Ms. Black North Carolina, a Columbus County native, shines light on health disparities

By Ivey Schofield

When Tatyana Faulk-Frink was crowned Ms. Black North Carolina last month, she proudly wore a sash bearing the name of her hometown of Chadbourn – a nod to the Columbus County community that she continues to support. 

As a medical student at the University of North Carolina and the co-founder of a mentoring program for girls, Faulk-Frink knows the challenges affecting many Black women in Columbus County and all of rural North Carolina. 

Now, she wants to use her new title to highlight those challenges, including equitable access to health care and the need for positive mentors in children’s lives. 

Faulk-Frink, who is a nurse, entrepreneur, licensed minister and mom to three young children, also hopes to serve as an example for other Black women. 

“It’s important to have people who can edify you, build you up and teach you things, direct you to put you in the best direction,” said Faulk-Frink, 28, who now lives in Greensboro. “I didn’t feel like I had that everywhere.”

Faulk-Frink, who plans to become a cardiovascular doctor, said she was a child when she became interested in pursuing a career in health care. Her mother worked as a nurse. 

According to the North Carolina Black Alliance, almost 16% of Black women of child-bearing age in the state don’t have health insurance. Black women across the United States are up to four times more likely to die during childbirth, the group says.   

Nearly 59% of Black women ages 20 and older have cardiovascular disease, which kills more than 50,000 Black women across the United States each year, according to the American Heart Association. 

Tatyana Faulk-Frink says she was a child when she became interested in a career in health care. Photo courtesy of Tatyana Faulk-Frink

While attending West Columbus High School, Faulk-Frink got to explore her fascination with health care through Camp BONES, a program at UNC Wilmington that introduces under-represented youth to medical professions. At the end of the program, Faulk-Frink became a certified nursing assistant. 

But after graduating in 2011 and heading to Chapel Hill, Faulk-Frink realized that she had not experienced the same level of resources and opportunities that some of her peers had enjoyed. She had had limited access to advanced classes at West Columbus High. 

Faulk-Frink, who went to college classes in the mornings and then worked eight-hour shifts at an assisted living and memory care facility, wanted to help change that narrative for the girls and women where she grew up.

Mentoring program

In 2015, Faulk-Frink and Deondra Jenkins, who is from Hallsboro and also attended UNC-Chapel Hill, created Her Highness in Columbus County. The nonprofit aims to mentor and empower young Black women as they navigate health, education, career possibilities and spirituality. 

“We didn’t want it to be strictly one element,” Faulk-Frink said. “We wanted to focus on the wholeness of girls and women.” 

That summer, Faulk-Frink and Jenkins used their own money to host a camp for girls ages 13 to 18 at Whiteville Primary School. To get participants, Faulk-Frink put up fliers and advertised on social media.

“She just had a vision of getting those girls together in the community,” said Briana Hall, who grew up with Faulk-Frink and serves as a mentor for Her Highness.

Each day, Faulk-Frink encouraged the girls to say that the world needs them – an affirmation that Hall, a school counselor, said is integral to their mental health and self-esteem.

“To know some of the backgrounds those ladies have, you just want to encourage and inspire,” Hall said. “If we don’t fight for us, who will?” 

Last year, Faulk-Frink joined a fight aimed at the Columbus County Board of Education, which reassigned the school district’s two Black principals to assistant principals. 

Michael Powell, who was demoted at Chadbourn Elementary School, had been the only Black male educator in Faulk-Frink’s early life. He had also been her father’s basketball coach and had written a letter of recommendation that helped her younger sister get into college. 

At a Board of Education meeting, Faulk-Frink told members that minority students need educators who look like them in leadership positions.

“How can they be what they can’t see?” she said, according to The News Reporter at the time.

Remembering where she came from

After the summer camp in 2015, Faulk-Frink felt inspired to do more community service, a value her grandmother instilled in her as a child. 

Faulk-Frink’s grandparents adopted her and her younger sister Jaquasia  when they were toddlers. At the time, their parents were too young to take care of them, said Girlie Frink, her grandmother.

“They were amazing girls,” said Frink, 77. “Raising them wasn’t a chore.”

Faulk-Frink began walking and reading sooner than her peers, Frink said. When she started school, she made straight As and ended up competing for the top academic spot in her class.

Faulk-Frink also embraced extracurricular activities. She played basketball and baseball, participated in the marching and jazz bands, sang in the choir at Zion Wall Free Will Baptist Church and competed in Bible quiz competitions. 

Tatyana Faulk-Frink played piano this month at the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at Southeastern Community College.
Photo courtesy of Tatyana Faulk-Frink

“Tatyana can’t be still. She’s just in everything,” Frink said. “She’s strong and strong willed. You can’t back her down off of nothing if that’s what she wants to do.”

She was 8 when she began competing in pageants, first in Whiteville and Chadbourn and then Miss West Columbus High and Miss Pre Teen North Carolina. 

But she never won a crown, always finishing as first runner-up. 

The pageants, however, allowed Faulk-Frink to display her love for playing piano. 

“That was just my outlet,” she said. “With everything else you’ve got rules. But with piano I was just free. I could express myself however I wanted.”

Faulk-Frink’s mother came across a Facebook post about the 2022 Ms. Black North Carolina competition. She sent her daughter a screenshot with the message: “You’ve got to do this. This just screams you.”

Once again, Faulk-Frink was named first runner-up. But she tried again and won, becoming Ms. Black North Carolina 2023.

“I felt like the underdog story,” Faulk-Frink said. “I just wanted to win one pageant.

“I kept telling myself that I have a message that I want to share,” she continued, “and I’ve got to win to share my platform.”

Now, as she continues medical school, Faulk-Frink is also working toward an associate’s degree in nursing from ECPI University in Raleigh. 

To mentor more Black women about their health, Faulk-Frink has expanded Her Highness, adding a chapter in Greensboro. She has also offered scholarships to Black girls who aspire to give back to their communities.

“Helping others is not just helping the individual,” she said. “It’s helping the community.”

Later this year, she will compete in the Ms. Black United States pageant. Regardless of the outcome, she said, she will likely retire from pageants. 

Faulk-Frink, whose children are ages 3, 4 and 6, said family is her top priority. She is engaged to the kids’ father. 

“Home comes first, always,” she said. “I work everything else around it, but there have definitely been issues sometimes with a work-life-home balance.” 

But Faulk-Frink will never forget the Columbus County town that shaped her life. 

“Not a lot of people make it out of Chadbourn,” Hall said. “Girls look to her and ask her what to do. 

“And Tatyana, to me, is one of those people that no matter how high success she gets, she always remembers (where she came from).”

Tatyana Faulk-Frink, a Columbus County native and a medical student at UNC-Chapel Hill, was crowned Ms. Black North Carolina 2023 in December.
Photo courtesy of Tatyana Faulk-Frink