Durham Lions Club Election Day Pancake Jamboree

Today, in addition to visiting voting precincts all across Durham, I also served as a Celebrity Chef for the Annual Pancake Jamboree sponsored by the Durham Lions Club which is held at the Durham Armory in Downtown Durham. I always enjoy visiting my many friends that are part of the Lions Club, but more importantly, supporting this wonderful fundraiser to support charitable work. In addition, it provides supporters with freshly cooked pancakes and sausage as a tasty treat.

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A Fun Day at Barktoberfest 2018 at Durham Central Park

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of joining hundreds of pets and their owners who came together for the annual Barktoberfest in Durham’s Central Park. I always love this event since it gives me an opportunity to see children, pets, as well as their owners all dressed up in their Halloween costumes which can be quite original, entertaining, and amusing. I had the pleasure of serving as one of the judges who helped award prizes in one of three categories: best at pet tricks, best pet costume, as well as the owners and pets who, together, had the best Halloween costumes. I could really see how much the children, as well as adults, enjoyed this event. There are so many participants with original costumes that the judging can be quite difficult, however, everyone seemed to have fun even if they didn’t walk away as a winner.
I’d like to thank a group known as Beyond Fences which has served as a lead sponsor for this event, as well as the City of Durham and Durham’s Parks and Recreation Department. If you missed the event this year, please mark your calendar for next year, and start planning your costumes today.

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Durham Officials: Unanimous Opposition to the Proposed Constitutional Amendments

I have seldom felt as proud as I did earlier today when it was announced that every elected official in Durham County had come together to voice their unanimous opposition to the six proposed constitutional amendments that are on the ballot for voter consideration. This includes Mayor Schewel, the Durham City Council, all County Commissioners, all School Board members, as well as all Soil and Water District Commissioners. I and Rep. Marcia Morey joined many of these elected officials today when they held a press conference to voice their opposition to these constitutional amendments which are unneeded, unnecessary, and rather than increasing the rights of our citizens, for the most part, they will erode the rights of many of us. I’d like to thank my friends and colleagues for standing up firmly and aggressively to voice their opposition to these amendments. I don’t think there is another county in the State of NC, though I certainly hope there is one, where all the political leadership has shown this type of enlightened political courage.

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Grand Opening of the Durham Police Department New Headquarters

The Durham Police Department celebrates the grand opening of it’s new headquarters.

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a grand opening celebration for the new headquarters for the Durham City Police Department. This project came in on-time and under budget, and it provides sufficient room to meet the needs of the department even if the department were to grow 50% larger than it is today. I’d like to thank Durham Police Chief Cerlelyn Davis, City Manager Tom Bonfield, and Mayor Steve Schewel for their work in bringing this project to fruition as well as Wendy Jacobs, Chairperson of the Durham County Commissioners who collaborated jointly with the city on the 911 Emergency Response Center. It’s a very impressive building, but even more impressive, is the motto for the Police Department which is inscribed in the Police Department’s lobby which reads “Our Mission: To minimize crime, promote safety, and enhance the quality of life in partnership with our community.”

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Durham Committee’s 83rd Annual Banquet

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Omar Beasley, Chairman of the Durham Committee, as well as his youthful team of organizers who did an excellent job hosting a successful annual banquet where their Keynote Speaker was Dr. Melissa Harris Perry. Dr. Perry delivered an eloquent, outstanding, moving, and insightful keynote address which I am sure touched the hearts and souls of those who attended this year’s banquet. This year, the committee’s Honorees were Ingrid Wicker-McCree, the Athletic Director for NC Central University, as well as Phil Freelon, who was a local architect who has received national recognition for his work on a variety of projects, not only in Durham and the State of North Carolina, but also in our nation’s capital. Phil was also the lead architect on the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. I have known each of the honorees for decades and I commend them for their contributions to our community.

See the full gallery of images from the event on our Facebook Page.

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Lincoln Community Health Center Providing Healthcare for the Homeless

It was my privilege to attend the Annual Community Leaders’ Breakfast hosted by the Lincoln Community Health Center Inc. I’d like to thank Mr. Philip Harewood and his extraordinary team of associates and healthcare providers who provide healthcare services to so many people who are in need in our community who do not have healthcare insurance.

One of the special programs which Lincoln is operating is a Healthcare for the Homeless Clinic which was discussed during today’s breakfast. It should not be surprising that persons who are homeless have an average life expectancy which is 20-30 years less than the general population. In addition, they are more likely to require acute care and the most likely to require high cost end of life care. Lincoln has done an extraordinary job by reaching out and connecting to the homeless population in our community.

Sometimes when we think of homeless people, we do not realize that they are the very same people that could have been our friends or neighbors a year or two ago before they encountered tough times. Today, I listened to the testimonial of a man known as Frank Whitehead who, prior to 2013, owned a two-story home with a beautiful deck in Wake County and was married to a wife with multiple sclerosis. Unfortunately, his wife suddenly died from complications due to multiple sclerosis and Frank, shortly thereafter, suffered a stroke which limited his ability to use the left side of his body, including his left arm. He lost his job, he lost his home, he lost his personally property which he could not afford to pay storage fees on, and he ended up living in an apartment with only two bedrooms and over a dozen people.

Fortunately, he was referred to Lincoln which provided him with healthcare, psychiatric care, and therapy which allowed him to rebuild his life and regain independence. He is now employed as a newspaper delivery person and is he is hopeful of obtaining a home in the near future through Habitat for Humanity. There are many others just like Frank who are homeless and in need of help, but there are also those who simply cannot afford healthcare, and Lincoln provides a vital lifeline for them and their families. I’d like to commend Philip Harewood, the Chief Executive Officer of Lincoln, as well as all others who are a part of his team in providing healthcare to those in need in our community, their extraordinary work and contribution to the Durham community can’t be overstated.

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July Fundraiser at Zayka Indian Cuisine

Thank you to my dear friends Mr. Vimal Kolappa and his wife Dr. Kalavathi Kolappa, Dr. Rama Garimella and her husband Mr. Sekhar Garimella, Mr. Kiran Kolavennu, Dr. Valli Kodali, Mr. Sunil Patel, Mr. Sirish Gottimukkala, Dr.Viswanathan Swaminathan and all their friends and my supporters who joined us for a fundraiser yesterday at Zayka Indian Cuisine in Briar Creek. We had a great time discussing politics, priorities and the most important issues affecting their community and the state of North Carolina today.

I would like to thank them all for their friendship and support. Here are some photos from this wonderful event. See all of our photos from the event on our facebook page.

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Town Hall Meeting with Durham’s Legislative Delegation

Yesterday evening, Durham’s Legislative Delegation conducted a Town Hall Meeting which took place at the Headquarters for the Durham County Democratic Party. I was extremely pleased to see a crowd of close to 200 people turn out for this event. There was standing room only. Each member of our delegation was able to discuss issues of concern which occurred during the Short Session of the General Assembly which ended recently.

There was a great deal of interest among those attending about the six proposed amendments to North Carolina’s Constitution which will be on the ballot in November; I would encourage each of you to vote no to these amendments which are unneeded and unnecessary. Many of the amendments are designed to intentionally confuse voters, and their true purpose and intent is to simply help the Republican supermajority turn out their base this November. There was also discussion relating to actions which need to be taken to ensure that we break the Republican supermajority in the North Carolina House and in the North Carolina Senate. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who turned out for this important event, and I would encourage each of them to assist us in turning out voters for the November election.

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A Walkout & Moment of Silence at Durham School of the Arts

Today, I joined over a thousand students at the Durham School of the Arts who joined hand in hand with teachers, administrators, community leaders, and parents who are deeply concerned about the safety of our schools and policies which do not go far enough in restricting access to firearms in our country.

The event took place at approximately 1:15 pm when student leaders began with a moment of silence to commemorate those who had lost their lives to school violence. This was followed by the reading of the names of each person who was killed during the recent school shooting incident in Parkland,. At approximately 1:30, the bells of a local church chimed 17 times in honor of those who lost their lives. At the end of this moving ceremony, students were asked to take out their cell phones and to make a call to elected officials in a call to action.

Their message was simple:

“I’m a student at Durham School of the Arts. I don’t need a response. I want to share with you my thoughts on Gun Control in the US. I am opposed to the easy access to guns. We need to have more stringent laws as well as thorough background checks to those who want to get a firearm in order to decrease gun violence in our schools. I am a student and I do not feel safe in the State of North Carolina.”

These are profound words which I hope will reach the hearts and conscious of those serving in Congress and motivate them to finally take meaningful action. 

I’ve been extremely excited by the level of student activism and engagement on issues related to gun control in the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy. It’s unfortunate that such a horrific incident was needed to bring together people all across America to understand the need for change. I have not seen such a level of engagement among students since the anti-war movement in the late 60’s and early 70’s. We can only hope and pray that the time has finally come for meaningful change, which is long overdue, to occur.

Durham Early Childhood Education Community Forum

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending an Early Childhood Community Forum which provided an outstanding overview of the reasons why we need to establish a universal preschool program to serve all 3 and 4-year-old children in Durham County. Presently, only 38% of children entering kindergarten in Durham are proficient in reading. Even by the end of 3rd grade, 53% of our students score below grade level in reading. Data also suggests that 12% of our preschools children come from families where there are mental health problems in the home, and 16% live in homes where the cost of housing exceeds 50% of a family’s income. 

We all realize that if students are not reading by the time they complete 3rd grade, there is a substantially greater probability that they will encounter academic difficulties in school and are more likely to be kids that will drop out from school later in life and frequently become involved with a higher level of disciplinary problems. It is a result of these factors that Durham County is embarking upon an aggressive campaign to establish universal preschool for 3 and 4-year-olds in our community. 

It is estimated that it will cost 14.5-15.5 million dollars simply to serve the low-income children in our community, but the goal of this ambitious undertaking is to provide high quality preschool to all 3 and 4-year-olds by 2023. Durham County is beginning a commitment to this process by appropriating 1 cent on the county’s property tax rate which would be dedicated for this purpose, however, substantially more will need to be done to make this commendable dream a reality. I’d like to thank all of those who participated in the program this past Saturday for their commitment to the future of children in our community. I will do all that I can to support this initiative since it is a wonderful vision worthy of our State and our community’s investment.