First 2019 Civic Change Champion Announced

Mayme Webb- Beldsoe of the Duke Durham Neighborhood Partnership

Mayme Webb Bledsoe of the Duke Durham Neighborhood Partnership Uses Dialogue to Lift Voices in the Duke / Durham Community 

For over two decades, Mayme Webb Bledsoe has worked tirelessly as an activist who facilitates community processes that amplify the voices of residents in historically excluded African-American neighborhoods of Durham and empowers them to become decision makers in their communities.

Aligned with the Dialogue to Change principles that guide Everyday Democracy’s work and the work of its partners, Mayme continues to facilitate creative, cross-sector conversations and initiatives that uplift the voices of grass-roots residents to impact positive change in the community.  Some of these changes have resulted in an expansion of affordable housing options, commercial development for areas of historic disinvestment, and preservation of the area’s history and culture.

Mayme’s humble powerful leadership in bridging divides and identifying institutional resources and local partners has made these changes possible.  In order to understand the breadth of her impact in Durham, it is important to learn more about the history of the neighborhoods that surround Duke University and how Mayme’s life has intertwined with that history.

The 1990s served as a significant economic shift in Durham as its tobacco and textile industries were receding.  As a result of the loss of jobs for Durham’s core residents, community morale and quality of life was decreasing and crime was increasing. At the same time, the city’s flagship educational institution and Durham’s largest private employer, Duke University, was on the rise. This led to an influx of highly-educated outsiders who assumed leadership positions on the boards and faculty at Duke.  These individuals were predominately white. For many decades, the jobs at the bottom of the economic ladder on campus were filled by the area’s residents who were primarily African-American. Making matters worse, many of Durham's communities of color were research ‘subjects’ for the University while the data that these studies developed were never shared with those communities.  Some people simply felt used by Duke. At the same time, local residents and non-profit organizations knew that Duke’s resources, if directed appropriately, could be helpful to them in addressing the inequalities with which they were living. 

After two years of listening sessions with Durham neighborhoods, the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership (DDNP) was created in 1996 to create a focused goal and organized way for Duke to work with and empower the neighborhoods surrounding the University. Mayme was recruited to be part of the change. Mayme knew Durham. Her credibility was important in facilitating the voice of the neighborhoods that she served.  Over the past several decades, Duke has participated in listening sessions, charrettes, and strategic planning, and responded as a partner with the community to what they heard. 

A little about Mayme’s History

Mayme Webb Bledsoe was born in 1957 in Durham, North Carolina, where she grew up in the West End - a proud community of African Americans situated between downtown and Duke University. The six neighborhoods that comprise the Southwest Central Durham section of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership, as well as the Southside, East Durham and Braggtown neighborhoods, are her core areas of commitment.  She is currently serving as a Senior Program Coordinator in the Office of Durham Affairs at Duke University.

Mayme joined the staff of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership in 2000 just as the Office of Community Affairs was restructured to focus on the neighborhoods closest to the university campus and medical center, especially low wealth neighborhoods. Mayme is an award-winning Technology of Participation (ToP) certified trainer and facilitator. Through the years, she has implemented empowerment strategies to help her communities set priorities and create the Southwest Central Durham Quality of Life Project.

QOL determined that affordable housing, access to high-quality healthcare, non-profit support and history and celebrations were key priorities.  All of this work helped stabilize neighborhoods. By addressing concerns about crime and security, Mayme assisted in making Durham safer for all of its citizens. By addressing issues of displacement and gentrification, Mayme continues to work tirelessly with advocacy groups to support older adults and lessen the impact of growing rent prices and the power of the market so that they may remain in their homes.

In the West End neighborhoods, Mayme’s innovative work in community organizing led to the creation of a QOL/Duke/Self-Help Credit Union land bank that enabled residents’ efforts to increase affordable housing stock in Southwest Central Durham. Their collaboration with affordable housing developers (Habitat for Humanity of Durham, Durham Community Land Trustees, and Self-Help) expanded home ownership options with the building of 45 new homes and a 32-unit older adult housing project. The group went on to foster the commercial revitalization of West Chapel Hill Street – including the preservation of the Pauli Murray family home, which is now a national historic landmark – and to share their strategies with other Durham neighborhoods.

Mayme’s brilliance is rooted in keeping community members’ experiences at the center of her concerns by working on their timetables and building and strengthening relationships over time.

Mayme has experienced the roller-coaster ride of a dynamic, changing Durham. The historic African American neighborhoods of her youth are now challenged to endure and adapt to the social, cultural, and economic impacts resulting from rapid growth and University expansion. Through these challenges, she has utilized her skills and experiences to foster neighborhood leadership, protect and preserve local history, and empower the historically excluded voices of residents with whom she collaborates.

Over the past several decades, Duke University has escaped the insularity that breeds institutional arrogance, listened closely, and acted on what they heard as a partner with local neighborhoods and the public schools that serve them.  Duke literally took down walls and invited community folk onto campus. The Neighborhood Partnership, which works in twelve neighborhoods including Southwest Central Durham, has built playgrounds, opened health clinics, collaborated with non-profits, and started after-school programs in community centers.  In 2018, Duke celebrated the 20th anniversary of its tutoring program American Reads/America Counts, where Duke Students tutor children at schools in Durham.  Sam Miglarese, director of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership said Duke is now considered part of Durham more than before, and the University has moved from a self-absorbed institution to a mutually beneficial partner.

In addition to this recognition as a Civic Change Champion, Mayme Webb Bledsoe, of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership was also selected in a newly created Runner Up category of the 2018 Paul and Joyce Aicher Leadership in Democracy Award and is the recipient of a $2,500 award to help her organization further its mission and vision.  Ms. Webb Bledsoe’s winning nomination was selected from 67 nominations of both individuals and organizations, in this second annual national contest.



April 18, 2019

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