At the Inn at Pine Knoll Shores

N.C. Black Elected Municipal Officials Vice President Sharon Hightower, left, and President Valerie Jones, center, present the Dr. Vivian H. Burke Community Leadership Award to Perry Harker, second from left, and Ava Bryant, second from right, with Mr. Harker’s wife and Beaufort Commissioner Sharon Harker, right. The NCBEMO held its annual conference Sunday through Tuesday at the Inn at Pine Knoll Shores. (Elise Clouser photo)

PINE KNOLL SHORES — Two community leaders were recognized for their contributions to the county by the N.C. Black Elected Municipal Officials during a luncheon Tuesday at the Inn at Pine Knoll Shores.

Ava Bryant and Perry Harker received the Dr. Vivian Burke Community Leadership Award, which honors African Americans who have made a positive impact on their communities. They were recognized during the last day of NCBEMO’s annual conference, held Sunday through Tuesday in Pine Knoll Shores. NCBEMO Vice President Sharon Hightower introduced the recipients and presented the awards.

Ms. Bryant is the unit director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Coastal Plain. She was born and raised in the North River community near Beaufort and graduated from East Carteret High School in 1997. She still lives in North River with her husband Chris and their three children.

“After graduation, Ava made the decision to remain in her community to give back and to help make it better,” Ms. Hightower said. “That’s something I think we all want to do, so we understand that tremendously.”

Ms. Bryant said she feels it is her duty to help give back to the community, and she can’t imagine herself doing anything different.

“I don’t do anything for show. I feel like these are things that just need to be done, and I just want to be there to help and support any way that I can,” she said. “Being at the Boys & Girls Club gives me the opportunity to be able to get into these families’ lives, help them where I can, as our mission statement is to inspire and enable all young people, and especially those that need us the most, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, caring citizens.”

In addition to working closely with youth, Ms. Hightower said Ms. Bryant worked with Beaufort Mayor Rett Newton after Hurricane Florence last September to help recovery efforts in North River and she has helped lead other various efforts to clean up and improve the community.

Beaufort Commissioner Sharon Harker, who is married to Mr. Harker, nominated Ms. Bryant for the award. Mr. Harker, who was also recognized, was nominated by Morehead City Councilman Harvey Walker.

Mr. Harker, a lifelong Beaufort resident, is the vice president of corporate and community education at Carteret Community College. As Ms. Hightower noted, he was also the first African American elected to a countywide seat in Carteret County. He was a member of the County Board of Education for eight years, serving as chairman for the last two years.

Mr. Harker said during his time on the BOE, he pushed for increased diversity in the school system.

“Coming on the school board, there were not many African American teachers, there was no African American assistant principals or principals, very few administrators,” he said. “I’m happy to say when I left, there were significant more number of teachers, about half of the assistant principals were minorities. (We) did not get any principals, we’re still working on that from the outside and hoping on getting that milestone one day.”

Ms. Hightower said Mr. Harker’s work is especially significant for African American students going through the county school system.

“Particularly for African American students who need to see leaders who look like them, thank you for paving the way and being the trailblazer,” she said.

Mr. Harker is active in the Boys & Girls Club, where he has helped develop a number of youth programs, including an after-school program focused on improving reading comprehension. He also volunteers with various other organizations and boards throughout the county and region.

“I can tell you that the opportunity to serve has been a blessing for us,” he said. “…We have devoted ourselves, my wife and I and our kids, too, to making sure that we’re part of the community, giving back any way that we can, primarily our time and our talents.”

During a luncheon Monday, NCBEMO also presented three Dr. Vivian Burke Scholarship awards, including one to ECHS student Eirene Hymes.

NCBEMO, which is affiliated with the N.C. League of Municipalities, held its annual conference for members to learn about legislative priorities and attend panels and discussions on various topics. President Valerie Jones said the organization likes to recognize local community members wherever the conference is held.

“We are all volunteers in this room, but you two go the extra mile and you volunteer from the heart,” she said to Ms. Bryant and Mr. Harker. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Contact Elise Clouser at; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

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