Jesus, Durham and politics – Sylvester Williams

Sylvester Williams
Sylvester Williams contributed photo

It is interesting that the foundation of Durham, especially education, started with the church. The forerunner of Duke University was Trinity College and N.C. Central University started out as the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua by Dr. James Edward Shepard. The aims of Duke University, when it was organized, were “to assert a faith in the eternal union of knowledge and religion set forth in the teachings and character of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

These two institutions, in their beginnings, are the foundation and bedrock of what Durham should be. An integrated society where every person has access to the same resources and the government does not play a limiting or discriminatory role.

In the 21st century, because Durham has drifted away from the aims and original intent of the founding institutions, there are now two Title VI complaints, or discrimination complaints before the federal government. One complaint alleges the Durham Public School System discriminated against children of color and the other complaint alleges that Durham and North Carolina practice of road building not only displace minorities and lower-income people, but that the environments where these people live were also damaged

In 2007 the legislature for the state of North Carolina apologized for institutional racism, but as one state legislator told me, “it was only words.” How long will Durham allow politicians to turn a blind eye to such egregious acts of discrimination without commenting or reviewing policy? Isn’t Durham a city where fairness trumps politics?

I have engaged in conversation with residents of Durham through social media and in person and they have concerns about the poor roads, inadequate parking downtown, affordable housing, jobs for minorities and recreational outlets for their children.

Some believe that to address all of the listed concerns is preposterous. Part of the reason many believe it is difficult to achieve is because of the narrative being presented.

The previous City Council crows about downtown Durham development, where it was reported that there was a $1.2 billion private public partnership, but fails to adequately address the affordable housing crisis in Durham. A 1.79-cent tax rate increase flows through to an additional $2.79 million for affordable housing. But this is not nearly enough when we have a growing reserve account amounting to $45 million at 25 percent of budget when the state only recommends a target of 8 percent of budget.

The city exults on its AAA bond rating in publications, stating that only a handful of cities in this country have such a rating, without acknowledging that if other cities are able to shoulder and expand affordable housing without a AAA rating. Why can’t Durham? We can have both a solid rating and put more money into affordable housing. After all, the beneficiaries of affordable housing would not only pay taxes to the local government, but they would also spend locally thereby helping local businesses.

Why are taxes increasing with reserves growing? Where are the data showing the contribution to tax revenues from downtown development where tens of millions of dollars were given in tax incentives? One of the first things that I will do as mayor is get an accounting of how much in tax subsidies have been given by the city and how has the city benefited from these subsidies.

Durham can and will do better under my leadership as mayor. As a retired financial analyst and pastor of a church that not only support the needs of people locally but has also helped to establish orphanages and build churches around the world, I understand need and limited resources. In addition, the experience I gained as chair for economic development for both the Durham Business and Professional Chain and also the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People more than adequately prepares me to make Durham the city on a shining hill, as was intended by the founding of two of the great institutions of this city.

Editor’s note: Candidates in this fall’s elections are invited to submit one letter of 250 words per month and a total of two guest columns of up to 750 words between now and Oct 15.