There’s a lot of grieving in Durham this week. My time at the Beyu Caffe, Mad Hatter’s and Cocoa Cinnamon has felt more like a memorial service than time away to sip a cup of Joe while chatting with friends.
Part of it is the post-election blues. Durham is a progressive town that rejects promises of deportation, archaic notions regarding the roles of women and the assumed sin of homosexuality. Many of the people I talk to in Durham aren’t seeking to “Make America Great Again.” They’re working hard to make it better than it has ever been.
The anguish of this past week isn’t limited to who won and lost bids to serve as elected officials. Before the election, Durham mourned the loss of Paul Luebke. Luebke, who represented us for 25 years in the state House, died Oct. 29.
The mourning continued Monday with the news of Cynthia Brown’s death. Brown, a former Durham City councilwoman (1995-99) and candidate for U.S. Senate, founded The Sojourner Group in 2001 to engage community and nonprofit leaders in coalition building and advocacy on economic social justice issues.
“We miss anyone who has a voice of hope given the climate today,” said Brenda Howerton, member of the Board of County Commissioners. “She was very, committed to inclusion. She was always looking to see what could be done to get the community to pull together.”
In 2009, Brown participated in a 10 day “Roots of Migration” trip with Witness for Peace. In a reflection of the trip on the Witness of Peace website (http://witnessforpeace.org/article.php?id=740), Brown noted the shared experiences of Mexicans and other immigrants with those of Africans enslaved in the United States who made the dangerous journey North in hope of freedom.
Cynthia Brown, a former Durham City councilwoman and candidate for U.S. Senate, founded The Sojourner Group to build coalitions and advocacy on economic social justice issues.
Brown tells the story of a Honduran woman leaving home to seek work in the United States.
“Deeply emotional, she talked with tear-stained cheeks about the pain of not being able to pay her mortgage and feed her children,” Brown writes. “She talked about the vulnerability, danger and exploitation migrants face from coyotes – human traffickers who promise to help you across the U.S. border for an exorbitant fee.”
Brown shared the woman’s journey to America.
“She had to hold on to the outside of a fast-moving train for five hours as she feared being raped and beaten by men traveling on the train and riding throughout the border area to prey on those like her desperately seeking a way to access work since there is no more work in her home country,” Brown writes. “Like those fleeing enslavement, she was clear that her safety to that point when we met her in Oaxaca City, had been deeply dependent on the kindness of strangers in a network of safe places she had been provided along her way.”
Dani Moore, director of Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project with the N.C. Justice Center, worked with Brown to limit the deportation of neighbors, friends and classmates.
“Cynthia knew how to simultaneously make you feel both loved and welcomed for who you are right now, and to push you fiercely toward being a better version of yourself – wiser, more visionary, and acting with more grace,” Moore said. “That was a tremendous gift to the people around her.”
Brown’s friends gathered at her home on Tuesday to remember lessons about listening and being present.
“It’s good that she won’t have to live with Trump as her president,” I overheard a woman say as the music of Bob Marley reminded us of Brown’s hope.
“Good friends we have, oh, good friends we have lost along the way. In this great future, you can’t forget your past, so dry your tears, I said. No woman, no cry.”
There’s a lot of crying in the city. Some of it’s about fear after the election. Some of it’s because of friends we lost along the way.
It sounds like a good time to dry our tears and work to make a difference.
Carl Kenney, co-executive producer of “God of the Oppressed,” an upcoming documentary that explores black liberation theology, lives in Durham. You can reach him at Revcwkii@hotmail.com