We will ignite the 2018 National Rural Assembly with our firestarters – committed citizens who are modeling for the nation how we mend and strengthen the social and civic fabric of our country. They are lighting fires and sparking change, each in their own way and in their own place, and Anna Claussen had the honor of speaking with Anita Earls recently. This is a guest post from Anna reporting on their conversation.
Anita Earls is a lawyer, mother, grandmother and FIRESTARTER who has an uncompromising passion and drive for justice and fairness. Earls founded the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a North Carolina-based civil rights nonprofit organization that partners with communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities in the South to defend and advance their political, social, and economic rights. She goes against the grain daily by pushing for what the community needs, even if it’s not what society, culture and institutions are prepared to provide for them.
Community lawyering – the process through which advocates contribute their legal knowledge and skills to support initiatives that are identified by the community and enhance the community’s power – is at the core of Earl’s law practice. And she’s willing to use creative tools, those that don’t fit into traditional roles of an attorney, to represent people who can’t afford representation and to find ways to define communities beyond geographic boundaries. Earls “gets upset about how rural communities face challenges, like heirs’ property issues, simply because they live in rural areas and are not getting adequate attention.” But when she brings folks together to allow them to talk to each other to define solutions and share challenges, they create new communities. They create new power.
As a civil rights attorney with thirty years’ experience litigating voting rights, police misconduct, school desegregation, and employment discrimination cases, Anita is steeped in professional experience. However, it is not only her legal experience she draws on today as she makes her run for North Carolina Supreme Court. Anita says she was motivated to run for office following the 2016 elections “because of the current and important threats to our democracy.” For Anita these threats run close to home. From the people she has represented to her family seeking justice after the death of her brother, Anita has turned these challenges into a sense of urgency. Born into a mixed race family during the Jim Crow era, where she says her family caused problems just by stepping outside their front door, Anita draws courage from her parents to step outside boundaries and boxes that society can put us into.
“It takes a fighting spirit to be able to seek justice on behalf of communities exploited – those exploited from the political process and by institutions, those unable to have the benefits that others enjoy.” For Anita Earls, her life pursuit of justice and fairness “feels very much like it chose me’’.
Anita Earls is a true firestarter, and we look forward to having her join us at the National Rural Assembly convening in May.