MOUNT OLIVE — For Venita Jenkins, the University of Mount Olive (UMO) was a place of transformation. When she came to UMO, she was committed to turning her passions into a career.
Jenkins is a native of Charlotte Court House, a small town in south central Virginia. When the time came to start thinking about college, she felt certain that UMO’s small campus was the place for her. “I didn’t feel like I would be ‘a number,’” she said. “The campus provided an environment where I felt I could grow.”
Directly out of high school, Jenkins faced financial obstacles, so she chose to attend a community college in Virginia for a year. Throughout that time, UMO kept in touch with her and offered her tremendous support. Jenkins was able to attend UMO the following year.
When Jenkins enrolled at UMO in 1993, her initial plan was to become a teacher. However, her high school mentor pointed out to her that her true passion was writing. “I decided to shift my focus,” she said. She chose to major in English literature and started taking journalism courses.
While at UMO, Jenkins found wonderful professors who fully supported her education and encouraged her to follow her passion. One of these professors was Dr. Dee Clere, who Jenkins considered to be a mentor. She still calls on Clere for guidance.
“One word to describe Venita is proactive,” Clere stated. “I don’t think she ever made a grade below an A in any course she took with me.”
In addition to her academic success, Clere also has fond memories of Jenkins’ comedic side. “She had a wicked sense of humor,” she said, recalling how Jenkins would show up in her office and state that she needed her signature for her transfer papers. “Naturally, I would go ballistic and say she couldn’t possibly leave UMO!” she said. “She is a student I am especially proud of having taught.”
Throughout her time at UMO, Jenkins sought out opportunities to train her journalism skills. For a short time, she wrote for the student newspaper. She also pursued opportunities with the Goldsboro News-Argus internship program.
Upon graduating from UMO in May 1996, Jenkins got her first journalism job at The Alleghany News, a small weekly newspaper located in the North Carolina mountains. She then transferred to the Wilkes-Journal Patriot. She then moved to work with The Fayetteville Observer, and then became the Associate Director of Media Relations at the University of Central Arkansas. She now works as a Content and Communications Specialist for the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW).
At UMO, Jenkins took a photography course with Professor Larry Lean which helped her to develop an “eye” for detail, composition, and framing. This course was instrumental for her success with the Alleghany News, as she was her own photographer.
Now living in Wilmington, she has allowed her photography hobby to turn into a passion. When she moved to Wilmington, she started making an effort to go to the beach to watch the sunrise, and she began taking photos every morning. What started as a few photos quickly turned into hundreds.
Jenkins began sharing the photos with her friends, and eventually they reached the director of the Upperman African American Cultural Center at UNCW, who thought the photos would be a great addition to the Center’s theme for the year, A People by the Sea, highlighting the Gullah-Geechee culture on the Eastern seaboard.
Jenkins’ work is now on display at the Upperman Center, and the exhibit will continue until December, when the photos will be sold at a silent auction.
The exhibit is called “My Lord, What a Morning,” and is a collection of photos that capture the sunrise along the coastline of New Hanover County. For Jenkins, photography is more than a hobby. “Photography became a form of meditation that allows me to reflect on life and connect with nature during those quiet hours in the morning,” she said. “Each image illustrates the beauty of God’s creation and the promise of a new day, a new beginning.”