“Working with REAL Durham can be messy,” said recent Pathways Fellow Rachel White (T’14). “It always is when you are looking to combat systemic oppression and build relationships.” Rachel spent 2014-2015 working with a local community nonprofit, REAL Durham, as part of a PathWays Fellowship, which she was awarded through Duke Chapel. The one-year residential program is designed to bring a small group of recently graduated Duke alumni into the Durham community for a year of service, personal and spiritual discernment and apprenticeship with local community organizations.
Rachel interned with REAL Durham to break down understandings of material poverty and combat common misconceptions of those deemed poor by empowering and nurturing the existing talents and capabilities low-income community members. Using the Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) principles, the organization is a community-based, anti-poverty, anti-racist circles initiative located in East Durham. It is composed of people who fulfill three core roles: leaders, allies and volunteers. Families in material poverty are matched with 2 to 4 allies, who meet with the families weekly for 18 months to seek an increase in each family’s income and assets, alongside a decrease in debt and reliance on public assistance. REAL Durham’s allies and volunteers also provide financial capital and other helpful resources to families in need.
To prepare for their work, REAL Durham leaders and allies complete an 11- to 20-week training in systemic racism. During their training, they learn how to help their families secure childcare and meals, seek financial aid for college, and pinpoint resources to find jobs – often accompanying families to the Department of Social Services to act as advocates. All of these efforts are intended to try to “bring about equity and justice and full livelihood,” says Rachel.
Disempowering a marginalized group is not an effective way to inspire change. REAL Durham and Rachel recognize that those living in poverty are, in fact, our strongest potential leaders within these communities. By focusing on present assets, REAL Durham works to reframe the stereotypes of laziness, drug abuse, and lack of education that are typically associated with those who live in material poverty.
Rachel’s supervisor at REAL Durham was impressed by her ability to navigate effectively in communities that are vastly different from her own background and experience. She exceeded her colleagues’ expectations, and they have offered her a paid staff position for the coming year.
During their year as Fellows, Rachel and four of her former classmates lived together in Duke Chapel’s Pathways House located off-campus at 713 Kent Street. While undergraduates at Duke, the five women were involved with the Chapel Scholars Program, student preaching and other campus ministry programs. Most of them decided to intern for community health organizations to gain vocational experience for their future medical careers. All of the women plan to apply to or begin medical school in the coming year.
PathWays is an overarching ecumenical Christian program sponsored by Duke Chapel that allows students to come together from a wide range of Christian traditions and backgrounds. Fellows, like Rachel, work hard to foster open-mindedness and cooperation during their internship work with diverse local community members.
According to Bruce Puckett, the Director of Community Ministry, “Each of these women were loved by their community partners, and became valuable parts of their teams during their year as a fellow.” These fantastic women were commended for their work, and their overseers hope that next year’s fellows will execute the same, if not more, diligence and patience the fellowship aims to foster. Duke and Durham are lucky to have such mature leaders create a safe space for those in the community, and all Duke-Durham interactions and relations should model themselves after those who encourage community members to become their own leaders.
The 2014-2015 Fellows:
Jocelyn Streid, T’13: worked with The Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South. Involved with Chapel Scholars, was the Student Preacher in 2013, traveled on a chapel mission trip to Honduras, attending medical school this year.
Rachel White, T’14: worked with Real Durham. Initial involvement in the Chapel was with the Chapel Scholars Program. Invited to stay on staff with REAL Durham. Will continue to live in Durham.
Debbie Chi, P’14: worked with Lincoln Community Health Center. Involved with Chapel Scholars, participated in Chapel mission trip to Honduras, applying to medical school now.
Hannah Ward, T’14: worked with Duke Community Health. Involved with Chapel Scholars since her first year at Duke, Student Preacher in 2014, was a student worker at the Chapel, applying to medical school now.
Nicole White, T’14: worked with Durham Center Access operated by the Freedom House. Connected to the former Black Campus Ministry of Duke Chapel, attending graduate school.