Weekday mornings at 5:30 a.m., drivers of Link Transit’s green and blue buses start their engines for their daily routes. They’ll pick up students, employees, and other residents heading to school, work, the grocery store, or elsewhere.
It hasn’t always been so in Alamance County, and we have April Durr partially to thank. Director of Community Impact at the United Way of Alamance and the WRC 2015 Rising Star Award recipient, April has held an unwavering commitment to the idea that a public transportation system is good for business, health, and opportunity in our community, and her persistent efforts have fueled advocacy for it.
Persistence is in April’s DNA. It’s what convinced Beth Warner, an associate professor of human services studies at Elon University, to nominate April for one of the university’s first Top 10 Under 10 awards in 2011. Warner says, “Believing strongly in the power of citizens joining together to solve local problems, April never tires of participating on committees and boards, taking part in planning events, working in partnership towards social change….”
Her friends and family understand her motivation. April says they get tired of hearing her say, “If you’re not involved, you can’t voice your opinion.” Still, she emphasizes involvement is the only way to make your voice heard, and “the more people who join in, the better.”
April believes that to her very core, and her life expresses that belief. Her mom, who passed away in 2014, can be credited for the strong influence to live a life of conviction. She didn’t hide the disparities in the world from April, so a young girl grew up learning to “ask questions, push for causes bigger than [herself], and become an advocate.”
Other women who’ve helped shape April include a health café manager who took a chance on hiring a high school student; Brenda Sawyer, the supervisor who hired her at CrossRoads, her first professional position and the entry into her nonprofit career; and Suzan Evans, former executive director at CrossRoads. All have become mentors and friends, challenging April to keep stretching into new roles because “growth happens when you get out of your comfort zone.”
April’s still stretching. She’d come to North Carolina to enroll in Elon University’s human services program and after graduating, decided to put down roots here. Today, although she might caution her younger self to consider graduate studies before diving headlong into career work, April’s satisfied with the road she’s traveled.
Brightening the walls of her office are colorful images of tropical beaches and a Puerto Rican rainforest. The pictures sum up her bent toward shared experience. Preferring to do something with those who mean the most to her rather than receive a gift, April says what’s most important is time and togetherness.
She approaches community efforts the same way, and April’s roots in Alamance County have yielded time with leaders of nonprofits, law enforcement agencies, government departments, health services, and other community partners. The investment gives everyone a chance to work together, and that’s the goal. The problems Alamance County faces, April stresses, “are bigger than one person or one agency.”
She’s perhaps most excited about a united approach to one of our region’s longest running struggles: racism. Alamance Racial Equity Alliance is taking a hard, honest look at racial relations in our community. AREA’s monthly learning caucuses bring together people of color and white residents to have the difficult conversations discussions about race invoke. The training helps participants adjust their perspectives and see the world through a different lens so they may learn to listen and speak up, and not just for themselves.
“Ultimately,” April says, “we envision a community without racism.” Every day she wakes up wondering what she can do to contribute toward a society like that. And every day while repeating her mantra – “If you’re not involved, you can’t voice your opinion” – she holds out hope that more and more community members will join the conversation.
Julie Johnson is a local freelance writer who’s traveled the world but come home to her roots. Her global experience gives her a unique perspective when helping clients communicate in a 21st century marketplace.