Durham County

After a turbulent week for race relations, a reset at ‘Black August in the Park’ in Durham

See smiles and hear laughter at 'Black August in the Park' after a tense week in Durham

After a turbulent week of race relations in Durham, including the removal of a Confederate statue by activists and rumors of a KKK rally drawing hundreds to the streets, an annual 'Black August in the Park' celebration Sunday was a pleasant releas
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After a turbulent week of race relations in Durham, including the removal of a Confederate statue by activists and rumors of a KKK rally drawing hundreds to the streets, an annual 'Black August in the Park' celebration Sunday was a pleasant releas

Loud music bumped out of large speakers as the temperature crept near 100 degrees in Durham Central Park.

The third annual “Black August in the Park” kicked off Sunday at 3 p.m. and within an hour around 300 people were in attendance.

The annual event was founded by four, young friends who grew up together – in Durham.

Co-founder Janell Henry said Black August in the Park is needed every year, not just this year, not just on the weekend following a Confederate Statue’s toppling on Main St. and not just on the heels of a week of local protests spurred by the nationally tense mood over race relations.

Lawn chairs were unfolded and people sat in clusters in the park's northwest corner where trees cast shadows.

“It’s a safe space for black people. It’s a place to feel safe and excited about being black,”’ Henry said. “People always ask and say they wish we could do this every month.”

In an acknowledgment of the city’s ongoing gentrification, Henry expressed concern over just how fast the urban landscape is changing.

“Like that building over there. It didn’t used to be there,” Henry said, pointing across Foster Street at the Liberty Warehouse Apartments.

“A lot of the events downtown aren’t necessarily for black people,” Henry said. “And we thought it was necessary to have a space where people could feel, ‘This is our place,’ like, ‘Yeah. This is still our city.’”

Wide and colorful hats – perchance left on since Sunday morning church services – and carried umbrellas shaded some dozen women from the sun.

A DJ played and rotated between a variety of musical genres. Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” came on, “Don’t be afraid to hit the dance floor; the lawn is open,” the late pop star crooned.

Black August in the Park co-founder Moses Ochola said when he was a kid in the late 1980s and early 1990s, after 6 o’clock in the evening, downtown Durham was like a ghost town.

“Now, it’s becoming whitewashed,” Ochola said. “Black people are pushed out and there’s nothing for them in downtown. … This is a place here to rejoice and celebrate what it is to be black.”

But, the vast majority of revelers mingled underneath the Durham Farmers' Market pavilion, where the shade was cool.

Friends and UNC-Chapel Hill graduate students studying speech-language pathology, Shakeia Burgin and Morgan Billinger, traveled from Chapel Hill to Sunday’s event.

Burgin had wanted to come last year but had to cancel her plans, she said, and simply decided to make up for her prior absence by attending his year’s event – fueled by casual curiosity.

But Billinger admitted she was a little apprehensive about coming.

“I was kind of worried,” she said. “My parents stalk my Facebook and …”

Billinger’s parents called her from Tampa, Florida to ask, “Are you still going to that event? Isn’t that where they tore down a statue and protests and stuff?” she said they asked.

Billinger said she considered the possibility of “threats” being made toward the largely African-American gathering, even if those potential threats “were never acted upon,” she said.

The two students said they never actually heard nor heard of any threats being made Sunday and were enjoying their sunny day in the park.

“It’s nice,” Billinger said.

“Yeah,” Burgin said.

“I wish it just wasn’t so hot,”’ Billinger said.

Lawn chairs were unfolded and people sat in clusters in the park’s northwest corner where trees cast shadows. Wide and colorful hats – perchance left on since Sunday morning church services – and carried umbrellas shaded some dozen women from the sun.

But the vast majority of revelers mingled underneath the Durham Farmers’ Market pavilion, where the shade was cool.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks

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