Rev. Barber defines American citizenship in Weil Lecture


Rev. William Barber speaks at UNC Institute for the Arts and Humanities' Weil Lecture Wednesday night. Barber spoke about what he thinks it means to be an American citizen. Photo courtesy of Donn Young of the UNC College of Arts and Sciences.

Rev. William Barber, a social justice advocate and former North Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People president, spoke at UNC's Weil Lecture on American Citizenship Wednesday. 

UNC's Institute for the Arts and Humanities hosted the event. Barber's speech focused on the country's current problems and potential solutions.

Mark Katz, director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, was key to the organization of the event.

“The Weil Lecture on American Citizenship is about asking the question 'What does it mean to be an American citizen?' And I feel like each speaker throughout the years has answered this question differently,” he said.

Don Holmes, a fourth-year Ph.D. student at UNC studying English and comparative literature, said he attended the lecture because he wanted to hear Barber's perspective and better understand his ideas.

“Dr. Barber is the closest thing we have to Martin Luther King Jr. alive today, especially with his ideals," he said.

Holmes said he expected to hear a well thought out plan with solutions. 

"That’s the kind of man I see Barber as, a man that comes with issues but also ways that we can fix it,” he said.

Barber began his speech by identifying some of America's current problems.

“We are not just facing a political problem but rather a heart problem," he said. "The heart and soul of democracy is in trouble. We must help to find the diseases that threaten our political life.”

Barber said President Donald Trump is in a new position from previous commander-in-chiefs because he followed the first black president of the United States. 

"Looking at United States history, this should have never happened," he said, drawing on an essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates. "Trump’s entire presidency is him working with all the progress Obama had made in the United States before him. So we must call Trump what he truly is, the first white president of these United States.”

Barber then offered solutions to these problems.

“What if we could organize 30,000 people in civil disobedience across the country? I believe we can shift the moral narrative and we can bring up a third reconstruction and save the heart of America,” he said.  

Patrick Boyle, a senior economics and mathematical decision sciences major at UNC, attended Barber's speech because of Barber's reputation in North Carolina and his role in state politics.

“Before I came here, I expected Barber's speech to be more problem-filled and inspirational, but a lot of it was actually him talking about the problems in America followed by solutions to those problems," he said. "That is something very special to me.” 

Katz said he thought Barber was the perfect speaker because he is working to heal the country and redefine citizenship.

“To me personally, watching Barber speak at UNC gave me hope that there is a way forward and a way forward together."


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