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One political mailer sheds light on Durham election dynamics

The flyer that arrived in Durham voters’ mailboxes had an urgent message: “Don’t defund the police!” it said in capital red letters. “Law enforcement is under assault.” 

The mailer, distributed in September by the Friends of Durham political action committee, endorses Elaine O’Neal for mayor, incumbents DeDreana Freeman and Mark-Anthony Middleton for City Council Wards I and II, and Leonardo Williams for Ward III. 

Friends of Durham supports the slate of candidates for one specific reason, the mailer says: “These City Council candidates will keep our police funded.”

In reality, it’s not that simple. Many of Durham’s candidates hold nuanced views on police funding that the mailer’s definitive language doesn’t capture. But the mailer itself and the candidates’ reactions to its pointed messaging offer a revealing window into the world of Durham politics. 

How do O’Neal and Caballero compare on policing?

Since Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd in May 2020, the nation has wrestled with violence and racism pervasive in law enforcement. In Durham, large swaths of the community called to defund or abolish the police. 

Throughout the summer following Floyd’s death, Durhamites took to the streets to protest traditional policing and racial injustice. In June 2020, during the public comment period of a City Council meeting regarding the city budget, activists urged Durham’s leaders to decrease police funding.

The city launched a new Community Safety Department in response last May. The department will run pilot programs aimed to determine effective alternatives to policing, including responding to 911 calls with unarmed mental health professionals. Still, despite public pressure to do so, the current City Council has never decreased the police budget. 

Friends of Durham chair Alice Sharpe said that her organization’s mailer was prompted by Javiera Caballero’s statements during a City Council meeting on June 15, 2020. Caballero, who is currently serving as an at-large City Council member, suspended her mayoral campaign on Oct. 11 after receiving far fewer votes than O’Neal in the primary.

 “I wholeheartedly believe in defunding the police,” Caballero said at the meeting. “I know what I want in the future of Durham, and I want less police.”

Later in the meeting, Caballero still voted with the rest of City Council to unanimously approve a new city budget that included a routine increase in police funding. 

More than a year later, Sharpe and Friends of Durham have not forgotten Caballero’s statements. The organization sent out the mailer because it wanted voters to know which candidates would fight to keep the police funded, Sharpe said. 

But in contrast with the mailer’s black-and-white language, O’Neal’s position on policing isn’t very firm. And it might not be too different from Caballero’s own stance. 

Both Caballero and O’Neal have said they support community-driven alternatives to policing, like the ones that will be tested by the Community Safety Department. They also both want to keep the Durham Police Department sufficiently funded, at least until there are proper structures in place that would allow the department to function with less resources. 

“I do believe that it’s necessary for us to continue to support our police until we can build up community capacity,” O’Neal said in an interview with The 9th Street Journal. “We don’t have to choose between being supportive of our law enforcement agencies and also being innovative with public safety. We can do both in Durham.”

Caballero, whose current City Council term ends in 2023, said she ultimately wants the Community Safety Department to take over a significant portion of the police department’s responsibilities. She’d like police to focus exclusively on violent crime, while the Community Safety Department addresses Durham’s other needs, she said. 

If executed properly, this plan eventually would lead to defunding the Durham police, Caballero said. She clarified that defunding, in this case, doesn’t mean abolition or even slashing the police budget to shreds. It just means diverting resources away from the police once they are no longer needed. 

O’Neal has provided fewer details about her vision for the role of the new department. It’s not meant to replace the police, she said, but she can’t predict how things will unfold. When asked if she thought the Community Safety Department might eventually have the capacity to relieve police officers of some of their traditional duties, like responding to medical emergencies or domestic disputes, she declined to speculate.

“That’s like asking me if I have a crystal ball,” O’Neal said. “I would hope one day we could get to the place where we could manage without armed citizens … but that’s a hope. Whether that would actually become a reality, I’ll wait till we get there.”

A window into Durham politics

Technically, the Friends of Durham mailer is accurate: O’Neal has no plans to defund the police. Neither does City Council Member Mark-Anthony Middleton, who’s running for reelection and is also endorsed on the mailer. 

Like both Caballero and O’Neal, Middleton doesn’t think the Durham Police Department should be the city’s only approach to public safety. He wants a robust, fully-funded department, he said, but he understands the flaws in policing, too. 

“A fully-funded police department does not preclude us from having other tools in our toolbox that will help us keep Black and brown people and mentally distressed people alive,” Middleton said. “That’s my position. It’s not either or, it’s this and that.” 

In an interview before she withdrew from the mayoral race, Caballero said that the Friends of Durham mailer over-simplifies the question of police funding and fuels polarization. “Clearly, this is the issue that they’re creating a wedge with,” she said. “I think that folks are trying to create division, and that’s politics.” 

Marion T. Johnson, who’s challenging DeDreana Freeman in the Ward I City Council race, also found the mailer’s messaging unnecessarily divisive. “I was disappointed when I saw it because I don’t think that it really serves our communities at all to lean on that sort of politics of fear,” Johnson said. 

Johnson is “committed to no longer investing in a system that generally over polices and over criminalizes Black and brown folks.” But abolishing the police overnight will not make anyone safer either, she said. 

The challenge of community safety requires careful discussion and attention to detail, Johnson said, not an all-or-nothing approach. “All of us who are running for office are fully capable of — and really committed to — having nuanced conversations about what true community safety is and what our communities need,” she said.

The Friends of Durham mailer doesn’t encourage those nuanced conversations, but that probably wasn’t its intention, Caballero said. As a political action committee, Friends of Durham is entitled to frame its messaging however they please, she said. 

Sharpe acknowledged that the mailer was likely to antagonize some people. It takes a strong stance, she said. To influence Durham voters, that might be an effective strategy. 

“It may be pointed, I’ll grant you that,” Sharpe said of the mailer. “We were trying to make a point.” 

***

The 9th Street Journal will continue to cover the city elections. Check with us Election Day for updates and results. You can submit questions and news tips to our staff by emailing jacob.sheridan@duke.edu or julianna.rennie@duke.edu.

At top: A political mailer sent by the Friends of Durham political action committee endorses a slate of candidates that it suggests won’t “defund the police.” 9th Street photo by Josie Vonk. 

Courthouse Moments: capturing the human drama of justice in Durham

A local courthouse is a cauldron of human drama. 

The Durham County Courthouse is no exception, as every day thousands of people — judges and prosecutors, victims and defendants, clerks and court reporters, relatives and witnesses — pour through the doors of the boxy, gray complex to play their role in the life-changing events that unfold there. 

In recent weeks, reporters at The 9th Street Journal have chronicled these events in a collection of stories we call Courthouse Moments: A young man, furious that his case is repeatedly postponed, shouts about burning “this…building down.” A Guatemalan immigrant wins custody of his son. A man struggles to avoid being evicted from the home he loves. A cousin of George Floyd shows up to contest a traffic ticket.

Those are just a few examples of these short, colorful pieces, which take an intimate look at the courthouse’s day-to-day grind, mainly through the lens of ordinary people. The stories will deepen your understanding of Durham’s legal system, but more important, they’ll stir something inside you. 

There’s anger and humor, confusion and insight, joy and anguish — everything you might expect in a place like the courthouse. They aren’t meant to be the last word, just snapshots. But we hope their impact lingers.

-STEPHEN BUCKLEY, Co-Editor, The 9th Street Journal

At top: the Durham County Courthouse. 

A Courthouse Moment: ‘Say his name.’

Traffic court is full. People sit chin in hand, eyelids heavy. Some stomp out of the courtroom, then return a few minutes later. Others grimace, checking their watches and rolling their eyes. And some are not so silent: “What the f—, bruh. I got places to be.” 

It is a recent Wednesday at the Durham County Courthouse, and even Judge Pat Evans wants to get a move on. She sits at the bench in her robe with her long black hair, gray at the roots, pulled tight in a ponytail. She sticks to a script: call a name, hear a case, make a ruling, repeat. 

The defendants don’t stick to the same script. They bring the wrong papers, they go to the wrong place, and they come late, or not at all.

Of those who make it, most accept blame for their tickets, pay a fine, and get out. Few contest their citations, and fewer win.

On this day, Anthony Rashad Floyd chose to be one of the few. And soon, the courtroom would understand why.

Floyd, a Durham resident, arrives at court on time in a yellow polo shirt, black jeans and loafers. He appears to be in his 40s. As he waits in the gallery, yellow light reflects off his diamond earrings.

Three months ago, Floyd was driving down route 70 on his way to JJ Fish & Chicken in Durham for an early dinner. It was 5 p.m. and there was heavy traffic. “Bumper to bumper,” he said. 

On this much, Floyd and the deputy who cited him agree. Beyond that, their stories conflict.

On the stand, Floyd says when his turn came, he put on his blinker and moved into the center lane. Then he says he decided he could wait to eat, so he signaled and merged back out to head home. That’s when Deputy T. Hatch pulled him over. 

“You gotta be kidding,” says a voice in the courtroom as Floyd tells his story. “Can’t believe he took this to trial.”

Center lane violations rarely make it to court. Most people prefer a small fine to a morning in traffic court. Floyd is not most people. 

“It’s about principle,” Floyd said in an interview. “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I am not gonna let an officer take advantage of me like I know they do.”

In May 2020, Floyd’s first cousin was murdered in a Minneapolis street by a police officer who pinned him to the ground for more than nine and a half minutes until he stopped breathing. This cousin’s name was George Floyd.

When Anthony Floyd announces this to the court, those listening in the gallery don’t believe him. Some laugh.

“Yeah, right,” says a voice in the back.

Others remain quiet, unsure how to react. 

Anthony says that he and George were “tight.” After George’s death, Anthony went to marches with family and yelled “say his name” with a fist in the air. He has photos of himself the day before the funeral standing with George’s attorney, Al Sharpton, and Joe Biden. 

He’s still in disbelief about his cousin’s death. He’s also more uneasy around police. When Hatch pulled him over, Floyd’s face got hot. He didn’t know why he was being stopped. Hatch told him he didn’t signal when he switched lanes. Floyd replied that he did, and he would fight this in court.

“That’s your right,” Hatch said before returning to his patrol car. 

Floyd knows his rights.

Aside from a speeding ticket at 16, Floyd’s never been in trouble with the law.

“I was on point with everything,” he said in court. “So as far as being behind the wheel, I made sure that at all times, especially since what happened to my cousin, that I follow all the rules. That’s how I know for a fact I used my turn signal. The dashcam footage will show that. Where is the dashcam footage?”

He asks this question 12 times in court. No one gives a clear answer. 

“That’s a whole process,” Hatch says.

At George Floyd’s trial, video was a star witness. Jurors watched film from cell phones, body cams, dash cams, and surveillance cams. Video footage brought justice for George. Anthony wants it to do the same for him, but Hatch doesn’t want to deal with the “process.” It seems that Evans doesn’t either.

Once Hatch and Anthony are done testifying, she rules. 

“Your cousin has nothing to do with this matter,” she says. “The citation stands.”

Anthony stays still for a moment. He turns to look at the people in the gallery behind him, but they avoid eye contact. He looks back at the judge, but she’s moved on. 

When Anthony stands and heads out of the courtroom, people turn their heads to watch him leave. He walks down the hall outside alone, mumbling to himself. 

He talks about the dash cam footage. He wonders if he needs to come back to court. He realizes he forgot to mention the van in front of him that did the same thing. He doesn’t know if he owes or what he owes or how to pay. 

He says he does know he did nothing wrong. He knows that he fought for justice. 

“And it felt good.”

Clarification: An earlier version of this story said that Anthony Rashad Floyd met Joe Biden at George Floyd’s funeral.  They actually met the day before the funeral, which Biden did not attend in person.

The 9th Street Journal, back in court

An ongoing reform agenda. A spike in violent crime, and its impact on Durham’s justice system. COVID-cordoned courtrooms.

Those are among the many issues our 9th Street Journal reporters plan to explore as we launch another special project focused on the Durham County courthouse.

Our first such project, in the fall of 2019, highlighted District Attorney Satana Deberry’s reform efforts. But she had been elected less than a year earlier. George Floyd’s death hadn’t kindled worldwide protests. And no one had heard of COVID-19. 

Now, we’ll ask: How is Deberry’s reform campaign unfolding? How has the larger debate about justice in America touched Durham’s judiciary? How has the pandemic affected the workings of the courthouse? 

That’s just the beginning. We’ll also write about important cases and hearings, and show candid, powerful moments that reveal the full spectrum of human drama to be found in courtrooms and corridors. The courthouse is aswirl with important, interesting stories that often go uncovered. We aim to share as many of them as we can.

Some of Duke’s best journalists will be on the case. They include student editors Michaela Twofighi and Chris Kuo and reporters Grace Abels, Lilly Clark, Daniel Egitto, Nicole Kagan, Mia Meier, and Milla Surjadi. 

My colleague Bill Adair started The 9th Street Journal in 2018 to give our journalism students a chance to cover local news in one of the country’s most socially and politically vibrant regions. Through this latest chapter of the Courthouse Project, we hope to hold government officials to their own high standards and deepen your understanding of how justice is done in Durham.

– STEPHEN BUCKLEY

Photo at top: The 9th Street Journal’s Courthouse Project team: Standing (left to right): Milla Surjadi, Grace Abels, Nicole Kagan, Chris Kuo, Michaela Towfighi, Daniel Egitto, Lilly Clark, and Mia Meier. Seated: Stephen Buckley

 

The 9th Street Journal, back in court

An ongoing reform agenda. A spike in violent crime, and its impact on Durham’s justice system. COVID-cordoned courtrooms.

Those are among the many issues our 9th Street Journal reporters plan to explore as we launch another special project focused on the Durham County courthouse.

Our first such project, in the fall of 2019, highlighted District Attorney Satana Deberry’s reform efforts. But she had been elected less than a year earlier. George Floyd’s death hadn’t kindled worldwide protests. And no one had heard of COVID-19. 

Now, we’ll ask: How is Deberry’s reform campaign unfolding? How has the larger debate about justice in America touched Durham’s judiciary? How has the pandemic affected the workings of the courthouse? 

That’s just the beginning. We’ll also write about important cases and hearings, and show candid, powerful moments that reveal the full spectrum of human drama to be found in courtrooms and corridors. The courthouse is aswirl with important, interesting stories that often go uncovered. We aim to share as many of them as we can.

Some of Duke’s best journalists will be on the case. They include student editors Michaela Towfighi and Chris Kuo and reporters Grace Abels, Lilly Clark, Daniel Egitto, Nicole Kagan, Mia Meier, and Milla Surjadi. 

My colleague Bill Adair started The 9th Street Journal in 2018 to give our journalism students a chance to cover local news in one of the country’s most socially and politically vibrant regions. Through this latest chapter of the Courthouse Project, we hope to hold government officials to their own high standards and deepen your understanding of how justice is done in Durham.

Photo at top: The 9th Street Journal’s Courthouse Project team: Standing (left to right): Milla Surjadi, Grace Abels, Nicole Kagan, Chris Kuo, Michaela Towfighi, Daniel Egitto, Lilly Clark, and Mia Meier. Seated: Stephen Buckley

 

 

 

A PANDEMIC YEAR

Mark Cunningham and Bethany Faulkner, working with the Durham Neighbors Free Lunch Initiative, wait for people to pick up meals Tuesday. While a Riverside High School senior, Elijah King partnered with businesses to launch the program last spring. Photo by Sho Hatakeyama

A year ago today, March 10, Gov. Roy Cooper rolled out North Carolina’s first emergency order addressing the coronavirus pandemic. No one envisioned all that has followed.

In Durham County, at least 210 people have died from COVID-19, with lopsided losses of life among Black residents. Twenty percent of people who have died here were exposed in group settings, including nursing homes and, in one case, the county jail.

Schools shuttered in March, with no teaching offered until summer ended. After months of online classes, only now is the school district preparing to welcome students back in person.

Thousands of people watched jobs, health insurance, savings and social contact evaporate. People deemed essential workers, Latinx and Black residents especially, faced higher exposure risks. Local businesses and annual events we once took for granted went missing.

With so much of value subtracted from this community, Durham residents found ways to build new things we never expected to need.

To mark this difficult anniversary, 9th Street Journal reporters circled back to people we talked with early in the pandemic. We asked about what concerned them then, and how things are looking now.

Elijah King, founder of Durham Neighbors Free Lunch Initiative

At the start: Local partnerships help feed families during pandemic (April 26, 2020)

Elijah King says the Durham Neighbors Free Lunch Initiative has distributed nearly 50,000 meals.

Last spring, Riverside High School senior Elijah King partnered with local businesses to create the Durham Neighbors Free Lunch Initiative outside Geer Street Garden every weekday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They distributed about 200 meals each day. With donations, the initiative was able to pay its volunteers, who had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“No matter what, we are going to continue paying living wages,” King said then. “That’s what they made before, and that’s what they’re going to be making.” 

Now: Still going strong, the Durham Neighbors Free Lunch Initiative has served almost 50,000 meals during the pandemic year. King graduated from high school and is now a political science major at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, but he’s still deeply involved in Durham.

“I had several people cry and tell me their experiences and how much Durham Neighbors has helped them, and how much I’ve impacted their lives personally,” King said after a recent visit. “It was a very impactful experience.”

He continues working with the meals program and co-founded the Durham Youth Climate Justice Initiative, which hosts public conversations with climate experts and advocates for environmental justice. He also works with the N.C. Democratic Party in Raleigh. 

“Food insecurity was a problem before the pandemic, is a problem during the pandemic, and will be a problem way after the pandemic,” King said. “Durham Neighbors isn’t just a way to serve free lunch, it is a way to become advocates, to convey stories, to make sure that the powers that be know that this is an important issue.” 

Kathleen Hobson

Katie Galbraith, Duke Regional Hospital president

At the start: Duke Health shares some details on COVID-19 preparations (March 29, 2020)

Katie Galbraith says Duke Health has learned what community resilience means. Photo courtesy of Duke University

Durham County had seen just over 100 cases of COVID when Duke Regional Hospital President Katie Galbraith shared pandemic response plans with The 9th Street Journal last March. 

“This is something that we have been preparing for and planning for — for this type of event — for years,” she said.

Galbraith said Duke Health stood ready to add 500 beds in case Durham became the next New York. N95 masks couldn’t be found anywhere, so hospital staff had just figured out how to decontaminate masks so they could be reworn, she reported. Galbraith called on locked-down Durhamites to stay home and praised Duke’s new in-house COVID test. 

Now: Even as she prepared for an array of potential doomsdays, Galbraith — like all of us — couldn’t see all that was coming. 

“I just didn’t realize the scope or breadth, or tremendous impact that this pandemic would have” Galbraith recalled. 

Mask shortages continue, so the hospital’s decontamination and reuse efforts do, too, Galbraith said. Quick in-house testing also endures, now alongside a more accessible, widespread local testing network. 

Fortunately, other plans remained only plans.. “We never had to significantly increase the number of beds that we were using,” Galbraith said, crediting COVID-conscious Durhamites and selfless hospital staff. 

“I’ve learned what resilience means,” she said. “I’ve seen so many who have sacrificed so much through the last year, to make sure that we’re taking care of each other and taking care of this community.”

Simultaneously the most rewarding and difficult part of her professional life, leading the hospital’s pandemic response has worn on Galbraith. 

“It is definitely a weight. And I feel it,” she said. Her coworkers inspire her, keep her going, she added. “But it is a lot of responsibility.” 

That responsibility isn’t going anywhere. Even as Galbraith sees joyful faces at vaccination sites and steadily declining numbers, she knows the pandemic is not over. Seven patients remained in critical condition at Duke Regional on Monday.

“We’re still not out of the woods,” Galbraith said.

Jake Sheridan

Eliazar Posada, acting president and CEO of El Centro Hispano

At the start:
COVID hits black, Latinx Durham residents hardest (June 2, 2020)

Eliazar Posada and El Centro Hispano are working to dispel misconceptions about the coronavirus vaccine. Photo courtesy of Posada

Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, president of the Latinx community organization El Centro Hispano, told 9th Street in June that the pandemic had worsened financial and health care problems already heavily affecting Durham’s Latinx population.

County data from May revealed that at 14% of Durham’s population, Latinx people faced 34% of its cases, including over 90% of cases associated with outdoor construction sites. El Centro Hispano began distributing money to help cover food, rent, and utilities for over 600 families, said Rocha-Goldberg.

Now:  The $350,000 in direct aid that El Centro Hispano raised from donations has run out, said acting president Eliazar Posada. The organization now partners with local groups to pass out meals each week. 

Ensuring that the Latinx community gets equitable access to vaccinations is a major goal for the organization.

Language is a barrier to finding and getting vaccinations for older and Spanish-speaking residents who are less confident with online appointments and prefer telephoning for help, Posada explained. El Centro Hispano is advocating for bilingual staff on the county’s COVID-19 hotline, he said.

“The ideal situation would be for someone to answer and help immediately,” said Posada. “We know there are limited vaccines, so if I’m waiting for help, they might run out.”

Trust remains a critical issue for residents who are uneasy about disclosing their immigration status. “A lot of our community members still do not trust the government or university health systems,” said Posada. “Centro and other NGOs really stepped in to be an arbiter of trust.”

Centro is running a public information campaign to dispel misconceptions in the Latinx community about vaccine eligibility and requirements. With its three Triangle offices closed, Centro has pivoted to hosting social groups, cooking classes, award ceremonies and house parties — all online. 

“It’s not always about big festivals or dances,” Posada said. “It’s about folks connecting with people and not feeling too alone.”

Charlie Zong

Peter Gilbert, Legal Aid lawyer 

At the start: Coronavirus concerns halt evictions in Durham (March 24, 2020)

Padlocked
A sign posted by Durham County sheriffs deputies before a landlord changes the lock. Photo by Niharika Vattikonda

Last March, a state Supreme Court order halted nonessential court proceedings, freezing eviction proceedings and padlockings of rental properties. 

“Anyone being evicted during this time is at a great risk, not only to themselves, but as a vector carrying disease,” Legal Aid lawyer Peter Gilbert said then. “The governor is urging us to stay home. It’s impossible to stay home if you don’t have one.”

But as the law kept people in their homes, Gilbert worried Durham would suffer a “tsunami of evictions” once COVID-wrought protections for renters expired. That sinister wave still looms. 

Now: “I’ve been trying to just get through day by day this whole year,” Gilbert said last week. “We’ve had many more people reaching out for our help, especially over the last few months. We’re doing our best to keep up.” 

The lawyer said overlapping state and federal government interventions stopped most evictions from March to July. When those protections expired, however, evictions filled the courts until the Centers for Disease Control imposed its own eviction moratorium, he said. 

Gilbert said the CDC’s order is set to expire at the end of March. Durham’s courts are scheduled to resume hearings for evictions on non-payment in May. 

Even with those protections, some tenants describe being forced out, “The tenants are using words like they’re being harassed, landlords are contacting them every single day, saying ‘Where’s my rent?’ and ‘You have to be out by Friday.’” 

If deadlines aren’t extended, the tsunami will hit when protections end. Gilbert estimated 20,000 of Durham’s 120,000 households will be unable to pay rent and could face eviction. That many people losing housing would reshape the city, he predicts.

“This is going to exacerbate gentrification. This is going to exacerbate the push out of poor, especially African-American families who have been the core of the citizenry of Durham for much of its history,” Gilbert said. 

The city and county plan to make $9 million available for local rental assistance. But Gilbert estimated that Durham needs $40 million to $60 million to avoid a major local housing crisis. 

Jake Sheridan

Jodee Nimerichter, American Dance Festival executive director 

At the start: Coronavirus outbreak cancels American Dance Festival 2020 (March 31, 2020)

In October, dancers performed on lawns and driveways in American Dance Festival’s Creative Healing Parade. Photo by Laura Charles

In the early weeks of the pandemic, Durham’s American Dance Festival canceled its six-week summer program of modern dance performances for the first time since its founding in 1934. 

“It’s hard to swallow, but it’s the right thing to do,” said Jodee Nimerichter, the ADF executive director. As COVID-19 cases increased, the future of ADF was uncertain: Where would funding come from? How would ADF adjust? Could live performances resume in 2021? 

Now: “It’s great to continue to know that, even in the midst of COVID, partnerships and creativity have never stopped,” Nimerichter said, reflecting on the past year. ADF is powering through the pandemic with online educational programs creating platforms for virtual viewing and commissioning local and international artists.   

“Coronavirus has been devastating to the arts because all the major venues have shut down,” Niemerichter said, noting that artists were lacking outlets for their creativity. 

Last October, ADF held the Creative Healing Parade, bringing more than 70 artists together to dance in driveways and on lawns while audiences watched from cars. In January, ADF commissioned “Untold Secrets of the Heart Chamber,” an online collaboration between South African choreographer Gregory Vuyani Maqoma and poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph.

“Even if the audiences are not nearly as wide as I’d want them to be, it’s still important for artists to be creative, and for us to find resources to pay them,” Nimerichter said, thanking supporters for “the amazing generosity that has been displayed this past year.”

There’s more good news: ADF is hoping to resume live performances this year, by pushing the annual festival starting date to September — two months after the festival usually begins. 

“The bottom line is some of these blessings we’ve learned might not ever go away,” Nimerichter said, adding, “We just can’t wait to get back together in person.”

Eleanor Ross

Wendy Jacobs, county commissioners vice chair

At the start: County’s emergency order expands Durham’s stay-at-home policies (March 28, 2020)

County Board Chair Wendy Jacobs
County Board Chair Wendy Jacobs announces expanded emergency measures last spring. Facebook video grab by 9th Street Journal

Wendy Jacobs was at the forefront of drafting orders to protect Durham residents during the rise of the pandemic. Then chair of the Durham County commissioners, she helped launch a city-county face mask mandate and stay-at-home orders for nonessential workers. 

“You really should try not to have social gatherings of any type,” Jacobs said last March. 

Now: “There was no playbook for a pandemic, but I feel very good about the tough decisions that we made,” Jacobs, now the commissioners’ vice chair, said last week.

It is still crucial that Durham residents continue to take precautions such as wearing masks and interact at a distance, she said. Jacobs and other county commissioners are continuing to work on ways to enforce these practices even with several hundred vaccines rolling out each day. 

“These are the keys to preventing the spread of these new variants and getting people back to work, getting everyone back to school, and getting back to a normal functioning society,” she said.

With Durham Public Schools preparing to begin reopening next week, Jacobs said community members need to think about disparities that still need to be addressed. Between the affordable housing crisis and a steep decline in tourism impacting the hospitality industry, much remains to be addressed in the context of COVID-19. 

Clara Love

Kym Register, Pinhook bar owner

At the start: With concert cancellations, Durham venues livestream local artists (March 20, 2020) 

The pandemic was immediately difficult for businesses like Pinhook, a downtown bar that survived on its ability to bring people together to enjoy art. Owner Kym Register had to lay off the entire staff so they could claim unemployment benefits when the pandemic began. Register’s band, Lomlands, lost thousands of dollars because of gig cancellations. 

Like many downtown business, Pinhook was adorned with art that Black artists created last summer during racial justice protests summer after George Floyd was killed in police custody. Photo by Henry Haggart

Now: Register used Patreon to set up monthly subscriptions for patrons. They have been a huge help with making the rent each month, Register said. Since last March, Register has developed  digital Pinhook experiences, from Zoom karaoke to online courses taught by artists. That includes “Drag Makeup 101” and “the intersection of music, mutual aid, and protest movements.” To access the online programming, patrons are required to make donations, as little as one dollar, to Pinhook via Patreon. 

Gov. Cooper eased restrictions on bars on Feb. 24, but Register, who uses the pronoun “they,” decided it was still too soon to reopen. “Waiting just a little longer will be better for everyone,” they said.

Pinhook won’t open until they have figured out all of the logistics around COVID safety, Register said.

For now, Register is closely watching the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), a trade association group lobbying the Small Business Administration for relief funding for venue spaces such as Pinhook. Hopefully, grant funding from NIVA by early April, combined with Patreon funds and the $10,000 loan received from the city of Durham last year will enable Pinhook to stay afloat while a reopening plan is cemented.

As for the band Lomlands, it has been a uniquely uninspiring year. Register initially felt guilty for not having a “transformative,” creative experience during lockdown. 

“This time period has been non-motivating,” Register said, adding that we need to “give everyone a break… We are all just trying to survive.”

Olivia Olsher

Daniel Meier, defense attorney

At the start: Jail worker died of COVID-19, but Sheriff’s Office won’t discuss (April 29, 2020)

Daniel Meier says county jail officials have implemented good safety measures. Photo courtesy of Meier

Defense attorney Daniel Meier regularly visited the Durham County Detention Facility last spring to meet with clients. He was worried when the Sheriff’s Office revealed that six jail employees had tested positive for COVID-19, without providing details about whether jail inmates and other employees might have been exposed.

“It’s a huge frustration there is not more transparency,” Meier told The 9th Street Journal then. “I get the reluctance to name specific names, but it is important to know as much as we can.”

Now: The Durham County Detention Facility has improved its precautionary measures in the past year, Meier said. He still enters the jail once a week and he is now pleased with the steps taken there to ensure visitors’ and attorneys’ safety. Detainees who may have been exposed to the virus are isolated, he said.

“They do their best, so that is what has really changed a lot,” Meier said. “They’re trying to keep the disease out of the jail and trying to keep it from spreading.”

Attorneys can now meet with clients over video when inside the facility, reducing exposure risks. “Back in April, we were still having a lot of the inmates sitting next to us, and there wasn’t widespread testing. They fixed basically any risk of exposure,” he said.
 
Meier enters the Durham County Courthouse more frequently each week. There, deputies question visitors and take their temperatures to try to decrease the spread of infection. It’s not unusual for Meier to be sitting in a courtroom and receive a call that a client will not be allowed into the building, he said. 

Dryden Quigley

Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, family medicine doctor

At the start: Battling barriers to protect Latinx residents from COVID-19 (July 29, 2020)

When doctors Viviana Martinez-Bianchi and Gabriela Maradiaga Panayotti started Latin-19, a coalition of medical professionals addressing the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on the Latinx community, in March 2020, a dozen people were on the team. They had lots of issues to address.

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, for example, almost none of the public health messaging was in Spanish. The general guidance about social distancing wasn’t always on-target for Latinx households that included large, multi-generational families.

“Togetherness is usually a big part of the resilience of the community,” Dr. Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, a Duke family medicine doctor and adviser to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said in July. “And in this case, it has actually acted against them. Because the virus loves that kind of environment.” 

A patient held an umbrella for Dr. Viviana Martinez-Bianchi while she administered a coronavirus test in July. Martinez-Bianchi co-founded Latin-19 to respond to a high rate of COVID-19 among Durham’s Latinx residents. Photo by Henry Haggart

Now: The Latin-19 coalition has grown to over 600 members. The group has initiated efforts throughout North Carolina to bring adequate COVID-19 healthcare and information to Latinx communities. 

Factors such as fears over data security, immigration status repercussions, lack of Spanish and culturally appropriate messaging, as well as unfairly located testing sites continue to prevent Latinx people from accessing COVID-19 resources, said Martinez-Bianchi. However, she is hopeful that information campaigns via social media, Latinx radio stations, faith leaders and news media allies are encouraging Latinx people to seek out the vaccine. 

According to data made public by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, five in 100 Hispanic people in North Carolina have received their first doses, while more than 17 in 100 non-Hispanic people have received theirs. Latin-19 is closing the gap one step at a time. 

Since the vaccine became available in North Carolina in December, Latin-19 has focused on building trust in the vaccine and overcoming access barriers by hosting vaccine drives in trusted community centres, such as the Latino Community Credit Union. Latin-19 has vaccinated over 1200 Latinx people through partnerships with North Carolina organizations, health departments and faith leaders, said Martinez-Bianchi. 

“Lots of good things have happened since the article,” said Martinez-Bianchi, referring to the 9th Street Journal’s coverage of Latin-19 in July last year

For Latin-19, the work won’t stop when the pandemic is over. 

“Our goal,” Martinez-Bianchi said, “ is to continue to work and create a Latinx center for excellence in Latinx health.”  

Olivia Olsher

Steve Schewel, Durham mayor 

At the start: COVID-19 Q&A: Mayor asks residents to keep distance but help each other (March 20, 2020)

Mayor Schewel while creating a video messages to Durham residents about the need to stay home to stay safe from the new coronavirus. Photo from the City of Durham

One year ago, Mayor Steve Schewel was tasked with bringing the city of Durham together in a time of turmoil. Already reeling from a cyberattack on local government computers, Schewel worked overtime to collaborate with other leaders to address the pandemic’s impact on homeless people, parents and children whose schools were closed, and essential workers who needed childcare. He implored residents to adopt social distancing, wear masks, and hold each other accountable for slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

“We have got to act now, before we look back and regret that we didn’t act soon enough and find out that this virus has ravaged our community. The earlier we act, the more power we have to stop the spread of the virus,” Schewel said.

Now: Schewel grieves for more than 200 lives lost in Durham from COVID-19 over the past year, and he is conscious that “there’s a lot of suffering.” 

“There are businesses that are not going to come back, and people have lost their jobs. It’s going to take a long time to really get the recovery that we need, and we have to really remain supportive of all of our folks who were in those situations,” he said.

Schewel said he is impressed by Durham residents’ ability to care for one another, and by the “remarkable” way that the city’s residents have organized to feed thousands of school children, fight for eviction moratoriums, and provide students with online learning and internet access. 

“We had the first mask mandate placed, two months before the state mandated it – that saved a lot of lives.”

Now, he wants residents to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, if the city can just continue to work hard on equitable vaccine distribution. 

“Our ability to crush this virus is almost within our grasp,” Schewel said. “Vaccines are coming fast and furious now, and we need to make sure that everyone, when their time comes, gets the vaccine. And we need to make sure that our marginalized and vulnerable communities have the vaccines available to them.”

Rebecca Schneid

Martha Hoelzer, freelance photographer and instructor 

At the start: Virtual arts and exercise classes offer innovation and community (April 9, 2020)

Martha Hoelzer taught photography classes on Zoom. Photo by Randy Young

Martha Hoelzer, who runs A Breath of Fresh Air Photography, quickly adapted to self-isolation. She began offering photography lessons over Zoom and sought to “reframe the current situation of whatever we’re having to face”—training her students’ composition and perspective skills to combat the monotony of pandemic restrictions.  

Now: The past twelve months pushed Hoelzer to enact her plans—to work on projects that had been brewing in the back of her mind. Hoelzer has spent the last few months developing new workshops and planning the release of her art show.

“If the pandemic hadn’t happened, I would not have reached out to see if kids wanted to do photography last year.” she said. 

On New Year’s Day, she began a 30-day mindfulness workshop on Facebook. Hoelzer promoted introspection, self-care, and the accessibility of photography by focusing on a different creative element each day.

While unforeseen triumphs like Hoelzer’s workshops sprouted from COVID, her art also took a hit. 

Hoelzer’s exhibition on traumatic brain injury was supposed to happen last March. “The images literally got hung, and then COVID basically shut down everything that weekend.” 

But twelve months later, Hoelzer’s photography collages will be released to the public. Whether virtual or in small, socially distanced groups — the details are still being worked out — Hoezler is excited to safely present her award-winning art show. 

Eleanor Ross

John Moore, yoga teacher 

At the start: The board: cancellations, uncertainty, and hope on a bulletin board on 9th Street (March 22, 2020)

A poster promoting Tibetan Lama Geshe Denma remained posted on the exterior of a Ninth Street building after the pandemic cancelled live events in Durham. Photo by Carmela Guaglianone

Last March John Moore broke the unhappy news to Tibetan Lama Geshe Denma that his weekend visit to Durham was canceled. The lama was stopping by to host classes on the practices of Tibetan Yogas of Body and Mind, sponsored by Moore — a Durham-based yoga practitioner and teacher. Moore held a clement outlook amidst stormy times.

“Although I was certainly disappointed that the workshop had to be canceled,” Moore said then, “it also provides an opportunity to practice contentment and to gracefully accept whatever life offers.” 

Now: As the year passed, Moore clung to that graceful acceptance. Four seasons of loss have brought him “a deeper level of understanding of suffering,” he said. Now he knows, like he could have never known before, “everyone has pain.”

He describes the year as one of “profound change,” Moore lost three loved ones — two died of COVID, and another of pancreatic cancer. As yoga practices halted, Moore hesitated to move classes online, feeling it was an inauthentic translation of his teaching. He moved out of his home, sold his studio, and stopped teaching yoga after 33 years.

Moore’s conscious recognition of life’s inevitable pain has reinforced his goals to help others through these struggles with a continued encouragement of acceptance. 

He has used this understanding to navigate and embrace his year of significant changes. The yogi has a new grandson, Asa and has moved into a new home in Henderson, 40 miles north of Durham. He has started a garden that he hopes will help feed hungry people in his new community. 

He has started with figs and blackberries and will soon add vegetables. “I strive to empower individuals, through yoga or through food,” Moore says, “to nourish them.” 

Carmela Guaglianone

 

A pandemic year

Mark Cunningham and Bethany Faulkner, working with the Durham Neighbors Free Lunch Initiative, wait for people to pick up meals Tuesday. While a Riverside High School senior, Elijah King partnered with businesses to launch the program last spring. Photo by Sho Hatakeyama

A year ago today, March 10, Gov. Roy Cooper rolled out North Carolina’s first emergency order addressing the coronavirus pandemic. No one envisioned all that has followed.

In Durham County, at least 210 people have died from COVID-19, with lopsided losses of life among Black residents. Twenty percent of people who have died here were exposed in group settings, including nursing homes and, in one case, the county jail.

Schools shuttered in March, with no teaching offered until summer ended. After months of online classes, only now is the school district preparing to welcome students back in person.

Thousands of people watched jobs, health insurance, savings and social contact evaporate. People deemed essential workers, Latinx and Black residents especially, faced higher exposure risks. Local businesses and annual events we once took for granted went missing.

With so much of value subtracted from this community, Durham residents found ways to build new things we never expected to need.

To mark this difficult anniversary, 9th Street Journal reporters circled back to people we talked with early in the pandemic. We asked about what concerned them then, and how things are looking now.

Elijah King, founder of Durham Neighbors Free Lunch Initiative

At the start: Local partnerships help feed families during pandemic (April 26, 2020)

Elijah King says the Durham Neighbors Free Lunch Initiative has distributed nearly 50,000 meals.

Last spring, Riverside High School senior Elijah King partnered with local businesses to create the Durham Neighbors Free Lunch Initiative outside Geer Street Garden every weekday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They distributed about 200 meals each day. With donations, the initiative was able to pay its volunteers, who had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“No matter what, we are going to continue paying living wages,” King said then. “That’s what they made before, and that’s what they’re going to be making.” 

Now: Still going strong, the Durham Neighbors Free Lunch Initiative has served almost 50,000 meals during the pandemic year. King graduated from high school and is now a political science major at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, but he’s still deeply involved in Durham.

“I had several people cry and tell me their experiences and how much Durham Neighbors has helped them, and how much I’ve impacted their lives personally,” King said after a recent visit. “It was a very impactful experience.”

He continues working with the meals program and co-founded the Durham Youth Climate Justice Initiative, which hosts public conversations with climate experts and advocates for environmental justice. He also works with the N.C. Democratic Party in Raleigh. 

“Food insecurity was a problem before the pandemic, is a problem during the pandemic, and will be a problem way after the pandemic,” King said. “Durham Neighbors isn’t just a way to serve free lunch, it is a way to become advocates, to convey stories, to make sure that the powers that be know that this is an important issue.” 

Kathleen Hobson

Katie Galbraith, Duke Regional Hospital president

At the start: Duke Health shares some details on COVID-19 preparations (March 29, 2020)

Katie Galbraith says Duke Health has learned what community resilience means. Photo courtesy of Duke University

Durham County had seen just over 100 cases of COVID when Duke Regional Hospital President Katie Galbraith shared pandemic response plans with The 9th Street Journal last March. 

“This is something that we have been preparing for and planning for — for this type of event — for years,” she said.

Galbraith said Duke Health stood ready to add 500 beds in case Durham became the next New York. N95 masks couldn’t be found anywhere, so hospital staff had just figured out how to decontaminate masks so they could be reworn, she reported. Galbraith called on locked-down Durhamites to stay home and praised Duke’s new in-house COVID test. 

Now: Even as she prepared for an array of potential doomsdays, Galbraith — like all of us — couldn’t see all that was coming. 

“I just didn’t realize the scope or breadth, or tremendous impact that this pandemic would have” Galbraith recalled. 

Mask shortages continue, so the hospital’s decontamination and reuse efforts do, too, Galbraith said. Quick in-house testing also endures, now alongside a more accessible, widespread local testing network. 

Fortunately, other plans remained only plans.. “We never had to significantly increase the number of beds that we were using,” Galbraith said, crediting COVID-conscious Durhamites and selfless hospital staff. 

“I’ve learned what resilience means,” she said. “I’ve seen so many who have sacrificed so much through the last year, to make sure that we’re taking care of each other and taking care of this community.”

Simultaneously the most rewarding and difficult part of her professional life, leading the hospital’s pandemic response has worn on Galbraith. 

“It is definitely a weight. And I feel it,” she said. Her coworkers inspire her, keep her going, she added. “But it is a lot of responsibility.” 

That responsibility isn’t going anywhere. Even as Galbraith sees joyful faces at vaccination sites and steadily declining numbers, she knows the pandemic is not over. Seven patients remained in critical condition at Duke Regional on Monday.

“We’re still not out of the woods,” Galbraith said.

Jake Sheridan

Eliazar Posada, acting president and CEO of El Centro Hispano

At the start:
COVID hits black, Latinx Durham residents hardest (June 2, 2020)

Eliazar Posada and El Centro Hispano are working to dispel misconceptions about the coronavirus vaccine. Photo courtesy of Posada

Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, president of the Latinx community organization El Centro Hispano, told 9th Street in June that the pandemic had worsened financial and health care problems already heavily affecting Durham’s Latinx population.

County data from May revealed that at 14% of Durham’s population, Latinx people faced 34% of its cases, including over 90% of cases associated with outdoor construction sites. El Centro Hispano began distributing money to help cover food, rent, and utilities for over 600 families, said Rocha-Goldberg.

Now:  The $350,000 in direct aid that El Centro Hispano raised from donations has run out, said acting president Eliazar Posada. The organization now partners with local groups to pass out meals each week. 

Ensuring that the Latinx community gets equitable access to vaccinations is a major goal for the organization.

Language is a barrier to finding and getting vaccinations for older and Spanish-speaking residents who are less confident with online appointments and prefer telephoning for help, Posada explained. El Centro Hispano is advocating for bilingual staff on the county’s COVID-19 hotline, he said.

“The ideal situation would be for someone to answer and help immediately,” said Posada. “We know there are limited vaccines, so if I’m waiting for help, they might run out.”

Trust remains a critical issue for residents who are uneasy about disclosing their immigration status. “A lot of our community members still do not trust the government or university health systems,” said Posada. “Centro and other NGOs really stepped in to be an arbiter of trust.”

Centro is running a public information campaign to dispel misconceptions in the Latinx community about vaccine eligibility and requirements. With its three Triangle offices closed, Centro has pivoted to hosting social groups, cooking classes, award ceremonies and house parties — all online. 

“It’s not always about big festivals or dances,” Posada said. “It’s about folks connecting with people and not feeling too alone.”

Charlie Zong

Peter Gilbert, Legal Aid lawyer 

At the start: Coronavirus concerns halt evictions in Durham (March 24, 2020)

Padlocked
A sign posted by Durham County sheriffs deputies before a landlord changes the lock. Photo by Niharika Vattikonda

Last March, a state Supreme Court order halted nonessential court proceedings, freezing eviction proceedings and padlockings of rental properties. 

“Anyone being evicted during this time is at a great risk, not only to themselves, but as a vector carrying disease,” Legal Aid lawyer Peter Gilbert said then. “The governor is urging us to stay home. It’s impossible to stay home if you don’t have one.”

But as the law kept people in their homes, Gilbert worried Durham would suffer a “tsunami of evictions” once COVID-wrought protections for renters expired. That sinister wave still looms. 

Now: “I’ve been trying to just get through day by day this whole year,” Gilbert said last week. “We’ve had many more people reaching out for our help, especially over the last few months. We’re doing our best to keep up.” 

The lawyer said overlapping state and federal government interventions stopped most evictions from March to July. When those protections expired, however, evictions filled the courts until the Centers for Disease Control imposed its own eviction moratorium, he said. 

Gilbert said the CDC’s order is set to expire at the end of March. Durham’s courts are scheduled to resume hearings for evictions on non-payment in May. 

Even with those protections, some tenants describe being forced out, “The tenants are using words like they’re being harassed, landlords are contacting them every single day, saying ‘Where’s my rent?’ and ‘You have to be out by Friday.’” 

If deadlines aren’t extended, the tsunami will hit when protections end. Gilbert estimated 20,000 of Durham’s 120,000 households will be unable to pay rent and could face eviction. That many people losing housing would reshape the city, he predicts.

“This is going to exacerbate gentrification. This is going to exacerbate the push out of poor, especially African-American families who have been the core of the citizenry of Durham for much of its history,” Gilbert said. 

The city and county plan to make $9 million available for local rental assistance. But Gilbert estimated that Durham needs $40 million to $60 million to avoid a major local housing crisis. 

Jake Sheridan

Jodee Nimerichter, American Dance Festival executive director 

At the start: Coronavirus outbreak cancels American Dance Festival 2020 (March 31, 2020)

In October, dancers performed on lawns and driveways in American Dance Festival’s Creative Healing Parade. Photo by Laura Charles

In the early weeks of the pandemic, Durham’s American Dance Festival canceled its six-week summer program of modern dance performances for the first time since its founding in 1934. 

“It’s hard to swallow, but it’s the right thing to do,” said Jodee Nimerichter, the ADF executive director. As COVID-19 cases increased, the future of ADF was uncertain: Where would funding come from? How would ADF adjust? Could live performances resume in 2021? 

Now: “It’s great to continue to know that, even in the midst of COVID, partnerships and creativity have never stopped,” Nimerichter said, reflecting on the past year. ADF is powering through the pandemic with online educational programs creating platforms for virtual viewing and commissioning local and international artists.   

“Coronavirus has been devastating to the arts because all the major venues have shut down,” Niemerichter said, noting that artists were lacking outlets for their creativity. 

Last October, ADF held the Creative Healing Parade, bringing more than 70 artists together to dance in driveways and on lawns while audiences watched from cars. In January, ADF commissioned “Untold Secrets of the Heart Chamber,” an online collaboration between South African choreographer Gregory Vuyani Maqoma and poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph.

“Even if the audiences are not nearly as wide as I’d want them to be, it’s still important for artists to be creative, and for us to find resources to pay them,” Nimerichter said, thanking supporters for “the amazing generosity that has been displayed this past year.”

There’s more good news: ADF is hoping to resume live performances this year, by pushing the annual festival starting date to September — two months after the festival usually begins. 

“The bottom line is some of these blessings we’ve learned might not ever go away,” Nimerichter said, adding, “We just can’t wait to get back together in person.”

Eleanor Ross

Wendy Jacobs, county commissioners vice chair

At the start: County’s emergency order expands Durham’s stay-at-home policies (March 28, 2020)

County Board Chair Wendy Jacobs
County Board Chair Wendy Jacobs announces expanded emergency measures last spring. Facebook video grab by 9th Street Journal

Wendy Jacobs was at the forefront of drafting orders to protect Durham residents during the rise of the pandemic. Then chair of the Durham County commissioners, she helped launch a city-county face mask mandate and stay-at-home orders for nonessential workers. 

“You really should try not to have social gatherings of any type,” Jacobs said last March. 

Now: “There was no playbook for a pandemic, but I feel very good about the tough decisions that we made,” Jacobs, now the commissioners’ vice chair, said last week.

It is still crucial that Durham residents continue to take precautions such as wearing masks and interact at a distance, she said. Jacobs and other county commissioners are continuing to work on ways to enforce these practices even with several hundred vaccines rolling out each day. 

“These are the keys to preventing the spread of these new variants and getting people back to work, getting everyone back to school, and getting back to a normal functioning society,” she said.

With Durham Public Schools preparing to begin reopening next week, Jacobs said community members need to think about disparities that still need to be addressed. Between the affordable housing crisis and a steep decline in tourism impacting the hospitality industry, much remains to be addressed in the context of COVID-19. 

Clara Love

Kym Register, Pinhook bar owner

At the start: With concert cancellations, Durham venues livestream local artists (March 20, 2020) 

The pandemic was immediately difficult for businesses like Pinhook, a downtown bar that survived on its ability to bring people together to enjoy art. Owner Kym Register had to lay off the entire staff so they could claim unemployment benefits when the pandemic began. Register’s band, Lomlands, lost thousands of dollars because of gig cancellations. 

Like many downtown business, Pinhook was adorned with art that Black artists created last summer during racial justice protests summer after George Floyd was killed in police custody. Photo by Henry Haggart

Now: Register used Patreon to set up monthly subscriptions for patrons. They have been a huge help with making the rent each month, Register said. Since last March, Register has developed  digital Pinhook experiences, from Zoom karaoke to online courses taught by artists. That includes “Drag Makeup 101” and “the intersection of music, mutual aid, and protest movements.” To access the online programming, patrons are required to make donations, as little as one dollar, to Pinhook via Patreon. 

Gov. Cooper eased restrictions on bars on Feb. 24, but Register, who uses the pronoun “they,” decided it was still too soon to reopen. “Waiting just a little longer will be better for everyone,” they said.

Pinhook won’t open until they have figured out all of the logistics around COVID safety, Register said.

For now, Register is closely watching the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), a trade association group lobbying the Small Business Administration for relief funding for venue spaces such as Pinhook. Hopefully, grant funding from NIVA by early April, combined with Patreon funds and the $10,000 loan received from the city of Durham last year will enable Pinhook to stay afloat while a reopening plan is cemented.

As for the band Lomlands, it has been a uniquely uninspiring year. Register initially felt guilty for not having a “transformative,” creative experience during lockdown. 

“This time period has been non-motivating,” Register said, adding that we need to “give everyone a break… We are all just trying to survive.”

Olivia Olsher

Daniel Meier, defense attorney

At the start: Jail worker died of COVID-19, but Sheriff’s Office won’t discuss (April 29, 2020)

Daniel Meier says county jail officials have implemented good safety measures. Photo courtesy of Meier

Defense attorney Daniel Meier regularly visited the Durham County Detention Facility last spring to meet with clients. He was worried when the Sheriff’s Office revealed that six jail employees had tested positive for COVID-19, without providing details about whether jail inmates and other employees might have been exposed.

“It’s a huge frustration there is not more transparency,” Meier told The 9th Street Journal then. “I get the reluctance to name specific names, but it is important to know as much as we can.”

Now: The Durham County Detention Facility has improved its precautionary measures in the past year, Meier said. He still enters the jail once a week and he is now pleased with the steps taken there to ensure visitors’ and attorneys’ safety. Detainees who may have been exposed to the virus are isolated, he said.

“They do their best, so that is what has really changed a lot,” Meier said. “They’re trying to keep the disease out of the jail and trying to keep it from spreading.”

Attorneys can now meet with clients over video when inside the facility, reducing exposure risks. “Back in April, we were still having a lot of the inmates sitting next to us, and there wasn’t widespread testing. They fixed basically any risk of exposure,” he said.
 
Meier enters the Durham County Courthouse more frequently each week. There, deputies question visitors and take their temperatures to try to decrease the spread of infection. It’s not unusual for Meier to be sitting in a courtroom and receive a call that a client will not be allowed into the building, he said. 

Dryden Quigley

Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, family medicine doctor

At the start: Battling barriers to protect Latinx residents from COVID-19 (July 29, 2020)

When doctors Viviana Martinez-Bianchi and Gabriela Maradiaga Panayotti started Latin-19, a coalition of medical professionals addressing the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on the Latinx community, in March 2020, a dozen people were on the team. They had lots of issues to address.

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, for example, almost none of the public health messaging was in Spanish. The general guidance about social distancing wasn’t always on-target for Latinx households that included large, multi-generational families.

“Togetherness is usually a big part of the resilience of the community,” Dr. Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, a Duke family medicine doctor and adviser to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said in July. “And in this case, it has actually acted against them. Because the virus loves that kind of environment.” 

A patient held an umbrella for Dr. Viviana Martinez-Bianchi while she administered a coronavirus test in July. Martinez-Bianchi co-founded Latin-19 to respond to a high rate of COVID-19 among Durham’s Latinx residents. Photo by Henry Haggart

Now: The Latin-19 coalition has grown to over 600 members. The group has initiated efforts throughout North Carolina to bring adequate COVID-19 healthcare and information to Latinx communities. 

Factors such as fears over data security, immigration status repercussions, lack of Spanish and culturally appropriate messaging, as well as unfairly located testing sites continue to prevent Latinx people from accessing COVID-19 resources, said Martinez-Bianchi. However, she is hopeful that information campaigns via social media, Latinx radio stations, faith leaders and news media allies are encouraging Latinx people to seek out the vaccine. 

According to data made public by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, five in 100 Hispanic people in North Carolina have received their first doses, while more than 17 in 100 non-Hispanic people have received theirs. Latin-19 is closing the gap one step at a time. 

Since the vaccine became available in North Carolina in December, Latin-19 has focused on building trust in the vaccine and overcoming access barriers by hosting vaccine drives in trusted community centres, such as the Latino Community Credit Union. Latin-19 has vaccinated over 1200 Latinx people through partnerships with North Carolina organizations, health departments and faith leaders, said Martinez-Bianchi. 

“Lots of good things have happened since the article,” said Martinez-Bianchi, referring to the 9th Street Journal’s coverage of Latin-19 in July last year

For Latin-19, the work won’t stop when the pandemic is over. 

“Our goal,” Martinez-Bianchi said, “ is to continue to work and create a Latinx center for excellence in Latinx health.”  

Olivia Olsher

Steve Schewel, Durham mayor 

At the start: COVID-19 Q&A: Mayor asks residents to keep distance but help each other (March 20, 2020)

Mayor Schewel while creating a video messages to Durham residents about the need to stay home to stay safe from the new coronavirus. Photo from the City of Durham

One year ago, Mayor Steve Schewel was tasked with bringing the city of Durham together in a time of turmoil. Already reeling from a cyberattack on local government computers, Schewel worked overtime to collaborate with other leaders to address the pandemic’s impact on homeless people, parents and children whose schools were closed, and essential workers who needed childcare. He implored residents to adopt social distancing, wear masks, and hold each other accountable for slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

“We have got to act now, before we look back and regret that we didn’t act soon enough and find out that this virus has ravaged our community. The earlier we act, the more power we have to stop the spread of the virus,” Schewel said.

Now: Schewel grieves for more than 200 lives lost in Durham from COVID-19 over the past year, and he is conscious that “there’s a lot of suffering.” 

“There are businesses that are not going to come back, and people have lost their jobs. It’s going to take a long time to really get the recovery that we need, and we have to really remain supportive of all of our folks who were in those situations,” he said.

Schewel said he is impressed by Durham residents’ ability to care for one another, and by the “remarkable” way that the city’s residents have organized to feed thousands of school children, fight for eviction moratoriums, and provide students with online learning and internet access. 

“We had the first mask mandate placed, two months before the state mandated it – that saved a lot of lives.”

Now, he wants residents to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, if the city can just continue to work hard on equitable vaccine distribution. 

“Our ability to crush this virus is almost within our grasp,” Schewel said. “Vaccines are coming fast and furious now, and we need to make sure that everyone, when their time comes, gets the vaccine. And we need to make sure that our marginalized and vulnerable communities have the vaccines available to them.”

Rebecca Schneid

Martha Hoelzer, freelance photographer and instructor 

At the start: Virtual arts and exercise classes offer innovation and community (April 9, 2020)

Martha Hoelzer taught photography classes on Zoom. Photo by Randy Young

Martha Hoelzer, who runs A Breath of Fresh Air Photography, quickly adapted to self-isolation. She began offering photography lessons over Zoom and sought to “reframe the current situation of whatever we’re having to face”—training her students’ composition and perspective skills to combat the monotony of pandemic restrictions.  

Now: The past twelve months pushed Hoelzer to enact her plans—to work on projects that had been brewing in the back of her mind. Hoelzer has spent the last few months developing new workshops and planning the release of her art show.

“If the pandemic hadn’t happened, I would not have reached out to see if kids wanted to do photography last year.” she said. 

On New Year’s Day, she began a 30-day mindfulness workshop on Facebook. Hoelzer promoted introspection, self-care, and the accessibility of photography by focusing on a different creative element each day.

While unforeseen triumphs like Hoelzer’s workshops sprouted from COVID, her art also took a hit. 

Hoelzer’s exhibition on traumatic brain injury was supposed to happen last March. “The images literally got hung, and then COVID basically shut down everything that weekend.” 

But twelve months later, Hoelzer’s photography collages will be released to the public. Whether virtual or in small, socially distanced groups — the details are still being worked out — Hoezler is excited to safely present her award-winning art show. 

Eleanor Ross

John Moore, yoga teacher 

At the start: The board: cancellations, uncertainty, and hope on a bulletin board on 9th Street (March 22, 2020)

A poster promoting Tibetan Lama Geshe Denma remained posted on the exterior of a Ninth Street building after the pandemic cancelled live events in Durham. Photo by Carmela Guaglianone

Last March John Moore broke the unhappy news to Tibetan Lama Geshe Denma that his weekend visit to Durham was canceled. The lama was stopping by to host classes on the practices of Tibetan Yogas of Body and Mind, sponsored by Moore — a Durham-based yoga practitioner and teacher. Moore held a clement outlook amidst stormy times.

“Although I was certainly disappointed that the workshop had to be canceled,” Moore said then, “it also provides an opportunity to practice contentment and to gracefully accept whatever life offers.” 

Now: As the year passed, Moore clung to that graceful acceptance. Four seasons of loss have brought him “a deeper level of understanding of suffering,” he said. Now he knows, like he could have never known before, “everyone has pain.”

He describes the year as one of “profound change,” Moore lost three loved ones — two died of COVID, and another of pancreatic cancer. As yoga practices halted, Moore hesitated to move classes online, feeling it was an inauthentic translation of his teaching. He moved out of his home, sold his studio, and stopped teaching yoga after 33 years.

Moore’s conscious recognition of life’s inevitable pain has reinforced his goals to help others through these struggles with a continued encouragement of acceptance. 

He has used this understanding to navigate and embrace his year of significant changes. The yogi has a new grandson, Asa and has moved into a new home in Henderson, 40 miles north of Durham. He has started a garden that he hopes will help feed hungry people in his new community. 

He has started with figs and blackberries and will soon add vegetables. “I strive to empower individuals, through yoga or through food,” Moore says, “to nourish them.” 

Carmela Guaglianone

Sheriff’s department hit a nerve on Twitter

When someone at the Durham County Sheriff’s Department hit send on a tweet showcasing a new “ghost car,” the reaction was likely the opposite of what was expected. 

A video embedded in the tweet showed lights that flash after the vehicle emerges from hiding engaged people from Durham to London. Almost 5,000 people commented, mostly with criticisms. Two critical comments generated over 20,000 likes.

“This ‘ghost’ car will be used by our #CommunityPolicing & traffic unit. W/ its low profile graphics you’ll never see it coming, especially at night. Make sure you’re not speeding, wear your seatbelt, and stay sober behind the wheel,” the Jan. 13 tweet read.

Department tweets typically spawn less than 10 responses. But outrage over police killings of George Floyd last May and many other unarmed Black people has greatly expanded critiques of U.S. policing on social media.

“if the mission is to serve and protect, why do you need to be invisible?” @man7186 asked. Others echoed this sentiment, arguing that visible cars are more effective at stopping speeding, drawing comparisons to the brightly marked police cars of Europe.

“Here’s what a UK police vehicle looks like. Intentionally visible and recognizable. Almost as if police are PUBLIC SERVANTS and should be immediately recognizable to said public. American police exists solely to prey and profit not protect nor serve,” read the top comment by @alsharptondurag, which amassed 25,800 likes.  Commentators also took issue with using taxpayer money in the middle of a pandemic while so many in Durham County are struggling financially. “…People are out here financially broken and I’m sure this 30k could’ve been allocated to an improvisational stimulus check for 15 random families within the community,” @CLtheCHEF wrote, attracting 5,300 likes.

Not all comments were factual, with some alluding to the Durham city police budget instead of the Durham Sheriff’s Department. Clarence Birkhead, Durham’s first Black sheriff, was elected to run the department with a reform-minded platform in 2018, including a vow to reduce officers’ use of force in the community. After Floyd died, he shared mourning and outrage.

“As a law enforcement leader, I am embarrassed, and outraged, at the behavior of a few officers …,” the sheriff said in a statement. “No matter how hard I try, I simply cannot understand how these incidents continue to occur and those officers responsible seemingly go unpunished.”

Speeding at illegal road races is one issue his department deals with, Birkhead noted in a Jan. 29 statement. “A week does not go by when our deputies are responding to individual residents and local neighborhood groups calling us for service about reports of loud, late-night ‘car meet-ups’ across Durham County,” Birkhead wrote. “This activity is not only illegal but obviously dangerous. We are committed [to] getting a handle on this reckless behavior and will hold those individuals accountable.”

Experts counsel police forces today to take extra care with social media posts, reminding them that everything on Twitter and other social platforms is visible worldwide. They encourage messaging that reinforces positive relationships between citizens and law enforcement. 

Emily Tiry, a research associate at the Urban Institute, co-wrote the Social Media Guidebook for Law Enforcement Agencies. It lays out four steps for a more effective social media presence, including establishing a baseline for social media use. 

Tiry emphasized the importance of having a social media policy, which the Durham sheriff’s department has. “The Durham Sheriff’s Office endorses the secure use of social media to enhance communication, collaboration, and information exchange; streamline processes; and foster productivity,” it reads. 

When asked about repairing community confidence after a post receives backlash, Tiry said she knows of no research about that. But it would be important for the organization to ask themselves some key questions such as, “Was the tweet following the social media policy? If it was then, maybe, reassess the policy?” she said.

Five days after heralding the ghost car, Birkhead’s department posted another tweet to clarify its intentions.

“We never expected such a large response to this video. Its intent was to be a light-hearted look at a tool our traffic unit uses to keep roads safe but it was taken out of context for some. DCSO values your thoughtful feedback &will continue to be engaged w/the community it serves.”

Still users were unsatisfied. “This tone-deaf response to a tone-deaf post is why people are upset,” @sisson-darrell replied.

When asked about the negative response, department spokesman AnnMarie Breen suggested enough had been said already. “We don’t have anything more to say about this topic,” she responded.

9th Street reporter Dryden Quigley can be reached at dryden.quigley@duke.edu

‘He’ll push back’: T. Greg Doucette’s crusade against hypocrisy, police violence, and big government

It was five days after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, and T. Greg Doucette was mad. 

Doucette, a criminal defense and small business attorney in Durham, was angry with the way police were treating protesters: beating them, pepper-spraying them, and, in one case, even trampling them with a horse. And so, around noon on May 30, Doucette did what he often does when he wants to gripe: he tweeted, creating a thread of 10 videos showing instances of police brutality toward protesters. 

His thread went viral, retweeted by Trevor Noah and John Cusack and scores of others. Twitter analytics showed it reached millions of users. Suddenly people started sending him thousands of videos of police violence, and Doucette kept adding to the thread, with a counter so people could keep track. He gained 100,000 followers (on top of his previous 30,000). Soon, the “Police Brutality Mega-Thread” had ballooned to hundreds of clips. 

“It was like, holy shit, this has gone beyond what I expected,” he said in an interview with The 9th Street Journal. “And I got to figure out how to manage it.” 

Doucette’s sudden Twitter fame was partly a reflection of the moment — a nation waking up to the pervasive problem of police violence — and partly a product of his Twitter addiction (he’ll often tweet 100 times a day). 

But though the 100,000 Twitter followers were new, the blistering honesty of the thread was not. 

Whether he’s insulting Jeff Sessions (“human gutter trash”) or skewering the UNC Board of Governors, Doucette will give you his unvarnished opinion. Since 2017, he has hosted a podcast called “#Fsck ‘Em All,” in which he rails against corruption and abuse in the justice system as well as what he calls “political f*ckery.”  

Recently, he’s taken to YouTube to challenge Van Jones, a news commentator who gave a TED Talk titled “What if a U.S. presidential candidate refuses to concede after an election?” In the video, Van Jones explains how a president could exploit “legal loopholes” in the Constitution to stay in office. 

“Van Jones is WRONG,” Doucette contends in his 50-minute YouTube video. It is quintessential Doucette — funny, thorough, nerdy and crass. 

“There is no profanity in the presentation, but I do tend to cuss a lot,” he says, hovering at the bottom left of the screen and wearing a t-shirt from North Carolina Central University School of Law. Thirty seconds later, he calls his video “boring as shit.” 

The video has attracted over 130,000 views — and some controversy. When someone in the comments section disputed one of his claims, Doucette weighed in: “Basically every comment and reply you’ve made here is wrong, it’s actually impressive! Enjoy the Biden administration.” 

He’s a rascal and a reformer, a crusader for justice, or — if you’re on the receiving end of his Twitter onslaught — a pain in the neck. 

“If you’re being a dick, he’ll push back,” said Kahran Myers-Davis, a former attorney at Doucette’s firm. “He’ll push back on you on Twitter, he’ll push back on you in public. He’ll push back on people in his real life who aren’t living their values or who are being unethical or condescending or rude. That’s just who he is.” 

* * *

Both times I interviewed Doucette, he appeared on my screen wearing black headphones and a gray shirt that said “NCCU Trial Advocacy Board” (does he only wear NCCU shirts?). Bald and 39 years old, he’s a self-described “full-time curmudgeon, part-time Twitter celebrity, occasional attorney.”

Doucette talks like he tweets: non-stop, unfiltered, his words laced with zingers and occasional f-bombs, his face lit with an impish smile. 

Unlike most advocates for criminal justice reform, who come from the left, he’s a conservative, though he abandoned the Republican party after President Trump’s election in 2016 (he’s now registered as unaffiliated). His watchdog mentality reflects his skepticism about the state. 

“I don’t trust the government,” he said. “If you allow the government to steamroll people that don’t have power, they’re gonna steamroll the people that do, the first chance they get.” 

His strategy is simple. “You have to keep the government in its little box. And if it ever steps out of the box, you smack it in the face and you put it back in the box.” 

Doucette grew up in Virginia Beach in a home where his mother and stepfather fought a lot. 

 I grew up in the type of home many would consider ‘white trash,’” Doucette wrote on the website for his state Senate campaign in 2016. “Poor, frequent substance abuse, more frequent domestic violence (something so ‘normal’ in my life I didn’t even know it was called ‘domestic violence’ until law school).

In high school, he was recruited by Massachusetts Institute of Technology for its computer engineering program, but he decided on attending North Carolina State University because tuition was cheaper.

Then, a setback: his parents refused to provide him with tax information, so Doucette couldn’t qualify for financial aid. He dropped out, worked odd jobs, lived out of his truck and used his girlfriend’s dorm room to shower. 

When he finally got enough money to enroll, he became president of the UNC Association of Student Governments, a group that includes student representatives from schools across North Carolina, including NC State. He eventually graduated with a degree in computer science. 

Doucette was fun but in a “nerdy” kind of way, said Ashley Yopp, who met him through the Association of Student Governments. At parties, instead of playing beer pong, Doucette would be deep in conversation with someone about a new idea. 

“He talks big, but he doesn’t put on airs,” Yopp said. “He is who he is.”

In August 2009, Doucette enrolled in NCCU’s School of Law, a historically Black college in Durham. He picked NCCU because it was cheaper than UNC. After graduating, he wanted to start a nonprofit called “NC SPICE” that would be an incubator for other attorneys trying to set up their practices. 

“The logo was a pepper grinder with the scales of justice, really slick, man,” he said, rummaging through his computer for a picture. 

But Doucette hit a speed bump when the IRS stopped processing applications for nonprofit groups. So Doucette started his own firm “kind of by accident.” He chose Durham because of the resources and connections at NCCU. He was sworn in as an attorney in 2012. (He eventually founded the nonprofit and now works as its executive director.) 

He started out focusing on business litigation and higher education law. He fell into criminal law by happenstance. 

“For whatever reason,” he said, “I still had this old-school Republican notion that criminal defense lawyers are just icky creatures.” 

* * *

In November 2013, Doucette took on a client who was a student at NCCU and had been caught selling weed. It became a turning point in his legal career.  

During their first conversation, according to Doucette, the student said he wanted to be “Durham’s weed man.” The student had brought a business plan on how to sell weed, complete with marketing projections and a color-coded map of everywhere in the country it was legal. 

“You know how you watch movies, and you hear the record-scratch moment, and everyone freezes? That’s how it was during the client interview,” Doucette recalled.  

Though he thought it would be impossible to help the student receive a lenient sentence, Doucette took on the case.

In February 2014, Doucette defended the student in court by arguing that the evidence for the case be suppressed. To his surprise, the court accepted his argument and dismissed the case. 

Later, in the hallway of the Durham courthouse, the client grabbed Doucette’s arm. 

“Bro, you are a white Jesus,” Doucette remembers him saying. “That was a miracle. Give me your business cards. I’m going to send all of my customers to you.” 

Sure enough, Doucette soon got a call. “[The student] said you’re a miracle worker. I caught a charge. I need your help,” the caller told him. The next day, Doucette got two more calls. Then, in March, on his birthday, Doucette received an email announcing someone had bought him a domain: www.durhamweedlawyer.com. The client had put his marketing skills to work. 

“So it ended up, by the middle of 2015, most of the people in Durham who were selling weed in a given part of town, I was their defense attorney,” Doucette said. 

To this day, many of his clients are still charged with drug-related crimes. He also represents protesters, whether from Moral Monday or Black Lives Matter — a part of his practice he describes as his “ministry.” 

“I do stuff on Twitter, but I also like being in the courtroom and being able to defend people who are being oppressed by their government,” he said. 

At its peak, his law firm, which is located on 311 East Main Street, had multiple attorneys, interns and a receptionist. Then, in 2016, he made a longshot bid for state Senate in a district that includes Durham County. Though he won more votes than any Republican to run for the seat and got an endorsement from INDY Week, he still lost badly to incumbent Mike Woodard. 

It was an “incredibly stupid” decision, he said — and it almost bankrupted his firm. 

Immersing himself in his campaign meant less time for marketing and finding new clients. His business crumpled. His attorneys left. The next year was dreadful for Doucette. 

“I’ve fallen into this rat race of churning through cases at the law firm to make rent each month,” he wrote in a blog post in April 2017. “But don’t really feel like I’m moving forward toward any given objective beyond rent-paying (which is a fantastically low goal in life). It’s terribly frustrating, especially for someone who’s climbed up from how far down I was back in 2000. And the way forward is a complete mystery to me.” 

Today, Doucette is the only employee at his firm. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, he works most days from home, where he lives with his wife, Jeanne Chen, an optometrist he married in October, and with his “kids”: a dog (Chance) and two cats (Biscuit and Oliver). When he goes into the office two times a week, it’s very quiet, and he keeps iTunes playing in the background. 

Beneath the cocky exterior, Doucette feels for others. Since 2015, he has organized an annual fundraiser to provide groceries for underprivileged elementary school kids in Durham. This year, he raised over $55,000. Lowes lent him an 18-wheeler to transport the 3,642 bags of groceries. 

“He had that truly human ability to put himself into people’s situations and to care for them as individuals,” recalled Myers-Davis, Doucette’s former attorney. “Many of his clients of the firm, even folks that I’ve worked with, have come back and said, ‘You know, I’m doing this and this because Greg gave me advice, not as my attorney, but as a person who really cared about me.’”

* * *

His strong feelings against police violence aren’t new. He says he has been sharing videos of police misconduct for the past 13 years.

Select your membership level and you can be part of Doucette’s #FSCK community.

“Do I hate police?” he wrote in one of his tweets. “No. I hate raging incompetent cowboys w/ badges financed by my tax money who clearly haven’t had an eye exam recently.”

Doucette has also been ranting about police misconduct on his “#Fsck ‘Em All” podcast. Like its creator, the podcast is a little geeky. “Fsck” is the name of a computer software tool for checking the consistency of a file system; Doucette describes his podcast as “your weekly consistency check on America’s political and legal filesystems.” It’s also a source of income: for $3 to $25 per month, fans can gain exclusive access to bonus episodes and “Become part of the #Fsck community!”

In his slight southern drawl, Doucette calls out cops from across the country: a North Carolina sex crimes detective who committed sex crimes, a Florida deputy who framed motorists for drug offenses, Texas cops who beat a domestic violence victim. 

“He is showing that you don’t have to be Black to call out social injustice,” said Deyaska Sweatman, one of Doucette’s law school classmates. “His megaphone is loud, not just because he’s really good in the Twitterverse. But his megaphone is loud because he really, really cares. He really has been fighting this fight from the beginning.”

In photo above, Doucette in front of the Durham County courthouse. Photo courtesy of T. Greg Doucette. 

Best of 2020: Photography

Ashley Canady, resident council president at McDougald Terrace, and other tenants marched in the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Unity March and Rally in January. They demanded help for tenants moved from unsafe public housing. Photo by Corey Pilson | The 9th Street Journal

None of us will forget the year 2020. How could we?

This is the year global pandemic struck, followed by a national racial-justice reckoning and high-stakes political campaigns. In Durham, a crisis in the city’s largest public housing community swelled too.

Two 9th Street Journal student photojournalists — Corey Pilson in the spring and Henry Haggart in summer and fall — documented all that and more this year.

Here is some of their good work that we love best from 2020.

After unsafe conditions chased hundreds of residents from McDougald Terrace, Shimey Harvey regularly checked on the apartment where she and her son lived. Photo by Corey Pilson | The 9th Street Journal
Durham Public Schools closed classrooms suddenly in March to protect teachers, students and staff from the new coronavirus. In April, volunteers worked to get food to students and families who rely on free and reduced-price meals at Glenn Elementary School. Photo by Corey Pilson I The 9th Street Journal
After George Floyd was killed by police in May, protests swept the country. Downtown Durham businesses boarded up their storefronts in case violence swelled during marches here. In June, artists transformed blocks of plywood with art. Jaguar Perry called his work “Sambo in Wonderland”. Photo by Henry Haggart I The 9th Street Journal
A patient held an umbrella for Dr. Viviana Martinez-Bianchi while she administered a coronavirus test in July. Martinez-Bianchi co-founded Latin-19, a group of clinicians that stepped up to respond to a high rate of COVID-19 among Durham’s Latinx residents. Photo by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal
After Durham police drew guns on a teenager and two children at Rochelle Manor Apartments in August, their families and supporters demanded that city officials release police body-camera footage. After a rally at Durham City Hall, a child examined a sign left behind. Photo by Henry Haggart I The 9th Street Journal
Duke University’s Catholic Center held Mass in a campus parking garage after the pandemic made indoor worship unsafe. A masked participant kneeled on a cement floor during a September service. Photo by Henry Haggart I The 9th Street Journal
Durham public schools offered online instruction only this fall, with most students signing in from home. Several learning centers have popped up since then. Angela Caraway worked with a student at one, Kate’s Korner, in November. Photo by Henry Haggart I The 9th Street Journal
At a September event intended to strengthen ties between city residents and police,  Sgt. Daryl Macaluso throws a football to a kid at the Hoover Road community. Photo by Henry Haggart I The 9th Street Journal
The pandemic brought countless challenges to poll workers during voting this fall. One worker wore double protection while manning a vote tabulator at South Durham Regional Library. Photo by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal
Hundreds of people marched in Durham on Nov. 5, demanding that all ballots cast in that week’s elections be counted. Photo by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal