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Social justice champions honored

By Rose Laudicina
Staff Writer

CHAPEL HILL – Celebrated through stories, song and poetry and remembered for their revolutionary work and dedication to fighting inequality, Yonni Chapman, Rebecca Clark, Rev. Charles M. Jones and Dan Pollitt were honored Sunday afternoon at the Peace and Justice Ceremony.

Sandi Chapman Osterkatz, daughter of Yonni Chapman, and Wes Tilghman, supervisor for festivals and community celebrations for the Town of Chapel Hill, prepare to unveil the Peace and Justice Plaza marker with four new names at the Peace and Justice Ceremony on Sunday. Photo by Rose Laudicina

While the East Coast trembled through an earthquake the week prior to the ceremony, these four individuals were shaking the foundation Chapel Hill was built on long before. They all dedicated their lives to standing up for those without a voice, fighting for civil rights and seeing to it that Chapel Hill was a place for everyone to be treated as equals.

“They stood up to the fierce winds of injustice and they stood up to the fierce earthquakes of inequality,” Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said about the four honorees.

The ceremony took place outside at the Peace and Justice Plaza, located in front of the post office/courthouse on Franklin Street – a place Danny Pollitt, son of honoree Dan Pollitt, a former UNC law professor, said was probably his dad’s favorite street corner in the world. It is the street corner where many protested, demonstrated and held vigils for issues ranging from the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq to racial justice and the death penalty.

The children of Pollitt and Chapman, grandchild of Jones and close personal friend of Clark spoke to the large crowd of attendees about how the honorees were a friend to all and tirelessly worked for justice, never stopping, even when their battles had been won.

“She had inexhaustible supplies of strength and commitment,” said Reginald Hildebrand of Clark. “By showing respect to her, this community honors itself.”

During her speech, Sandi Osterkatz, Chapman’s daughter, said that the work her father did isn’t over, even though he is gone. This was a sentiment echoed by Jones’ grandchild, Karen Abbotts, who said she hopes her grandfather’s “aspirations are not burned with his ashes.”

These words of hope and remembrance are why Ann Powers, a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, attended the ceremony. Powers personally knew those being honored and worked with Chapmen and Pollitt as members of WILPF. She came to honor their memories and help preserver their spirits.

“I was here to be inspired and to remember to keep up the fight, which they did with grace not anger,” Powers said.

The honorees names were added to a marker that was dedicated in 2009 to celebrate the lives of those who stood up and spoke out against injustice and for what they believed was right. Chapman, Clark, Jones and Pollitt are the newest additions to the plaque, which already contains the names of nine others who are celebrated for their life-long dedication to fighting inequality and promoting peace and justice.

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