Adventurer, entrepreneur, and an inspiration to her peers

NC teen becomes first African American female to serve as 4-H Northeast District President

Adventurer, entrepreneur, and an inspiration to her peers

Learning to save gives Guilford County middle schoolers a head start on their futures.

WINDSOR, NC- Taylor Cotten likes to break barriers and defy expectations. Since she was a 5-year-old, 4-H has helped her in those pursuits.

Now a 17-year-old senior at Bertie High School in rural Windsor, NC, Cotten has grown from a shy child who coped with a stuttering problem and a diagnosis of autism into the first African American female to serve as North Carolina’s 4-H Northeast District President.

Taylor Cotten, far left, supervises young 4-H members during a summer Cooking and Healthy Eating camp in Bertie County. As the 2020-2021 4-H Northeast District President, Cotten says her goal is to make sure all 4-Hers in her district have a voice.

“I’ve had so many opportunities through 4-H, not just to explore my interests, but to gain confidence and find my voice,” she said. Cotten remembers a time when she was introverted and unable to speak in complete sentences. Over the years, she found friends and committed 4-H agents who believed in her and made her understand she could do more than overcome her own challenges; she could be a leader and an inspiration to others.

“Taylor has a big imagination and big vision—that’s the main reason why she’s where she is today,” said Guy A. Holley, 4-H Agent in Bertie County with North Carolina Cooperative Extension. “My role has been to help her focus her ideas and to take on roles that could help her bring those ideas to fruition.”

As an African American, a young woman, and a resident of a rural, underserved region of North Carolina, Cotten sees her role as Northeast District President as a chance to be a voice for other youth like her.

“I want to give our district a voice, and I want to be inclusive and reach out and help other kids who might be shy or introverted. I want to let them know they matter and that they are welcome in 4-H. I’m all about breaking boundaries.”

Cotten comes from a 4-H family; her mother, and three siblings have all been 4-H members and she became a Cloverbud as soon as she was old enough, participating in camping, in-school enrichment programs and special interest groups at the local, district, and state levels. As she grew older, she realized she wanted to lead others, and that would require skills in communications and public speaking.

She attended town council and county commissioner meetings in Windsor and eventually garnered up the courage to give a presentation on entrepreneurship at both. The experience was scary, she admitted, but she also realized she liked public speaking and that it helped build confidence. This confidence allowed her to participate on the district level, giving 4-H presentations on the same topic.

“I wasn’t going to let my fear stop me,” she said.

As she grew older, Cotten sought out 4-H experiences that would build her leadership skills. She served as a facilitator for Bertie County’s 4-H Cooking and Healthy Eating camps, an experience that earned her the opportunity to attend National 4-H Conference. She was trained as a presenter of the Healthy Habits curriculum, a program that uses teen mentors to promote healthy eating and physical exercise, and as a National Youth Science Day facilitator. She worked with her peers on in-school and after-school 4-H programs and helped design and implement summer enrichment programs that reached more than 150 Bertie County youth.

With all her 4-H activities, she has maintained a 3.6 GPA and participated in the high school marching band, cheerleading, volleyball, and track and field. At 15, she launched her own company called SheBeKurly, focused on natural and organic skin and hair care products for women of color.

In the coming months, Cotten plans to relaunch her business’ Etsy site with new homemade organic products, apply for college, where she plans to learn more about business and entrepreneurship, and—if pandemic restrictions allow—visit as many of the 22 counties in the Northeast District as possible to talk to fellow 4-Hers.

“My campaign was about being inclusive and making sure everyone in our district has a voice,” she said. “I want everyone to know they matter and 4-H can help them do anything.”

Those who know Cotten have no doubt she will be a district president who leads by example.

“I met her three years ago at the Teen Council in Bertie County,” recalled Holley. “From the start I saw she was outgoing and loved to interact with people, including those who are different than her.”

Tierra Beale, who served as the Bertie County 4-H agent before Holley, said she worked to provide Cotten with as many 4-H opportunities as possible and purchased some of her SheBeKurly products to support the young entrepreneur.

“She’s always been a leader and an adventurer, making friends wherever she goes very easily,” said Beale. “In her mind she can do anything she tries to do. I’m happy to see her continue that as the first black female Northeast District President. It will surely be a moment that inspires other brown girls and me.”

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