News, public health

In one of NC’s many food deserts, a co-op grocery store closes

When Greensboro’s Renaissance Community Co-Op opened in 2016, it was the area’s first since grocery store since 1998.

Last week the store, in largely Black and low-income East Greensboro, announced it is closing at the end of the month. Despite demonstrable need in the under-served, low income area the store simply didn’t maintain the sales strength to keep its doors open.

The store on Phillips Avenue is at the center of what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls a food deserts – a low income area where at least 33 percent of the people are more than a mile away from a real grocery store or supermarket.

There are 24 food deserts in Guilford County – 17 in Greensboro and seven in High Point.

More than 35,000 people in Guilford County have poor access to healthful food, according to USDA statistics. More than 18,000 of those are low-income.

Guilford’s food deserts are mostly in well-known low-income areas: south of Kivett Drive in High Point, most of east Greensboro and a large rural area near the outskirts of McLeansville.

Concerned Citizens for Northeast Greensboro worked with the Greensboro-based Fund for Democratic Communities partnered and Durham community development lender Self-Help to get the store off the ground. Citizens raised more than $1.2 million and the project received grants of $250,000 from the city of Greensboro and $25,000 from Guilford County. The c0-op’s membership grew to more than 1,300. But in the end, sales weren’t enough to sustain it.

Roodline Volcy, president of the co-op’s board of directors, told the News & Record that over 16 years without a grocery store, people seemed to  have developed other habits in terms of how they got their food.

“I’m just heartbroken over the whole thing,” said Greensboro City Councilwoman Goldie Wells, who represents the area.


Editorial: Did Richard Burr campaign violate federal law?

Sen. Richard Burr

In case you missed it, be sure to check out a new editorial posted in the Charlotte Observer entitled “Burr, NRA appear to be even tighter than we thought.” In it, the authors explore the evidence of illegal coordination between Richard Burr’s 2016 reelection campaign and the National Rifle Association.

This is from the editorial:

We already knew North Carolina’s senior U.S. senator, Richard Burr, was awash in NRA cash. We already knew the pro-gun group spent $5.6 million in 2016 against his Democratic opponent, Deborah Ross — twice as much as it spent on any other House or Senate candidate.

But only now do we know that Burr and the National Rifle Association may have broken the law by coordinating their advertising campaigns. Documents from the Federal Communications Commission show that the NRA’s ads in Burr’s race were authorized by the same media consultant working for Burr’s campaign, Mother Jones and The Trace reported on Friday.

That would appear to break federal law that requires candidates and outside groups to be independent of each other. Outside groups can make “independent expenditures” on so-called “issue ads,” which typically back or attack one candidate or the other. But the spending can’t be coordinated with an individual’s campaign. That law is designed in part to keep advocacy groups from exceeding contribution limits to individual candidates.

In a series of TV ads in 2016, the NRA attacked Ross for her record as a state legislator on gun control, saying she voted against gun rights and “personal liberty.” It was part of an avalanche of outside money dumped into the swing-state race with control of the U.S. Senate at stake.

Mother Jones and The Trace report that Jon Ferrell, CFO of a company called National Media Research, Planning and Placement, authorized ad purchases both for Burr’s campaign and for NRA ads in Burr’s race. He placed some TV ads in the closing weeks of the campaign as an “agent for Richard Burr Committee” and others at around the same time for the NRA against Ross. Mother Jones found similar activity in 2018 Senate races in Missouri and Montana.

Campaigns and outside groups can hire the same vendors but those vendors must have strict firewalls to prevent collaboration. A Burr campaign official suggested to the Observer editorial board that such a firewall was in place. But it’s hard to see how that’s so since Ferrell was involved with both sets of ads.

The editorial concludes by calling on the Federal Elections Commission, which has a record of being pretty slack in its enforcement of the coordination ban, to get moving and enforce it strictly in 2020 — especially given the flood of cash the NRA seems likely to dump on Thom Tillis’ campaign.

UNC student paper: TA strike over Silent Sam “took advantage of students”

The Silent Sam Confederate monument – and the withholding of grades at the end of last semester over its future – continues to be a divisive issue.

This week The Daily Tarheel, the student newspaper of the UNC-Chapel Hill, blasted the teaching assistants who took part in the withholding of grades.

From the paper’s editorial:

The Board condemns these protests, not for the subject of derision, but for the manner in which these TAs expressed their opposition. A large part of the student body would share the views of the TAs in regards to this issue. Many students believe a museum like the administration proposed would serve not to contextualize the statue but rather to memorialize it, to ingrain it inside of UNC’s culture. Many students have protested the existence of Silent Sam, standing alongside figures such as Maya Little.

For this group of TAs to decide, after their last paycheck had been delivered, to hold the grades of their students hostage to make a statement is a cowardly move. For students to be so blatantly taken advantage of by those who hold positions of power above them reveals a remarkable lack of bravery from these TAs. These individuals used their authority as TAs to harm students who need these grades for internships, jobs or even graduate school acceptances.

As some were quick to point out in the comments, the professors and TAs participating in withholding grades did ultimately release them in time to avoid problems with internships, jobs or graduate school programs.

But the editorial demonstrates that while nearly every student, faculty and staff organization at UNC-Chapel Hill has made known their opposition to the Confederate statue and its return, not everyone in the community agrees on the tactics used to oppose it.


Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Anita Hill: #MeToo movement breathing life into MLK strategy for inclusiveness

Anita Hill spoke Thursday night at Elon University and addressed the #MeToo movement and how it was relevant to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Everyone always asks Anita Hill if she knew in 1991 what she knows now, would she testify again about her allegations of sexual harassment by Judge Clarence Thomas?

“The answer is always yes,” she told a crowd Thursday night at Elon University. “This is not the life I had thought I was going to have, but at this point in my life, and I’m quoting the words of Shirley Chisholm, I realize that I was then and now and will always be a catalyst for change, and with your help I will continue to make sure I do everything in my power I make that change happen.”

Hill delivered the this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative address at the university. She quoted from King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and said the #MeToo social justice movement was breathing new life into his words.

Anita Hill spoke to a full room Thursday at Elon University. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” she read. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

King’s strategy, Hill said, was inclusiveness — he informed the world about how the oppression experienced by the African-American community was affecting everyone directly and indirectly.

“And so, we shouldn’t miss that point,” she added. “By seeking racial inclusion and community, Dr. King was arguing that we could move ahead if we understood how we were all tied together in a single garment of destiny.”

The idea of community continues to resonate in today’s #MeToo movement, which is shedding light on the experiences of women who have been sexually harassed or abused. Hill said that when Tarana Burke coined the phrase, she made clear that she chose it to signal the start of a larger conversation to be shared among survivors and to trigger a movement of radical community healing.

“Not just individual healing, but community healing,” she said. “The kind of healing that Dr. King was talking about.”

A belief that a movement can and should reach beyond the directly oppressed was key to King’s success, and Hill said it’s just as critical today when divisiveness and isolation pose as solutions to pressing social problems.

“Maybe even more critical today, when those people argue that the way for us to move ahead in society is to separate, when in fact, divisiveness and isolation are the problems or at least the causes of many of our problems,” she said.

Hill had no idea that Americans would re-live the moment a woman had to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee about her experiences of being allegedly sexually harassed by a then potential Supreme Court justice, and that just like in her case, he would still be confirmed.

She was candid about her feelings during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, where Christine Blasey Ford opened herself up to be criticized by politicians and strangers alike. She understood what was happening, and she felt the pain that many did at the time and lost sleep over the horrifying stories, but she also remained hopeful.

Anita Hill encouraged to lift up social movements that affect change, like the #MeToo movement. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

“People will say, ‘have we learned nothing since 1991?’ and I would say, ‘we have learned a lot since 1991,'” Hill said. “Maybe the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee have not learned a lot, but we have. And I want you to rest assured that those 27 years meant something, and they are going to mean even more now that we realize how tenuous our situations can be. We will not go back.”

She said that people need to recommit to a simple idea: that women and girls are entitled to work, be educated and to live free of sexual violence.

Threats to the movement, she explained, include erasing history and denying gender violence and having a government that when presented with a chance to do better still replicates mistakes from the past. She said justice must not be rationed and that people should hold ups effective movements when they effect change. There have to be cultural changes.

“I’m confident, because I’ve seen the energy that’s out there, and we can and we will have a movement with lasting impact,” Hill said.


Want to boost NC reading achievement? Start earlier, invest more.

This week’s State Board of Education meeting brought disappointing news about how well North Carolina children are mastering reading.

The statewide report on North Carolina’s Read to Achieve program found more than 43 percent of third-graders tested during the 2017-18 school year did not demonstrate reading proficiency.

Certainly there were bright spots like Mooresville City Schools and Watauga County Schools where the pass-rate was roughly 72 percent. But in places like Edgecombe County Public School and Thomasville City Schools, the percentage of third graders not reading at-grade level exceeded 63 percent.

There are many things that can influence the test results. A retired teacher wrote earlier this week after our Monday numbers column to share that special education students or ESL learners can skew a district’s results.

But education experts are taking a look at the statewide data and asking is it time to rethink Senator Berger’s signature education program?

This weekend on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views, Rob Schofield sits down to discuss the findings with Matt Ellinwood, director of the Justice Center’s Education & Law Project.

Ellinwood discusses the need for investing more in North Carolina’s high-quality pre-K programs and providing greater resources to schools struggling to boost reading levels.

Click below for a preview of our radio interview with Ellinwood:

It’s also worth noting that state officials are not seeking legislative changes to Read to Achieve this session.

As education reporter Greg Childress explained this week, the state board instead has offered three recommendations to improve Read to Achieve outcomes:

The recommendations include providing greater financial and support to schools, identifying and “scaling up” reading programs that work and transitioning from a third-grade “social promotion mindset to a literacy development mindset.”