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Barber promotes Poor Peoples Campaign at ECU

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Rev. William Barber delivers the 25th Distinguished Lecture on Religion and Culture on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017 in Hendrix Theater at ECU. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The outgoing leader of North Carolina’s NAACP who has now taken on the national Poor Peoples Campaign decried the current moral, political and spiritual state of the country and issued a call to action to a packed audience during a visit this week to East Carolina University.

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II spoke as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series on Religion and Culture, a free offering from ECU’s Religious Studies Program. The title of his lecture was “Poor People’s Campaign and National Call for Moral Revival.” The lecture was hosted in the Hendrix Theatre of the Mendenhall Student Center, and students received a passport credit for attending the event. According to organizers, the lecture was sold out and the theater was filled. 

Barber, 54, is a well known political and religious advocate in both North Carolina and the United States. He is regularly featured in media outlets such as MSNCBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other media outlets. He graduated from North Carolina Central University with a political science degree, and received a master’s degree in divinity from Duke University. Additionally, he holds a doctoral degree from Drew University in Madison, Wis.

He serves as the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, and is the architect of the Moral Monday movement, which established regular Monday demonstrations at the N.C. General Assembly. Barber was has been president of the North Carolina NAACP since 2005, but announced he would be stepping down to take up the Poor People’s Campaign, an effort begun by Martin Luther King Jr. to ensure economic justice for all. 

During his two-hour lecture, contextualized his call for a moral revival by addressing what he believed were the five “diseases” affecting the country: racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and christian nationalism.

He pointed to news event such as the violence in Charlottesville, Va., and the presidency of Donald Trump, who Barber referred to as “the first white president” suggesting that his national support was at least partially fueled out of spite toward Barack Obama’s presidency. He said the Poor People’s Campaign will offer a platform for people to organize for change.

“It’s time for a movement all over this country that uses moral language that demonstrates a commitment to civil disobedience that’s led by the people from the bottom up,” he said. “That brings people together from all different races and religions in a coalition — a movement that says, education is a moral issue; pro-labor, anti-poverty policies are a moral issue; living wages is a moral issue; labor rights is a moral issue; affordable labor is a moral issue; helping the poor is moral issue; fair policies for immigrants is a moral issue; critiquing war mongering is a moral issue; making sure every child has access to well-funded, constitutionally-diverse public education and access to community colleges and colleges like ECU is a moral issue; health care for everybody is a moral issue; protecting women’s health is a moral issue; providing for environmental justice, families in the criminal justice system and dealing with the inequalities that affect black, brown and poor white people are moral issues; voting rights is a moral issue, women’s rights is a moral issue; LGBTQ rights, labor rights, freedom of religion, immigrant’s rights, are moral issues; never giving up on equal protection is a moral issue.”

Barber said that he is currently on a 15 state tour, preparing for a period of 40 days of straight action in 25 states on these matters. He said the campaign is conducting an audit to gauge progress on conditions since the killing of Martin Luther King. 

“I tell people that I am a theologically evangelical conservative liberal Pentecostal charismatic biblicist revolutionary — in other words I follow a bronze-skinned Palestinian Jew named Jesus and I know the book and I know the Lord for myself,” he said. “I’ve told people all over this country, I would rather die trying to do right, rather die trying to help the poor, trying to help the sick, than to live and die and it be written on my epitaph that I didn’t do anything.” 

At the end of the event, Barber urged audience members to sign up for his campaign and directed several to speak at length with his staff regarding volunteer opportunities. The event was cut off early after Mendenhall staff informed organizers the theatre had to be cleared for an additional event.

A book signing for his two books, The Third Reconstruction and Forward Together, was held outside of the auditorium afterward. 

Contact Seth Gulledge at sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579

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