Program Report: Elaine O’Neal

One of my favorite things about Rotary programs is that we frequently get to hear from the best, the brightest, the first-time achievers in our community, and Monday’s speaker was no different. Rotarian and retired District Court Judge Nancy Gordon introduced her colleague, Durham native Elaine O’Neal, crediting her with “making our community’s legal system stronger and better” during her tenure on the bench.

Nancy Gordon introduced Elaine O’Neal

Having grown up on Morehead Avenue near downtown, O’Neal graduated from Hillside High School then went on to complete an undergraduate math major followed by a law degree at North Carolina Central University. She worked in private practice from 1991 until 1994 when she became a district court judge for the 14th Judicial District. In 2002, she became the first woman appointed as chief judge of district court, and upon her election to Superior Court in 2010, she also became the first female resident superior court judge in Durham.

Speaking of experiences in her more than 20 years as a practicing judge, she related her need to help change the legal system from the inside, helping to address the disparities she saw daily. In civil court, she was often the only person of color in the room; at the other end of the hallway in criminal court, it was the exact opposite. “You would never see a courtroom that looks like the make-up of this Rotary club,” she says, “and that is unconscionable. Class and race can go hand and hand at times.”

“The courtroom represents another culture altogether, where every day the worst possible kind of human drama is being played out,” she continued. “We need to not be so separate from one another that we ignore the human issues that we see every day. Love, mercy, grace, and kindness never go out of style, and it’s a choice we make. I hold these things in my heart and search for peace, and I encourage all of you to do the same.”

“The truth stands on its own – you know it when you hear it,” O’Neal said. “It causes you to self-govern. And when you can’t self-govern, then you have the law.”

O’Neal is deeply troubled by the lack of educational opportunities in North Carolina’s under- and un-represented cities and towns, crediting NC Central Law School with providing unique and relevant opportunities for first-generation attorneys, particularly for students of color. She pointed proudly over her shoulder to the Durham Courthouse, saying “that bench is full of talented Eagle graduates.”

So when her alma mater came calling last year looking for an interim law school dean, O’Neal couldn’t say no. “But you don’t always know what you’re getting into,” she added wryly. Keenly aware that Central was facing pressure from the American Bar Association regarding falling graduation rates and below-average LSAT entrance scores, she felt called to lead a new generation of attorneys. Her goal? One hundred percent pass rate for NCCU students taking the bar on their first attempt.

When questioned about Durham’s gentrification, she responded with her characteristic candor and sincerity, saying “It can be done so that everyone wins – it’s not rocket science! We have to be more intentional; gentrification is not bad in and of itself. When people are displaced (by growth), we have to give them a place to go.”

In conclusion, she smiled and held up her forefinger and thumb with just a pinch of space between them. “We have just about this much time on this planet,” she says. “We don’t have to make it so hard.”

Submitted by: Carver C. Weaver

New Member – Carlton Koonce

Please introduce yourself and say hello to our new member Carlton Koonce. A brief bio for Carlton is below.

Carlton Koonce is a North Carolina native who has been married to his talented wife, Claudia, for ten years and is also a proud father of an 11-year-old son, Michael. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University where he acted as editor-in-chief of the award-winning Campus Echo student newspaper and graduated summa cum laude with degrees in mass communications and English literature as well as a Global Studies certification.

Koonce is the workforce director for the nonprofit Partners for Youth Opportunity, where he has been coaching Durham youth into productive, employed members of the community for the past five years. Before his nonprofit work, Koonce worked for UNC-Chapel Hill’s journalism school as point-person for the Durham VOICE community newspaper and as a contributor for the News & Observer’s Durham and Chapel Hill News.

Koonce’s hobbies include coaching youth football for the Durham Firebirds and shuttling his son around to various karate practices and tournaments. He is an avid reader of “anything and everything” and is a huge fan of any sports that is North Carolina connected — in particular the Panthers, Hornets, Hurricanes and Tarheels.

“I joined the Rotary because members hold a belief, like me, of service to those who can’t help themselves and having an understanding of our fellow humans,” he said.

New Member – Matt McDowell

Please take a moment to introduce yourself to Matt McDowell, new member sponsored by Peter Jacobi. Below is a brief bio about Matt.     

I am a Certified Public Accountant and the Director of Finance and Operations at the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness.  Prior to joining the non-profit world, I was a management consultant (mostly working with the Federal government) for eight years.  My wife, Candace, and I relocated to Durham from Washington, DC in 2013, a choice we have always been happy with!  We enjoy living close to downtown and spending time with friends and family in the area.  I also enjoy running, playing tennis, and keeping up with anything related to Tar Heel athletics.

New Member – Mark Simpson

Please introduce yourself to our new member, Mark Simpson who is sponsored by Arthur Rogers III. Below is a short bio that Mark provided.

Mark and his family have called Durham home for the past decade.  Married to his Duke college sweetheart Bria for 27 years, they have 3 wonderful children.  Son Cameron (24), also a Dukie, works for Bain Consulting in NYC, daughter MacKenzi (20) is a Junior at Duke and daughter Jaden is a Sophomore in high school at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts.

Mark is a broker and Realtor with 501 Nest Realty right here in Downtown Durham.  When not helping his clients buy or sell their homes, he travels the world, skis in Crested Butte, Colorado, does yoga with Bria and runs/bikes/kayaks in 12-hour adventure races.

 

 

Durham 150 Celebration Updates

The theme of today’s meeting is Durham 150, Durham’s sesquicentennial (say it quickly…). On a beautiful day offering a foretaste of Spring following weeks of cold and wet, many guests involved with Durham 150 attended.  150 projects are planned; much small-grant money is to be raised. Tables were set for “Events” (how to link club activities to Durham 150), “No Bull 150” (our effort to raise $150K for the club), and “150th (to raise funds via Casino Night). All are encouraged to volunteer for projects, like the suggested “Atwater-Ellis” dinners, named after reformed KKK leader C. P. Ellis and friend, civil rights activist Ann Atwater, both remembered in the book “The best of enemies” by Osha Davidson. Durham is apparently now the cool place to be — in the Triangle, if not the world.

President Brady Surles introduced Durham’s natty bow-tied mayor Steve Schewel who spoke eloquently for some ten minutes about the 150 Project.  He introduced several guests, among them Patrick Mucklow, Director of the Museum of Durham History.  The kickoff for the 150 project is April 13; the end November 2 with a show in DPAC.

There were brief talks by the “3 Amigos”: Carver Weaver, Secretary Emilee Collins, and President-Elect Todd Taylor.  Todd, initially wearing his BIG green lucky hat, regretted the passing of the “smelly industrial town” that was Durham (surely he can’t have meant that fragrant tobacco scent, much missed by some?). But he celebrated the vibrant new city, famed for dining and DPAC.

Changing to his “Nobility” hat — tall, red, with an ecclesiastical flavor — Todd showed a number of slides. The first two described the NO BULL150 effort. Later slides illustrate things we have done in this past year; the “no Bull” goal and how to attain it; the “two buckets”; tell us about your pet projects. The message overall: Enthusiasm! Have fun and do good!

Submitted by JS