Chapel Hill, N.C. —After the deaths of two of their own, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill dental students sought to create something lasting and impactful to remember the late Deah Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha.
Aptly called DEAH DAY, or “Directing Efforts and Honoring Deah and Yusor,” classes were canceled on Sept. 17 as about 350 UNC School of Dentistry students dedicated a day to community service — from working at a homeless shelter and helping at local food banks to building homes with Habitat for Humanity.
The inaugural event comes seven months after Mr. Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and his 19-year-old sister-in-law Razan Abu-Salha were fatally shot in their Chapel Hill apartment. Police officers arrested their neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, as the alleged shooter.
“After the tragic loss of Deah, Yusor and Razan, there were many requests to honor their legacies from students and faculty,” said dental student volunteer Kaushal Gandhi. “Their legacy is that of learning, service, humanity, faith and compassion. DEAH DAY is the perfect way to pay tribute to their lives.”
Mr. Barakat, a member of the class of 2017, and Ms. Abu-Salha, a member of the class of 2019, had planned to travel to Turkey this past summer to provide dental care to Syrian refugees. In addition, their community service extended beyond dentistry as they often volunteered to provide food for the homeless.
In response to the tragedy, various groups — from Muslim-American organizations to the dental community — have since launched food drives and created scholarship funds to help ensure the humanitarian causes the three young victims championed continue to live long after their deaths.
For DEAH DAY, which was organized with the support of the Dental Foundation of North Carolina, more than 20 teams of dental student volunteers worked on various projects — many of which are not dental related — such as providing oral health instruction to seniors at Chapel Hill’s Seymore Center, working at the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill and cleaning up Ellerbee Creek.
“They had some incredible hearts, often giving their weekends to help those less fortunate,” said Dr. Jane Weintraub, dean at the UNC School of Dentistry. “We will conduct these events every year to honor their memories and continue their legacy of giving back to the community. I am very proud of our students for organizing and participating in this wonderful event.”
Later in the day, the student volunteers gathered at the dental school for a Celebration of Service to reflect on the importance of giving back.
“Deah and Yusor both showed an insatiable want to give back to help everyone around them,” said Omar AbdelBaky, dental student and DEAH DAY co-organizer. “We know this day will remind busy students that there is a world outside of school, and by giving back, we can connect to our communities and become the best people we can be.”