We drove up to the house nestled on the circular cul-de-sac in the Carson Stout Homes, a public housing community of the High Point Housing Authority. A woman with a baby in her arms came out of the neat, small home, wondering why were there, who we were and why we were taking photographs. The answer was simple. This was the house that Angela McGill the chief executive officer of the HPHA, grew up in with 12 other family members.
Her road from living in public housing to becoming the CEO of public housing was not an easy one. McGill made history as the first woman to lead the housing authority since its inception in 1940 and was recognized by the city of High Point with a resolution in recognition of her dedication to the citizens of High Point: “Ms. McGill has tirelessly served the High Point community … She has demonstrated leadership, perseverance and has guided the HPHA with distinction and more importantly, she recognizes the importance of empowering girls and women to become strong leaders in our community.” It was signed by Mayor Jay Wagner.
I am honored to be her friend and thankful she most graciously agreed to share her story with me.
“What I remember is my grandmother telling me we were one of the first families to move in Carson Stout when I was about 3 years old. I moved with my grandmother, my mom, and my grandmother’s 10 children and her husband, my grandfather,” she said.
Angela’s grandmother was more than just a grandmother, she was her best friend. Her name was Helen Grace, and she died on Dec. 27.
“She was there when I entered this world ,and God made a way for me to be there holding her hand when she left this world. My grandmother was a saint. She was loving and kind to everybody in the neighborhood. She was a woman of God. She loved everybody. And I can remember even as a kid, nobody who came to our community or to my grandmother’s house was a stranger. If somebody needed a place to lay their head, if they needed food, she was there. She encouraged me in times that I wanted to give up, she encouraged me to keep moving forward,” she said.
“Growing up in Carson Stout, I had no clue until I got older that I was considered poor. I didn’t even know that we lived in ‘public housing’ because the community was a true family community. When I compare it to how things are now it was truly, truly a family community. Everybody looked after everybody and everybody shared everything that they had, so it was a tight-knit community. During that time a lot of people didn’t have telephones and all these other luxuries, but if you had a telephone, everybody shared that telephone. If you needed sugar, then everybody shared the sugar. Everybody looked after each other. As far as parents were concerned, every parent in the neighborhood were your parents. So, if you got in trouble down the block by time you got home, you had your mother waiting.
“We also had a very close relationship with the police department. Some of my earliest memories is when the police department used to come to our communities and let us look in their cars, talk to us about being police officers. They would come and do pizza parties with us, show movies and give us popcorn. I remember different organizations having summer camp. That was the first time I had ever been out in nature, hay, horses and streams and lakes. That’s when I fell in love with nature, during the summer camp. Actually, my best memories were growing up in public housing. That was a time when I felt a sense of true community, of love and care from the community. Things have changed so much since then, but that’s probably the time that I can say that I have some of my fondest memories.
“From there, I ended up moving back and forth between my mother and my grandparent’s home. When I turned 16, even though I was an honor roll student, I dropped out of school. I just felt that I needed a way of escape, with a lot of challenges that were going on in our day-to-day life. I joined Job Corps in Gainesville, Florida, where I not only received job readiness but also received a high school diploma.
“I moved back here with a diploma but couldn’t get a job because of my age, so I went to Brookstone College and received a word processing certification. Still, nobody would hire me. I was so young. I ended up getting pregnant. I had a child and moved to Clara Cox (public housing) as a single mom. I decided I wanted more out of life. I felt that it wasn’t the life I wanted, so I enlisted in the Army. After going through some life challenges there I moved back to North Carolina as a single parent, now with two sons, and ended up in Daniel Brooks (public housing) homes. I told my kids, ‘Don’t unpack. We’re not going to stay here long,’ and that was a rough time. I worked during the day, went to school at night and took care of my sons in between.
“And I eventually got us out of Daniel Brooks and lived in several other communities, public housing communities, before actually moving back out onto the private market.”
Things seemed to be getting better for the family then she lost her job, and they became homeless for a while. Then she was back to Daniel Brooks before finding a home in a nice neighborhood that she could “actually afford. That set the course for my children to feel safe. I was able, with God’s help, to earn my bachelor’s and master’s degree from High Point University.”
Her road to CEO began after a soul searching: “I went to church every day for 30 days. I prayed to God to give me a position of where he wanted me to be. One night after church it dawned on me to check the housing authority website. I applied for the executive assistant to the CEO position.” She didn’t believe she would get the call because “I didn’t think they would hire a minority to work with the CEO of the HPHA,” but Robert Kenner had just been the first African American to be hired to lead the HPHA, and she got the call. She went from executive assistant to director of section 8 to chief operating officer. Then she made history by becoming the first female of the HPHA.
“I have had many jobs but none so challenging yet so rewarding as this one. I am so thankful for the support of my board (especially past board chair Bob Davis), my staff, my family, the first responders and the High Point community. I don’t feel successful until I see people leaving public housing because they are prepared to go out into the world and live their best life.”
If anyone knows that, it is Angela McGill.