Throughout the Triangle on Thursday, the UNC School of Dentistry students and faculty volunteered for the fourth annual DEAH DAY, remembering former students who were murdered in 2015.
DEAH DAY stands for Directing Efforts And Honoring Deah And Yusor. Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot in the head by their neighbor over a parking dispute.
Parents and friends of the victims claimed that perpetrator Craig Stephen Hicks was motivated by Islamophobia, pointing to the execution-style of the murders.
Only months later, UNC students organized a day of service activities throughout the community in honor of the victims.
Andre Ritter, executive dean of the School of Dentistry, knew Barakat in his first year as a dental student.
“I think a lot of what we’re doing today across the Triangle is a reflection of Deah’s spirit,” he said.
Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salhad and Razan Abu-Salhad were all known for their dedication for service beyond just dentistry. According to Ritter, that was a mobilizing factor for students who organized the day.
Thursday afternoon, nine UNC members volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in Efland, painting a house for a mother with three children. Matt Henrickson, a Habitat for Humanity worker, often works with UNC groups and has helped with one DEAH DAY in the past.
“UNC students are fun to work with because they want to be here,” Henrickson said.
Jenna Sedberry has participated in DEAH DAY since 2016, her first year of dental school. She was a junior at UNC when the students died. She did not know them personally but is very familiar with their legacy.
“They say, 'Live like Deah,'” Sedberry said. “Being in the dental field, you’re supposed to have a heart for service, to want to help others, but Deah took that to a whole other level.”
Sedberry said the School of Dentistry looks for certain qualities in the application process.
“They say they look at your head, your heart and your hands,” she said. “So, obviously that you have the intelligence and you’re able to handle the course load, your hand skills to be a dental practitioner and then your heart, because someone who’s providing healthcare should want to help others.”
The School of Dentistry cancels classes and clinics on DEAH DAY so that members will be encouraged to participate. This year, students organized volunteer activities at more than 20 sites across the Triangle area, ranging from the American Red Cross to community gardens to schools and senior homes for oral hygiene instructions.
Sam Nesbit helped at the Efland house. A dental school professor of 35 years, he taught Barakat in his first and second years and worked with him in a clinic. As he put spackling paste into the wall, he reflected on the annual event.
“It is to some extent a memorial,” Nesbit said. “To some extent honoring his life, to some extent a good opportunity (and) a good reason to follow some of his great human qualities.”
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