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Rural Youth Empowerment (RYE) Fellowship

2019-2020 RYE Fellowship Information

The Rural Youth Empowerment (RYE) Fellowship is a year-long mentorship and training program for LGBTQ young people in rural areas of North Carolina. The program supports RYE Fellows to successfully execute a social justice project serving rural communities while developing leadership skills.


Over the course of a year, a cohort of ten RYE Fellows will attend day-long leadership institutes in three different locations throughout the state, attend major Equality NC community events, participate in monthly video conferences, work one-on-one with community mentors and recieve fellowship stipends to help offset costs associated with their project.

For the 2018-2019 fellowship cycle, Equality NC selected five fellows from under-resourced pockets of our state to envision and execute ideas to transform the culture of their local LGBTQ community. These projects range from addressing the unique healthcare needs of transgender North Carolinians to forming a peer-to-peer LGBTQIA+ sexual health squad that educates young people aged 16-20 about queer sexuality, health and wellness.



2018-2019 RYE Fellowship Class

RYE 2019 Fellowship
Adrian Parra

Adrian Parra, 28 (he/she/they): Adrian is the co-Executive Director of Youth OUTright WNC, an advocacy and leadership nonprofit committed to the empowerment of queer youth in Western North Carolina. A “jack-of-all-trades” living in Asheville, their project incorporates the work of Youth OUTright by forming a peer-to-peer LGBTQIA+ sexual health squad that educates young people aged 16-20 about queer sexuality, health and wellness. An organizer at heart, Adrian prides themselves in breaking down accessibility barriers when it comes to information and resources for LGBTQ youth.

Ashleigh Jackson

Ashleigh Jackson, 21 (she/her): An organizer of Hendersonville’s "March for Our Lives," Ashleigh is a visible and active community leader in her mountain town. She works as a preschool teacher and is invested in the leadership development of LGBTQ youth from all walks of life. Her project through the RYE Fellowship focuses on resource excavation and development for queer youth, as well as a live event that brings together LGBTQ-affirming faith leaders, community health resources, local business leaders and the general public from around the Hendersonville area to cultivate community and enhance localized queer visibility.

Maurice Jamell Carter 'Karter J,'

Maurice Jamell Carter “Karter J,” 28 (he/him/his): With a passion for Diversity, Social Justice, Activism, and Egalitarianism, Karter J is all about bringing people together. But living in Greenville, he finds it difficult to cultivate LGBTQ community spaces outside of East Carolina University – where he recently graduated. His project will focus on the needs of LGBTQ youth of color and people living with HIV in the Greenville area. Karter J wants to create a place for these vulnerable groups of LGBTQ people to gather and talk about the unique needs they face within the larger LGBTQ community, while also potentially fostering leadership development. He hopes this project will assist in breaking down “the stigma, dehumanization and other issues that hinder people from being themselves and express[ing] who they are publicly.”

Sterling Bentley

Sterling Bentley, 25 (he/him/his): Having grown up in a small town in Western North Carolina and relocating to Durham in 2017, Sterling knows the diverse tapestry of this state very well. With a passion for social justice that he says permeates all aspects of his life, Sterling hopes to contribute to an important conversation about the unique challenges that transgender North Carolinians face through his work. His project tackles the intersection of healthcare and transgender identity by working with healthcare providers in the Triangle area to better understand how to compassionately and adequately serve patients of transgender experience. He will accomplish this by leading workshops and giving presentations to medical providers in order to help bridge the gap between the transgender population and the healthcare network of the Triangle.

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