Youth Radio: 'I've Never Seen Any White People' In This Durham Park, Now I Do

Sep 16, 2014

Emmanuel Johnson worked as a teen reporter during the summer of 2014 at WUNC.
Credit Carol Jackson

Emmanuel Johnson is a senior at Riverside High School in Durham. As a part of WUNC's Youth Radio Project, he reports on a changing neighborhood in his hometown.

I've lived in Durham, NC my whole life and I always walk past this park on the corner of Oakwood Avenue and Holloway Street. It's downtown, near the public library.

One day last year I saw a young white guy and his daughter on the playground. It seemed weird. I've never seen any white people in this park  before. That's when I realized how much Durham is changing, especially the area near the park. It's called Cleveland-Holloway.

This is Ram Neta and Emily Bahna's home in Durham's Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood.
Credit Emmanuel Johnson

I set out with a microphone to meet people. I met Ram Neta and Emily Bahna. He's a professor, she's a user experience designer. They've lived in the Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood for about a year and a half in a big green house.

There's a home office and a playroom for their two kids. It's really  nice.  But it wasn't always like this. A couple of years ago, it was falling apart.

"It looked awful," Bahna remembers. "I think most people would have torn it down. It's a place you wouldn't have wanted to look at."

The house was scheduled for demolition, but someone bought it, and totally remodeled it. This kind of renovation is happening all over the neighborhood.

Chris Dickey bought a house here 21 years ago and is glad to see the improvements.

"It took time. At first the neighborhood wasn't worth the investment of putting a substantial amount of money into fixing it up," Dickey told me.

Chris Dickey, Ram Neta and Emily Bahna own their homes, and have a vested interest in property values going up.

But there are some renters, too. Just down the street I talked to Telisha Hall-Cox. She was sitting on her front porch. I asked her what changes she'd noticed.

"I grew up over here, like a street over. So I've seen like a lot of positive changes," said Hall-Cox. "I love the way that they're building the houses back up to make the community better."

Hall-Cox has lived in the neighborhood for 38 years. I was surprised to hear her say she was happy about the changes, because her rent could go up or her house could be sold.

This is something Lamont Lilly is worried about. He's is an activist and journalist.

"Not only were these neighborhoods mostly Afro American neighborhoods, but these neighborhoods were also working class neighborhoods, too," Lilly said, adding that the working people lived where they could actually afford their small home "without sinking the ship" every month.

'If something is valuable it will be taken over. People who don't have economic power are going to be moved and migrated to all the places that nobody else wants to be.'

I asked Emily Bahna -- the woman who bought and remodeled the green house if she was uncomfortable that all this change might push some people out of the Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood.

"You know, if something is valuable, it will be taken over. It's not a question of, you know, 'uncomfortable-ness,' [or] 'Well, are we driving people out?'" Bahna said, pointing out that many people never owned the land in the  first place.

"People who don't have economic power are going to be moved and migrated to all the places that nobody else wants to be."

Back at Oakwood Park at the center of the neighborhood, kids are playing with parents hovering near by. The neighborhood these kids are growing up in will continue to change. On this day alone I spotted eight newly renovated homes for sale.