Multi-Faith Vigil Honors Orlando Victims

Community and religious leaders gathered at the United Church of Chapel Hill for a vigil to honor those who died in the massacre in Orlando early Sunday morning.

Fifty people were reportedly killed and many more were injured, when a gunman entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, shortly before closing time and began opening fire.

That atrocity brought together members of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities at the United Church on Monday night.

Rev. Jill Edens, pastor of United Church of Chapel Hill, noted that it wasn’t the first time their church held such a vigil to remember victims of mass violence.

Community members light candles to honor the victims (Photo by Chris Grunert)

Community members light candles to honor the victims (Photo by Chris Grunert)

Dr. Terri Phoenix is the director of the LGBTQ Center at UNC. Dr. Phoenix mentioned the importance of gathering after an event like this.

“Maybe it isn’t about some much what happens in spaces like this but maybe what’s sacred is holding the space in and of itself,” said Phoenix.

In between speakers visitors lit candles in honor of the victims.

The solidarity expressed in Chapel Hill vigil has not been seen everywhere in the aftermath of the shooting. Many politicians have used this tragedy to serve as evidence that their political goals are the most just.

The shooter was a 29-year-old Florida resident, who according to his father, was known to express anger at homosexuals.

Much of the media coverage has focused on the fact that the shooter supposedly declared his allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group shortly before the attack. That detail has forced many in the Muslim community, like Iman Abdul Waheed, to defend their religion as one of peace.

“We know the importance of helping the public have a better perception of who we are. We live in a one-room world and because we live in a one-room world we feel we have an obligation in the United States of the America to help the public see our religion correctly,” said Waheed.

Another vigil is planned for Tuesday night at the Carrboro Town Commons.

“Unity In The Community” Joins, Heals

More than a dozen organizations are coming together to host an event called “Unity in the Community” this Saturday, April 16, from 11 am to 4 pm at Hargraves Community Center.

It’s free and everyone’s invited to enjoy food, music, dancing, a martial arts demonstration, and more.

The idea for Unity in the Community originated with St. Paul AME Church; last year’s event took place in the Rogers Road community, where the church is in the process of building a development called St. Paul Village. This year’s event, though, takes place in Chapel Hill’s Northside neighborhood – where Maleah Williams, just 14 months old, was shot and killed on Christmas Day. Organizers say one of the themes of this year’s event will be “healing.”

Along with St. Paul AME Church, co-organizers include the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association, EmPOWERment, Inc., Habitat for Humanity of Orange County, the Jackson Center, United Church of Chapel Hill, Piedmont Health Services, the Student Health Action Coalition, Faith Tabernacle Oasis of Love, Grape Arbor Development Corporation, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Partnership, the Chapel Hill Teen Center, Blue Ribbon Youth Leadership Institute, and the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. (The Student Health Action Coalition will be providing free health screenings, including blood pressure and blood sugar checks.)

Rev. Thomas Nixon of St. Paul AME Church, Delores Bailey of EmPOWERment, Inc., and Adwoa Asare of Orange Habitat discussed “Unity in the Community” with Aaron Keck on WCHL.

Moral Mon. Rallies For Women & Trayvon Martin

RALEIGH – It was ladies’ day at the 11th  Moral Monday in Raleigh rallying for women’s rights. 101 people were arrested, bringing the running total to more than 800. The protesters, normally focused on the Republican-led policies of the General Assembly, took a pause to remember Trayvon Martin. The 17-year-old was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a Florida man who claimed self defense and was acquitted Saturday.

NAACP State Chapter President and “Civil Disobedience” leader Reverend William Barber explained that he planned to miss Monday’s protest but returned early from the NAACP National Convention after hearing the Zimmerman verdict.

UNC alum Rachael Debnam was there to rally for women’s rights, and also felt a sense of sadness over Zimmerman’s acquittal.

“I find the ruling very frustrating. I feel like it encourages racial profiling. I’m also a teacher, and I think we need to teach our children to think critically and not make snap judgments. The ruling to me says it’s okay to do that, and that’s not a lesson that I am okay with teaching our young people,” Debnam said.


Thousands wore pink as they gathered on the lawn of Halifax Mall. Many carried signs in protest of the state House of Representatives passing tighter abortion regulations in a less than transparent manner.

Barber was the only male speaker at the event, sharing the stage with speakers from N.C. Women United, NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, and N.C. MomsRising.

“The sisters are here, the sisters have been here, and I want everyone to know it’s a pro-choice decision,” Barber said.

UNC alum and teacher Alan Carter attended Moral Monday in protest of cuts to education, but he also champions the efforts of pro-choice activists.

“The same people who come out against abortion are often the same people against stuff like sex education and providing coverage for contraception. At that point, I think it’s pretty clear that you are against women making decisions for controlling their own reproductive health,” Cater said.

Anna Currie of the United Church of Chapel Hill said she wasn’t happy with the abortion regulations that were pushed through the General Assembly so quickly by tacking the restrictions onto unrelated bills.

“First of all the process was terrible because none of us knew about it. But, I was one of the ones who fought for women’s rights. I just say get the government out of our body. That’s my decision, my body, and it should be between myself, my family and my doctors and that’s it,” Currie said.

Fellow UCCH member Sharon Hanson held a pink sign which read, “Women Remember in November.”

“Remember who to vote for and who to not vote for in November,” Hanson said.

The UCCH congregation has been attending the Moral Monday protests each week since the beginning of the movement.

“I just want to support the people that are willing to do civil disobedience. I am so impressed with those people. I would love to do it myself, but my health doesn’t allow it,” Tony Armer, a UCCH member, said.

The protests have gained national attention as well. CNN sent a camera crew to this week’s Moral Monday. The New York Times published an editorial last week on the state GOP’s policies with the headline: “The Decline of North Carolina.” N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory responded with a letter to the editor of the newspaper, defending the right-leaning policies, saying, “This focus on pragmatic problem-solving is now fueling North Carolina’s comeback to prosperity as well.”

CH Church Members Take A Stand In Moral Monday

RALEIGH – Eighty-four people were arrested at the seventh Moral Monday protest in Raleigh, including four members of the United Church of Chapel Hill. Police estimated that close to a thousand gathered for the rally outside, targeting policies of the Republican-controlled legislature.

Inside the State House, the activists who planned to be arrested walked in a circle outside chamber doors, chanting and singing. Nineteen-year-old Kira Frescoln was one of them.

“I think that it is time that we stand up. You can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk,” Frescoln said.

Frescoln and her pastor at the United Church of Chapel, Jill Edens, along with fellow congregation members, Reverend Susan Steinberg and Dave Otto, all were arrested Monday night, rallying against Republican policies ranging from social spending to education and voting rights.


Seventeen were arrested at the first Moral Monday protest in late April. Now, the arrest total is nearing 500. The number of protest supporters has grown as well,  traveling from places such as Charlotte, Wilmington, and Black Mountain.

“We’re in this for the long haul. We’re willing to do this until November 2014,” Edens said.

United Church of Chapel Hill has sent about 25 people each week, and about 10 members have been arrested.

“I’m here to stand up for what I think is important. I’m sick and tired of reading what the Legislature is doing. I haven’t seen a single thing that they have proposed which I agree with,” Otto said.

Before the perspective arrestees, who wore green arm bands, arrived at the General Assembly, the NAACP debriefed them in the Christian Faith Baptist Church in Raleigh. They passed out sign-up sheets, told them how to march into the State Legislature, and described what to expect while being arrested.

“I feel honored to have this opportunity. I’m thankful this is so well organized, and that makes me feel safe going into it,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg is the Associate Pastor for Children’s Ministries at the United Church of Chapel Hill. She said the last straw for her was the proposed legislation allowing guns to be carried in public places, such as playgrounds.

NAACP protest organizers also provided snacks and transportation to the General Assembly for the soon-to-be arrestees.

“Let it be clear and let it be known, they may not change, but neither will we! As long as we have breath in our bodies, as long as we have marching in our feet, we will stand. We will fight!” exclaimed NAACP state chapter president and Civil Disobedience Movement leader, Reverend William Barber.

Speakers from state advocacy groups also spoke about environmental and healthcare issues, which were the featured topics of the day.

Paperhand Puppet Intervention’s Jan Burger attended the rally outsideHe carried a larger-than-life puppet, representing Mother Earth.

“I try and have my work and what I believe in inter-mesh. If I can use my art, the puppets, and the images that we create to make a difference in this world, that feels great,” Burger said.

Carrboro Aldermen Sammy Slade and Damon Seils, who were arrested during a previous protest, were in attendance, as well as Senator Ellie Kinnaird, who represents Orange and Chatham Counties.

Barber issued a call for larger crowds to attend the next two protests, dubbing them “Mass Moral Mondays.”