Somebody Has to Stay

Celebrating 25 years at MAHEC and a lifetime in Asheville

Jacquelyn Hallum, MBA, MHA, always wanted to be an attorney. In fact, she was studying for the LSAT when she got a call about a new position at MAHEC. She remembers her law books sitting in the back of her car during the interview.

“The job at MAHEC was always supposed to be short-term until I passed my LSAT,” said Jacquelyn. “I didn’t even know what a grant-funded position was at that time. I just knew it was a job. It turns out it was a very interesting job.”

This was Jacquelyn’s third attempt at a MAHEC job. Looking back, she knows those other two weren’t meant for her, but when a newly-created rural outreach coordinator position became available, someone at MAHEC knew the perfect candidate.

Jacquelyn accepted that position 25 years ago and has been at MAHEC ever since. In 2000, she moved to health careers and workforce diversity. There, she expanded the diversity resource council that helped guide MAHEC’s diversity recruitment and retention efforts and also created student programs, which she still oversees today as the director of health careers and diversity education.

Jacquelyn’s extensive community experience had helped her land a job at MAHEC; her commitment to health equity and diversity helped her excel at it. She needed to pursue a health-related degree to support her work at MAHEC, so she went back to school and got a dual master’s degree in health administration and business administration.

“I still haven’t given up on law school!” Jacquelyn exclaimed. “I was just at the point that I would have to move away. I think I still would have worked on my law degree if there was something closer. But back then, there weren’t a lot of online programs.”

That decision kept Jacquelyn in Asheville, which has been her home since she was an infant. She moved to the area when she was five months old, after her father died in a car accident in England where they lived while he served in the military. After his death, her mother moved Jacquelyn and her older brother and sister to Asheville.

“And then tragedy hit again, and my mother passed away when I was 7 from Lupus–and racism,” said Jacquelyn. “She couldn’t go to Mission Hospital because there were not enough beds for people of color, so she stayed home.”

Today, Jacquelyn takes comfort in the fact that her student programs like the Minority Medical Mentoring Program and the AHEC Scholars program are working to erase racism and bias in healthcare by helping more students of color get jobs in this field.

Jacquelyn with MMMP Program Coordinator Tracy Ashby-Wagner (back row)
and 2019 MMMP interns Aniya Adwaters, Ivah Tyson, and Cedra Goodrum.

“What happened to my mother is part of the motivation for my work, because most of the work that I do is to try to recruit under-represented populations, students from rural communities, and marginalized students to give them that leg up,” said Jacquelyn. “In Asheville, we still don’t have that many providers of color. We’ve been talking about that since I started here. I’m hoping that one day we will have more.”

But the recent killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, amongst others, and the widespread protests in response prove that we still have a long way to go. “To say things are getting better, to say the world is changing, to say we’re free–we’re not. I have to live with that every day, and it takes a toll. It may not be that we’re getting beat or having water hoses put on us, but there is always a virtual water hose.”

Although her time here has not always been free from discrimination, she has always persevered in her efforts to make MAHEC a better and more equitable organization.

“What I would like to see in our community and our organization is equity. MAHEC is starting to address those issues, and I’m part of the team that is working to bring equity to our organization. I may not benefit from some of the work now underway, but there will be so many that will.”

After 25 years at MAHEC, Jacquelyn has no regrets about the work she’s done here. Even though she’s had to put aside her dreams of becoming an attorney, she knows that staying in Asheville has improved the lives of so many young people of color in Western North Carolina, and beyond.

“Most of my friends that I grew up with went to cities that had larger populations of people of color,” said Jacquelyn. “But if everybody leaves who’s going to show the young people the way? Somebody has to stay home. I chose to stay home, to do this job, and not to go to law school. MAHEC has given me the opportunity to give students more opportunities.”

Jacquelyn sacrificed some of her dreams to help young people of color pursue theirs. In turn, she’s helped build a path to a better future for MAHEC and our community. We’re grateful she decided to stay.