Ten ways to be ethically engaged in Durham

make duke weird

Addressing Duke students’ community engagement in Durham, I want to start by unpacking the term “Durhamite.”

Referring to someone as a Durhamite does not simply mean they are from Durham. You would never call one of your fellow Duke students from Durham a Durhamite. Rather, it is a pejorative term that packs connotations of being poor, low-class, uneducated, or creepy... When I go out to bars at home in Chicago, there are no debasing terms for my existence, as no one seems to think my presence is an invasion. Being a Duke student versus a Durhamite is not an issue of where we are from, it is an issue of class. 

The term Durhamite also points to the idea that we as Duke students do not live in Durham—we are not Durhamites. There’s of a lot of truth to this, because although we may geographically live in Durham, we live our lives practically at Duke, even if we live in Berkshire Main, Station 9, West Village, or another fancy apartment complex. We live in a bubble and that’s okay, because privilege is not necessarily a bad thing. Nonetheless, we need to understand our bubble and how it relates to Durham. Only when we understand can we even begin to mitigate the potential harm (such as gentrification) that this bubble implies. 

To mitigate harm, we can start with rethinking our language. Making people feel alienated in their own city by calling them Durhamites doesn’t help. Beyond this bare minimum, I believe it’s important to educate ourselves on the place we’ll be occupying for four years, to understand its history and our own positionality within the space. This process should be anything but boring, as the history of Durham is immensely rich, from the tobacco industry, Black Wall Street, its rich Civil Rights Movement, a story of its school desegregation in the book and movie The Best of Enemies, its musical history through blues and jazz, and even Duke’s presence. 

Above all, I believe the best way to educate and enrich yourself is through engagement with Durham. This should go beyond weekly trips to Monuts and the occasional night out at Boxcar. Engagement means existing in Durham beyond being a Duke student. Ironically, Duke can be a great place to start with this, whether it be through a service-learning course or BassConnections project, research, or other civic engagement. However, three years as a Duke student have taught me that most of us are not rich in time—and that adding one more responsibility onto our plates can push us off the deep end. 

Luckily, engagement doesn’t necessarily need to be a formal position at a non-profit, volunteering, or having a job. Engagement can be as big or small as anyone wants it to be. During my first year at Duke, I was in no way engaged with Durham, even though I had a desire to be, because I didn’t know where to start.

Since then, through my own experiences and through those of my friends, I have become aware of many pathways to community engagement here. So, I hope that this list of organizations in Durham could catalyze others, especially first-years, to begin  engaging more thoughtfully with the city. 

1. Shop at The Durham Co-op

The Durham Co-op is a collectively owned, rather than corporately owned, grocery store whose purpose is to serve the community rather than generate profit. Shopping at the Co-op supports Durham through its ethical, sustainable, fair trade practices as well as its sourcing from local farms, carrying natural and organic foods and products. On Wednesday evenings they have free wine tastings and on Thursday evenings they serve delicious $3 dinners.

2. Tutor at Durham Public Schools (DPS) through America Reads/America Counts

America Reads/America Counts is a national organization and in this case, the Duke Community Service Center is partnered with Durham Public Schools for the purposes of enhancing Durham children’s primary-level reading and math skills while giving Duke students an opportunity for community engagement and job experience. 

3. Volunteer with El Centro Hispano

El Centro Hispano is a Latino nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the Hispanic/Latino community and advocating for their equity and inclusion in the Triangle Area of North Carolina. They seek volunteers for tutoring children after schools, interpreters for special events, working with various programs, and assisting with ESL classes. 

4. Attend Farm Church

Every Sunday at 10 a.m., members of the community gather to farm crops for a local food pantry, as well as attend a non-denominational mass (I’m an atheist, and I attend). Farm Church is a focal point of community in Durham and strives to use faith to promote environmental justice, food justice and more in the Durham community. 

5. Volunteer with SEEDS

SEEDs is an urban garden and kitchen classroom in Durham that teaches life and leadership to young people through growing, cooking, and sharing food as well as learning how the environment interacts with them and vice versa. SEEDS seeks volunteers to work on their youth After-School program and their Adult Farm Incubator volunteering. 

6. Attend Hayti Heritage Center events 

The Hayti Heritage Center is a historic gathering point for culture in Durham, with the mission to advance the African American Experience and the historic Hayti neighborhood through programming to benefit to the local, national, and global community. Hayti boasts programs such as the Bull Durham Blues festival, the Hayti Heritage Film Festival, Kwanzaa celebration, and much more. You can sign up for their newsletter to stay in the loop. 

7. Work with the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF)

CEF is a non-profit organization focusing on homelessness and poverty in Durham and Orange County through creating relationship-based support, workforce development, financial education and financial support to achieve systemic change. CEF has an advocate program for Duke students in which they are trained through a Duke House Course (HOUSECS59).

8. Shop at or get involved with the Durham Farmer’s Market

For twenty years the Durham Farmer’s Market has delivered fresh and local food to the community. Since then, they have committed to increasing access to their food regardless of income. The Farmer’s Market is open every Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. and every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. The market also has opportunities for volunteering, ranging from leading cooking demos, fundraising, assisting the information table, fundraising and more. Whether you’re shopping or volunteering, engaging with the Durham farmer’s market is a great way to support healthy food accessibility in the community as well as local farmers. 

9. Participate in EcoBloom at the Hub Farm for Durham Public Schools 

The Hub Farm is a 30 acre farm, forest, and aquatic educational center in Durham, North Carolina that works with local students, teachers, and the greater Durham community for the purposes of improving environmental stewardship, career development, and health and nutrition. The farm’s EcoBloom program offers field trips for 5thgrade DPS students to engage in experiential learning and seeks volunteers to work with the students. 

10. Get involved with Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham 

The coalition is an interfaith non-profit organization that uses faith and goodwill end violence in Durham as well as heal the community. They host “Luncheon Roundtables” every Thursday that provide a space for community members to gather around the pursuit of nonviolence, which a different topic every week. They also host “Restorative Justice Durham”, a space to explore restorative justice values and how they can promote healing in Durham. These events are open to all and can be found on their website. 

I hope that this list will provide fellow Duke students more pathways to become engaged in Durham. As I’ve learned, Durham’s network of organizations that aim to empower the community are tightly interwoven, so as you engage with one, that will likely lead to another, and another. Moreover, I believe one’s mindset is critical as a Duke student getting involved in Durham. One should never think they are doing “charity” work when engaging in Durham. Rather, community engagement should be viewed as enriching for both parties, valuable experiences for us Duke students, and maybe some more hands on deck and support for organizations and people in Durham. 

Bella Miller is a Trinity senior. Her column, “make duke weird,” typically runs on alternate Tuesdays.


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