The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

'I have the opportunity to make a difference': UNC professor inspires local activism

Anita Brown-Graham loves her job. 

"I'm really drawn to the idea of dismantling barriers and helping to create new systems and law gives me the opportunities to do that," Brown-Graham, professor of public law and government at the UNC School of Government and director of the ncIMPACT initiative said. "I have the opportunity to make a difference."

In 2016, Brown-Graham came back to the School of Government to be Director of the ncIMPACT initiative after spending nine years as the Director of the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University.

"She is really driven to succeed and to make an impact, no pun intended," Research Director for ncIMPACT David Brown said. "I think she's got really great vision and can see the final product of something from the start and know where it’s going to end up and why what we are going to do is going to be important.”

The Institute for Emerging Issues is a public policy think tank that inspects issues facing North Carolina’s future in growth and prosperity. The people who work in this "think-and-do tank" come from a wide range of careers in business, government, higher education and nonprofit organizations. Brown-Graham led plans for economic development and more civic engagement programming to be created within North Carolina. 

The ncIMPACT initiative works to expand the School of Government’s exposure to important policy issues. They look to support communities working against issues including economic mobility, poverty and the labor pool.

Matthew McKirahan, a graduate student in the MPA Program who worked with Brown-Graham on a pre-K education expansion in Forsyth County, said the public law professor embodies a collaborative leader.

“You felt the excitement that she felt when you left a meeting," McKirahan said. "She brings out the best of people and truly cares about the state of North Carolina.” 

Her positive attitude helps her stay afloat in the intense environment.

“She’s supportive of the people that work with her," Brown said. "We are a pretty small team so it's important to have somebody that is encouraging and can give you energy and enthusiasm when you come to work.”

Brown-Graham works a stressful job, no doubt. But that doesn't mean she doesn't know how to enjoy herself as well.

"I work very hard," Brown-Graham said. "Anyone who knows me knows I work like crazy, but people who don't know me well don't understand I play much harder than I work."

When not working, she enjoys hobbies such as reading, traveling and dancing. She has visited every continent except Antarctica, and has also visited 17 different countries. Books that interest her are about different cultures, because she likes learning as she reads. 

“Only the people who know me really well know that I love to dance," Brown-Graham said. "I’m not that good at it but I don’t care I will do it anytime, anywhere, to any music. I like Latin dancing, African dancing and R&B.”

Although she loves her work, Brown-Graham's family will always come first. 

When asked how she keeps a balance between the two, she said, “I probably don’t. My family understands that if they need me for something I will drop everything for them.”

In 2013, the White House named Brown-Graham the Champion of Change for Civic Engagement and Open Government for the work she did at the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State.

“What was most amazing about it was not actually getting the award, it was getting nominated by my colleagues,” Brown-Graham said.

Currently, Brown-Graham is working with Forsyth County to help rethink the funding that is done through engaging comprehensive assessments. 

“In September I had the opportunity to meet with some community leaders who are a part of an advisory committee for the trust," Brown-Graham said. "Hearing them, people who live in Forsyth County, affirm credibility of the work that we had done as outsiders, that was pretty special."


To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.