“Anything is possible. We have community here. People in Durham are creative, empathetic, open, loving and willing to grow. When you have that combination of characteristics in the place you well, anything is possible.” Pierce Freelon answering what stands out the most about Durham to him.
I BULLieve he meant to say anything is possiBULL.
Since beginning “The Bulls of Durham” living history book project, over 100 Durhamights have been interviewed. A lively, diverse, cross-section of the Bull City ranging from artists to teachers to activists to our elder living legends. Each have answered the same core 6 questions, including the aforementioned, “What stands out the most to you about Durham?” As well as, “What changes would you like to see for the city of Durham?” A means of seeing the great and the opportunities for improvement through the bulls’ eyes.
One of the most common answers to the latter question has been the Durham Public School system. The widespread frustration and blatant bewilderment as to how in a city where we can do anything, we continue to have a school system in crisis that’s failing our future. More often than not this answer comes along with the irritation with the tests our youth are subjected to and measured against – citing it’s more than likely the tests are the issue, not the children nor their teachers.
How do you measure potential?
How can you assess a child’s points of improvement versus the school system’s?
How can we improve if we’re measuring the wrong things?
What if what is truly important cannot be quantified and measured?
What if there is no ruler to measure against?
Enter Pierce Freelon, the immeasuraBULL young man shaking up both the political and citywide conversations.
Pierce Freelon has a long, real-life resume of working with the youth to envision a brighter future for all. He’s the founder of Blackspace, a free center for youth to learn social entrepreneurship, digital media skills, writing, spoken word and even puppetry focused on STEAM curriculum – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. He has also taught at his alma mater and traveled all over the world teaching the youth. Weather permitting, you can find Pierce at the CCB plaza every Friday night at 9:19 pm holding a cypher for the youth.
In 2017 when he threw his metaphorical hat in the ring to run for Mayor the loudest cries of the naysayers were of his lack of experience in a leadership position. This wasn’t in any way shocking as there is no shortage of opinions being shot in every direction at any given moment. That’s part of what makes Durham, Durham. Pierce countered this by wanting to discuss the youth of our city dealing with bullets being shot in any direction in their neighborhoods that are built on foundations of systematic racism. That’s not an easy conversation to have.
The shouts of Pierce’s inexperience continued as he applied to fill the City Council seat that Steve Schewel vacated as he stepped into his role as newly elected Mayor of Durham. A position Pierce was applying for to get said experience and follow-through on his word to the city of Durham.
This is an experience all too familiar to far too many recent college graduates and job seekers. When you have all the qualifications, education and even the gleam of hope in your eyes and the hiring manager says, “We’d love to hire you. You’re 90% perfect for the job, but you lack experience. We’re looking for someone fresh out college with 3 decades of experience doing this exact same job.”
Perhaps that was a bit melodramatic and hitting a nerve close to home.
How does all this tie into a living history book about Durham?
There’s no way to cover the history being made in Durham, North Carolina at this very moment without stopping to ask, ‘are we measuring the wrong thing’ and moreover, ‘what if what is important isn’t measuraBULL?’
Never in the Bull City’s history, nor in America’s history overall has there been such political upheaval and open discussion about systemic racism. The Bull is seeing a dynamic changing of the guard in many aspects of the city at a pivotal time in America’s history. The actions of the city’s youth have put Durham on the map once again with protestors as far as the Big Apple sporting shirts and hats that read, “Do It Like Durham.”
Durham is a shining light in these often dark times. The median age of the city is 32 years of age. Youth currently in and recently exiting the Durham Public School system are now our workforce. Far too often they are entering into the prison system instead of college and careers. All this while the opinion wars and street violence continue.
Times are changing.
The tides are changing.
The guard is changing.
Are our minds changing?
As far back as Durham’s history goes, it has always been the city of constant change. In recent years with the infusion of money and life into the downtown revitalization project, change is happening at a furious rate.
What changes would Pierce Freelon like to see for the City of Durham?
In his May 2017 interview for “The Bulls of Durham,” Pierce answered, “I was just on the phone today with somebody from TROSA, a nonprofit organization that works with people who have suffered from addiction and substance abuse. It puts them to work and finds kind of constructive ways for them to reintegrate into society after overcoming their addiction.
“There's a report out recently about how much money they saved the state. TROSA has been around for a long time and they're growing too. As the city has grown, TROSA has also grown. When I think about growth and change, that's the kind of change I want to see continue to grow and expand.
“I think there are a lot of well-intentioned people here who would like to see Durham continue to grow in ways that are equitable and sustainable. As an aspiring policy maker and community leader, I want to make sure those people who are fired up about things actually have the opportunity to achieve what their intentions are. It's hard to do that if you don't have a diversity of perspectives at the table. Too often there's people with ideas that don't even go check in with the folks that they're creating opportunities on behalf of.”
Pierce leaned over to the recorder to mention, “You couldn't see that, but I used my “quote” fingers.” In reference to “creating opportunities on behalf of.”
He continued, “That's one of the things that I hope to do through my candidacy. To quote Solange, “A Seat at the Table” for some of the community organizers who are doing work at the grassroots level, a true reflection of our community, and to bring them to the halls of City Council. Give them power and a voice through an ally - like one of ours is in there. That's what I hope to achieve. That's a change I hope to see.
Another change that I hope to see is that our city continues to treasure its diversity and not just give that lip service. Put Millennials in power. Put somebody Latinx on this Council. Put queer people in positions of power. Not just the same old status quo, old-guard holding the reins and kind of shaping the city in their image.”
Pierce is a brilliant young man determined to light up the Bull with opportunities and a new narrative. In what capacity or level of formality he does so has yet to be determined. What has been proven is that he’s bull-headed in his commitment and conviction to do so and where Pierce goes youth hopeful for their future follow.
Help make "The Bulls of Durham" living history book a printed reality in your hands on Durham's 150th anniversary, April 10th, 2019 and get all sorts of incrediBULL goodness at The Bulls of Durham SHOP including, but not limited to the famed Bull Love Mug.
Click HERE to go to The Bulls of Durham shop.
For individuals and entities wishing to boost their bottom line and our community, reach out to TheBullsOfDurham@gmail.com to discuss sponsorship and other funding opportunities.
Sheila Amir is a health & nutrition writer who fell in love with Durham, North Carolina and starting writing a book about it.