Vaunita Martin Mug

Vaunita Martin

Economic developers, educators and leaders all agree on one thing: We need to be in the business of empowering people.

So what does this actually mean, and why is it important? Empowering people is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the state of being empowered to do something” and “the power, right, or authority to do something.” We are all born with personality traits that may lean in certain directions, but it is our surroundings and experiences that strengthen or weaken our abilities.

Take your own life as an example. What’s your position in life? Have you had challenges you overcame? Who has inspired you, and who have you in turn inspired?

When I occasionally walk back in time to relive the definable moments that inspired me, there are few that jump out immediately. The first that comes to mind, as vividly as it was yesterday, was my first grade teacher. I was having trouble reading, missing words and definitions on the board, and just struggling. She took me aside from the other students and had me look at a letter on the board covering one eye then another and discovered my problem was that I couldn’t see. After a visit to the eye doctor and subsequent surgery, I could see. It was a defining moment that empowered me, and my reading capabilities soared as a result. Seeing truly was believing, and it allowed me to believe in myself and ensured my success.

Our educators make a difference by empowering students every day. A person’s most significant influences often begin at school. When we educate, we empower not just the one student but everyone that same student comes into contact with throughout his/her life.

My very first job was a newspaper carrier at the age of 15. I love to tell the story of running my own business at such a very young age. Purchasing the papers, bags, and rubber bands through the newspaper, then being reimbursed for those through my customers when they paid their bills. I learned about debt to income ratio, and that I preferred income over debt. I learned the value in good customer service, balancing a budget, paying bills, and most of all, paying taxes. This job gave me confidence, a sense of freedom, and made me more responsible. Working empowers individuals to believe in themselves, gives goals, and allows for achieving success. The independence a job can bring makes a huge difference in self-esteem and upward mobility in society.

One of the biggest goals as individuals should be to give to others what you were once given. We must pay it forward with teachable moments, giving opportunities, and nurturing growth to help empower individuals to achieve their dreams. I’m so blessed to be able to do this in multiple ways through supporting business startups, community service projects, and through our Itawamba Jr. Leadership program. Empower others by giving your time and talents, sharing your story, and motivating others to do something!

Vaunita Martin is the executive director of the Itawamba County Development Council. She can be contacted at

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