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Lenoir County "State of Exclusion" report stirs community conversation

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - People in one eastern North Carolina community are talking about race relations.

The conversation comes after the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill's “Inclusion Project' released a report saying Lenoir County is the "poorest in the state" and race plays a major part in that study.
               
Community members got together to find out how to use the study to move forward. 

Some of the problems are due to racial  disparities when it comes to voting, education, leadership, and utility fees in Lenoir County. 

Community members met at the Saint Augustus Zion AME Church to try and come up with a plan of action to address race relations and politics in the area. 

It’s an important step that local leaders say has been left out in the entire process of moving forward.

Clarissa Gooding grew up in Kinston. She says when she read UNC Chapel Hill's “State of Exclusion" report, it just confirmed what she already knew about her community.

"These conversations about disparities and other issues, these are not abnormal conversations,” said Clarissa Gooding, Kinston native. “These are conversations that happen at the dinner table. These are conversations that happen at cookouts."
  
The report, released in March, found African-Americans are the majority in the cities of Kinston and LaGrange and minorities everywhere else. It states, without section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, there might be little hope for minorities in the county as a whole when it comes to improvements, redistricting, and voting.
    
It also accuses all local government's but one of under-representing Black and Hispanic people.

"We see that our community is not well, it's sick. There is something going on outside of our control. How can change this, how can we impact this without proper representation," said Gooding.

Mayor of Kinston BJ Murphy says while the report is starting a conversation, it left out community input. 

"He failed to acknowledge that for the first one in over 250 years, we have a minority majority city council,” said BJ Murphy, Kinston mayor. “He failed to acknowledge or understand  how public power system works. And he used those inaccuracies to create more problems that now he sees intend on solving."

Mayor Murphy says Lenoir County and the city of Kinston have created a human relations committee to help address racial relations in the county.  

Tuesday's meeting gave community leaders and residents the opportunity to ask questions about the report. The meeting also included a breakout session that allowed people to brainstorm ways improve concerns about education, leadership, economic development, and utility fees.   

Organizers stressed that not all the concerns can be solved in one night, and that this is just the first step in trying to solved issues brought up in the report. 

UNC's "The Inclusion Project"  is currently working on the same report for four other counties in the state. Those counties are Davidson, Moore, Jones, and Orange. The analyses are based solely on data collected from public records request, and did not include any community involvement. 

--- Original Story ---

A UNC-Chapel Hill study puts Lenoir County in the crosshairs for racial discrimination.
    
"The Inclusion Project" focused on Lenoir, calling it one of "the poorest in the state."

The report found African Americans are the majority in the cities of Kinston and LaGrange and minorities everywhere else.

It states, without Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, there might be little hope for minorities in the county as a whole when it comes to improvements, redistricting, and voting.
    
It also accuses all local governments, but one, of underrepresenting black and Hispanic people.
    
The project released the report Monday and plans to do more on other counties.

Find the full report here.
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