At first glance, the cookout held at Love & Respect’s Angier Avenue facility on Saturday, June 3 appeared to be a typical weekend backyard barbecue or family reunion.
Music blared from two giant speakers and grills smoked while clients of the transition house for men struggling with substance abuse tended to hot dogs, hamburgers and barbecued neck bones among other delicacies.
Meanwhile, guests gathered around card tables to play dominoes and share jokes and laughs while children entertained themselves in a large yellow bouncy house.
It was a celebration, for sure, but one held to highlight a very serious matter.
It wasn’t that long ago when the residents of Angier Avenue were held hostage by the crime, drugs and gang violence that had taken hold in the North-East Central Durham (NECD) neighborhood, a community that has traditionally struggled with high poverty rates.
“At one point, we could not sit on our porches comfortably,” said Carolyn Rogers-Stone, a former Partners Against Crime facilitator and NECD resident.
Rogers-Stone and others credit Dennis Garrett, founder and director of Love & Respect, for a welcome transformation along Angier Avenue.
“He knows what the needs are, he senses things and he’s been there and done that,” Rogers-Stone said.
Durham District Attorney Roger Echols also attended the “Stop the Violence” event, which Garrett, a recovering addict, said has been held the past 15 years on the first Saturday in June, in recognition of the day and month Garrett opened Love & Respect Recovery House.
Echols said that it’s critical that Durham leaders support residents when they stand together and support each other in an effort to stop violence.
“This is something that we should get behind,” Echols said. “This affects what I do professionally.”
Garrett said that when he founded Love & Respect in June 2002, the neighborhood was “drug infested” and filled with dilapidated houses.
“When we first came here, [Durham police] received 52 9-1-1 calls a week,” Garrett said. “Now, they don’t get 52 9-1-1 calls in a year and that’s through the spread of love and respect and uplifting ourselves and others and the community.”
He said recovering addicts have a special debt to repay in their work to improve community.
“We as recovering addicts have taken from the community so vigorously and engaged in dishonesty and disloyalty,” said Garrett, whose facilities serve 32 men in three different houses, including the one on Angier Avenue.
Donivan Davenport, 45, a recovering addict from Rutherford County, said he learned about Love & Respect while imprisoned on an attempted murder charge while in his 20s.
He spent 13 years behind bars and eventually found his way to Love & Respect after his release, but not before he resumed his “unhealthy living habits” that included abusing drugs and alcohol.
“I told him [Garrett] that I was homeless and I was an addict and I needed recovery,” Davenport said.
Davenport said he relapsed recently and lost his car and job.
When he was ready to return to Love & Respect, Garrett welcomed him with open arms.
“He told me to come home,” Davenport said.
From his first stint at Love & Respect in 2013 until now, Davenport said he has seen firsthand how the neighborhood has been transformed through Garrett’s work.
“I’ve seen miraculous changes,” Davenport said. “He teaches people that togetherness is the best way.”