Monday, August 26, 2013

Saying goodbye to Durham after 25 years

Dorian Bolden, owner of the Beyu Café, has offered his space for a farewell party.  Join Carl W. Kenney II to celebrate his time in Durham on Sunday, September 22 from 4:30-8:00 pm.  Beyu Café is located at 335 W. Main Street. Due to limited seating, please Email:

36 days and counting.

The clock is ticking down on my time in Durham.  I’m leaving the place that has been home for 25 years.  Yes, it’s hard to say goodbye.  No, I didn’t want to leave.  I have no option but to leave.

I’m headed to Columbia, Missouri to take care of my dad, work on getting my recent novel published, finish writing the next novel and think seriously about what will be next.  I consider this a time away from the chaos to listen to the wind after moving too fast to hear my own heartbeat.

My decision to leave comes out of a deep obligation to take care of both of my parents.  Aging has not been good on my father, and he needs the love and support of his son.  Going home may not be best for me, but it is the only option given the variables facing me.

My departure comes after 11 years of attempting to recreate myself. I came to Durham to attend divinity school, establish myself as the pastor of a local church and to build long term relationships with the people in that church.  Things didn’t quite work out the way I hoped.

I’m glad they didn’t.

What happened was transformative.  I could blame a few key people for introducing me to the real work of social justice.  My studies at Duke University and the Princeton Theological Seminary forced me to connect my theology to the work of faith.  Oftentimes, I was left troubled at the activity of the Church.  That work seemed maligned by a need to maintain the influence of the Church as a corporate entity.  I became more politician and businessman, and attempted to find a way to be genuine in the exercise of my faith.

Yes, it came with a price. 

My release from the inner battle came when Bob Wilson asked me to write a column for the Durham Herald-Sun. Ironically, my first column was printed on my birthday, July 20, 1997.  My column appeared every Sunday on the editorial page until I decided to leave in 2005 to work for the Independent Weekly and the News & Observer-Durham News.

My columns have shaped my identity.  The combination of ministry and column writing has forced me to ponder questions and topics that mandate the pondering of accountability.  Much deeper than the desire to keep others accountable, the real issue has been in maintaining my own accountability to what I preach, teach and write about.

This has been a mission of learning.  It has also been one of sacrifice.  The hardest part has been fighting the urge to remain silent.  That combined with my commitment to never take a side, to stand on the outside as much as possible and to fight the temptation to refrain from writing due to the possible negative consequences that come with alienating people, has been a constant scuffle.

I’ve grappled long and hard with the assumptions people make.  My ministries – writing and pulpit – have attempted to expose the implications that come with standing in privilege.  I have refused to be defined by what others imagine due to what they see.  I am more than a black person.  I am more than a man.  I am much more than a Christians.  I’ve fought to maneuver a place of security by establishing a home within a community obligated to endorsing the agenda of a group. 

We all have positions of privilege that require being checked from time to time.  This truth has taught me a lesson about political systems.  They are, at the root, formed to negotiate positions of power and privilege.  Most are designed to promote and protect group and self-interest, and, more often than not, others are left demoralized by their agenda.

My work has forced me to maintain a level of personal accountability.  I’ve evolved over the years, often coming back to apologize for a misguided opinion.  Growth demands a willingness to separate oneself from their thought process.  We all should create space to rise above words rooted in limited information. 

I’ve learned the difference between a person’s opinion and that person.  I’ve discovered a community of hurting people.  Many serve as key leaders.  Some are hurting for reasons beyond their control.  Others suffer because of their mistakes.  All of them need a place to heal.  Healing is often preceded by a willingness to change.

Accountability.  That is the word that has molded my life and work.  The shift for me came after pondering the real significance of that word.  Accountability is about making decisions consistent with your personal mission statement.  It means being willing to stand and speak, even when doing so causes serious harm due to the people impacted  by those words and actions.

My move back to Missouri is for a season.  I’m not sure how long I will stay.  I do know the desire to Pastor is bubbling within.  As I wait for congregations to decide on my worthiness to serve, I continue to write.  I continue to fight for those unwilling or unable to speak.

I may return to Durham someday.  I’ve learned that it’s best to walk in faith.  Doing so means allowing the energy of the universe to lead the way.  I do know that leaving Durham is not a farewell.  Love has kept me here this long.  To all I love, distance will not change that.

I like to think of this as the continuation of a journey.  Each step is a lesson in life.  The blessing is in walking with those I call friends.  It’s not where you walk; it’s the people who hold your hand along the way.

Thanks for holding mine.



  1. Dear Carl,

    Good for you for continuing to attend to your inner voice, including the one that's telling you to go home and take care of your dad. To be fully alive, it is important to attend to the small tasks as well as the larger ones; and sometimes one finds that the small tasks end up being the biggest ones of all, and the most important.

    Good luck in the next leg of your journey, and come back when you can.

    Dorothy Potter Snyder

  2. Rev. Carl, I'm so glad to have had a chance to worship with you, learn from you, and laugh with you during your time in Durham. I wish you all the best on this next stage in your epic journey, and pray that you'll be blessed in all your endeavors, just as you've blessed so many others. -Marsha Michie

  3. Praying for all that your heart desires Pastor. I will miss your close proximity but will definitely keep in touch.

  4. I certainly didn't agree with many of your positions and approaches, Rev, but appreciated your insights.

    We will be a little poorer with you gone, but your dad will be a lot richer.

  5. You will not regret your time with your parents, when all is said & done. You are blessed to have this time, and so you can say what needs to be said, things you may not even know at this time. Bloom where you are planted for this next season, and your path will show itself in God's time. I hope it leads back to Durham, as I appreciate your original voice, but even if it does not, Durham is the better for your stay.

  6. God Bless you on your next journey. Will miss your aura on Ninth street..and perhaps will still be here when you come back to visit.Keep us posted and if you need some cool toys just let us know.Look forward to reading your new book...Play House Toy Store