“We need to rewrite history books and that starts with us,” UNCW senior Diamond Bentley comments in light of recent societal injustices happening globally.
Diamond and New Hanover County teacher Karimah Bradley have joined forces to create the first sit-in in Wilmington, in an attempt to spark positive action in the community. After the death of 46-year-old Minnesota father George Floyd in May, protests, petitions and sit-ins against police brutality and systemic racism have popped up across the county. Protests have been occurring nightly downtown on the steps of City Hall outside Mayor Bill Saffo’s office. In response New Hanover County has created the Office of Diversity in Equity—an organization focused on achieving diversity and equity in three major areas: training and education, internal operations, and community outreach. They also have promoted African American Donny Williams to official Wilmington Police Chief, and two Confederate statues in downtown Wilmington temporarily were removed last week, per the citing of “safety issues” as protesters began infiltrating the medians the statues were erected on.
Still, the fight for equality is far from over.
“[The protests] have brought so many people who believe in being a part of change and realizing that racism still exists,” Diamond says. “It is alive and well, someone has to be bold enough to speak out. Change in our city is long overdue.”
The sit-in will take place on July 1 from 3 – 7 p.m. at Hugh MacRae Park. The park’s name has sparked controversy for decades, as Hugh MacRae was one of the lead white supremacists in the Wilmington 1898 Massacre, wherein a mob of white men killed numerous Black Americans to overtake the government. MacRae also helped develop a lot of Wilmington and was a businessman in engineering, agriculture, power and mill companies. A petition to change the name of the park has been signed by more than 15k people; Diamond and Karimah are joining the cause.
“Keeping the current name only perpetuates institutionalized racism and white supremacy here in Wilmington,” Karimah says. “Many people who defend this park or the Confederate statues claim it is a part of their Southern heritage; however, these are the same ‘heroes’ who dehumanized black and brown people. The history is too painful to acknowledge these figures as heroes. The park’s name should be changed to an influential figure who exemplifies the diversity, unity and leadership of the community.”
Speakers, poets, musicians, and even a dancing mime are on the agenda for the Wilmington Sit-In. Local historian Lettie Shumate—who also hosts the podcast “Sincerely, Lettie”—will give a lesson on the history of Hugh MacRae Park. Activist Franchon Francees will be speaking on mental health, counseling and the Greensboro Four. Speaker Marla Moore will talk women’s rights, while city councilman Kevin Spears will reveal work the council is doing. Community activist Rebecca Trammel will also bring a call to action, and singer-songwriter Kaitlyn Sluss will perform three songs, two of which are originally sung by artists of color. Tim Joyner and Tiffany Cook will present original pieces via spoken word and Keithan Mitchell will mime.
“We want to showcase many ways to use your voice to be heard,” Diamond comments. “The idea [for the sit-in] actually came to me in a dream. I am really big on opening up the minds of others and gaining new perspectives to become a better person in society. I think the sit-in is a perfect way to do that in times like these. Coming out to a nice, level playing ground, and listening to people speak and taking what ‘you’ as an individual feel is valuable to making you a better person.”
After Diamond created the event on Facebook, Karimah reached out to get involved. Quickly, she took on the role of co-creator in order to help spread love and light, but more so to educate the community on the racial injustices that are still prominent in 2020. “We understand this to be a human rights movement,” Karimah clarifies. Because there is power in numbers, the sit-in is intended to peacefully advocate for change in a city with a long past of racial turmoil. Attendees are encouraged to bring friends, food and an open mind. “More dialogue is happening in our city, people are becoming more informed, policy is changing,” Karimah says. “There is still major work to do in Wilmington.”
With the firing of three Wilmington police officers last week after being caught on tape making racial slurs and threats, it’s never been more clear the deep abuse of power still working through our political and law enforcement systems. It’s also relevant to our educational systems and UNCW is not exempt. When the UNCW Black Student Union asked Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli for permission to paint “Black Lives Matter” somewhere on campus during a Town Hall meeting a few weeks ago, Sartarelli declined. More so, he commented, “All lives matter.” The statement came just days after racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, anti-LGBTQ+ tweets surfaced from UNCW tenure professor Mike Adams. A petition calling for Adams’ removal from the university has gained over 60k signatures, as well as national headlines. Mounting pressure led to UNCW announcing today, June 29, 2020, that Adams will retire on August 1.
“I honestly was shaken by [the chancellor’s] comment, and with UNCW being a PWI (predominately white institution) I didn’t know what to expect; but seeing other departments at the university speak up demonstrates that everyone doesn’t share the same opinion,” Diamond says. “We understand all lives matter, but Black lives and the history of making African Americans feel less than must end.”
As a Black educator in New Hanover County, Karimah was disappointed in the chancellor’s comment on the movement as well. She says perpetuating the “All Lives Matter” rhetoric misses the point entirely.
“All lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter,” Karimah explains. “Many people try to delegitimize the movement by saying all lives matter. To care for all lives would mean that black people would not have and continue to be systematically disenfranchised. While I read Chancellors Sarterelli’s response, I definitely feel as though he should take this time to do his research and reflect on his statements as a leader at the university.”
Looking ahead, Diamond and Karimah are interested in creating their own young adult, social justice organization to further direct action in Wilmington. The pair are working with community members from other organizations such as NAACP and the Wilmington Advocacy and Protest Organization (WAPO) on future ideas. A GoFundMe has been set up to cover the cost of food and beverages for the sit-in. Any leftover items, as well as monetary donations, will go directly toward local churches, school lunches and organizations such as the NAACP, BLM Wilmington and WAPO.
In order to comply with North Carolina health restrictions under Executive Order 147, it is required that attendees wear a mask or face covering and maintain proper social distancing rules. Gloves and hand sanitizer will be provided at the event.
July 1, 3 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Hugh MacRae Park, 314 Pine Grove Dr.