This March, during Women’s History Month, we are highlighting four Community Superstars. These incredible women are local leaders in North Carolina who have been doing amazing work in their communities and with the North Carolina Council of Churches.
Our first Community Superstar is Alberta Hairston, former Council Governing Board President and lifelong advocate for justice and women’s rights.
Alberta Hairston was born in 1937 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and raised in the Catholic faith. Her whole life has been about Catholic social teaching and Catholic social justice. Her first involvement in movement work was fair housing advocacy in Cincinnati as they organized to protest “red-lining.”
“I’ve always been involved in social action because we have to act when we see something that’s not right, even when it doesn’t affect us. As Christians we care about our neighbors.”
In 1956, Hairston received a scholarship to Bennett College in Greensboro, NC. She later left college and went to work as a Catholic school teacher in Ohio during the 1960s and 1970s. At the age of 52 in 1989, she returned to Greensboro, NC, to complete her degree at Bennett College. In Ohio, Alberta had grown up as a Black Catholic among Black Catholics, even while her parish was racially integrated. That was not her experience in Greensboro, where there weren’t very many Catholics and fewer Black Catholics–one-percent of Catholics in North Carolina at that time were Black. To do the justice work she felt called to do, she knew it would have to an ecumenical effort. The Catholics would need to work with other Christians from other denominations who shared common justice goals. As a Black Catholic in the South, Alberta felt called to build coalitions of Christian justice across denominational differences in order to show that we are part of the same faith and united in Bible-based Christianity.
When Alberta graduated from Bennett College in 1994, she was appointed to the position of Catholic Campus Minister, under the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. The student center was called Thea House and served students at Bennet College and N.C. A&T University. She made a home for the social life of students, a safe place for them to form relationships, and a quiet place for them to study. She also organized service projects for them to address social needs across the city. Most of the students involved in her ministry were from out of state and from other countries. “They were all first generation college students, young people without support structures,” Alberta said. “I did everything I could to help them graduate. At the house, I taught them how to become a little family, students from both campuses, where they learned to help each other, to look out for one another.”
In 1997 Alberta became a member of the Council’s House of Delegates (precursor to our present Governing Board) representing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. She joined the Council because she knew it was involved in the work she cared about: Christian social action for peace and justice, including advocacy for an equitable society that takes care of our neighbors who have been deprived of resources.
But in 2013, the Raleigh Diocese of the Catholic Church withdrew from the Council and they were quickly followed by Alberta’s Charlotte Diocese. Alberta was president of the Council’s Governing Board, creating a dilemma. In spite of her bishop’s wishes that she resign from the Council’s Board, Alberta elected to remain on the Governing Board and serve her term as President. She did more than that. She continued on the Board in the role of Past-President and also served on the search committee that recommended the hire of our current Executive Director, the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Copeland.
We are honored to highlight a lifelong activist for justice and women’s rights and give thanks to God that she is part of the Council family. We strive to live through her words: “Keep the faith, and keep on encouraging our churches to put their faith into action.”