During her famous two-hour tours, Sharon Elliott-Bynum, executive director of Healing With CAARE, showed visitors every nook of the modest one-story building on Broadway Street in Durham.
Of a vast, empty space, she would say, “This is going to be the community kitchen.”
A bare-bones basement: “This is going to be a clinic.”
A stack of beds: “This will go into the house for veterans.”
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“All I saw was walls,” said Al Richmond, executive director of the Community Campus Partnership for Health, and a friend for 15 years. “She had amazing vision.”
Friends, colleagues and elected leaders are paying tribute to Elliott-Bynum, who died Sunday of cancer. She was 58.
“Sharon’s vision of the world was love,” said Satana Deberry, executive director of the N.C. Housing Coalition. “That everyone should have access to health care, to have a place to live.”
For 20 years, Healing With CAARE has provided low-income people with medical and dental care, a community kitchen, a food pantry, substance-abuse treatment, HIV/AIDS testing and case management, benefits counseling, financial literacy classes and job-readiness programs.
“And it was free,” said City Councilman Steve Schewel. “She did so much for so many people. She was a force of nature.”
Elliott-Bynum graduated from Northern High School. As a student, she worked at the Lincoln Community Health Center as part of the Neighborhood Youth Corps. While raising a family, she earned her nursing licenses, and ultimately, a bachelor of science degree from N.C. Central University in 1993.
With her sister Pat Amaechi, Elliott-Bynum started Healing With CAARE in 1995. The two were particularly interested in addressing HIV/AIDS in low-income communities and the needs of homeless veterans.
Amaechi died in 2009 – her picture hangs prominently at Healing With CAARE – but Elliott-Bynum continued the work. She enlisted doctors, dentists and other health care professionals to volunteer at the clinics. Through grants and government funding, and corporate donations, she was able to build transitional housing for 15 homeless veterans.
She had a genuine sense of connection. I had the sense she was living her truth.
Minda Brooks, William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations
Durham attorney Kevin Ginsberg was a Class of 2011 fellow at the William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations, a training program for leaders across the state. Elliott-Bynum was in the same class.
“The fellowship has a lot of incredible people,” he said, “but she was the most remarkable of any of us. She was courageous, joyful and loving” person who never viewed people in need as “others.”
Minda Brooks is the executive director of the Friday Fellowship’s leadership program. When she spoke to me, she made me feel like I was the only person in the room. She had a genuine sense of connection,” Brooks said. “I had the sense she was living her truth.”
‘Inspired and awed’
Healing With CAARE’s reputation extended beyond Durham, to the highest level of federal public health.
In 2014, U.S. Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak visited Durham for a U.S. Public Health Service Conference. He met Elliott-Bynum, who took him and members of his staff on a tour of Healing With CAARE.
“We were inspired and awed by the breadth of CAARE’s services, and the enthusiasm of the all-volunteer staff,” Lushniak wrote in Public Health Reports, adding,
CAARE’s work is an example “not only the power of personal conviction and hard work to affect societal change but also of the power of community.”
Although Elliott-Bynum was ill, she attended a 20th anniversary gala last month honoring the nonprofit’s work. Healing With CAARE will continue despite her death.
“Sharon’s whole story is one of resilience,” Deberry said. “Sharon thought God had shown her a lot of grace; even being sick, she felt God had given her more than she could imagine.”
A Celebration of Life for Sharon Elliott-Bynum will be held Friday at St. Joseph AME Church, 2521 Fayetteville Road in Durham. There will be a public viewing from 3 to 6 p.m., followed by an Omega Omega ceremony at 6:30 p.m. and the Celebration of Life at 7 p.m.