Durham Magazine February/March 2022

Page 36

These folks all have a hand in affecting the way we live, work and play in Durham – learn how from the people who know them well



elaine o’neal


first met Mayor Elaine M. O’Neal in the ’90s when I was a Durham County Commissioner and she had been elected as a district court judge. I became mayor in 2001; as a result, I collaborated with her on various community and civic activities. One of the programs that Elaine and I – along with Phyllis Joyner, among others – established in 2006 was the Restoration Institute for Leaders. It was an exciting and innovative educational and leadership enrichment opportunity for 80 Durham youth who were in crisis. It emerged to provide academic credit, vocational options and incentives for 13- to 18-year-olds who were entangled in pathways that could lead to failure and destruction. It was a summer school program housed at the Durham School of the Arts. It was through that program that I saw how dedicated Elaine was to the young people of our city and county. She graduated from Durham Public Schools and felt grateful for the opportunities and mentorship her community offered her, and she wants that for today’s youth. After 24 years on the judicial bench and her role as the interim dean of the N.C. Central University School of Law, Elaine will tell you that she has seen the worst and the best of humanity. We are at a crossroads in

our city on multiple fronts. Gun violence is stealing our young people of color. Elaine knows firsthand the profound anxiety a Black mother feels as she sends her children, especially young Black men, out into a world that seems intent on harming them. Her leadership on the city’s first Racial Equity Task Force helped to provide a road map with concrete actions the city and county can both take to create change and nurture our beloved city. But it will take a tremendous amount of dedication, persistence, courage and all heart, to move that work forward. Whether Elaine is on the bench, in a boardroom, a classroom or in the mayor’s seat, her leadership is rooted in empathy, understanding and openness. Most admirable is Elaine’s humility. Rather than revel in recognition of her trailblazing life, she’s focused on the work in front of her, the lives that are dependent upon her and her role in creating a just future for us all. Elaine is the right person, at the right time, to assume the leadership of the “Office of the Mayor.” She is a team leader and player, but she also understands the need to compromise when it is for the better good of the community. Elaine’s gaze is wide and deep in our city. Her own history is part of the fabric of Durham’s history, and she believes that no matter where you come from, if you live in Durham, you are family. We are indeed fortunate that she has offered her services to be our mayor, and as voters, we are proud to have accepted and elected her to the job. – WILLIAM V. “ B ILL” B ELL, FORMER MAYOR OF D UR H A M 





f e b r ua ry/ m a r c h 2 0 2 2