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Durham mayor discusses city’s growth, race with students

Durham Mayor Bill Bell speaks on his career at Carolina R.I.S.E meeting Fri. night in the Student Union.
Durham Mayor Bill Bell speaks on his career at Carolina R.I.S.E meeting Fri. night in the Student Union.

Bell talked about this plan and his career in city politics, his beginnings as an electrical engineer at IBM and his experience as a black man in a speech to UNC students.

The event, which took place Friday evening in the Student Union, was part of a speaker series put on by Carolina RISE in partnership with student government.

Carolina RISE targets minority students with a goal of creating “representatives increasing student excellence.”

Bell discussed the “rich African-American heritage of Durham as a center of business and culture.” He also spoke about his contributions to the decision to merge the Durham County school system and the city school system in the early 1990s.

Bell said he has turned his focus to creating a better Durham for future generations.

“Neighborhood by neighborhood, year by year,” he said of his plans to improve quality of life in the city by encouraging mixed-use and mixed-income development.

Academic advisor Dexter Robinson helps RISE coordinate its guest speakers.

“The idea is just putting students in a venue ... where folks who they deem successful are tangible, so they can ask questions. If they need a mentor, once they feel like that person is tangible, the likelihood that they ask questions or follow up with them seems a little more real, and their dreams seem a little more realistic,” Robinson said.

Robinson spoke from his own experience about the confusion that students — particularly minority students — can feel after graduating from UNC.

“When you graduate from here in your early 20s, you’re lost. Most of your network consists of your peers, so it can be hard for you to get a job or get ahead because you don’t necessarily know people who are established, so the speaker series hopefully helps with that as well as mentorship,” Robinson said.

Junior Antonio Squire, who serves as an executive of operations for family matters within RISE, said he felt the event was a success.

“I want to get into local politics, so it was amazing to be able to talk to someone who is so widely known — someone who knows the president and travels all around the world and who is a local figure but so well-known globally,” he said.

Squire said the goal of RISE and the speaker series was to show minority students what resources they have both at UNC and in the professional community after graduation.

“It’s not enough for us to just get here (to UNC), but we know we need to succeed and thrive while we’re here so that we can make it a better place for people who come after us,” he said.

“Given the fact that he’s an African-American and he’s very successful, he has opened up many doors for me ... it was just an amazing experience.”

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