By Jonathan Alexander
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE
Former Durham school board member Steve Schewel took one of three at-large seats on the Durham City Council in the Nov. 8 election. He is the only new member of the three seats.
Schewel has lived in Durham for 42 years since coming to Duke University as an undergrad, and is very familiar with Northeast Central Durham, having served as a member of the Durham Public School’s Board of Education for four years from 2004-2008.
“What you do is you try to improve every school for every kid, said Schewel. “We put a lot of emphasis on those and we do a lot to try to improve.”
Chair of the Durham Public School Board of Education, Minnie Forte-Brown knows Schewel very well from his time on the school board.
“His work was making neighborhood schools strong,” said Forte-Brown. “He’s a social justice activist.”
Schewel will be faced with a lot of obstacles as he takes his seat on the council. With the slow progression of a tough economy, people are concerned about jobs.
Unemployment rates have grown to 9.1 percent nationwide and 8.4 percent in Durham. This is slightly lower than last year’s numbers but the greatest number in more than 20 years.
Schewel says that NECD has come a long way since he was on the school board but there are still challenges that need to be addressed. Some of the challenges he focuses on are poverty, crime and inadequate housing.
“The overriding challenge is poverty,” said Schewel. “Poverty leads to many other problems, such as crime, drug use, and kids being challenged in school.
“Kids are not able to get a good education when they are hungry or their neighborhoods are not safe,” said Schewel. “It makes it harder for them to learn.”
As a new member of the city council, Schewel does however recognize the current growth of NECD since he was last involved in public office, and plans on helping to continue that growth.
“We need to improve housing and make sure everybody has a good safe place to live, and affordable,” said Schewel.
“We need to make sure all of our kids are in school, and we need to be helping solve the unemployment problem by helping them try to get work.”
Although the progression of the economy is very slow, Schewel is optimistic that Durham’s progression will move a lot faster.
“I think the economy is going to get better, it’s just going to take a while,” said Schewel. “In Durham we can improve faster than the national economy.”
“I think it’s going to be a slow climb, but Durham can do better than the nation as a whole.”
He has plans to help the unemployment problem in Durham and help people find the available jobs that are present.
“I think that the city cannot provide employment for everyone but what we can do is provide job training and connect people to the jobs that are out there,” he said.
“We can create a public transportation system so people can get to the jobs, and the city can play a big role in the housing.”
Schewel is also a strong advocate for President Obama’s proposed jobs bill and he encourages people to get involved so that they can help Congress get the bill passed. He believes that if the House of Representatives were to allow it then it could create many jobs and relieve that amount of unemployed people in the U.S.
“So many people are pulling together in the community,” said Schewel. “We need to fix those conditions so that kids can live in peaceful neighborhoods and we’ll do a better job educating our kids so they can have a much brighter future.”
Schewel is also the founder and majority owner of the Independent Weekly, and a visiting assistant professor of public policy at Duke University.
Bruce dePyssler, an associate professor at N. C. Central University, worked under Schewel at the Independent Weekly in the early ’90s, and speaks highly of him.
“He’s done a lot for Durham and he’s wonderful to work with,” said dePyssler. “He’ll be a wonderful city councilman, as good as they can be.”
“He’s got a broad perspective of Durham,” he said. “Durham isn’t just about the upscale, it’s about the community.”
Forte-Brown echoes the same sentiments.
“Steve Schewel was a very informed, committed servant of Durham,” said Forte-Brown. “He believes in making sure there is equity on every level for all of Durham.”
“I guess you can say I’m a Steve Schewel fan,” said Forte-Brown.