Ferguson, Mo., is more than 800 miles away from Chapel Hill, but conversations surrounding civil rights issues have become a topic of relevance everywhere.
Students, faculty and various community members met Tuesday for a presentation and panel entitled “I am a Human.”
During the course of the discussion, audience members both listened to experts in the field of civil rights and shared their own experiences with the treatment of minorities on campus and in the Chapel Hill community.
“No changes have ever been made at this University unless the kids, the students, get out and raise hell,” said civil rights lawyer Alan McSurely.
The event was hosted by the UNC chapters of the service fraternity Phi Beta Sigma and the NAACP.
Seniors Frank Tillman III and Jennell McIntosh, current presidents of the UNC chapters of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and NAACP, respectively, showed videos to the audience.
The videos, one of which showed footage of civil rights protests in Alabama in 1963 and another that showed a debriefing of the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, provided a framework through which audience members were encouraged to form questions for the panelists.
The panel included James and Braxton Foushee, long-time Chapel Hill civil rights activists; Deborah Stroman, director of sport entrepreneurship at UNC; Department of Public Safety Captain Connie Bullock, and civil rights lawyers Courtney Fauntleroy and Alan McSurely.
The first questions posed to the panel reflected the ongoing concern over the shooting of 18-year-old Brown by policeman Darren Wilson in Ferguson.
“We teach officers how to fire a gun," Bullock said. "We spend a lot of time on that, but it’s more important to teach them how to communicate with people."
Stroman carefully turned the attention of the audience to the UNC community, commenting on the lack of black faculty and reflecting on her own experience in college.
“We didn’t have a choice — we didn’t have technology,” Stroman said. “We used to sit in our dorm rooms and talk about things that bothered us, and we used to form groups."
Stroman also challenged the audience of about 40 people.
"We’re activists — where is the activism from you all?” Stroman said.
Freshman student Cierra Baldwin said many college-aged students today count on social media and technology to carry important messages into their communities.
“If older people are the ones that are making a difference, and the older people are not used to technology, then our communication goes nowhere,” Baldwin said.
Senior Matthew Taylor said the racism in the UNC community is not as superficial as some, but still in existence.
"In Chapel Hill, it's not people calling you a derogatory slur or telling you that you can't get in somewhere on Franklin Street. It's more microagressions, like someone asking, 'Hey, are you here on an athletic scholarship?'" he said.
Senior Cree Berry said UNC can obscure racial tensions that are still present today.
“I think this campus makes me blind to the fact that racism still exists and is very alive and well,” Berry said . “This school shelters us from what’s really going on around us.”
Stroman has hopes for progress, which was demonstrated by her powerful departing message.
"I believe in one race: the human race," she said.
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