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Moral Monday Leader Inspires Protests, Arrests and Action



In this May 19, 2014 photo,  demonstrators follow Rev. William Barber, right, president of the state chapter of the NAACP and architect of the protests known as "Moral Monday," into the Legislative Building during a Moral Monday protest in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

In this May 19, 2014 photo, demonstrators follow Rev. William Barber, right, president of the state chapter of the NAACP and architect of the protests known as “Moral Monday,” into the Legislative Building during a Moral Monday protest in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)


GOLDSBORO, N.C. (AP) — The Rev. William Barber walks gingerly with a cane, in a hunched-over posture, yet here he is on a recent Monday, leading 3,500 protesters on a downtown street.

He says God must have a sense of humor to call on a man who has such difficulty walking to lead the Moral Monday protests that began in North Carolina two years ago.

Barber’s speeches and his throwback tactics — in vogue again following several deaths of black men at the hands of police — draw comparisons to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. More than 1,000 demonstrators have been arrested for civil disobedience in North Carolina since Barber, president of the state NAACP, started the legislative protests.

The demonstrations have spread to at least half a dozen other states and given him minor celebrity status. Supporters wear “I went to jail with Rev. Barber” buttons. Barber has been jailed five times himself.

“What I know is what we are in is a time when we can’t afford to be silent,” Barber said, perched against a tall stool in his office at his church in Goldsboro. “We are battling for the soul and consciousness of this country.”

The protests target conservative politics and Republicans, who took control of the North Carolina Statehouse and governor’s office in 2013, and cover everything from redistricting to labor laws to women’s rights, gay rights and the environment. Moral Mondays are the legislative protest piece of the broader Forward Together movement led by the NAACP, which is in court over the state’s new voting law and will be back in court next month to challenge redistricting.

Detractors accuse Barber of grandstanding or say he is continuously repeating himself and not worth their time. A former state senator once called his movement “Moron Monday.”

His supporters say his leadership is reminiscent of both King and Ella Baker, who helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960.

“I think he’s tremendously courageous,” said Eddie Glaude Jr., a religion and African-American studies professor at Princeton University. “He’s concerned about the state of black America, the state of brown America. He’s concerned about the LGBTQ community. He’s concerned about the most marginalized.”

Scholar and civil rights activist Cornel West, who is friends with Barber, describes him as “the only King-like figure we have in the country right now.”

“I have just been overwhelmed by his intellectual and spiritual power,” West said.

To understand Barber’s desire to help the disenfranchised is to know his father’s influence. Almost every story Barber tells somehow references Buster Barber, who would point to Jesus’ first sermon, when he said he had been anointed “to proclaim good news to the poor.”

“And my father was very clear that to be Christian, to follow Jesus is to be concerned about the weightier matters of the law, of justice and mercy,” Barber said.

He was 4 years old when his parents returned from Indianapolis to his father’s roots in eastern North Carolina, called there by local leaders who wanted their help with desegregating the schools. His father, now deceased, was an educator and minister, and his 81-year-old mother has worked as a secretary in schools.

Students once called his mother the n-word, Barber said; now their children and grandchildren call her Mother Barber.

He took his parents’ lessons about equality to heart, becoming the first black student elected alone as student body president of Plymouth High school; previously, a white student and a black student had shared the position. He understood the value of education and got a doctoral degree.

He can speak thoughtfully and quietly, quoting the Bible, the Constitution and poets, or he can jump and shout, and he often does during speeches.

Willie Jennings, a professor at Duke University, is one of Barber’s closest friends. They got to know each other when Barber was getting his master’s degree in divinity at Duke and Jennings was a doctoral student.

“William has, for many years, even before Moral Monday, he has always spoken to people with power, whether they be political figures, military,” Jennings said. “He has always spoken to them and challenged them to give account of how what they do will help poor people.”

Poverty wasn’t merely a lesson in the Barber household; it was a part of the family’s life. His mother, Eleanor, recalls when Billy — his nickname — was in sixth grade and came home in tears because other children were making fun of his shoes. They were called “bobos” — off-brand versions of then-popular Chuck Taylor sneaker by Converse.

The Chuck Taylors “screeched” as they gripped the basketball court. The bobos just slid out from under you, Barber said.

Barber’s paying job is as minister of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro. The NAACP doesn’t pay him for his work as state chapter president or as chair of the political action committee of the organization’s national board. He has no set speaker’s fee, although he sometimes gets paid for speeches. He also will talk to groups that can’t afford anything but his transportation.

He and his wife have five children; because of death threats, he shields them from reporters.

His difficulty walking isn’t the result of his weight — he’s lost 150 pounds in recent years and is trying to lose more — but of an inflammatory disease that also causes a bend in his neck that gives him that hunched-over appearance.

Among Barber’s supporters is Leslie Boyd, 62, of Asheville. She has been arrested twice and estimates that she’s attended about 80 percent of Moral Monday events. Her impetus is the death of her son, who was 33 when he died of colon cancer in 2008. He might have survived if insurance has allowed him to have a colonoscopy every year, she said.

“He just struck me as somebody who was going in the right direction, and I wanted to go with him,” she said of Barber. “He’s an amazing leader. He’s just a wonderful human being. … He stands up and speaks out where he sees things that are wrong.”

The GOP leadership and Barber get under each other’s skin more than either lets on. The best-known criticism of Barber came two years ago, just after the Moral Monday protests had started, from then-Sen. Thom Goolsby, who wrote a column referring to the movement as “Moron Mondays.”

More recently, state Republican Party leaders set up a website accusing Barber of taking money from unions. Barber does speak to unions and supports their efforts.

Two GOP leaders declined to be interviewed about Barber. A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger wrote that Barber “has been making the same claims for years now — and this point in the legislative session, we simply don’t have time to respond.”

Barber resists calls to raise his national profile, believing change in the country starts in the South, where his parents brought him more than 40 years ago to fight segregation. He’ll stay in North Carolina and fight, just as they did.

“We can overcome the crippling realities of our current moment because when you come together, things can be changed,” he said. “This kind of prophetic hope is not the kind that sets you to peace; it’s the kind that stirs you to action.”


Associated Press writer Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia contributed to this report.


Martha Waggoner can be reached at
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



On Ishmael Reed’s Inclusion and Van Jones’ Amazon Prime

Complain about the media representation of Oakland all you want. Last week, in the national media, Oakland was portrayed as a great place to live, work, and dine, with restaurants where people come up to your table and greet you like a long-lost neighbor. 



Ishmael Reed/Photo by Emil Guillermo

Complain about the media representation of Oakland all you want. Last week, in the national media, Oakland was portrayed as a great place to live, work, and dine, with restaurants where people come up to your table and greet you like a long-lost neighbor.

That Oakland. You know it? It’s the backdrop of a profile in the New Yorker magazine on Ishmael Reed, novelist, playwright, poet, and resident of Oakland. Hills? Oh no, the flats. Reed is a jazz guy; He B-flat. 

Hopefully, the joker in Reed laughs at that pun. It’s because of Reed that I am a writer. But let me not forget Flossie Lewis, my high school English teacher, and current Oakland resident. Lewis set me up. Reed delivered the punch.  

I first met Reed in St. Louis, Mo., where he was the “artist in residence” for Washington University’s first Writer’s Program. Intended to become a better Iowa Writers Workshop, it had all white writers like William Gass and Stanley Elkin. Reed was the token-in-resident. I was the token minority grad student. When one writer told me to stop writing about my Filipino family, Reed was there to tell me to put them back in. 

That’s what Ishmael did for me. 

The New Yorker profile published on July 19 compelled me to pull out Reed’s work again. “Mumbo Jumbo” (1972) re-read during the pandemic jumps off the page and is funnier than ever. People coming down with a virus that makes people dance the boogie?  It was a finalist for the National Book Award and considered for the Pulitzer Prize. 

The New Yorker also details Reed’s life with his wife, the dancer/choreographer/director Carla Blank, and their daughter, the poet Tennessee Reed. And you’ll learn how the writing all started–as a jazz columnist in the Black press for the Buffalo Empire Star.

That’s the enduring value of the ethnic media, the Black press, and newspapers like the Oakland Post. It’s still a place where diverse voices can let it all out.  

Asked about his legacy, Reed was simple and humble. “I made American literature more democratic for writers from different backgrounds,” he said. “I was part of that movement to be heard.”

I heard that. 

Van Jones’ $100 Millon Speech

Ishmael Reed is one of the only MacArthur Genius grant winners I know.

But Van Jones is the first winner of the Courage and Civility Award, which he received on July 20. Yes, that Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center. Way before CNN. I hope he remembers how he was a guest on my old New California Media roundtable talk TV show on the ethnic media more than 20 years ago on KCSM-TV. 

Because the Courage and Civility Award is $100 million unattached–from Jeff Bezos.

I wasn’t crazy about Richard Branson’s flight, so you know I’m not out-of-this-world over Bezos’s 63-mile jaunt, which I call the Neo-Space Age’s white flight. You can go beyond the suburbs.
Bezos has been hammered over not paying his taxes, and how spending billions of dollars into space travel during a time of real humanitarian need on Earth is on its face one word–obscene.

To his credit, he did what all rich people of money do when they stretch the limits of tasteful behavior.

They use their money by giving it away. It’s how the Rockefellers, the Fords, the Sacklers, the Mellons, etc., etc., can live with themselves. Albeit, far away from everyone else. Hence, the Courage and Civility Award. 

Jones was gracious about the hun mill gift. 

“I haven’t always been courageous,” said Jones.  “But I know people who are. They get up every day on the frontlines of grassroots communities. They don’t have much. But they’re good people and they fight hard. And they don’t have enough support.”
All true. And then he delivered the penance for Bezos sins.

“Can you imagine,” said Jones. “Grassroots folks from Appalachia, from the Native American reservation, having enough money to be able to connect with the geniuses that disrupted the space industry, disrupted taxis, hotels, and bookstores. Let’s start disrupting poverty. Let’s start disrupting pollution. 

“Start disrupting the $90 billion prison industry together. You take people on the frontlines and their wisdom and their genius and creativity, and you give them a shot. They’re not gonna turn around neighborhoods, they’re gonna turnaround this nation. That’s what’s going to happen.”

Then Jones had this for Bezos. “I appreciate you lifting the ceiling off of people’s dreams,” Jones said, then turned back to us. “Don’t be mad about it when you see somebody reaching for the heavens, be glad to know there’s a lot more heaven to reach for. And we can do that together.”

Bezos’ $100 million doesn’t buy a lot in the space biz. But handing it to Jones? Let’s see the disruptive good it can do on Earth.

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Barbara Lee

Barbara Lee Applauds 2nd Round of Workforce Funding from COVID Community Care Act Legislation

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) applauded the announcement that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will be awarding $121 million to 127 award recipients of the Local Community-Based Workforce to Increase COVID-19 Vaccine Access Program.



Barbara Lee

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) applauded the announcement that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will be awarding $121 million to 127 award recipients of the Local Community-Based Workforce to Increase COVID-19 Vaccine Access Program.

Announced on July 27, these awards are funded with resources from provisions within the American Rescue Plan Act that Lee led through her COVID Community Care Act.  This reflects the second of two funding opportunities announced in May 2021 for community-based efforts to hire and mobilize community outreach workers, community health workers, social support specialists, and others to increase vaccine access for the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities through high-touch, on-the-ground outreach to educate and assist individuals in getting the information they need about vaccinations.

The first round of funding, which was administered in June, included an $11 million award to the Public Health Institute in Oakland and a $9.5 million award to the Association of Asian/Pacific Community Health Organizations in Berkeley. Three Oakland based organizations, the Public Health Institute, Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases, and Safe Passages, are recipients of this round of funding, bringing the total funding brought to organizations in CA-13 to nearly $23 million.

“We are facing another inflection point in this pandemic. We must make meaningful investments in getting everyone vaccinated—especially communities of color and medically underserved communities,” said Lee.  “I worked hard in Congress to invest in trusted messengers at the community level to build confidence in vaccines and COVID-19 prevention efforts. This is a much-needed continuation of that work, and we’ll see over a million dollars of investment on the ground in our own East Bay community.

“Our Tri-Caucus – the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Native American member Congresswoman Sharice Davids, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone, Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott and Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro deserve credit for their hard work and support in getting this across the finish line in the American Rescue Plan.  We can see that the work of House Democrats is making a real-life impact on the ground for communities.  This is an important step, but we must continue our work to dismantle systemic racism in our public health system and ensure that vaccines are equitably and adequately distributed.”

The purpose of this program is to establish, expand, and sustain a public health workforce to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19.  This includes mobilizing community outreach workers, which includes community health workers, patient navigators, and social support specialists to educate and assist individuals in accessing and receiving COVID-19 vaccinations.  

This includes activities such as conducting face-to-face outreach and reaching out directly to community members to educate them about the vaccine, assisting individuals in making a vaccine appointment, providing resources to find convenient vaccine locations, assisting individuals with transportation or other needs to get to a vaccination site.

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Congratulations to Michelle Mack

Nominated for Teacher of the Year



Photo courtesy Michelle Mack

Congratulations to Michelle Mack, currently a pre-K lead teacher in Atlanta, Ga., who was nominated for Teacher of the Year. A 2008 graduate of St. Elizabeth’s High School who earned a degree in child psychology from San Francisco State University in 2012, Mack received her master’s from Clark University in 2015.

Mack was recognized by the Easter Seals of North Georgia (ESNG) for “serving five consistent years teaching children and helping families with the same company” and awarded the ESNG-Guice Center Award for Individual Excellence.


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