Four Orange County residents were awarded Pauli Murray Awards on Feb. 28 for serving in ways that provide spaces for marginalized people and people of color in the local community.
The Orange County Human Relations Commission began the awards in 1990 to honor people who advocate for a more fair and equitable community in the name of Pauli Murray, a Durham civil rights activist who confronted the injustices that occurred in her community on a local and national level.
The adult winner was Quinton Harper, and the youth winner was Savannah Clay. Soteria Shepperson and Sophie Suberman also won the business award for their coffee shop Present Day On Main.
Adult winner: Quinton Harper
Harper, a UNC alumnus, has been a leader in the community since his teen years, and has continued to advocate for marginalized members of the community when it comes to participating in local government.
“I think part of my job is to fight for folks to have that access into these spaces but also to celebrate these voices in these spaces; to support these voices to show up in meaningful, impactful and truly authentic ways,” Harper said.
Harper works as the visionary team-leader for Activate! IFC, a voting and advocacy project with the local Inter-Faith Council for Social Services, chairs the Affordable Housing Commission and serves on the Human Services Board in Carrboro.
Harper said Murray has been one of his role models throughout his years of leadership and advocacy.
“The greatest reward is celebrating and honoring the folks who I’m in community with when we’re able to show up, show out and achieve visions that we’ve set forth," Harper said.
Business winners: Sophie Suberman and Soteria Shepperson
Business winners Suberman and Shepperson have centered their cafe Present Day on Main around connecting people in the local community. Shepperson said it provides a space for all to come and enjoy coffee and tea.
She said a quote by Pauli Murray, which defines community as being "based upon equality, mutuality and reciprocity," embodies how Present Day on Main encourages connectivity among its customers by allowing them a space for conversation and individuality.
“I feel like the coffee shop is an extension of who we are – of our hearts and how we see this world being — and we just do that with coffee and tea and community," Shepperson said.
Despite challenges due to COVID-19, Suberman believes Present Day on Main has continued to thrive in Carrboro due to the closeness of community, family and friends.
“Amid all the unknowns and everything else, to see the people that raised us and we looked up to say to us ‘good job and keep going’ — that’s really a wonderful balm amid so much doubt in the world," Suberman said.
Youth winner: Savannah Clay
Clay, a student at Orange High School, is active in social justice at school. Through her advocacy on the Equity Team, her school implemented an African American Studies class, which she was able to take herself this year.
Beyond school, Clay works with the the Town of Hillsborough in the Mayor's Leadership Club with fellow youth representatives to address social issues in Hillsborough.
“I was just angry with the way there was so much inaction and it seemed like people didn’t care about it enough — I didn’t want to sit around and wait for someone else to bring about that change, so I definitely wanted to become as active as I could," Clay said.
As she thinks about how she wants to continue impacting her community, she said she wants to utilize her love for children and writing to address issues in the public education system.
“Every student deserves to hear about themselves in their education, and to see themselves in politics and other areas where usually only white faces are shown so they know they can do it as well," Clay said.
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