Chambers Center lawyers present at Carol Woods


The Forum for Peace and Justice Committee of the Carol Woods Chambers Retirement Community in Chapel Hill hosted “Community Civil Rights Lawyering at Ground Zero,” a presentation by Elizabeth Haddix and Mark Dorosin on the mission, vision and work of the Julius Chamber Center for Civil Rights. The talk detailed the Chambers Center’s multifaceted approach to dismantling structural racism through litigation and advocacy, research, community outreach, and training the next generation of civil rights lawyers. Elizabeth and Mark also described some of the Center’s recent successes and ongoing matters, including the annexation of the formerly excluded Walnut Tree community in Stokes County, the landmark Title VI environmental justice settlement with the Department of Environmental Quality regarding its permitting of industrial swine operations, and the ongoing Halifax County school equity and segregation case now pending at the North Carolina Supreme Court.

We look forward to continuing to partner with our friends at Carol Woods and appreciate their tireless dedication and commitment to civil rights and social justice.

Walnut Tree Victory Builds a Better Town


This past February saw the victorious settlement of the Chambers Center’s inaugural lawsuit, brought on behalf of the Walnut Tree Community Association (WTCA) against the Stokes County Town of Walnut Cove to address the Town’s refusal to annex the African American community at its borders. Walnut Tree residents had sought to be annexed numerous times since the community was established in the early 1970s. Like many excluded communities, Walnut Tree residents were subject to environmental hazards. The community was targeted as a potential fracking site. When the nearby coal ash dump poisoned their wells, the community was connected to public water, but because they were not part of the town, paid double the rates. After their 2016 petition was again denied by the majority white Town council, they filed suit in 2017, alleging that the Town’s rejection of their annexation petition, in light of the long history of racist exclusion, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the North Carolina Constitution. In February following the settlement, the Town Board of Commissioners (with a new member replacing the member who had steadfastly opposed the annexation) voted to approve Walnut Tree residents’ petition. “Things are going great since the vote,” reports WTCA President David Hairston. “We enjoy municipal services at the lower Town rates, and our voices are finally being heard and respected.” The Walnut Tree Community Playground Project recently received a Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation grant, which Mr. Hairston says is moving that long-awaited dream forward. The Chambers Center’s Mark Dorosin and Elizabeth Haddix co-counseled with the pro bono team of Lee Hogewood and Petal Monroe of K&L Gates.

Community Lawyering at Resourceful Communities’ 21st Grassroots Convening


On September 12, The Conservation Fund’s Resourceful Communities held its 21st Grassroots Convening at Guilford Technical Community College Conference Center in Colfax, NC. Participants included community members from all over NC as well as southern West Virginia. The theme, “Go Local: Build Power, Partnerships and Impact,” drew participants focused on understanding their relationship to local government, and on how county and municipal boards and commissions make decisions about land use, schools, economic development, housing and other issues that impact them.
Chambers Center Co-Director Elizabeth Haddix was a speaker on the Convening’s opening panel, “ It’s All About Who You Know: Learn from the Experts.” She shared best practices, strategies and success stories from the Center’s experience representing some of North Carolina’s leading grassroots organizations and coalitions tackling racially discriminatory policies and practices affecting equal access to quality schools, housing, environmental justice, and political and economic inclusion. She stressed the importance for communities to regularly and actively engage with local decision makers and the policy-making process. “Speak up, attend the meetings, get the information, nurture your allies in elected and appointed offices, and don’t take “no” for an answer,” advised Haddix. She also shared how the Chambers Center’s legal support for communities addressing the impacts of racial exclusion has been most effective when it combined with “organized advocacy by residents directly with the officials and administrators making and implementing public policies.”
More about the event can be found here:
https://www.conservationfund.org/our-work/resourceful-communities/upcoming-events

New Report from the Chambers Center looks at Johnston County Schools

In a new report, the Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights looked at student assignment areas, diversity, and capacity issues in high schools in Johnston County, NC.  As one of the fastest growing school districts in the state, Johnston County Schools has been faced with challenges managing growth, school siting and construction, and facility capacity. At the same time, schools in the Smithfield/Selma area of the county have become increasingly high poverty and racially isolated, and have faced the related adverse impacts on student achievement.

A Study of High School Attendance Areas, Diversity, and Capacity in Johnston County, NC was completed with the assistance of Ann Moss Joyner of the Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities and Professor Ben Marsh (Bucknell University). It analyzes race and other socio-economic metrics in current school assignment areas, and illustrates the potential for increasing educational equity, student and school performance, and facilities use in the drawing of school attendance areas and the siting of new schools.

The district currently anticipates building new schools in the near future, and as result will have to redraw assignment areas to populate those schools. This is an opportune time for the community to engage the school board to adopt policies that recognize the value of racial and socioeconomic diversity as vital elements in providing every student in Johnston County with a sound basic education, and to ensure that those policies are implemented in the next round of school openings and the related reassignment of students.

The report was prepared for the Concerned Citizens for Successful Schools (CCSS), a community based education advocacy group in Johnston County, was presented at a CCSS meeting on August 29.

 

Chambers Center in Charlotte to educate on the dangers of HB 514

This past Friday we attended a community meeting in Charlotte organized by Charlotte NAACP President Minister Corine Mack, where co-director Mark Dorosin spoke to parents of students in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, as well as concerned community members, about the background of and history of HB 514 (a new bill that would allow several affluent Charlotte area suburbs to establish charter schools that favor their own residents), as well as its potential impacts, concerns about existing charters within the district, and some of the various issues the legislatures actions have raised.

On the panel alongside Mark were parents and teachers who have been affected by the already stark inequality and segregation in CMS schools, which are likely to be exacerbated by HB 514.

Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Awards Chambers Center Second Grant

Earlier this month, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation announced that it has awarded a grant to the Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights to support its legal advocacy, public outreach and education, and research in support of North Carolina communities working to challenge the impacts of racial exclusion. This is the second grant the Foundation has made to the Chambers Center, and this support has been critical in helping provide stability and sustainability as the Center continues to represent clients in matters regarding education equity, environmental justice, civic engagement, and access to basic public services. 

 Chandra Taylor, Chairperson of the Center’s Board of Directors, said “We are deeply appreciative of this support and the confidence in the impact of our work that it represents.  This funding will assist in our on-going efforts to raise resources, to keep training the next generation of civil rights advocates, and to continue representing those that are directly affected by systemic and institutional racism.”

 “Without the Center’s legal support, our community members would not be able to even be heard by a court of justice,” said Naeema Muhammad, Co-director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, “and the quality of that legal representation gives us the ability to actually achieve some justice.  We are grateful to ZSR for understanding that fact and supporting our communities in this important way.” 

Mo Green, Executive Director of the Foundation, said “The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation deeply appreciates the Chambers Center’s commitment to continuing Julius Chambers’ legacy by bringing an important approach and skill set to its clients and to the field of civil rights work. The Center is focused on important issues for the people of NC, and ZSR is proud to be a partner.”

 

NC bill would foster racial segregation of Mecklenburg County schools

House Bill 514 would allow the Mecklenburg County towns of Matthews and Mint Hill to secede from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School district and set up town-run charter schools. A recent report identifies a host of financial problems with the proposal; even more troubling however, is the fact that the bill will allow these towns to create racially segregated, white enclave schools for their residents, subsidized by all taxpayers.

HB514 is part of an ongoing campaign by the General Assembly to undermine public education in general and racially diversity in schools in particular. And while that campaign includes recently developed proposals for turning over public schools to private charter operators, taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools, and expansion of charter schools with minimal oversight or regulation, the tactic of legislatively creating white enclave districts to avoid integration goes back over 50 years. Read More