September 30, 2023
Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicidal thoughts
In a mere 24 hours, Durham City Council Member Monique Holsey-Hyman went from announcing her run for city council to being investigated by the State Bureau of Investigation for allegedly extorting a local developer.
Suddenly, she was facing the possibility of the council insisting on her resignation.
At the March 23 council meeting, Durham City Attorney Kimberly Rehberg accused a council member of offering to vote in support of a real estate developer’s project in exchange for election campaign donations from said developer.
The council was first notified of this concern in a March 13 email, one day after Holsey-Hyman hosted her election campaign kickoff.
Jarrod Edens is the local developer Holsey-Hyman allegedly promised would receive her support for a local development project in exchange for campaign donations. Edens is the president of Edens Investments, a Durham-based real estate firm. Edens triggered the allegations with a complaint to Sara Young, director of the Durham city-county planning department, but later avoided SBI investigators who attempted to interview him.
Holsey-Hyman said these claims came out of nowhere. She didn’t recall any conversations with Edens in which she accepted his support for re-election or asked him to trade money for favors. Besides, she voted against Eden’s development plans at the March 6 council meeting.
Following the announcement of the investigation, council member Jillian Johnson presented a resolution that proposed a formal censure of Holsey-Hyman. It stated that a city staffer offered to volunteer on behalf of Hosley-Hyman’s campaign, and that another staffer worked on her campaign while on city time.
The referenced offenses happened in September 2022 and January 2023. In both instances, Holsey-Hyman says the behavior was addressed by the Human Resources department, and she was found not to be in violation of any rules.
Holsey-Hyman was blindsided by this investigation. She felt her character was being called into question. What she was being accused of directly conflicted with her decades-long track record of honorable and devoted service.
This was the first time she had been publicly accused of dishonesty and criminal activity.
She struggled to hold her head up and feel dignified in public. She was bombarded by news alerts insinuating she might be guilty of criminal activity.
“I just didn’t want to be an embarrassment to people of color, my sorority sisters in Alpha Kappa Alpha, to women,” said Holsey-Hyman.
She recalls being stopped in a Walgreens by a Durham resident. She heard someone say, “I know you.” Anticipating ridicule, she immediately burst into tears.
The resident quickly corrected her. “No, no, no. I just want to say you have handled this with so much poise and leadership. Stop crying! God got you.”
Memories like those are part of why this experience has adversely affected Holsey Hyman. She knew she was innocent, but only had her word to prove it. She and the public were waiting for her innocence to be proven by the SBI. The long wait felt like “living hell”, said Holsey-Hyman, “I didn’t know how I was going to come out of this moment.”
As life continued for Holsey-Hyman, she still had to show up as a council member, professor, and public servant. She was being recognized in public more frequently and received curious stares rather than warm greetings.
Colleagues from across the nation called her as the allegations began to appear on the news in their area. To Holsey-Hyman, it felt like everyone was watching her and believed that she was a dirty politician.
“I knew I wasn’t guilty,” she said. “But what do you say to people who keep bringing it up?”
Soon after the allegations were made public, she recalls attending a regional conference for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. with her daughters. Holsey-Hyman spent much of the conference alone in her hotel room because she didn’t want to be seen. She felt the weight of the investigation, potential censure and ongoing damage to her reputation.
“I think I might have been on the 18th or 19th floor,” Holsey-Hyman said. “And I really thought about jumping out that window.”
She called on her husband and students to get her through that tough moment. “All the adversity I’ve been through, I’ve never considered ending my life,” she said.
Even with growing doubt about her reputation, it was that same reputation that saved her life. Countless colleagues, mentors, former students and friends reached out to Holsey-Hyman in her time of need. They offered their unconditional support and belief in her character. Residents of Durham who grew to know and trust Holsey-Hyman stood beside her throughout the investigation.
She was able to stand strong because of her faith in God and support from her community. She also points to the support she has received from fellow candidates in this year’s municipal elections as proof of her character and investment in the Durham community.
“What does it look like that only two of my fellow council members were present at my press conference?” Holsey-Hyman said. “Even candidates I am running against showed up for me! The absence of several council members was noticeable.”
Holsey-Hyman wants a public apology from the council members who supported the proposal to formally censure her without speaking to her first. She notes how hurtful it was that several members of the council never offered support to her during this time or stood with her once she was proven innocent.
Now, Monique is sharing her story with all who will listen. “I’m going on the road to share how I had to, as a Black woman, stand up for what was right,” she said.
She says that during this time, more of her students have expressed an interest in getting involved with local governance in Durham, and she has continued to show up physically in the Durham community.
“I’ve been a role model and didn’t even know it,” she said, and that feeling is one more powerful to her than any attempt to drive her out of politics.
Edited by Ben McCormick