— Teddy Durgin • February 2017
Leaning In and Moving Forward
With February being Black History Month, discussions often center on such past historical figures as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall. And rightfully so.
But history is being made today, even right here in Rolesville. Look no further than Michelle Medley and Sheilah Sutton, who made town history in November 2015 when they became the first African-Americans to be elected to public office locally.
The women won two open seats on the town’s Board of Commissioners. Medley was aware of their distinction from the get-go.
“The lack of diversity hadn’t been a complaint,” she said, “but it was a concern. In 2015, I had lived in Rolesville eight years, and I’d never made the move to run for anything town-wise. Until you make that move, you really can’t complain.”
Sutton said she was less aware when mounting her own campaign.
“Someone else noted that to me after I was in the process,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Great, if one of us gets elected, that will be wonderful.’ But for me, I’ve always been one of the ‘firsts.’ That’s been true working in corporate America. I tend to go places where others don’t.”
Sutton brings to the board extensive experience in the corporate world as a human resources professional. Medley is a local real estate agent who had served as both president of her neighborhood’s homeowners association and president of the Heritage High School PTA.
“In my line of work, I’ve gained a lot experience in seeing things that need to be improved,” said Sutton, a Rolesville resident for 12 years. “At the same time, I’ve always been one of those citizens who’s concerned with making things better. Before I got elected, I was always calling or emailing Town Hall and asking, ‘What’s going on with this?’ or ‘What’s going on with that?’ So, it was a natural transition.”
Medley has a similar philosophy of trying to make things better.
“I like being able to help people understand what we do and how we do things. I love having that knowledge,” she said. “And if it’s something I don’t know, I’ll say, ‘Let me find out and get back to you on that.’ I really like that people are spreading the word and saying, ‘Ask her. She’ll help you.’ ”
Each woman has her area of focus. Medley serves on the town’s Parks & Recreation Advisory Board, while Sutton sits on the Appearance Committee.
“We’re focused on looking at the town and finding ways we can be more appealing to people who are just driving through,” Sutton said. “I like that it’s an official effort, rather than a hodgepodge, at looking where we can improve – things like landscaping, Christmas décor and so forth.”
Both agree that economic development is Rolesville’s biggest need.
“I am also big on education,” Medley said. “I do my best to help whenever I can in bringing programs to the schools. Depending on what businesses come here, my goal is to have an understanding that they will work with the town in bringing jobs not only for adults in their 20s, 30s or whatever, but also for the high school kids. I want to give them a reason to stay and build in Rolesville.”
Said Sutton, “We have to have some business driver here. I want a big retailer. I personally want a Target. We need that tax revenue in order to do some other things we need to get done.”
There is certainly no doubting the tenacity of these two and their commitment to leading the town toward the future.
“Whether it’s a town council or a PTA meeting or whatever,” Sutton said, “I think having different perspectives at the table makes things a whole lot better. I feel like I have a unique story and a unique experience, and so do you. The more people we can get at the table who have these different experiences, you just come out with a better product.”
Medley appreciates that voters helped bring new perspectives and new opportunities to the board.
“The whole board is trying to show the community that we are more diverse. They didn’t put us in this position. Sheilah and I ran, and we earned it from the voters,” she said. “And I think now more people are stepping up to the plate. More people are now like, ‘You know, I want to get in there. I want to do something. It can be done. It’s not out of reach!’ “