UNC Adams Dental School held its 7th annual DEAH DAY on Wednesday to honor the legacy of the late Deah Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha, who were students at the school.
DEAH DAY stands for “Leading Efforts and Honoring Deah and Yusor”. Deah and Yusor, a young married couple, and Yusor’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha, were murdered in 2015 by their neighbor in a crime that family members say was motivated by hate. The shooter pleaded guilty to the murders, but was not charged with a hate crime. However, family members noted his aggressive behavior towards non-white neighbors, including showing the outline of a gun tucked into his clothes.
DEAH DAY honors Deah and Yusor’s legacy and their commitment to volunteer work.
The event takes place every year in the first week of October and students at the School of Dentistry organize service projects around the Triangle.
Rand Khasawneh and Deborah Liu, both fourth year dental school students, co-chaired this year’s DEAH DAY. A total of 353 volunteers – including dental students, faculty and community members – participated in service projects at 33 sites.
Khasawneh said she knew Deah, Yusor and Razan. She said the purpose of the event is always to help as many people as possible through outreach projects.
“It’s a way to continue what they hold dear and the things they enjoy,” Khasawneh said.
Ed Swift, executive vice dean of education and professor at the School of Dentistry, said that each year DEAH DAY is almost entirely organized by students. He said no classes were held at the dental school on DEAH day to allow students and faculty to participate in volunteer opportunities if they so desired.
Swift said he knew Deah as a student, but many dental students didn’t know Deah or Yusor personally. DEAH DAY serves as a reminder to everyone, Swift said, of what happened to them and the legacy they left.
“Over time you start to lose track of what really happened and why we are doing DEAH DAY,” he said. “And so, I think it’s a real credit to our student body and the leaders of our student body that they’ve been able to engage new students every year. “
On DEAH day, Cheyenne Lewis, a sophomore dental hygiene student, was site manager at the Boys and Girls Clubs in Durham and Orange counties.
Lewis said she and 23 other volunteers helped clean the facility in the morning and taught dental hygiene to the children in the afternoon.
Lewis said she also spent time that day at the DYOR Clinic, a clinic in Raleigh that provides free dental care to refugees and low-income families. Established in partnership with the School of Dentistry, DYOR Clinic honors the memory of Deah and Yusor, with its name honoring the social media hashtag used for their wedding celebration.
Lewis serves as the dental hygiene representative for the clinic.
“I think it’s important that the dental school continue to lead DEAH DAY,” she said. “And I love DYOR especially because I want to do public health, and DYOR allows me to meet like-minded people who have the same goal of serving those who don’t have the best access to care.”
Jasmine Nevil, another manager of the DEAH DAY site, volunteered for a Habitat for Humanity project where she and several others put in the frame of a house.
“Service is at the heart of my core beliefs,” Nevil said. “UNC is pretty special because I can see my classmates, my colleagues, and everyone at school sort of has the same service mentality.”
Liu said she wanted more people in the community to know about this event and who Deah and Yusor were.
“As students graduate from dental school, fewer and fewer people in the UNC community know about them, and the dental school will continue this tradition for the foreseeable future,” Liu said.
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