Located in southeastern North Carolina, Sampson County and the City of Clinton (the county seat) boast an array of cultures and peoples. When Clinton’s Planning and Development Department envisioned celebrating this rich diversity by organizing the city and county’s first-ever multicultural festival, the planning director called upon a local resident and Hollins University sophomore to lead the initiative.
Lilibeth Arzate ’25, who intends to major in political science, served as the Planning and Development Department’s summer intern this year, an opportunity that came about after she became a Simple Gifts Scholarship recipient. The scholarship is awarded to high school seniors in Clinton and Sampson County “who graduate in the top 25% of their class, exemplify academic achievement and excellence, and demonstrate outstanding character and leadership.”
“I told my scholarship coordinator of my interest in doing something in local government and she recommended me to the planning director for the internship this summer,” she explained. When Arzate began work in May, her supervisor immediately sought her opinion regarding the festival idea and “I thought it sounded great. She said, ‘I want your job this summer to be to get started on that.’” Arzate also played a key role in meetings involving her department and other City of Clinton officials, but “75% of my internship was laying the groundwork for this festival.”
From the beginning, Arzate said she “wanted to focus on the main cultures and races in Sampson County. The white Americans are the most common, but there are also Black Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans – there is a Coharie Tribe in our county. I did the best I could to reach out to every single part of each culture and/or race. I held multiple meetings and got great feedback.”
Arzate was struck by what she heard from two constituencies in particular. “I am Hispanic, so I found it easier to contact Hispanic organizations and people. They want this festival, but when we told them the location was going to be in front of the courthouse, they said, ‘I’m not going to go there.’ A large undocumented community exists here and they have a fear of anything to do with the government. We don’t want this group of people to shy away from learning about all the other cultures present in Sampson County, but they’re scared to go out. I didn’t realize that such a large quantity of people has that fear, or how it impacts people’s everyday lives on such a scale.”
Meeting with the Coharie tribe, Arzate learned that “they don’t feel like their presence is portrayed enough in local government. One person told me, ‘Whenever you tell people that Native Americans are here, they don’t believe you. That’s the main reason why I want to do this festival, to let people know we’re present in Sampson County and we deserve a voice.’”
Arzate said the dialogues in which she has engaged “have expanded my empathy for underrepresented groups in my community. I really want people here to learn about each other. And just possibly, that will help every one of the citizens in Sampson County live in harmony. There are a lot of issues going on right now that divide everybody, and maybe if we do this, we get people to see the humanity in each other.” Despite some of the concerns that were expressed, she said the groups all emphasized to her that “they felt seen, they felt heard, and agreed this was a great idea. They said this multicultural festival is going to show the rest of the world that we are growing together.”
The City of Clinton is planning to hold the inaugural multicultural festival on the first Saturday of May 2024. “We want to take our time to make sure we do things right the first time,” Arzate said in explaining the lengthy process. The event will feature ethnic foods (“I’ve spoken to multiple people and downtown businesses about being food vendors”), music and entertainment representing each culture (“We’re going to have a lot of dancers and performers from the Coharie tribe, for example”), and arts and crafts (“I have an aunt who does culture garments and she said she will be coming”). Even though Hollins’ spring term will still be in session in early May, Arzate stressed there is no way she won’t be in attendance. “I will be there even if I have to take three days away from Hollins,” she smiled. “I hope my professors don’t mind!”
Arzate will be interning for the Clinton Planning and Development Department again next summer, but she also wants to continue her work on the multicultural festival remotely from Hollins during the 2022-23 academic year. “I’m really proud of what I’ve been doing here in Clinton,” she said. “I never thought I would be in charge of bringing something like this to my community.” Her long-term plans include completing a paralegal certificate program after earning her political science degree and eventually becoming an immigration attorney.
“Who knows, life might lead me to being in Congress one day. Once you have that power, you can do great things. But I’d like to start off by coming back to Sampson County and working for our local government. I don’t see a lot of resources for immigrants here and I would like to be that help for the undocumented community.”