By Walker Livingston
Oct. 2, 2023 — DURHAM, N.C.
Shanetta Burris is running for Durham City Council with community at the forefront of her campaign.
She is one of 12 candidates running for the Council’s three open seats this fall. The Durham Municipal Primary election on Oct. 10 will narrow the field of candidates to six.
Burris, who is originally from Gastonia, moved to Durham in 2005 to attend North Carolina Central University — her dream college.
Growing up in Gastonia,. Burris lived with her great-grandmother, a woman she described as her strongest influence because of how she provided for everyone in her neighborhood.
“If you were ever hungry or needed anything, my grandma was a grandma that provided for the whole entire community,” Burris said. “Our house was a hub for everyone, no one was judged.”
When she arrived at NCCU, Burris said she began noticing the differences in infrastructure between her beloved campus and the City of Durham.
She said that she began observing income and housing disparities while volunteering with Durham CAN, a coalition of nonprofits, churches and social organizations that works to assist low-income residents of the city.
Burris said that while canvassing across Durham with CAN, she heard stories from individuals with unstable housing that she will never forget.
One of them was about a grandmother living near a creek who said that when it rains, she had to protect her grandkids from rats and flooding in her house.
This isn’t an isolated issue — low-income and historically Black neighborhoods in Durham have had to deal with environmental issues like flooding, erosion and adverse heat conditions for a long time.
Burris said that seeing these conditions while doing community organizing through CAN and her church made her want to advocate for Durham residents who may not have the time or resources to advocate for themselves.
“I want to constantly give back and help other people and be a voice for other people who may not have the time to advocate for themselves,” she said.
Burris built a career in non-profit work and community organizing, having received her Masters of Public Administration from NCCU and working as the president of NCCU’s CAN chapter, Black Voters Matter Fund and currently serves as a Program Manager with Lillian’s List.
She said she launched her campaign for Durham City Council because of her on the ground experience and advocacy with communities across Durham.
“Advocacy is a privilege, and people don’t often talk about that,” she said. “Not everyone can show up at a City Council meeting at 7 p.m. on a Monday night or go to a work session at 1 p.m. on a Thursday.”
Burris described Durham’s sitting City Council as divisive, especially considering the treatment of Councilwoman Monique Holsey-Hyman while she was under investigation by the SBI for extortion. Holsey-Hyman has now been cleared of these charges.
Burris has worked with the Council already, advocating for issues as a community organizer and working on campaigns — such as Mayor Elaine O’Neal’s in 2021.
She said she has been frustrated with the Council, as members may only take interest in their constituents when running for office and are heavily influenced by Political Action Committees.
“You shouldn’t be beholden to one group of people. It should be that you are trying to be as responsive as possible to the needs of all people,” she said.
She also said she thinks it is very clear that the Durham community is not satisfied with the sitting City Council.
Housing, labor, crime and Durham’s youth are some of the most important issues to Burris. She said that the City of Durham needs to be more intentional about its resources when it comes to building and maintaining affordable housing.
Durham is in need of ample workforce housing to support and retain individuals with jobs in the public sphere, she said. She also believes more energy should be put into affordable avenues for renting in Durham, for those who may not want to buy homes.
Burris herself has experienced Durham’s increasing rents firsthand.
Right now, she lives two doors from the first apartment that she rented in Durham in 2005. Her rent has increased by over 300 dollars.
Burris opposes SCAD — or Simplifying Codes for Affordable Development — because she believes it will act as a catalyst for gentrification.
She is also committed to labor equity, particularly advocating for Durham’s sanitation workers, who recently went on strike. She wants to help reduce Durham’s youth involvement in crime by dedicating more funds to Parks and Recreation and programs like those she was involved in in her youth in Gastonia.
Though Burris does not know what the rest of the election cycle looks like for her, she is proud of where she is right now.
“I have a voice and I am here, so I’m hoping that I will make an impact and change something here by just running for public office,” she said.
Edited by Sophia Fanning and Ava Dobson