The Building Bridges to Understanding conference generated some ideas last week for how people can better understand each other, and one of those ideas seeks new conversation about the future of the Confederate monument beside the Pasquotank County Courthouse.
The two-day meeting of about 35 people of diverse backgrounds was convened by 100 Black Men of Northeastern North Carolina Inc. and held on the College of The Albemarle campus.
Hezekiah Brown, a member of 100 Black Men whose work in conflict resolution helped shape the way the conference was conducted, said the moment was right to bring the group of people together.
“This is something that people really want to do,” Brown said.
COA President Jack Bagwell and Mid-Atlantic Christian University President John Maurice both participated the entire two days. Also in attendance were representatives from Elizabeth City State University, the Elizabeth City Police Department, Pasquotank County government, the Pasquotank Branch of the NAACP, and local churches and nonprofits.
Conference participants were focused on developing solutions to problems like racial injustice that have gotten a lot of attention in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a white police officer last month in Minneapolis.
The group compiled a list of action steps in a final report to better bring people together, and one of those steps seeks a meeting between the NAACP and the United Daughters of the Confederacy to address the Confederate statue on Main Street. The NAACP opposes the monument; a local chapter of UDC paid to have the monument erected in 1911.
That conversation is listed as an action step under the larger objective to “create opportunities to engage with each other to gain deeper knowledge of each other’s histories, cultural feelings, and desires.”
Other recommendations in the report include:
• Engage in the whole community as individuals to build relationships to expand social circles and gain deeper understanding of different histories, cultural preferences, and differences to create opportunities for social interaction.
• Acknowledge differences but treat one another as members of the human race.
• Be vulnerable in order to have open communication, and to learn. Participants were urged to risk comfort.
• Acknowledge and consider the contributions of all groups and individuals to the history of America.
Racially diverse dinner parties and diverse community events are identified as steps toward practicing humility and hospitality. Institutions cited as having a key role to play in accomplishing that include ECSU, COA, MACU, churches, Arts of the Albemarle, and Museum of the Albemarle.
The report calls for learning “not to be racist,” with a concrete action step toward that being to acknowledge white privilege.
The report also includes a recommendation for community forums to accept the racial behavior of the past and not try to justify continuing behavior.
Organizations recommended to hold the forums include the city-county Community Relations Commission, the Northeastern N.C. League of Women Voters, churches, educational institutions, and the local Ministerial Association.
A recommendation not to make racial issues out of non-racial issues is identified as a particular responsibility of The Daily Advance and a general responsibility of the whole community.
Another recommendation is for whites to police the racial behavior of other whites and engage in honest and courageous dialogue with other whites.
Brown said he was pleased with the outcome of the two-day gathering.
“It was a phenomenal two days,” Brown said. “Everything cannot be put down on paper. But I think we built some bridges in those rooms.”
People got to know each other better, Brown said.
Bagwell said late Friday that he enjoyed the conference because it was “action-oriented and focused on solutions.”
The COA president said he personally benefited from the conference because he was able to meet people who can be “resources” for both him and the college.
“I thought it was a great two days,” he said.
James Turner is excited about the new wheelchair ramp a local church ministry built at his home in Elizabeth City on Thursday.
That’s because Turner won’t be the only one at his house to benefit from the ramp.
Both Turner and his wife Catherine each have difficulty navigating steps and often require the use of wheelchairs to move about. There are also family members who may visit from the couple from time to time.
“I have a nephew who’s wheelchair-bound” too, Turner said.
A group of five volunteers from Berea Baptist Church’s Handyman Ministry spent Thursday morning at Turner’s home on Rhode Island Avenue.
Led by church member Fahey Harrell, the men built Turner a new ramp, which extends from his home’s side entrance out to the driveway.
“These guys done a beautiful job,” Turner said, from his wheelchair, which he parked at the top of the ramp. “The Lord is good.”
Turner noted that the new ramp allows him enough room to roll down to where his car is parked.
Berea Baptist’s Handyman Ministry specializes in building wheelchair ramps. Turner’s ramp in fact was the 783rd the ministry has built over the last 20 years, Harrell said.
“We’ve been doing this a right number of years,” he said.
Before the ministry decides to build a ramp, Harrell said he first will meet with a homeowner to assess their needs and to draft a construction plan.
The costs of pressure-treated wooden posts and boards and other building supplies have risen in the last few months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harrell said. Whereas lumber that previously costs about $15 a running foot now costs about $18 to $19, he said.
To help defray a portion of the ramp’s cost, Turner presented Harrell a check as a donation to Berea Baptist.
In addition to Fahey, the other four Handyman Ministry members helping Thursday were John Gregory, Fred Ellenworth, Mike Hanson and Doug Beasley.
Alumni hoping to attend Elizabeth City State University’s week of homecoming activities will need to make other plans.
On Friday, ECSU officials announced that all in-person activities for the 2020 homecoming celebration have been canceled because of concerns about COVID-19.
“We know the week-long celebration, originally slated for Oct. 18-25, is a cherished part of the ECSU experience, and we hope that you will show your Viking spirit and celebrate with us virtually,” said ECSU Chancellor Karrie Dixon. “We do plan to livestream the football game with virtual appearances and celebrations during pre-game and half-time shows.”
ECSU officials made the decision to not hold in-person homecoming activities after consulting public health officials and receiving feedback from alumni. Dixon said the decision was made out of concern for the safety of the Viking community.
“This was not an easy decision for us, but the health and well-being of our community is a priority,” the chancellor said.
In-person homecoming activities include a parade, tailgating before the game, a student-led step show, a homecoming king and queen coronation, among other activities.
This year’s homecoming football game is set for Oct. 24. The game will be played at Roebuck Stadium to the backdrop of a reduced fan capacity, pending state restrictions.
The ECSU athletic department will provide more information about the game and the whole football season at a later time.
CURRITUCK —The Currituck Board of Education declined Thursday to reconsider its controversial decision not to renew Currituck County High School Principal Brian Matney’s contract.
Board member Will Crodick made a motion to add renewal of Matney’s contract to the board’s regular meeting agenda. The motion failed, however, with only Crodick and board member Janet Rose supporting it.
Voting against adding the item to the board’s agenda were Chairwoman Karen Etheridge and members Dwan Craft and Bill Dobney.
The vote was similar to the board’s initial vote not to renew Matney’s contract earlier this month.
The board extended the public comment period at Thursday’s meeting from the usual 30 minutes to 90 minutes and heard from 21 speakers in support of extending Matney’s contract. Only one speaker supported the board’s decision not to renew the principal’s contract.
Matney has worked as principal at the high school for the past two school years. Superintendent Mark Stefanik, who has since left the district for a post in Ohio, recommended that Matney’s contract not be renewed. The board upheld that recommendation on a 3-2 vote at a meeting June 5.
Matney on Friday expressed appreciation for the public outpouring of support for renewing his contract.
“I’m overwhelmed by the sentiments expressed by teachers, parents, and most of all my students,” Matney said. “As an educator, it is my privilege to serve such standout young people, dedicated professionals and caring adults.”
The contingent in support of Matney included teachers, students and parents. It also included two elected officials: Crodick and Currituck Commissioner Paul Beaumont.
After Crodick made the motion to amend the meeting agenda to consider renewing Matney’s contract, Etheridge told the audience the board’s decision not to renew was not taken lightly and was based on facts.
“We’re hearing one side, guys,” Etheridge said.
Etheridge then read a note she said was from a 2006 Currituck High School graduate who thanked the board for its decision. The note writer mentioned hearing concerns from trusted teachers and staff about struggles at the high school, and in particular struggles related to Matney.
“And they were all the same concerns,” Etheridge said, quoting the note.
Crodick responded that he had received more than 53 letters in support of Matney. When Etheridge said all board members had received those letters, Crodick asked that she not interrupt him — beginning a tense exchange between the two.
“Can I have my turn please?” Crodick asked.
As he prepared to read an anonymous letter that he said was the basis for the investigation into Matney’s leadership as principal, Etheridge and the board’s attorney said the letter should not be read because it pertained to the board’s closed-door discussion of a confidential personnel matter.
Crodick disagreed, saying “this is a letter that I received in the mail and it’s a public document.” He also noted Etheridge had read a note but had not identified the author by name.
“Charge me with the Class 3 misdemeanor,” Crodick said as Etheridge told him he was out of order. “You’re not going to muzzle me.”
Referring to the letter Etheridge read, Crodick described it as “an anonymous letter with subjective accusations that are not corroborated.”
He said he wanted to read the letter that led to the Matney probe because “a handful of complainers that won’t put their name to anything” had launched a process that he said ruined Matney’s career and life, ruined students’ lives and put the county in turmoil.
Crodick said he thought the board’s decision to move forward with non-renewal based on an anonymous letter was unfair to the public.
“Do it to the people again,” Crodick said. “Just do it to them. Screw them. Live the lie if you want to.”
“You know what? You’re grandstanding,” Etheridge told Crodick.
“Yes, ma’am, and I’m telling the truth,” he replied.
The non-renewal of Matney’s contract was all about “nepotism and friendship,” Crodick said.
One of those who addressed the board in support of Matney at Thursday’s meeting was Sydney MacDonald, president of the Currituck County High School Class of 2020.
“He was not just an everyday principal for us,” she said. “He became a friend.”
Dana Parker said Matney had increased test scores and made progress toward the high school becoming accredited.
Parker said people who actually support Matney were presented to the school board as being opposed to him.
“This goes to the very validity of the investigation,” Parker said.
Mark Wootton, auto technology teacher at the high school for 24 years, was the only speaker at the meeting who supported the decision not to renew Matney’s contract. He said every principal had supported the auto tech program, until Matney.
“I guess there just weren’t enough advance placement students to warrant his attention,” Wootton said.
Kilani Richardson, a student who started a petition in support of Matney, said “there’s a complete difference in the school because of him.”
Zachary Dearman said Matney had helped him take on the mantle of a teacher.
“I find myself questioning whether I can carry on,” he said, adding he’s not sure he wants to continue working for a school district that treats its best principal by getting rid of him.
It has been his great privilege to be mentored by Matney and work with him, Dearman said.
Mary Suman said she believes the school board and public were failed by a superintendent who made a serious personnel decision after announcing plans to leave.
Robert Griffin, chairman of the CCHS Mathematics Department, said Matney sees great potential at the school and always has students at the forefront of his thinking.
Anita Rubino said she’s a 19-year teacher, a parent and a community member who feels compelled to take a stand for what is right.
“I know Dr. Matney is right for Currituck County High School,” Rubino said.
Everyone has a voice and every voice was valued at the high school under Matney’s leadership, she said. Rubino said she wants her own children to benefit from strong career and technical education programs and academic rigor.
Mia Baker-Spruill said Matney is the only principal who has gotten her name right consistently. She said that Matney acted on her behalf when she experienced racial oppression. Her heart is broken, she said.
Beaumont said he has spoken with students, teachers, parents and administrators at the high school and they have had only positive things to say about Matney.
The commissioner said he has no faith in Stefanik’s recommendation for non-renewal because he’s not impressed with the former superintendent’s analysis on other matters. Beaumont also said that Matney should have found out before April if there was an issue with his performance.
Crodick revisited the issue at the end of the meeting.
“I’m pretty sad with the way this whole process with Dr. Matney, and probably many others, went down,” Crodick said.
He said he doesn’t believe the board should act on anonymous complaints.
“I think it’s just bad business,” Crodick said.
Matthew Lutz, who the school board tapped to serve as interim superintendent, said he appreciated the board’s faith in him.
“This was a tough meeting tonight,” Lutz said. “We have to start healing and we have to start moving forward. This was tough and these are difficult times.”
CAMDEN — Two incumbent members of the Camden County Board of Education plan to seek re-election this year.
Filing for two seats on the board begins at the county Board of Elections Office Wednesday at noon. Both board Chairman Christian Overton and board member Kevin Heath said Friday they plan to seek new four-year terms.
Overton, who has served on the board since 2008, will be seeking election to a fourth term.
“I’m going to give it one more try — at least,” Overton said.
Heath, who was first elected to the board in 2016, said he wants to see the schools continue in a positive direction.
“I think everything is going in a really good direction right now — except for the coronavirus,” Heath said.
The novel coronavirus has affected all areas of life, and led to the closing of school facilities in mid-March and a switch to remote instruction. Plans for the coming school year remain in flux as the state continues to grapple with the public health crisis.
Also expected to be on the ballot in the general election in November is a bond referendum for construction of a new high school. If the referendum moves forward, voters will be asked to support the county borrowing $33 million for the new school.
The other three members of the board — Sissy Aydlett, Jason Banks and Chris Purcell — were elected in 2018 to terms that end in 2022.
Filing for the two open seats ends at noon on July 31.