A Brief History of End Poverty Durham

by Mel Williams, Coordinator of End Poverty Durham

For years I have had a growing concern about the disparity between rich and poor in our city. Durham has the highest median wage in North Carolina; yet as we begin 2012, we have an escalating poverty rate—an 18 percent adult poverty rate and a 28 percent child poverty rate. This situation is unacceptable, shameful, and contrary to the teachings of our faith. Our faith calls us to care for “the least of these” and to provide opportunities for those who are least privileged.

In 2004 I said to my colleague Haywood Holderness, “We in the faith community need to do something about the poverty in Durham!” Haywood said, “Call a meeting, and I’ll be there.” We convened a group of Durham faith leaders– Christian, Jewish, and Muslim— to struggle with how the faith community can respond to the grinding poverty in our city. Our End Poverty Durham (EPD) group has now met monthly, with 15 to 20 leaders participating each month. Early in the process, we set these goals: 1. to make our congregations aware of the crisis of poverty in our city, and 2. to develop a plan to eliminate this crisis within the next 25 years.

Poverty can be overwhelming. It’s many-faceted and complex. Initially our group talked about five major areas affecting the poor: education, housing, health care, jobs, and family support (day care, transportation, etc.). The consensus of our group was to focus on jobs. We began by exploring the Jobs for Life program, where congregations provide a support system for a person seeking employment. The Jobs for Life training was held in three or four congregations, especially in low income areas of the city. It was minimally successful.

Through our current and past initiatives we have sponsored and supported a job training center, a child poverty focus, and the REAL Durham initiative in East Durham.

The goal of EPD is to mobilize our Durham congregations to provide resources that increase the quality of care for our children. We want to be proactive in reducing later adolescent behaviors that can result in school dropouts, drugs, and gangs.

At our monthly EPD meetings (third Wednesdays at 9 am), we have participants from a variety of faith traditions, with representatives from non-profits such as East Durham Children’s Initiative, KidZNotes (lifting children out of poverty through training in classical music), Partners for Youth Opportunity, Made in Durham, End Hunger Durham, Healthy Families Durham, TROSA, REAL Durham, and various congregations. The monthly meetings provide an opportunity for collaboration and cooperation.

We seek to gather faith leaders and others who are called for long-term involvement in removing the scourge of poverty. Our goal is to be a catalyst and connector, to start new initiatives that are needed and to connect existing agencies with resources that can help to reduce and eventually eliminate poverty in our city.