returned to Person County after graduating from Bennett so that I could be close to family and live in the tight-knit environment that I grew up in.
Q) What is your career path and what are your proudest achievements?
After college, I worked as a social worker with Care Coordination for Children at the Person County Health Department, and I worked for the Durham County Department of Social Services in income maintenance. Those positions prepared me for my current role of working closely with children and families and establishing personal relationships. I currently serve as the School Social Worker for Person High School and Person Early College. I oversee attendance for both schools and I help with students’ needs, whether at school or home. Within the school building, I manage conflicts between peers, I help with students’ scholastic concerns, and provide emotional support to students in need. But sometimes my work also requires me to make home visits to families and try to help in any way possible with those things within the family unit that affect the students. Also, as part of a committee I help manage Rockets Care, which is a backpack pals initiative for Person High School, Person Early College and Person County Learning Academy. And I collaborate with many community agencies to help connect students’ families with any services they may need. Along with my direct focuses, I also help in many other areas around the school which helps me to continue to build relationships with students and my colleagues. I remind all students who enter my office that my three rules are confidentiality, honesty, and trust. I believe that they trust that I will do my best to help them and I’ll be open and honest with them, and I their trust makes it easier for me to work on their behalf.
Q) What organizations or community endeavors do you participate in?
I’m involved in a lot of different initiatives and projects within the community by virtue of my position within the school system. But outside of work, I am proud to be a part of the Order of Eastern Star, Fidelity Chapter #576 of Roxboro, where I am a Past Worthy Matron. This wonderful organization is dedicated to developing friendships and working together in the community to help others.
Q) Why is it important that women be recognized for their foundational work in our community and our nation?
The expectations of women in our society are great but the recognition of our work is miniscule in comparison. We are asked to wear many hats but so often not given proper credit for the contributions that were asked of us. That has potential to make women feel less valued. I’m so thankful I grew up with my mom and four aunts always instilling in my cousins and me that as women we have value, we have worth and that we should always be proud of who we are and the contributions we make. Those same family traits have been passed down to our younger cousins who are in college and starting their own businesses. As women we are resilient, we are talented, we are confident and we are passionate, and we cannot and should not be undervalued. And that’s especially true today when, for the first time in American history, we have a African- American Woman Vice President, Kamala Harris. She has shown to all women that we can accomplish our dreams and nothing can hold us back.
Q) What do you envision for the future of Person County?
My hope for Person County is that we can develop a community organization that is dedicated specifically to uplifting the youth—a place where kids and teens can play sports, swim and just have fun. I know this will benefit our kids because it will provide the recreational outlets that many of them don’t have access to.
Q) What is your advice for girls and young women who may look to you as motivation?
Your past does not define your future. Regardless of your background, the sky is the limit for your success. So be unapologetically you. Never let anyone dim your light. You are worthy, you are beautiful, and you are smart. And if you can dream it, you can believe it and if you can believe it you can achieve it.