By Ajamu Dillahunt, Special to Facing SouthThe intersection of public policy and personal experience is a powerful place. This is especially true for advocates of policy change that will make life better for millions of people. This week I find myself in that unique position.

As an advocate for a much needed labor standard that would grant paid time off for workers who are sick or need to care for family members, I have been engaged in various outreach efforts to gain support for legislation in the North Carolina General Assembly that would provide this benefit. We have held meetings, made phone calls, and sent alerts. Above all, we have been listening to and collecting stories from those who have suffered as a result of not having this support as well as those who have been aided by paid leave.

As we planned for a Senate Committee hearing on the Healthy Families, Healthy Workplaces Act I learned that my elderly father had broken his hip and required immediate surgery. His advanced age (89 years old) and heart disease made his surgery a challenge. He lives alone and needed me to be with him during this ordeal to make decisions and to make sure he was getting the best care possible. Obviously, I am dealing with a considerable amount of stress. The part of my life that has not been a problem is my job. I have been able to take leave and to be paid for it and not be subject to disciplinary action for being away. In those moments when I am able to take my mind off of my Dad's condition, I think about the 1.6 million fellow North Carolinians that will face an extreme personal and financial crisis when confronted with circumstances similar to mine.

This is the second time I have needed paid sick leave to help my Dad. Ten years ago when he had open heart surgery to replace a worn out valve, I was able to take time off to care for him, alternating with my brother. I was a postal worker at that time, protected by a collective bargaining agreement that guaranteed this paid time off.

I have been fortunate during my work life to have this essential protection. Nonetheless, I will continue to work to see to it that the 42% of North Carolinians in the private sector who do not have access to paid sick leave are able to stay home when they are sick so they will not make their coworkers sick or take days off from work to care for a sick family member. The Senate committee hearing was postponed and I may get to attend the rescheduled session. Whether that works out or not, I'll continue the advocacy and education until we get what we need for all North Carolinians.

Ajamu Dillahunt is Outreach Coordinator at the N.C. Justice Center in Raleigh, N.C. and a board member of the Institute for Southern Studies.