Welcome to Smoky Hollow. Well, actually there was no welcome wagon when my parents, Dr. and Mrs. Mills, moved our family into the rough and tumble Edgemont community formerly known as Smoky Hollow.
My childhood memories are much different from those of most of my friends and classmates. I remember looking out my bedroom window on North Holman Street and seeing drug deals being made just a few feet away from my bed. I remember routinely hearing gunfire and waking up to the news of the carnage left in the wake of violent men. I remember seeing a man get shot while standing at a phone booth on Morning Glory Avenue. I remember being attacked by a mentally disturbed man with a knife and having one of the clients of the Durham Rescue Mission come to my aid.
You may be asking yourself what in the world would drive a man to move his family from a quiet homestead outside of Winston-Salem to a rowdy and dangerous neighborhood. A love for the poor and addicted is what drove my parents to relocate into a community composed of a mixture of retired folks living in their ancestral homes next to the poor and addicted.
My grandfather was a poor sharecropper. To make ends meet and provide for his wife and four children, he began to run moonshine. Not long after, he became addicted to the ’shine, and he died at the young age of 39 because of his alcohol addiction. Out of this heartache was born a love for the poor and the addict. My family has been dedicated to serving the most needy in our community for 42 years and counting.
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I have good news! The former Smoky Hollow is being transformed into a wonderful place to live, work and play. While no one person or organization can claim credit for the transformation, one couple and one organization can properly lay claim to being the anchor during the storm. They braved the turbulent waters with a vision of a brighter future for the poor and neglected. That vision is being realized with the help of thousands of volunteers, donors, Mayor Bill Bell, the city council and the county commissioners. While much progress has been made, there’s more on the to-do list.
There’s a small group of folks seeking to have much of the Durham Rescue Mission’s property reclassified into a historic district. This reclassification would stymie the efforts of the Durham Rescue Mission to complete the vision of providing clean, safe affordable housing and services to those who need it most.
Let’s continue to work together to build a brighter future for all of Durham’s citizens and not just a few. To this end, the Durham Rescue Mission is asking to have our property on the eastern side of N.C. 55 exempted from the proposed boundary of the Golden Belt Local Historic District in order to allow us to continue to provide housing and services to the most needy in our community.
Ernie Mills Jr. is stewardship development director of the Durham Rescue Mission.