Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Martina Dunford, February 18, 1999. Interview K-0142. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Community changes and lingering obstacles to progress

Dunford describes some of the changes, both positive and negative, that she had seen as the program director at the Edgemont Community Center in Durham, North Carolina, during the 1990s. In so doing, she stresses the role of cultural differences in some of the obstacles the African American community continued to face in achieving equality of opportunity.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Martina Dunford, February 18, 1999. Interview K-0142. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ALICIA ROUVEROL:
So maybe you could talk to me a little bit about how the constituents that you have served have changed over the nine years. That's really the time period that you've been here and kind of watching that.
MARTINA DUNFORD:
There's a positive and a negative to that, and I've watched it happen. That transgenerational thing—that system is what has happened that is scary. And that's the negative part of that, because people are coming and staying longer. At one point in time they were staying longer. It seems like an easy way—it takes away that self-independence that people need and that push forward for strength and survival to do better. That type of thing is what's the negative side to this whole thing, because they seem to think that. It's not a think, it's the way they feel. Because God knows, if you grow up in a certain environment that's what your accustomed to; you think that's okay. Again, like we were speaking earlier, for those people in the African American community that's fine if you grew up with the same things, not having this or not having that and this. That's just the way life is. But when you have to take on a culture of someone else's and see that there is a difference, then you have to—if you choose to meet those criterias, then you have to take another step up. Those are steps that you've not been taught how to do. So all in all, society looks at the African American community as if it's lazy and demeaning and don't do anything—or it's all about trouble—when in actuality it's not that as much as providing equal opportunities at the same time. If you've already established and given—it's almost like a game when someone else has been given the rules before you have, so you've played that game and you know how it works. It's almost like an amateur playing a professional in a game. He's been playing for twenty years, so he knows the ins and outs of everything. The amateur is coming in and having to learn it. But they put them in the same arena. And society has done that with the African American culture. They expect them to deliver and live up to the expectations without giving them the game—the rules of the game to play with. Until now—then we still have a partial set of rules. It's like, take this and you make out of it what you can get out of it. Then you are expected to be on that same level. And that's ridiculous; that's impossible to do. So in essence, they will always be behind the gun to a certain degree, because the more advanced things get, we're just for some of us are just—yes, there have been opportunities, and people will say that we're better educated now than we have ever been. But God knows you should've accomplished something over the last fifty, twenty, one hundred years. So that's expected. But are we there? No. We could not possibly be there, because they started fifty years before we did. Now we've got to play catch up and then get to where they were while they continue to advance. So it bothers me that society expects us as an African American to be there. Not that we're not there and we don't feel good about ourselves, because within our own culture we're fantastic. It's fine. But it's what society requires under that sort of governing rules called the constitution. They require everybody to be this, that and the other, but they don't want to provide that same law or those same things for us to be there. It's blatant. It's there. You cannot take a person out of the United States and set them in China and say function, because you don't have the tools to function with. So why can you not understand that about a culture that has not had the same things that the other cultures have had? When we ask to be on the same page, we did not say I needed to sit beside you to know these things. I just ask for the same equivalency that your going to give them, and quality. Give it to me and we'll figure it out. But it didn't work that way. So we're busy fighting, trying to help the people in the 90's—in this last decade in the 21st century—to understand that this is what is expected of you by society. So we're trying to change the attitudes and behaviors and perspectives, because that's not acceptable. In our community there are some things that are, and we can deal with it and don't have a problem with it. But society as a whole does not accept this and that and the other things.