When Wendy Jacobs left her native New Jersey in 1979 to attend Duke, she did not realize she would find a lifelong home in Durham.
After working as a teacher and serving on city organizations during the past 30 years, Jacobs is now running for public office. Jacobs, Trinity ’83, is one of six candidates for five spots on the Durham County Board of Commissioners.
“As a Duke student, I was involved with a lot of things on campus that intersected with the Durham community, and by the time I graduated, I just felt that I belonged here,” Jacobs said. “Now I’ve been involved in the community for more than thirty years—as a neighborhood leader, a public school teacher, a parent and a member of the Durham Planning Commission—and I believe that I’ve gained the skills, knowledge and experience to tackle the problems we still have here in Durham.”
Jacobs, a Democrat, said her platform comprises three central ideas—fighting unemployment, improving education and making good choices about land use and transportation.
Her opponents are Democrats Fred Foster, Brenda Howerton, Michael Page and Ellen Reckhow, along with Omar Beasley, who is unaffiliated.
“I really hope that Duke students come out and vote in this election,” Jacobs said. “Of course the presidential election is critical, but the local race is also very important. I’ve realized how critical it is to have people in office who are really representing the best interests of the majority of citizens, and that’s why I’m running for office.”
Duke Democrats has officially endorsed Jacobs as a candidate.
Her knowledge and experience on education and environmental issues and her work as a teacher in the Durham public schools will be assets to the board, sophomore David Winegar, co-president of Duke Democrats, wrote in an email Monday.
Early in her time as a Duke student, Jacobs became involved with a program called Operation Breakthrough, in which she tutored children in Durham’s South Side neighborhood. This was the beginning of Jacobs’ engagement in the Durham community.
“Durham to me is a place where it is very easy to get involved in the community,” Jacobs said. “When I first came here, I noticed that the problems here are often very transparent—you can see the poverty, nothing is hidden. And if you see a problem, you can do something about it.... This community’s greatest resource is its people.”
Jacobs spent her time as a student making changes to Duke as well as to Durham. In her sophomore year, she perceived a need for a place on campus to serve as a meeting place for student groups and a social alternative to the dominance of greek life. She sought approval from the University to create such a space, and shortly thereafter, the Duke Coffeehouse was established.
“Duke allowed me to feel empowered to make a difference, and that’s where my path to public office started,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs’ family also has ties to Duke. Her husband, Dr. Michael Meredith, who graduated from Duke in 1982, now works as a primary care physician at Duke Hospital. Her daughter, Eliza Meredith, is a current freshman.
“Her campaign’s been really exciting for me, because I’ve grown up seeing her as an activist for these different things,” Eliza Meredith said. “It says a lot that she came to Duke and hasn’t left. As soon as she was a Duke student, she got involved in Durham and really made it her home.”
Jacobs said it was important for students to vote in the election, but she also offered undergraduates more general recommendations about activities to pursue during their college careers.
“I encourage Duke students to follow their passions, to get involved in the community and in different organizations,” Jacobs said. “It’s a win-win situation, because you’re contributing, but you’re also learning, and you never know what path your experiences will take you on.”