20th Anniversary Celebration for the Southern Anti-Racism Network

Senator McKissick is awarded the Worker Economic Justice Award at the Southern Anti-Racism Network 20th Anniversary Celebration

I would like to thank Ms. Theresa El-Amin, the Founder and Regional Director of the Southern Anti-Racism Network (SARN), for hosting a wonderful 20th Anniversary Celebration for this organization yesterday evening at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham, NC. It was my privilege and honor yesterday evening to be the recipient of the organization’s Worker Economic Justice Award. My dear friend, Lonna Harkrader, was the co-recipient of this award. This award was given to us in recognition of our efforts in passing the City of Durham’s Anti-Sweatshop Ordinance on August 7th, 2000. I was a member of City Council at the time and led efforts to pass the Anti-Sweatshop Ordinance which essentially stated that the City of Durham would not conduct business with businesses or entities that exploited labor which constituted sweatshops as the term was defined in the ordinance which included businesses that used and exploited child labor. As a member of the NC Senate, in 2009, I sponsored legislation that allowed the City of Durham to expand these anti-sweatshop protections. Ms. Anne Wolfley was awarded the Richard Paddock “Reliable Ally” Award for her work on behalf of SARN. I would like to thank SARN for the recognition which I received and for the advocacy which they have provided over the years.

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Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Connections Fair 2018

Last weekend, before Hurricane Florence threatened our State and our community, I had the pleasure of attending an event known as Connections Fair 2018 hosted by the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (ERUUF). There were over 33 exhibition tables set up as a part of this event which included those that were a part of various groups and organizations that are a part of the ERUUF community including those interested in Refugee and Immigrant issues, the You Can Vote Campaign, El Centro Hispano tutors, as well as those who were part of their Justice Village among many others. I’d like to commend ERUUF for their activism, inclusiveness, community engagement, and offering a community where people of all faiths are welcome.

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People’s Alliance Latinx Inaugural Town Hall

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Alexandra Valdares, Councilwoman Javiera Caballero, and Attorney Yessenia Polanco Galdamez for organizing and hosting the first Latinx Inaugural Town Hall meeting on behalf of the People’s Alliance. This event was well attended by candidates running for local as well as statewide offices, and it gave those candidates an opportunity to address issues of importance to the Latinx community. Among the topics I discussed was the need to allow immigrants, regardless of how they crossed our border, to obtain driver’s licenses in our state so that they can operate and insure their vehicles legally.

I have filed a bill to allow for this in the past, and I intend to refile it in the future. In addition, if immigrants have grown up in our state and attended our public schools and graduated, then they should be able to enroll in our state’s public colleges, universities, and community colleges without having to pay double the tuition of other students. We also need to recognize Faith Action ID’s as well as other forms of identification which can assist immigrants in identifying themselves and obtaining services.

A few years ago, there was an incident where a Latinx mother with several smaller children was stopped by a highway patrolman and arrested. The children were left on the side of the road with a total stranger that the mother had given a road home from church. The children’s father was out of state and was unable to pick them up until the next day. I was able to pass a law that will prohibit any law enforcement officer from leaving children on the side of the road with just anyone in the future.

I also passed a law several years ago which decreased circumstances in which traffic stops could be used to target Latinx drivers in certain neighborhoods. We should all work together with the Latinx community to address issues of concern with respect and dignity in a collaborative manner. I look forward to doing so.

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The FENCE 2018 Photo Exhibition in Downtown Durham

Last week, I thoroughly enjoyed observing the opening ceremony for a photographic exhibition that will be on display in Downtown Durham across the street from City Hall known as The FENCE. The exhibition in Durham is part of a large-scale traveling photography exhibition reaching over 6 million visitors annually through open-air exhibitions in 8 cities across North America, and Durham is fortunate to be one of the cities that is a part of this program. It is wonderful to see this type of public art on display in our downtown which has photographs submitted by artists as part of a competition which has a wide range of themes which are certain to peak the curiosity of anyone who observes them. Please take the time to check out this photographic exhibition when you’re visiting our downtown. I’d like to thank all of those who were a part of bringing this exceptional exhibit to Durham.

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Annual Freedom Fund Banquet hosted by the Raleigh-Apex NAACP Chapter

Last night it was my privilege and honor to serve as the Keynote speaker for the Annual Freedom Fund Banquet hosted by the Raleigh-Apex Chapter of the NAACP. This amazing civil rights organization was started 109 years ago and today it has over 300,000 members and has a budget of approximately 27 million dollars annually. It continues to lead our nation in fighting for equality for all. This organization is needed today more than ever with the divisive political rhetoric which is coming from our nation’s Capitol and from the very lips of President Trump. The theme for the banquet was “Defeat Hate – Vote” and it was easy to find a message to deliver that focused on this theme considering all that has been taking place in our state and in our country at this time. I would like to thank Ms. Eunice Jones who invited me to speak and all of those who attended including Congressman David Price, Senator Dan Blue, Representative Rosa Gill, Commissioner Jum West, Superior Court Judge Keith Gregory and many others including those seeking public office such as Rebecca Edwards who is running to fill Judge Gregory’s former seat as a District Court Judge. Let me also offer thanks to Mr. Edward Jones for taking the pictures in this photo album. This was a sold out event in support of this branch and of its advocacy in the community.

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Lincoln Community Health Center Providing Healthcare for the Homeless

It was my privilege to attend the Annual Community Leaders’ Breakfast hosted by the Lincoln Community Health Center Inc. I’d like to thank Mr. Philip Harewood and his extraordinary team of associates and healthcare providers who provide healthcare services to so many people who are in need in our community who do not have healthcare insurance.

One of the special programs which Lincoln is operating is a Healthcare for the Homeless Clinic which was discussed during today’s breakfast. It should not be surprising that persons who are homeless have an average life expectancy which is 20-30 years less than the general population. In addition, they are more likely to require acute care and the most likely to require high cost end of life care. Lincoln has done an extraordinary job by reaching out and connecting to the homeless population in our community.

Sometimes when we think of homeless people, we do not realize that they are the very same people that could have been our friends or neighbors a year or two ago before they encountered tough times. Today, I listened to the testimonial of a man known as Frank Whitehead who, prior to 2013, owned a two-story home with a beautiful deck in Wake County and was married to a wife with multiple sclerosis. Unfortunately, his wife suddenly died from complications due to multiple sclerosis and Frank, shortly thereafter, suffered a stroke which limited his ability to use the left side of his body, including his left arm. He lost his job, he lost his home, he lost his personally property which he could not afford to pay storage fees on, and he ended up living in an apartment with only two bedrooms and over a dozen people.

Fortunately, he was referred to Lincoln which provided him with healthcare, psychiatric care, and therapy which allowed him to rebuild his life and regain independence. He is now employed as a newspaper delivery person and is he is hopeful of obtaining a home in the near future through Habitat for Humanity. There are many others just like Frank who are homeless and in need of help, but there are also those who simply cannot afford healthcare, and Lincoln provides a vital lifeline for them and their families. I’d like to commend Philip Harewood, the Chief Executive Officer of Lincoln, as well as all others who are a part of his team in providing healthcare to those in need in our community, their extraordinary work and contribution to the Durham community can’t be overstated.

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NC Supreme Court to Review Four Cases Tied to the NC Racial Justice Act

The North Carolina Supreme Court will soon determine the fate of four men whose sentences were reduced under the NC Racial Justice Act.

In 2009, I was the primary sponsor of a bill known as the NC Racial Justice Act, the purpose of the law was to address problems related to the impermissible and unconstitutional use of race in death penalty cases. In 2013, the Republican majority repealed the Racial Justice Act (RJA), however, after the act was passed and before it was repealed, four men on death row sought relief under the act. The Honorable Greg Weeks, a Superior Court Judge in Cumberland County, determined that race had been improperly used in their trials which resulted in the imposition of the death penalty in their cases, and these men were re-sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, which the law provided for. The NC Supreme Court currently is reviewing a case involving these four men which will determine whether the relief they received under the NC Racial Justice Act will be undone as a result of the law being repealed. Please check out an op-ed article which I wrote which was published in today’s Fayetteville Observer relating to the RJA.

Read my full article on the Fayetteville Observer Website.

Implicit Bias Among North Carolina Teachers

A recent study on implicit bias published by NC State University looks closely at how Wake County educators are influenced by racial bias in the classroom.

I recently read about a study that was conducted and published by NC State University. The purpose of the study was to determine if racial bias played a part in a teacher’s decision to punish their students. In Wake County, only 24% of students are Black, however, they accounted for 55% of out-of-school suspensions in 2015. On top of that, Black students accounted for 65% of total class periods missed due to out-of-school suspensions. White students made up only 19% of out-of-school suspensions and accounted for a mere 13% of class periods missed which would tend to suggest that not only are Black students punished more frequently but for longer durations.

The study also suggests that teachers frequently are worse at identifying the emotions of their Black students. When shown actors portraying different emotions such as anger and surprise, prospective teachers are 1.5 times more likely to accurately identify the emotions of white adults than of black adults. They were also three times more likely to identify that the expression on a Black person’s face was associated with anger when in reality the person was not displaying anger at all. In addition, when later shown videos of misbehaving boys of different races doing the exact same thing and being asked to grade the boys on a scale of one to five in terms of the severity of their conduct, the Black children were rated at 3.37 on average whereas White children, who displayed identical conduct, were assigned scores of 2.12 on average, which was far less severe.

The observations obtained through this study help us to understand a concept known as implicit bias. Implicit biases are those that each of us possess and internalize in our values and attitudes which we do not realize. All people, Black, White, Latino, Asian, Native American, all of us possess these implicit biases. The only way we can address these biases is if we understand them and compensate for them in our behavior.

It’s not surprising that you would see far more Black students being suspended for longer periods of time based upon identical conduct engaged in by other students in light of the findings in this study where subtle gestures, facial expressions, and conduct are interpreted differently based upon our worldview and values that we have internalized. We can all do better in addressing implicit biases, however, we must work to eradicate them from our schools, our court systems, and other institutions which should be serving all people equally.