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What do you want to see Durham become? (In one word)

Guest post by Dipika Kohli

"Find your cool?" said a young, Pinhook-goer late one night, half jesting but serious, too. "Come on, Durham. Find your slogan."

I spit up my drink.

Did she really just say that? Ouch.

I'm from North Carolina. I've lived in Kyoto, southwest Ireland, and Seattle, but I've always felt some part of me was right here in Durham. This is where I started the growing-up process in 1991 as a junior at Science & Math, after a mind-blowing summer sitting in circles talking about the big questions like, "Who am I?," at Governor's School East when it was still in Laurinburg and people sang along to Extreme.

Why do we alums mist over when we talk about those days? Maybe because ideas were more important than solutions. Concepting mattered more than rote memorization, or plug and chug mechanics. We showed up for class not for the content, but because we were with so many other people who cared about the same kinds of things that we did. These voices came from all over the state, and for many of us that was new, too. Just meeting each other's eyes, we could see there was, that there could be, more.

More conversations of quality, the kinds that would change the course of our lives. More love. More acceptance in simply being welcomed to the table. We were included, and that felt good.

In more than a thousand conversations with groups of different sizes since GSE and later, through my work with people searching for meaning as part of designing brand identities, I've seen one critical thing can make or break brilliance. Dialogue. True creative dialogue, where everyone feels they're being heard.

Even in the most basic family unit, spouses want to be heard. Teens want to, too, under their onion skin of aloofness. Bosses, teachers, mothers, toddlers, high schoolers, landlords, the people at the line at the checkout who've been home all day alone, cafe-going creative classers---all of us. All of us want to feel that our voice matters. That we count.

When that happens, we can talk in a way that helps us get to know our true selves. Expressing that part of us to the world comes next.

"Whoa, let's not get crazy," a lot of people say if I venture into the territory of asking what we're really living for, anyways. "That's hard."

Of course it is.

But if we're not living the lives of our true selves, how can we ever fulfill our greatest potential? How can we know what being here was for if we just zup along the vector of "how we've always done it," or "how it's always been."

Questioning and search---that's what we did when we were teens trying to figure out who we are, and that's what the adults we've trained ourselves not to expand on now feel like getting back to. If we can't, we feel a lack. A lack of meaning.

Later in life we will, of course. We'll examine and discover some of the things that a Guardian article reported as the top regrets of the dying. The one I always quote goes, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

How can we mend this gap between what we are today, and the very best of what we could become tomorrow? How can we bring that vision closer?

The STITCH project, designed and conceived by my partner in life and business, Akira Morita, aims to make us all think about what kind of place we'd like to see Durham become.

The "one-word" project, as people have been calling it, started over the winter when Akira and our 4 year-old son went right up to total strangers in restaurants, cafes, sidewalks, the farmer's market, and cultural events at places like Hayti, Motorco, and Carolina Theater. They asked, "In one word, what would you like to see Durham become?"

When you see people pause and try to come up with something original, you are seeing the creative process breathe. You see people look at one another, try out something, go back and test it out with their gut, and then, finally, arrive at their one word.

There are 276.

Now, Akira and I, along with 24 artists who want to create works inspired by these words, are asking you to support the creation of the new work. See the 24 (and counting) proposals and pick your favorites. See the link to the kickstarter page at:

But this is just the beginning. After STITCH launches here in Durham, we'll take up an invitation to design a STITCH for people in Sikkim, India, and other places, too. For more information, contact

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