Moral, Happy, Productive: Kennedy Turner '23
Story and Photo by Melody Guyton Butts

One can see someone every day but never really know them. We might say hi, hold a door open for them, offer thanks for an act of kindness. But to truly build community, Kennedy Turner ’23 believes it’s most meaningful to really make an effort to get to know those people we see every day. To sit down with them, learn about their interests and families, maybe get beyond the small talk.

Over the course of the last year, Turner has made a concerted effort
to do exactly that with some of the unsung heroes of the Durham Academy community — members of
the maintenance and security teams. One by one, she and fellow members of the Upper School RAISE (Raising Awareness for Inclusion and Social Equity) Committee are interviewing as many of these often behind-the-scenes staff members
as possible and sharing video recordings of their conversations with the Upper School community.

“One of the questions was ‘what do you most enjoy about DA,’ and all of them were like, ‘the students,’” Turner said. “And I thought that was just so nice to hear that — every single one of them said the students — and that definitely put into perspective how much they really care about us and our well being. But it made me sad for us, because we don't always really acknowledge them in the way that we should.”

The interviews are part of an initiative coined the “Gratitude Project,” which stemmed from conversations among RAISE members in spring 2021. Turner credits the COVID-19 pandemic with prompting them to think about people who impact their lives but whom they didn’t often see. Initially, Mariam Abdelbarr ’23 planned to take the lead on the project, but when she transferred to N.C. School of Science and Mathematics for her junior year, Turner volunteered to spearhead the initiative.

“I was thinking about all the people who we see on campus every day, but we don't really know,” she recalled. “And I know that DA tries to make sure we're a community. But I feel like if we're not recognizing the people that we see every day, we’re not really the community we want to be.”

Turner has enjoyed having the opportunity to sit down and chat with the maintenance and security team members. In her recent conversation with maintenance team member Mac “Big Mac” McDonald, the interview that was scheduled to last five or 10 minutes stretched on for 45 minutes in the blink of an eye. They talked about their families and their shared experience of having grown up in Durham.

“It has just been nice getting to know them on a regular human level. Like Mr. Cleary, we talked in the spring, when we were just starting to film these videos in the spring of my sophomore year,” Turner said of Director of Security Jim Cleary. “Again, we were supposed to talk for 10, 20 minutes, and we ended up talking for almost an hour. Just about basketball, the college rivalry of UNC and Duke basketball. And while we did talk about his career, it was mainly just getting to know each other.”

The Gratitude Project has not only enabled Upper Schoolers to better get to know some of the familiar faces from around campus, but also to express their gratitude to them in an organized way. Around Thanksgiving 2021, RAISE shared the first video featuring Gratitude Project conversations, and Turner assigned each Upper School advisory group a maintenance or security team member so that the students could create thank-you cards for them.

With the retirement of longtime maintenance foreman Randy Baker looming near the end of the school year, Turner expanded on the Gratitude Project to ensure that he knew just how much he was appreciated by the entire school. This winter, she set up posters on the Middle and Upper School campuses so that faculty and staff could write notes of appreciation, and she worked with Preschool and Lower School teachers to create a video featuring well wishes from students and teachers.

“One of my first memories at DA was when I was 4 years old, watching Mr. Baker drive around on one of the golf carts. I remember him smiling and waving hello and always being busy helping other people,” Turner recalled of the longtime maintenance foreman in a speech at the Upper School’s Magnificent Community assembly in March. “From the time I started Preschool until my fourth-grade graduation, I saw Mr. Baker almost every day. Although I didn’t know the details of his job, it seemed like he was doing something new every day. As I got older, I realized he was actually doing something new every day.

“It’s his versatility and dependability that helps our school run. For as long as I can remember, any time a situation or problem occurred, my nosey child ears would hear, ‘call Randy, he can fix it.’ … My appreciation for Mr. Baker continues to grow each and every day.”

Watch the Preschool/Lower School video created for Baker.

Watch the Gratitude Project video featuring conversations with maintenance and security team members.