Thea Barrett was in class when she received an alarming text from her best friend. Barrett’s friend informed her that there were reports of an active shooter at her school — Leesville Road High.
“When you’re just sitting in a class and get a text from your best friend that says, ‘There’s reports of a shooter in the wing I’m in, don’t know how true they are but I just wanted to tell you I love you so much,' that’s a gut punch,” Barrett said.
The reports of an active shooter at Leesville Road High turned out to be false, but Barrett said she felt overwhelmed and shocked by the news. She used these feelings as motivation to get involved in advocacy work.
“The overwhelming fear and sadness I felt that day and in the next few days and months was really what pushed me to get involved, so that no one else needed to experience that gut punch,” Barrett said. “Once I got involved in one thing, I wanted to keep doing more. I could see the results of what I was doing and I could see how important it was.”
Now, Barrett and Chapel Hill Carrboro CROP Hunger Walk Coordinator Mae McLendon are being honored by the Orange County Humans Relations Commission. They have been named as the recipients of the 30th annual Pauli Murray Awards. The awards are given to those who, according to their website, “have served the community with distinction in the pursuit of equality, justice, and human rights for all residents.”
When McLendon heard the news of her recognition, her initial reaction was one of surprise.
“I was in shock,” McLendon said. “I do not feel deserving of an award for doing tasks and activities that I was raised to do: help others.”
McLendon has served the greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro community for decades. She graduated from UNC with a bachelor's in sociology and master of social work, and went on to work with a number of community organizations, such as the North Carolina Department of Correction and Habitat for Humanity of Orange County. She has also been active in local politics, having served positions on the precinct, county and state levels.
McLendon said her motivation to be involved in the community can be traced back to her mother, Martha McLendon.