Deborah Stroman, social justice trailblazer and UNC professor, was selected as the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP's 2021 Woman of the Year.
Stroman works as an adjunct associate professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and currently serves as the treasurer of the branch.
“I felt very blessed, very honored,” Stroman said. “Not of my accomplishments, but to receive it from an organization that has been working tirelessly to make a difference.”
Margaret Krome-Lukens, assistant branch secretary and a member of the selection committee, said in an email that the committee was pleased to recognize Stroman due to her work as a racial equity trainer, her national impact as a keynote speaker and her willingness to ask questions that foster accountability and reflection.
Charla Blumell, assistant director of health promotion and prevention at UNC, said in an email that she nominated Stroman for the award because of her talent and commitment to connecting with the community.
“Her tenacity and hunger for justice, equity and humanity through education is inspirational,” Blumell said. “She is deserving of this honor and I am excited to see what she does next.”
Stroman said she is grateful for the distinction and feels it is reflective of her personal journey.
“The bias against me and my work for equity, for lifting up humanity in all people, it hasn’t been comfortable,” she said. “I think the NAACP is recognizing that for all the scars I’ve had to endure, all the punches, all the ugliness — they still see me.”
In 2019, Stroman said she founded the Center of Sport Business and Analytics to combine her interest in athletics with her desire for social justice. The center engages in conversations recognizing the connection between race and sports, and it coaches athletes transitioning from their careers, she said.
At UNC, Stroman co-designed and teaches a graduate course that shines a racial equity lens on public health. She said the class brings together Gillings students, those from other departments and community members, allowing them to learn from each other.
“There is nothing like having someone lead the classroom based on not only their book learning, but what is actually happening in the real world,” Stroman said.
She said the course strives to educate students on the influence they have within their communities and how their actions may impact others.
Stroman is also a part of some historic firsts — she was the first Black scholarship athlete at the University of Virginia and the first Black women's coach at UNC.
“When you’re going through it, you have no idea the history you are making,” Stroman said.
Chapel Hill Town Council member Karen Stegman said she agreed Stroman was chosen due to her accomplishments. She said Stroman is active in talking about racial inequities and vocal about how the community needs to be better.
Stegman said she believes Stroman is a strong role model and appreciates the positive attention this award draws.
“It’s important, especially for young people of color, to see themselves as people who are being celebrated by the community,” Stegman said.
Stroman will now compete for the title at the state level. She said this award brings responsibility for leading the branch’s state conference fundraising goals.
Stroman said she encourages the community to donate as the funds will be put toward state efforts to create and solidify structural and systemic change.
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