This question has been at the forefront of county manager Wendell Davis’s mind. Davis is excited about growth, but concerned about racial inequality, and whether students from our public schools are being given the tools to compete for high-paying jobs in Durham.
“There is no way to reconcile the fact that Durham County has the highest per capita income in the state, living next to some of the poorest people in the state,” Davis says.
He stresses that this is a community problem, and that the responsibility can’t be put solely on educators. A number of local organizations are already working to make a difference, including My Brother’s Keeper and Made in Durham, but Davis sees a need for better coordination, and a more holistic approach that supports families and children from birth.
On September 20, 2018, Durham County and Made in Durham hosted a visit from Rep. Monroe Nichols of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In addition to serving in the Oklahoma state legislature, Nichols is a passionate advocate for “Strive Together,” a national movement to improve education outcomes.
Nichols talked about how the Strive Together model had made a difference in his hometown. “In Tulsa, we were program rich, but system poor,” he said, meaning that while many initiatives had been launched to support students, they were all working in isolation. “We asked, ‘How can we align programs so that they work for kids and help them succeed?’”
“It’s not just about getting kids to college. It’s about saving lives.” -Monroe Nichols, Strive Together
Surprisingly, one of the biggest advocates for community responsibility in improving the education pipeline was a Tulsa funeral home director, upset at seeing too many young people coming through his business.
“The communities that are successful are the ones that embrace their collective responsibility,” Nichols said. “It’s not just about getting kids to college. It’s about saving lives.”
The Strive Together model relies on community institutions sharing data, so that measurable goals can be set and achieved. It also focuses on continuous improvement—in other words, learning and adapting as you go. It requires cooperation, trust, and a certain amount of unselfishness.
Davis feels that a local Strive Together team could serve as a “backbone organization” for aligning the many groups doing good work in Durham. Cooperative efforts have already yielded positive results, such as the priority on universal pre-K education in Durham, and the resources developed through the Made In Durham partnership to support job readiness for 14-22 year-olds.
“Strive Together will be working with Durham leaders to develop a model for success that’s tailored to our community,” Davis says. “We will be looking for investors to support sustainability of the model that Strive Together proposes.”
Geoff Durham, President and CEO of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, is another supporter of this effort.
“Businesses want to be in a place with the best possible talent, and we continually run into the question of what Durham’s talent pipeline looks like,” he says. “There is no better way to ensure economic inclusion than to invest in a system that creates opportunity for all citizens.”