UNC graduate 21-year-old Chris Suggs won a seat on the Kinston City Council on Nov. 2, per unofficial results, making him one of the youngest elected officials in North Carolina.
Suggs received 35.2 percent of the vote, easily becoming one of two candidates to win a seat on the council. He finished ahead of incumbent Robert Swinson IV by a margin of 4.3 percent, and ahead of third-place finisher Michael Martin by 21.6 percent.
Suggs will replace his mother, Kristal Suggs, as she decided not to seek reelection to the Kinston City Council.
Chris Suggs, who is originally from Kinston, graduated from UNC in 2021 with degrees in religious studies and political science. He was the senior class president for the class of 2021 and the president of UNC's Black Student Movement.
“Those leadership experiences, leading such a large student population on campus, navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic, definitely equipped me for this moment for running for City Council, for wanting to make a difference as my community now back home navigates out of the pandemic,” Suggs said.
When he was 14 years old, Suggs also founded a nonprofit called Kinston Teens, an organization which attempts to empower teens through service, leadership and engagement with the community. The organization operates mainly in the East Kinston neighborhood, which was designated in a 2014 study by the UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies as the most economically distressed rural census tract in the state.
“Community service has always been a part of my life, something that has driven me and inspired me,” Suggs said. “At the time there were so many issues going on in Kinston that were really affecting young people. I felt like none of the community leaders were really engaging young people, asking us what we felt about these issues or 'How are these issues affecting young people?' when we know young people were at the center of many of these problems.”
He said he had a deep love for Kinston and rekindled the natural connection he had with the community during his campaign.
“I was already doing the work,” Suggs said. “I was out organizing COVID-19 testing or vaccination events or I was out cleaning up streets and helping to beautify the community. So, it wasn’t anything new, it just felt natural.”
Suggs said he felt pushback on his campaign from members of the Kinston community who told him that a 21-year-old is not fit to serve on the City Council.
Tai Huynh, a Chapel Hill Town Council member who was elected while he was an undergraduate student at UNC, said when he ran for a Town Council position in 2019, it was "more difficult than it should have been."
“Even though I had more experience, especially lived experience, than some of the other candidates, I was constantly still having to prove my commitment and knowhow," Huynh said in an email to The Daily Tar Heel.
Patrice Roesler, the manager of elected official programming at the UNC School of Government's Center for Public Leadership and Governance, said that while holding elected office is an especially large responsibility for the younger demographic, more young people in leadership is a desirable outcome.
“I have noticed some more youthful elected officials in recent years,” Roesler said. “I’m not sure I’d yet call it a ‘trend,' but it certainly is a welcome and notable occurrence.”
Strategic planning and vision for the next two decades — including bringing more young people into the local government fold — is on the top of the list of priorities as a Kinston City Council member, Suggs said.
“If I were to have any legacy, it’s that I’m not the only one,” Suggs said. “I don’t want to look around city halls and town halls across the state and be the only young person in those meetings. I want to see rooms full of young people, full of people from diverse backgrounds, who are leading and changing our communities.”
Suggs said he will be sworn in early next month and that he is excited to get to work with the Kinston City Council.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Chris Suggs as the youngest elected official in North Carolina. Mark Chilton, who was elected to the Chapel Hill Town Council in 1991, is considered the youngest official elected to public office. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
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