Mayor of Durham O’Neal: ‘Two main streets in Durham’


Elaine O’Neal, Mayor of Durham encouraged city and county residents to volunteer with city boards, commissions and community organizations on behalf of a “City in Crisis” still recovering from a global pandemic and gun violence unprecedented.

O’Neal, while delivering his first ‘state of the city’ address three months after being sworn in, also said it was time to rebuild Hayti District, the destroyed historically black residential and economic hub. more than half a century ago by the federal program of urban renewal.

“I’m struck by the fact that there are two main streets in Durham,” O’Neal said. “Yes, at one end of Main Street you see the skyscrapers, shops and amenities that illustrate the leaps to prosperity that many Durham residents have experienced in recent years. At the other end of Main Street, you see a community that has not kept up with prosperity. Main Street runs through the heart of Durham. Now is the time to sew the quilt and make Durham fair for all.

For all of Durham to share in the city’s prosperity, O’Neal described a “rebalancing” that takes into account neighborhoods “negatively affected by urban renewal and decades of neglect”.

“The black community, and therefore Durham, has never recovered from the loss of Haiti’s 150 businesses,” she said, before announcing that the city is “supporting a partnership between the Hayti Heritage Foundation and the Urban Land Institute as part of an exploration mission for the redevelopment of the Fayetteville Street corridor.

The redevelopment, O’Neal said, will have “a community-centric mindset, ensuring the community is involved in both planning and economic participation.”

The mayor did not say whether the ‘community-centric mindset’ would include public servant input or involvement with Hayti Reborn, the Durham developers who asked council for a public hearing after their proposal to develop a residential, economic and educational hub at Fayette Place in the Hayti area has not been selected by the Durham Housing Authority.

“Hayti will come back,” O’Neal said. “We want prosperity in every corner of Durham.”

In addition to shared prosperity, O’Neal spoke about creating safer neighborhoods, affordable housing, infrastructure, public health, the pandemic and the importance of being “an inclusive and welcoming city.” .

O’Neal told townspeople that 21 people applied for the council seat left vacant when Charlie Reece resigned last month to move to Paris with his family.

“Holding public office is serious business, and I’m grateful that we have a strong pool of candidates to choose from,” O’Neal said. “We intend to select a candidate who will represent the interests of all Durham residents.”

According to her, a better Durham starts with “creating a safe city and safe neighborhoods for all”.

“Our city is in crisis and gun violence is killing far too many of our residents and young black men,” the mayor said. “Over the past few months since I took office, gun violence has reached seemingly new levels of violence and chaos. In the past week alone, we have seen six deaths.

“I also want to acknowledge the citywide trauma that our residents are feeling,” O’Neal said after offering his condolences to families who have lost loved ones to gun violence. “We are a city in pain. And we struggle to make sense of the violence we continue to witness.

In advancing the cause of citywide volunteerism to help Bull City recover from gun violence, grow and grow stronger, the Mayor highlighted a question posed by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957 “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you to do for others?’

“Find any local organization, especially where our young people are involved,” she suggested. “Zoom provided a great way to read to a class, offer a tour of a local museum through video, and volunteer to help [at] a school for an hour or two every week. Food pantry, school supply drives, neighborhood cleanup and beautification, coding squads, libraries, literacy and youth organizations, gun violence prevention groups…the list goes on. Bring a friend or two and develop the network we need.

The mayor shared a set of highlights, including a partnership between the city, county and Duke University to make loans available to small businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic.

The initiative, known as the Opportunity Loan Fund, has disbursed $860,000 to 39 businesses, 29 of which are owned by people of color or women.

“There’s $140,000 of municipal funds and $800,000 of county funds remaining in this opportunity fund to provide low-cost financing through loans of $5,000 to $35,000 to eligible businesses,” O’ said. Neal.

The city’s first black female mayor also touted the more than $50 million the city is set to receive from the US federal bailout that will be used to offset revenue losses resulting from the pandemic.

“These funds can be used to meet other community needs,” she said.

O’Neal praised the YouthWorks program, where 1,500 young people between the ages of 14 and 24 applied to participate in a summer program that “allows our young people to develop essential skills and explore career opportunities. career through paid summer internships”.

She added that the number of applications for interest received by the program is the largest in recent history.

“More than 77 percent of those who submitted requests for interest are between the ages of 14 and 17,” O’Neal said. She noted the importance of employment opportunities as a youth in her own life trajectory.

“My first jobs were with Durham City as a teenager,” O’Neal added. “I worked for the Fun Caravan, as a tennis court attendant and as an assistant in the law school law library, which I later attended and ran as dean.”

O’Neal also praised the efforts of the city’s transportation department, noting that Durham received a $9 million federal grant for a 1.76-mile-long multi-use path alongside a railroad bed. abandoned Norfolk and South to connect pedestrians and cyclists from North Durham to the city centre.

O’Neal began her nearly two-hour speech with a story about her paternal grandmother, Cora O’Neal, a quilter who taught the craft to girls in the West End where she grew up.

“She was known to pick up bags full of scrap metal. Every track was different, none sounded exactly like another,” O’Neal said of her grandmother’s work.

“They were made up of assorted colors of various clothes, bedspreads, towels, curtains,” the mayor continued. “She patiently and meticulously taught us how to put them together to make beautiful and warm quilts. Her quilts blanket me at night and inspire me by day to believe that we can each connect to create a quilt that blankets Durham with safe neighborhoods, stable homes, well-paying jobs and quality schools.”

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Follow Durham writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an e-mail to [email protected].


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