Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Keeping N.C. Politicians Honest

A Florence fact check

Posted By and on Wed, Sep 26, 2018 at 1:49 PM

Rescue efforts in Delco. (Photo by Stephen Kelly/USCG)
  • Rescue efforts in Delco. (Photo by Stephen Kelly/USCG)

After Hurricane Florence devastated the eastern part of North Carolina, some of the state’s politicians took to social media and politicized the storm. Some comments focused on hurricane relief funding for the state, or the lack of. Others mentioned laws they believe made North Carolina more vulnerable during a large storm.

How valid are their comments? We’ve chosen four statements to explore, and see what evidence there is to support these claims.

Did Walker vote against disaster relief?

Ryan Watts, a Democratic congressional candidate, is running for office in District 6, which is historically conservative. The 27-year-old is trying to unseat Republican Rep. Mark Walker.

As Hurricane Florence was gearing up to hit North Carolina on Sept. 12, Watts slammed his opponent for voting against disaster relief.

"Our current Representative has voted against disaster relief on multiple occasions and has not held this administration accountable for taking $10 million dollars out of FEMA’s fund for hurricane relief to fund the separation of families at the border," Watts said in a Sept. 12 Facebook post, citing an article from Politics North Carolina, a left-leaning political news blog.

The article said Walker voted against disaster relief twice last year following hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma. The article did not specify which bills Walker voted against, but his communications director Jack Minor said Walker has voted for some disaster relief packages and against other larger spending packages.

One such vote, taken on Oct. 12, 2017, approved a $36.5 billion disaster aid package to help victims recover from a series of hurricanes and wildfires. The bill was approved by a 353-69 vote margin, with Walker joining eight other North Carolina representatives in voting no.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Walker explained that he opposed that bill because it raised the debt ceiling and did not include offsetting spending cuts. "Congress should pay for these emergency packages by cutting spending in other areas that are less of a priority," he wrote. "Even during an emergency Washington needs to pay its bills."

On Dec. 21, 2017, Walker voted against another bill providing $81 billion in emergency funds to federal agencies for disaster assistance, which passed by a 251-169 vote.

Walker also voted in favor of another Sept. 25, 2017, bill that made it easier for retirement plan participants to access their retirement funds when recovering from the hurricanes.

"Walker’s priority, as his record demonstrates, remains ensuring the families of North Carolina are safe and prosperous, and that they have all the resources they need through responsible government," Minor said.

As far as Watt’s second claim goes, PolitiFact has confirmed that the Trump administration transferred $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Immigrant parents separated from their children at the border in June were sent to ICE detention centers, while their children entered into the custody of a separate federal agency.

Gov. Roy Cooper (second from left) discusses relief efforts with President Donald Trump (middle) at Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point. Photo by Cpl. Micha Pierce.
  • Gov. Roy Cooper (second from left) discusses relief efforts with President Donald Trump (middle) at Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point. Photo by Cpl. Micha Pierce.

The Trump administration has said the transferred money was not taken out of FEMA’s disaster relief funds, NBC News reported. We searched Google, Nexis and Twitter and could not find any statements from Walker on the transfer of funds. The Watts campaign did not respond to multiple emailed requests for comment.

Republicans defund landslide mapping project

State Rep. Billy Richardson, a Fayetteville Democrat, took to Twitter on Sept. 17 to point out that the Republican-led legislature cut funding for a landslide hazard mapping project.

In his tweet, Richardson cited an article from NC Policy Watch, the news arm of the left-leaning North Carolina Justice Center.

"But in 2011, lawmakers cut off funding to the NC Geological Survey, which was in charge of mapping the hazard zones, and the project stopped," Richardson wrote, quoting directly from the NC Policy Watch article. The project in question — the Hurricane Recovery Act of 2005 — directed the state to identify and map potential problem areas in mountainous counties that could be susceptible to landslides.

This is true. After Republicans took hold of the state legislature in 2011, lawmakers cut funding for the landslide hazard mapping project, as The News & Observer previously reported. The state’s geologists had only mapped four of the 19 counties they planned to survey before the project was defunded.

But the 2018 state budget, which legislators passed in June over a veto from Gov. Roy Cooper, included $3.6 million for the Department of Environmental Quality to restore the landslide mapping program after three people died from mudslides in western North Carolina, according to the Associated Press.

What stinks more: hogs or humans?

After a devastating hog lagoon flood in Onslow County in 1995, North Carolina placed a hold on the construction of new hog farms in 1997. Because of the effects of hog lagoon floods, people are often concerned when a strong hurricane makes its way to North Carolina.

A hog waste county in Beaufort County. (Photo courtesy of Defmo/Creative Commons)
  • A hog waste county in Beaufort County. (Photo courtesy of Defmo/Creative Commons)

State Senator Brent Jackson, an Autryville Republican, shared an NC Pork Council blog post on Twitter on Sept. 12: "Great article by the NC Pork Council dispelling myths about hog farms during hurricanes. I am proud of the hard work and preparations of our family farmers to make sure their farms are ready to weather the storm," tweeted Jackson.

The article aims to divert attention away from hogs and on to water treatment plants, which the pork council says spill more sewage and affect a larger number of North Carolinians than overflowing hog lagoons do. It also points out that water treatment plants have spills during regular storms.

The North Carolina Pork Council reports there are more than 3,300 active hog lagoons in the state. Hog lagoons, also known as anaerobic lagoons, have a natural system in place to deal with hog waste. The animals release their waste into a hole where a bacteria interacts with the waste so it can then be used as fertilizer.

Five hog lagoons have been damaged in the hurricane, according to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. The N.C. DEQ also reports 21 hog lagoons either are or were overflowing as a result of the rain Hurricane Florence brought. In addition, 17 lagoons are experiencing inundation, which means "surface water is surrounding and flowing into the lagoon."

Spilled waste from these lagoons can be toxic. Hog manure contains pathogens including salmonella and E. coli that have a potential to spread.

As for the municipal water treatment plants in the state, they are causing a problem as well.

About 5.2 million gallons of partly treated wastewater has spilled into the Cape Fear River. The News and Observer reports the spill was due to a loss of electricity during the hurricane. The back-up generators at the Southside Wastewater Treatment failed as well.

As of Sept. 19, 300,000 gallons of raw sewage had spilled in Johnston County, according to a News and Observer article. The city of Benson released a statement that the sewage spills were a result of the excessive rain from Hurricane Florence. In addition, 109,200 gallons of sewage spilling into rivers in Johnston County, as reported by the News and Observer. It’s spilling into Holt Lake and Neuse River.

Nearly half of the state’s residents have a private septic tank. Floodwaters not only move solid waste across the area, but it can also pick up animal carcasses — like the 5,500 pigs and 3.4 million chickens and turkeys that have died so far in this storm.

At the end of the day, any feces, human or animal, in flooded areas is not a good thing. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a long list of diseases that can spread after a natural disaster.

The rainy day fund

Where does hurricane relief money come from? Some of it comes from the federal government and donations. But states also have "rainy day funds" to help during disasters.

North Carolina Representative Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican, pointed out on Twitter that North Carolina’s rainy day fund is quite "enviable."

Rescuers carry out efforts in Elizabeth City following Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Dustin Williams/USCG)
  • Rescuers carry out efforts in Elizabeth City following Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Dustin Williams/USCG)

"This is true. As a percentage of the budget, the $2 billion Rainy Day Fund is relatively small. However, if one compares the reserves that NC has to the reserves that most other states have, NC is in an enviable position," tweeted McGrady, the budget chair, on Sept. 11.

Money from this $2 billion fund could potentially be used during Hurricane Florence recovery.

The Insider’s Colin Campbell reports North Carolina’s rainy day fund is larger than it has been during past storms. The state’s savings is proportionally larger when compared to Virginia and South Carolina, as well.

The Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonpartisan organization, researches states’ rainy day funds annually. In 2018, they found that North Carolina could run for 30.4 days if the government shut down — making North Carolina in much better shape than some other states. Kentucky’s rainy day fund would last about nine days, while Connecticut only has enough for four days.

But some states do have much larger rainy day funds. The state of Alaska can run for over a year if the government shuts down, and so can Wyoming’s.

This story was produced by the North Carolina Fact-Checking Project, a partnership of McClatchy Carolinas, the Duke University Reporters’ Lab and PolitiFact. The NC Local News Lab Fund and the International Center for Journalists provide support for the project, which shares fact-checks with newsrooms statewide.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Listen Up: Seph Dot and Dammit Wesley Get Festive on 'Local Vibes'

Episode 57

Posted By and on Thu, Sep 20, 2018 at 10:56 AM

[In the photo, from left: Seph Dot, Mariah Scott, Dammit Wesley and Ryan Pitkin]

The CLT hip-hop and black music scene has benefited from the launch of multiple new festivals over the past two years, including New Era Music Fest, Bla-Alt Festival, The Black Mecca and Bush Fest. For this week's special episode, we brought in organizers behind two of those festivals that are yet to come — artist Dammit Wesley with The Black Mecca and rapper Seph Dot with Bush Fest.

We talk to the two about what it takes to put on a successful festival, what fans can expect at their respective events and the question on everyone's mind: Who are the Bushes?

Be sure to check out the rest of our team at Queen City Podcast Network, and catch up with all our past episodes on iTunes, Stitcher, or simply by typing "Local Vibes" into your Spotify search bar.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Gantt Center Announces New Initiative Aimed at Confronting Discrimination and Social Injustice

Some of Charlotte's biggest names join forces in name of 'Equity + Innovation'

Posted By on Thu, Sep 6, 2018 at 5:00 PM

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Culture.
  • The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Culture.

In the lead up to this weekend's opening of the new Revealed: Where Art Meets Activism series of exhibitions, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture this afternoon announced the new Initiative for Equity + Innovation (IEI). In partnership with Bank of America and former BofA chairman and CEO Hugh McColl, the Gantt Center hopes to address unconscious bias, discrimination and social injustice through the initiative, according to a press release announcing its launch.

According to the release, the initiative will serve as a "bold and direct response" to the findings of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force's 2015-16 study on intergenerational poverty and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Breaking the Link report, released in February.

The initiative will consist of six pillars, which are listed in the release: leverage the arts to explore social issues, diffuse tensions and introduce creative responses; heighten public awareness on issues of opportunity, fairness and justice; engage the public in regular discourse on timely topics and community concerns; deepen capacity for understanding and navigating difference throughout the community; equip the next generation with knowledge and tools that can serve as a blueprint for future torchbearers; and empower a broad range of partners across disciplines to function effectively as allies in promoting equity.

IEI programs will begin as early as next week, when the Gantt Center hosts a community town hall on September 10 titled "Nurturing Diverse Schools & Creating Opportunity." The center will host a digital sign-making workshop on September 15, in which participants will explore the evolution of protest signs among indigenous cultures and make their own to take home. On October 9, historian Tom Hanchett and Ashley Clark of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute will host a community conversation on the history of redlining and the impact of current data trends. Check the Gantt Center website for more details on each event.

David Taylor (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)
  • David Taylor (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

In a recent interview with Creative Loafing, Gantt Center President and CEO David Taylor said that the recent social and political climate has inspired staff there to "double-down" on social justice issues and addressing discrimination through art. The new Revealed exhibits, which include Welcome to Brookhill, featured in this week's CL cover story, will be the first step in that process. The initiative will take that effort further, Taylor said in the press release.

"Through this initiative, we have the ability to embrace the full power of arts and culture to provide opportunities for experiential learning that accelerate progress toward an equitable society, and significantly strengthen and enhance our community," he stated.

An image from the "Welcome to Brookhill" exhibit, opening at Gantt Center on September 8. (Photo by Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.)
  • An image from the "Welcome to Brookhill" exhibit, opening at Gantt Center on September 8. (Photo by Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.)

Although he didn't speak directly about the initiative during our meeting last week, Taylor did discuss why it's important for the Gantt Center to get behind long-term efforts like what was announced this afternoon.

"I tell folks, in my lifetime, the problem probably and unfortunately won’t be solved, but hopefully we can make progress so my children or my grandchildren can have some impact and are benefitting from the work," he said. "But we have to be in it for the long haul, and that’s what we’re doing."

A key supporter of the initiative is Hugh McColl, who stated in the release that he has envisioned programming like this from the Gantt Center for years.

Hugh McColl (Photo by Justin Ruckman)
  • Hugh McColl (Photo by Justin Ruckman)

"This institution should be at the heart of Charlotte's multicultural evolution, and the programs and art that emerge from this focus on equity and inclusion will help us learn to live more harmoniously with each other," McColl stated.

The new initiative will also serve as a resource for the business sector in the halls of the city's biggest corporations, including McColl's old stomping grounds, Bank of America. The bank has joined on as a legacy sponsor of IEI.

"There was a natural inclination to be a part of this initiative because of our own commitment to diversity and inclusion and our belief that the arts play an integral role in expanding our humanity," Charles Bowman, BofA president, stated in the release.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Listen Up: Tim Scott Jr. Curates the Soul on 'Local Vibes'

Episode 55

Posted By and on Fri, Aug 31, 2018 at 10:53 AM

It's a family affair on this week's episode of Local Vibes, as co-host Mariah Scott's brother Tim Scott Jr. comes through to talk about his role as artist-in-residence at Charlotte Center City Partners, for which he's serving as music curator for the upcoming Soul Junction Charlotte festival.

Of course, we also discuss the local music scene and bump some tunes from Harvey Cummings, Arsena Schroeder and The Hamiltones.


Make sure to check out the rest of our team at Queen City Podcast Network, especially now that we've added two new shows to round out the squad. Also, catch up on all our past episodes on iTunes, Stitcher or just by typing "Local Vibes" into your Spotify search bar.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Listen Up: Josh Higgins Hits Refresh on 'Local Vibes'

Episode 54

Posted By on Thu, Aug 23, 2018 at 10:55 AM

It's been a week of birthdays for Josh Higgins, founder of Refresh Records. Fresh off celebrating his own 34th birthday, he's now heading into a weekend of shows to celebrate Refresh's third anniversary at Snug Harbor on Friday and Visulite Theatre on Saturday.

Ryan and Josh (left and right, respectively, in the above picture) had a one-on-one convo about Josh's 20 years in the music business, what it takes to run a locally based record label, vinyl and much more. They touch on a slew of Refresh acts, from former signings like Holy Ghost Tent Revival and Scowl Brow to current artists on the roster like Junior Astronomers and Cuzco.

New co-host Mariah Scott couldn't make it to this week's recording, but worry not, she will be back for a great episode we have planned next week. Also, be sure to check out the Queen City Podcast Network to see what's happening in the local beer, news, comedy and food scenes. The team has recently added two new podcasts, so you've got plenty to catch up on. Speaking of catching up, find all our old episodes on iTunes, Stitcher, or by simply typing "Local Vibes" into your Spotify search bar.

Monday, August 20, 2018

First Look: Local Documentarians Wrap Filming on 'Frayed Fabric'

Duo shares stories of sexual assault survivors

Posted By on Mon, Aug 20, 2018 at 3:20 PM

Devan Penegar (left) and Camille Dalke-Rogers discuss their work in a still from their own documentary.
  • Devan Penegar (left) and Camille Dalke-Rogers discuss their work in a still from their own documentary.

Two local filmmakers are now in the post-production stages of a harrowing documentary titled Frayed Fabric that they have been working on for three years.

In September 2016, Creative Loafing sat down with Devan Penegar and Camille Dalke-Rogers as they were in the midst of interviewing sexual assault survivors from the greater Charlotte area. You can read that interview here.

Penegar said he expects he and Dalke-Rogers will be finished editing the film by December, and from there the duo will be working on an online distribution deal to release the documentary. He said they will be updating the documentary Facebook page with any news about Frayed Fabric and a short film the duo made for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, set to be released next month.

Dalke-Rogers with Andy the Doorbum, a former staple of the CLT music scene who shared his story with the filmmakers.
  • Dalke-Rogers with Andy the Doorbum, a former staple of the CLT music scene who shared his story with the filmmakers.

Upon finishing filming, Dalke-Rogers said the entire process put things into perspective for her.

"I felt honored that all of the people trusted us with their stories, but also incredibly sad that there are so many people who have stories just like these," she said. "The number of people who came forward to do interviews was insane. There are so many people affected by sexual assault, abuse or rape. It really makes you think: if all those people came forward, how many are there out there who aren't ready to speak? Or who will never be willing to share their experience in a public forum like that — which is fine.

"I'm hoping this film makes those people, in particular feel less alone, and maybe even give hope to those who are still struggling or haven't come to terms with their assault yet."

The video below shows a portion of Dalke-Rogers' interview with a survivor named Teresa. The two discuss the effects of PTSD and have a short discussion about what it really means to be healthy.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Longtime 'CL' Columnist Jerry Klein Passes Away at 66

Political rabble-rouser, arts and music writer to be remembered this weekend

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2018 at 1:08 PM

Jerry Klein, the author of an estimated half-a-million words worth of Creative Loafing columns, news features and cover stories, lost his battle with esophageal cancer early this morning. He died peacefully, according to loved ones.

Jerry Klein
  • Jerry Klein

A Creative Loafing contributor between 1987 and 2001, Klein tackled the city's toughest issues, lifting the rug to expose the dirt below and the folks who swept it there. He was also a passionate patron of the arts and a fervent music fan, and it showed in his inspired coverage of Charlotte's cultural scene. It is believed he wrote 365 columns for CL during his first decade with the paper.

Klein returned to the paper in 2014 as a contributor, writing a cover story on the struggle to find funding for arts in Charlotte and contributing columns and news stories on the I-77 toll lanes, Thom Tillis, the Michael Brown shooting and much more. You can see his archives here.

A celebration of Klein's life will take place on Saturday, August 18, at the Great Aunt Stella Center, where Klein was Director of Programming from 1988 to 2001, at 926 Elizabeth Ave. at 3 p.m. Organizers ask that attendees wear bright colors in honor of Klein's colorful life. His loved ones also ask that any donations made in Klein's honor be made to DrumsForCures, a local DRUMSTONG program that holds events to raise awareness and funds in support of cancer survivorship, education, prevention and research through uplifting, facilitated and interactive rhythm experiences.

John Grooms, CL's longest-serving editor, worked with Klein for most of his years at the paper. Grooms was saddened to hear of Klein's passing on Friday and offered the following statement: "Jerry was an important part of Charlotte’s cultural growth during the late 1980s and ‘90s, expanding both the limits of political discourse on talk radio and the range of live music available in the city’s venues. He was a big part of Creative Loafing’s growing popularity during that era and it was a personal as well as a professional pleasure being able to coordinate and shape coverage of important issues with Jerry. He was a fiery, passionate man with a strong sense of humor and the absurd, and a 'Damn the torpedoes' attitude that caused some to oppose his efforts, but which we at CL found to be right up our alley. He is already missed."

Born in Philadelphia, Klein moved to Charlotte at 3 years old. In the '90s, he was a talk show host on WBT-AM, where he railed against many of the same injustices he covered in the pages of Creative Loafing. In 2015, Klein wrote a column, titled "The Night They Missed," recalling the time someone shot at him while he got out of his car at the WBT studios one night.

In the early aughts, Klein moved to Washington, D.C., and married his high-school sweetheart. He found a job with WMAL, serving as the token liberal at a station known for giving Rush Limbaugh his platform. Klein made headlines in 2006 when, during his WMAL show, he sardonically called for all Muslims to be rounded up and marked with an identifying tattoo. Near the end of the program, he proclaimed that his remarks were a hoax, then went on a rant indicting the many callers who had phoned in to agree with him, comparing them to those living in Nazi Germany. It was an experiment that today could be called trolling at its best.

Creative Loafing mourns the loss of Jerry Klein. In our 31 years, there has never been, nor will there be, a talent quite like his.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Listen Up: Dexter Jordan Serves Up Pride on 'Local Vibes'

Episode 53

Posted By and on Thu, Aug 16, 2018 at 8:00 AM

After a couple weeks off, Local Vibes is back for another season with a brand new co-host, Mariah Scott. To kick things off, in the lead-up to his performance at Charlotte Pride, Dexter Jordan stops by to talk to Ryan and Mariah about the loss of his mother, "Hello, New Me," and what comes next.

As always, make sure to catch up with the rest of our team at Queen City Podcast Network. And catch up on all our past episodes on iTunes, Stitcher, or simply by typing "Local Vibes" into your Spotify search bar.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Charlotte Celebrates National Night Out

Join the neighborhood in a city-wide event of camaraderie

Posted By on Tue, Aug 7, 2018 at 1:56 PM

Several children gather around a police officer during a community event. (Courtesy of City of Charlotte)
  • Several children gather around a police officer during a community event. (Courtesy of City of Charlotte)

Tuesday, August 7 may seem like another weeknight to stay in, catch up on your shows and do your best to ignore and avoid interaction with your neighbors as much as possible. But the city of Charlotte with CLT250 want you to rethink your plans.

From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Charlotte is celebrating another installment of the annual National Night Out event, a city-wide neighborhood experience that demonstrates the community’s intolerance for crime. It’s also a way for neighborhoods to enhance their relationship not only among residents, but also with police departments in order to create a safer community.

Charlotte has participated in this national event for 25 of the 35 years it's been running. For one night across the city, over 70 registered events such as cookouts, block parties, porch sit-ins and ice cream socials, will build community togetherness and neighborhood camaraderie while also promoting police-community partnerships.

Because this year is also Charlotte’s 250-year anniversary, CLT250, an organization formed to celebrate the city’s past, present and future, is participating in tandem with the city to promote this campaign of neighborhood friendliness.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is committed to having an officer at every event that is registered with the city. Through this participation, sheriff-elect Garry McFadden hopes to connect with the community and reunite with people that they don’t get to see during the year for a neutral event.

“Reconnect, reschedule and reunite,” Fadden stated. “I look forward to it. I look forward to the candid conversations. It’s not political. For some people it is, but for me it’s not political.”

Although the National Night Out event is only officially held once a year, McFadden hopes the community can come together more often than that for a night of fun and what he describes as “a city-wide picnic.”

McFadden said that he hopes that the community will begin fostering and cultivating connections on a continuous basis, and in the near future, there should a monthly community event much like National Night Out.

“To me, it’s a great opportunity, and we need more opportunities like that,” he stated.

To help support National Night Out, CMPD also invites residents to leave their porch light on from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. as a symbol of alertness and awareness, according to the city’s community letter.

Local Church Group Visits Detention Center to Show Support for Immigrant Detainees

In solidarity

Posted By on Tue, Aug 7, 2018 at 4:00 AM

A group of local church members went to Lumpkin, Georgia over the weekend to visit Stewart Detention Facility in support of immigrant detainees.
  • A group of local church members went to Lumpkin, Georgia over the weekend to visit Stewart Detention Facility in support of immigrant detainees.

On Friday afternoon, August 3, the voices of about 30 congregants could be heard inside the sanctuary at Myers Park Baptist Church in south Charlotte. In unison, the voices sang, "Somebody's hurting our brother, and we're not going to be silent anymore."

That somebody is Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE, acting on orders from President Trump's administration, and Ben Boswell, senior minister at Myers Park, is done being silent about it.

After Friday's prayer vigil at the church, Boswell and his associate minister Chrissy Tatum Williamson led a group of 27 people to Lumpkin, Georgia, where they formed a prayer chain outside of the Stewart Detention Center, an infamous private prison run by ICE that houses immigrant detainees awaiting deportation.

The trip was part of the church's Awakening series, a project thought up by Williamson in which church members study a social justice issue throughout the year, then end their studies with a pilgrimage of sorts. Last year, after studying racial issues in America, participating members toured through the Deep South.

This year's focus on immigration issues was inspired by an experience Boswell had with Gilles Bikindou, a member of his former church in Cary. Bikindou was a Congolese resident who had lived and worked in the United States for 10 years. In January, he was detained during a routine check up at his local ICE office and eventually deported back to Congo, where he had once been witness to a murder and felt his life was in danger.

Boswell decided this year's pilgrimage would follow the path of Bikindou and countless others who have suffered similar fates, from the ICE office in Charlotte to the York County Detention Center in South Carolina and finally to Stewart Detention Center.

Rev. Ben Boswell speaks at the recent vigil at Myers Park Baptist Church. (Photos by Mackenzie Harris)
  • Rev. Ben Boswell speaks at the recent vigil at Myers Park Baptist Church. (Photos by Mackenzie Harris)

"When we saw his path and the inhumanity of the path that he experienced and the secrecy of it and how quiet it was and how nobody could get to him ... we knew that there was something secretive and inhumane and immoral about what's going on that we need to shed light on, that we need to bear witness to as people of faith and to tell the truth to the world about what's happening in our own community," Boswell said on Friday. "Friends and neighbors, brothers and sisters who are from other countries are being detained and they're disappearing, and we need to be able to tell that story."

The group also stopped in Atlanta to meet with representatives of refugee and immigrant advocacy groups and Baptist cooperative fellowships to discuss the Sanctuary Movement, a religious and political campaign in the 1980s that offered sanctuary to undocumented immigrants fleeing wars in Central America. During Trump's administration, more than 800 faith communities have come together across the country to form the New Sanctuary Movement.

For Williamson, it's all the more important for churches like hers to speak up as evangelists and politicians spouting off about religious values have been largely silent in the face of Trump's "Zero Tolerance" immigration policies.

"As a religious person, I think one of the central tenets of our faith is to love our neighbors, Williamson said. "So when I think about what does that look like played out in public life, it's certainly not ripping children from parents, it's not locking people up who are in search of survival or fleeing violence or domestic violence or gang situations or no economic opportunity.

"The tricky spot we're in right now has emerged from the religious right using itself as a political movement to different politicians, and so the message of Christ in my opinion has been deluded and has become a political message that's co-opted by the Republican Party," she continued. "So I think it's important for Christians on all sides of the political spectrum to speak out about how we interpret text and how God is telling us to live in the world. And I think some more progressive Christians have lost our public voice and it's time to reclaim that."

Local immigration lawyer Cynthia Aziz (left) also spoke at the vigil.
  • Local immigration lawyer Cynthia Aziz (left) also spoke at the vigil.

Cynthia Aziz, an immigration lawyer from Charlotte, spoke at Friday's prayer vigil. While she said she wouldn't be joining the group on their trip to Georgia, she said she would be with them in spirit.

"I've practiced immigration law for almost 30 years and it's a conversation that I've had with people about immigration for years, and I was excited to see that people now really care and want to see what's really happening," Aziz said. "It's sad that it's taken this kind of atrocity at our borders to get people's attention, but this movement, this prayer pilgrimage really means a lot, even to people that don't know they're doing it."

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