August 2016 Neighbor Spotlight- Lenora Smith
*Interview is from her own words, but in certain cases is condensed.
What is the name of your neighborhood?
Old Five Points, which is the western boundary of the 96 Block Northeast Central Durham Community.
How long have you lived in your neighborhood?
I have lived here for 23 years.
Tell us about your neighborhood.
Old Five Points, for me, is primarily a two square block area, although the boundaries are larger on a map. The area I focus on is the area from Gray/Cleveland and Gray/Roxboro Streets and down to Miosha St. and Glendale Apts. When our neighborhood first started organizing, there were families with a lot of young kids and there was a lot of drug activity. We wanted to create positive experiences for the young people. We started doing neighborhood cleanups, National Night Outs, and we even partnered with Center for Documentary Studies to start a summer writing internship where young people were paid a monthly stipend to learn and write about the history of Old Five Points and interview Community Leaders from the area. We wanted them to learn from, write about and be inspired by the neighborhood leaders. We wanted the positive experiences to overshadow the drugs and crime.
What successes have your neighborhood and community had?
Many of our successes came from the collaborations we built. We brought together the local churches, Police Department, residents, mosque and NAACP to work to create change. It was great being part of and initiating a movement that eliminated the open air drug market in our neighborhood. Sometimes it was difficult because there were conflicted family members when some perpetrators were relatives but we were overall successful in creating a safer neighborhood. Today, we still have core information and dialogue networks in the area. Activities that are still important to us, we can create a forum about. For example, we recently had a neighborhood meeting to inform residents about property tax relief programs. Finally, we are a part of PEACH (Partnership Effort for the Advancement of Children’s Health) through our work with Northeast Central Durham. Most people did not think it would last, but PEACH is a grassroots community based organization still in existence.
What are some concerns that you still have in your community?
A huge concern is affordability. The houses in our neighborhood were originally for first time homeowners in low income families, but gentrification and the desire to live close to Downtown Durham has created the potential to make it difficult for families to stay in the neighborhood. Also, downtown activities are expensive and neighborhood residents are impacted by the activities, but don’t have the disposable income to participate in them, such as Moogfest. In addition, several of our neighbors are older and have concerns about health issues (Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, etc.)
What advice would you give to other community members?
When you embark on community advocacy, there is no way to fully prepare emotionally or psychologically for the spectrum of feelings that will be encountered. So much can happen as a community leader. There are so many expectations and accountability issues. As a volunteer community organizer, emotions can run deep and it is important that your heart is in it, if you are going to have any longevity in community work.
Do you have any upcoming opportunities for other people to get involved?
Most immediately, PEACH is coordinating a community based participatory research round table. There are concerns around clusters of heavy metal, such as Lead and Cadmium, in Northeast Central Durham. We have an opportunity to partner with researchers at North Carolina State University to write a grant proposal. It is important for community members to be part of the planning, research and decision making about what actions should be taken. There will be a meeting from 6:30 to 8:00 PM at the UDI Building (800 N Mangum) on August 2nd. Contact [email protected] or call 919-308-6914 if you want to get involved.