REDI helps leverage
new ideas

Ed Hunt – Pembroke

What does it mean to get people onto a standalone system where they can be proud of the work they’re doing, be proud of where they live, and be able to afford to live in a rural community? These are questions that Ed Hunt has been asking himself throughout his career.

Hunt, the sustainable agriculture coordinator with the Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP), works to address disparities and inequalities based around food, agriculture, economics and other issues impacting people within the region. In this role, he collaborates with North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina State University, Fayetteville State University, and several agricultural organizations throughout the state, as well as with Clemson University and the University of South Carolina.

UNCP is in the small town of Pembroke in Robeson County. Pembroke is also home to the headquarters of the Lumbee Tribe. The Lumbee have lived in this southeastern area of what is now North Carolina for hundreds of years. In addition to Robeson County, the Lumbee Tribal Territory covers the adjoining counties of Scotland, Hoke and Cumberland.

A member of the Lumbee himself, Hunt works with the indigenous population of about 55,000 people, especially in addressing generational disparities and inequalities. The Lumbee were recognized as Indian in 1885 by the State of North Carolina, and in 1956 by the U.S. Congress. However, Congress denied any federal benefits associated with such recognition. The Lumbee have been fighting for decades for these benefits.

“North Carolina is home to eight state-recognized tribes and the one federally recognized tribe is Cherokee. So there’s still definitely a ton of inequalities left there,” says Hunt. “I really like working in that area of disparity and helping folks look at economic opportunities so that they can have their own business and develop something that can be passed onto the next generation.

“What does it mean to help a family who’s been experiencing oppression from one generation to the next? There’s a lot of systems that have been built to keep minority folks at arm’s length. We definitely suffer from several of those systems.”

Hunt’s dream for his community is centered around education and finance. He fosters opportunities for people to learn about small business, entrepreneurship, and access to capital so that they can establish wealth and create an environment for generational wealth to take hold.

The Rural Center has helped him move towards these goals. Last year, he graduated from the Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI) and was recognized with the Excellence in Regional Collaboration Award during the 2022 Rural Summit. Hunt has been involved with the Rural Center for well over a decade, taking advantage of resources for finding grants, learning opportunities, business opportunities, and assistance with partnerships and collaborations.

“The Rural Center is very responsive, very quick, and very supportive of any project I’ve ever done,” says Hunt.

One of the biggest benefits of attending REDI for Hunt was developing the ability to leverage new ideas and bring them back to the region, to look at challenges in different ways and use different approaches to solving them. In the program, he met people from across the state who do similar work in their own communities and share learnings with one another.

“The training helped me understand what macro and micro leadership look like,” he explains. “It made me look long distance into the future, what the plans are for a region or a community. It also got me thinking outside of the box more than normal, not just in my community but across the state. What are some of the battles that other people are facing?”

The program also encouraged him to work with political leaders and help them understand the needs of the region.

Says Hunt, “There’s ways around treating folks equally and it’s been unequal treatment [for Lumbee People]. There’s ways to respect one another as we move throughout the different communities that need help. I definitely developed that report with our local leadership to help them understand the drastic need to support agriculture and entrepreneurship at a greater level.”

Legislation has been introduced again calling for federal recognition of the Lumbee Tribe. Until that happens, Ed Hunt works tirelessly through education and business development efforts to help members of the community overcome the inequalities and disparities that have plagued generations. Through his work with the Rural Center, and through the partnerships he has fostered, he is bringing new support to Robeson County so that the next generation can have pride in their work and where they live.