Durham resident Aidil Ortiz’s work- “A love letter to Durham”

Aidil Ortiz poses for a potrait in her "home-office" in Durham, North Carolina on May 7th, 2024.

Photos by Eleazar Yisrael

Aidil Ortiz does not take on projects she does not feel a sense of passion for.

That might be why the Durham resident of 22 years has seen so much success in creating her own company, “Aidilisms.”

Aidilisms has “two sides of the house,” one side being non-profit consulting, and the other being equitable community engagement work for urban and transit planning firms.

Raised in New York by immigrant parents, Ortiz spent much of her childhood moving to different buildings, moving to different schools, and eventually moving south to North Carolina.

“I was always feeling like I wasn’t quite American enough. So you know, the constant trying to understand sort of like cultural references and learning about my new neighborhoods and what was making that all tick—it was a lot of learning,” she said. “I never felt with it or on top of it, or like I understood everything that was going on.”

After her move, Ortiz attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in journalism with a focus on public relations and work with the University and holding a unique position within what is now the Office of Multicultural Affairs focused on increasing Latino student engagement.

Immediately after graduation, Ortiz moved to and “fell in love” with Durham.

“It just felt like a place that embraced people of color, embraced fun, and didn’t feel rigid,” she said.

After a year renting an apartment, she purchased a home in East Durham. 

For years, she could never figure out why she was able to purchase the home at the cost she did, yet later found out it was given to the Durham Circle of Justice to renovate and resell to a community member. 

The home, which had a history of being a site of advocacy work for the LGBTQ community, was given to the organization by its previous owners under one condition: The group had to promise they would sell it to someone who was going to take care of the community.

Flash forward two decades, and this promise was most certainly met.

In Durham and beyond, Ortiz is consistently putting community first through her non-profit consulting and service, such as by being a commissioner for the Bicycling and Pedestrian Advisory Commision, and a board member Hayti Heritage Center.

Ortiz is currently working with the Transportation Department of the City of Durham to gauge community views on reimagining the Durham Freeway.

Ortiz has focused her work on the question: “Did we just extract from the community or did we leave anything behind?”

Ortiz says things like supporting local vendors during the project and hearing from hard-to-reach populations are just a few of the intentions of community-based work.

“We want to make sure that it is not just the destination, but the journey that is as much a love letter to Durham as possible,” she said.

Non-profit founder Bronwyn Lucas says when she read Ortiz’s resume in 2004, prior to their meeting in-person, she saw a younger version of herself.

“I could see the thread of all the work that she had done and it was all around community justice and empowerment, and working with marginalized or underserved populations.

They continued to work together years later, eventually starting a non-profit called “YES”- Youth Empowered Solutions.

“We just did some really really amazing, ground-breaking work back then,” Lucas said.

With a mindset like Ortiz’s, it’s difficult to fall anything short of ground breaking. 

Ortiz views change not as a road-block, but as the only constant. 

“I think that if you are a person who wants to feel sane, in any capacity, there’s a certain amount of reckoning and submission to the fact that the only constant is change,” she said. 

Ortiz embraces this constant in both her own life and in the city of Durham, which has grown with her.

“A city is like any other organism—It’s going to change,” she said. “Anything that stays still is no longer alive.”

Lara Khalil, Durham City-County Youth Initiatives Manager said she appreciates Ortiz’s resilience and continued work in the community.

I think there’s always consequences when you put yourself out there and you’re the voice of truth or you’re, you’re advocating for community members,” she said. “What I’ve seen Aidil do is just keep pushing, and kind of standing in her truth and being a bit unapologetic and also unbothered.”

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