In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests across the country, college students and Chapel Hill natives Emile Charles, Niya Fearrington and Victoria Fornville saw a need for activism in the Chapel Hill community.
Fearrington, a junior at Howard University, said it's important to her that Chapel Hill doesn't remain a community that falls silent when it comes to advocating for Black lives.
“I think oftentimes — when Black people are shot at the hands of the police, and we see major cities erupt in protest — we don't see Chapel Hill one of the cities to respond,” she said.
Rally for Justice, which took place in early June, was organized by Fearrington and Fornville, a first-year at UNC-Charlotte, in conjunction with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Youth Council. They said they had previously served as leaders on the council, and were grateful for the large turnout they saw at the event.
“For me, it was such a powerful time,” Fearrington said. “If the pandemic weren't happening, I most likely wouldn't be in Chapel Hill for the summer. I think the order of events was destined so that I was able to be here."
Fearrington said over the summer, she finally saw people getting behind the movement that she and other organizers had been pushing for a long time. She said since the media was covering protests all over the world, it was easier for people to understand police brutality is systemic.
Fornville said the events over the summer were like watching history repeat itself.
“Being Black in America is still one of the hardest things that anyone has to deal with," Fornville said. "I think so many people right now are learning that because they're seeing it firsthand. It seemed for a while that every week there was another person who died in the hands of police brutality, and we’re sick of this.”
Charles, a first-year at UNC, hosted Chapel Hill Day of Action in June, which he said was his first foray into community-based activism.
He said his biggest obstacle while community organizing during a pandemic was a logistical one — navigating a new way to get the word out, as well as making sure everyone had face masks, gloves, water and space to spread out.
"I think in the past, organizing has largely been in-person, so we have to figure out different, creative ways that we can get around that,” Charles said. “But it's also cool because community engagement is so fast now. Someone can text you the link for a webinar that evening and you can attend — and then from there, boom, you have an idea about something that can happen in the community."
Charles said local organizers saw a decrease in attendance at events as the summer went on, but he believes there are now more people invested for the long term. He said grassroots efforts, such as voter registration, are important as the November election draws nearer — and he encourages people to pay attention to local school board and town council meetings.
Fearrington said although it seems like the physical protests have stopped, there are still people doing work behind the scenes. She said this occurs through legislation, meeting with officials and writing letters.
“I think there's a lot more that we need to see within our town," Fearrington said. "Some people like to glorify Chapel Hill, but they don't really know what it's like to really be a Black person living here.”
Fornville said activists are trying to regroup as a spike in COVID-19 cases has taken priority.
"I think there's a lot on everyone's plates," Fornville said. "But we all understand that this isn't a moment, this is a movement, and it takes time and you can't stop."
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