The following editorial appeared in the The Herald-Sun in Durham:
The paradox of the “two Durhams” is an increasing part of our civic conversation, as it should be.
We are an affluent city with a soaring downtown, trendy restaurants, high-end retailers, hip boutiques and sprawling multimillion-dollar subdivisions that have transformed a once-gritty mill town into a new economy-medical-research-entrepreneurial Mecca.
Yet we are a city of pervasive poverty. Nearly 1 in 5 of our citizens live in poverty – and 28 percent of our children are in that category. That’s a lot of human suffering and dimmed futures, and ultimately a potential threat to our recent upward momentum.
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It has not gone unnoticed, of course. It’s probably impossible to recite an exhaustive list of people and agencies trying to tackle challenge. Mayor Bill Bell’s Anti-Poverty Initiative, County Commission Chairman Michael Page’s My Brothers Keeper project, End Poverty Durham and East Durham Children’s Initiative spring to mind; there are many others.
The effort got a pledge of support this week from an institution that already has been in the arena, but could be an even more formidable ally. Duke University needs to put its weight behind those efforts, Richard Brodhead, who is in his final year of a 13-year tenure as president, told The Durham Rotary Club.
It’s almost impossible to overestimate what Duke brings to the table. It is, by far, the city’s largest employer. It brings money, intellectual firepower and a sense of the symbiotic relationship between city and university honed over the past two decades as it has been a pivotal player in downtown’s revival.
Some of that effort was spawned by Duke leaders’ realization that a healthy Durham and a compelling downtown were important in attracting the best and the brightest faculty, doctors, researchers and students.
Brodhead spoke of the advantages to Duke as an educational institution, too, of its engagement in the community and its challenges. “Any great university that isn’t located in a place that features the challenges of American life is a place where I don’t think you can get a very good education,” Brodhead said Monday. “If the smartest students in the country don’t take an interest in that fact when they’re in their early youth, how do we expect they’re going to take an interest in it later on.”
Duke long has been in the trenches in confronting poverty, working especially in neighborhoods such as Walltown and Crest Street near campus. The prospect of its upping its game as we struggle together as a community to ameliorate poverty is exciting.
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