Uplifting Old East Durham: Communities in Partnership Sustains and Amplifies Positive Change

Communities in Partnership has been located in Old East Durham since 2011, serving the community through initiatives, funds and advocacy efforts. (Photo courtesy of Communities in Partnership.)

Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024

By Maya Waid

Camryn Smith had been told her community was pathologically deficient – that she was simply living in a war zone.

In 2011, Smith and a group of nine neighbors gathered following a shooting that involved two children. Smith was tired of the harsh stereotypes that were pressed on Durham and knew that she had the ability to change the narrative. 

In order to do so, they formed Communities in Partnership – a majority Black women-led nonprofit organization focused on activism, anti-racism training, leadership development and giving a voice to the community. 

As members of the community, Smith and her co-founders have a unique perspective on issues. Instead of simply operating outside of it, Smith connects with her neighbors on a daily basis whether it’s at school drop-off or walks outside of her house.

“Because we live in the community, we are accountable to our community in ways that people that don’t live here are not,” Smith said. “What we focus on and what we do is led by people that are living here and who are directly impacted.”

Now, CIP has several different initiatives including affordable housing, workforce development, a monthly food co-op and leadership development. All of CIP’s initiatives work to empower residents to take action in their community. 

While Smith is the co-founder and executive director of CIP, she has felt the support of many people along the way. One of the people being Keith Daniel, the co-founder and managing director of Resilient Ventures

Daniel and Smith have a long-lasting friendship that has carried into their work together. In 2018, Daniel began working with Resilient Ventures LLC – a capital fund supporting African American founders. 

“We set out to address the wealth gap in venture by creating the fund explicitly for African Americans who have scalable business,” Daniel said. “We feel fortunate to be able to address another disparity in our economy, which is access to capital for founders of color in particular.”

During the height of the pandemic, Daniel helped to organize the Thriving Community Fund – a response to the hardships caused by COVID-19 in Durham.

According to CIP’s website, the fund’s goal was to allocate grants and loans to help “address the inequities that business owners of color faced prior to COVID and that became even more apparent as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.” To date, it has gathered $125,000 worth of donations. 

Although Daniel does not currently live in the Durham community, he holds three degrees from Duke University and understands the positive impact that Smith and her colleagues have made in the area. 

“Organizations like CIP are critical for the protection of our neighborhoods and communities from unjust exploitation and marginalization,” Daniel said. “I really appreciate how they are educators, curators of the community’s assets and are really good stewards and defenders of unjust practices.”

Moving forward, Smith and her colleagues know that there is further work to be done and hope that CIP can continue to make a difference in both Durham and other North Carolina communities. 

“CIP wants a society in which everyone has dignified housing and work, everyone has health care, and everyone is able to take care of themselves,” Smith said. “And while we also understand that we are deeply intersectionality embedded with each other in community, uplifting everyone’s humanity and having what we need.”