Never say never to Durham – Regina Gale

There is nothing quite as exciting as visiting places you like with friends. This is especially true when you share an experience that is new to them.

I was pleased to have a new friend I met while visiting Germany earlier this year visit me a few weeks ago. I was able to share some of the beauty and history that we have in Durham, Hillsborough and Chapel Hill. This allowed me to reciprocate the hospitality that my friend, Cordula, had shown to me.

We met up with Cindy, who is like a sister to me at the Beyu Caffe on Main Street and we were off – three women on a mission of fun and exploration of downtown Durham.

What I thought about as we traversed all over was the first time I saw downtown Durham in 1994. I was traveling back to California and had a long layover at RDU Airport, so I was given a tour of downtown Durham. I was not impressed. I was saddened by the many boarded-up buildings. The dreariness from lack of care just did not correspond to the rich history and vitality of what I was told that Durham possessed. I swore then I would never live in North Carolina.

I have learned over the years never to say never, for here I am, by choice since 2010.

I can honestly say I value the heart of what I see and experience here. I admit, the personal transition has not been easy because North Carolina is vastly different from California, but the most compelling component for me has been the many wonderful people who live here that I have been blessed to meet and form friendships with.

The changes I have witnessed first from an outside view to one who is now immersing myself in the area makes me proud to call myself a local. I see possibilities for all that I could not clearly see years ago when I first visited. For example, at the time it was documented that only 50 percent of the students in high school graduated in Durham. I was especially shocked because North Carolina has so many great universities that you would think that the emphasis on higher academic success would be a given. It scared me to wonder what the children were not getting or what was lacking. That day as I walked the almost empty streets, it seemed as if the heart of Durham had lost its soul. I boarded my plane knowing that only people who loved this city could bring it back to life.

Durham is now a city that can be proud of the positive changes it has undergone. I would be remiss if I did not say that having Mayor Bill Bell at the helmwas a blessing. He and those who worked with him opened the door so that drastic positive change occurred. Being able to see and measure social and economic progress made in Durham while embracing the history and diversity of all the people who live here has led to stronger and more vibrant communities.

Mayor Bell has served the people of Durham for 45 years and has been consistent in pushing for progress that makes a difference to the people of Durham. During his tenure, a firm foundation has been lain and the road has been paved for the work that has revitalized a city to continue to support the diversity, gifts and growth and gifts of all its people.

Thank you, Mayor Bell. Your contributions to all of us is warmly accepted and appreciated. You have served us well.

Regina Gale is the author of “Sometimes He Buys Me Grapes: A Memoir, Song and Dance of Life,” told from the heart of a seasoned woman. www.reginagale.com.