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Group fights bias

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — To boost its fight against bigotry and racism, the Charlotte chapter of the National Conference for Community and Justice is working to strengthen its financial footing.

Long dependent on support from Mecklenburg County, United Way of Central Carolinas and contributions through two big fundraising events, the chapter is courting new members and corporate sponsors.

“My challenge is to diversify our funding,” says Kenya Wolff, director of fund development.

With an annual budget of $400,000, the chapter offers leadership-development programs for teens and adults.

The chapter serves about 1,000 students a year through a variety of programs, including its Anytown summer leadership program for high school students, and its work with diversity facilitators in Charlotte-Mecklenburg high schools.

Formed in 1949, the chapter is part of a 75-year-old national organization that until 1999 was known as the National Conference of Christian and Jews.

The chapter this year will receive $115,000 from the county and $100,000 from United Way of Central Carolinas.

It also has secured $15,000 from the Bank of America Foundation to sponsor Anytown, two week-long camps in Blowing Rock for a total of 100 students.

And Panos Hotels is donating $15,000 worth of rooms and food for Peace Journeys, an annual four-day program the chapter offers in fall to help students bridge racial gaps.

This spring, the chapter netted $71,000 from its third annual Walk As One walk-a-thon, and $70,000 from its annual humanitarian-awards event that honored Gloria Pace King, United Way president, and James H. Woodward, chancellor of UNC-Charlotte.

In addition to raising money, a key goal of the walk-a-thon is “to get the message of inclusion into the community and promote the work we do,” says Nayala Hunt, executive director.

A big focus of the chapter is working with diversity facilitators in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools to identify problems and solutions involving such issues as discrimination and bullying.

The facilitators, typically teachers or school counselors, also help recruit students for the chapter’s programs and support them in school.

A separate summer program aims to help rising ninth-graders address challenges they may face in high school such as cliques, bullying and harassment.

The chapter also sponsors a conference each January for students who spend a three-day weekend talking about current civil rights issues and then march in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade.

And based on a study it conducted last summer on gaps in leadership for diversity training and adult programs, the chapter has received a $40,000 United Way grant to develop a neighborhood leadership-development program.

“We don’t see our programs as an end in itself,” says Hunt. “We see them as a means to an end to encourage both high school students and adults to become leaders for change in their own schools and neighborhoods and communities and workplaces.”

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