Graduates in Action: Barbara Zelter Puts Social Justice Training into Action

Every Friday night, a downtown church in Raleigh, North Carolina, fills with more people ZELTERthan it can hold. The diverse group meets to discuss the logistics of the direct action events that have, since late April, taken place each Monday at the North Carolina State Capitol. The movement is known as "Moral Monday."

A mix of progressive Christian leaders, college students, minimum wage workers, social workers and many others, the broad coalition of protestors are united in their concern about recent policies by the North Carolina legislature that they believe are a concerted effort to limit the civil and economic rights of ethnic minorities and those living below the poverty line. These policies include a move to make Christianity the official religion of the state, remove extended benefits for over 70,000 people, the decision to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion provision (which would cover an additional 500,000 people) and the repeal of the state’s earned income credit.

One of Moral Monday’s loudest voices comes from social worker Barbara Zelter, who graduated from CRCDS in 2010 with a Master of Arts in Theology. She was among the first 17 people arrested when the protests began on April 29, 2013. Many more have been incarcerated since the actions began, including 120 on July1, 2013. Zelter has worked closely with the movement’s leader, the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, who is President of the North Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Advocacy for the economic justice for society’s marginalized people has been the focus of Zelter’s career over the past 25 years. She earned a Master of Social Work degree from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 1991, and then worked within a number of statewide affiliations to advocate for key issues like healthcare and welfare reform. From 2003-2007, she was the Statewide Organizer for peace and economic justice initiatives for the North Carolina Council of Churches.

Zelter left her native Rochester, New York, in 1971, but returned in 2008 to attend CRCDS. Her graduate dissertation, entitled ”Race and Religion in Rochester: 1964-1969,” touched on many of the themes she sees first hand as a social work teacher at North Carolina State. Today Zelter is actively engaged in political activism as a community organizer in North Carolina. She is involved in many other initiatives like Moral Monday, working to secure better services and opportunities for economically challenged communities.