Our vision for Durham County Staff Leadership

May 18th

Friends and Members,

Imagine a Durham where our young people are nurtured in thriving public schools; where working people feel deep belonging from knowing we can afford and stay in our homes; where—when crisis occurs—we are at ease knowing we will receive caring support.

With a county manager who shares our vision for racial and economic justice, fully funding these dreams for Durham will be more possible. The county manager role is the most powerful unelected position in Durham County and has the greatest influence over how county budgets are formed and how they get translated into practice. Last week, the Board of County Commissioners voted to reopen a conversation about what county staff leadership can do for justice in Durham. This summer, the County Commissioners have an opportunity to hire a new county manager who shares our vision for justice.

Since Durham For All started up five and a half years ago, our members have been sitting on front porches and picking up the phone to reach out to tens of thousands of Black, Brown, and working people across Durham. Our conversations are rooted in deep listening and vulnerable sharing, as we talk with each other about the struggles we’ve faced and our hopes and dreams for our community. One story I’ve shared is about my first interaction with law enforcement.

I was 9 years old and rushing out the door of my home, late to school and wearing a bookbag bigger than me. As I rounded the corner, I jumped when a man yelled, “Come here kid!” I turned to see he was a cop, sitting in his squad car. He asked me where I was going, and I told him what I thought was obvious: “I’m going to school.” But he didn’t believe me. As the cop got out of his car to tower over me with his badge shining and his gun on his hip, he demanded I get in.

I froze and felt every muscle in my body tense up, even though I wanted to run. I knew I had no choice, so I complied and was forced to ride to school that day sitting on hard seats in the back of a squad car with no door handles and a bulletproof partition between me—a child—and an adult who was supposed to care for me. Since then, I’ve experienced and heard so many stories of law enforcement intimidating and harming our families and our communities.

As Durham For All connects and dreams with residents across Durham and strategizes about how to institutionalize safety and care, I’ve been inspired by community members and our team of member leaders who I’m organizing alongside. This year, we are demanding that our city and county governments pass budgets that divest from policing and jails and invest in care. Instead of the frozen fear I felt in the back of that cop car, I now feel my own agency and our collective power. Organizing together, I feel possibility and hope.

I want all our people to feel hope. That’s why our work this year is about creating a Durham where everyone experiences safety, care, and belonging. And that’s why I’m looking forward to a new county manager for Durham. I want a county manager whose recommended budgets reflect a vision that prioritizes community care and public education over policing and jails. I am not alone. The Black, Brown, and working people Durham For All has been speaking with and inviting into action share that vision.

Durham officials must be united in fighting for racial and economic justice policies and budgets, as we work together towards our shared vision. Durham For All urges the County Commissioners to hire a manager who will be a fierce advocate for our People’s Platform policies and who will work collaboratively to pass racial and economic justice policies and budgets for our community.

Let’s imagine our biggest dreams for Durham and make them real.

In solidarity,
Ociele Hawkins
Community Organizer
Durham For All