MONDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2021     |     1 – 5:30 p.m.


How Do We Move Forward?  |   WATCH VIDEO

A pandemic. A recession. A divisive political and racial climate. Our state has work to do. Seven in ten of us say we distrust each other more than we did 20 years ago. Nearly half of us say we are feeling hopeless at this moment. This time of disconnection didn’t begin with COVID-19: it’s been coming for a while. And it’s not a problem for others to fix. It will take us all working together to reweave the fabric of society. It’s our only hope of addressing the challenges of today and leveraging the opportunities of tomorrow.

  • David Brooks, Chair of Weave: The Social Fabric Project, and New York Times Columnist Read Bio
  • Leslie Boney, Director, Institute for Emerging Issues Read Bio  
  • Randy Woodson, Chancellor, NC State University Read Bio

Weaving a Common ‘Why’  |   WATCH VIDEO

With significant challenges affecting our state’s long-term economic competitiveness and growing societal divisions across politics, geography, race, and income, it’s clear that the only way to move forward is by repairing our connections—to one another, to our communities, and to our state. In many cases these connections must be created anew—we may need to build bridges we haven’t walked before. This session will start to paint the picture for a reconnected NC and will focus on WHY we need to get there. Each of us will have a different idea about how to connect, but one thing is for sure. If every North Carolina took just one step forward, we could cross the state and back five times.

  • Nancy Cable, Chancellor, UNC Asheville Read Bio
  • Melanie Flowers, NC State Student Body President Read Bio
  • Harvey Godwin, Jr, Lumbee Tribal Chairman, Lumbee Tribe of N.C. Read Bio
  • Jim Hansen, Regional President, PNC Bank Eastern Carolinas Read Bio
  • Matty Lazo-Chadderton, Deputy Director of Outreach, Office of Public Engagement, Office of the Governor Read Bio


With a clear understanding of why we need to reconnect as a state, we will pitch five big ideas for what can be done– at the individual, community, and state levels, to move us forward. A blueprint for progress, these ideas will address prior topics addressed in the ReCONNECT NC series: mental health and well-being, digital inclusion, economic opportunity, rural and urban interconnectedness, and civic engagement. We’ll also feature the secret sauce for achieving reconnection —  dialogue across difference. 

  • Cherene Caraco, Chief Executive Officer, Promise Resource Network Read Bio
  • Thomas Parrish, Acting Secretary, NC Department of Information Technology Read Bio
  • Dylan Russell, Executive Director of Lead for North Carolina, UNC School of Government Read Bio
  • Thomas Stith III, President, NC Community College System Read Bio
  • Brian Etheridge, President, Leadership North Carolina Read Bio
  • Hunter Corn, Director, Wildacres Leadership Initiative and the William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations Read Bio
  • Bronwyn Lucas, Senior Director of Leadership and Engagement, NC Rural Center Read Bio

Creating Collaborative Connections  |  WATCH VIDEO

Policy, programs and strategy are important, and we believe that local communities with their traditions, willingness to work, and history of coming together in tough times to solve big challenges — are the unit of change to spark this commitment to reconnection. We see communities as the experts that can lead change and inspire others to become part of a more connected North Carolina. 


  • Anita Rao, Creator/Host of “Embodied” on WUNC and Managing Editor of WUNC’s On Demand Content Read Bio


  • Calvin Allen, Rural Forward NC Director, Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation Read Bio
  • Mark Gabriel Little, Executive Director, CREATE at UNC Kenan Institute Read Bio
  • Caroline Farmer, Executive Director of VolunteerNC, Governor Roy Cooper’s Office Read Bio
  • Jill K. Cox, President & CEO, Communities in Schools of North Carolina Read Bio
  • Christopher Chung, CEO, Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina Read Bio

Champion Spotlight:

  • Shaq Thompson, Carolina Panthers Star LB and Super Bowl Player, Founder and Creator of Thompson Legacy Fund Read Bio


THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2021     |     1 – 4 p.m.

A State that Works for Everyone  |  WATCH VIDEO 

Governor Roy Cooper and his administration are pledging to create a state and economy that works for everyone. This session will highlight key efforts being deployed at the highest level of leadership across the state, what it will take to support more people in achieving this north star goal, and what to expect in 2021 and beyond. 

  • Jack Cecil, Biltmore Farms LLC & Chair, IEI National Advisory Board Read Bio
  • Roy Cooper, Governor, North Carolina Read Bio


Breaking Bread for a Brighter Tomorrow  |  WATCH VIDEO   

Whoever coined the phrase, the way to “one’s heart is through the stomach” was certainly onto something. But food also has the power to connect our hearts—and heads—to each other, bringing us together across lines of divide, including race, politics and geography. We connect when we grow and harvest the food, when we prepare and adjust the recipes, often handed down from generation to generation, and when we sit down with family, friends and strangers to share our meals. This session will explore the power of connection through food and highlight food-related conversations that have helped to heal both hunger and the heart.

  • Lindsay Bierman, CEO, PBS North Carolina Read Bio
  • Yordanys “Jay” Bastardo, Chef, Owner & Operator, Villa Verde in Greenville Read Bio
  • Ryan Bethea, Owner & Operator, Oysters Carolina Read Bio
  • Sheri Castle, Renowned cookbook author, food writer, and beloved cooking teacher Read Bio
  • Cheetie Kumar, Chef, Owner & Operator, Garland in Raleigh Read Bio

An Experiment in Civil Dialogue  |  WATCH VIDEO

What happens when regular North Carolinians with different viewpoints on important issues and topics related to the state’s long-term economic prosperity meet for virtual coffee to talk about those issues? This session will highlight the real and recent experiences of those who have done just that–what they heard, shared, felt, and how they left those conversations. 

  • John Hood, Co-Chair, NC Leadership Forum, Duke University & President, John William Pope Foundation  Read Bio
  • Leslie Winner, Co-Chair, NC Leadership Forum, Duke University Read Bio


  • Natalie English, President and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce
  • Leland Hyer, Middle School Teacher
  • Marquita Robertson, Executive Director, The Collaborative
  • Leonardo Williams, Educator & Entrepreneur

A Call to Step Forward: Bridging Divides and Healing Our Communities  |  WATCH VIDEO

Communities are facing unprecedented challenges from a global pandemic to economic upheaval to political turmoil to the injustices of systemic racism. We are seeing growing divisions and a deep lack of trust and belief in one another and our institutions. Rich Harwood offers a new path forward. Drawing from more than three decades working in communities around the world, Rich challenges us to reimagine and recreate our communities, our lives, and our nation. Join this dynamic session to hear Rich share inspiring stories and practical guidance for how we can get our communities on a more just, fair, equitable, inclusive and hopeful path forward.

  • McKenzy Heavlin, NC State Student Body Vice President Read Bio
  • Rich Harwood, President and Founder of the Harwood Institute Read Bio

Rich Harwood’s appearance is sponsored by the North Carolina State University Speakers and Lectures Committee, with support from the Harrelson Fund.

*Audience Engagement will be integrated into all aspects of the forum even if not explicitly stated in this template.