Anna Richards became the president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP in 2016. In light of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, senior writer Amena Saad talked with her about her work in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community.
The Daily Tar Heel: What main goals are you working toward and what events have you been involved with?
Anna Richards: Our values are to empower communities of color and other marginalized populations, such as LGBTQ+ and immigrants and socially and economically disenfranchised people. We’re really about making sure that everyone has equality of rights, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that the outcomes are going to be equal, because that’s impossible, but that people should have the right to pursue on an equal basis and to eliminate injustice.
DTH: How has this branch's activism changed under your leadership?
AR: Well, I don’t think our activism has changed, I think our advocacy as an organization has. We have stated in our vision that we want to be accountable advocates, and so I think we’ve tried to restructure ourselves somewhat.
One of the things we’ve done is that all our committees have co-chairs not of the same generation, which means that we’re trying to make sure that we have a broad base of support, of leadership. We’re open to new ideas and new ways of thinking, so we’ve been very active in supporting the effort to remove Confederate monuments and against the recent settlement at UNC and very involved in efforts to support students and faculty there.
I guess the other thing that we’re trying to do is to make sure that we’re at the table, trying to expand our efforts at collaboration with other organizations. We leverage relationships with other groups of like mind and similar goals here in the community.
DTH: You place a particular emphasis on community engagement. Of these relationships, which are you especially grateful for and what groups do you hope to connect with?
AR: We try to align ourselves around interests and issues, and so, for instance, we have partnered with the League of Women Voters to do voter education, we’ve partnered with organizations like You Can Vote for expanding voter education and registration and mobilization. Also, I would say that we have been a strong partner for the campaign for racial equity in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. We sponsor a monthly conversation on equity with them, and we’ve done that for almost three years now.
DTH: What has been the most fulfilling part of your job?
AR: I think just seeing the organization grow. This year, we want to get broader participation among the people that can benefit most from these opportunities, so we’re really working to try to expand who’s at the table. We’re happy with where we are, but we’re not where we want to be yet.
DTH: What has been the most challenging part of your role?
AR: I think, you know, dealing with some of the persistent issues in Chapel Hill in particular, like affordable housing, like the achievement gap, like the lack of minority businesses, like the dwindling affordability of this town. These are things that are tough to deal with, and I think we, again, have made progress, but have further to go.
DTH: What goals do you have for the future of the branch?
AR: We’re very involved with the county effort to have everyone counted in the census. Secondly, making sure that we get education out there and mobilize people who are registered to get to the polls to vote, so we’re excited about the new super district, that the University is now one voting precinct, that was a big change. We give scholarships; in terms of one of the achievements that I’m most proud of is that we have expanded our scholarship award and hope to continue to do that. We’ve also added a lot of members, but one of our principal goals this year is to activate those members to be involved in the advocacy in a more direct way.
DTH: In honor of MLK day coming up, who or what inspires you to do the work you do?
AR: Well, I came from a family that felt that you needed to be a part of the solution and were active and engaged in our community and in their community. Secondly, I feel that I’ve benefited from the things that Dr. King fought for in the sense of, you know, being able to have an education, have a significant career. In benefitting, I feel that I have a responsibility to ensure that everyone has that right to be the best that they can be as well. It comes from my faith and my belief in what our responsibility is as a human in terms of other humans.
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