The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday September 29th

Leader of Ferguson protests discussed emotional toll of activism

UNC collaborated with Teach for America, Alpha Phi Alpha and UNC student government to host a speech and panel about racial justice in the United States in "Pathways to Responsible Activism." 

Brittany Packnett, vice president of National Community Alliances at Teach for America and keynote speaker for the event, was credited with organizing many of the Ferguson protests in 2014. 

Packnett dived deeper into the definition of activism, explaining that it is a two-part process of battling and building.

"The battle is creating a crisis and forcing people to answer it," Packnett said. "Building is what comes after, because battling tears an injustice down."

Packnett said the point of protesting is to create a crisis for people to respond to.

“Don’t be mad at the protest," Packnett said. "Be mad at the injustice.”

Packnett said protesting can take an emotional toll on activists.

“I’m a very empathetic person, so that’s a lot of emotional weight to carry around,” Camile Jones, former UNC Black Student Movement president, said. 

Packnett also said that although protests are popular, people tend to forget about this emotional cost.

"It is the thing to do," she said. "It is Jesse Williams on the BET awards. It is Alicia Keys and her no-makeup movement. Folks don’t ever talk about the cost.”  

Sophomore Adrianna Stallworth said along with the emotional toll, because of being in the public eye, she also fears publicly being an activist. But after the talk, Stallworth said she is reevaluating those fears. 

“I feel like we are in the public eye," Stallworth said. "I think the biggest fear for me is always being like, if I come out as this activist, is that going to change the perspective of who I am?"

Junior Olivia Highfill said she was inspired by Packnett's speech. 

“Now I think I will heavily consider applying to Teach for America because I think that it’s important to fight for people in my own country, and this would be something very tangible that I could do that through," she said.

Travis Starkey, director of alumni impact for Teach For America of the eastern North Carolina division and a panelist, said activism can start at a young age. 

“You have to study people who are doing it right now," he said.

Packnett said getting close to the issue is the only way to understand.

“Activists are made. Not born.”

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