During my freshman year at Duke, Durham was a mysterious place for me. I have heard things about it but I barely had the chance to explore the city myself and to interact with the local community. I have been waiting to meet the real Durham, its people, its culture and even the problems it is facing. This week, I finally had the chance to do so through tours, readings and interaction with local citizens.
Our first tour in Durham was a visit to Stagville, a historic site that used to be one of the largest plantations in North Carolina. As a city in the South, Durham is unfortunately associated with the dark history of slavery in the past. The large plantation owned by the Bennehan-Cameron family used to be over 30 thousand acres and hundreds of black people were enslaved here, working and living in dire conditions. During the tour, our tour guide shared with us many true stories that happened in this plantation, including how black workers were unfairly treated and attacked. As a person who was not very familiar with U.S. history, the visit to Stagville was an eye-opening experience for me.
Our group also reflected on the evolution in Durham’s economic development during a round table discussion with Mayor Steve Schewel, Dr. Phail Wynn, Casey Steinbacher and Lois Deloatch. Durham has transitioned from a manufacturing city to a knowledge-based city that is known for bio-tech and innovation. However, rapid growth also leads to inequality, high housing prices and other social and economic issues that need to be addressed. It was definitely an honor to be able to sit together with these guest speakers and listen to their perspectives.
Another discovery I made is, interestingly, about the diaper needs of families in Durham. It was my first week working at Diaper Bank of North Carolina, but I have gathered many facts about families’ diaper needs. On average, one in three families is in need of diapers because parents often need to decide if they should allocate their very limited income on diapers for their children or food for their family. As a result, many children in poorer families end up using only one diaper per day. Diaper Bank is a nonprofit that distributes 50 diapers per child per month to families in need for free. “Changing your world, one diaper at a time.”
The first week of the program was full of discoveries and new experiences and I am sure many more await. Although I am not new to Durham, the DukeEngage experience demystifies the real Durham for me. Nice to meet you, the real Durham!