Things are happening fast in Durham.
There is a palpable vibe in some places where “old” Durham fears this influx of newcomers. The word I hear bandied about is dilution.
Durham loves our small town feel, our 2 and ½ degrees of separation, rather than the standard 6. We don’t want to lose that intimacy.
What “old” Durham has to remember is that people are moving here seeking what we have. They are not moving here because they heard we were a haven for chain restaurants and ticky-tacky little houses-pretty boxes.
They are moving here because they heard we were “cool.” And while cool might have hundreds of nodes across our Durham community from music, to art, to food, to fashions, to architecture, to gardens, y mas y mas, until one listed every single thing we have in this community—the commonality that unites it all is spirit.
And way. There is a way we do things in Durham.
I have heard numerous people say, “Durham is place where people find a way to say: Yes.”
I have had endless conversations about how in Durham an ethic of collaboration trumps competition, especially among creatives. ‘My win is your win,’ is a philosophy that believes the whole together is greater than us as individuals. It is a different from the typical late 20th century American, ‘My win is your loss,’ where a zero-sum game philosophy presumes a Social Darwinist cosmos.
I don’t know if anyone heard, but yesterday BuzzFeed published an article with 34 Reasons why their readers would love Durham, NC.1
Number 34 on the list are our old friends at Runaway Clothes. Now from afar, a newbie, who didn’t know our DURM story, didn’t quite get that spirit and way is what underpins it all, might think, “Wow, those are the folks with the great shirts! The folks who coined D-U-R-M.” Or even if they perceived a bit of the next level, they might say “Wow they even have a bull related Durham t-shirt in Espanol, por la communidad. Respeto.”
But when I messaged the Runaway team to try think about putting this Durham difference into words, I was recalling what my friend, Jess Dilday, aka DJ Play Play,2 said to me at Cocoa Cinnamon earlier this week, paraphrasing:
“In Durham, even at the party, it isn’t usually just about the best possible party—there’s a cause minded connection.”
She was thinking about the Illegal parties at The Pinhook, also mentioned in the BuzzFeed article, which have used proceeds to give support to charitable organizations as far away as Senegal and as nearby as east Durham.
When I asked Runaway Clothes about what philanthropy this “fashion” outfit had done, I was thinking along those same lines. They came back to me with massive list for a start-up company that has only been around a few short years:
“Turkeys for DURM, the Durham Rescue Mission through Skate Away the Hate with Toon and the Real Laww, Student U through the Durham Art Guild Creative Mentorship program, Bee downtown collaboration, the Black Wall Street awareness campaign, and donations to Arts for Life.”3
The “old” Durham ethic knew that damn near every time we threw a dope party, it had to have a charitable beneficiary.
We embraced a do-gooder ethic unashamedly. The coolest of the cool kids were doing it.
I remember in the Carrack’s first year having a conversation with Laura Ritchie where we agreed in many ways Durham was an “intentional community.” This is a phrase usually sociologically reserved for religious communities, but our intentionality in Durham went across, and even beyond religiosity.
People moving here consciously or unconsciously seem to be open to this collaborative, do-gooder ethic. We are a hub for it. If the new Durhamites are not quite aware of what it is or what it means, my view is:
the best response to dilution is inculcate, teach. Be open, not shy about our ethic.
Tell people our Durham stories from the Scrap Exchange to the Emily Krzyzewski Center: we are a community with many people trying to do good, to make a difference in this world, to embrace a different way. It is as old as love trumping hate, but here it is seen through the lens of being “in it together” feeling far better than being “in it against each other.”
The Carrack was and is a prime example of the difference of our way. It is a zero commission art gallery, an idea that would make no sense in places that embrace the competition ethic to its fullest. “How would that even work??” They’d stammer.
Zero COMMISION. ZERO. In the first year, it worked through donations large and small, including a prominently placed box by the door where singles and loose change and the occasional twenty lay together, slowly piling up.
I think if we approach with hearts open we will find “new” Durham isn’t so different than “old” Durham.
The world’s eyes are opening. As an American, if you aren’t doing good, if you aren’t actively figuring out a way to give back, you are a net resource drain on the planet.4 And what’s fascinating, and going to be a powerful driver of our future, nearly every young kid growing up today knows this truth: “if you are not giving back, you are a taking away.”
We’ve at least come that far with our environmental education mission.
Durham’s ethic is on the cusp of that curve. So own let’s it. And let’s be the Durham that people are moving here for, intentionally doing good, presuming collaboration trumps competition. There will always be Ibiza to party in, Paris to romance in, and New York City to dream in, but in Durham, we have found our cool, it is:
“Doing the right thing by each other.”
1 If you could call a slideshow spliced with sentences an article.
2 One of the driving forces behind Illegal, a terrific, mission-centric, DJ and writer, etc.
3 Not to toot our own horn, but the Clarion Content could give you a similar list of philanthropy; including Duke Cancer, Dress for Success, the Scrap Exchange, The Carrack, the Food Bank of North Carolina, Campaign 4 Change, the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club, The Reality Center, y mas.
4 Your refuse is filling up landfills, your energy use is cutting down trees and polluting the environment.