Investing in Durham starts by listening to its people – LeVon Barnes

LeVon Barnes
LeVon Barnes

To all the leaders in our community,

For a moment, let us remove our titles and political affiliations. For a moment, let us consider our citizens.

They are crying out for help. But can we hear them? They are fed up. But will we listen? They are sick and tired of being ignored and used as propaganda. But do we care?

As an educator and coach for more than 13 years, summer vacation has always been bittersweet. A vacation or extended break after a long school year is not only relaxing, but deserved and required. But as an educator, it is also difficult to say goodbye to students who do not go home to safe communities. Every school year, I have been the shoulder for a student who was not excited about summer break because for them it meant returning to an unsafe community.

This reality is unacceptable.

We know this, but as leaders, we have not fully committed to disrupting and transforming this reality for every child in our community. So I ask, what will it take for us to step up?

How many more of our children have to die?

How many more bodies does one community have to bury?

How many more victims of drug abuse will there be?

How many more times will we drive by these communities ignoring what we hear and see, before we, too, are fed up?

How many more men, women and children have to be incarcerated; and how many more families have to be broken before we "fully invest" in their lives?

When will we shift from the fairytale of gentrification and actually invest in real opportunities for the people of Durham?

We have a decision to make in Durham – a decision that cannot wait. We must decide who or what is most important to us – people or property. I say, people!

Our city has so much talent. The innovators and the entrepreneurs reside in the areas we too often forget. Because of our failure to see these people as the talented souls they are, their dreams and goals never become reality. Instead, our potential is lost in clouds of gun smoke and our residents are reminded that their lives do not matter.

The solutions to our city’s challenges will not come by way of visiting these neighborhoods twice a year. That playbook is outdated and out of touch. It is time for us to fully invest.

But before we can invest, we must listen. We must give these neighborhoods an authentic seat at the table. I vow to be part of this shift. I will not stand idle when I hear a community call out for help. I will not talk about it and around it for a second, and then go back to business as usual. The time has come for a change.

For me, it is not about us giving anything to anyone, but rather seeing that these communities have so much to give to us.

But it requires us, for a moment, to listen and to care.

LeVon Barnes, an educator, motivational speaker and founder of Young Male Achievers, lives in Durham. You can reach him at Barnes147@aol.com