Durham native Dorothy Kelly serves Albright

By Lauren Miller
UNC Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

Two men walk down a Northeast Central Durham street, stopping often. They pass a hotdog back and forth, each taking one bite, until finished.

Dorothy Kelly, president of the Albright Community Association, and husband Junior Kelly sit in Antioch Baptist Church as the service concludes on Sunday evening. The service was a special celebration filled with songs, dances and awards, all honoring African-American leadership in Durham's community. (Staff photo by Lauren Miller)

This one hotdog is all the two men could afford to buy.

For Dorothy Kelly, president of Durham’s Albright Community Association, these men epitomized the meaning of love and sharing.

“They weren’t concerned about catching germs…he was helping his brother,” Kelly says.

“That’s love…that’s what we need to show more of. That’s what I’m hoping that I can show with what I’m doing and let [the community] know I’m willing to do whatever I can.”

The Albright Community Association is a community service association of seniors aged 60 to 80 years old. Kelly and the other members of the association have been on a mission to help the community since its founding in 1983. They have successfully done so.

The group’s accomplishments range from creating a community garden where people can gather and enjoy time with their neighbors to adding a traffic light in the community for safety.

“There was an elderly lady living on the corner, and the cars were running into her yard,” she recalls. “She used to love sitting on the porch and she had to stop because so many cars were running in the yard, and one or two hit the house.”

The new traffic light has made the area much safer.

A major part of Kelly’s work is providing food for the community. She and her husband, Junior Kelly, usually hand out food to residents in the Albright community on Wednesdays. The Kellys stay in the street until they run out of food, never limiting how much one can take.

Kelly started handing out food about three years ago.

“We were invited out to Angier Avenue…and we met Pastor Terry [of Angier Avenue Baptist Church] and his wife,” Kelly says. “I told him what we were doing…and he told me he would bring us some food…and he has been doing it ever since. It is really nice and that food has helped a lot of people.”

Though she admits it is hard work, this 78-year-old finds it enjoyable as well. Kelly says one lady asked her how she continues to serve food on the hot and humid days. She smiles and laughs slightly when she adds, “Yeah, it gets hot in the summer, but so…it’s worth it!”

Kelly has lived in Durham her whole life.

She grew up in the same community with her parents and sister, and says her childhood was a happy one, though life was hard on her parents.

“I remember how my mom used to sit up at night and make dresses for my sister and myself so we’d have plenty and we’d somehow always have plenty to eat,” Kelly says.

She attended Hillside High School, which, at the time, housed grades seven through 12.  Kelly and her classmates had to walk a long distance to school, as there were no buses to take them. She recalls taking a taxi with about five other students on rainy days.

As a child, Kelly and her friends played outside around the block, but always knew they had to be home before dark.

“Like [the] kids out on the street today, you couldn’t do that,” she says. “And if you went to someone’s home and the parents weren’t there you knew not to stay,” she adds.

“Hillary Clinton said, ‘It takes a village,’ and people laughed, but you know she’s telling the truth,” Kelly says. “It takes a village to raise children and that’s what we had growing up. Any adult could make you mind and do the right thing and if it got back to your parents, that was two whippings you got.

“There was no saying ‘explain to me.’ If that grown person said you did it, you did it.” she recalls. “But it makes good people. It taught you how to love and to share with somebody else and I think that’s what got into us—to want to help somebody because somebody helped us along the way.”

Kelly’s service hasn’t gone unnoticed.

In 1996, Gov. Jim Hunt visited her after Durham’s Partners Against Crime organization recognized her efforts to make her community a better place to live.

“When someone thinks enough of you to give you an honor like that, then that’s saying that you’ve done a little bit to help somebody,” Kelly says. “To me it might seem like I’m doing something small, but if I can help just one person, that’s big.”

Kelly and her husband have three sons, Kelvin, Calvin and Donnie. She also has six grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

This Hillside High School graduate says many young people call her and her husband “mom and dad.”

“When you get that it makes you feel good,” she says. “It makes you think, well maybe I have done a little something to help somebody, and that’s mostly what I want to do in my life.”

Kelly has been married to her husband for 57 years now. “What I’m happy to say is it’s been more happy years than sad,” says Kelly. “That means a lot.”

They have also lived on the same street for these 57 years. “I’ve had so many people ask me, ‘You still living over there…?’ And I say, ‘Yes, I am, and I will be here until the Lord takes me out!’” She adds, “It’s changed from what it was when we first lived here, but it’s home and I feel good here.”

Currently, Kelly and the community service association she heads are working on adding speed bumps in the community, pushing for a bus for the elderly and continuing to give out food on a regular basis.

“We all are put here for a reason on this earth and everybody has a purpose…we just have to keep working and looking until we find what we’re supposed to do,” Kelly says. “When it comes to you, you’ll know it, and I think that’s what we were meant to do—that’s why we got that blessing with that food.” She adds,  “You don’t look for an award. You get it when you see a smile on an elderly person’s face, on a child’s face — you know, that’s your reward. Yeah…and that’s what I love to do.”

Two men walk down a Northeast Central Durham street, along with many seniors and some families, not stopping until they reach their destination — a truckload of food.

It does not matter what they can afford to buy, with Kelly’s passion for love and sharing, as well as the rest of the Albright Community Association, these people are given as much as they can take.

For a printer-friendly version of this post, click here.