Remarkable Class of 2022 graduate Deborah Phillips founded Block Love Charlotte to feed the homeless
When Deborah Phillips first pulled onto Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in 1992, she didn’t expect it would take her 30 years to leave.
Phillips, who recently graduated with an Interdisciplinary Studies degree, says she always wanted to study at an HBCU. Childhood experiences on campus made Winston-Salem State University her first choice. She says the support she received from the university throughout her journey made her want to stay.
Life took Phillips on a few turns. She took at least three breaks away from her studies to raise children, care for her family and serve her community. “That ‘Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve’ resonated with me even before receiving my degree. It's just something always here with me because even when I was a student in my earlier years, we knew that we were there to learn something so that we could take it back out into our communities and make a difference,” Phillips said. Phillips is the founder of a Non-Profit Organization called Block Love Charlotte. The group works to provide meals and resources to people experiencing homelessness.
Her passion for helping people experiencing homelessness is personal. She herself experienced homelessness while studying at WSSU in 1995.
In 2020, Phillips planned to return to the university, but after noticing the growing number of people needing help during the pandemic, she put her desires aside, quit her job, and operated Block Love Charlotte full time. “We set a precedent here, we served every single day, for two years straight. We filled our houses community and beyond.” Phillips said. With the help of donations and volunteers, Phillips served more than 20,000 meals in one year. She says she couldn’t have done it without her Ram Family. “Winston-Salem State alumni have been a huge support. We didn't have Homecoming, so we did HBCU Days on what I call the block. Winston-Salem State showed up in big numbers,” Phillips said.
The key to Phillips’ success is her ability to see the person beyond their position and treat people like family “A lot of these individuals that we serve every single day look just like us. We should advocate for anybody in that situation, especially those we consider our family.” Phillips understands that there are a variety of factors that lead people to her. That’s why in addition to hot meals, Phillips and her team also help people fill out job applications and secure housing and other necessities. Her United States history professor, Dr. Donna J. Benson, calls Phillips an experienced “social justice social worker.”
“I just want to be an inspiration,” Phillips said. She’s done just that. While Phillips served her community in Charlotte, her daughter earned a degree in social work from WSSU. Her daughter graduated in 2020, but Phillips says while she was a student here, she joined an organization that collected items on campus to support people experiencing homelessness.
Like thousands of students across the country, for Phillips, the classroom looked different when she returned to school. She spent the last year earning her degree behind a computer screen. Phillips says she felt very close to classmates and professors despite the distance, most of whom she has never met. “I've had awesome advisors. The Interdisciplinary Studies Program has been amazing. They understood that I was determined to graduate class of 2022, and they told me exactly what I needed to do to finish and to walk out of here with a degree,” Phillips said.
Life threw a few more curveballs in the final stretch of her studies, “This is a journey that I never thought I would see, ” Phillips said. She never gave up. Dr. Donna Benson, Professor of History, says that determination is an inspiration to her peers. “Phillips is an excellent student with a deep love for humanity; she inspires each of us to do more.” Phillips says her advice to anyone considering returning to college to get a degree is simple, “Pace yourself, take your time, and balance.”