March 16, 2019

Undergraduate students at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health planned and helped execute the second annual Summit on Homelessness and Poverty, held March 1-3, at the Gillings School.

Connie Longmate

Connie Longmate

Connie Longmate, Joyce Yao and Nick McKenzie, Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH) students in health policy and management, and Megan Miller (BSPH, environmental sciences and engineering) and Jessica Wang (BSPH, nutrition) were among the event planners.

Many conference attendees are associated with The Community Empowerment Fund (CEF), a student-led, nonprofit organization, founded in 2009 as a collaboration between two Campus Y committees, Homelessness Outreach Poverty Eradication (HOPE) and the Carolina Microfinance Initiative.

CEF aims to enable and sustain people’s transitions out of homelessness and poverty. In 2017, 256 student advocates worked alongside 1,046 members of the community through CEF’s relationship-based support model.

Eight CEF advocates from Chapel Hill and Durham attended the inaugural summit, held at Brown University in 2018.

Attendees of the 2019 Community Empowerment Fund Summit on Homelessness and Poverty pose at the UNC Gillings School during the event, which was held March 1-3. Photo by Ziola Kowzan.

Attendees of the 2019 Community Empowerment Fund Summit on Homelessness and Poverty pose at the UNC Gillings School during the event, which was held March 1-3. Photo by Ziola Kowzan.

“We were excited to bring the Summit to North Carolina to share CEF’s incredible work,” Longmate said, “to reflect on homelessness and poverty in the South and to honor the long history of activism in the South.”

Longmate said the theme of the event was “Abundance.”

“That is a reference,” she said, “to the fact that our communities are whole, beautiful and resourceful, and that our efforts to address homelessness and poverty should be based on recognizing and celebrating the abundance that already exists in our communities rather than focusing on what is ‘lacking.’”

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, activist and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, opened the Summit with a call to action, encouraging students to “stay in school and stay in the movement.”

Over the weekend, discussions were held about race, policing and poverty, urban renewal and displacement, and advocacy for policy change.

(Watch a recorded panel on urban renewal and displacement.)

In attendance were more than 100 students from 25 universities across the U.S., from North Carolina to California.

Professor Gene Nichol described poverty as ‘our greatest transgression,’” Longmate said, “but what stayed with me throughout the weekend were neither the statistics about rising inequality, racial disparity and economic injustice, nor the evidence of the lack of political will to address those emergent issues. Instead, I found myself reflecting on words from George Barrett, associate director at the Jackson Center in Chapel Hill. Joy can be an act of revolution, he said.”

Longmate said the summit was thought-provoking, tiring, abundant, and joyful.

“I revelled in being surrounded by intelligent young people, who are committed to social justice and to ending homelessness,” she said. “I love working with CEF, and this summit was a testament to everything that I see in the CEF community.”

Learn more about the 2019 Summit here.

A version of this article originally appeared in an article written by Connie Longmate for the Campus Y website.


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Contact the Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@listserv.unc.edu.

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