What’s your passion?

In the coming weeks, SCSJ will introduce you to our Spring semester interns. Their internships are sponsored by a generous gift from the Troan Family Foundation. With diverse backgrounds and academic interests, we know that you’ll enjoy getting to know them. This first post is by Oprah Keyes, a Macro Social Work (MSW) student at UNC-Chapel Hill.


What’s Your Passion?

When you started telling people that you were planning on pursuing a career in social work, what kind of responses did you get? While hopefully a lot of people were excited for you, and the countless people that would one day benefit from your skill set, I am sure that many of you were also met with skepticism and doubt. Stereotypes of what it means to be a social worker, concerns about going to graduate school for a career that isn’t known for making a lot of money and facing additional student loan debt. What did you tell them? Why did you pick Social Work despite those comments? Why do you do what you do?

In the midst of a rough semester of courses, field hours, homework, extracurricular activities, and whatever else might be going on in your personal life, it is easy for those negative comments in the back of your mind to creep back up. In times like that, this is the question that I have to keep asking myself: Why am I here? Why do I do what I do?

BECAUSE youth of color deserve to know that higher education truly is for anyone…

BECAUSE actions speak louder than words…

BECAUSE the clients and systems I work with, deserve the best that I can give them…

BECAUSE if I don’t help improve the criminal justice system and the lives of justice-involved individuals, who will…

Having these conversations with myself, and with others, especially with like-minded individuals is what keeps me motivated. So, for those of you that find yourself in a similar situation: Why do you do what you do?


Keep doing what you’re doing. You can do it, it’s too important not to. Follow your passion.

Oprah 2

About Oprah Keyes

I am a Final Year MSW Student in the Macro (Community, Management and Policy Practice) Concentration. My social work areas of interests include Juvenile and Criminal Justice, and policy reform. I am originally from a small town in the Netherlands, but moved to Chapel Hill 5 years ago to pursue by Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology. I’ve been around here ever since and North Carolina, as well as UNC Chapel Hill, hold a special place in my heart. When I am not at school, at field, at work, or volunteering, I am probably working out, at the grocery store or sleeping, but I also like to hang out with friends and listen to music.

Southernside environmental justice complaint

Environmental Justice Workshop with Professor Laura Pulido

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice strongly supports Environmental Justice at both the community and academic levels. SCSJ’s recent Environmental Justice matters include Gates County, NC‘s successful campaign against an Outlying Landing Field and Southernside, South Carolina’s pending environmental justice claim with the Department of Transportation. In keeping with our onging support of Environmental Justice, SCSJ is sharing information about an upcoming EJ workshop at UNC and Duke on February 6 and 7, 2014.

February 6 and 7: Engaged Scholarship and Environmental Justice with Professor Laura Pulido

Professor Laura Pulido

Professor Laura Pulido

Environmental justice and race scholar Laura Pulido will be visiting UNC and Duke on February 6 and 7 to talk about engaged scholarship in geography and her research on landscapes of environmental racism. Geographers and other interested parties are invited to join Professor Pulido in two organized events:

1. On Thursday February 6, Professor Pulido will join a workshop structured around questions of power and knowledge in contemporary urban environments. She will discuss her experience with ethical and political boundaries in her research, approaches to engaged scholarship, what it means to do work on race in geography, and the relationship between scholarship, movements and activism. E-mail for PDFs of the papers that will accompany the discussion. Faculty, graduate and undergraduate students are welcome. Time and location: FEB 6. 3.00-5.00PM. UNC CHAPEL HILL, Saunders Hall 321.

2. On Friday February 7, Professor Pulido will give a talk titled “Landscapes of Environmental Justice” at the Duke-UNC Consortium Conference on Latin American and Caribbean Studies. In this talk, Professor Pulido takes a long historical view to situate cases of environmental racism. Focusing on the actions of the state within the context of racial capitalism, she examines the various economic and social processes that led to the current environmental racism associated with a local polluter in Los Angeles, Exide Technologies. Going back to Spanish colonization, she shows how the landscape and geography of Exide Technologies was centuries in the making and that the current exposure of local Latinas/os is the latest in a long history of injustices.The talk will be followed by commentaries from Professor Arturo Escobar (UNC Anthropology) and Professor Gabriela Valdivia (UNC Geography). Time and location: FRIDAY, FEB 7. 3.00-4.30PM. FRANKLIN CENTER ROOM 240. DUKE UNIVERISTY.

Laura Pulido is Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She researches race, political activism, Chicana/o Studies, critical human geography, and Los Angeles. She studies how various groups experience racial and class oppression, how these experiences differ among particular communities of color, and how they mobilize to create a more socially-just world. Professor Pulido has worked in the field of environmental justice, social movements, labor studies, and radical tourism.

These events are co-sponsored by the Geography Department at UNC Chapel Hill, the Working Group on Social Cartographies of the Americas, and the Duke-UNC Consortium on Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

Ban the Box Movement – Are You In?

People with a criminal conviction all know the drill when it comes to employment. You are filling out a job application and there’s that question again: Have YOU Ever Been Convicted of a Crime? What do you do? Check it and you will never hear back from the employer. Leave it blank and if you are one of the 92 million Americans with an arrest or criminal record, you run the risk of losing that job down the line when a background check is conducted.

The Ban the Box movement, started in California in 2004 by our friends at  All of Us or None, seeks to address this issue by banning the criminal history question on job applications. Now over 45 cities and counties across the country and a handful of states ban the box on their employment applications. SCSJ has contributed to successful Ban the Box campaigns throughout North Carolina, in Durham County and city, Cumberland County, Carrboro, and the Town of Spring Lake. We are currently working on initiatives in other counties including Nash, Edgecombe, Scotland, Hoke, Robeson, Richmond, and Wilson.  We created the  Ban the Box initiative guide  as a tool communities can use to start a Ban the Box movement.

ban the box

The latest development in the movement seeks to ban the box on the applications of private employers. Minnesota is one of the latest states to do so, with a “private employer ban the box” law that took affect January 1st. Kevin Lindsey, Minnesota Commissioner of Human Rights said “This is a significant piece of legislation. This law offers the vast majority of individuals with a non-violent criminal record a second chance at an opportunity for employment to better their lives.” Some private employers, such as Target, have taken the initiative themselves to remove the box on their applications.

Target is Banning the Box in all of its stores throughout the U.S.

Target is Banning the Box in all of its stores throughout the U.S.

All of Us or None is now spearheading a Fair Chance Pledge that asks nonprofits and social justice organizations to commit to hiring people with past convictions. Here at SCSJ, we have two staff members who were formerly incarcerated.

We want to hear from you! We would like to hear stories of people who have benefited from the Ban the Box movement and from nonprofits who have hired people with a criminal record. Write to us at and we will share you success stories with the wider community!

Click here to support SCSJ’s work!

Post by SCSJ Macro Social Work Intern Meredith McMonigle

Documentary underway on the Wilmington Massacre of 1898

A new film, Wilmington on Fire, will give a historical and present day look at the massacre of 1898 from the perspective of the African-American victims. The film features interviews from historians, researchers, activists, authors and direct descendants of the victims of the massacre.

The Wilmington Massacre of 1898, often cited as a riot, was an actual bloody attack on the African-American community by a heavily armed white mob on November 10, 1898 in the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina. It is considered one of the only successful examples of a violent overthrow of an existing government and left countless numbers of African-Americans dead and exiled from the city. This event was the spring board for the White Supremacy movement and Jim Crow segregation throughout the state of North Carolina and the American South.

WOF Kickstarter poster
“With the importance of this story needing to be told, we felt there was no better time than now to capitalize on the popularity of crowd funding by launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund the completion of the project. No one has ever done a documentary on this subject the way that we have done it. People are excited about this film and can’t wait to see it but that’s why we need everyone to become a backer so we can complete the film and bring it to life.” – said Christopher Everett, Director and Producer of Wilmington on Fire.

The campaign started on December 2, 2013 and will run for 30 days. Speller Street Films hopes to raise $16,000. The money will be used to complete editing, graphics, color grading, sound mixing and archival material fees. Kickstarter is an all or nothing deal so if they don’t reach $16k in 30 days, they will get no funding at all. All donations must be made by January 1, 2014.

DONATE to the Kickstarter Campaign

Speller Street Films is a film production company that specializes in music videos, commercials, promotional ad campaigns, narratives and documentaries.

For questions or interview requests please contact Christopher Everett, Director and Producer of “Wilmington on Fire” at 910-280-3914 or at

Environmental Justice VICTORY for Citizens Against OLF

The Navy announced Tuesday that it has ended efforts to develop outlying landing field (OLF) sites in Virginia and North Carolina. This is a great victory for Citizens Against OLF, the grassroots group that has been battling to save the Sandbanks region from the threat of OLF-related environmental damage and community displacement since 2007.

The Navy announced in April of 2008 that it was putting the Sandbanks site on its list of potential sites for an OLF.  The OLF would have replaced a facility located in Virginia Beach, which was the subject of lawsuits between local residents and the Navy for some years. In addition to the environmental impacts, the placement of an OLF in Gates County would displace at least 166 households, including over 16 century farms.  Citizens Against OLF in Gates County has been working since 2007 to lobby the Navy to have their community removed from the list of potential sites and gained support from organizations and elected officials across N.C.

“This was like an early Christmas present” said Sandbanks resident Linda Warren.  “It has been incredibly difficult for people to make plans when they didn’t know if they would lose their homes.”

“Our community really pulled together and opposed the OLF” said Sandbanks resident Elaine Herring.  “We are so thankful to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Duke University’s Environmental Law and Policy Clinic for all the hours they spent working on this case.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) attended meetings and public hearings in our regions, as well as in our state and national capitals.  SCSJ provided guidance in relation the media, organizing our community and region, and the politics of the issue.  SCSJ’s legal advice was extremely helpful.

Duke University’s Environmental Law and Policy Clinic provided a Citizen’s EIS and assisted our community in defending the area’s diverse habitats.  The Clinic also provided support by attending meetings with government officials and working with local citizens.

Read media coverage here and here.