Civil servants honored by Durham Human Relations Commission

(Left to right): Tia Hall, Kimber Heinz, Mel Norton and Tim Stallmann each represented Bull City 150 at the Durham Human Relations Commission’s Human Relations Advocacy Awards on April 4, 2018, at the Hayti Heritage Center. Bull City 150, whose mission is “to invite Durhamites to reckon with the racial and economic injustices of the past 150 years and commit to building a more equitable future,” won the Fair Housing Advocacy Award. (Staff photo by Brennan Doherty)


Serena Sebring has helped bail out 23 black women from the Durham County jail. U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield has taken a stand for Durham residents affected by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The organization Bull City 150 has been devoted to telling Durham’s history of inequity to better understand the city’s current state. The youth organization iNSIDEoUT180 has a mission to “connect and support all LGBTQISA-queer individuals and groups.”

Serena Sebring poses with her Carlie B. Sessoms Award after the Durham Human Relations Commision’s Human Relations Advocacy Awards on April 4, 2018, at the Hayti Heritage Center. Sebring, who works as a regional organizing manager at Southerners on New Ground (SONG), has helped bail out 23 black women from the Durham County jail. (Staff photo by Brennan Doherty)

The Durham Human Relations Commission honored those individuals and groups for their “spirit of servant leadership in Durham” at its Human Relations Advocacy Awards, which took place at the Hayti Heritage Center on April 4, the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s slaying.

“We’re here tonight to honor several people in the community who aren’t just talking the talk, but are walking the walk,” said Andrea “Muffin” Hudson, the ceremony’s keynote speaker.

One such person is Sebring, who earned the Carlie B. Sessoms Award, which is given to “an individual or organization that has made a major impact on improving human relations.”

A regional organizing manager at Southerners on New Ground (SONG), a regional queer liberation organization, Sebring was commended by the Human Relations Commission for her “fight for racial and economic justice, the rights of trans and queer people and the freedom of black and Latinx people on many fronts” in Durham.

Sebring spoke out against the money bail system, which she said discriminates against economically disadvantaged individuals who have not been convicted of a crime.

“What does it mean that we have a system in which 70 percent of people sitting in our Durham County jails, as well as jails across the country, are there simply because they cannot afford to pay bail?” she asked the audience.

In an interview after the ceremony, Sebring said SONG bailed out 14 black women on Mother’s Day in 2017 and nine more at an event this past August.

“When you are arrested and taken out of the context of your life, life can fall apart very quickly,” she said. “A couple days out of work, and you’re probably going to lose that job. A couple weeks, you’re probably going to lose whatever housing you have.”
Housing was a popular subject at the ceremony, which included remarks by Durham Mayor Steve Schewel.

“There’s no question that evictions are a very significant problem in our city,” Schewel said. “If we’re serious about homelessness, we have to be serious about evictions.”

INSIDEoUT180 member Rae Myatt speaks at the Durham Human Relations Commission’s Human Relations Advocacy Awards on April 4, 2018, at the Hayti Heritage Center. A youth-led organization “by and for LGBTQI+ youth,” iNSIDEoUT180 won the Norris Wicker Youth Human Rights and Advocacy Award. (Staff photo by Brennan Doherty)

Housing was a popular subject at the ceremony, which included remarks by Durham Mayor Steve Schewel.

“There’s no question that evictions are a very significant problem in our city,” Schewel said. “If we’re serious about homelessness, we have to be serious about evictions.”

Housing in Durham has been explored extensively by Bull City 150, a group whose mission is “to invite Durhamites to reckon with the racial and economic injustices of the past 150 years and commit to building a more equitable future,” according to Mel Norton, Bull City 150’s project director.

The group won the Fair Housing Advocacy Award, which recognizes “outstanding efforts in promoting fair housing with emphasis on the economic, social and/or political impact in the community which has encouraged diversity and housing for all.”

Bull City 150’s exhibit on housing and land inequality in Durham, “Uneven Ground: The Foundations of Housing Inequality in Durham, N.C.,” is currently on display at City Hall through April.

In the future, Bull City 150 plans to explore the topics of education, health, criminal justice and policing and voting in Durham. Norton said the group wanted to start out with housing and land, however, because “it’s such a visceral issue for so many people right now.”

The other group recognized, iNSIDEoUT180, took home the Norris Wicker Youth Human Rights and Advocacy Award for “demonstrating an understanding of and commitment to the improvement of human relations.”

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield listens as Durham Human Relations Commission commissioner Ian Kipp introduces him at the Human Relations Advocacy Awards on April 4, 2018, at the Hayti Heritage Center. The recipient of the Human Rights and Advocacy Award, Butterfield was applauded for “being a longstanding advocate for civil and human rights.” (Staff photo by Brennan Doherty)

While introducing iNSIDEoUT180, Human Relations Commission Commissioner Sejal Zota noted that “the gay-queer-straight alliance movement is unique in being driven by young people and rooted in schools.”

INSIDEoUT180 has an executive board made up of five teenagers and has participated in or put on events such as the North Carolina Pride Parade, a Halloween mixer “with a safe space for youth of all sexual orientations and genders,” and a summer leadership retreat.

Rae Myatt, who recently joined iNSIDEoUT180, spoke after the group received the award and said that iNSIDEoUT180 has helped him express himself.

“I know that I have people that are like me and treat me fair,” he said. “They also understand what I am going through; they are good friends.”

The Human Rights and Advocacy Award, which goes to “a local, state or federal lawmaker who has successfully supported or promoted human rights causes and issues,” was given to Butterfield, the final recipient to be honored.

Butterfield, who represents North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, was lauded by Human Relations Commission Commissioner Ian Kipp for “being a longstanding advocate for civil and human rights.”

Kipp also noted that Butterfield was “the first federal official representing Durham to speak out in opposition to ICE” after Wildin Acosta, a teenager, was picked up by authorities on his way to school at Riverside High School in 2016, according to The (Raleigh) News & Observer.  

After accepting the award, Butterfield continued the night’s theme and spoke about King, posing a question to the audience.

“What would we have been in this country had it not been for the life of and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?” he asked. “So, I accept this award tonight in the spirit and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

Diane Standaert, the Human Relations Commission chair, thought the ceremony was a good opportunity to appreciate and reflect upon the work being done by those in the community.

“It’s nice to appreciate and applaud and recognize types of work that often goes unseen and unnoticed,” she said. “And people are working day in and day out to make life better.”

 

Durham mayor Steve Schewel spoke about the importance of reducing evictions at the Durham Human Relations Commission’s Human Relations Advocacy Awards on April 4, 2018, at the Hayti Heritage Center. (Staff photo by Brennan Doherty)

For a printer-friendly version of this story, click here

Brennan Doherty is a junior reporting major at the UNC-CH School of Media and Journalism. A New Orleans native now living in Durham, Brennan is serving this fall as the sports editor of the VOICE.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>