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Future, youth at center of 2023 MLK celebrations

No matter where in Chapel Hill or Carrboro you were celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Chapel Hilll-Carrboro NAACP was probably there!


In addition to our official annual commemoration at First Baptist Church, the branch's Youth Council helped lead an event in Carrboro and received an award honoring its commitment to community.


The theme of the branch's main event at First Baptist was "New Voices for a New Day in the Movement," featuring keynote speaker Greear Webb.


The interfaith service was held in person after a two-year COVID hiatus, and it was a packed house. Local restauranteur Vimala Rajendran once again warmed attendees upon arrival by giving away hot Chai and sweets, while prayer and song were led by the One Human Family Choir and the choir from United Church of Chapel Hill.

The branch also recognized James Williams for his many years of devoted service to justice and education, presenting him with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Service Award. You can watch the full recording of the event at First Baptist here.


There was a focus on youth this year, which included a rousing speech by Webb, a UNC Morehead-Cain Scholar, entitled “Don’t Play With the Dream.” Through the inspiration of his friend's observation, “Once you get free from the shackles, don’t keep playing with the chains,” Greear spoke to how hard dreaming is, but the “best dreams are those shared with others.” He reminded us not to be distracted by dream killers and that "comfort rarely leads to progress."


Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP President Dawna Jones encouraged the crowd to “buckle up!” for the work to be done in the coming year and lifted up NC Hillel Rabbi Melissa Simon’s prayer that we “be defenders of dignity." She asked us to understand to whom we are accountable and use our gifts for the greater good without having to be asked, setting the tone for how we will fulfill the branch’s mission in the days ahead.

In Carrboro, the branch's Youth Council joined the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Board and the Carrboro Youth Council in organizing a celebration that featured guest speakers U.S. Rep. Valerie Foushee, Carrboro Town Council Member Barbara Foushee, Illustrator Keith Knight, Historian Danita Mason-Hogans, and Youth Council member Nevaeh Hodge.



The event, which was held at the Carrboro Century Center, also featured a viewing of student artwork and videos celebrating the legacy of Dr. King. If you weren’t able to attend, you can watch a recording on the town’s YouTube channel.


"It was an honor to be a part of the youth-led Martin Luther King, Jr. event in Carrboro,” Barbara Foushee said. “If we are to see the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream realized in our youth's future, we have to continue to celebrate his legacy as well as learn from and honor it."

The Carrboro event wasn’t the first time the Youth Council has demonstrated leadership in organizing, which is why the MLK University/Community Planning Corporation awarded them the Bridge Builders Award for "demonstrating what commitment to community looks like through your courage, leadership, and dedication."


Some highlights noted in giving the award were the Youth Council's Black Lives Matter rally in 2019 (the largest rally in Chapel Hill-Carrboro), campaigns to end the school-to-prison pipeline and community restorative practices.


Branch member Dr. Bobby Kunstman was also honored with the UNC MLK Unsung Hero award at the MLK Lecture featuring attorney Ben Crump.


Dr. King told us: “Nothing could be more tragic than for men to live in these revolutionary times and fail to achieve the new attitudes and the new mental outlooks that the new situation demands.”


As we reflect on the past few revolutionary years, let us do our best to bring a new outlook and a reinvigorated sense of duty to the work ahead. Let us lift up the voices of our youth and challenge ourselves to do more to leave this world better for them.

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