WILMINGTON, N.C. -- Rochelle Small-Toney grew up in Wilmington and took part in rallies for equality.
She can remember the 10 young students who were wrongly convicted of arson and conspiracy. They became known as the Wilmington Ten.
It was those early year when she found her voice in politics and her strength in athletics.
"Sports actually was in my blood and my life for a very long time," said Small-Toney, who is now Rocky Mount’s city manager.
And at the age of eight, her athletic passion began with tennis. She practiced hitting the ball on the side of her house. It was in her same house where she would roll up towels, stuff them underneath her doors and stay up past her bedtime to watch some of the UNC men’s basketball games.
"Just the intensity of the game and you know the crowd and the excitement around it so I always thought that might be an interesting place to go," said Small-Toney.
Not only did she receive both her bachelor's and master's degrees while at UNC-Chapel Hill, but she also became Carolina's first African-American women's varsity basketball player from 1977 to 1978.
"It was intentional because at the time there was a feeling among African-American students that we just were not welcomed on the team,” said Small-Toney.
After UNC, Small-Toney became Savannah, Georgia’s first African-American and first female city manager.
Less than a year ago, she was named Rocky Mount's first woman city manager.
“I wasn't going to be pushed out of the opportunity because of my skin color,” said Small-Toney.