Unique Message At Durham’s State Of The City Address

By Jordan Meadows, Staff Writer

On Tuesday evening, in a momentous outline for the City of Durham, Mayor Leonardo Williams took the stage to deliver his first State of the City address, marking a significant milestone in his leadership journey. The 2024 State of the City Address, opened by ABC11’s Joel Brown, unfolded as a vibrant celebration of Durham’s past achievements and its promising future. 

Kicking off with a social hour at the Durham Convention Center, attendees were treated to the sounds of the John Brown Jazz Ensemble, the inspiring projects of Hillside High School Civic Action Project Expo Winners, and the impactful work of Echo NC, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering Durham’s youth and entrepreneurs.

As the event transitioned to the main program at The Carolina Theatre, Brown set the tone by offering what he described as “a taste of the Durham experience,” setting the stage for a night filled with reflection and aspiration. 

The atmosphere was enriched by performances from Durham’s first Poet Laureate, D.J. Rogers, who read his latest poem of Durham’s historic Black Wall Street, and the stirring melodies of the Sound Machine Marching Band of North Carolina Central University, Williams’ alma mater, and the Durham Symphony.

Mayor Williams, in his address, wasted no time in expressing his gratitude to the multitude of individuals and organizations that contribute to Durham’s achievements. From city council members to frontline workers, from county commissioners to federal delegates, Williams underscored the collaborative spirit that defines Durham’s progress. 

“There are so many great things going on in this city, so many. And we have a lot to be proud about – we’re going to celebrate those wins tonight,” Williams said.

Williams served as a school administrator in the Durham Public Schools system and earned recognition as a two-time Teacher of the Year before being elected as Mayor of Durham after a successful tenure as the City Councilman representing Ward 3 for two years. 

He acknowledged the pressing needs identified by residents in a city-wide survey, particularly emphasizing the desire for increased police protection and safer neighborhoods. Williams expressed enthusiasm for Durham’s alternative response program, called HEART. This innovative pilot project represents a significant shift in public safety strategy, replacing armed police officers with specialized responders for certain calls and directing resources toward addressing mental health-related concerns.

Additionally, while stressing the need for investing in Durham’s youth, Mayor Williams announced the launch of the “Mentoring Alliance Partnership,” a collaborative effort aimed at providing essential support and guidance to young people in the community. 

He further pledged to establish a “Task Force on Black Men and Boys,” recognizing the specific challenges faced by this demographic and committing to actionable solutions, adding that the Durham Parks and Recreation team will be part of the process. 

“Our youth are imperative to the sustained growth and success of our city. And we must provide them with the tools to be successful,” Williams said. “There’s a crucial need for more support for our young black men and boys. Simply put, we have to do more, and they’re counting on us to do it,” Williams said. 

In addressing the city’s latest infrastructure and economic development, Mayor Williams celebrated recent federal grants for transportation initiatives, including funding for Durham’s Village Transit Center. 

“Council members, I really enjoy working with you. I want to thank you for working together to ensure that we are going to have another year of fare-free transit for GoDurham bus riders,” Williams said. 

He also lauded the Triangle region’s collective achievements, acknowledging the fruitful partnerships with neighboring cities like Raleigh, and the significant investments in infrastructure that benefit the entire community, while mentioning that the Biden-Harris administration has been focused on the state in preparation for the upcoming 2024 election. 

“I think what’s good for the Triangle is good for Durham, and what’s good for Durham is good for the Triangle,” Williams said. “I want to thank you for your innovative leadership and innovative relationship building, and for being so inviting to investment in this area. Since November, the Triangle has received so much love from Washington.” 

With a focus on the city’s accomplishments, Mayor Williams also took the time to stress ongoing problems in the Bull City by advocating for a comprehensive approach to what he called “affordable living”: emphasizing the importance of access to housing, employment, and education. 

“We’re experiencing an unprecedented period of growth and investment in our community unlike ever before, but we cannot forget about our neighborhoods that have been historically marginalized,” Williams said. 

Furthermore, Williams acknowledged the progress made by the Durham Housing Authority in addressing housing challenges but recognized the ongoing need for action, expressing aspirations to provide an additional 2,000 housing units.

He pledged to prioritize the revitalization of historically marginalized neighborhoods, echoing the sentiments and giving praise to U.S. Rep. Valerie Foushee, who secured $500,000 for the southside revitalization project in Durham.

Mayor Williams expressed gratitude for the substantial investments made by federal, state, and local governments in the Triangle region. He said that over $1.5 billion was allocated to infrastructure enhancements since November in the Triangle. Williams continued by elaborating on specific investment projects, including the introduction of electric school buses, the expansion of charging stations for electric vehicles, upgrades to airport facilities, and various economic development initiatives. 

Mayor Williams also emphasized the importance of workforce development initiatives during his address, including the city’s collaboration with the Workforce Development Board to enhance opportunities for on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and employment. Furthermore, in addressing the strides made in education, Williams shared a recent transformation: Durham, once plagued by 21 failing schools, has now reduced that number to 5. 

As the evening concluded, Mayor Williams left attendees with a message of optimism and resilience, proclaiming, “The state of our city is strong, but we’re more than that: Durham is dope!” His address painted a vivid picture of a city poised for continued growth, guided by a steadfast commitment to equality, opportunity, and community.

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