Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II
The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, delivers his keynote speech at the Equality North Carolina Gala in downtown Greensboro on Nov. 17.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — With standing ovations and shouts of “amen” coming from the audience, a passer-by could have easily confused Saturday night’s Equality North Carolina Gala as a rousing church service. The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, delivered his keynote speech at the event, calling those present to action and unity on matters of social justice for all people.

The statewide LGBT advocacy and education organization over 300 for their annual fundraising dinner at downtown Greensboro’s Empire Room. Earlier in the day, 360 had registered to attend the group’s conference on the campus of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

Barber, who successfully lobbied the national NAACP to adopt support for marriage equality, was presented with an honorary award at the gala.

“We might lose the battle, but we’ve already won the war…by pulling on the right strings of justice, love and humility,” said Barber, who was an instrumental ally in a coalition of groups which opposed the state’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment.

The amendment, among other issues, Barber said, was a wake-up call for young North Carolinians.

“Young people who have been tought that North Carolina was reasonable and progressive,” Barber said, woke up on May 8 to a figurative “ice-cold water shock.”

“Even here in North Carolina — though our black and Latino brothers and sisters have always known it — the Tar Heel soil is fertile for hate and fear,” Barber said.

The civil rights leader called forcefully for a new politics of change.

“We must have a 21st century fusion politics where we stand together not sometimes but all the time,” Barber said, citing the history of successful coalition politics in the 1890s that led to some progressive reform in the state and significant increases in the number of black elected officials just 30 years after the end of the Civil War.

Barber called for stronger and more united stands against anti-LGBT discrimination and on prison reform, health care, education, immigrant rights and voting rights, among other topics, and blasted the state’s Republican legislative leadership for their “regressive” agenda that included a repeal of the state’s Racial Justice Act and attempts to pass a voter identification law.

“If we stay together long enough and strong enough, we will win,” Barber said.

Barber also called out divisive religious leaders who he said are misleading followers and abusing the teachings of the Bible.

“You go and tell Franklin Graham,” he said of the son of evangelist Billy Graham, among others, “you want a real conservative and you ask them why they say so much of what God said so little and so little of what God said so much.”

Strategic coalition politics have begun to play a key role in progressive communities across the state. A coalition of hundreds of progressive organizations, businesses and faith leaders joined in the effort to stop May’s constitutional amendment. Involvement from allies in the North Carolina NAACP’s annual civil rights march held each February is also growing. The next “Historic Thousands on Jones Street,” or HKonJ, is planned for Feb. 9, 2013.

Barber’s keynote was followed by award presentations. Durham Democratic state Rep. Larry Hall received the group’s Legislator of the Year award. Salem College student Sammi Kiley was the group’s inaugural student leader honoree. Recipients of this year’s Bob Page Equality Champion Awards included Asheville’s Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Charlotte’s Chris McLeod & Krista Tillman, the Triad’s Rev. Julie Peeples, Durham blogger Pam Spaulding and Wilmington’s Sherre Toler.

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.