Transitions are a time for reflection, and a time for looking forward. My first term in this office was filled with triumphs, but also trials. First, the triumphs. Historic progress to make our state more inclusive and our environment cleaner. Record jobs announcements in rural and urban parts of our state that provided rewarding work to our people. Unrelenting efforts to make health care more accessible and public schools stronger.
And as for the trials – the natural disasters. The overdue reckoning on racial justice. An unprecedented global pandemic. The earthquakes – those that shook the ground and those that shook the foundation of our democracy. We’ve had our share of tough days. But we are North Carolinians. And in our state, difficulties don’t define us. What defines us is our strength, our resilience, our readiness to succeed at what comes next.
When the pandemic forced classrooms to close in March, schools and volunteers made sure our kids got fed at home. When health care workers needed a boost, communities sent meals and care packages. When personal protective equipment ran short, North Carolina manufacturing companies pivoted to produce face shields, gowns, masks and more.
And let’s not overlook the stories of neighbors helping neighbors. Grandchildren talking and singing through windows to their grandparents in nursing homes. Snacks and signs of encouragement left for delivery workers facing long hours. An overworked nurse getting a COVID-19 vaccine and telling everyone the biggest side effect is joy.
But before looking ahead, it’s worth looking back a hundred years where North Carolina was in 1920.
The state had just lost nearly 14,000 people in the Spanish flu pandemic. And in just a few years, North Carolina roared back. New manufacturing jobs paid reliable wages for the first time to thousands of North Carolinians. With more money in their pockets, people were able to afford to buy cars. And that created the challenge of needing roads for those cars to drive on. So, North Carolina responded and became known as the Good Roads state. Those roads got people to work but also enabled them to vacation and enjoy our state’s natural beauty.
A century later, that cycle of challenge-and-response confronts North Carolina again. We are living it. We can see it. And we can solve it.
As we enter 2021, we carry the imprint of our people’s frustration and loss as well as our determination and resilience. This new year and this new term as Governor is more than just turning the page of a calendar. The lessons we’ve all learned must usher in a new era.
An era where we can acknowledge and work around our differences while refusing to sacrifice truth and facts at the altar of ideology. Where the dangerous events that took place at our nation’s capitol can never be justified.
So let’s reach together – to find ways all North Carolinians can afford to see a doctor. To get a quality education and a good paying job. To reform our systems that hurt people of color and to live and work in an economy that leaves no one behind, no matter who they are or where they live.
Let’s cast aside notions of red counties or blue counties and recognize that these are artificial divisions. These times of triumph and trial have shown us that we’re more connected than we ever imagined.
And one thing is clear, just as we did one hundred years ago – North Carolina is ready to roar again. And we will do it together.
I am humbled by the trust that you, the people of North Carolina have placed in me to serve again as your Governor. I have faith in you, and thank you for putting your faith in me. Together, may we continue to be strong, resilient and ready.
This op-ed from Gov. Roy Cooper is an abridged version of his Inaugural address.