Inclusive Economies Are Necessary

This blog was contributed by J. Matthew Williams, Director of Communication for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Wake Forest University. 

My grandfather was a blind, black man reared in a small Georgia community during the Jim Crow era. Unfortunately, his disability combined with racial segregation practically eliminated opportunities for work. As a result, he relied on bootlegging alcohol and farming while my grandmother worked multiple jobs, including years as a nurse’s assistant and weaver in a textile mill. Eventually, the two worked and saved enough cash to open a small grocery store for local residents in the community, but they were not short of challenges.

Similarly, my sister, a formerly incarcerated woman with a felony record is often denied employment because of her status. And more recently, the loss of her teenage son in a tragic accident makes working a nine to five challenging because of unpredictable moments of grief and depression. She’s relied on her creative talents as an event planner to make ends meet, but would benefit from resources and programs that equip her with the entrepreneurial skills and assistance to develop her “hustle” into a thriving enterprise.

Small business owners and entrepreneurs are primarily responsible for the jobs and innovations that grow economies, strengthen communities and solve societal problems. To establish a strong and resilient economy, there must be a startup culture that welcomes all people in a community. Inclusive economies enrich the lives of everyone by bridging divides with community collaborations and strengthening residents’ understanding of business, government, and society.

Fay Horwitt is the Founder and Executive Director of InnovateHER, a nonprofit in Winston-Salem, NC dedicated to helping women launch, fund, and grow successful businesses. Horwitt maintains, “Community members exposed to inclusive entrepreneurship express that they have more opportunity to exercise creative freedoms, develop higher self-esteem, better financial literacy and an overall greater sense of control over their own lives.”

Inclusive economies help attract and retain top talent from all backgrounds. Such diverse talent enhances intercultural skills and understanding for families, while advancing innovation across sectors. More importantly, a diverse, engaged and empowered community remedies systemic disparities in educational attainment, access to technology, housing, and healthcare in neighborhoods by helping promote an equitable distribution of community resources.

As we consider the future, let’s remember the success of our communities is contingent on how inclusive our economies are. The legacy of my grandparents along with the trials and promise of my family and our neighbors serve as reminders that each of us adds value to the communities in which we live. How will you help develop an inclusive economy in your community?

About the Author


J. Matthew Williams is the Director of Communication for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Wake Forest University. He works alongside the university’s senior leaders to elevate the institution’s efforts to build a community that respects all its citizens. He also works with individuals committed to business development and creating opportunities that cultivate inclusion in entrepreneurship. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Wake Forest and completes his Master of Arts in Communication from Wake in December. His research focuses on how community organizers are using social media to challenge anti-black racism and sexism.

Keeping Durham Beautiful


This blog was contribute by Monica Ospina, Environmental Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator AmeriCorps Member at Keep Durham Beautiful

As I turned the corner into Crest Street Park in Durham on a Wednesday morning at 7:45 am, I was greeted by a long line of 60+ eager volunteers. This is not the way that I am usually greeted on my way into work. What prompted this amount of volunteers to be at a park so early? The short answer is-KaBOOM!. KaBOOM! is a national non-profit that brings active and balanced play to kids childhoods. KaBOOM!, along with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina partnered with Durham Parks and Recreation and Keep Durham Beautiful to build a playground in Crest Street Park. Over 200 volunteers participated in the KaBOOM! Playground Build at Crest Street Park on August 24, 2016.

At Keep Durham Beautiful, we were excited to see volunteers of all ages and groups working together. Some of the volunteers that came out to participate belonged to companies, government agencies and organizations all over the Triangle including: the Durham Police Department, City of Durham employees, Home Depot, Mako Medical, Riverside High School ROTC, the Durham Office on Youth, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

A Little Background on the KaBOOM! Build

The Crest Street Park playground involved designing and planning two months prior to the actual build day. The design process began when members of the Crest Street community along with KaBOOM! representatives and partners gathered in the Willie Patterson community center to choose the “ideal” playground drawn by children of the community. Once the design was chosen it was sent to the KaBOOM! headquarters to make blueprints of the site and choose playground elements. When the layout of the playground was finalized, committees were chosen to plan for build day. The committees consisted of the recruitment committee, food committee, play committee, construction committee, and logistics committee. The committees had planning calls each week to report their progress. Keep Durham Beautiful was approached by KaBOOM! and Durham Parks and Recreation to assist in recruiting volunteers for the  KaBOOM! Crest Street playground.  Keep Durham Beautiful has been involved in two other KaBOOM! builds in Durham and have assisted in recruiting volunteers for the Oakwood Park and Red Maple Park.

Build Day!

On build day, volunteers were assigned teams that were in charge of separate tasks, including the mulching team, the concrete team, and the super dome team. The actual playground build included adding mulching to the playground area, building and constructing playground components, painting tables, painting bird houses, painting signs, and adding cement to the holes where the playground equipment was inserted. The playground was built in 6 hours by 210 volunteers. The volunteers mixed and added 216 bags of concrete to holes, moved 135 cubic yards of mulch, and built 18 different components. The new play space will give 1,300 children access to a new beautiful play area.

Keep Durham Beautiful

As a non-profit, Keep Durham Beautiful works with volunteers throughout Durham. We have a large volunteer database, which makes us the go-to organization to achieve the goal of recruiting a large number of volunteers (in the case KaBOOM! needed 200 community volunteers).

Our main efforts are to keep Durham looking beautiful, but most importantly to inspire and engage our volunteers to take greater responsibility for their community environment through the following:

  • Community Greening and Beautification
  • Litter Prevention
  • Waste Reduction and Recycling

We strive to educate our volunteers on local environmental and community issues and provide an educational component to each of our volunteer projects. For example, if we are planting a pollinator garden we give our volunteers some background information on pollinators and their importance to the local environment. We work hard to make sure our volunteers know the impact they have on their community. Currently, we are working to engage the Latino Community in Durham and reach out to under-served neighborhoods. We believe that when the entire community is participating, we will be able to encourage more Durhamites to take responsibility for their community environment.

About the Author

Monica Ospina is the current AmeriCorps member serving with Keep Durham Beautiful. She was born in Colombia and raised in Miami. Monica graduated from Florida International University where she obtained a BS in Environmental Studies and a BS in Biological Sciences. Monica moved to North Carolina in 2015 and enjoys giving back to the community and interacting with the public. She is passionate about the environment and wants to help others become passionate too.


Interested in learning more about Keep Durham Beautiful? Check out their website!

Time lapse video of the Crest Park Playground Build!

Cracking the code–computer science education can strengthen communities

David JessupThis post was contributed by David Jessup, Jr., the Founder and CEO of Digi-Bridge, a federally recognized Charlotte-based nonprofit working at the nexus of technology and education. David was one of three winners from IEI’s Discovery Forum in Charlotte, NC, and a participant in the BB&T Leadership Symposium hosted by IEI last month. In the post below, David discusses his work with Digi-Bridge and his belief that access to computer science education strengthens community and increases civic engagement.

One Saturday morning about two years ago, I pulled up to an elementary school in Charlotte’s West End and was greeted by a group of fourth graders sprawled across the sidewalk near the front entrance of the school. When I asked why they were at school, one proclaimed, “Mr. J, we’re trying to grab some WiFi.”

Fast forward to 2016 and you can probably surmise why Digi-Bridge offers #STEAMSaturdays coursework to K-8 scholars throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg. In 2015, we provided 208 young minds with Saturday morning science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics experiences. This year, we’re on-track to more than double this number. Continue reading

Making Service Accessible to All

Caroline SimpsonThis post was contributed by Caroline Simpson, Program Officer, NC/SC State Office, Corporation for National & Community Service.

As a Program Officer at the North Carolina/South Carolina Office of the Corporation for National and Community Service, I think about accessibility a lot. I work with non-profits around the state to help support and administer programs like AmeriCorps VISTA and Senior Corps. AmeriCorps VISTA and Senior Corps members serve low-income communities year-round through local non-profits and contribute to specific projects that address problems in their communities. These programs rely on the power of service and volunteerism to create positive community impact, focusing on areas like health, education, economic opportunity, and more. Nationwide, national service programs like these have proven to be effective, but we still challenge ourselves to ensure service opportunities are accessible to everyone. Continue reading

What They Want Does Matter! Valuing Youth Voices at an Organizational Level



This post was contributed by Aidil Ortiz Hill, Team Lead, Substance Abuse Prevention, Youth Empowered Solutions

After 11 years of working alongside youth as coworkers, colleagues and community rabble rousers, my heart always breaks when I meet youth and adults who view the general identity of young people as inherently broken because of their age. Even seemingly “pro-youth” organizations commonly name laziness, selfishness, and an over-dependence on technology as traits of the young people they seek to support.  As a member of the adult community, I can definitely confirm that there are adults that also have these characteristics but the entire adult demographic is not maligned by these prejudiced views. Continue reading