Ch@t: CORE’s work focuses on equitable outcomes for all Chatham residents

Posted 3/27/20

This week, we speak with Karinda Roebuck, the co-chairman and community organizer for CORE (Chatham Organizing for Racial Equity) and fellow members Maureen Maurer, Katy McCullough, Irene Wells, …

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Ch@t: CORE’s work focuses on equitable outcomes for all Chatham residents

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This week, we speak with Karinda Roebuck, the co-chairman and community organizer for CORE (Chatham Organizing for Racial Equity) and fellow members Maureen Maurer, Katy McCullough, Irene Wells, Maura Dillon and Rachel Winters about CORE’s racial equity workshops and other training and educational programs. CORE was created in 2016.

What is Chatham Organizing for Racial Equity (CORE)?

CORE is a volunteer-led, grassroots organization working to build a broad-based coalition of individuals, non-profits, and community groups. We work together to build awareness of systemic racism and achieve equitable outcomes for all people in Chatham County. To accomplish that we provide educational opportunities for the public, training and consulting work tailored for organizations and institutions, and caucuses for the ongoing work of unpacking racism for the individual in a group setting.

Since 2017, CORE has hosted eight racial equity workshops for more than 300 people. We contract with Racial Equity Institute, based in Greensboro, to facilitate these workshops which serve as a baseline and framework for CORE’s involvement in the community. workshops have been throughout the county in Siler City, Pittsboro, North Chatham, and in Moncure. Participants include county and town officials, county and town employees, non-profit organizations, teachers, healthcare providers, ministers, community members, students, and more with the bulk of them residing in Chatham County.

How did CORE come about?

In summer 2016, in response to numerous acts of racial violence that had been occurring throughout the U.S., a group of Chatham County faith leaders and other concerned citizens began meeting to discuss how people in Chatham might proactively address hatred and divisiveness and work toward unity and deeper understanding in the community. A film series about race at the Pittsboro Presbyterian Church became the catalyst for discussions about how our community could confront overt and more subtle forms of discrimination that people of color experience on a regular basis. CORE arose from those discussions.

In your work to build awareness of systemic racism, how do you define racism and racial equity?

All people should have the opportunity to make choices that allow them to live a long and healthy life regardless of their income, education, or racial and ethnic background. Yet, this opportunity is unattainable for many because of racism, which is present in all communities. Racism is not just about individual discrimination, prejudice, or hatred. Race has been and continues to be used to organize systems to benefit white people and disadvantage people of color.

Racial equity work focuses on the systemic racism that exists in our public and private institutions. CORE has chosen to make racial equity the focus of our work. We understand that without addressing the discriminatory practices that exist within our institutions, as a community we will not be able to create the conditions that allow all of our citizens to thrive.

What does racism look like in Chatham? How does CORE measure and quantify racism in Chatham County, or is it something that can be quantified?

Racism in Chatham looks like it does in the rest of the U.S. — whether it’s north, south, east or west. Racism results in racial inequities within and across systems — with white people consistently having better outcomes compared to black people, and all other races falling somewhere in between.

As one example reported in the 2019 Chatham County Racial Equity Report Card produced by the Youth Justice Project, white students in grades 3-8 were 2.5 times more likely to score “Career and College Ready” on end-of-grade exams than black students in 2017-18. Further, black students were 5.1 times more likely than white students to receive a short-term suspension in Chatham County in 2016-17. Statewide, black students received 57 percent of all short-term suspensions, even though they made up only 25 percent of the student population in 2016-17.

This is but one example of racial inequities. We find similar racial inequities in other systems in Chatham and the broader U.S., including inequities in income and wealth, home ownership, health outcomes, transportation, the justice system, and so forth. These racial inequities hold true even when one accounts for socioeconomic status or educational attainment.

We can historically trace these inequities in the education system as well. Chatham County approved the common school law in 1839, starting public education for white students. However, a few years earlier in 1830-31, the North Carolina General Assembly strengthened an already existing anti-literacy law that prevented anyone from teaching enslaved African Americans to read and write. The legislation pointed out, “The teaching of slaves to read and write has a tendency to excite the dis-satisfaction in their minds and to produce insurrection and rebellion.” As a result, there were no public schools for African Americans until after the Civil War. By 1873, Chatham County had established two separate systems — one for white and one for black schools, and the disparity in funding for these two systems was high.

In 1908, Pittsboro opened a school for white students that eventually became Pittsboro High School. Black students who wanted to go to high school had to leave the county until the creation of Horton High School in 1930. The two high schools remained segregated until 1970.

Educational barriers for African Americans were further exacerbated by segregation in higher education. In 1960, UNC-Chapel Hill had only four black undergraduates. This means, for many of us, school desegregation did not happen in Chatham County in either this or our parents’ lifetimes. The decades and decades of inequities contribute to the outcomes we see today, negatively impacting opportunities for African American families to accumulate wealth and gain status in our communities.

CORE has hosted a series of two-day Racial Equity Institute (REI) workshops. What’s the plan for those workshops in 2020?

We plan to continue holding the Racial Equity Institute workshops, including a racial equity Phase 1 REI workshop in late April 2020. This year, for the first time, we successfully collaborated with Chatham County Schools, Chatham County Department of Social Services, and Department of Public Health to hold a 3-hour Groundwater training in early March. This training focuses on the consistent trends in the numbers across public systems, across the U.S., that illustrate people of color have worse outcomes than whites.

Other workshops we are looking to offer in the near-term would include REI’s youth-focused racial equity workshop and a workshop specific to Latinx challenges. We are also exploring other workshops we can host in Chatham that are with other locally based organizations. Racial equity work is ongoing, and educating ourselves can only help us.

What are CORE’s other objectives and goals for the near-term?

CORE works to deconstruct systemic racism through education, organization, and reconciliation. We hope to be a resource and connector for those interested in anti-racism and racial equity work in Chatham County.

In addition to the racial equity workshops, CORE offers a series of trainings called Building Stronger Communities that focuses on community organizing, the power in forming community relationships, and leadership.

We are also in the pilot phase of providing a more tailored training session and consulting work for the local organizations, county agencies, and institutions looking to improve their equity policies. We are having great success and will be moving forward with more contracts in the near future.

Since 2018, we have co-hosted a Juneteenth tribute. This free, public event uses education, music, storytelling, and performance to deepen understanding of the efforts to abolish slavery and to connect slavery to modern day human rights issues. This year Juneteenth will be held on June 20th at the Agricultural Center in Pittsboro, in collaboration with the Abundance Foundation and Chatham Community Library.

Thinking about the debate in the last year over the Confederate monument in Pittsboro, has the scope of CORE’s work, or the challenges it addresses, changed at all?

The scope of CORE’s work has remained the same. Systemic racism existed before the statue went up and still exists after its removal. We will continue to create opportunities for education and discussion throughout Chatham County about the historical and cultural roots of racism, which includes the historical context of the monuments and other symbols.

How does CORE work with other organizations?

The bulk of our work is a collaborative effort with community organizations to provide racial equity education within and throughout our county. We welcome partnership snd have partnered with other organizations to co-host racial equity workshops, hold workshops and trainings to specific departments and organizations, offer space for community meetings, and other work to address racial equity issues in Chatham.

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