Through inclusion-based advocacy and research in the following areas, the center contributes to the rapidly emerging civil rights movement that is being led by North Carolina’s poor, excluded minority communities and supporters to dismantle structural racism and end exclusion.
Educational Advancement and Fair Opportunities Program
The center’s Educational Advancement and Fair Opportunities Program focuses on improving the lives of children, families and communities by advocating for pro-integration policies, defending civil rights desegregation laws, and pursuing fair and equitable resources for all students in K-12 public schools.
The center’s education work is premised on a steadfast belief that racial and economic isolation pose insurmountable barriers to academic achievement and civic engagement for all students. A majority of African American and Latino students attend schools composed primarily of a non-white student body. These intensely segregated schools are typically characterized by high poverty rates, lower teacher quality, less rigorous curricula, and inadequate funding. The program’s current initiatives focus on dismantling these barriers.
In addition to its active defense of desegregation laws, the center advocates for other education civil rights efforts, including securing adequate school funding and resources through North Carolina’s landmark Leandro case and increasing access to diversity in higher education. The center has also filed amici briefs regarding the constitutionality of school vouchers and a juvenile’s rights when in custody.
Community Inclusion and Economic Development Program
The center’s Community Inclusion and Economic Development Program focuses on combating “spatial inequality,” including discriminatory land use policies and practices that have led to the physical, political, social, and economic exclusion and isolation of low-wealth and minority communities; housing discrimination and residential segregation; and land loss and asset depletion in minority families and communities.
This program targets institutionalized discrimination and works to close wealth gaps and increase low-income and minority communities’ power and influence. The center advocates for marginalized communities, helping them pursue equitable provision of services and the right to fully participate in the local political and social processes.
Municipal Exclusion Research
Municipal exclusion originates in America’s history of racial discrimination and residential segregation. For decades, low-wealth, minority communities have been intentionally underdeveloped economically and isolated socially and physically from neighboring non-minority communities. This pattern is repeatedly reinforced as towns extend their municipal boundaries to promote new economic growth. By avoiding the incorporation of low-wealth and minority communities, towns leave the residents within the communities on the fringes of or surrounded by the municipal boundaries. Residents in the excluded community have no right to vote and receive no, or very few, basic public services. While the lack of public water and sewer is often the most pressing and visible of missing services, these communities also lack adequate police and fire protection, garbage collection, road maintenance, streetlights and recreational facilities. Excluded communities are also often the site of landfills and waste transfer stations.
The center has worked with the following communities toward municipal inclusion: Waynor Road, Jackson Hamlet, and Midway Communities (Moore County, NC), Rogers Eubanks Community (Orange County, NC), Lincoln Heights (Halifax County, NC), Cameron Heights (Hoke County, NC).
The Inclusion Project
The Inclusion Project is a study on counties in North Carolina that have documented histories of exclusion. The term “excluded” is applied broadly to refer to any community excluded socially, politically, or economically from opportunities available to other residents. Reports released through the Inclusion Project hypothesize that communities that are 75% or more non-white may be excluded from access to quality schools, political power, infrastructure, and affordable housing and may be overburdened with environmental hazards.
Heirs’ Property and Wills Research
The center works to stem the tide of rapid decline in minority land ownership by supporting minority and low-income families seeking to protect their family-owned land from foreclosure, eminent domains, and, more commonly, partition sales of property passed through generations without wills. As a member of the Heirs Property Coalition, the center collaborates with national partners on scholarly study related to heirs’ property within low-income and/or African American communities. To formulate a proactive approach to land loss among these communities, the center supports the UNC Wills Project in collaboration with UNC School of Law and Legal Aid of North Carolina. The project is a student-led, pro bono initiative that provides underserved and low-income families with critical legal documents. The project dispatches students across the state during their spring and fall breaks to set up mobile legal clinics to draft wills and other advanced directives for low-income and elderly residents.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” One major issue of environmental justice that the center’s past work has focused on is environmental discrimination. Centuries of slavery and Jim Crow in North Carolina and the American South have produced continued discrimination against communities of color based on race in the siting of hazardous waste facilities (e.g. landfills, incinerators) and confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These sites are placed disproportionately in proximity to communities of color and poor communities across the state. The Inclusion Project’s map highlights such locations of hazardous waste sites.
The center’s past litigation on behalf of clients such as the Royal Oak Concerned Citizens Association and the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, yielded significant changes in government actors’ decision-making on sites and environmental regulations. The center has also engaged in policy advocacy, particularly on the permitting rules regarding CAFOs and the enforcement of disparate impact regulations. The center continues its focus on this important area of law where communities across North Carolina and the American South continue to suffer.
Persistent segregation in residential housing patterns and the exclusion of poor communities and communities of color from basic services (e.g. water, sewer), are largely the result of decisions made by town and county governments. Residents can reverse such trends and decisions locally, but there is much work to do in empowering residents across North Carolina. Over the years, the center has made dozens of presentations to various communities on how individuals can engage with local government and in elections. The center continues this work in its Planning Boards Inclusion Project. Here, the center has conducted extensive research into county planning boards across North Carolina. Planning boards are some of the most influential advisory boards in service to elected boards of county commissioners. These advisory boards make recommendations on zoning regulations, building and project developments and are often stepping stones to elected office. The Planning Boards Inclusion Project’s research is primarily focused on: (1) the powers and duties of planning boards; (2) the member selection procedures and practices of planning boards; and (3) the degree to which these boards reflect and represent their community demographics, in terms of race, ethnicity and gender.
The Continuum Project will trace the isolation of and poverty within African American communities to past discriminatory regimes, demonstrating the enduring legacy of structural discrimination in the state. This project builds on the important work of the center’s 2013 report The State of Exclusion: An Empirical Analysis of the Legacy of Segregated Communities of North Carolina. That extensive evidence-based report focused primarily on how modern-day majority-minority communities in North Carolina are disproportionately impacted by environmental waste facilities, failing educational facilities, and housing inequality. The 2013 report mentioned historical racism and legally mandated segregation as causes of current inequality in living conditions, but it focused on the current inequality.
The Continuum Project will use insights from that report to examine the past, tracing modern segregation and inequality to their Reconstruction and Jim Crow roots. Using census and other historical records, the center will comprehensively track how people of color fared under past regimes and the effect on their socioeconomic status, once laws prohibited racial discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly articulated the view that contemporary racial inequality is no longer causally linked to historical discrimination because the relationship between present-day inequality and past discrimination has become so attenuated that it no longer holds any significance.
According to this view, at some point, the effects of the 350-year continuum of slavery and Jim Crow segregation were cured and eliminated during the last 50 years. This line of jurisprudence is paralleled in social discourse by a line of thought that rejects the notion that past discrimination now matters. For many, in the face of a massive wealth gap between African American and white families, that notion is counterintuitive, factually wrong, and dangerously misleading. The center submits that African American/white inequality in North Carolina is traceable to our State’s legacy of slavery and segregation, and that, however self-evident it may seem, it is not only useful but important to demonstrate this connection. Through census data and other historical records, the center will demonstrate the origins of contemporary inequality and the continuum that brought us to where we are today.