Bringing culture to life in Durham

By Colleen Sullivan, Culture, Community and Sustainability Coordinator 

Building culture takes time and intention. We believe our collective responsibility is to serve individuals, communities and the planet. But bringing culture to life takes more than naming our values; we must practice them.

Culture Day is one example of how we bring culture to life for our Durham-based employees. An annual event, Culture Day enables us to come together to recommit to our culture and to serve, learn and build our team. Due to the pandemic, we’ve been unable to host this event since 2019 so this year bringing us together was more important than ever.  

Each year Culture Day has a different theme that addresses the current needs of the business and the surrounding community. This year’s theme, “Thrive Together,” focused on environmental justice and health equity. These are global issues, but we localized these issues and discussed the unique ways they have impacted and are continuing to impact Durham residents. Environmental justice and health equity are interconnected because our health and the health of the environment are inextricably linked. Where we find poor health and environmental degradation is generally not an accident, and marginalized communities – low income, Black and Brown – are the most impacted. One example is Cancer Alley, an 85-mile stretch along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana, that’s lined with oil refineries and petrochemical plants. Residents there are 50 times more likely to develop cancer than the average American. Another example is the Rosemont neighborhood in North Charleston, South Carolina, an historically Black/Gullah Geechee neighborhood that borders a former phosphate chemical plant that exploded and released toxic chemicals in the air, soil and groundwater. 

Our 300-plus employees were split into groups and worked on different projects with our multiple community partners.  The projects ranged from building green spaces in neighborhoods that have been historically not invested in to supporting a project to clear the Catawba Trail, a former trading path for the Indigenous communities living there. We’re grateful for the support of UCANMerrick- Moore CommunityKeep Durham BeautifulNC Wildlife FederationHub Farm and Durham Connects, and for their tireless work addressing environmental justice and health equity in our area.

In addition to engaging in community service, we heard from local leaders such as state. Sen. Natalie Murdock  and Kamal Bell, chief executive officer of Sankofa Farms, who spoke about their work to address environmental justice and health equity in Durham. We also heard from our very own Chief Diversity and Social Impact Officer Shanique Bonelli-Moore and Lexy Ray, senior inclusion and diversity consultant. They discussed the important work we do to address these important issues through the lens of inclusion, diversity, equity and allyship, or IDEA. We were also led in a reflective activity that challenged us to use our power to take action. 

As I reflect on Culture Day, I thought about a phrase often heard in environmental justice spaces: “Nobody can do everything – but everyone can do something.” Challenging these issues can often seem overwhelming, but each of us has an opportunity to use our skill sets, passions and power to create change. I hope that Culture Day inspires our employees and others to continue working toward creating spaces where we can all thrive together.