Put on by Mighty Neighborly — a nonprofit community outreach and education network that came together after the 2016 Stand Against HB2 concert series — the fundraising event stood in opposition against a proposal to prohibit all centers and institutes affiliated with the UNC system from litigating against any public or private entity.
Phil Venable, one of the founders and board chairperson of Mighty Neighborly, said the organization aims to provide a platform to underrepresented communities, not to speak on their behalf.
“We wanted to also highlight some of the great organizations in North Carolina that help people,” he said.
Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, spoke out against the Board of Governors proposal at the event. He said litigating is an experience that is inextricably linked to learning how to practice law after school.
“When you go to law school, you don’t just learn the theory of law, but you’re here to learn the practice of law,” McKissick said. “But how can you learn to practice the law if you’re prohibited from litigating?”
And given recent appointments for new Board of Governors members by the legislature, McKissick said the body is going to become more politicized and have more conservative voices.
“It’s up to each and every one of us to hold that Board of Governors accountable,” he said.
Elizabeth Haddix, a UNC law professor, said the proposal was driven by ideology.
“They do not agree with the work that we do,” Haddix said. “And they’ve made that very clear.”
The Center does not pursue litigation very regularly, she said. Instead, it engages in community lawyering and builds relationships with poor communities and communities of color by listening to their needs and offering tools and services to help them achieve their goals.
The center also collaborates with other UNC departments like the Gillings School of Global Public Health and the Institute for the Environment.
“When their planning wards or county commissioners or town councils do not listen to them, then (clients) bring us in up front to try to get them to listen to their people,” Haddix said. “And if that doesn’t work and there’s a good legal claim, we file a lawsuit.”
Judy McAdoo-Taylor of Durham works as a counselor and activist, and was in attendance at Sunday’s fundraiser.
McAdoo-Taylor was among the first cohort of African-American children to be bused to all-white schools after the desegregation mandate of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The experience motivates her to advocate for a better future for all — regardless of their background.
“If you don’t know your past, you sure don’t know your future,” she said.
State civil rights problems are longstanding, McKissick said. He highlighted voter ID laws and voter suppression through gerrymandering.
“I say to you these things because all of this is incredibly important to me,” he said. “But it should be incredibly important to you, as well.”