Durham County

Moving up: Commissioner Brenda Howerton on leadership, little girls and hard work

Durham County Commissioner Brenda Howerton, second from left, is pictured with (from left) then-Durham County Manager Mike Ruffin, County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, veterans officer Lois Harvin-Ravin, then-County Commissioner Chairman Fred Foster, Commisioner Wendy Jacobs, Public Health Director Gayle Harris and Social Services Director Michael Becketts in a 2013 ribbon-cutting photo.
Durham County Commissioner Brenda Howerton, second from left, is pictured with (from left) then-Durham County Manager Mike Ruffin, County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, veterans officer Lois Harvin-Ravin, then-County Commissioner Chairman Fred Foster, Commisioner Wendy Jacobs, Public Health Director Gayle Harris and Social Services Director Michael Becketts in a 2013 ribbon-cutting photo. mschultz@newsobserver.com, 2013 file photo

Durham County Commissioner Brenda Howerton will take the helm of the state commissioners association during its conference Saturday night in downtown Durham.

Howerton will be installed as president of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, a role that’s been in the works for years as she moved from vice president to president-elect.

As president, Howerton said she’ll get to set the tone on initiatives important to Durham and the state, particulary about children. She shares the national president’s initiative around poverty and early childhood education.

“So we all get to push in the same direction to lift up our children. It’s important to me that our children have an opportunity to get a great education, because they are the future,” Howerton said Wednesday.

She said she didn’t want to give away her Saturday installation speech, but it will be about “what can we do to make sure children have what they need.”

Howerton isn’t the first African-American woman president, she said, but when she looks at photographs of the association’s past leaders, there are far fewer women than men.

Now her name and photograph will be added to the list of state leaders.

“For me, it’s saying to little girls that you can do whatever it is you set out to do. But understand it takes work. This didn’t just happen because I woke up and wanted to do it. It takes a lot of work,” she said.

Howerton also credited the Durham community for electing her as a commissioner so she could take on the statewide role as well. The conference that started Wednesday and continues through the weekend teaches commissioners about laws and leadership, she said.

At the Durham County commissioners work session on Monday, Commissioner Heidi Carter told Howerton she was “so proud” of her.

“This is a very momentous occasion for you and all of us,” Commissioners Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs said.

On Wednesday, Howerton said she wants to bring the power of all 100 counties to issues that affect everyone.

Howerton was elected to the Durham County Board of Commissioners in 2008. She moved to Durham in 1986.

She raised four children, two of whose lives were ended by violence. Howerton co-founded the Parents of Murdered Children-Durham Chapter and has spoken at annual vigils remembering victims of violence.

Her son Charlie was shot and killed at a party in Hampton, Virginia, in 1993 and her son Daryl was shot and killed by Greensboro police in 1994.

In a 2009 interview, she talked about dealing with the loss of two sons and the grieving process.

“It’s not something you wake up one day and get over. And you find things in your life that give you joy,” she said. Things that give her joy, she said, are her work, her grandchildren and being of service.

“When I was able to take my attention off of me and began to look outside of myself as to the impact I can make in the world, it shifted for me,” she said, then in her first term as commissioner.

Howerton was reelected in 2008 and 2016. She is the first Durham County commissioner to be elected president of the state commissioners association.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan

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