SPRING LAKE – Some say one of the best traits of a strong leader is helping others. It’s a trait often used to describe Kia Anthony, who is scheduled to be sworn in as Spring Lake’s 15th mayor today.
From food distribution initiatives, including a community Thanksgiving, to organizing Juneteenth events through her nonprofit Circa 1865, Anthony was active in the community for several years before deciding to run for office.
“I had no desire to go into politics, but I’ve always loved people and watched my mother serve,’’ she said. “It’s just been embedded since childhood to give back, and it was my activism that brought me to the next level when I was asked to run.
“When I was first asked to run, I thought about it for a few months,’’ she said. “I mean, really thought about it, and then decided to submit to my purpose. I mean, who am I to say no when the opportunity comes along?”
Servant leadership is how she describes her new role. Her mother, Carolyn Anthony, agrees with that description, saying she raised her daughter to give back to the community.
“Kia has always wanted to help people,” Carolyn Anthony said. “She was coming here a few years ago to visit when she saw a girl sitting at the corner of the road. She turned around and picked her up. She ended up letting her stay with her, helped her get a job and back on her feet. She’s always just helped people in need and has never met a stranger.”
Anthony grew up in Flint, Michigan, the middle child in a large family. She said her options for college were limited.
“Flint is not a very wealthy town, and I was concerned with paying for college with so many siblings,” she said.
At 17, Anthony said, she decided to join the military and took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, a timed, multi-aptitude test for military entrance. She scored high, and recruiters started calling. She joined the Army and soon had deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I was in the Army working in IT, building computers,’’ she said. “I fell in love with technology when I was in second grade, the first time I played Number Munchers on the computer at school. I knew even back then that I wanted to be in that field. When the opportunity came up in the Army, I jumped on it.”
She left the Army after seven years to pursue other interests.
“I never planned on being a lifer in the military,’’ she said. “I went to Fayetteville State after the Army, and I started a computer company. It was my first experience as an entrepreneur, but then I grew tired of it. I’m people-oriented, and in computers, it’s you and the machine.”
She worked in several jobs before once again starting a business.
Those jobs included real estate, where she worked until the market crashed in 2007. She worked as a systems administrator in corporate America before being terminated the day she had surgery. She said she was fired because she needed more time off than anticipated. She also worked in direct sales and network marketing.
After working in direct sales for five years, she had what she describes as an “aha moment” – realizing that the company was not hers and it could close. She said it would be the last time that someone else had control over her livelihood.
“I asked God that night, if you can create the entire universe, can you create something for me? The word I got back was ‘You already have it,’ and then I remembered this container in my refrigerator full of cactus juice,” Anthony said.
Years before, a neighbor from St. Thomas had shown her how to use cactus juice to make a hair product. She had been bottling it ever since for her personal use.
“I started Just Cactus in May 2013. It’s now a full-scale internet business with four all natural products made with locally sourced prickly pear cactus, which is indigenous to North Carolina,’’ she said. “I have five local growers and two employees.”
She credits her daughter, Nina, for her motivation to succeed.
“She’s my life. Everything I do, I set the bar high for her,’’ Anthony said. “I’m going to give my best in everything I do. She’s just the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. She changed my life.”
Anthony also created the nonprofit Circa 1865 in 2019 and was the driving force behind getting Juneteenth recognized as a holiday in Spring Lake, the first municipality in Cumberland County to do so and one of the first in North Carolina.
“In Michigan, Juneteenth is really popular, and I grew up celebrating,’’ she said. “There wasn’t anything around here, so I called a few friends and in 2018, we planned a small event at General Lee Park in Fayetteville. I ended up getting sick so I couldn’t go after planning it, so I drove around the park talking from my car.
“I guess you could say that was the birth of the parade for the next year. It was such a great turnout with almost 150 people that in June 2019, we had a three-part festival with a breakfast, parade and a nine-hour music festival with food trucks, vendors and fireworks. The festival birthed the nonprofit Circa 1865, which has now expanded into census work, food distribution and other things. It’s unreal.”
She also has had a radio show for three years called “I Am Natural” on Bronco-iRadio, which led to her friendship with Laura Hardy, a well-known local political campaign organizer.
“When I first met Kia, she was helping me out,” Hardy said. “She has a very bubbly personality and did exactly what she said she was going to do. I’ve watched her over the years, and no matter what setting, she brings cohesion. She brings the positive. If she brings that same energy to being mayor, it will only help the town. She will hopefully bring everyone together.”
The drive to get things done is something with which her mother agrees.
“She’s always been a go-getter. She started having whole adult conversations at age 1 and when she was little, she wanted to be on the ground. She always wanted to be on her own two feet exploring. She was a wonderful kid, and I continue to be proud of her,” Carolyn Anthony said.
Earlier this year, the Local Government Commission took control of Spring Lake’s finances. The commission had warned town leaders about long-standing financial disarray, concerns about potential budget deficits and investigations into missing money.
Anthony said the takeover is an opportunity for the town to get help from experts as it rebuilds.
“The LGC coming in was one of the best things that could have happened for Spring Lake,’’ she said. “We have a new board, and we have the opportunity to do this the right way. We will be learning how to do this right as we rebuild.”
It also means the town is able to take advantage of state and federal resources, she said.
“We can really maximize the resources for the benefit of Spring Lake. Our biggest vantage point is our size,” Anthony said. “We have a lot of opportunity. We are just in a once in a generation opportunity.”
In addition to working with the Local Government Commission to replenish the general fund, the town also has other issues to address. The state budget earmarks funding for several projects in Spring Lake, according to state Rep. Marvin Lucas. The town also is updating its Land Use Plan, a plan for the future of the town.
“I want the quality of life for this community that I want for myself,’’ Anthony said. “I care about the well-being of this town.’’
Meet the Board of Aldermen
In addition to a new mayor, the five-member Board of Aldermen will also include new faces. Sona Cooper is the only incumbent returning to the board.
Occupation: Teacher at Howard Hall Elementary School
Chadwick was raised in Spring Lake.
What is your top priority coming into office? “My top priority is to restore the general fund and to bring community revitalization to Spring Lake.”
Occupation: Compliance officer for the N.C. Department of Agriculture, retired U.S. Army master sergeant
Lackman has lived in Spring Lake since 2007.
What is your top priority coming into office? “My top priority is to fix things and put the right people in place to make Spring Lake better.”
Occupation: Branch manager for financial services, OneMain Financial
Palacios was born in Spring Lake and has lived in the town for the last 25 years.
What is your top priority coming into office? “My top priority is financial management and fiscal accountability.”
Occupation: Retired U.S. Army with 21 years of service
Thompson was born and raised in Spring Lake and has lived in the town since 2016.
What is your top priority coming into office? “My top priority is transparency, being open and honest with citizens to win back their trust. I also hope to build back Spring Lake with revitalization, cleanliness and more job opportunities.”
Occupation: Contact tracer auditor for Carolina Community Tracing Collaborative
Cooper was raised in Spring Lake and moved back in 2000.
What is your top priority coming into office? “My top priority is transparency.”
Jami McLaughlin covers Spring Lake for CityView TODAY. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.