Every city has a few defining features. For example, New York City has the Empire State Building and Madison Square Garden. St. Louis has the arches and the Cardinals. The Bay Area has the Golden Gate Bridge and start-up nation. And Durham has Duke.
But visit a larger city and it doesn’t take long before you see how much more there is to it besides the main attractions. It only takes a few minutes in New York City to notice the hot dog vendors on every corner, the street performers, and the melting pot of culture that truly is the backbone of the city. It takes immersion and open-mindedness to understand the history of a city and all that it has to offer. Durham is no different.
I have been a Duke student for two years now. When I think of Durham, I used to immediately think of Duke. It isn’t because I pretend the rest of the city isn’t there, but because I lacked the experiences it takes to truly appreciate a city and its rich history. But that is beginning to change.
As a tutor and intern at the Durham Literacy Center, I have gained first-hand exposure to what life is like in Durham. The individuals who work 50-hour weeks and still find time to pursue an education have taught me more in a couple of weeks than I feel I have learned over the last two years in any classroom. For all its benefits, Duke’s campus can actually prevent students from becoming citizens of Durham that deeply understand the city’s past, present, and future. Before our walking tour of Stagville plantation, for example, I was entirely unaware that there was a slave plantation the size of San Francisco right here in Durham. Prior to our morning at the farmer’s market and Carolina Theater, I had no idea of the immense struggle that many African-Americans had to go through in this very city, and much more recently than I could have fathomed. And before our conversation with Dr. Jeff Baker, I had no idea that Duke’s Liberal Arts college finally allowed men and women to study together only as recently as 1972.
The rich, and sometimes painful, history of Durham has paved the way for the growing, evolving, “foodiest-city-in-the-country” city in which we live in today. There’s more here than just Duke, and sometimes we just need a little reminder.