Nakeba Chappell is proof that the foundation of success is perseverance. One by one, she is accomplishing her goals, not because they are easy, but because she has learned how to endure, overcome, and thrive. Her story encourages us to keep pushing forward.
Q) What was your upbringing like in Person County?
A) Growing up I was always around family. I grew up with an abundance of cousins. We kind of grew up in a blended family as brothers and sisters. I think around high school, though I started to realize that my life and my background were different than most kids my age. To put it nicely, I had some experiences and struggles that were not necessarily shared by many of my peers. Also, growing up in Person County, there wasn’t much to offer as far as recreation and future opportunities. So I think curiosity kind of got the best of me and I became a teen mom. In being a teen mom and the challenges that come with that, by 11th grade I was 18-years-old and I was living on my own. So in the school system’s eyes, I was considered an adult. So I basically did what I wanted. I could check myself out of school and I would come and go as I pleased. The principal at that time pretty much was like, “You know, maybe you should just drop out and go to PCC. There’s really nothing more we can offer you here.” And then from that point, small discrepancies or disciplinary acts would always be exaggerated, which ended with me being expelled and barred from campus toward the end of my senior year. So, I did not graduate from Person High School. I ended up having to finish at PCC.
Q) What have your educational and career paths been like?
A) After high school, I didn’t really think education was pertinent. My main focus at that time was that I had this child and I needed to just work. Work, work, work. Work hard because the harder I worked, the better I could provide for this child. I did take a couple of early childhood courses and I got financial aid with them, but the financial aid felt like more of a benefit than the classes because I was able to use the refund check to pay bills. So education was not my biggest focus at the time.
As far as work, I started off in fast food at a local restaurant, Stuart's Family Grill, where I was a cashier. I worked my way up to being sort of a shift lead. Then I got a job at Eaton where I probably made the most money I’ve ever made. I was a machine operator there, sometimes working five or six 12-hour shifts a week, so it was easy to make good money there. Of course you couldn’t really enjoy it, working so much, but that’s where my head was at the time.
Advancing my education didn’t become a priority until I was pregnant with my second child in 2006. So that was about four years after I was supposed to have graduated from high school. But that’s when I realized that my responsibilities had shifted drastically and the only way that I would be able to provide for my children would be through job security. That’s what led me to go back to school. And upon doing so, I entered the medical field and became a medication aid and then eventually a CNA1.
So I was going to school and working at Duke—you know, Duke was like the dream job for people from Roxboro who were working in the medical field—so I was able to provide for my family. But a couple of years later when I took a CNA2 course, the instructor pointed out to me that I had done the whole process completely backwards. By taking a CNA2 course and being a medication aid, I was skilled to do everything an LPN could do but I was making CNA money. And I think that was the real eye opener for me. That was when I began to really want more, not just for my children but for myself also.
So that’s when my nursing school journey began. As a single mom of three children by that point, the best I could do was go to school part-time when my schedule permitted. I took a couple of classes at PCC, a couple of classes at Durham Tech, a couple of classes at Vance-Granville. But I got to the point where I just felt like I was going too slowly. Year after year went by and I wasn’t really making any progress. So I got into North Carolina Central University and I decided to go full-time. I worked only weekends and I went to school Monday through Friday. Of course, that was difficult, and probably too difficult for me at the time considering all that I had on my plate. But it put me in a good place education wise. And I was able to adjust by entering the RN program at PCC, from which I will graduate in May. My future plans are to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and then maybe a Master’s Degree, but I’m not that young anymore and that is a lot of school.
But getting back to my career, I have been in the medical field since I left Eaton. I have been a medication aid since 2005, a CNA since 2008, a CNA2 since 2010, and I will be an RN as of May. And I have accepted an RN job at Duke Raleigh on the general medicine floor.
As for the future, I used to dream of being an CRNA, but again, I am not that young anymore and that would be a whole lot more school. But right now, my desire is to become a Clinical Nurse Level 4, and then I’ll go from there. I keep joking about age, but it’s really not about age, it’s about determination. So we will see what the future holds when that time comes.
Q) What organizations or community endeavors do you participate in?
A) I'm a part of the Student Nursing Association and oftentimes we do community fairs, like blood drives and food drives. Throughout this pandemic, we have actually participated in the administration of COVID vaccines. Right now, we're working on educating students at Person High School on the effects of vaping.
I am a student ambassador for PCC, so we kind of keep a connection with students as they are leaving high school and encourage them to take classes at the community college because on one hand, it is cheaper, but also, if they are still undecided when they finish, they at least have an Associate’s Degree and two years under their belts. So right now, all of my community service is based in Person County through PCC, working with either the elderly population or with the youth helping to move things forward.
Q) Why is it important that women be recognized for their foundational work in our community and our nation?
A) Oh, wow. I think when you just stop and think about how far we have come, Black women certainly, but women in general…we’ve come a long way from the days of being seen and not heard. We have proven that we can be just as driven as men and can work as hard as any man. So I think our progress and contributions should always be celebrated, since so many women were denied opportunities in the past. But also, when you stop to think about it, it’s humbling to know that there was a time when someone like you would not have been allowed to do what you are doing. So when you’re waking up on those days when you have to go to work and you have to go hard, you have to remember that there was a time when none of this even mattered. So now that it does matter, be grateful for all the women who have made a difference.
Q) What do you envision for the future of Person County?
A) The future of Person County I think lies solely in the youth. Right now society needs unity and fairness and I think that the youth can come together and create a standard where people are truly equal, and hard work matters more than the color of your skin. And I think for Person County, that would be a big deal. Oftentimes young people are regarded as incompetent when really they are geniuses. So if young people could believe in themselves and be allowed to take the lead, I think they could bring a lot of positive change.
Q) What is your advice for girls and young women who look to you as motivation?
A) I say this jokingly all the time: If I can do it, anyone can. And the reality of it is it's all about bending and not breaking. Reaching your goals does not come easy. But anything worth having is worth the struggle. It has taken me seven and a half years to obtain a two-year degree. But none of that matters because the point is the goal was achieved. So don't let anyone stop you. You be the captain of that ship and just keep going until you reach that goal.