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“I’m Optimistic Because It’s the Only Way I Know How to Live.”

“I’m Optimistic Because It’s the Only Way I Know How to Live.”

Karen Anderson, the ACLU-NC’s New Executive Director, on the Fight for Civil Liberties in North Carolina

By Molly Rivera, Communications Associate

At just 10 years old Karen Anderson immigrated to the United States from Jamaica. Her family moved to New York to a majority Black neighborhood. Even from a young age, she remembers being struck by racial tensions in her community.

“It’s at that age that you begin to look out at the world, and things just didn’t seem right,” said Karen.

As more and more inequities and injustices came into focus, she tried to reconcile her vision of what she thought her life would be like in the U.S. and what was actually happening around her. She also began to ask questions: Why is the world this way? And does it have to be? She finally started to find the answers she was looking for in the classroom.

“At some point I was introduced to the beauty of the Constitution,” she said. “And that was a big moment for me because it calls to the best of us.”

Karen soon found her place working on social justice issues, and quickly realized that this was what she felt called to do.

“There’s a dichotomy of what we could be as a nation and what we are,” said Karen. “And this idea really speaks to me, and I think to the larger immigrant community.”

Throughout her professional career as a lawyer, she explored her passion for gender and racial equity issues and criminal justice, doing pro bono work on immigration, employment, and civil rights matters. Finally, she discovered the ACLU, a natural fit for her interests and experience. She served on the Board of Directors of the ACLU of New Hampshire for ten years and, more recently, on the National Board before she was drawn to North Carolina.

“North Carolina is very much on the cutting edge of civil rights issues,” said Karen. “Almost every issue that is front and center nationally is happening here.”

Karen is taking the helm of the ACLU of North Carolina at a pivotal time for civil liberties in the state. The organization is in the midst of a high-profile legal battle against House Bill 2, the state’s notoriously discriminatory anti-LGBT law, and recently helped win a major victory for voting rights when a federal appeals court struck down North Carolina’s sweeping voter suppression law. In response to recent legislative attacks, the ACLU-NC is also ramping up efforts to work with communities across the state to promote police accountability, fight anti-immigrant proposals, and protect abortion access for all North Carolina women.

Even among the sparks of political turmoil, community unrest, and deep divisions and injustices that persist today, Karen feels that the state is pointed forward, changing in ways that still feel welcoming to her.

“I am optimistic because it’s the only way I know how to live,” said Karen. “Right will win in the end.”