In 1949, the great American poet Langston Hughes published a short poem called “Freedom” that directly analogized democracy to a garden. “Freedom is a strong seed,” Hughes wrote, “Planted in a great need.” The need for a genuine democracy, nurtured by a clear-eyed understanding of history and transformation, has never been greater, even as foundational rights seem to evaporate with the stroke of a Justice’s pen. As a lifelong gardener, teacher, and democracy advocate, I have come to appreciate that roots and soil are as important as blooms when cultivating public-minded leadership. That insight gives me hope even now when this thing we call Democracy seems not to be working.
As the Director of the Hart Leadership Program over the past four years, I have been blessed to tend a truly magnificent leadership garden, one in which students, faculty, and community partners have continuously reimagined the possibilities for leadership, civic engagement, and justice work in Durham and beyond. Our signature community-based engagement programs are all well rooted and thriving with outstanding community partners, working with the most diverse Duke students in the history of the HLP. Over the past four years, we have also grown as a community of practitioners, with the exciting addition of Associate Professors of the Practice Andrew Nurkin and Alexandra Zagbayou to the HLP team. They both have made an already dynamic teaching and leadership program even stronger.
And as every gardener knows, particularly during the summer solstice, every season has its turn. It is time for me to complete my book on the origins of human trafficking and white supremacy and also to embark on a new project. Starting July 1, 2022, I will be heading an effort in honor of Wilhelmina Rueben Cooke, the first African American woman to graduate from Duke University, that seeks to foster community-based history and collaboration between colleagues and students at both Duke and Johnson C. Smith Universities. Like our SOL students, my work will begin with relationship building, reflection, and for those who know me as a teacher and/or a fellow democracy worker, with “deep canvassing,” the practice of listening with curiosity about what justice and democracy look like in Durham and Charlotte, NC.
I am absolutely delighted that my colleague Andrew Nurkin will become the new Director of the Hart Leadership Program. A dynamic teacher and remarkable leader, Andrew’s experience building community-based archives in Philadelphia and heading Princeton University’s service learning initiatives make him extremely well prepared to lead the Hart Leadership Program. He will be joined by an excellent team in the coming year. Thalia Halloran, Trinity class of 2022, is our new Associate in Research. A superb writer, Thalia won fiction awards in the English Department, not once but four years in a row! Rahul Gouni, a new graduate student in the Pratt School of Engineering who literally knows how to build everything, will continue as our program assistant. Heather Griswold, a veteran from Sanford’s career services office, will begin her second year as HLP’s financial manager. And Alexandra Zagbayou is currently shepherding our signature program SOL to even greater success this summer. I am grateful for this talented team of humans and wish them success, love, and happiness as they grow the soul-inspiring work that is the Hart Leadership Program.
Gunther Peck, Director.