Letter on Need for Toni Van Pelt Resignation, from Chapel Hill NOW President

Ms Van Pelt,

I have closely followed the series of news articles surrounding allegations of racism in NOW precipitated by you. I also know and respect individuals who are long-time members of NOW who have witnessed your abhorrent behavior, especially towards women of color. Finally, the article published in The Washington Post today, July 15, compels me to speak out directly to you.

It is time for you to resign. 

Let me explain why.

In January, 2019, I proudly took on the leadership of Chapel Hill NOW in North Carolina. Since then I have worked diligently to establish credibility with the existing membership. Just as importantly, I have also worked to reach out to new members. There is more to that part of the story.

I live on the edge of a traditional African-American neighborhood. The condo building where I live is literally across the street from a very active Northside neighborhood center (the Marion Cheek Jackson Center) which is dedicated to preserving this historic neighborhood. The residents of Northside of Chapel Hill have been victimized by UNC specifically and by unscrupulous developers and the white populous in general for as long as there has been a Chapel Hill. Very few of the people who live in my complex ever cross that street either literally or figuratively.

Because I believe in intersectionality, in the value of including all voices, and in racial justice, I have crossed that street. I have gone to street fairs, I have asked for the help of their community workers, I have gone to their neighborhood holiday open house, I have supported their cause financially, I have attended the celebration of the opening of affordable housing, and I have marched with them. I did these things because I believed in their value, and I so wanted my neighbors across the street to believe that I respected them and that I was sincere, hoping that eventually a few would cross in my direction and become involved in Chapel Hill NOW.

Your actions have evaporated any credibility that I might have gained and damaged any progress I may have made in my goals.

How do I explain to my neighbors that I belong to an organization led by a person who has belittled women of color? How do I draw a distinction between the national organization and my local chapter? If I lived across the street, I would see just another insincere white woman coming toward me.

Your actions, including your refusal to accept responsibility for them, have undermined almost 2 years of my personal efforts, and with that set back any progress Chapel Hill NOW may have made in reaching our goals of inclusion and justice. 

Only your resignation would prove that NOW stands for the principles it avows.


Geraldine A. Richards

President, Chapel Hill NOW