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A North Carolina Summit: Progress and Economic Justice in a Time of Crisis

Annual Conference
Mon., Mar. 28 from 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
George Watts Hill Alumni Center, UNC-CH

In the last decade, poverty in North Carolina rose even as the economy grew. Then in 2008, with the onslaught of massive recession, the wheels came off. Poverty rates soared. One in six Tar Heels lived in poverty at the start of the recession. The numbers were worse for persons of color. And, stunningly, almost a quarter of our kids were poor.

Unemployment has rocked much of the state, leading to one of the highest losses of health care coverage in the nation. In addition, the past two years since the start of the Great Recession have seen dramatic reductions in social services, further threatening the security, dignity and opportunity of poor and working families in North Carolina. These are, in short, emergency times for poor and working people in North Carolina.

The UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity convened a summit in Chapel Hill on March 28, 2011 to explore the dramatic challenges faced by low income North Carolinians and the crucial steps that must be taken to address them. Over 300 people from all walks of life - students, nonprofit workers, academics, policymakers, citizens, faith-based groups, activists and more - joined us for this important discussion.

Speakers included:

  • Rev. Dr. William Barber, President, NC NAACP (Keynote address)
  • Anita Brown-Graham, Director, Institute for Emerging Issues, NC State
  • William A. 'Sandy' Darity, Professor of African-American Studies and Economics, Duke
  • Chris Fitzsimon, Executive Director, NC Policy Watch
  • William C. Friday, President Emeritus, UNC
  • Bob Hall, Executive Director, Democracy North Carolina
  • George Hausen, Executive Director, Legal Aid of North Carolina
  • Michael D. Jones, Fellow, Edmund J. Safra Center, Harvard
  • Melinda Lawrence, Executive Director, NC Justice Center
  • Kenneth Schorr, Executive Director, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont
  • Leslie J. Winner, Executive Director, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation

... and many other prominent thinkers and activists.

Poverty and Economic Justice Scholarship at Carolina Law

Tues., Feb. 1, 2011 at noon
Room 5046, UNC School of Law

Watch the video of this event.

The Poverty Center hosted a program highlighting recent powerful work in economic justice by three Carolina Law faculty members: Maxine Eichner, Melissa Jacoby and Deborah Weissman.

  • Maxine Eichner's recent book, The Supportive State: Families, Government, and America's Political Ideals, argues that the state bears responsibility for structuring societal institutions to support families, especially when labor markets fail to assure adequate opportunities for caretaking.
  • Melissa Jacoby's multidisciplinary research with the national Consumer Bankruptcy Project explores the dramatic link between bankruptcy and medical care.
  • Deborah Weissman's recent work on local immigration enforcement practices, especially under the auspices of the 287(g) program in North Carolina, demonstrates the intersection between race, poverty and vulnerability in our communities.

These three scholars discussed their research and activism projects--as academics, lawyers and citizens--in the context of broader claims of economic justice. Professor and Poverty Center Director Gene Nichol moderated the discussion.

Mountain Justice with Larry Gibson

Tues., Jan. 18, 2011 at 6:00 p.m.
Hyde Hall University Room, UNC-CH

A leading voice in the fight against mountaintop removal and the destruction of the Appalachian Mountains, Larry is known around the world for his lifelong fight to save his home and his family's mountain in the heart of coal country. Larry spoke plainly but passionately about the connection between poverty and environmental issues and mingled afterwards with the audience.

Larry is an internationally known conservationist who has been named one of CNN's "Heroes," has appeared on ABC's 20/20, has appeared before the United Nations, and has spoken to thousands of community, church, and university groups across the country. He has most recently been honored by Ohio Citizen Action, which awarded him the 2010 Enduring Courage Award.

Mr. Gibson's fight to end mountaintop removal and bring justice to the coalfields has deep roots; his family has lived on or near Kayford Mountain since the late 1700s. More than 300 relatives are buried in the cemetery on Kayford Mountain. Larry and his family used to live on the lowest lying part of the mountain, and looked "up" to the mountain peaks that surrounded them. Since 1986, the slow-motion destruction of Kayford Mountain has been continuous--24 hours a day, seven days a week. Eighteen years after the mountaintop removal project began, Larry Gibson now occupies the highest point of land around; he is enveloped by a 12,000 acre pancake in what was previously a mountain range.

Theatrical Production and Panel: The Parchman Hour: The Songs and Stories of the '61 Freedom Riders

Thurs., Dec. 2 - Sun., Dec. 6
Kenan Theatre, UNC-CH
Special panel co-sponsored by the Poverty Center, Dec. 2

In 1961, a group of mostly young people came together from across the United States--leaving families, college campuses, and jobs--to board buses headed for the Deep South. Integrated teams would embark on interstate trips and simply ignore the signs designed to segregate them by race. What could be more harmless?

These simple acts of nonviolent direct action landed many of the riders in jail. Some were beaten and hospitalized. Some were sent to the infamous Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi.

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of these Freedom Rides, actor and playwright Mike Wiley (Dar He: The Story of Emmett Till and the theatrical adaptation of the best-selling Blood Done Sign My Name) made his directorial debut with his latest production, The Parchman Hour.

Presented in the style of the variety shows of yesteryear, The Parchman Hour explores three of the tensest months of 1961 and brings to the stage powerful oral histories from the Freedom Rides' most iconic participants. The production is the result of Wiley's two-semester residency at Duke and UNC as Visiting Joint Chair Professor in Documentary Studies and American Studies, through the Lehman Brady Visiting Professorship program. It involves students from both campuses as well as members of the broader community. Wiley has been teaching classes in documentary theater, which engaged students in researching, writing, and performing a play. The Parchman Hour represents the fruition of their work.

The Poverty Center co-sponsored a panel discussion following the Dec. 2 opening performance. The panel, moderated by Gene Nichol, included Wiley and Freedom Riders Charles Jones and Bill Svanoe.

Update: The Parchman Hour received multiple honors in The Independent Weekly's year-end round-up of local theater.

Film Screening: Brother Towns/Pueblos Hermanos

Fri., Oct. 15, 2010 at 7:00 p.m.
Fed Ex Global Education Center auditorium, UNC-CH

The Latino Migration Project at the Institute for the Study of the Americas and the Center for Global Initiatives, the NC Council of Churches and local filmmaker Charles Thompson premiered the new film Brother Towns/Pueblos Hermanos. The Q&A with Charles Thompson following the screening was co-sponsored by the Poverty Center.

Brother Towns is a story of two towns linked by immigration, family, and work: Jacaltenango, a highland Maya town in Guatemala; and Jupiter, a coastal resort town where many Jacaltecos have settled in Florida. The film chronicles a story of migration, community and family.

For more information about the film, visit the Brother Towns website where you can also watch a trailer for the movie.

Poor People's Justice: Denying Access in Civil Cases

Thurs., Sept. 16, 2010 at 12:00 p.m.
Room 5046, UNC School of Law

Watch the video of this event.

The UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity and the UNC Pro Bono Program presented a panel discussion on the legal barriers poor people face. It is widely estimated that 80% of the legal needs of the poor people in the U.S. go unmet. Unlike criminal cases, where poor defendants are appointed an attorney, there is no constitutional right to a lawyer in civil cases. The choices for those who can't afford a lawyer are bleak: taking a chance with self-representation or forgoing legal claims entirely.

Speaking on this important topic were Janet Ward Black, former President, North Carolina Bar Association and North Carolina Trial Lawyers Association; and George Hausen, Executive Director, Legal Aid of North Carolina. Gene Nichol led the discussion.

Hurricane Katrina, 5 Years Later, Sept. 8-10

This series of free events reflected on Katrina, and the larger issues raised by the hurricane. Through personal experience, art and scholarly discussion, this series explored the human impact of the storm.

Wed., Sept. 8 at 2:00 p.m., UNC School of Government, Room 2603

Panel discussion on the American South and the policy challenges--poverty, race relations, inequality, economic development--it faces. Panelists included:

  • Maureen Berner and Sharon Paynter on poverty and hunger
  • Jesse White on economic development
  • Donn Young on the successful collaboration between researchers and artists.

Thurs., Sept. 9 at 2:00 p.m., Gerrard Hall

Panel discussion on Hurricane Katrina and the ongoing effects of the storm on the Gulf Coast region. Panelists included:

  • Gavin Smith, Executive Director, UNC Center for the Study of Natural Hazards and Disasters
  • Donn Young, Photographer and Curator, 40 Days and 40 Nights
  • LaToya Cantrell, President, Broadmoor Improvement Assn.
  • David Perkes, Director, Gulf Coast Community Design Studio
  • Andrew Horowitz, Director, New Haven Oral History Program

Fri., Sept. 10 at 12:00 p.m., Center for the Study of the American South

The UNC School of Law Pro Bono Program conducted a lunchtime roundtable on providing legal assistance to poor, rural communities in the South.

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