When Chris Suggs was 10 years old, he told a local TV news reporter that he wanted to be the president of the United States when he grew up. Everyone in his close-knit hometown of Kinston, North Carolina, watched the evening broadcast and knew that “little Chris Suggs wanted to be president.”
It’s a pipe dream for a lot of kids, but Suggs, now a junior at Carolina, is still working toward that goal. He has already started his own nonprofit, testified before Congress and served as the youngest commissioner on the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission.
And the title of “president” has already appeared on his resume more than once, including as president of the Black Student Movement at Carolina. His peers also just elected him to serve as senior class president next year.
It’s a pretty incredible list of accomplishments for a 19-year-old, but Suggs is humble at every turn.
“Growing up in Kinston, my mom was a schoolteacher and my dad worked in the Parks and Recreation Department, so both my parents always had me actively involved in something in the community,” he said. “I have a great support network back in Kinston and here on campus with so many amazing young leaders who are doing great things in their communities.”
Suggs was only 14 when he launched Kinston Teens to bring positive change to his hometown. When he saw how economic distress and gun violence were affecting his peers, he wanted to take action.
“These were young people — people I went to school with or knew — and it was disheartening to me because I felt like no one was doing anything to address these issues,” he said. “Young people weren’t necessarily at the table at city council meetings or really involved in the solutions. We needed an outlet that was youth-led and allowed youth to be involved and doing something positive.”
While building Kinston Teens, his passion for community engagement led him to Carolina, where he majors in political science and religious studies.
“One of the reasons I chose UNC was that this University is so committed to public service,” he said. “The curriculum here is so focused on not just the problems and issues, but how we can apply solutions to make the world better. I could bring my passions from back home to campus and still be involved in service projects and activism.”
He immediately got involved in the Black Student Movement in 2017. He served as co-chair of the first-year council, then as secretary and now as president.
The Black Student Movement is one of the largest cultural organizations on campus, and Suggs leads the largest membership in its 53-year history. The organization addresses cultural and diversity issues across campus and in the surrounding community while also promoting black ideals and culture.
“BSM is an important organization at this campus, ensuring that black students at UNC don’t lose touch with their culture and identity and that we have a great support system and a range of events and programming that support us academically and socially,” he said. “I truly love being part of this organization and love being able to advocate for and lead the community this organization serves.”
While Suggs works to empower black students at Carolina, his public service efforts back home are coming full circle. During his first year at UNC-Chapel Hill, he purchased a foreclosed house in the neighborhood where he grew up for about $1,000.
“It was in really bad shape, and a lot of other homes around it were deteriorating. I felt like I could save this one house,” he said. “I purchased it, and I held onto it for a while because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with it.”
After a few years of hard work, the house is now nearly renovated and ready to open this spring as the Kinston Teens Neighborhood Hub, a place for young people in the community to come together.
So, Carolina’s own Chris Suggs might just be president of the United States one day. But for now, he looks forward to being president of the senior class next year.
“I’m really looking forward to hosting some fun events to bring our class together and making sure we have job opportunities, that we’re connected with the alumni network and just that we have holistic support as we go into the next phase of our lives,” he said. “I believe that my generation is going to continue to do great things to make positive change in the world.”