When the city of Durham first advertised nine spots on a newly formed Mayor’s Council for Women, so few women applied, the city had to re-advertise the openings.

Two months later, the city had thirty-eight applicants. The number was so huge, staff created an “applicant worksheet” to help City Council members assign the applicants to different roles within the women’s council.

“We’ve never gotten this many applications,” LaVerne Brooks, who has worked in the city clerk’s office for twenty-eight years, told the City Council as she tallied the votes for the applicants.

The inaugural members were sworn in Monday night during a council meeting that also included proclamations claiming this week Girl Scout Week and this month Women’s History Month in Durham, as well as a recognition of local historian Jean Bradley Anderson.

“It feels significant that we’re here with a proclamation for the Girl Scouts and a proclamation for Women’s history and starting our Women’s Council,” said council member Jillian Johnson, who is serving as mayor pro tem. “We’re really excited. It’s a great night.”

The appointees will represent different geographic and subject areas. They are:

  • Nana Asante-Smith representing Public Safety (term expires June 30, 2021). Asante-Smith is a Wake County assistant district attorney and a political action committee coordinator for the People’s Alliance. She has also served as president of the Durham Crisis Response Center board of directors.
  • Nida Allam representing Civil Rights/Justice (term expires June 30, 2021). Allam is a MetLife project analyst and third vice chair for the North Carolina Democratic Party who previously worked on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. She applied for the City Council seat that opened up when Steve Schewel was elected mayor. (Javiera Caballero filled that seat.)
  • Ashley Canady representing Ward 2 (term expires June 30, 2021). Canady is a mother and president of the McDougald Terrace resident council. In that role, she has advocated against gun violence, helped operate a food bank and organized events and programs in the city’s largest public housing neighborhood.
  • Gloria De Los Santos representing At-Large (term expires June 30, 2020). De Los Santos is the Durham director of Action NC, a grassroots group that works toward social and economic equality. She has been a community organizer for nine years.
  • Mina Ezikpe representing Ward 3 (term expires June 30, 2020). Ezikpe is an activist, recent Duke grad and organizer with You Can Vote, a voting rights project of the People’s Alliance Fund. As a fellow with WomenNC, Ezikpe conducted a research project on formerly incarcerated women of color in Durham.
  • Megan A. McCurley representing Ward 1 (term expires June 30, 2020). McCurley is the program coordinator for America Reads/America Counts at Duke University, which places tutors in Durham schools.
  • Dolly Reaves representing At-Large (term expires June 30, 2019). Reaves is a mother and graduate student. Last year, she ran for the City Council Ward 2 seat. A formerly homeless single mom, Reaves previously worked with the Women, Infants and Children program.
  • Amie Koch representing Housing/Economic Development (term expires June 30, 2019). Koch is a family nurse practitioner who conducted her doctorate work on the health of mothers living in poverty.
  • Rebekah A. Miel representing Cultural/Arts (term expires June 30, 2019). Miel is an exhibit and print designer. She recently raised more than $60,000 to pay off the debt of Durham Public Schools students who couldn’t afford school lunches.

“The purpose of the Mayor’s Council For Women is to improve the opportunities and quality of life of women in the City of Durham through civic engagement by promoting the interests and needs of the community at-large; and to serve as a liaison and consultative body between women and the city government officials in order to further promote and protect equal opportunities for all,” the city says.

According to Schewel, the idea came from longtime City Council member Cora Cole-McFadden after hearing a presentation from NC Cities for CEDAW (CEDAW refers to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women).

After fourteen people ran for three council seats in last year’s primary election, and twenty-three people applied for the vacant city council seat now filled by Javiera Caballero, the high number of applicants for the Women’s Council may point to a trend.

“I think we can only expect that we’re going to have more and more applications for more and more things in this town,” Schewel said. Durham County already has a Women’s Commission, which “strives to educate the community and advise the Durham County Board of Commissioners as necessary on issues relating to the changing social and economic conditions of women in the County.”