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Posts published in “Public Health”

Displaced McDougald Terrace residents make City Council members listen

On paper, the agenda for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting seemed to do a lot of good.

Sister Cities of Durham, a non-profit connecting Durham to cities around the world, announced its upcoming trip with two City Council members to its new Sister City, Tilaran, Costa Rica. 

City Council Member Charlie Reece stood to recognize the upcoming Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, a tribute to Japanese Americans who challenged forced internment during World War II. 

But for people evacuated from McDougald Terrace, the unsafe public housing complex, the agenda was lacking. For one, they weren’t on it. And Costa Rica and the 1940s are vastly remote from their plight.

“I know there are several people here who are interested in making comments regarding the situation at McDougald Terrace,” Mayor Steve Schewel said early in the meeting. “That is not on our agenda.” 

Schewel said he would talk with any residents who wanted to discuss the status of the housing complex, some of whom spoke to Council members on Jan. 6, after the meeting.

Council Member Mark-Anthony Middleton soon reported his understanding that McDougald residents will not return home as quickly as some had hoped. “It’s going to be at least a couple more weeks,” he said.

Before Schewel could move to the “priority items” on the agenda, residents and supporters erupted, shouting that the mayor should change the agenda.

“They’re eating like peasants!” one yelled.

“Y’all let us eat macaroni and cheese cups every day,” McDougald Terrace Resident Council President Ashley Canady yelled as she stormed toward the exit. “We tired, we fed up, and we are tired.”

After residents left the meeting room in a rage, Schewel requested that the glass doors separating the council chambers from a lobby be closed. The mayor then pushed on with the meeting.

Residents circled Canady in the lobby, while local news cameras recorded. “You think we want to live like this? We don’t want this, we didn’t pick this,” she yelled.

When Canady broke down into loud sobs, a small group of women comforted her. Young boys and girls ran restlessly around the lobby and other residents shouted at council members through the doors.  

“I should be able to cook a home cooked meal for my son,” McDougald Terrace resident Shimey Harvey said, choking back tears. 

Even if Harvey had access to a stove rather than the microwave in the motel that she and her son have been temporarily relocated to, the food stipend provided by the DHA isn’t enough, she said, and everyday tasks have become so much harder.

For Harvey, that means calling in a favor from her friend who works as an Uber driver to take her son to school. She then uses part of her food stipend to cover the cost of gas of picking him up at the McDougald Terrace bus stop at the end of the day and driving him back to the motel. 

“That’s where my little money that they give us goes to. Gas and fast food,” she said. 

Canady’s sobs did not last long. Soon she was leading chants in the lobby. “Enough is enough,” residents and their supporters yelled, raising their fists.  

“Our babies living in hotels, while you fly your ass to Costa Rica,” one protestor cried. 

After a vote to alter outdoor lighting rules about an hour into the meeting, Schewel relented.

“I’m going to reverse my previous decision. I thought that a meeting afterwards would be suitable to have a good discussion with folks but apparently, they don’t think so,” the mayor said before inviting McDougald residents and protestors back. 

Each was given two minutes to speak, the standard time for public comments during Council meetings. Some residents used the opportunity to complain about their children’s lack of access to healthy food. Others focused on their children’s inability to be active inside the hotels. 

“My kids keep thinking we’re going home, then they hear that we have more weeks to be in a hotel? I’m tired of it, my kids are tired of it,” one mother said, adding she’s fearful her family will get “put out” if their playing disturbs others.

The mental health of children and their parents should be a primary concern, resident Laura Betye said. “We have an emergency situation on our hands,” she told Council members. “We desperately need mental health counseling.”

Some who had visited their McDougald Terrace apartments said they were disappointed with the lack of renovation progress. “I have holes in my walls, mold. How can you say you’re gonna fix something and you’re not even gonna fix the foundation?,” one woman said. 

After listening, Schewel spoke. “I can really appreciate that this uncertainty is really difficult to live with. I understand that and I really feel for each of you all who are in that situation, that’s a terrible situation,” he said.

Schewel then thanked the residents. “I appreciate you all being here… and appreciate your patience, and appreciate your sense of urgency as well,”  he said.

During her time on the podium, Canady made it clear that she is out of patience. 

“If I have to disrupt every city function, every county function, I want all the smoke. I want it,” she said. “Because if they disrupt our lives, we about to disrupt theirs.” 

Tragic meets festive: Memorial to hundreds lost to gun violence joins Durham holiday parade

Sidney Brodie holds his iPhone to his mouth. “What is 103 times 8 minus 1?,” he asks.

“823,” Siri answers. 

Brodie and helpers have sewn 823 cloth squares onto his Durham Homicide and Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt. Each name, written in puffy paint, belongs to a person killed in Durham since 1994.

The Durham native and artist keeps track of the location of each name in a digital catalog. When asked for a number, he multiplies quilt columns by rows, subtracting any empty spots. 

“What is six times eight minus three?” he asks. “45,” the phone replies. 

Brodie pauses for a moment, sighs and locks his phone. So far this year he added 45 new names to the quilt. 

On Saturday Brodie’s quilt will appear at an unlikely place: the Durham Holiday Parade

Sidney Brodie with his quilt in his Durham studio. Photo by Cameron Beach

It was not his plan to join a festive event celebrating civic groups, marching bands and Santa Claus. 

But Brenda Young, whose son Edward was shot in 2017, asked for this. And Brodie could not say no.  

“It’s strictly about the families with me here for the parade,” he said. “I know this quilt means a lot to them.” 

Edward’s full name, Edward Young III, is painted onto a green square. His mother knows exactly where to look for it. 

Young said she was inspired to include the quilt at the polular event to remind families harmed by gun violence that others remember their loved ones. 

“My son is on the quilt. And it’s Christmas time. And I know everybody is in their feelings. I just wanted to give back to the community for the ones that lost their family to gun violence,” she said. 

Displaying the quilt publicly is recent for Brodie. His stitching began as a personal project after Shaquana Atwater, a toddler, was shot in 1994. Brodie learned she was struck in crossfire while playing outside her home while he was employed as a 911 operator in Durham.

For each victim, he adds a square to the eclectic colorful display, now more than 60 feet long. The quilt’s mix of colors and fabrics is intentionally random.

“I feel like each square is as unique and imperfect and as we are as people,” Brodie said during an interview in his small Durham studio. 

With simple details, Brodie tells a powerful narrative. Black buttons are visible on some squares. Each one marks the name of a child younger than 12. Included is 9-year-old Z’yon Person who was killed in August while riding in a car with his family. 

In one row, two black and white squares are nearly identical. They are a tribute to 10-month-old Ruia Reams and her mother Zhytila Wilkins who were killed in their home in January. “Baby” and “Mama” are painted alongside their names. 

“Quilts are tangible and functionally a quilt is a comforter. It’s doing that. It’s bringing comfort to these families,” Brodie said. 

Brodie removes the quilt’s black border to add more squares or to link it to other memorials when he brings it to vigils outside Durham. Photo by Cameron Beach

In a year when lethal gun violence is increasing in Durham, Young invited other family members of people named on the quilt to help carry it Saturday. She recruited members of the Southern High School football team, emerging anti-violence activists in town, too.

Edward Young played in the marching band at Southern High School, so when she asked them to help at the parade, it was a way to honor Edward’s legacy, she said. 

Young has been busy collecting donations and saving parts of her paycheck to purchase holiday-themed gloves, scarves and hats for the helpers.   

Bringing the quilt to a parade is a first, but Brodie’s designed it to tell multiple stories. White squares with black and white checkered ribbon, for instance, represent names listed out of chronological sequence. Brodie cut shirt cuffs and sewed buttoned pieces on top of the squares.

“The dates that I missed these people are all various dates throughout the years. They were at times in my life when I was going through personal things,” he said. “I chose cuffs to symbolize that these people slipped through my hands.” 

Brodie first displayed his quilt in 2017, after Kamari Munerlyn, age 7, was shot and killed on a drive home from a swimming pool. A vigil was held days later on the side of the road a police officer had tried to revive the child with CPR. 

Brodie stitched a yellow square with the boy’s name in blue and green onto the quilt during the vigil, while Munerlyn’s mother, father and grandmother watched. He got through it by wearing sunglasses on to hide his sorrow, he said.  

Young intends to lead the quilt procession Saturday, with Edward feeling nearby. As always, she’ll wear a heart-shaped necklace carrying Edward’s name inside.

“I’m ready. I’m so ready. This is something on my heart and that I want to,” she said. 

After the parade, Brodie will wrap his quilt in shrink wrap and take it back to his studio. These days he brings the quilt to vigils against gun violence elsewhere in North Carolina and out of state. 

Back in Durham, he is always prepared, regrettably, to add more names.

At top: Some of the more than 800 names on the Durham Homicide and Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt. Photo by Cameron Beach

Shielding Durham kids from vaping addiction and illness risks

Concerned about the rise of vaping among North Carolina teenagers and younger kids, some adults in Durham are fighting back.

E-cigarette use among high schoolers in this state increased 894 percent between 2011 and 2017, according to the North Carolina Youth Tobacco Survey. Among middle schoolers statewide, vaping jumped 430 percent during the same period. 

The Men’s Health Council of Durham and the Duke University Cancer Institute recently hosted a public forum titled “Smoking, Vaping & Other Inhalants: What You Need to Know.” 

“Since this is a viable product and available to everyone, we want to make sure that [kids] get this data before it is too late,” said Elvert Dorsey, chairman of the council, which promotes health among Durham men, especially black and Latino men.

Organizers handed out pamphlets, including one advising parents to remain nonjudgmental and honest when discussing e-cigarettes and to set a good example by neither smoking or vaping.

“It’s important for parents to introduce this information to their kids, even if their kid is not directly involved in this activity, because they surely know someone who is,” Dorsey told council members and parents at the Durham Human Services Building. 

Duke University pulmonologist Loretta Que urged everyone concerned about the health of young people to embrace the precautionary principle when it comes to e-cigarettes. That public health practice says when something may be harmful, steps should be taken to reduce exposure to the potential threat.

That’s true even when science hasn’t firmly established cause and effect.

“As of Nov. 13, 2019, there have been 2,172 cases of vaping related lung injuries and 42 related deaths in 24 states …  the lungs look like they have been burned in these patients that died,” Que said in a presentation. “Since substance causing these lung injuries is not known for sure yet, you should not start to vape or use an e-cigarette.”

Michael Scott, program manager of the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, discussed how the tobacco industry has a long history of targeting young people with  advertising designed to make smoking look alluring. Specifically, big tobacco companies targeted young teens in order to gain life-long users, by hooking them on addictive nicotine. 

E-cigarette vendors have used using similar tactics, he said. Four out of five middle and high school students saw e-cigarette ads in 2106, in stores, on social media and in newspapers and magazines, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

JUUL for example, has used magazine ads, Instagram ads and sponsored events such as the Music in Film Summit” at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in Utah to burnish its image with young consumers. Multiple states have sued JUUL, which recently changed its practices, for targeting young people with deceptive marketing. 

“Big tobacco and vape companies have to continue to recruit new customers as kids, and we want to prevent that,” Scott said. 

Scott said African Americans and members of LGBTQ+ community can also targeted by e-cigarette companies. 

“African Americans, people of low socioeconomic status, LGBT folks, Latino folks… those are the people disproportionately affected by smoking… and now vaping,” he said.

Durham has fairly progressive laws against smoking tobacco. Durham’s Board of Health in 2012 banned smoking in many outdoor public spaces, and a few indoor spaces such as public restrooms. Scott favors vaping bans too. 

“Vaping is less dangerous than smoking, but it still has its significant dangers,” Scott said. “Any anti-smoking laws need to include e-products and vaping products.”

But parents and all adults in the community can help now, Scott and Que said. Their number-one weapon for good in this domain? Education. 

“Be educated about the products that you see; be aware that these products exist, because your kids are seeing them in school and on social media. Secondly, be supportive of policies that are going to be put in place that will prevent this, such as banning menthol, banning flavors, banning e-cigarettes in general,” said Scott.

The best way to address this issue with teens is through nurturing, said Wanda Boone, executive director of Together for Resilient Youth, an organization trying to reduce substance abuse in Durham. Suspensions, expulsions and other forms of punishment in school and outside is not the right answer, she said.

“Holding young people totally accountable for smoking and vaping is like holding fish responsible for dying in a polluted stream,” Boone said. “Our responsibility is to protect them from this environment so that they have the opportunity to grow.

In that spirit, the men’s health council plans to hold more events on vaping at local schools to further spread the word on their risks.

At top: A young guy blows a dramatic vaping cloud. Photo by Micadew at Wikimedia