Gun violence and economic crisis drive Marshall Williams Jr.’s run for Durham mayor

Durham, North Carolina

By Hannah Adams

Published Oct. 16, 2023

Gun violence, housing affordability, and economic development remain significant policy areas for Marshall Williams Jr. after losing the Durham primary. His enduring love for the city ensures his continued impact, regardless of the election results.

 “I’m fit to represent Durham because I am Durham. No other candidate has it tattooed on him,” said Williams.

Williams, a lifelong resident of Durham, North Carolina, brings a deeply personal connection to the forefront of his campaign. His variety of lived experiences shape his perspective on the critical issues he now addresses.

“I’ve worked for the Durham Bulls,” he said. “I’ve worked for a lot of the local organizations here. I went to the high schools here. I’ve spoken to the children here, and I’ve mentored the children here.”

Through these and countless other experiences, Williams has not only cultivated a profound and meaningful connection with the Durham community but has also come to view its members as exceptional individuals with boundless potential, rather than mere stereotypes.

“I think there’s been this idiotic approach that these kids are crazy or there’s something different about them,” said Williams. “If we take the guns out of their hands, what are we replacing them with?”

Williams challenges the notion that children who engage in gun violence are fundamentally different from other kids and proposes rethinking current approaches. He firmly advocates that reducing gun violence necessitates substituting firearms with constructive hobbies and alternative interests.

“Were taking the guns out of their hands and were giving the police more armor and more guns,” he said. “Well, last time I checked gun violence was about the people, not about the predecessors.”

As gun violence proves to be substantial in Durham, with 78 people being shot between Jan. 1 and June 3, 20 of whom were children under the age of 18, the upcoming mayoral election will assume a critical role in shaping Durham’s response to this pressing issue. 

Yet, Williams’ vision goes beyond gun violence, encompassing broader community concerns, such as the daunting housing affordability crisis.

“I hate telling people that in two years, I won’t know what the financial picture is,” Williams said. “50% of the people here pay over 30% of their money just for the rent, and it’s not going down.”

The average price of a house in Durham is around $463,000, which is increasing by the month.  The cost of living in Durham is 7% higher than the state average and 1% higher than the national average (between $2,500 and $3,500 per month). Not only this, but Durham housing is 9% more expensive than the U.S. average ($416,100).

“Why do we have 5% affordable housing units when our target is 15 to 20? We have so many people that can’t afford it here,” said Williams.

Gentrification in Durham, has led to racial disparities as it primarily affects Black communities, pushing out the original, often poor or working-class Black residents due to rising prices and social dislocation. Historical policies like redlining and urban renewal in the city’s poorest census areas perpetuate racial inequities.

“I don’t believe in having to cut prices to make things affordable, I believe in empowering them so they can benefit from what they pay,” said Williams. “I want the market value, but I want more people to be able to afford it.”

In an interview with Indy Week, Williams talks about how he is determined to reduce violence through youth programs, police-community trust building, affordable housing options and economic opportunity through skills training and minority business support, all guided by unifying leadership.

“I believe in every single person, everybody has something to contribute,” said Williams. “I just need to find out what works for you, what tools I need to give you, and do it.”

Williams believes that becoming mayor was not the sole path to impact, and even though he didn’t advance past the primary, his determination to bring about positive change remains resolute.

“I’m running for truth, I’m running for true leadership, and I run to be an actual authentic voice of Durham,” said Williams.

Edited by Olivia Dela Cruz and Annie Le Baron