Hayti Reborn Justice Movement empowers communities of color through programs, guidance 

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

By Maya Waid

Group photo of Hayti Reborn Justice Movement Group

The Hayti Reborn Justice Movement has been making a difference in the Durham community since it’s start in 2021. Photo courtesy of HR-JM.

At the age of 16, Steven Shealey turned to drugs. 

He felt it was the only way for him to support his single mother and seven siblings, who all lived in the Cornwallis Road housing complex. He was tired of seeing them struggle to make ends meet so he found a way to make quick cash: dealing cocaine. 

Shealey rose up the ranks quickly. He realized he was good at what he did — and eventually it led him to several altercations with the police. 

In 2005, Shealey was given a choice by former Durham Chief of Police Steve Chalmers. Chalmers told Shealey he could face jail time for his actions or turn his life around and help change his community.

He chose the latter. 

After Chalmers retired from his job at the police department, he took on a new role as the co-founder and executive director of the Hayti Reborn Justice Movement. 

Henry McKoy founded the original Hayti Reborn program in 2021 as a revitalization project of areas in and around the Fayetteville Street Corridor in Durham.

When Chalmers was introduced to McKoy’s sister, Lisa Jones, the two decided to partner to expand McKoy’s program and form the Justice Movement (HR-JM) as part of the community revitalization initiative.

Over the last few years, Chalmers and Jones have created a “one-stop shop” for underserved individuals in the community to get access to the resources they need. 

“We created one location where individuals from the Black and brown community that are underserved and justice-involved can come to,” Chalmers said. “They have an opportunity to be connected to more resources and get the support they need in order to live a better life.”

For community members to get involved with HR-JM, they first go through a six step process to help determine their needs and goals. In addition to a general physical and mental health assessment, the team at HR-JM also helps identify the barriers that have prevented Black individuals in Durham from attaining these goals. 

Through community partnerships, HR-JM helps people access college courses, certification programs and work opportunities. 

“The main thing is that we’ve taken the responsibility of helping to stabilize individuals’ lives, so once we introduce them to the resources, they can actually be successful,” Chalmers said. 

When Shealey was inspired to turn his life around, he followed Chalmers to HR-JM, where he now works as a workforce development specialist. In the role, Shealey goes into the Durham community to help spread the word about HR-JM. 

Through his work and the work of other members, HR-JM has been able to build several extremely successful programs. One of their primary initiatives is the BRIDGE Program. 

The BRIDGE program is a HR-JM partnership with Durham Technical Community College that gives participants an opportunity to take 90 hours of classes over a seven-week period. During that time, students focus heavily on communication and technical skills. 

Takeia Dixon graduated from the first cohort of BRIDGE in 2023. Now, Dixon is continuing her education outside of the program — taking classes at Durham Tech to work towards her registered nursing degree. 

For Dixon, going back to school was never something she seriously considered until the BRIDGE program. However, she changed her career trajectory and aspirations with the support of HR-JM. 

“There are a lot of programs out here that we really don’t know about and different resources that we’re not able to access, sometimes, when you’re less fortunate,” Dixon said. “These [programs] give you an outlook that somebody’s behind you and they have your back to kind of push you forward.”

Over the next year and half, Dixon will continue to finish core classes to prepare for nursing school. Dixon hopes other members of the Durham community will realize that they have the potential to achieve their goals as well, regardless of their age. 

“You’re never too old or too young,” Dixon said. “You don’t know what stuff is out there and so you have to go out there and do it and put your best foot forward.”

The first several cohorts of the BRIDGE program have been highly successful, with a 85% retention rate thus far. Moving forward, though, Chalmers and his team hope to continue to expand similar programs even further to help more members of the community. 

“On a regular basis, we’re continuing to expand the scope of services that we are connecting people to as well as the ages of individuals that we’re working with,” Chalmers said. “We feel that this is really the key to actually changing lives.”

In February 2023, HR-JM received its first significant funding for its programs. Less than a year later in January 2024 they were named the 2024 Community Organization of the Year by the The Greater Durham Black Chamber of Commerce

As the Justice Movement continues to grow, Chalmers believes the community will continue to show both their interest and support for the work being done.

“That recognition and that type of involvement and trust from the community not only speaks volume to us, but also it’s so gratifying that people are feeling that way about the organization,” Chalmers said. 

HR-JM centers on helping people rebuild and flourish in their lives. Shealey’s path to HR-JM was unconventional but he believes his experiences allow him to inspire the youth in his community to strive for the best in their lives. 

“To all young African American males who have come from that background that I come from, there’s still hope. Don’t give up yet. Don’t allow any negative. Don’t allow anybody to tell you can’t be what you want to be,” Shealey said. “You can be what you want to be. It’s all up to you.”

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