Meet 7 Influencers Dedicated to Helping Durham Get Through Its Toughest Year Yet

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Community members share their praises of these incredible neighbors.

Magan Gonzales-Smith with her daughter at Lakewood Elementary School
Magan Gonzales-Smith with her daughter, Sophie, 1, at Lakewood Elementary School, her family’s district neighborhood school.

Compiled and edited by Hannah Lee | Photography by John Michael Simpson

*Responses edited for length and clarity

MAGAN GONZALES-SMITH
FOUNDING EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DURHAM PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOUNDATION

“The huge bright spot of 2020 for me was witnessing the incredible ways our Durham community stepped up to care for our DPS students and families through enormous challenges. DPS Foundation was founded in fall 2018 by community members who believed that Durham is stronger when we all rally around supporting, celebrating and investing in our public schools. 2020 showed us what’s possible when we do just that.”

“I first met Magan in 2018 when [DPS] Superintendent Pascal Mubenga invited a small group to launch a nonprofit to support Durham’s students and educators. We were charged with the urgent responsibility to create, from scratch, the Durham Public Schools Foundation.

As the first executive director for DPSF, Magan is a visionary who understands that Durham will only reach its full potential when we expect and ensure thriving and successful public schools that will provide equitable outcomes for every Durham student and citizen.

Magan is a brilliant and inspiring leader who loves Durham, our children and our schools. Due to her convictions, the ‘North Star’ principles of equity and success for every student are the centerpieces of DPSF work.

When the pandemic forced DPS to end daily meals for four months, Magan led a coalition to create Durham FEAST, which distributed more than 730,000 restaurant-prepared meals to local students and families. And now, she and her team have initiated the Accelerating Digital Equity campaign, raising $1.5 million to provide technical assistance, digital equipment, training, tutoring, and social and emotional support to thousands of families and educators.

Whether she is finishing a DPSF planning meeting with her beautiful daughter, Sophie, nearby or convincing yet another excited parent that DPS has excellent schools and teachers, you can be certain that Magan is using her influence and talents to make the Bull City a better home for us all.” – Jim Key, board chair member, Durham Public Schools Foundation

influencers – Dorian Bolden

DORIAN BOLDEN
PRESIDENT, BEYU GROUP

“At our first-ever leadership team retreat in Hendersonville, North Carolina, back in July during COVID-19, we didn’t know what the future would be. … It was some really dark days, thinking we wouldn’t be able to survive this. It went from the team coming together for daily emergency meetings to finally being able to tread water. In the mountains, we redid our core values and our mission statement: ‘to uplift and inspire communities through excellence.’ For me, being in business for 11 years, it went from being Dorian’s company to our company. That’s when I saw a new level of growth.”

“The soulful, organic greeting you get at Beyu Caffe, also known as Durham’s downtown living room, flows from the indisputable visionary leadership of Dorian Bolden. If you ask Dorian to tell you his story, he’ll say he’s just a kid from Decatur, Georgia, with a dream. In reality, he has the heart of a giant, evenly yoked with courage and compassion – something you must experience in his presence. It’s this balance that propels him to lead with his head and his heart and create opportunities that uplift and inspire communities here in Durham.

Teasingly, I’ve dubbed him a ‘rebel, though never an outlaw,’ because once he sees the possible in the seemingly impossible, he pushes boundaries to make things happen. This past year, weathering one of the most challenging seasons for restaurant owners, Dorian flipped the Beyu Caffe kitchen to provide meals for essential workers and school children at the outset of the pandemic. Now this operation has been established as the Beyu Food Project, in partnership with local organizations, and has provided more than 150,000 meals to schoolchildren, families and those needing meals while in quarantine due to COVID-19. ‘There’s no reason why food insecurity should exist in our community,’ he says.

Now with 11 years of business under his belt, this chief visionary officer of Beyu Group has settled into the thrilling adventures of entrepreneurship and community service. Ask him for his trade secret, and he’ll say, ‘believe in yourself, just be you, and everything else will work out.’” – Stacia Wood, director of sales and marketing, Beyu Group

influencers – Heather Cook and Kym Register at The Pinhook.
Heather Cook and Kym Register at The Pinhook.

KYM REGISTER
OWNER, THE PINHOOK
SONGWRITER, LOAMLANDS

“I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the Durham (and beyond) artist community, as broad as it is, for reaching out to one another and saying ‘yes’ to strange ideas and projects that we were all trying to put together. Musicians, artists, bartenders and essentially everyone we know and work with at The Pinhook were left grasping for a stage, a way to make money, a way to stay connected. We had so many wild ideas that people just said yes to. My proudest moment, though, [was last year’s] Pride: Durham. We were well into the fall and had a little experience with online events, [but more than] 150 people attended that party. Although it was like no other Pride we had experienced, it felt like a reminder that [the] queer community is here and is going strong.”

“You know those people who arrive in the story of your life and then a decade later you realize what an absolute bummer things would have been had you not both shown up when you did?

For me, that person is Kym Register. I can say with certainty that if it wasn’t for our intersections and connections, I would not have the capacity or understanding to be creating and working in the community the way I am today.

I first met Kym at a Kimya Dawson show at 305 South in 2006. At the time, I was living in Raleigh, working in Cary and searching hard for a sense of community and connection. Kym was (and is) a vibrant, clarinet wielding, Southern, queer punk whose laugh was infectious and gracious as I fan-girled on them after the Midtown Dickens set. At a time when I was feeling lost in the Southern seas, Kym helped me see Durham’s unapologetic authenticity, a perspective that was once best captured from the rooftops of downtown’s abandoned buildings.

We were fast friends and quickly began scheming on collaborations, first at Bull City HQ, eventually at The Pinhook and now, with projects like Since4Eva School and Country Soul Songbook, we’re basically global.

Kym was the first person to show me the importance of troubling the water. Throughout our 13 years of friendship, they’ve helped peel back the layers of my Midwestern nice to reveal to me that lasting change does not, in fact, come by making the oppressors feel more comfortable, but instead comes with a steadfast commitment to social justice and a refusal to dim your light to meet someone else’s BS standards.

The rooftop views may have shifted in the past decade, but Kym remains an integral part of our community as a space holder, an artist and an activist. I feel so lucky to live in a time and place where I get to create with Kym.” – Heather Cook

HEATHER COOK
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NORTHSTAR CHURCH OF THE ARTS

“[My proudest moment this year is] a three-way tie between watching my 9-year-old join the neighborhood basketball game after months of watching from the sidelines, potty training my 4-year-old and raising and distributing $120,000 in relief funding for Durham artists.”

“I can’t believe it. I’m sitting here reflecting on when I met Heather Cook and am realizing that I’ve known that genuine powerhouse for 13 years. She moved here from the Midwest and plugged in at a DIY space that some friends and I had started (Chaz Martenstein of Bull City Records and Catherine Edgerton of Art Asylum, to name a few). We struggled together then, and we struggle together now in ways that challenge and support each other to the fullest. If you look at The Pinhook and NorthStar, you may not immediately think that these two spaces thrive off of organizing together. But such is the beautiful big bang of a brilliant Midwestern organizer mother of two and a queer Southern radical musician.

I feel so lucky to be friends, fam and creative partners with someone as growth-oriented and solid as Heather. When The Pinhook owed back taxes because of an accounting error and I felt like it was over, Heather called me from a parking lot in Wisconsin and kept my head above water. When I didn’t have enough energy to throw a huge 10-year anniversary party, Heather stepped in and made sure it was as epic as it needed to be, including asking friends at Ninth Street Bakery to make several loaves of Pinhook-branded bread. And when COVID-19 hit, it was Heather who started the Durham Artist Relief Fund and worked with me to manage a completely foreign streaming set up so that we could stay connected with our community. Her work with Nnenna Freelon and NorthStar is so inspiring, and I hope to be as much of a support to her!

Heather, you’ve been a buoy in a temperamental sea. I don’t know how The Pinhook or I would have made it these past 13 years without you.”– Kym Register

influencers – Faye Williams

FAYE TATE WILLIAMS
REGISTERED NURSE, DUKE UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL
DUKE SOUTH LEAD COVID-19 SCREENER FOR CLINIC PATIENTS

“[I was so proud to be] selected as the first person to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the Triangle.”

“As the spiritual leader of St. Joseph AME Church, I enjoy personal relationships with several of St. Joseph’s most loving members. No one displays selflessness and courage like Sister Faye.

A deeply faithful leader, she was almost always in worship on Sunday mornings prior to the pandemic. As evidence of her community influence, she has not only invited others to church, she has also brought large groups. St. Joseph has benefited from her service, as a former president of the Durham Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and the Durham (NC) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated. We have welcomed both organizations, on multiple occasions, because of Sister Faye.

Without solicitation, at the onset of the pandemic, she blessed others by sharing face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. We are among the many who know her selfless spirit. Her courage is now publicly displayed for all to see. As the first person in the Triangle to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, her example changed mindsets and will help save lives.

I am proud to honor Sister Faye Tate Williams, a person who does so much for so many.” – Rev. Dr. Jonathan C. Augustine, senior pastor, St. Joseph AME Church

influencers – Adam Klein

ADAM KLEIN
CHIEF STRATEGIST, AMERICAN UNDERGROUND

“We ended 2020 with seven more member companies than we had when COVID-19 hit. The amount of grit and effort that went into actually growing through the pandemic can’t be overstated. While we’ve had to pivot how we build community at AU, relationships deepened. The pandemic forced all of us to be honest about our limitations and struggles, and out of that came deeper friendships among members and a new willingness to support one another. The AU team has my admiration for their commitment to serving our members and evolving when we couldn’t really see the light.”

“After the 2019 gas explosion, my business changed dramatically. I needed something new to try. I had this idea in my head about a pencil store, which of course, when you tell someone that idea, they’re like, ‘What?’ Adam was orchestrating the food pop-ups at American Tobacco Campus, so I called him and I said, ‘Would you think about letting us do this pop-up for a month?’ And he was so open to the idea. I remember he was standing there on the first day, smiling. I turned to him and said, ‘Maybe we could make Parker Paper Company permanent here?’ And we did. Then a matter of months later, Parker & Otis found its new home.

I often find myself ringing Adam and saying, ‘I need a little help.’ Not only does he always respond and is timely and thoughtful, but he presents solutions that work. The more I learn about him, the more I understand how integral he is to this community. Among other hats he wears, Adam is currently the chair of the Durham Public Schools Foundation and is on the North Carolina Entrepreneurial Council established by Gov. Roy Cooper. He does all these amazing behind-the-scenes things for this city, and I’m just really in awe of it.

He is one of those people who makes you want to be better and work a little bit harder the more time you spend with him. He makes connections and creates relationships for people and listens in a way that few are able. I do not know when he sleeps or how his hair is always perfect, but I do know that Durham is lucky that he made this city his home.” – Jennings Brody, Owner, Parker & Otis 

influencers – Nolan Smith

NOLAN SMITH
DIRECTOR OF BASKETBALL OPERATIONS AND PLAYER DEVELOPMENT, DUKE UNIVERSITY

“Bringing people together [is] definitely the most humbling experience that I’ve been able to do during COVID-19. Getting out here, just seeing people rally around me, rally around the City of Durham and rally together to bring peace and love to this country. We see now more than ever that’s what this country needs.”

“I’ve known Nolan for almost 14 years. He was a kid [when I met him]. But his career has been about evolving. If you look at his basketball career in college, from when he was a freshman to his senior year, it went in stages. His junior and senior year [were] just incredible years [for him] as a basketball player – but also as a student-athlete. I wasn’t his classmate, but if I happened to be on campus and saw the fans around Cameron Indoor, he was the people’s champ. He can connect with anyone: any age, race, background. Not a lot of people in the world can do that. He does everything for our program. He’s incredible in that aspect. But then you look off the court and what’s been going on in the world; 2020 was a heck of a year. As a Black man, to see what’s going on, what was happening in the world, it hurt. It cut deep. It affected, of course, our race, but it affected everyone. If you were anyone who was in touch with human emotion, wrong is wrong and right is right – and what was happening with the police killings, the Breonna Taylors, the Ahmaud Arberys, it just hurt. Nolan, the man he is, took it upon himself to be outspoken about it. He wanted to be involved. He wanted to have a voice. He wanted to lead the next generation and be on the forefront of racial issues and racial discrimination. And then helping out with underprivileged kids in our neighborhood. … He was on the forefront of that.

Your legacy is what you can do for others. … Pay it forward, right? Give back. And Nolan, man, he’s just incredible at that. Unbelievable. He’s someone you look up to, because of the person he is and the way he gives back. Man, it’s just special. He’s given every inch, every pound of himself and his soul into helping our people, and into helping people in general. For that, I love him, and I’m so honored to be a part of what he’s been able to accomplish. What he’s done is a beautiful thing.” – Chris Carrawell, assistant coach, Duke University Men’s Basketball

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