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The Daily Tar Heel

Orange County Sponsors Civil Rights Summit

Human rights leaders from around the Southeast gathered at the Sheraton Hotel in Chapel Hill on Monday to begin a weeklong summit targeting civil rights issues.

The summit, sponsored by the Orange County Human Rights and Community Relations Commission, aims to teach practical skills for addressing civil rights issues, said the commission's director, Annette Moore.

The summit's schedule includes workshops that concentrate on a variety of issues such as sexual harassment, education, hate crimes, fair housing and media strategies for civil rights groups.

"The focus of this summit is to identify and work to eliminate acts of discrimination," said Eddie Lawrence, executive director of North Carolina's Human Relations Commission.

"It will give workers, government agencies and law enforcement and housing specialists tools to identify and help eliminate those problems."

About 200 people including lawyers, government employees and members of civil rights advocacy groups traveled from South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and Virginia to learn new ways to solve human relations problems.

Don Frierson, a coordinator for the Fair Housing Division of the S.C. Human Affairs Commission, said it is exciting to interact with people from other states.

"Our problems may be the same, but a lot of times the approach is different," Frierson said. "This is a chance to learn about those approaches, and that is interesting."

Lawrence also said he thinks the gathering of groups from different areas will offer a variety of views. "It is an opportunity to exchange ideas across state lines," he said. "Everyone knows that there is not one locality of civil rights problems."

Bob Smith, a member of the Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council, said nine years ago the summit was just a tri-state organization that met for a half-day each year. Since then, it has evolved to include more states and topics.

"This year is the biggest the summit has ever been, and we have been expanding each year to add more issues," Smith said. "We are focusing on so many more aspects than before this year."

Each morning and afternoon, participants will gather to attend workshops. On Friday, a final group discussion will be held on dispute resolution methods. Lawrence said all topics of the summit are important but that the issues of redistricting and voting rights are especially prevalent.

Smith said he is looking forward to Thursday morning's workshop on bridging the achievement gap between students of different races.

"Our efforts are continuing to grow, and we hope to expand to other areas that want to host the conference."

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