Durham puts a ring on It

By Purity Kimaiyo and Kelcie Landon
NCCU and UNC Staff Writers
the Durham VOICE

From vintage and modern wedding gowns to shorts and T-shirts, Durhamites gathered downtown in a lot off Rigsbee Avenue and sat on white steel folded chairs as others poured in walking down the ribbon-marked aisle. They were all there to take their vows to the city of Durham.

Durham residents join hands while saying their vows. Photo by Purity Kimaiyo.

“Are you ready to Marry Durham?” asked honorary best man and radio host Frank Stasio of WUNC’s The State of Things. The crowd of more than 1,600 people chanted that they were ready to put a ring on it.

Justin Robinson & the Mary Annettes played the processional on the beautiful early spring afternoon as Congressman David Price, Mayor Bill Bell, Chancellor Charlie Nelms of N.C. Central University and Durham School Board Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown walked down the aisle.

The Rev. Carl “Preacha’ Man” Kenney, dressed in a long tunic, officiated the wedding ceremony. “Who gives this city away?” asked Kenney. “I do,” said Mayor Bill Bell.

“The strength of our bond is the clash of colors and perspectives on the canvas called Durham. We are more than communities divided by districts, street, subdivisions and roadblocks. We are married by our thoughts,” said Kenney.  He paused as the Spanish and sign-language interpreters echoed his words.

Community activist Melvin Whitley and his wife Claudette got front row seats to marry Durham. Photo by Purity Kimaiyo.

“We are married by a love made deeper by the strength of others in our community. We are more than the labels others create to separate and define. We are married to the truth of universal claims,” continued Kenney.

“Today, we marry our city. In doing, so we affirm our love for each other. We marry each other. Beyond race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion and other declarations, for better and for worse, in times of economic strength and recession. We love you, Durham and we love each person gathered to bear witness to our absolute love for all that makes our happy home,” said Kenney.

“And now by the power vested in me by the city I love so much, I now pronounce you citizen and city. Let no news article, blog posting or outburst of another destroy what you have for one another. You may now express your love by shouting from the top of your voice, WE LOVE YOU DURHAM!”

A reception followed with live music and performances at various venues. The Beast performed at Motorco music hall. The children’s entertainment lineup featured Walltown Children’s Theatre: Hip Hop class, Takiri Academy: Kids Hispanic Folkloric Dance group and the Bulltown Strutters. Other performances included Takiri Academy Ladies, Hispanic Folkloric Dance Troupe, African Dance Ensemble, Jumbalaya Soul and Bull City Sliders Dancers.

The Scrap Exchange staff members and volunteers (left to right) Rowan Martell, Erin Conn, Anne Gregory and Ann Woodward show off their outfits and booth to the newly married citizens of Durham. (Staff photo by Kelcie Landon)

“This was a unique and exciting event,” said NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms. “It is wonderful to see people make a statement of how they value the city.”

In addition to heightening community involvement and awareness, proceeds from the sale of wedding packages and suggested $5 donations went to support five nonprofit organizations in the area.

Marry Durham raised over $25,000, more than twice their original goal.  This money went to help support the Eno River Association, Genesis Home, Latino Community Development Center, The Scrap Exchange, and Walltown Children’s Theatre.

The Scrap Exchange, located on Foster Street, has a mission to “promote creativity, environmental awareness, and community through reuse,” according to their website.

“We want to marry Durham because we have been in love with it for 20 years,” said The Scrap Exchange executive director Ann Woodward.  “So after 20 years, we want to be an honest nonprofit, we want to make a commitment.”

The Scrap Exchange currently defers 42 tons of solid waste a year and they are looking to expand.  Woodward said that the money raised from the event will go toward purchasing a building for increased capacity, including additional programs.

“Our involvement in the community is providing resources for the community.  With a lot of people being out of work, I love that we are able to show over 160 artists a year,” Woodward said.

Also marrying Durham was the Latino Community Development Center (Latino CDC) which is a “nonprofit financial education organization that partners with the Latino Credit Union to provide a full range of affordable financial products, services and education for underserved communities,” according to their brochure.

Erika Bell, vice president of the Latino CDC, said the organization will use the funds raised through Marry Durham to support financial literacy efforts for unbanked and under-resourced populations.

“We feel very fortunate to be a part of this diverse, welcoming community that has supported so many of our members,” Bell said.

The Genesis Home is marrying Durham because they are ready for more than a long-term courtship, said Norris Cotton, past president of the board of directors.  This organization “works to end homelessness for families with children by providing housing and supportive services to foster independence,” according to their website.  All of the money raised through Marry Durham will go directly to the support of these families.

“We keep married people married in Durham,” Cotton said.

Likewise, the Eno River Association, whose mission is to “conserve and protect the natural, cultural and historic resources of the Eno River basin,” according to their brochure, is also ready to make a commitment.

“We’ve been shacking up for 45 years, so it’s about time to make it official!” said Greg Bell, Eno River Association festival coordinator.

Providing entertainment for the event was Walltown Children’s Theatre, which offers tutoring, music, dance and acting classes for children in the area.  Joseph Henderson, one of the directors of Walltown Children’s Theatre, said that in light of the economic climate, the money raised could not have come at a better time and will be used to offset program expenses.

These nonprofits were on-site and ready to receive volunteers and help the residents of Durham find a tangible way to get involved in their community.  It was one way that organizations and individuals alike were able to show their love for the city and each other.

According to Virginia Bridges, the communications coordinator of the Marry Durham event, the idea to marry Durham came up after a successful Beaver Queen Pageant that takes place in Duke Park each spring. Some adoring Durham citizens were eating Only Burgers at one of Durham’s Amazing Food Truck rallies.

One of them said, “You know, sometimes I love Durham so much, I wish I could marry it!”  Everyone loved the idea and contributed to making it possible.

“I am glad I came out today,” said Mayor Bill Bell. “I love Durham and a lot of people came out to support this beautiful event.”

Candice Lacey, Durham resident said, “This was an awesome event and the crowd was great. I had super fun.”

Durham residents said “yes, I do” to keeping the streets clean and safe, protecting their natural resources, shopping locally, supporting the arts and local non-profit organizations, cherishing diversity and electing responsible leaders.

Chauncey Taylor, a resident of northern Durham, said that he hopes to see many anniversary ceremonies for years to come.

“These are my people, I love them.  How could you not?” said Taylor, dressed in his wedding day finest.  “These are eclectic, colorful people.  They represent me, and I represent them.”

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