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Since she first arrived in Chapel Hill, junior Kyla Locklear has been dedicated to bringing awareness to Carolina’s Native American community. The UNC American Indian Center quickly became the perfect place for Locklear to work toward that goal.

A headshot of Kayla Locklear with the text "#GDTBATH" in the top corner
Kyla Locklear outside the UNC American Indian Center. (Photo by Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

When Kyla Locklear was looking for a work-study position at Carolina, one organization immediately jumped out at her.

She didn’t really know much about the UNC American Indian Center, but as a member of the Lumbee Tribe, the Tar Heel figured she’d apply to be an ambassador for the center to help promote events and perform administrative tasks.

Locklear quickly found much more than just a job with the position. She found a supportive community and a newfound mission of sharing Native American culture with her fellow Tar Heels.

“It’s just about bringing awareness to who Native American people are and our culture,” said Locklear, a junior studying exercise and sport science in the College of Arts & Sciences. “It’s about educating others that don’t know. That’s pretty much our purpose: educating and bringing awareness to the culture and its people.”

It’s a goal that Locklear set early on in Chapel Hill when a person she just met was confused when Locklear said she was Native American. The transition from her close-knit, largely Native American community in Maxton, North Carolina, became a culture shock that inspired Locklear to play a larger role in bringing awareness.

“That sparked me. Like ‘Hey, you need to be more into your culture. You need to get more involved. You need to bring awareness,” she recalled. “I wanted to bring more awareness to my culture and people because people generally do not know. It’s not really taught in schools.”

The American Indian Center became the perfect place for Locklear to work toward that goal. Shortly after beginning her work-study position at the center, she connected with the Carolina Indian Circle. The student group is focused on supporting Native American Tar Heels by building community and hosting events for the campus community like the annual powwow and cultural show.

The group, Locklear said, helped her make connections with more students and make strides in her goal to bring awareness to her culture. But it wasn’t just her fellow Carolina Indian Circle members who became major players in her college experience. The staff at the American Indian Center also became crucial supports for Locklear.

“They’re so nice and welcoming, and they’re always flexible,” she said. “If you just need someone to talk to about anything you’re going through on campus, they’re here. They have resources for you with anything you’re going through — all kinds of resources and connections that they have that can help you through whatever circumstance you have going on.”

That supportive network that eagerly shares her mission of raising awareness of Native American students and their culture, Locklear said, has been critical to her experience at Carolina, both academically and personally.

“It’s just having someone that is in your same culture that you can go to and talk to about those things,” she said. “I don’t think I would have the same connection if I were going elsewhere to a person of a different culture looking for the same resources. The connection would not be the same, I don’t think. It helps a lot just to know someone is there that can relate to you, and they can feel those same emotions.”

Learn more about the UNC American Indian Center

By Brandon Bieltz, University Communications

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