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Our Right to Place: Visions of Durham’s Future

How can we contribute to a more equitable vision of Durham’s future? In the next 10 years Durham will face pressure and opportunity because of the expected population growth. As housing costs go up in historically African American neighborhoods, how can we insure that people of color and the working class have a voice in the conversation, decision-making and visioning?

The event will be moderated by Barbara Lau, Director of the Pauli Murray Project. Panelists include:








Steve Schewel,  has lived in Durham since he came to Duke as an undergraduate in 1969. He is deeply immersed in the life of the community. He is a former member of the school board, and he now serves on the Durham City Council. He is the council’s liaison to the Durham Housing Authority, and the issues of gentrification, homelessness and affordable housing are among his very highest priorities. Steve co-founded the Independent Weekly (IndyWeek) in 1983 and published it for 30 years before selling it in 2012. Since 2000, he has also been a visiting assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke where he teaches about cities, social movements and how to make political change. Steve and his wife, Lao Rubert, have raised two sons in Durham. He is a long-time youth soccer coach, a writer, reader, runner and cyclist, and he fancies himself a pretty good cook.



Nia Wilson has been a part of the SpiritHouse family since 2002. She is the daughter of Ronald and Elmira and the mother of Heather and Paul. Raised on Connecticut concrete and sand, Black soul and Campbell’s pork and beans, Nia is a gifted healer, and cultural alchemist. She is a practical nurse who specialized in pediatric and psychiatric nursing, but found a much stronger calling working with teens and their families in drop- out, drug and pregnancy prevention. Nia, has been building community, in Durham North Carolina, since, embracing it as home, in 1998. She currently serves as the Executive Director of SpiritHouse Inc, a Durham based, Black women led, cultural organizing and arts organization, whose mission supports the empowerment of underrepresented community members, working to assess, express and address their own needs.



Ellen Cassilly, Principal of Ellen Cassilly Architect, Inc., was born in St. Louis, Missouri, a city with a rich architectural heritage and known for landmark buildings by architects such as Louis Sullivan, Eero Saarinen, and Harris Armstrong. After working in the Triangle area for many years, in 1996, she bought a mid century bank building in Durham and founded Ellen Cassilly Architect, focusing on urban infill, historic renovation, modern interventions and sustainable design. Ellen has been instrumental in many Durham projects, including: Fowler’s Gourmet (now Parker and Otis), Watts Grocery restaurant, The Kress Condominiums, The Pavilion at Durham Central Park, FullSteam Brewery, and Roger’s Alley. She has received local and state AIA awards for moving and renovating the Poland-DeFeo house originally designed by George Matsumoto. Ellen has been an adjunct professor at NCSU for over twenty years. Ellen’s home, Cassilhaus, was profiled in a full-page feature in the New York Times in 2009. At Cassilhaus she and her husband, Frank Konhaus, operate an artist residency and exhibition program bringing noted artists from around the world to engage the Triangle arts community.


Mayme Webb-Bledsoe is the Senior Neighborhood Coordinator for the Duke Office of Durham and Regional Affairs. As a veteran of Durham grassroots work, Mayme plans and implements strategies through an empowerment model. Mayme is a Technology of Participation (ToP) qualified trainer, and she provides support and technical assistance to community partners, non-profits, local government, civic groups and the private sector in six Southwest Central Durham neighborhoods through the Quality of Life Project. She is also a Samuel DuBois Cook Society Community Betterment Award recipient, in recognition of her outstanding service to the community.





Questions to be addressed:

  • What is your vision for Durham in the next 10 years and what are the strategies you are using to create it? How is that vision connected or not to Durham’s past?
  • How can we develop partnerships to protect everyone’s rights? What are human rights values that can shape that process?
  • Who is making the decisions that will dramatically reshape this historically non-majority and working-class city? What are the coalitions already in place and what partnerships might we hope to see in the next few years?
  • How can we develop a thoughtful community plan?

This event is part of “Our Right to Say: Gentrification and Durham’s Future”, a year-long series is sponsored by the Duke Human Rights Center@FHI and the Forum for Scholars and Publics.


March 2, 2016
1:30 pm - 3:00 pm


Smith Warehouse, FHI Garage, Bay 4
114 S Buchanan Blvd
Durham, NC 27701 United States
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