Keith Bishop, political chair of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and a practicing lawyer in civil and criminal law, loads his car at the Committee's headquarters on Tuesday, November 6 before driving out to various polling locations to feed and coordinate with volunteers.
Bishop's responsibilities on Election Day consisted of picking up volunteers and delivering them to polling sites with proper materials in-hand, going back-and-forth from the Committee's headquarters on Fayetteville Street to various polling locations within Durham County to bring food and drink to stationed volunteers, and coordinating with his fellow Committee members to ensure efficiency.
The DCABP, since its inception in 1935, has become increasingly political over time as it seeks to further the interests of its represented community. Around election time, the Committee interviews candidates and endorses those who the organization believes will promote equity and focus on the wellbeing of the community. While the Committee has a solid historic record of endorsing winning candidates, the outcome of any election is ultimately uncertain. "When you don’t win, it’s because you don’t work hard enough," Bishop said. "We are not here to run your campaign, and if you make bad judgments you live with it."
Bishop was born in 1963 in British Guyana. At age 13, his parents emigrated to the United States, settling in New York for much of Bishop's life. In 1988, Bishop moved to Durham, N.C., where he's been practicing law within his own firm, Keith A. Bishop PLLC, for more than twenty years. Knowing what sacrifice his parents made on his behalf in coming to the U.S., Bishop is deliberate about his own life choices: "My primary responsibility is to take care of my family. To pursue happiness, self-preservation, and make sure my family has the same options."
Despite the seriousness and level of scrutiny much of his work as a lawyer requires, Bishop cannot hide his smile for long. His humor is infectious, and on Election Day he brought a smile to the faces of every volunteer he visited. "I like to just peel away all of the nonsense to find out what is at play," said Bishop: "If you claim to be a believer, you go right down to the point of beginning. We’re all human individuals fashioned in the light of the creator."
Assisting in candidates' campaigns is nearly a full-time job, on top of the civil and criminal cases Bishop manages on a daily basis. Given how well-versed Bishop is in this area of politics, and how literate he is in the area of government operations, why hasn't he himself run for office? "I’ve wanted to run, but there are [other] things that require my focused attention," he said: "As the old saying goes, 'Charity begins at home.' Put your house in order before you try to fix others."
What are the most common and pressing concerns for the black community of Durham, specifically? The answer, according to Bishop, lies in the issues of housing fairness, economic opportunity, and justice. Bishop is especially frustrated with over-policing of black neighborhoods, and the profound impact such policing has on families. "You lock up all the men, and the women can’t do it all themselves," Bishop said: "Now you have a whole bunch of single women running the houses. It breaks the community."
Most of the volunteers with DCABP on Election Day were over 60, but a couple volunteers were college-aged. Bishop was optimistic about the increased voter turnout among millennial-aged voters. "It may just mean that they’ve seen enough and they’ve heard enough and they understand it sufficiently to decide, 'You know what, now is the time,'" said Bishop. Regarding the elderly folks, Bishop is aware of how influential older generations are in the voting process. "The old people ... they’re engaged and they’re involved, and they live longer that way," he said. "You don’t want them to die because we stopped listening to them."
Bishop's day started with a pick-up from the Chicken Hut in Durham of around thirty meal boxes containing fried chicken, green beans, macaroni and cheese, a bread roll and a cookie. Many volunteers had been standing outdoors at their respective polling locations through the rainfall— some for more than 8 hours. Bishop drove from station to station delivering food and drink to various individuals, from morning to dusk.
At the end of the day, Bishop disclosed that much of what he does today is influenced by what he wants for his children, and his children's children, in years to come. "We want to live as long as we can, live through our children," he said: "So we want to provide for their security. And to pursue happiness— we want to live free and happy."