The third and penultimate Forward Cities convening was held in Durham December 8-11, 2015, and this time our leaders dug deeper into the initiative’s goals than ever before, past the initial getting-to-know-you phase in New Orleans and the best-foot-forward atmosphere in Detroit, into the real and uncomfortable talk that is necessary to accomplish the goals of this initiative.

The Durham Convening began on Tuesday, December 8, addressing the role of government policy at Duke University’s Bull Pen building in downtown Durham, where Steven Bosacker, Director of Public Sector Innovation at Living Cities and previous City Coordinator of the City of Minneapolis, made very clear how integral local government is to stimulating inclusive economic development. “Government still remains the entity with the purview and cash to fundamentally change big systems,” he said. Speaking from the standpoint of individual entrepreneurs, on a much smaller scale, Andrea Chen of Propeller in New Orleans added, “Every entrepreneur at some point bumps into some sort of policy hurdle.” From the much-discussed redlining policies that displaced and destroyed minority communities over the last century to the seemingly minor issue of knowing what licensing one needs to open a business, our discussions during this four day event had a tendency to go back, one way or another, to policy issues.

This first day program was followed by a reception for all of our out-of-town guests at TeachHouse, an innovative living and learning community for graduates of the Duke University teacher preparation programs that are committed to working one or more years in Durham’s Public School System. These resident young teachers shared stories with the Forward Cities group of how living in a learning and supportive environment was helping them do a better job as teachers in the local community. Hopefully most of these bright and dedicated education innovators will want to make Durham their home and continue to work with kids in the public schools there which is the ultimate goal of this talent retention program.

The second day of the convening, Wednesday, December 9, was spent on visits with local leaders and entrepreneurs plus field trips that highlighted how systemic racism has impacted Black neighborhoods and Black businesses in Durham over the last century. Our Forward Cities leaders and donors visited the Historic Parrish Street Forum where we learned some of the history and legacy of Durham’s Black Wall Street, the home of more Black millionaires in the 1920s and ’30s than anywhere else in America. We met members of the Self-Help executive staff at the Angiers Baptist Church, where they discussed their efforts to create and protect ownership and economic development opportunities for all, challenging everyone to ask how we can “do with,” instead of “do to” or “do for.” And we met and heard from entrepreneurs at Invictus Office Center, a Black-owned co-working and business incubator space dedicated to building the community of minority entrepreneurs that is led by Edward Boyd.

After this we went to the Hayti Heritage Center, where we watched Lessons from Hayti, a documentary on the historically Black neighborhood of Hayti, which was once one of the most unique and successful black communities in America. During the Hayti Heritage Center lunch discussion that followed, Christopher Gergen asked, “With the intentionality used to destroy these neighborhoods, how do we use that same intentionality to rebuild them?” And, at the end of the day, at a Racial Equity Institute workshop at Durham Tech’s Phail Wynn Center, another important observation was echoed by many in the room: “We want to fix things without understanding how they were broken.”

At the SEEDS reception and dinner on the night of Wednesday, December 9, Dr. Mindy Fullilove delivered a powerful presentation on race and economic development, delving into the historic practice of “redlining” and how “urban renewal” was carried out in 2,500 communities in 1,000 cities – resulting in two-thirds of vibrant Black communities being effectively destroyed. “Before we try to rebuild cities, we have to understand what went wrong and how these communities collapsed,” Dr. Fullilove said. After Dr. Fullilove’s presentation at SEEDS, Regina Ann Campbell, Managing Director of Place-Based Entrepreneurship at TechTown Detroit, stood up and asked a question that was, undoubtedly, on many Forward Cities council members’ minds: “When revitalization also means forced displacement, what can we do? I feel like we’re already losing the fight,” she said in an impassioned observation.

On Thursday, December 10th, council members met at the Great Hall of the North Carolina Central University Law School – the most diverse law school in the country – where Jonathan Holifield, Co-Founder of ScaleUp Partners and VP of Inclusive Competitiveness at NorTech, spoke about gentrification and inclusive competitiveness. This was followed by a presentation on Durham Gentrification Data presented by Mel Norton of People’s Alliance and Ernest Smith of Neighborhood Allies.   Mel and Ernest clearly explained how gentrification is fundamentally different than revitalization, and why this is a social justice issue.

Following that was a panel discussion that asked the question, “How do we intentionally create inclusive development to get the results we want?” featuring Napoleon Wallace of Self-Help in Durham; Michael Fleming of St. Clair Superior Development Corporation in Cleveland; Adele London of GoodWork Network in New Orleans; and James Feagin, of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. Afterwards council members broke up into groups for roundtable discussions, then reported out on each of their takeaways and recommendations.  This very productive first day of panels concluded with a wonderful lunch buffet sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and an interview of Maureen O’Connor, President and CEO of Mosaic Health Solutions, an innovative new company that is part of BCBS of NC.

That evening everyone headed to the Rick House, a very cool newly renovated brick warehouse and former distillery that overlooks the old Durham baseball park where the movie Bull Durham was filmed. There our guests were treated to a surprise performance from the Hillside High School Marching Hornets Band, followed by welcoming remarks by Durham’s Mayor, William Bell and a discussion on Durham’s comeback featuring the key players behind the city’s turn around, namely: Phail Wynn, VP of Durham and Regional Affairs at Duke University; Bill Kalkhof, Former President of Downtown Durham Inc.; Martin Eakes, CEO of Self-Help; Jesica Averhart, Director of Corporate and Community Partnerships at American Underground/Capitol Broadcasting Corp; and Mayme-Webb Bledsoe, Senior Community Coordinator at Duke University.

This discussion was moderated by one of Durham’s most famous native sons, David Gergen, Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and CNN Senior Political Analyst. David started out by sharing memories of what it was like to grow up in Durham when it was segregated and there were two high schools: Durham HS, the school for white kids, and Hillside HS, the school for black kids. Martin Eakes spoke on Self-Help’s earliest beginnings from a $77 bake sale to where it is today, a $2 billion financial institution serving minority and underserved families. “If the neighborhood fails, the city fails,” he said to applause from the rapt audience. In addition to getting a glimpse of what Durham used to be like – what it went through on its way down and on its way back up again – we were inspired to hear what motivated a group of local leaders, who did not exactly like each other or agree with each other, come together to figure out what they needed to do in order to bring back their beloved city.

For the last day of the convening, Friday, December 11th, the group met at the beautiful new Durham Bulls Ball Park Club Room, and tackled the subject of “Access to capital for minority entrepreneurs and small business owners”. This was moderated by Joan Siefert Rose, president of the Council for Entrepreneurship Development, and included the following presenters:  Henry McKoy of Durham’s Fourth Sector Capital, Eric Diamond of ECDI in Cleveland, Gary Williams of Hope Credit Union in New Orleans, and Ray Waters of the Detroit Development Fund.

After that, Ed Boyd of Invictus Office Center in Durham, Darrin Redus of MainStreet Inclusion Advisors in Cleveland, Regina Ann Campbell from TechTown Detroit, and Andrea Chen from Propeller in New Orleans, discussed models for entrepreneurial hubs/incubators to support entrepreneurs and small business development in low-income communities with Talib Graves of Google and Point AB in Durham. During that discussion Darrin Redus brought up examples of how the disconnected minority community can access venture capital. And Andrea Chen raised a salient point: “Venture capital investments tend to favor “innovative” businesses which inevitably seem to fall snugly within the tech industry. Why aren’t lifestyle businesses considered “innovative?”

Only one convening remains as part of the Forward Cities initiative, to be held next June in Cleveland. It will be exciting to see how the lessons learned and insights gleaned from Durham, and the previous convenings in New Orleans and Detroit, will culminate in that final event.


For a the full list of attendees at the Forward Cities Durham convening, click here.

For photos from the event click here.