Readers for Change inaugural meeting gets emotional; Duke Energy second sponsor to back out of Faith parade

Published 12:10 am Thursday, July 21, 2022

SALISBURY — The inaugural meeting Wednesday of a new group called Readers for Change brought in more than 50 people, and at times conversation became heated during discussions about the Faith Fourth of July parade and the Confederate presence in it.

Duke Energy became the second sponsor to announce it will no longer support the parade, following title sponsor Novant pulling out Tuesday.

Residents from around the area began a letter-writing campaign to the largest sponsors of the parade after several groups participated again this year carrying Confederate flags and wearing Confederate insignia. Re-enactors wearing Confederate uniforms also fired blanks from rifles over the crowd. It has been a bone of contention in the past, but this year it has reached a higher pitch.

So far, only Novant and Duke have pulled their sponsorship; others have yet to respond to requests from the community to cease supporting the event. The city of Faith responded to a call by saying the town “has no comment.”

Those in attendance at South Main Street Book Store on Wednesday aired differing concerns, but, “we all do want something to change,” said Kimberly Titlebaum. “Well, we can take action, we can write these companies that care about their bottom line, and let them know we will no longer spend our money with them.”

A list of sponsors and their addresses was provided to all in attendance for additional letters, either of concern or, in the case of Novant and Duke, thanks.

Many in the group related personal experiences involving racism, including Amanda J., who asked that her last name not be used so her job is not affected.

“When I was a child, I was a lot darker than I am now,” she said, noting she can “pass” as white many days. “I was playing outside in my front yard, and a parade of KKK members came by. They saw me and stopped, and they came into the yard and had surrounded me. My mother, who is white, ran out of the house screaming because she was so afraid.” She said when people say they are “color blind, and not racist, I know they think that’s a good thing, but it’s not. I want you to see my skin color, and everyone else’s, because the color of our skin is part of who we are, and I want you to acknowledge it.”

“I was taught that when good people do nothing, bad things happen,” said Rev. Olen V. Bruner. “I’m a Black man who lived through Jim Crow. The signs outside Faith that some say never existed, that made it clear I was not welcome, I saw them. Yes, conversations we are going to have about race are going to be uncomfortable, but that is how we make progress. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable.”

Most in the group expressed anger, frustration and disappointment that the town has continued to allow the groups to participate and that at least some in the town do not see the issue. Many of them commented on the idea that the Confederate flag has been co-opted by a number of groups and used as an expression of hate.

One woman, who refused to give her name, said she came to the meeting with one question: are people upset about the Confederate presence, or about the guns, because, she said, if it is the guns, “just ask them not to fire them.”

Amanda J. said it is actually both, “because you combine the Confederate symbols and flags with men firing guns, and it has a combined effect of stronger intimidation.”

The woman’s question brought an elevated response from some in the room, including Bruner, who later apologized for making her feel he was targeting her.

“I have always just seen it as part of history, but I do hear what you are saying, and I do know some groups do use the flag as a way to show hate,” she said.

“We live in the greatest country in the world, despite all our differences,” said Bruner. “Hope comes in the morning, but it has been an awfully long night. I want to see America live up to its claims.”

Alissa Redmond, owner of the shop and organizer of the event, said she was thrilled, though not surprised, by the turnout, given the feedback she has gotten both in participating in the letter-writing campaign and from the announcement of the meeting on Facebook.

“I think it’s absolutely incredible, the response,” said Jennifer Burnoff-Smith, who came with her husband Greg after they had taken their two children to the parade for the first time this year, and were extremely distressed. “I had to get my children up off the ground when they came by. They were sitting and just having fun but it was terrifying. What I would love to see is the sponsors saying they regret sponsoring the parade, not just that they are going to stop.”

Redmond let those attending know that the next group meeting would be on a different topic, likely the lack of foster parents in the area.