Making history: 21-year-old becomes youngest person in North Carolina serving in public office

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Thursday, December 9, 2021
21-year-old becomes youngest person in NC to serve in public office
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Tuesday night, Chris Suggs became the youngest person serving in public office in North Carolina and is believed to be one of the youngest ever to be elected to public office.

KINSTON, N.C. (WTVD) -- Tuesday night, Chris Suggs became the youngest person serving in public office in North Carolina and is believed to be one of the youngest ever to be elected to public office.

Public service is nothing new for Suggs, but his newest role as Kinston City Councilmember stands out.

"The past 24 hours have been a whirlwind of emotions. I'm truly honored that I've now been sworn-in to the Kinston City Council to begin my four-year term," said Suggs, during a sit-down interview inside Council Chambers on Wednesday afternoon.

The 21-year-old, who previously served as UNC Senior Class President and president of UNC's Black Student Movement, has drawn national attention for his non-profit work. Suggs created Kinston Teens in 2014 in response to escalating gun violence in the city; the organization encourages young people to seek out community service and civic engagement. In 2017, he purchased a foreclosure for $1,000 and helped convert it into a community center.

"We've shown that young people can and will make a difference on the issues that are important to us. Whether that's responding to hurricanes and natural disasters, getting young people registered to vote, showing up, filling up our City Council and School Board meetings. We've done that as an organization. As a generation of young people in this community, it's so nice. It truly encompasses the mission of Kinston Teens of me being a City Councilmember, of us getting more young people involved with local government," Suggs said.

Suggs replaced his mom, Kristal, on City Council, though he said he initially did not intend to seek office after learning of her decision to not run again. However, after seeing other high-profile departures -- including the city manager and police chief -- Suggs decided to do so, filing his paperwork just before the deadline.

WATCH: Extended interview with Chris Suggs

"I felt like I had the right skill set, I had the right knowledge, and just the right community experiences too. I'm somebody who's been on the ground in this community for several years, Folks in Kinston know and trust me, too, to be a proven leader. So I felt like I had a great chance of running and winning on the City Council, and I felt like I could offer something great to my community," Suggs said.

He also said he hopes his election can help usher in greater diversity in political bodies -- ranging from age to socioeconomics.

"Kinston is not a monolith. All of our community members won't always agree on every issue. There's no community that is all the same. So it's very important that we have people from varying backgrounds, from varying walks of life to represent us in government at all levels," said Suggs.

During his four-year term, he said he hopes to expand on the city's business community and enhance housing options, something he struggled with upon moving back from Chapel Hill.

"I'm really looking forward to doing what I can to leverage city support, to work with private investors or community developers to increase our affordable housing inventory. Because we need safe, energy-efficient, affordable houses," said Suggs.

During Tuesday night's ceremony, Suggs was joined by family and friends, including his mom, who delivered a farewell message to her former colleagues and son.

"My mom has always told me to be a bold leader. be a bold person. To never be afraid to speak up. And she's pushed me to speak up as long as I can remember," Suggs said.