Rotary Minute: Patrice Nelson

Patrice Nelson webI was more fortunate that many to hear Patrice Nelson’s story before Monday’s meeting in another classic Durham Rotary way when I spent an hour with her ringing the bells for the Salvation Army last December in front of the new WalMart. We had the first shift of the day which was slow enough that we had a really nice conversation. Two things struck me about her in that hour. One was that Patrice, who we all know is the Executive Director of Urban Ministries of Durham, was even there. One of her responsibilities for Urban Ministries is raising money and, in fact, she had an UM fundraiser later that day. But here she was raising money for a competitor, the Salvation Army. However that’s my corporate think, and not the way those truly committed to helping others think about their comrades in helping the less fortunate.  My second impression was of her warmth and a determination sweetened with a touch of vulnerability.

In recounting her journey growing up in a middle class black family in D.C. she used the metaphor of a rope bridge strung over a chasm where winds or others making the crossing can make it a white knuckle experience. Those of us old enough to remember, know these were difficult but important times in the slow march to a more inclusive society. One of her first steps in that journey was the National Cathedral School for Girls where she discovered her calling “to make cities better.” That journey took her to MIT (“the math was so advanced it didn’t have numbers”) where she studied urban and community development, to Kansas City for many years and then to Philadelphia where she entered the seminary and was eventually ordained a minister with a mission at the prestigious Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church to reach out to smaller congregations in community development.

When a fire in her townhome destroyed much of what she had, it was natural for her to come here and live with her daughter. Philadelphia’s loss was our gain.


  1. […] If you want to get to know a fellow Rotarian, in my opinion the best way to do it is share an hour with them ringing the bell for the Salvation Army in front of a Walmart.  I spent one of those hours with Patrice Nelson, who hosted the club at Urban Ministries of Durham’s facility on Liberty St. across from the library. In fact, that made writing up her Rotary Minute back in April of 2013 easy because I already knew the person behind the details of her journey.  Susan Ross shared some of that background when she introduced Patrice. Patrice grew up in a middle class black family in D.C., where she found a calling in “making cities better” that took her to MIT for a degree in urban planning, and then to Kansas City, Philadelphia and now Durham to practice her craft. More about that journey is here at […]

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