North Durham Mutual Aid

About us

We are helping neighbors support each other in North Durham. Since March 2020, We’ve been building relationships of mutual aid across the neighborhoods of Northgate Park, Colonial Village, Braggtown, and surrounding areas.

Please let us know if you’d like to collaborate with us!

How to contact us and get involved (whether to request support, offer support, or organize):

Email: NorthgateResponse@gmail.com

Phone: 919-886-4614 (Google Voice)

Survey: http://tiny.cc/northgatepark

How to donate to our mutual aid fund:

Donate to our Fundraiser on Chuffed:

Or you can send money directly to our Paypal account: newnorthdurhamfund@gmail.com (the name will show up as Allison SwaimNG. *Be sure to select “send to friends/family” to avoid the transaction fee. )

More about us:
What we mean by “mutual aid” is when people get together to meet each other’s basic survival needs and care for one another, while recognizing that the dominant institutions are not going to meet all of our needs. Within our neighborhood, we use a listserv for sharing needs, questions, and offers of support. Some of us are “block coordinators” who set up means of communication between neighbors on our blocks. We recently created a food distribution group, which connects people who offer to donate food with people who are in need of food (as well as other resources, such as masks and diapers). As of late May, we are coordinating deliveries of food and masks to about 10-15 families weekly or biweekly. We also have a fund for donations to help pay for the food. We supported a Senior Solidarity Project to help provide resources to older adults who live in public housing. In July, we formed a new group for Alternatives to Policing in North Durham.

More info:

A Backstory

Everyone in North Durham Mutual Aid can tell a different story about how they got involved. Some of us can trace the roots of our involvement to a discussion group on Durham history a couple years before the pandemic. In our group’s few meetings, we explored the roots of the city’s present situation of inequalities and segregations in its history of violence with settler colonialism, slavery, white supremacy, Reconstruction and Counter-Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and gentrification, but also in resistances with the long Black Freedom Movement, the struggles of Native American peoples, and labor movements. Over the years, we continued these conversations and we interweaved them with reflections on possibilities for organizing in our neighborhood and the wider city. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, we started talking about possibilities of what we could do collectively to support our neighbors. 

In mid-March, after hearing about mutual aid projects springing up around the country, we connected with others through a “Durham Mutual Aid” Facebook group. Through conference calls, we shared ideas and tactics, built relationships, and coordinated resources across many Durham neighborhoods. At the same time, we connected with others in Northgate Park for organizing a neighborhood-focused mutual aid project. We made fliers for connecting with our neighbors on our immediate blocks. Through a citywide conference call, we learned about an approach called “neighborhood pods,” which involved attempting to find people who would become “block coordinators” that would gather contacts and build relationships and communication loops with their block’s residents, and coordinating across the blocks for sharing needs and distributing resources across the neighborhood. In our neighborhood, we hit some obstacles with this approach, because we were trying it amidst increased fears about the spread of the coronavirus and a norm of hyper-vigilance about social distancing, such that we felt like we could no longer safely do the door-knocking. This led us to shift to emphasizing a “no physical contact” outreach approach of posting fliers in public places, especially telephone polls, around the neighborhood, as well as digital outreach. With new relationships growing our network, we also expanded our group’s scope beyond Northgate Park to include Colonial Village, and potentially further adjacent areas, as well. 

Simultaneously with neighborhood-focused organizing, we were also communicating with other organizers around the city, with whom we collaborated on citywide working groups (e.g., food, outreach, mental health). We also found inspiration from other neighborhoods to try new approaches. One of the biggest challenges we grappled with was that we had initially connected with many people who had expressed a willingness to share resources but few who had expressed immediate needs. To tackle this challenge, in mid-April, our outreach group sought to put up fliers in more areas of the neighborhood and beyond the established boundaries of the neighborhood, particularly in areas with more working class, Black, and Latinx residents who have been practicing their own networks of mutual aid long before the pandemic. This expanded outreach resulted in us finally getting in touch with more people with more serious and immediate needs, especially for food. This motivated us in early May to coalesce our efforts around a Food Distribution Group. In the first week’s trial run of a food distribution system, we were able to connect three people who offered to donate food with three families who were in need of food. In the subsequent weeks, we expanded this process to distribute food to around 9-12 families each week. We also created a fund to accept donations to help pay for the food. Most recently, we are taking on a Senior Solidarity Project to help provide resources to elderly folks who live in public housing.

Why the name “North Durham Mutual Aid”?

Our project’s initial name was “Northgate Response.” As we built relationships in other neighborhoods, we expanded our name to “Colonial Village / Northgate Park / Braggtown Mutual Aid.” But this was confusing and a mouthful. It was also politically problematic, because it seemed to present the boundaries of these neighborhoods as necessary, thereby obscuring the contested character of these boundaries. For example, this post from DataworksNC shows a map made from Braggtown residents’ understandings of their neighborhood’s boundaries, which overlap with much of what the residents of Northgate Park and Colonial Village usually understand as their own neighborhood’s territories. The history of Braggtown involves the afterlives of slavery, as Braggtown’s residents include the descendents of many formerly enslaved people at the nearby Stagville Plantation. The history of these neighborhoods’ relations with each other also is bound up with Jim Crow segregation, as the Braggtown neighborhood was historically black while Northgate Park, for example, was initially built as a whites-only neighborhood with houses that had racial covenants. The racial-capitalist history of these neighborhoods continues today, with stark inequalities and de facto segregations between the neighborhoods, complicated with forces of gentrification as well as with the greatly increasing population of Latinx immigrants in the past two decades. These phenomena are also starkly evident in the area west of Northgate Park, past Duke Street, as many blocks of apartment buildings around Brogden Middle School house hundreds of working class, mainly black and Latinx residents who are generally disconnected from the “community” in Northgate Park. By centering the established names of neighborhoods, we also obscured the existence of our neighbors who do not live in clearly defined neighborhoods.

In response to these problems with our current name, we adopted a new name, “North Durham Mutual Aid,” which we hope will help us build stronger relationships with more of our neighbors. This name keeps a geographic identity but has expandible, flexible boundaries. The name not only distinguishes our area from the established neighborhood of Old North Durham but also it suggests that we are creating a new community (and a new world!) through building relationships across the inequalities and segregations of our established neighborhoods and non-neighborhood-identified areas.

Our Principles

  • We are studying, relating, and organizing together.
    • We recognize that we bring different perspectives and experiences to our organizing, and we affirm that everyone has valuable knowledge to share. To work toward a shared understanding of our situation, we aim to study together in ways that are bound up with our organizing and relationship building. The principles that we present here are provisional, and members of our network do not need to agree with them in order to organize with us. We share these principles here as a starting point with many open questions that we hope to engage collectively. We recognize that these principles are ideals that we will strive to achieve while continually falling short in practice. Without trying to be perfectionists, we will make regular times in our collective processes for critically constructive reflections on the gaps between our practices and ideals. 
  • Mutual aid.
    • Mutual aid is when people come together to help each other meet their needs, with an understanding that the dominant systems aren’t sufficient. 
  • Resource redistribution
    • We are actively trying to foster mutual aid work within neighborhoods, and also to foster mutual aid across neighborhoods, in order to redress historical and ongoing inequalities and injustices.
  • Non-exclusivity and mutuality
    • Each of us deserve and will need some form(s) of aid, and everyone has some capacity to contribute. This includes people from all political backgrounds and walks of life. 
  • Solidarity, not charity.
    • An approach of solidarity contrasts with approaches of charity that rely on moral frameworks of deservingness and saviorism. Through solidarity, we aim to resist rather than reproduce paternalistic, racist, colonial, patriarchal relationships.
  • Respecting and building relationships with ongoing neighborhood efforts.
    • We are supporting and learning from communities in neighborhoods that have been engaging in mutual aid for a long time, particularly in Durham’s working class, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities. 
  • We do not desire to return to “normal,” but rather to dismantle the unequal, unjust dominant system. 
    • In times of sudden disaster like the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people feel increased vulnerability to harm, they feel more receptive to mutual aid. But before such disasters, many people have already been practicing forms of mutual aid in order to survive under the ongoing disasters of the dominant system. The status quo of unequal, segregated, and violent institutions make some people — particularly along lines of class, race, and immigration status — disproportionately vulnerable to harm, illness, and premature death. We can describe this dominant system by different names, such as a racial-capitalist, settler-colonial society. By whatever name we call the dominant system, its effect has been to enable certain neighborhoods and households to hold more wealth and access to elite power, and has systematically excluded others from those same resources. During a sudden disaster like the COVID-19 pandemic, these inequalities are intensified as those who are already oppressed are made even more vulnerable to exploitation, harm, and premature death. Thus, our mutual aid organizing must grapple with and seek to overcome these inequalities, marginalizations, and segregations.
  • Mutual aid can help us survive and create alternatives but it must be complemented with other forms of resistance. 
    • We want to dismantle the dominant systems and structures that have failed the people, and have been undemocratic and unequal and unjust and racist for ages. To complement other kinds of organizing for such dismantling, through mutual aid, we seek to enact practices for surviving under the dominant systems while creating alternative infrastructures for our lives (food, health, housing, work, etc.) that are locally democratically controlled, just, egalitarian, and based on mutual aid. Toward these multiple simultaneous goals, we see our mutual aid organizing as necessarily interconnected with a wider ecology of organizing practices and movements. 
  • Resisting co-optation.
    • Mutual aid faces constant pressures of co-optation, whether into the non-profit industry, governmental social services, or neoliberal efforts of elite institutions that use voluntarism as an excuse to abandon and privatize public services. To resist such co-optation, we seek to build and maintain grassroots community control of our mutual aid project. 
  • Community control and bottom-up accountability. 
    • Our capacities for resisting co-optation require cultivating accountability to the people who have been made most vulnerable by racial capitalism. For this bottom-up accountability, we need to structure our decision-making practices in ways that avoid concentrations of power and hierarchies and that enable the full agency, participation, co-creation, and leadership of those who have been made most vulnerable. We also must implement policies and processes for collectively dealing with conflicts and potential situations of abuse.
  • Critical study of power relations.
    • We aim to create space for critical reflections and discussions about the power relations that structure the unequal distribution of resources. For both those who are giving and receiving resources, we aim to facilitate collective studying of the political, economic, and social conditions that make it so that some people are in possession of more resources and those receiving them are not.