NAACP’s William Barber II urges people to ‘stand in the gap’

State NAACP President William Barber II urged members of a Charlotte church Sunday to continue fighting against inequality in the state by overcoming ignorance and indifference, which he said keeps people apart.

Barber is a leader of the “Moral Monday” movement, which has held weekly protests at the state Legislature in Raleigh to keep a spotlight on what organizers view as regressive policies, particularly regarding Medicaid, unemployment benefits, abortion, voting and education.

Speaking at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte on Sunday, Barber said people build “walls of ignorance and walls of indifference,” to protect themselves and to create distance between themselves and others. But those walls end up creating gaps of inequality, he said.

“Whenever we put up these defenses, we’re not protecting ourselves,” he said. “We’re actually opening ourselves up to death.”

Barber said it is the people who have been willing to “stand in the gap” throughout history who have helped effect change in social justice.

He recounted the story of Emmett Till, a black teenager who was beaten and murdered in Mississippi after he allegedly whistled at a white woman in August 1955. Till’s mother insisted that the casket for her son be left open, said Barber.

“She said, ‘I’m going to make you see what the lie of racism will produce if you continue to allow it to produce,’ ” said Barber.

Till’s murder mobilized the civil rights movement, leading others to want to “stand in the gap,” said Barber. He said that when Rosa Parks saw a picture of Till, she decided she wanted to do something for civil rights, too.

In December 1955, she refused to obey a bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white passenger after the white section of the bus was already filled.

“Because she sat down in the gap, Dr. (Martin Luther) King (Jr.) would later stand up in the gap,” said Barber.

But Barber cautioned against viewing the fight against injustice as merely “a hobby.”

“We must know that truth-telling is dangerous,” he said. “It must become a mark of faith, not just something we do.”

Those who attended said they were moved by Barber’s passion and his encouragement to keep fighting for social justice.

“This is a moral issue. It’s not an ideology, and it’s not a political belief. We shouldn’t be treating people this way,” said Todd Willems, who has attended the church for eight years.

Julie Merchant, who was attending the service for the first time, said she appreciated Barber’s message of loving everyone.

“I loved how his entire message was inclusive of all types of oppression,” she said. “It’s about all of us finding a way to stand in the gap.”