We overcame many challenges that turned into positive moments of growth during Moral Freedom Summer in Watauga County. This does not diminish some of our more straightforward efforts, such as working with the Hospitality House—which is more of a community hub than a shelter—and supporting the Back 2 School Festival, which resulted from residents recognizing the need to support returning K-12 students with supplies. Such work forged new relationships, served our community, and increased NAACP visibility.
One of the first challenges experienced by the Watauga Branch this summer was the interracial marriage of two NAACP members, Melissa and Fred, who were sadly turned away by the church of their choice. Other NAACP members helped them find a welcoming church, which became a beautiful community effort and union. The now married couple continues to be a vital resource to the NAACP, as they registered and educated voters outside of Melissa’s place of work, and Fred continues to build positive relationships with local law enforcement while developing his project to support returning citizens (aka felons). Fred knows firsthand that returning citizens experience multi-faceted barriers that reinforce the cycle of those who have served their time returning to prison. Through education and real talk, he aims to stop this cycle.
Another challenge was canvassing—knocking on our neighbors’ doors—to register voters and let the community know the NAACP is active here. As we live in such an isolating world, there was understandably many reservations and anxiety around walking up to strangers’ houses. After lots of role playing and encouragement, NAACP members and volunteers are now experienced canvassers. Melanie, chair of the Religious Affairs Committee, is glad Moral Freedom Summer gently pushed her and others out of their comfort zone so the branch could turn some of those strangers into friends.
Racism and racial tension continues to be the most difficult challenge in Watauga, a county that is 96% white. I heard some form of the questions “How is a white girl working for the NAACP and why do we need a branch in such a white place?” more than any other. The Communications Committee continues to work on redefining what the NAACP actually is here. While the Watauga Branch has been actively mindful of inclusivity and diligent in strengthening race relations and mending past missteps, it is a slow process that requires healing. We seem to have planted seeds of trust this summer through one-on-one meetings, a diverse community building event where our good relations with law enforcement resulted in cops joining us in a game of kickball, and by holding a powerful vigil for Michael Brown that drew around 150 supporters of various backgrounds.
The final two weeks of Moral Freedom Summer in Watauga focus on registering students to vote and reinstating the NAACP college chapter at Appalachian State University, during a time when the local Board of Elections has passed voting barriers that specifically target students. ASU is in need of an anti-racist organization, while youth provide perspectives that sustain growth for the entire branch.
- Jessica Injejikan, Watauga County MFS Organizer