Christopher’s last name sounds like the word “contour” but is spelled “Couture.” The brown-haired 22-year-old, clad in slacks and a deep blue button-down, smiled and looked away shyly as he explained the difficulty people have over spelling his last name. Couture is a student at the Durham Literacy Center (DLC) and has been a part of the youth education program since he dropped out of high school at 16 when his father became ill.
“With me and my brother being the only two people living under the same roof, I was the only one taking care of my father,” said Couture. “I was working all the time and had no extra time to do anything, but I knew I had to get back into school.”
Students like Couture face hardships that make learning in a public school difficult, and that is why the DLC was founded. On September 29, officially declared as Durham Literacy Day by Cora Cole-McFadden, mayor pro tempore, on behalf of the mayor – the DLC celebrated its 30th anniversary and the “profound impact of literacy… a basic human right,” said Cole-McFadden.
“We have this saying in Durham, ‘Great things are happening,’– and they are happening today,” said Cole-McFadden. “The Durham Literacy Center has been an integral part of this community for three decades,” said Cole-McFadden, “resulting in millions of dollars of increased income, increased tax revenue and a more productive community.”
Two black tarps clung to the front of the building, while a deep purple painting of vines stretching towards the sky peeped from beneath. Yellow, orange, red and blue paintings of books with glass ornaments decorated the building, wove among the vines and slowly morphed into birds in flight, poking out as Cole-McFadden spoke.
This scene, the new mural by artist Billy Dee of HappymessART Studios of Durham, waited patiently behind its cover while the first executive director of the DLC, Mary Siedow, reflected on the DLC’s growth. From humble beginnings in 1978 as the Yates Baptist Association Literacy Program inside a church, the DLC has now expanded to a six-program, privately financed nonprofit organization, which currently resides in a 10,000 sq. ft. building on 1905 Chapel Hill Rd.
“Nonprofits don’t spring out of cloth – they grow over time and the Durham Literacy Center is the same,” said Siedow. “Successful organizations start with a core purpose, grow around that and collect like-minded people. When I come back, I am excited and I am pleased,” said Siedow.
An evening of reflection ended with a look to the future. Under the current executive director, Lizzie Ellis-Furlong, Siedow explained that the DLC is exploring future opportunities it can expand to and collaborate with new programs.
“We want to keep the core values of literacy and empower people to fulfill their dreams,” said Ellis-Furlong.
For Couture, that dream is to get his GED diploma, go to Durham Technical Community College and transfer to a four-year university. Currently, Couture is focusing his time on his family, working towards his GED diploma through the DLC, all while working seven days a week as a carrier for The News & Observer.
Couture’s face sobered, he glanced sideways and took a deep breath. “It’s a stressful job,” he admitted. “You get up seven days a week, 365 days regardless of the conditions,” he said. “The roads could be iced over or there’s snow, but you still have to go out there and distribute.”
But as Couture referred to his time at the DLC, a smile erupted on his face. “This would look good on my resume,” said Couture. “It leaves the table wide open.”