Courtney Morton '05 — Associate Executive Director for Program Services at Charlotte Family Housing

My Comparative Area Studies major (now ICS) focused on areas of the Middle East and Africa and led me to build bridges and work with populations in my own backyard. I currently serve as the Associate Executive Director for Program Services at Charlotte Family Housing, a housing and supportive services program for families. Our work focuses on empowering families to obtain and maintain permanent housing and we are motivated to build community among all of our neighbors in Charlotte.

I began studying Arabic as a foreign language at Duke in August 2001, one month before September 11, 2001. While discovering this dynamic, poetic language full of history and beauty, I was surrounded by messages in society and even among my friends that conflicted with and misrepresented the people and language I had come to love. I became convinced of the need to be critical of how our impressions of people are formed, and how those impressions impact how we relate to one another. It was the Comparative Area Studies major that allowed me to explore this—I had the chance to take classes in history, literature, art history, political science and language while unpacking narratives of power, place and identity and their role in empowering some while marginalizing others.

At Charlotte Family Housing we work directly with families who have experienced homelessness, partnering with them to identify and work toward their housing goals. We also work closely with volunteers who are matched with families to provide intentional relationships of support and encouragement. In most cases, the volunteers and families come from very different backgrounds. We work to build bridges across socioeconomic divides between people who might otherwise never meet. More often than not, families and volunteers discover that they share much in common and celebrate the changes they bring about in each other’s lives. It’s truly rewarding and remarkable to watch. In small ways—one relationship at a time—we take head on those narratives of power that I learned about in Comparative Area Studies. We help create new narratives that empower those at the margins of our city—these are stories of friendship, support and mutual accountability.