By Nana Asante-Smith
Vernetta is one of the most brilliant and thoughtful people I have ever had the honor of knowing. I remember first encountering Vernetta in October of 2014 when I was a second-year law student. She served as one of three panelists at a school sponsored event to discuss their respective roles in the process to secure the exonerations of Henry McCollum (formerly the longest serving death row inmate) and Leon Brown, two men wrongly convicted of a brutal murder in 1984. Vernetta was Mr. McCollum’s post-conviction attorney. Her humility and humanity were awe-inspiring. She humanized the practice of law in a way that is not always as common as it should be. By the time I left the panel discussion, one thing was clear: if I ever had to fight for my life, freedom, or an opportunity, I would want Vernetta fighting for me.
Serving as an advocate for those who have been wrongfully convicted is not a commitment that many of us can make. The fortitude required and taxing hours are undeniable. Yet, even in the midst of such grueling professional demands, Vernetta has managed to also serve the Durham community as an advocate for LGBTQ, immigrant rights, and beyond as a GED tutor at TROSA and a member of Durham’s Citizens Advisory Committee.
Born and raised in Durham with family roots that run deep in this community, she has an authentic appreciation for Durham’s gems and an organic commitment to addressing its unique challenges. Vernetta knows that the future of Durham cannot productively be discussed without acknowledging its rich and intricate history. Through her professional experiences, research, and personal engagements, Vernetta is constantly challenging herself, and others, to educate themselves about dynamics that contribute to the wide array of inequities that exist in Durham, and more importantly, their plausible solutions.
Where most people might run from challenges that seem daunting with no guarantee of victory, Vernetta welcomes them and embraces them as opportunities. She knows that the path to equality is trodden with uncertainty, and yet she fights. For her, the essence of Durham means that it is a place that is safe, welcoming, and prosperous for all. As a proud Black and LGBTQ woman, Vernetta is in a unique position to empathize with the struggles and triumphs of those who are marginalized in Durham. In spite of her empathy, she is humble enough to know that people’s life experiences are just that – their own. She is conscious and she is mindful. As a result, she knows that everyone deserves a seat at the table, and her ability to mobilize and energize the community throughout the course of her campaign trail reflects that. There is no doubt that this will remain true for Vernetta, if she is given the opportunity to serve Durham, long after she has taken her oath and her seat in City Hall.
City Council members are tasked with developing an intimate understanding of a wide range of issues that are essential to the well-being of Durham. Throughout the course of her campaign, Vernetta has thought critically, researched meaningfully, and spoken eloquently about a host of issues, from zoning to responsible policing. Where there are opportunities to ask questions, she asks. When she can impart wisdom, she does so and does it with confidence. Vernetta is a refreshing balance of brilliance, advocacy, critical analysis, and humanity. She is worthy of Durham’s trust and confidence. I am “Team V”.