“Growing up (in Chapel Hill), I think there’s not a lot of representation of black folks — in many ways — from the University to the town itself,” Suitt said. “Black folks’ blood, sweat and tears built this place.”
The rally, held at the Peace and Justice Plaza on Franklin Street, was followed by a march to First Baptist Church, where the service was held.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP organized the event to not only honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself, but to highlight the ongoing relevance of his work and the importance of maintaining his ideals in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
“Injustices have been going on for forever, especially in Martin Luther King’s day, and they’re still going on today — I think a lot of people forget that,” said Chapel Hill resident Luke Paulson, who participated in the rally and march.
The rally was emceed by Kyesha Clark, chairperson of the NAACP Youth Council, and featured several speakers, including Northside Elementary School Principal Coretta Sharpless.
Anna Richards, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro branch of the NAACP, said the event has been going on for more than 25 years.
“Before the official holiday — and it being made of service — it was an observance of the values and ideals that Dr. King espoused,” Richards said. “Many communities celebrated that day before it was a national holiday.”
Rev. Robert Campbell, event organizer and former president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP branch, said the event had always been a gathering about equity and justice.
“We just think that there is a cloud that hangs over our political process,” Campbell said. “We also see the disparities in our education system. We see the gap between achievement in our schools, and we see how disorganized it is when it comes to trying to achieve affordable housing.”
Members of the Mu Omicron Omega chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority attended the event to show their support. Lisa Norwood, the chapter’s vice president and program chair, said the group attends every year.
“We believe, as (the NAACP) believe, that it’s really important not to be complacent, and that you always have to continue — as the struggle continues — to support,” Norwood said.
The importance of local activist movements was also emphasized at the event.
“One of the things I think we need to remember in Chapel Hill is that we do have a local branch of the NAACP, and a lot of people see the great work that’s being done at the state level with the moral movement, and they’re not as aware that we do have a part of that here in our local community,” Richards said.
Campbell said the local branch of the NAACP made sure to reach out to all people, especially the youth, to unify the community and overcome barriers.
“If we become the example that we want our children to become, and they see that we have learned how to embrace our differences and work together, then that will be something they will carry on,” Campbell said.
“And that’s what it’s all about — making sure that we don’t forget, that we learn something from the past — then we can make the future brighter.”