Time to give a shout-out to a local lesbian organization that’s making a difference — and not just in the gay community. SWOOP (Strong Women Organizing Outrageous Projects) unofficially began in September 1996 in the aftermath of Hurricane Fran in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Herald-Sun reports on the group’s latest efforts in my old neighborhood, Old West Durham. [Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, OWD takes prides in its history and the diversity of its residents; take a look at its web site, which I started up in 1998.]

The years have taken a toll on the once spry Old West Durham couple Lee and Lois Carlton, who have been married for 67 years and live in the same mill house Lois was born in.

Lois Carlton, who once was a shining third baseman for a local baseball league, can no longer walk. Lee Carlton, who used to do yard work and repair lawnmowers in the couple’s back yard, is a heart patient who gets weak easily.

Their physical condition made it impossible to maintain the deteriorating work sheds in their back yard or to remove metal junk from their yard. That’s why members of the local organization Strong Women Organizing Outrageous Projects — or SWOOP — flocked to the couple’s Edith Street house on Saturday.

About 55 volunteers with the Raleigh-based organization tore down two of the decaying sheds, put a new roof on a third shed, painted a back porch and cleaned up the back yard.

It’s great to see that this organization is getting recognition by HRC…

The organization was recently picked to receive the annual Equality Award from North Carolina’s chapter of the Human Rights Campaign, which works for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights.

Joni Madison, a local volunteer for the campaign, was helping videotape the group’s efforts Saturday for a presentation at the campaign’s annual dinner. Many SWOOP members are active in the Campaign, Madison says, adding that their work demonstrates why the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community deserves equal rights.

“They’re showing people — just like everybody — they have good hearts and good will,” Madison said. “And at the end of the day, they’re showing everybody in their own special way that they deserve no less than every American citizen.”


While I am on positive local matters, here are a couple of interesting items on our downtown historic district…

Brightleaf Square, a renovated tobacco warehouse in downtown, queer-friendly Durham, and home of Duke University Press, publisher of academic books and journals, my employer.

* Development projects in the works or on the horizon in downtown Durham. As in most cities, the downtown areas, often abandoned by businesses for office park in the last couple of decades, are fighting back. Several current projects are encouraging residents to move to renovated warehouses and new construction. Brightleaf Square was renovated more than a decade ago, and was the start of the downtown revitalization efforts.

* Upbeat about downtown:

These days, the lunchtime crowds are small at Blue Mountain Catering. But the owners of the 4-month-old business in downtown Durham are optimistic.

And why not, the co-owner says, when projections for the next three years point to hundreds of new workers and residents moving into the 12-by-14-block area that officials say makes up downtown?

Blue Mountain Catering opened in June at 317 W. Main St. and evolved into a lunchtime restaurant within a month.

Co-owners Brian Lawson and Damion Moore are among the latest entrepreneurs and developers looking to capitalize on the much-discussed and long-awaited rebirth of downtown.

“We do foresee downtown Durham blossoming in the next three to five years, and we want to be a part of that,” Lawson said.

For years, city officials and downtown promoters have been on a mission to revitalize the central business district. With a slew of projects in the works and on the horizon, it appears the long hibernation is about to end.

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