In the last decade, Durham, North Carolina has undergone a “rejuvenation,” centered on downtown nightlife and residential redevelopment. But in that time, photojournalist Justin Cook has recorded a counter-narrative to that story about the city—his long-term project “Made in Durham” examines the deep-seated pain in the city, the result of longstanding racial and economic inequality. (Cook is also the subject of a story in PDN’s March 2016 issue, where he discusses how the project began.)
One of the book’s focuses is the grief caused by the murder of young, African American men. Cook follows several women who lost their sons as they try to make sense of the loss, and he records the community’s response to the violence. Looking deeper into the underlying cycle of poverty, crime and incarceration, Cook profiles African American men as they attempt to rebuild their lives after serving time in prison or surviving violence, and finds longstanding, systematic barriers to their success.
“Homicide is the fruit of poverty, and a criminal justice system that doesn’t protect black life from violence,” Cook writes in a statement about the project. But he continues to hope for change: “From the graveyard to the jail, from church basements to corner stores, our mothers, ministers, teachers, neighbors and community leaders gather in grief and solidarity. They improvise their own ways to deliver the next generation to The Promised Land. It’s an American story made in Durham.”
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