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Benjamin Chavis, Jr. speaks to UNC students about freedom fighting

Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr. told students they have the power to make a difference in their communities. 

Chavis, founder of the National African American Leadership Summit and leader of the historic Wilmington Ten group, spoke on Tuesday about freedom fighting and how social workers can make the nation a better place. 

When Chavis was 24 years old, he was sentenced to 34 years in prison for the fire bombing of a Wilmington grocery store. In 1980, his conviction, and those of the other nine people involved, was overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct. 

“Prosecutorial misconduct wasn’t just in the Wilmington Ten case,” Chavis said. "Prosecutorial misconduct was in Ferguson. Prosecutorial misconduct was in New York."

Chavis explained that during his time in prison he witnessed racism but found that everyone was part of the same human family.

“I fundamentally learned while I was unjustly incarcerated as a member of the Wilmington Ten, I learned the importance of the oneness of humanity,” Chavis said. 

Chavis spoke to a diverse mixture of UNC students, faculty, and visitors about how to improve the quality of others' lives.

“I believe the ultimate paradigm of a social worker is to become a freedom fighting social worker,” said Chavis.

Chavis made it clear that he did not mean for people to resort to violence to secure their freedom.

“We have to arm ourselves with truth, with intellect, with research,” Chavis said.

Freshman Denise Blanco-Duran said that Chavis’ lecture gave her hope and motivation. 

“(He’s) a person that has an amazing life trajectory that we can learn from and it's just amazing and a good opportunity to be here and be part of this,” Duran said.

Chavis said an impetus behind the civil rights movement occurred in North Carolina, in reference to the 1960 sit-ins at N.C. Agricultural & Technical State University. 

“I am very proud of the young people in Ferguson. I am very proud of the young people in New York,” Chavis said. “I am very proud of the young people around the country that, by creating a hashtag that says black lives matter, understood that all lives matter.”

Blake Rosser, who attended the lecture, was there because of his interest in social justice. 

“He has a surprisingly positive outlook and optimistic outlook considering what he’s been through, but that’s probably why he’s been so successful — being able to maintain the optimism,” Rosser said.

Chavis urged students to not stay comfortable — as members of a university, he said, they should go forth and make a difference.

“Whether you’re in applied science or social science, we use the knowledge that we obtain not just for ourselves, but we use the knowledge that we obtain to make the quality of life for all people better,” Chavis said.

“Difficulties don’t give us a license to be silent.”

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