Dr. Latoia Johnson Valentine
Dr. Latoia Johnson Valentine was an avid reader in her youth, imagining herself as the characters that she read about. At some point though, she stopped pretending to be a character in a book and started becoming a woman whom others could aspire to be like. Now she is writing her own story.
Q) What was your upbringing like in Person County?
A) My upbringing was pretty boring (laughs). I grew up on a street where it was mostly my mom’s family. My sister ran and played with everybody, but I just stayed in the house. I was really, really quiet growing up. I just stayed in the house and read books. That’s really all I did—I read books. To the point where the librarians would get me to read certain books and tell them what I thought about the books before they chose them for the Battle of the Books competitions. I would take a book home and read it over the weekend and come back and tell them if it would be a good selection or not and help them pick out books for the following year’s competition. Reading would just take me to a different place. When I was young I used to pretend that I could get away from reality and be this person in the book and live life through her eyes. So it was really cool to be able to do that.
Growing up, every Summer I went to camp at North Elementary. On Fridays they would take us swimming at Staunton River State Park in Scottsburg, Virginia. We had to go an hour on a hot bus to Virginia because there is no place for Black people to swim in Roxboro.
I started school at Earl Bradsher Elementary School; I went there for kindergarten and first grade. Then I transferred to Woodlawn because that’s where my mom worked. I went through sixth grade there and then I went to Northern Junior High School for seventh and eighth grade. I was at Northern when they moved ninth grade to the high school, so I only spent two years there before going to Person. In high school I was pretty active. I was in Future Homemakers of America, which is now called FCCLA. I was president of that. And I was in chorus, which I took every semester all four years. It was my fun class, and I used to love going on trips and going across the street to the nursing home to sing. I was also in band as a member of the flag corps all four years. I was captain my last two years. I was also in the community group called Steppers for Jesus and we used to step at different engagements, which I enjoyed. I was in SADD, Students Against Drunk Driving, and I was sergeant of arms of my senior class, so I led the Pledge of Allegiance every morning.
I was involved in Four H from middle school through high school and through that I had a mentor named Vickie Nelson. She was the first person to really encourage me to go to college. I always did my school work and got good grades, and I always said I would go to college and be a doctor or something, but I never really gave it much thought, and no one in my family had ever been to college so they couldn’t really guide me in that direction. But as I was approaching high school, she was talking to me about getting prepared for college. In ninth grade we went on a big college tour and she took me to see Spellman, among other schools. So that made me want to go to Spellman. Then I wanted to go to Duke because Grant Hill was at Duke and I wanted to marry Grant Hill (laughs). That didn’t happen but that’s ok, because I actually toured Duke and went to a two-week summer program and I didn’t like Duke as much as I thought I would. Then I went to Governor’s School at UNC-Chapel Hill and I liked it there so I decided to apply. I was also interested in Elizabeth City State University at the time. But then Carolina offered me a scholarship that I could not refuse, so that made my decision for me and I ended up going to Carolina.
Q) What has your educational path been like?
A) Carolina…I love Carolina. That’s probably really where my life started. I was home sick at first, and I also felt like I was thrown into a world that I wasn’t prepared for. But Carolina had what was called the Summer Bridge program, where people like me, who may not have been exposed to a lot growing up, could come and get to know some of the people we would be going to school with and kind of prepare us for college life at a big school. So it was about 40 of us in that program and I was able to meet some really good people. We took an English and a math course during the program and I breezed through those so it made me feel like college was going to be easy. But that was setting me up for the okidoke, because when I got in that first chemistry class, it was a whole different experience from basic English and math. That was the real UNC with 600 people in a class. That was hard for me. And I was lonely. I think there were about four students from Person who went to UNC that year, but I was the only Black person. So when they would see me around campus they would speak but we didn’t hang out or anything. So it took a lot to get through the first semester and I wanted to leave. But, to be honest, I really didn’t want to go back to Roxboro. So I decided to finish out the semester. By the time second semester rolled around, I was out of that chemistry class, I had new classes, I was meeting new people, and I reconnected with some people who I had met during Governor’s School. So I wasn’t as lonely anymore. I got involved in activities and I just came into my own. I was able to build a little community there with the friends I was making and most of those people are still my close friends to this day.
Now I changed my major a couple of times. My first major was biology, but after that chemistry fiasco, I decided that I needed to do something different, because to get a degree in biology you have to take several chemistry courses. So then I changed to forensic science. And then something else after that—I don’t even remember. But I ended up majoring in psychology and I graduated in 2001.
After I graduated from college I went back to Roxboro and got a job teaching special education, in which I used my psychology degree quite a bit. I didn’t think I wanted to go straight to graduate school but I ended up going anyway because I needed to get a teacher’s license since I had gotten a job teaching, and I decided that instead of just getting my license I would do a master’s program. So I went to North Carolina Central University and earned a Master’s Degree in Special Education specializing in behavioral and emotional disabilities, which went hand in hand with my psychology degree. To this day I still use those degrees in my current position.
While I was teaching, I decided I wanted to make an impact on a larger scale. So I decided to become a principal. North Carolina has Principal Fellows’ scholarship, similar to the Teaching Fellow’s Scholarship, so I applied and I was accepted. So after teaching for five years, I went back to Central to become a principal. Later on, when I was in my first administrative position I began a doctorate program at North Carolina State University and I completed it at Liberty University in Virginia. I graduated from there with an Education Specialist Degree and then I earned a Doctorate of Education, also from Liberty.
Q) What is your career path and what are your proudest achievements?
A) As soon as I finished the program to become a principal, I moved right into a position. I was offered a job at both Northern Middle School and Southern middle School, and I took the job at Southern. I was there for several years as an assistant principal. I didn’t really see any growth which is what spurred me to go back and get a doctorate level education. And then, still seeking opportunities for growth, I took an assistant principal job across the state and moved my family to the Outer Banks. I wanted something new, but being there was difficult. It was far from the comforts of home. Yet it was more like Roxboro (socially and politically) than I had anticipated when I decided to leave home. So after a year I figured, if I’m going to be dealing with the same types of issues, I might as well go back to my home area and at least be closer to my extended family. So then I moved to Mebane and worked at Cedar Ridge High School as an assistant principal for five years. Again, as Black women, it’s hard to see movement upward. It’s like a glass ceiling for us. I kept applying to principal jobs with no success. Then I finally got a principal job in Franklin County, which is about an hour and 20 minute drive from my home. Overall it’s been a decent experience in terms of my growth. But as far as the environment, it’s probably worse than Person County from the standpoint of racism. The first year I was threatened a lot. Called out of my name. I had to ban quite a few parents from campus. One guy tried to hit me with his cane. I faced a lot of adversity as a Black woman at that school.
I’ve continued to look for other opportunities and so, I hadn’t really made an announcement about it yet, but I will start a new position in Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools on April 4th as a human resources compliance coordinator. I’m excited about being in Chapel Hill because my daughter is a freshman at UNC and I know quite a few people who work in that school system. Also, I had a great experience in that town as a college student and it is a progressive town so I’m looking forward to working there.
Q) What organizations or community endeavors do you participate in?
A) My husband and I were therapeutic foster parents while we lived in Roxboro. We aren’t currently doing that but I think it was a big part of what made me who I am. It was our way of giving back to children. A lot of them had emotional and behavioral disabilities, so opening our home and having them come and live with us was a very rewarding experience. One of those former foster children still spends all the holidays and special occasions with us. She is grown with a child but she’s still like our child.
Also I am member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. I am a part of the Sigma Nu Omega chapter which is based in Roxboro. The reason I decided to be active in Roxboro instead of other chapters closer to where I live now is because, with the sorority being based upon community service, I wanted to give back to my hometown. I wanted to provide a good example to women and girls in the place that I grew up. I think a lot of people from Roxboro go away to college and don’t go back because the town doesn’t seem to be growing and progressing. I know for myself, I didn’t want to raise my children there because I wanted them to grow up in place where they had an abundance of opportunities and their skin color didn’t matter. I didn’t want them to be racially profiled at Palace Pointe. I didn’t want them to grow up not knowing how to swim because there was no public pool. But at the same time I know that there are young people in Person County who deserve the same experiences as my kids, or kids from any other place. So I want to somehow help create that environment through my sorority. And then hopefully we can create a place where people will want to come back to live, work, and raise their families.
Jack and Jill of America is another organization that I am in and I'm in the Burlington-Graham chapter. It is an organization where we teach kids about cultural awareness, educational development, health, legislative advocacy and, of course, service and philanthropic giving. So it is an organization for our children designed to stimulate their growth and development.
Q) Why is it important that women be recognized for their foundational work in our community and our nation?
A) I think it’s important that the strength and contributions that women put forth are recognized so that our children see it. They are the ones who see their moms in everyday life, and a lot of the times we don’t get a pat on the back for all that they see us doing. So they need to know that the contributions we are making, even in our home life, are valuable.
It’s particularly important to me as a Black woman, considering the accomplishments we continue to make amid the adversity we continue to face. A lot has been made about the strong Black woman, which of course is a moniker that has roots in slavery when Black women were working in the fields, so it doesn’t really have a positive backdrop. But yes, we are strong because of the things that we have gone through down through the generations. But we are not so strong that we don’t need recognition and praise. And we have certainly earned it.
Q) What is your advice for girls and young women who look to you as motivation?
A) Simply this: You can do it whatever you put your mind to. Do not let anything or anybody stop you from being your best self.