Thursday, June 24, 2010

NCCU Stands For Sense of Place

Sometimes retaining a community’s unique sense of place rests on the extraordinarily actions of an individual like Charlie Nelms, who made a special effort to preserve the tiny, picturesque Holy Cross Catholic Church.Former Holy Cross Catholic Church at NCCU

I have fond memories of the little, stone building from more than two decades ago when during my first year in Durham I travelled NC 55 to Downtown.

As it turned into Alston Avenue, framing the east side of the North Carolina Central University (NCCU) campus, I drove past the church each day, often seeing what looked like people out grilling in the parking lot as a fundraiser.

Charlie is chancellor of NCCU and took time from overseeing the school’s centennial celebration of its founding to cut through red tape and save the little church as it awaited demotion to make room for construction of an important new facility for training nurses.


More than picturesque, until it moved to a larger, new building, the little church was one of the first for Catholic African Americans in the state and the parking lot had served as overflow parking for the University’s celebrated Law School.

Thanks to Charlie, Holy Cross was moved two months ago to the other side of campus and placed near the main entrance to the campus to be adaptively reused as a unique meeting space, fittingly between a soon-to-be created Centennial Gardens for reflection and special events and the restored home of the founder, Dr. James E. Shepard.

NCCU is a pivotal part of Durham’s unique sense of place. The action by Chancellor Nelms pales in comparison to his lifetime of achievements but this one small act is how a community hits forward without saying goodbye to yesterday.

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