Build A Better Block with Tootie

by Anita Keith-Foust
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE


On Oct. 27, at noon, the block where Driver Street and Angier Avenue intersect in East Durham will come alive again with the Build A Better Block with Tootie program. This program will show residents of Durham what East Durham will look like once people return to the area.

The Build a Better Block with Tootie poses with their poster featuring the logo. From left to right: Wanona Satcher, Farmer K, Carolyn Holloway (Ms. Tootie), Antoine Washington, Vivian McCoy, India Washington, and Susan Smith. (Staff photo by Anita Keith-Foust)

This once thriving business area became downtrodden, like so many others, once the textile mills and tobacco factories closed their doors.

Carolyn Holloway, lovingly called Ms. Tootie by her community, is working hard and organizing her neighbors to rebuild the beauty and life of East Durham. She is kicking it off with an extravaganza which includes food, fun, and festivities such as, a car and motorcycle show, music, and dancing.

But the most important feature of this program is to bring businesses back to the area and to create nightlife similar to what can be enjoyed in the Five Points area of Atlanta, Georgia.

Nearly every state has this program. Now North Carolina will thanks to Ms. Tootie and Wanona Satcher, a project manager for the City of Durham’s Department of Neighborhood Improvement Services (NIS). She is the city’s representative for the project and lives in East Durham.

Satcher searches for innovative community-led ideas as part of her job duties at the City of Durham. This is how she discovered the national Build A Better Block Program.

“I thought, ‘wow, wouldn’t it be neat to do that in Durham, especially as the first city in the state to do it. And it would even be better to do it in East Durham,’” said Satcher. So she, Ms. Tootie, and others are building a better block together.

Each city that has the program creates a logo that represents the city.

Ms. Tootie and her team are proud of their logo. It represents the tobacco legacy of Durham with the Lucky Strike tower. The logo, as well as Durham’s event, is being featured on the Build a Better Block website at

Ms. Tootie has a special knack for pulling people together. She has a meeting every Wednesday where people come by to eat and enjoy each others company while they work on building a better block.

At one of the meetings, she encouraged people to put their reservations to the side and share their ideas. She has help from veteran advocates.

Wanona Satcher, East Durham resident and consultant with Neighborhood Improvement Services, helps out at a Wednesday planning meeting. (Staff photo by Anita Keith-Foust)

Vivian McCoy, longtime resident and community advocate is one of the members of the team. “It’s one of the best things that has ever happened to the community except what NIS has done to help us clean up the community,” said McCoy. “The community did not look like this eight years ago. However, this is going to be a redevelopment process for this community. Build A Block has made it move faster than it would normally move. We are getting more developers in East Durham. So, it’s going to be a great thing!”

Former city council representative of NECD, Jackie Wagstaff said, “I’m glad that there is a grassroots effort to improve an area of Durham that has needed attention for many years. But at the same time I’m saddened that it took a private citizen to initiate this rather than the City of Durham. I hope that the city will make the same financial investment towards to the Build A Better Block effort as they are to the Downtown area revitalization effort.”

However, having a grassroots effort is exactly what the national Build A Better Block program is all about. The website is an open source site with tools to help organizers decide which neighborhoods in their communities are good targets for the effort. The section called “how to build a better block” has guiding questions concerning safety, shared access, stay power, and 8-80 amenities.

The purpose of holding an event, such as the one planned for Oct. 27, is to show city leaders what the neighborhood could look like if they invest and perhaps more importantly, how the neighbors want it to look.

The originator of this concept is Jason Roberts who is located in Texas. Ms. Tootie and her team are having fundraisers to bring him to East Durham as a consultant.

“We want to make sure that we got everything right,” explained Ms. Tootie. By the account of those who are witnessing the transformation of the block where Driver Street and Angier Avenue intersect, the neighborhood is on the right track.

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