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‘All about unifying Durham’: City Council candidate Leonardo Williams promotes economic mobility, equitable education

In a year of unprecedented economic and social instability, Leonardo Williams believes Durham has stood up tall to the challenge. But he believes there is much more to be done.

A candidate for the Ward III seat in Durham’s City Council, Williams is running on a platform of promoting holistic community safety and well-being. For Williams, a unified Durham is a stronger and greater community.

“I’m all about unifying Durham to position itself to ensure folks have access to economic mobility, access to opportunity, access to additional learning spaces and access to safety, a safe community,” Williams said. 

Williams has been involved in the education sector, which have inspired his belief in spearheading holistic community development and economic mobility. 

According to his campaign website, Williams has been awarded Durham Public Schools Teacher of the Year twice, while also fundraising hundreds of thousands of dollars to empower teachers to fund students’ resource needs, through the North Carolina Foundation for Public School Children.

Through his work in education, Williams believes lack of support outside the classroom is a major contributor to lackluster academic performance, whether it be financial insecurity, instability at home or racial inequity. He also believes that disparities amongst communities in Durham directly contribute to variance in school quality, all of which compounds students’ barriers to learning.

“I went to two schools, where there were carpeted floors, every kid had a computer . . . and then I went to another school, where the building was partially dilapidated,” Williams reflected. “And I was really shocked that I was in the same school district.” 

Williams’s past work in education informs his campaign promise of comprehensive community development, the two of which he views as inextricably connected. His proposals include supplying legal defense resources to those fighting eviction ,reframing the city’s measures against crime and building infrastructure to support small businesses. He is also committed to addressing the public safety crisis, especially gun violence and its toll on young African American men.

Beyond education, Williams has also influenced the community with Zweli’s restaurant, which he co-owns with his wife Zwelibanzi Williams. Zweli’s recently landed a location at Duke and is a pioneer in Durham’s Zimbabwean food scene. To Williams, food doesn’t just represent a medium for sharing culture: it also facilitates discussion with his guests on improving the community. 

“In my restaurant,” he said, “[there is] a safe space to have that dialogue.”

Having lived in Durham for much of his life, Williams has experienced the city as a citizen, student, educator, parent and advocate, and he hopes to now represent the city’s interests as a city council member.

“[These reforms are] personal, not just for me directly, but the folks that I run into, thousands of people throughout the city,” he said.

His ultimate goal? To create a Durham that allows every one of its constituents to have the resources to construct their own legacy. 

“If you knew that today was your last day on Earth, what would you be proud of? Did you have the opportunity to do that one thing that you would be known for?” Williams asked. “I believe that everyone has a talent, everyone has a skill set, and you just have to realize it.” 

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