‘I’m just so happy that I get to make a difference’: The Story of Elijah King

Elijah King was born and raised in Durham with his mom and little sister. By the time King turned 18-years-old, he had moved 11 different times. 

King grew up witnessing things most kids his age couldn’t have imagined. He saw eviction, moving places under 24 hours, crashing at his grandparent’s house and even different pastor’s houses. 

Because he moved around so much, King said he was a very independent kid, which also made it difficult for him to come to terms with his sexuality. He said he was forced to explore it all himself. 

Religion was also very important to King at a young age, after he found himself tagging along with his teacher to an after school church music group. Once King convinced his mom to become members of the church, they found a second family. 

King said he grew up at the church, and while he was figuring out his own sexuality at the time, he said those two parts of his life never intersected that much. 

“I think you can be religious and also be your true self – that’s what the Bible teaches,” he said. 

It was during his time spent at his grandparents house that really sparked King’s interest in the news and politics. He fell in love with anchors on the nightly news, like Anderson Cooper, and he then became the editor for his high school newspaper. 

King also explored his passion for nonprofit work and politics in high school, by sitting on the board of an organization called Made in Durham. Through this opportunity, King met many people who eventually took him under their wing, specifically Andrea Harris, an advocate for minority economic development. 

Harris asked King to speak at a forum for school shootings and gun violence after the Parkland shooting, which ended up launching his career in N.C. politics. King remembers after the speech when his parents asked him, “When are you running for president?”

Mike Woodard, a recent candidate for the Durham mayoral elections, N.C. Senator and Durham city councilman, offered King a page job when he was still in high school. King said he took the opportunity and made the most of it. 

“I shook as many hands as I could, I talked to as many people as I could,” he said. 

Since the page program with Woodard, King dove into work with nonprofits. Still in high school, he co-founded the Durham Youth Climate Justice Initiative, and towards the end of senior year, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, he found his next big project. 

King remembers watching the news about long food drive lines once the pandemic had started and thinking about all the students in public schools who relied on school lunches as a meal. 

“I remember my fellow students at that 12:00 bell – the lunch bell – sprinting down the hallways to the cafeteria, because that was one of two meals that they’re getting that day – free breakfast and free lunch,” he said. 

King, along with a local business owner, then founded Durham Free Lunch Initiative. The program took off and started partnering with multiple businesses around the city to provide 1,000 meals a week to people. 

A month after King turned 18-years-old, he began his own journey into N.C. politics after being nominated for the Durham County Democratic Party Vice Chair for precinct 23. After holding multiple positions in the North Carolina Democratic Party, King was elected for the third vice chair position of the party in Feb. 2023. 

In his current position, King has accomplished a rapid response effort to inform and mobilize voters in the state after the bills passed in the N.C. General Assembly infringed on LGBTQ rights. 

He also launched a municipal candidate campaign that recruited several dozen candidates, narrowing the gap and candidate filing, and coordinated efforts with the N.C House and N.C. Senate democratic caucuses to strengthen communication, increase their visibility and streamline messaging to change community perception of the state party.

Despite all of King’s accomplishments, his job is entirely volunteer based and does not receive any pay checks or adamant recognition for the work he does. 

“Quite frankly, for me, it’s not about the recognition, it’s about that feeling that I feel when I go home, and I’ve tried everything I could to make those volunteers feel like they were needed and appreciated, and do everything that I could to make those candidates that I talk to on a day-to-day basis feel like they have a fighting chance, even if they don’t,” King said. 

King said he is grateful to be from the Triangle area, and to have had a positive experience growing up as a member of the LGBTQ community. He said Durham is a very diverse place with a supportive community. 

When thinking back on all he’s accomplished so far in his young-adult life, King attributes it all to his mom. 

“I’ve done a lot of things, and I attribute all of it to seeing my mom make sacrifices,” he said. “Seeing my mom make those sacrifices, seeing her work hard for us – that’s why I attribute it to it, and I’m just so happy that I get to make a difference.