Rev. Barber sermon at historic Riverside Church in NYC

Rev. Dr. William Barber's message of moral clarity and civic courage is spreading. The video above by Eric Preston of Fusion Films documents Rev. Barber's Palm Sunday sermon at the historic Riverside Church in New York City.  Yara Allen sings. "Walk with me, Lord" to introduce to Rev. Barber's sermon.

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5 Hour Wait to Vote in Urban Centers: 2016's most cynical election strategy coming to Wisconsin, North Carolina, & Ohio

This video shot on election day 2012 by Eric Byler, Bobby Wangerman, Annabel Park, and Michael Levin is the best documentation so far of the unfairness of long lines at the polls in urban centers.  Recently, swing states like Ohio, North Carolina, and Wisconsin have implemented policies designed to engineer long lines at the polls in urban centers.

Defenders of this strategy say election administration should be 'equal' regardless of population density, even if this means unequal access to the polls due to waiting times. Conservative lawmakers, who have accepted and implemented election law changes suggested by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heritage foundation have also accepted the argument that the constitutional right to equal justice under law does not protect things like early voting and weekend voting simply because they help to ease long lines in populated areas. Instead, they argue, the notion of equal protection can be used to justify cutting back on early voting and weekend voting because they are essential to avoid long lines where the population is dense, but less so where the population is sparse.

Critics of the "long lines" electoral strategy compare it to Jim Crow practices such as poll taxes, saying that wage earners who miss time at work or have to hire child care in order to wait five or more hours to vote are facing the equivalent of a poll tax.

By contrast, we shot the video below on the same day, in a more rural area of Virginia 2 hours southwest, not far from James Madison University:

Story of America is working on a more in-depth video on this subject.  DONATE so that the story can continue.

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Republicans, NAACP join forces to prevent 'medical desert' in coastal NC

Saved-Pungo-Hospital-1-small.jpgWhat you are looking at here is a "coming together," as Rev. Dr. William Barber likes to put it, of black and white, conservative Republicans and the historically progressive NAACP, and, an immensely powerful corporation agreeing to work together with some of the poorest, least powerful people in our country.

If there were at times you didn't believe this was possible, don't feel bad. I didn't. As I filmed the March 25 prayer vigil, I remember feeling deep compassion, almost pity for these people in a hopeless situation. "Prayer changes things," the Deacon said, and the Mayor nodded his head. The sun was setting. It was the hospital's darkest hour — just a week before it was scheduled to be closed and then demolished.

But a dawn awaited just beyond the horizon, and this time, it brought with it incredible news. The next day, a settlement was announced (see below), and it was made official in the signing ceremony you see in the photo above: Dr. David Herman, president and CEO of Vidant Health, Inc, signs the agreement mediated by the US Dept. of Justice at the request of the North Carolina NAACP to keep Vidant Pungo Hospital open.

March 26: In a joint statement seen below, the North Carolina NAACP and Vidant Health announced a settlement that will allow Belhaven's hospital to remain open. Vidant Heatlh will operate the hospital and its emergency facilities up until a July 1st handover to a new, community-based entity to run the hospital indefinitely. On Thursday April 3, the parties will hold a joint press conference to announce a strategic plan that could become a model for addressing the "medical desert" crisis impacting America's rural communities.

CLICK HERE for written statement.

Original blog: The U.S. Dept. of Justice has offered mediation to Vidant Health and the North Carolina NAACP to resolve a Title 6 complaint under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven, NC, which serves 25K people in Beaufort and Hyde counties, was purchased by Vidant Health two years ago under a contractual agreement stipulating that Vidant would keep the hospital open and expand services.

Six months ago, Vidant announced it would be closing the hospital instead, forcing patients to travel an additional 30 miles to another hospital recently purchased by Vidant, in Washington, NC.

UPDATE: On March 20 and 21, Story of America was not allowed inside, but we did our best to document the first two days of mediation between Vidant Health and the North Carolina NAACP. Mediation will continue on Wednesday March 26. Unconfirmed reports from Belhaven indicate that Vidant Health intends to go forward with its plan to close the hospital on April 1, and demolish the building soon after.

The two defining power plays of this story thus far are:

(1) Vidant Health's ability to influence Pantego Creek, LLC, with whom it signed the contract to purchase the hospital, NOT to hold them accountable for violating that contract

(2) The North Carolina NAACP's federal complaint, citing Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits entities that receive federal funds from spending them in ways that discriminate against minorities. Whether intended or not, Vidant's decision to close the Belhaven hospital would have a disproportionate impact on African Americans, thousands of whom have lived in the region since emancipation.

Both are best explained in our video series.

Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, has travelled to Belhaven, NC three times this year to join in local efforts to prevent the hospital's closing. In part 2 of our video series, and, in more detail in here, Rev. Barber explains the complaint. 

We learned on March 15 that the US Justice Department had offered to mediate the dispute. On March 16, NAACP attorney Al McSurely said, "We have reason to believe that there will be talks between both sides to see whether an agreement can be made to slow up the decision to tear the hospital down until after the community can negotiate a better outcome, with the government's help."

Residents of Belhaven, of Beaufort County, and of Hyde County welcomed encouraging news for the second consecutive day after many in the area had given up hope. On Friday, March 14, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners voted in an emergency session (see videoto give the hospital a new lease on life. By a 4 to 3 vote, the commissioners decided to lend $2 million toward the continued operating of the hospital, under different management. The pre-conditions are various and complex, but the decision provides a window of opportunity if the Justice Department mediation fails.

MORE: Belhaven woman plays prayer vigil even as hospital flags are taken down

Original report, Feb. 26: What happens when a state with a high poverty rate refuses the expansion of Medicaid? What happens when a hospital chain buys all the hospitals in an area and creates a monopoly? What happens when that hospital chain begins to consolidate their hospitals leaving some areas with thousands of people without emergency services for nearly 80-100 miles? These are some of the questions that come up in the story of Vidant Pungo Hospital closing in Belhaven, NC. 

Vidant Health, a system of hospitals serving 29 counties in eastern North Carolina, announced six months ago that it would be closing the Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven, NC, which they had purchased from a local community group two years earlier. The date set for closing the hospital is April 1st, and it is said that Vidant wants to demolish the building as well. 

If Vidant Pungo Hospital is shut down, the closest hospital with emergency care would be Vidant Beaufort Hospital in Washington, NC which is 30 miles west (on two-lane rural roads). Vidant Pungo Hospital is currently the closest emergency room for most people in neighboring Hyde County, many of whom already face a 90-minute drive to get there. Adding an additional 30 minutes could have fatal consequences.

save-our-hospital-sm.jpgWhen Vidant Health bought the community hospital, it signed a contract with a local group that became Pantego Creek, LLC. The contract promises to keep the hospital open, and to improve services.

At the time of the purchase, Pungo Hospital was losing $1 million a year. After Vidant took it over, it began losing $2 million a year. 

According to Vidant Health and other experts, the NC General Assembly's decision to reject Medicaid expansion made the hospital less viable. Vidant Pungo Hospital serves people in two of the poorest counties in the state — Beaufort and Hyde — where many residents cannot afford to purchase health insurance, and many have no transportation.

Vidant also claims that it could not make the Pungo Hospital viable due to the building's deteriorated state and the lack of revenue. This assessment is fiercely disputed by Dr. Charles Boyette, the hospital's former chief of staff, former mayor and town physician for nearly 50 years. 

Dr. Boyette, and the man who replaced him as Mayor, Adam O'Neal, both believe that Vidant Health never intended to improve the management of Vidant Pungo Hospital and make it more efficient. They believe Vidant Health had planned to close the hospital from the outset, and shift patients to another recently-purchased hospital in Washington, NC. Because Vidant owns all the hospitals in the area, people will have to go to one Vidant hospital or another, so, closing one reduces costs dramatically without losing too many customers. 

Since September when Vidant announced their decision to close Vidant Pungo Hospital, Mayor O'Neal has organized rallies and petition drives to protest. In January, the North Carolina NAACP filed a Title 6 complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice claiming that this decision is discriminatory because it disproportionately affects African Americans, women, and the elderly. On Tuesday we learned that a federal investigator had been assigned to the case. 

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Prayers answered: Belhaven Hospital Will Go On

Republicans joined by NAACP & US Justice Dept to prevent closure of rural hospital, settlement could have national ramifications

As if in answer to a prayer vigil filmed in Belhaven, NC on March 25, an announcement came on March 26, 2014 in a joint statement from the North Carolina NAACP and Vidant Health. The Vidant Pungo Hospital will not be closed on April 1 as planned. Under the settlement reached through mediation performed by the US Department of Justice, Vidant Heatlh will operate the hospital and its emergency facilities up until a July 1st handover to a new, community-based entity to run the hospital indefinitely. On Thursday April 3, the parties will hold a joint press conference to announce a strategic plan that could become a model for addressing the "medical desert" crisis impacting America's rural communities.

CLICK HERE for a written statement that gives more details.

Andrew Ruiz of WNCT reports:

Cries for help to save the Vidant-Pungo hospital were answered. 

On Wednesday the NAACP and Vidant Health reached an agreement and Thursday afternoon, in a joint statement, they announced the terms.

"I definitely think that the prayers that have been coming from everywhere have helped us,” said Adam O'Neal, Belhaven mayor. “People have stayed focus on our issue but we still have a lot of hoops to jump through.”

Over the next three months, Vidant Health will work with the community to help them establish a representative community-based board. The board is expected to take full operating control of the hospital by the end of the extension, July 1st. 

Those who live in the community are reacting to the news. They say the hospitals presence means better access to healthcare and faster response times.

"We had to go to Beaufort and the wait times is almost double or triple what you would have here," one resident said.

At a March 26 prayer vigil in front of the hospital (see video below), Jessica Rogers announced that she will be organizing a prayer vigil every night leading up to and including the scheduled closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital on April 1.  Now that a resolution has been reached, the prayer vigils will take place weekly each Thursday.  

CLICK for 1st Belhaven hospital vlogNo-Flag-Hospital-sm.jpg

As the sun came up on day 2 of the Justice Department's mediation between Vidant Health and the North Carolina NAACP, there were no flags flying above Vidant Pungo Hospital. The hospital had been built in 1948, and run by the Belhaven, NC community until it was purchased by Vidant Health two years ago and scheduled for closing on April 1, 2014.

A few days earlier, US Department of Justice had responded to a federal complaint filed by the North Carolina NAACP under Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act, offering mediation as a first step toward resolving the dispute. Both Vidant Health and the NC NAACP had accepted. And then the flags came down.

To this point, our cameras have never entered the hospital. But we have heard reports from employees that equipment is being removed and all are being told by Vidant Health that the hospital will close on April 1. I had first noticed that the American flag, and the North Carolina flag had been removed on the eve of the Office of Civil Rights mediation, day 1.

Flags are, of course, symbols, and I wondered what the intended message could be in removing them hours before the Justice Department-hosted mediation was to begin. Would Vidant be entering mediation in good faith?  

Jessica-Rogers-Better-Still-sm.jpgPerhaps with similar questions in mind, a concerned citizen named Jessica Rogers has called for a prayer vigil in front of the hospital even as mediation continues. She posted this to Facebook on the evening of March 24:

Please share all over BEAUFORT county: There will be a candlelight prayer vigil in front of Pungo District Hospital aka Vidant Pungo Hospital tomorrow night, 3/25/2014 at 7pm on the pier. Asking for all to come out and support the hospital in the midnight hour. We know that prayer changes things, we have come too far to turn back now. 

Just as Pharaoh's heart was changed so shall the people of Vidant hear our pleas to save the hospital. Its needed and necessary. Think of your loved ones and the future of the community as a whole. The economy here has already suffered through natural disasters and having to bounce back slowly. How much more will it be affected if the hospital is gone. How much more damage can a man made disaster cause for the town. 

Its not about the dollars its about lives. Join me tomorrow night to show Vidant there is power in numbers and in prayer. God bless you all. 

Thank you.

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Chief Murphy Recognized by President Obama for Act of Racial Reconciliation

One of the great honors on our 18-month (thus far) Story of America journey was meeting Police Chief Kevin Murphy of Montgomery, AL. Recently at the White House, President Obama recognized and thanked Chief Murphy for an act of reconciliation that we documented in the video above.

The exchange too place at the St. Patrick’s Day reception (Murphy is Irish American), when President Obama gave Murphy a personal “thank you” for his continued efforts to improve the relationship between law officers and communities of color.

Rebecca Burylo of The Montgomery Advertiser reports:

“The president had heard of my gesture and told me that I was a good man, that I did a good thing,” Murphy said. “I was very humbled by that. I never thought that the president of the United States would have known about the gesture and that really touched me.”

The relationship between Lewis and Murphy is a testament to the chief’s mission of reconciliation.

“Congressman Lewis is a great man. He is just so humble and a genuine gentleman, but a tough guy,” Murphy said. “Who would have known 50 years ago that this young man then would become a United States congressman?

“He’s one of the biggest heroes we have today,” Murphy added.

Since becoming police chief three years ago, Murphy has made it his mission to change the country’s negative perception of Montgomery and the South because of its history of slavery and segregation.

It is a history that should be taught and remembered, but never repeated, Murphy said. [MORE]

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