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Tar Heel Bus Tour encourages hard conversations, offers important lessons

Clinical Assistant Professor April Parker was among the UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, staff and administrators who participated in this year’s Tar Heel Bus Tour, which travels around the state, giving riders the opportunity to hear more about how the University contributes to and learns from communities across North Carolina.

Parker, MSW ’11, traveled the eastern leg of the bus tour, which included stops in Kitty Hawk, Rocky Mount, Princeville and other Eastern North Carolina towns.  At Somerset Place in Washington County, Parker and her colleagues learned about North Carolina’s antebellum plantation economy and how public historians are telling a more honest and compelling story of enslaved communities in our state. Following the end of the tour, we caught up with Parker to hear more about her overall experience.

Which tour stop sparked the most conversation and why?

It is a tie between the two plantations — Somerset Place in Creswell, N.C. on Day 1 and Hayes Plantation in Edenton, N.C. on Day 2. Walking on the land where enslaved Africans were considered property and abused worse than anything I could ever imagine reminded me that epigenetics is real. I felt sadness, pain and sorrow in my body on that land. I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. Another colleague and I had to walk away from the tour at those stops because our visceral response to what happened at these places and the stories told were too much to bear. Our other colleagues on the tour couldn’t help but notice our responses, which led to conversation about how such places force us to reckon with our history.

What is one thing you were surprised to learn about North Carolina ?

The legacy of White supremacy is still in the economic and power structures of so many places in North Carolina. I knew this, but seeing the inequities so clearly in how few resources are distributed in Black communities makes me angry. But the beautiful surprise in these same spaces is that UNC-Chapel Hill is there! I would never have known all of the ways that Carolina is engaged in the communities that are experiencing these inequities. Seeing first-hand how Carolina faculty are partnering with communities on their priorities — not ours — inspires me, gives me hope and made me feel a sense of pride in our University that I did not have before.

As a new member of UNC SSW, what lessons will you take from the experience to implement at Carolina?

I can’t wait to share my experiences with my students! I look forward to collaborating with colleagues I met on the East bus. There is so much power in interprofessional collaboration, and I want to find opportunities for our students to be more involved in the communities that they love and represent. I am motivated by community engagement, I always have been, and this experience just confirms for me that I am exactly where I need to be and I am doing exactly what I was born to do.

Sum up your experience on the Tar Heel Bus Tour in five words.

Carolina is making a difference!