Professors Andi Cantrell and Kim Porter took their First-Year Seminar classes to the Poor People’s Campaign in Salisbury. Both seminars have a focus on social justice issues such as poverty, racism, sexism, and environmental justice. The outing provided a unique opportunity for students to witness a local group that is actually working on addressing these types of systemic issues, both locally and nationally.
The goal was to illustrate to students that people do work for justice in the community and what that looks like in actual practice. The students were able to observe the meeting and then participate by asking questions about what types of activities the group does and identify issues of social justice that are of local importance.
Leading up to this event, students in both classes studied the history, current focus, and leadership of the Poor People’s Campaign. Students learned that this movement was started by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. just before his assassination in 1968. Fifty years later, Rev. William Barber revived the movement and started it right here in North Carolina.
The Salisbury Circle of the Poor People’s Campaign started about two years ago. Rev. Anthony Smith is an active member of the Salisbury Circle and the meetings are held at his church, Mission House, which is in walking distance of Catawba College. The Salisbury Circle was able to arrange a live zoom call with the Raina Lee, youth leader, of the North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign. Raina is an 18-year-old high school student. Our students were impressed that someone their own age could take an active leadership role in this movement. They were able to ask her questions about how and why she got involved with the movement.
The students also learned about local social justice issues such as the contamination from coal ash ponds in Dukeville and economic justice aspect of affordable and clean water. Other issues that the local circle is working on include access to medical care for all, food security in Rowan county, and collaboration with the national campaign for the march on Washington on June 20, 2020. Students also learned the important connection between faith and social justice. Within Christianity, being a voice for the poor is rooted in the gospel of the New Testament, particularly Matthew 25. A statement from the Poor People’s Campaign website summarizes this connection well, “The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation, and the nation’s distorted morality
First-year student Destiny Porter summed it up best “Witnessing the Poor People’s Campaign and listening to the various stories of what social injustices the members have encountered helped put things into perspective for me. I didn’t realize how much people disregard injustice towards other people when it doesn’t personally affect them. The campaign opened my eyes to the outside world.”