Six Honored by Cook Society for Leadership & Community Activism

Cook Society honorees for 2018: Felicia Tittle, Andrea Harris, Rev. William Turner Jr., Michael J. Ivory Jr., Debra Brandon and Danielle Purifoy.
Cook Society honorees for 2018: Felicia Tittle, Andrea Harris, Rev. William Turner Jr., Michael J. Ivory Jr., Debra Brandon and Danielle Purifoy.

A North Carolina community and economic development activist who has for three decades opened access to economic opportunities for racial minorities and people with low-to-moderate incomes is the winner of the Distinguished Service Award.

The award was presented to Andrea Harris, a senior fellow at the Self-Help Organizations, Tuesday at the 21st Awards Dinner of the Samuel Dubois Cook Society.

Since the 1970s Harris has led a rural multi-county community action agency. Her work has improved the lives of thousands of Tar Heel residents, primarily in rural areas and with low incomes.

A native of Vance County and a graduate of Bennett College, Harris established the first rural transportation program in the state for older adults, organized community gardens, youth groups and established a housing rehab program. She also led the initial filing and funding effort to sue the State of North Carolina and help retain community action programs.   

In addition, Harris helped successfully challenge bank mergers based on lending to minority and low-moderate income neighborhoods.

The Samuel Dubois Cook Society was founded in 1997 to honor Cook as well as community members who follow his example of social activism and leadership. The society celebrates and affirms the presence of African-American students, faculty and staff at Duke.

The society’s Raymond Gavins Distinguished Faculty Award was presented to Debra Brandon, a neonatal clinical nurse and professor in the School of Nursing. Brandon was cited for “advancing diversity, inclusion and equity in the Ph.D. program in the Duke University School of Nursing.”

Brandon is director of nursing’s Ph.D. program and principal in the federally funded Bridge to the Doctorate grant with Winston Salem State University that addresses the shortage of underrepresented minority doctoral-prepared nurse researchers.

She “has provided leadership, vision, commitment, and the hard work to help the School of Nursing succeed in one of its most important endeavors: advancing the doctoral education for qualified applicants of every background – important contributions to our ‘beloved community,’” according to the Cook Society steering committee.

Other award winners are:

Felicia Tittle, executive director of Recreation and Physical Education in the Duke University Athletic Association, was cited for her leadership to ensure that university athletic and recreation places, spaces and programs are welcoming to all members of the university community. From students to employees of all rank, Tittle has encouraged the Duke community to use university recreation resources to make positive change in their lives. As the head of one of the Healthy Duke Initiative’s five core areas – Physical Activity & Movement – Tittle is a campus leader in promoting the well-being of Duke’s diverse membership.

Felicia “is a leader with a quiet presence,” said her nominator, Chandra Guinn. “She creates opportunities for individuals to do what is right and equips them with the skills necessary to know what makes the difference.”

Danielle Purifoy, a Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Politics and African American Studies, was recognized for her research and activism on the intersection of race and local politics in the production of environmental inequality in North Carolina. A lawyer, Purifoy is also interested in the historic sociopolitical roots of contemporary environmental conditions in the U.S. South. Among her many activities, she helped lead Duke’s semester partnership with the historically black Paul Quinn College; assisted Duke’s partnership with Catherine Flowers and the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise; and she was co-creator of the In Conditions of Fresh Water multimedia exhibit featured at the Center for Documentary Studies.

“In her academic work and her private activities, Danielle Purifoy has dedicated herself to understanding and correcting racial injustice, especially as it relates to racial disparities in exposure to environmental and public health risk,” said Megan Mullin, who nominated Purifoy.

Michael J. Ivory Jr., a senior political science major and president of the Black Student Alliance, was cited for his campus leadership and his effort to promote art and writing at the university. A member of Spoken Verb, a Duke poetry group, Ivory has encouraged students to use art and literature to explore themselves and navigate their world.

“Michael’s beautiful, heartfelt, genuine writing inspires all who hear, no matter one’s age,” said Chandra Guinn, who nominated him. “With genuine humility, he encourages each of us to be human, to value our neighbors, to speak our truths, to take good care of ourselves, to make a difference in our communities, and to share our imperfections as a means of encouraging others.”

Divinity School Professor William Turner Jr., the James T. and Alice Mead Cleland Professor of the Practice of Preaching, also received special recognition for a long career here as a student and professor helping to make Duke a more inclusive, diverse and culturally responsive place, sharing the vision of Professor Samuel Dubois Cook.

For more information about Cook, visit the "HistoryMakers" oral history site and the Cook Society website.