Letters to the Editor

10/29: Mesa Somer, J. Mark Davidson and Ron Shive, Syretta Hill, Daria Barazandeh and Mary U. Andrews

Pesky little laws

Last Sunday a group of about a dozen off-road bikes and quads spent the afternoon speeding up and down a few blocks of Lakewood Avenue.

They enjoyed themselves, doing wheelies in the middle of the street, doing doughnuts that tore up the edge of lawns, flipping the finger to any residents they saw, and making noise of about the collective output of 25 leaf blowers constantly revving. They had a great time. And the police apparently were told to lay off them, because they are part of a group that is being encouraged to stay away from guns by riding bikes. So, although they were riding without licenses and exceeding the speed limit and creating a noise disturbance, they were allowed to have their fun, despite many calls to the police.

What a great deal! I also am willing to stay away from guns in exchange for a few minor laws being overlooked in my favor. There are a few stop signs I find really annoying. And it is unpleasant to have to pick up after my dogs. And sometimes I really want to go really fast on city streets because I am in a hurry. I am hereby volunteering to stay away from guns if I also can get these pesky little laws waived on my behalf in exchange.

I am sure there are a few more people in town also willing to sign up in this new, wonderful system, whereby laws are just disregarded in exchange for some desired behavior.

Mesa Somer


The right to boycott

The First Amendment protects the right to engage in political boycotts. The U.S. Supreme Court has held in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. (1982) that peaceful boycotts to bring about political, social, or economic change fall are protected by the First Amendment. As the American Civil Liberties Union puts it, “The right to boycott is one of the brightest stars in our constitutional firmament.” The American Revolution was founded on boycotts against British goods to protest excessive taxes. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a major turning point in the struggle for civil rights. Boycotts on college campuses sparked the protest against apartheid in South Africa. Massive boycotts by businesses and individuals protested the NC “Bathroom bill.”

So, when a growing number of Americans, including American Jews, protest Israel’s systematic and egregious violations of Palestinian rights, using the tactic of boycott to leverage social change, their right to boycott is respected, even if not everyone agrees, right? Sadly, no. Senate Bill 720 and H.R. 1697, if approved, would punish them with up to $1 million in fines and up to 20 years in prison!

The consequences of anti-BDS legislation are not just hypothetical. Ms. Esther Koontz, a trainer of math teachers in Kansas, has been denied participation in a professional program for which she is highly qualified, resulting in loss of income, because she refused to certify that she was not participating in a boycott of Israeli products. She did so because she followed the moral-spiritual guidance of her Mennonite faith to review her investments which profit from the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. And swamped homeowners in the Houston suburb of Dickinson are being denied access to relief money to help them rebuild after Hurricane Harvey because of Texas anti-BDS legislation. The aid is conditioned on residents’ vow not to boycott Israel.

Whatever you think about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, these are alarming developments that should concern every American.

J. Mark Davidson and Ron Shive

Chapel Hill

StepUp stepping up

More than a year since I published my first article on StepUp’s launch in Durham, I am excited to recap two years in this amazing community. We are so proud of the work we have accomplished:

▪ We helped secure close to 150 employment placements at an average of $10.50/hour.

▪ Many graduates gained employment within 31 days of completing StepUp Durham’s program.

▪ We retained over 50 employers willing to hire our graduates.

▪ Eight individuals are employed at Duke University, one of whom just received Employee of the Month after celebrating her 18-month anniversary at the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club.

▪ Our strong and diverse board includes members from Durham Technical Community College, Duke University, and N.C. Central University – connections we hope to foster for StepUp graduates interested in higher education opportunities.

▪ We built a donor base that includes Wells Fargo Bank, which recently invested $100,000 in our work through the NeighborhoodLIFT Local Initiative.

As we move into a new season, we are working to refocus. Though we are proud of the 104 employment placements this past fiscal year, we want to better articulate the long-term achievements of our graduates, to determine whether they are employed one year later, if their economic stability has increased, and if they are reaching their goals.

Second, we want to help our graduates move toward livable wages. We are brainstorming ways to create employee pipelines for emerging, livable wage industries in Durham, for example, through a partnership with Durham Tech to better prepare our justice-involved populations.

Finally, we are working with local correctional facilities, providing training and mock interviews. StepUp Durham wants to help those returning to their communities.

In every article, newsletter piece, or report I write, I try to honor the 12 servant leaders who convened in 2012 to build the foundation of StepUp Durham. We remain grateful for our past and look optimistically toward our future. I hope to return with many more updates about our work in this amazing city. And if you have an interest in adults and children transforming their lives through employment and training, I hope you will consider partnering with StepUp Durham to be part of our next story.

Syretta Hill

Executive director

StepUp Durham

Talikoff for school board

My vote is for Kim Talikoff for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education. I first met Kim when she volunteered for School Reading Partners, a program I coordinated at my school. She was exceptional in her commitment and respect for the children she read with. So much so that I asked her to help with READ2ME:Tailgate Stories that following summer and every summer since. Her gracious demeanor plus her fluency in Spanish made that decision easy!

It was there I saw her interaction with parents who lived in the mobile home park. She was/is so kind that I show clips of Kim working with parents when I give R2M teacher orientation. She is that good!

I am confident Kim will advocate for those whose voices need to be heard but do not always have clear representation on the Board. As a parent, a teacher, and a volunteer, she understands, first hand, the range of needs in our school community.

Join me in voting for Kim Talikoff for CHCCS School Board. We will all benefit.

Mary U. Andrews

Chapel Hill

The writer is the Toyota National Family Teacher of the Year, 2017

Just totally wrong

I am writing concerning an article in the paper regarding Carla Shuford and the overpayment the state made of some $19,000 (Sept. 17). This is extremely disconcerting as this is absolutely not a case of fraud or some other inappropriate or criminal behavior on the part of Ms. Shuford. This was completely due to an error on the part of the state and therefore should not be something that she has to remedy.

The state must take this as a learning experience and move on, not forcing the people on disability who are already experiencing challenges few of us face in our lives to endure further hardship by needing to come up with a sum of money that is simply not available to them. Even if it was money they could borrow or already have in a savings account, it is just totally wrong and unjust to make them pay for someone else's mistake.

Again, it would be a different story if these people, including Ms. Shuford, had willfully made some incorrect statements on documents in order to get a bigger check each month. She is being treated as though she has done something wrong! This is unacceptable.

Daria Barazandeh

Chapel Hill


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