What’s your name?
What do people call you?
Where are you from?
Durham, born and raised.
Where in Durham do you live?
Duke Park area.
Professor, Musician, Artist-organizer
Over a decade of experience in community and political organizing and arts-activism.
Launch Progress, Run For Something, The Collective and Equality NC
Any Hobbies and Interests you’d like to share?
Anime, Comic Books, Video Games, Reading, Basketball and Animation.
What’s one thing you want voters to know about you as a person?
I’ve heard the critique that I’m too young or need to “wait my turn.” Luckily, our ancestors didn’t wait for theirs. From the sit-in movements led by teenage A&T students to the March on Washington led by a 34-year old MLK to Bree Newsome, the 29-year old who climbed the flagpole in South Carolina to remove the confederate flag—young folks have always been at the vanguard of social and political change! I’m 33, my ancestors have my back, and I’m ready to put the work in.
About Your Campaign
Is this your first time running?
Are you actively raising money?
If so, how much?
So far we’ve raised over $100,000 - the most ever raised for a Primary in Durham.
Who are your top three donors?
Phil Freelon, the lead architect of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.
Tim Proctor, the former General Counsel at GlaxoSmithKlein.
Mike Posner, multi-platinum selling musician.
Do you have a website and/or social media interfaces?
Are you running tv and/or radio ads?
Not yet. We might in the general.
If so, what markets are you reaching out to?
We need to expand the electorate, so we’re actively targeting millennials, students and first-time voters. We’re also aggressively targeting the traditional electorate. We’re hitting churches, senior centers, workplaces, and everything in between.
Who do you believe comprises your voter base?
We have a wide appeal, across demographics. Our base is educated millennials, black and white, between the ages of 18-35, within a 10-mile radius of downtown or so, but we’re also canvassing working class communities, public housing communities, Latino/x communities, LGBTQ community, and campuses, hard.
What is your proudest contribution to the Durham Community?
Blackspace - a digital maker space based downtown which has served thousands of local youth. We took some Durham youth to Haiti for a Beat Making workshop with Apple last year; we’ve taken groups of kids to Detroit for a digital media and activism conference called the Allied Media Conference; this summer we took a youth group to San Francisco to compete at Brave New Voices, the biggest youth poetry competition in the world; we do weekly cyphers, monthly poetry slams and have offered programs in Digital Storytelling, puppetry, beat making, 3D Printing and coding this year. We’ve done beat making sessions at Blackspace with the legendary Pete Rock, Elite and Hollywood JB (two of J Cole’s producers) and multi-platinum selling artist Mike Posner. And most importantly — all our programs are free. I’m super-proud of that work. Here are some links for you to explore these projects in more detail:
The Role of Mayor
What is your understanding of the role/position of mayor?
The Mayor is a member of a 7-person City Council that represents the will of the people in creating and implementing policies related to policing, waste and water management, transportation and city planning/development. Unlike other cities, where Mayors wield executive powers beyond that of other members of city-council, in Durham the Mayor only has one vote, just like his or her peers on the council. However, the Mayor does set the agenda, has the bully pulpit with which to lead, and sets the tone while providing a clear vision for the city.
Why are you running for mayor?
I am running to provide bold, visionary leadership and fresh perspectives to the challenges facing Durham. As mayor, I will bring people together with a progressive agenda that embraces the uniqueness and diversity of our community, ensures everyone benefits from the city’s growth, invests in the future of our youth, and is rooted in the principle of love.
On a similar note, Durham’s city government operates under the Council-Manager structure, making the mayor more or less an equal to his or her fellow council members. (We get that there are other powers inherent in the job.) Why did you decide to run for mayor, as opposed to a council position?
1. I’m the best person for the job. I have a unique set of skills and experiences that make me uniquely poised to represent this city as Mayor. I am a Political Science and African American Studies Professor, an artist, I’ve worked in the startup/entrepreneurship world, I’m a businessman, I’ve done political organizer and arts-activism work in Durham for over 15 years, I’m a young parent and a Durham native who was born and raised, and has deep networks in this community. Durham is an incredibly diverse community, and I am a reflection of that diversity, and we need a breath of fresh air in City Council.
2. The median age in Durham is 32 years old. However, the median age for City Council members in Durham is 62 years old. One of the reasons I am running is to make sure young people have a seat at the table, and a voice in local decision-making as well as regional and national politics. Someone needs to begin to build a bridge between the millennials—the biggest voting bloc in the United States—and our elders so we learn from each other and build political power together. Durham could be the most forward thinking, green, tech-savvy, inclusive, fastest growing city in the country. But we need visionary leadership, and intergenerational civic engagement to do that.
3. I live in Ward 1, where there is already a capable candidate running for office. Rather than run against them, I look forward to working with them on the council. We need as many smart, compassionate, hard working folks on the council as possible. There is no incumbent in the Mayor’s seat, so I’m not running against anyone in this race—I’m running for The People of Durham.
What is the most important issue facing Durham?
Poverty. As downtown Durham has grown, poverty has also grown 28%. We have the biggest income inequality gap in the state, despite having the 3rd highest level of education in the nation. There were over 800 evictions a month in 2016. This is a crisis of values and we need to address it immediately through a robust jobs program. Durham will never reduce the need for affordable housing (14,500 units needed as of 2016) unless we address the root of the problem, and break the chain of intergenerational poverty choking our beloved city.
What is the most important issue facing Downtown Durham?
Affordability. Many creative institutions such as The Carrack, Blue Coffee Cafe and the Scrap Exchange, who helped make downtown a viable place for investment have been pushed out by development. I will fight to make sure our city’s growth enhances our city's vibrant, artistic spirit by providing equity and opportunity for all of us.
What is the most important issue facing Durham’s African American community? Minority population?
Access. My work at Blackspace is all about providing access to minorities who have historically been excluded. I am committed to closing the gap in educational outcomes and providing access to opportunities beyond the classroom. Skin color, and zip codes should not determine a one’s future in Durham.
What would you do to address each of these issues?
I am proposing a Jobs For All program that would seek to provide a living wage to Durham residents. I would like to begin with a pilot program of 1000 jobs in my first term as mayor. A progressive program such as this would impact the issues I have highlighted above (poverty, affordability, and access). A Jobs For All program would impact the following: 1. expand the labor pool 2. expand the taxbase 3. train workers to enter into the private sector 4. create discretionary income that circulates through the local economy 5. mitigate the conditions that create violent scenarios 6. begin to undo the ills caused by intergenerational poverty 7. reduce the cost of subsidizing poverty.
What is your vision of Durham after your first term as mayor—and beyond?
Durham’s civic culture is an example for all of North Carolina and the country. I envision working closely with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Ignite NC, Casa, and the East Durham Children's Initiative, to name a few, who are on the ground every day. If we devote the kind of resources and support to our civic culture and social justice organizations that we have been investing in developing downtown Durham, we can make a real impact on poverty, access, and affordability.
Which City Council member most closely shares your views?
Jillian Johnson. She has a background in activism and projects clear progressive values that I believe are fundamental to Durham’s identity. She has sought to deepen our city’s democratic participation through a participatory budgeting proposal. She is active outside of the council, organizing an effort to touch 10,000 Durham residents with Durham For All’s 10k Strong campaign. These are the type of bold progressive leaders Durham needs.
What sets you and your campaign apart from the other candidates running for mayor?
Enthusiasm, Innovation, and Vision. When I talk to residents of Mcdougal Terrace, folks at the Farmer’s Market, church folk at World Overcomers, and students at North Carolina Central University the enthusiasm is for change is palpable. Folks across all walks of life are ready for a shift in priorities that centers equity and access. Folks understand that if we keep doing the same old thing we will keep getting the same old results. Durham needs a leader with fresh ideas that will build on best practices and innovate! The issues we’ve faced with gentrification and affordability are not unique to Durham and very few cities have been able to get a grip on them. This is where creatives and innovators (of which Durham has plenty) can play a key role in approaching challenges from outside the box.
Keep it Dirty Durham. You’ve undoubtedly seen the phrase, whether printed on a t-shirt, written on restaurant sandwich boards, or typed as a hashtag chain under Instagram and Twitter posts. What do you believe “Dirty” means? Is this a phrase you support?
I see “Keep it Dirty Durham” in the vein of other slogans touted by cities that are rapidly gentrifying, such as “Keep Portland Weird.” “Dirty,” like “weird,” is intended to mean hip, cool, diverse, creative, rough around the edges and beautifully imperfect. In this regard it assumes the opposite of it’s dictionary definition, and functions like a term of endearment—like saying someone has a “bad” outfit on, or calling a your favorite rapper “sick.” As with many things in the United States, Race is also implied in this phrase.
I was recently asked in a different questionnaire, what I thought about Durham’s recent transition from a city “best known for crime” to a city that has “turned a corner.” I disagree with the underlying claim in this question, that Durham was recently “best known” for crime. It is true that Durham has been stigmatized as crime ridden, and juxtaposed to contrast with “clean” places like Cary or Chapel Hill, but that reputation has been fueled, in part, by thinly veiled racial stereotypes. When my parents moved to the Triangle, they chose Durham because it was a creative, diverse and vibrant city. They knew Durham as the City of Medicine; as “Bull Durham,” as the home of Black Wall Street; and for the sports rivalries: both Duke/Carolina and the Aggie/Eagle Classic; not the crime-ridden community news outlets and real estate agents would have them believe. Such sentiments have fueled a white flight from Durham, as newcomers to the Triangle have historically been steered away from the Bull City. A generation later, that trend is reversing.
Durham is one of the hottest real estate markets in the country, as the children of the same folks who once sneered at our city from a distance are now lining up to be a part w hat Fast Company Magazine calls one of the Top 10 cities for millennials. We’re named the South’s Tastiest Town by Southern Living, have been called North Carolina’s Hippest City by Vogue, and were ranked the Number One best city in America for millennials in a Growella Study. But our newfangled popularity comes with a price tag of gentrification.
Enter: “Keep Durham Dirty” which is basically saying, “protect Durham from being whitewashed; let’s preserve our local culture and diversity; and don’t let folks who are new to the area radically change our demographics or values.” Durham was once the best kept secret in the south, but now the cat is out of the bag and as a result, the city changing fast. Staying “Dirty” speaks to being intentional about protecting our heritage, our creatives and our identity while we still can.
The confederate memorial in front of the old courthouse came down recently. There have been numerous opinions expressed about the methods, motivations, and pending punishment of those who were involved. We have two questions:
1. The General Assembly passed a law in 2015 that controls and/or prohibits the removal and relocation of such statues. For the sake of this first question, assume that a formal request to remove or relocate a state-owned statue was denied or otherwise refused. As mayor, you would largely be powerless to take any action within reach of the law—other than voicing sharp dissent. What would be your response? And would you be willing to subject Durham to legislative retribution (such as targeted funding cuts or the permanent tabling of bills that would benefit Durham) in order to make known the city’s opposition?
I see Takiya Thompson’s action to take down Durham’s confederate monument, in the legacy of Bree Newsome, who fearlessly scaled a flagpole in South Carolina to take down the confederate flag, the Greensboro Four, a group of courageous North Carolina A&T students who sat down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, and Rosa Parks, the bold leader who risked her life to sit on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. We have a long history of civil disobedience and of breaking the law for social justice in this country, going back to enslaved Africans who stole away human cargo to escape to freedom.
My response would be to support those who make the sacrifice, and risk their freedom to protest racism and white supremacy through civil disobedience. But that sacrifice is a personal choice. Not everyone can afford to sit in court or jail for several days in political protest. Likewise, though I would be willing to make the personal sacrifice to make my opposition known as a private citizen, I would not leverage city resources or implore city workers to defy state law to express their dissent.
2. If it were within your sole power to handle the outcomes of those individuals charged for taking down the statue, what would you do?
If I were the governor I would pardon them, as Alabama Governor Bob Riley pardoned Rosa Parks and other civil rights activists in 2006.
What is your perceived image of our city? (Meaning, does Durham have an identity that you believe in?)
I express this most eloquently in my campaign launch event with a speech titled: “#DurhamDoes.” Check out video out on my facebook page.
But to build on the idea of what Durham Does, I’ll volunteer a list that explains my perception of our image:
Who stays woke?
Who fights racism?
Who knows music?
Who fights poverty?
Who plays The Blues?
Who got the best eats?
Who fights transphobia?
Who fights homophobia?
Who fights gentrification?
Who makes Art (of) Cool?
Who anchors the Triangle?
Who fights for the workers?
Who fights for Civil Rights?
Who has the most diversity?
Who goes against the status quo?
Who leads the country in medicine?
Who tears down Confederate Monuments?
Who got 5 Chips and a legendary Coach K?
Who know the Eagle is no ordinary barnyard fowl?
Is there anything you would like to change about Durham’s social or cultural image?
I would amplify it.