Chapel Hill To Honor Smith And Thorpe For Social Justice Work

The roster of names on the granite marker outside the Post Office-Courthouse on East Franklin Street will grow longer on Sunday, as UNC Basketball Coach Dean Smith and Town Council member Bill Thorpe join the list of 13 leaders to be posthumously honored for their activism.

William Thorpe is Bill Thorpe’s son. He says the honor means so much to his family.

Bill Thorp

Bill Thorpe. Photo via Town of Chapel Hill.

“Not everybody’s name gets on the Peace and Justice Plaza. You really have to have shown a commitment to furthering the cause of peace and justice in the Chapel Hill community,” says Thorpe.

Bill Thorpe was elected to three terms on the town council between 1977 and 2008. He died in office during his 11th year of service on the council.

During that time, he led Chapel Hill to become the first town in the nation to observe the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. as an official holiday. He pushed for the town to divest from companies that supported the Apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1980s, and helped create the town’s first paid internship program.

William Thorpe says his father’s good work continued during the years he was out of office as well.

“Even as a private citizen, he wanted to serve the Chapel Hill community. He was the one, more than any other citizen, who was instrumental in bringing to the Town Council the whole idea of renaming Airport Boulevard to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. That was Bill Thorpe.”

Dean Smith at 1997 Eastern Regionals in Syracuse. Photo via Town of Chapel Hill.

Dean Smith at 1997 Eastern Regionals in Syracuse. Photo via Town of Chapel Hill.

Coach Smith is of course known worldwide as one of the most beloved figures in basketball, but he’s also being recognized for his commitment to social justice. During the 1960’s, he recruited Charles Scott, the first black scholarship athlete at UNC, and worked to desegregate local businesses. Smith was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

Town leaders, colleagues of those being honored, and family members will make remarks and share memories at the unveiling ceremony at three o’clock, followed by a reception in the lobby of the Post Office.

The Wallace Parking Deck at 150 E. Rosemary Street directly behind the plaza is free on Sundays.

Stroman On Sports: Sports And Social Justice

This Sunday at 3 pm, the Town of Chapel Hill will hold a ceremony at Peace and Justice Plaza (in front of the post office on East Franklin Street) to add the names of Bill Thorpe and Dean Smith to a marker recognizing local figures who fought for social justice, equality, and civil rights.

Dean Smith’s work for social justice is well known, at least locally: among many other things, he played a major role in desegregating both the ACC and Chapel Hill. His example serves as a powerful testament to the ability of sports and athletics to make a difference for good in the world.

But how effectively are we using that ability? Where are the Dean Smiths of today? Are we using athletics as a force for good in the world, or are we squandering an opportunity?

Deborah Stroman is a sports analyst, an expert on analytics, and a professor at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. She spoke about that issue on Monday with Aaron Keck. (They also discussed UNC football’s recent success and how teams can manage – or fail to manage – chemistry issues.)

Levin JCC Hosts Social Justice Events

Photo of Pearl Berlin and Lennie Gerber

CHAPEL HILL – The Levin Jewish Community Center will host the first new series of community events entitled JCC Conversations Sunday.

Its topic is Love and Equality.  During the event there will be a panel discussion on marriage in NC with Lennie Gerber and Pearl Berlin, Marcie and Chantelle Fisher-Borne, and Lydia Lavelle.  Penny Rich, from the JCC, says that they made this event after hearing about Lennie and Pearl’s 47 years together.

“We thought about it, and we we’re like, wow,” Rich says. “At first, we were kind of joking around, but then it turned into, we should really have some sort of celebration of their life. “We hadn’t had a series yet that they quite fit into, so we actually developed a series around the social justice issue and that’s where JCC Conversations came about.”

Featured outtakes from the documentary film “Living in the Overlap” will be played during the event.  Lennie and Pearl are the subjects of the documentary, which is being entered into the Full Frame festival in the spring.  JCC executive director, Steve Schauder, says that the Jewish community has been progressive about the issue of equal marriage.

“Yeah, I think especially in regards to the Jewish community, every synagogue, the JCC, our Jewish federation, everyone opposed amendment one,” Schauder says. “So from our perspective we really see this as taking the lead and really mobilizing the community around a really critical human rights issue.”

The Pre-Program Reception tickets have sold out, but general admission tickets are still available for $12 and $8 for Levine JCC members.  Penny Rich says that she is excited to have Lydia Lavelle on the panel, and to bring the topic of social justice to the Jewish Community Center.

“We looked at what we want to cover this year, and we did decide that social justice was something that we really wanted to bring to the JCC,” Rich says. “We have a group there now that does a lot of social justice programming, but we didn’t have one specifically that the JCC does.”

Only the first of several events, the JCC Conversations: Love and Equality will be held at their community center on Cornwallis in Durham from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m.

To buy tickets or find out more information on the event click here.