Monthly Archives: May 2011

Legal Education for Women

Why did we decide to limit our outreach to women? I’ve been asked this many times so I wanted to address this question directly.

There is no doubt that men in rural North Carolina also require the knowledge to advocate for themselves and their families. We have never turned a man away from our services.

There are many reasons we chose to focus on women in the community. Many of these reasons are generalizations, but there are always exceptions.

  • Women are more likely to handle issues related to child-rearing. This is definitely a generalization, but nevertheless it is true.
  • Women have legal issues that are unique from men. For example, discussions about domestic violence are very different. Many men are victims and they often they have different concerns.
  • Many women feel more confident when in groups made up of only women. This is also true of men. Many men prefer to discuss personal issues with other men, where they feel they may be less likely to be misunderstood or embarrassed.
  • My own history is a large part of my work. One of our strengths is that we can relate to many women struggling out there.
  • We also work with other organizations, and it is important for people to understand what our goals are. By keeping more focused, especially at this stage, we are much more effective.

One day, we may be able to expand our market to men. Once we get rolling and more staff, it may make a lot more sense. We believe that men also benefit by having more self-confident women in the community, and boys benefit by having stronger mothers, aunts, sisters, and grandmothers. For now, we’re limiting our services to women.

A Bertie County Experiment in Community Transformation

Please watch this Video of Emily Pilloton from Studio H. She is a designer, not a lawyer, but a lot of what she says in her TED talk relates to our mission and philosophy. This is an amazing talk and I hope you watch it- it’s only 15 minutes or so.

She is working in Bertie County, only one county over from Warren County where we’ve been working the last few weeks.

There are a lot of depressing facts about rural poverty. According to Ms. Pilloton although 20% of Americans live in rural areas, they receive only 6.8% of philanthropic funds. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and not a lot of money to do it. That doesn’t mean there’s no hope.

Just like Studio H, we look for solutions within the community. We make partnerships and work with what already exists. There is no room for waste. What there is room for is experimentation. Energetic and creative people are needed to keep rural North Carolina alive.

When I go out to Warren County, a phrase I hear the locals use to describe where they live is, “an aging community”. The 2010 census confirmed this. I wonder though if the communities become more sustainable if that trend might change.

America gets strength through its diversity- and that includes having people from different environments. Many people benefit from growing up in small towns. It would be a shame if everyone we knew was either from a city or a suburb.

We’re excited to be a part of the effort to help rural women improve their lives by learning how to advocate for themselves and their families.


Photos of Warren County

Part of my job as executive director of Roads to Justice North Carolina allows me to explore the region. In fact, you could say that my job requires it.

Initially I had the idea that I would take photos during my adventures, but I would not just showcase the beauty of rural North Carolina, I would also take pictures of obvious signs of rural poverty. This is not as easy as it seems.

There is something very invasive about taking photos of another human being’s pain, even anonymously. I have lived in poverty myself, and I would not appreciate someone documenting it without my permission or explanation, even if their intentions are good. There are many complex emotions attached to poverty, not the least of which can be shame and despair.

I am not an artist, I am a lawyer. I look at the famous WPA photos from the Great Depression and think the skill of the photographer allowed the human dignity of the individual to peak out through the obvious desperation. I do not have that skill. Here is a picture of a horse standing on the porch of a large, beautiful but obviously abandoned home in Macon, North Carolina.

R2J presents what we find in rural NC.  We are constantly amazed by the resilience and spirit of the women we meet.

Structured savings programs for lower-income families

I went to a meeting this week at the Ford Foundation in Washington, DC to hear about new research on a matched savings program aimed to help lower-income families.  The program gives people a 50% match up to $250 if they put part of their tax refunds in a savings account.  They have to leave the money untouched for one year in order to get the match.

It turns out that this works really well for about 65% of the people who try it.  However, the remaining 35% pull their money out before they actually get the match.  One of the points that the research team made was that we can’t consider these people to have “failed” the program just because they didn’t get the match.  Rather, the program likely helped them to set aside money so that when an emergency hit, they could make ends meet.

This really brought home the point that we need to let our service programs meet the needs of our clients in whatever way works best for them.  Maybe that will be exactly as we planned, and maybe not.  It is important to stay responsive to the needs of our clients.  Hopefully our upcoming roundtable meeting will continue to build on this theme!

May 22, 2011 Launch Party

We’re getting very excited about the Launch Party we’re hosting to kick off the beginning of Roads to Justice NC!

Everyone is welcome to come meet the board members, enjoy (hopefully) the beautiful weather and share a meal.

Event information is on our facebook page.

We will be celebrating our first roundtable meeting with the community in Warrenton on May 21.

The Birth of the Environmental Justice Movement was in Warren County

The fight against the PCB landfill in Warren County in the late 1970′ and 1980’s first connected racism and environmental justice. R2J is committed to sharing the rich history of North Carolina.

Below is from the Institute of Southern Studies:

Warren County, North Carolina (1979)

Between June 1978 and August 1978, over 30,000 gallons of waste transformer oil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were illegally discharged on roadsides in fourteen North Carolina counties. The PCBs resulted in the U.S. EPA designating the roadsides as a superfund site to protect public health. North Carolina needed a place to dispose of the PCB-contaminated soil that was scraped up from 210 miles of roadside shoulders. In 1979, North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) along with EPA Region 4 selected rural, poor, and mostly black Warren County as the site for the PCB landfill.

In 1982, the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed suit in district court to block the landfill. The residents lost their case in court despite the fact that the Warren County PCB Landfill site was not scientifically the most suitable because the water table at the landfill is very shallow, only 5-10 feet below the surface and where the residents of the community get all of their drinking water from local wells. William Sanjour, head of the EPA’s hazardous waste implementation branch, questioned the Warren County landfill siting decision. The first truckload of contaminated soil that arrived at the landfill in September 1982 was met protesters. More than 500 demonstrators were jailed protesting landfill, sparking the national Environmental Justice Movement.

Warren County which was 54.5 percent black in 1980 is one of six counties in North Carolina’s “Black Belt.” The other North Carolina counties where African Americans comprise a majority of the population include Bertie County (62.3%), Hertford (59.6%), Northhampton (59.4%), Edgecombe (57.5%), Warren (54.5%), and Halifax (52.6%). Eastern North Carolina is also significantly poorer than the rest of the state.

Region 4 and North Carolina officials insisted the PCB landfill was safe and would not leak. They were dead wrong. Warren County resident Dolly Burwell and her fellow protesters were right. The landfill was suspected of leaking as early as 1993. It took more than two decades for Warren County residents to get the leaky landfill site detoxified by the state and federal government. In all, a private contractor was paid $18 million to dig up and burn more than 81,500 tons of contaminated soil in a kiln on site.

R2JNC board member speaks at Federal Reserve conference

Roads to Justice North Carolina board member Kim Manturuk spoke last week at the Federal Reserve Conference on Community Development.  The conference brought together a wide range of nationally-recognized experts in the field of community development, economic revitalization, and asset building.  Kim presented research examining the experiences of low-income homeowners during the financial crisis and subsequent downturn.  She found that homeowners were not disproportionately affected by the downturn compared to renters, and they actually reported feeling less stressed and insecure during the crisis.  Kim concluded that policies which aim to increase access to homeownership for lower-income families remain viable asset building approaches, even in light of the downturn.  She also pointed out that the people she studied had a much lower foreclosure rate than subprime borrowers, in spite of the fact that they had low credit scores, low incomes, high debt-to-income ratios, and low downpayments.  This suggests that even “risky” borrowers can be successful when given responsible mortgage products.

Despite Population Boom in NC, 7 Rural Counties Lost Residents Since Last Census

“Seven counties in North Carolina lost population from 2000 to 2010 – Halifax, Hyde, Jones, Lenoir, Martin, Mitchell and Washington. All but one of those is in Eastern North Carolina. Although the state added nearly 1.5 million residents over the past decade, these mostly rural counties could not fully replace those who left or died.”

A lack of jobs and opportunity drives many young people to leave rural areas. This trend began eons ago, as humanity transitioned from a agrarian existence to our current modern society. Does this mean rural communities have no value? Does this mean we allow folks in rural areas to wither?  R2J answers both questions with a resounding NO!

It makes sense that finding legal services in urban areas is easier. By definition there are more people there- more lawyers, more citizens to be served. It’s easier for people to see a notice for a legal clinic on a pole on a city street than a country road.

R2J conducts in depth outreach because we recognize how difficult it is to reach people in rural areas. The nonprofits we partner with do not have the resources to commit to this sort of outreach. We help our partner organizations with their missions as  part of our own.







Read more:

Warren County -Tier 1 poverty

There is a serious growing concern for the people in rural areas as the economic climate heats up for those in the middle, the people of Warren County already fall in  the Tier -1 destination by the state . What will become of cities such as Norlina already feeling the crunch. We as supportive resources have to figure out a way to assist the people in the area with solutions they devise based on their home grown knowledge and wisdom.  It is my hope that as we began to attack poverty in Warren County with information and empowerment.