Black elected officials hold summit in Raleigh, sparking high hopes with high expectations

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- At the Executive Mansion on Thursday night, it was smiles, selfies, even a roll call of officials from the grand staircase. From mayors to sheriffs to judges, this was a celebration of black representation in North Carolina that is having a moment right now.

Tonight's welcome ceremony for the NC Black Summit, an annual gathering of African-American elected officials and policy experts, comes at a unique time in North Carolina history. The state has elected a diverse new slate of leaders. But, with the high numbers comes high expectations.

Cheri Beasley says she comes to the summit every year. But, this was her first since being named as the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, the first African-American woman to hold the post.

"I think the number of elected officials really does reflect the amount of diversity across the state," Beasley said. "And I think that's hugely exciting."

For Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker, this was his first time attending the summit. Last fall, Baker's upset victory against longtime Wake Sheriff Donnie Harrison allowed him to become one of 20 black sheriffs serving across the state. It's believed to be the largest number ever at one time in North Carolina.

We asked Baker whether the high expectations in the African-American community brought concerns about letting people down.

"No, I don't (worry about letting people down)," he said. "Those that know me know that they've got a black sheriff that's going to come in and do things the right way."

Earlier Wednesday, Baker joined a black summit panel with several other fellow black North Carolina sheriffs.

They were faced with a town hall audience of constituents eager for reassurance that the sheriffs understood the public's concerns about past police brutality and strained relations with law enforcement.

"My response to it is, I don't want the focus of this historical moment to be about color," Baker said. "But to be about a sheriff who is very interested in serving all people."

One of the youngest faces at the mansion tonight was Greear Webb. The 18-year old Sanderson high school senior is a burgeoning community organizer. Now, he's working the room for inspiration.

"I'm honored to be able to continue to inject myself into these conversations," Webb said. "It's super-important in this day and age as Congress is diversifying, as our local communities and school boards, supreme courts are diversifying, that we as young people see people that represent us and that look like us."

Webb and others arriving at a moment where they don't have to look far.
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