Made in Durham task forces tackle system barriers

October 16, 2017

Made in Durham kicked off two broad-based community task forces in October focused on developing strategies for overcoming two critical systemic barriers to student success.

A Racial Equity Task Force is developing strategies for helping Durham move toward greater racial equity, which Made in Durham’s Advisory Team has defined as “a state in which young people’s experiences and outcomes with Durham’s systems are no longer determined by race.”

A Career Advising Task Force is developing a strategy for creating a culture of career exploration, preparation and training for all Durham youth as a community-wide endeavor to prepare young people for success.

Sobering statistics point to racial inequity

Racial bias emerged as a key barrier to student success in surveys of nonprofit and agency partners surveyed by Made in Durham’s Advisory Team and among educators, parents and students surveyed by Made in Durham’s Youth Network.

Community statistics clearly point to racial bias, says Kelvin Bullock, Durham Public Schools’ first executive director for equity affairs, hired last January.

For instance, Durham’s population is equally divided among whites (50%) and people of color (African Americans 37% and Latinx 13%), but Durham’s businesses are disproportionately owned by whites (79% vs. 21%). Surprisingly, the growth of African American firms in Durham (14% from 2007-2012) was the lowest among North Carolina’s major metro areas, particularly Charlotte (80% growth 2007-2012), despite Durham’s reputation as a center for African American commerce. Graduation rates among Durham Public Schools’ students of color trail those of white students while blacks account for 82% of all in-school suspensions, compared to 3% for whites.

“We have to do a better job of how we serve black and Latino students,” Bullock said.

Task force members agreed that the few members of their group who have not had racial equity training should do so before the group continues its work so that members can approach the issue with a common frame and language. That training should be completed in November.

Task force co-chairs are Susan Roche, chief talent officer, McKinney, and Eliazar Posada, community engagement and advocacy manager, El Centro Hispano. Members are: Bullock; Kelly Andrews, program coordinator, Durham County Criminal Justice Resource Center; Esther Coleman, workforce development senior manager, City of Durham; Angela Davis, special assistant for equity and inclusion, Durham Technical Community College; Lynn Harris, director, inclusion & diversity initiatives, GlaxoSmithKline; Joanne Pierce, deputy public health director, Durham County; and Rhonda Stevens, assistant director, social services, Durham County.

Career advising task force envisions a continuum of services

Inadequate school counseling emerged as another top priority issue among Made in Durham Youth Network members, based on their own experiences, as well as their analysis of surveys conducted with Durham educators, parents and students.

The Career Advising Task Force focuses specifically on the career advising component of school counseling. Their work begins as DPS launches a new initiative to ensure every student graduates from high school with a college and career plan, a focus that grew out of DPS leadership’s collaboration in Made in Durham.

The task force formed three subcommittees to focus on elements of career advising: one on planning for a work-based learning continuum for students and two others focused on policies and technologies needed to support it.

Co-chairs are Nicole Learn, director, talent acquisition & development, Cisco Systems, and Stacey Wilson-Norman, deputy superintendent for academic services, Durham Public Schools.     Members are: Jovonia Lewis, founder, Parents of African American Children in Durham; Elizabeth Shearer, executive director, student support services, Durham Public Schools; Rick Sheldahl, director, Career and Technical Education; Jennifer Snyder, Project Safe Neighborhoods coordinator, Durham Police Department; Elizabeth Standafer, youth apprenticeship coordinator for the N.C. Department of Commerce; Christy Walker, director, career services and transitions, Durham Technical Community College; and Julie Wells, executive director, Partners for Youth Opportunity.

For more information about the task forces, contact Made in Durham Executive Director Meredythe Holmes at or (919) 627-6419.

Made in Durham is a community partnership of educators, business, government, nonprofits and young people mobilized around a shared vision that all of Durham’s youth will complete high school and a post-secondary credential and begin a rewarding career by 25. Learn more at


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Made in Durham is a community partnership of educators, business, government, youth-serving nonprofits and young people mobilized around a shared vision that all of Durham’s youth will complete high school and a post-secondary credential and begin a rewarding career by the age of 25.
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