Dr. Bishop Walter Durham is a man of amazing insight. Having lost his sight 17 years ago, the result of exposure to Agent Orange and a diabetic condition, he is a neighbor aware of people around him and alert to their ongoing social and economic challenges. He currently lives on Thomas street and has lived and worked on the southeast side for the last 35 years after moving back to Grand Rapids in the early 80’s.
Bishop Durham spent many years of his youth living and going to school not far from where he now resides. Born in 1945 into a family that included two sisters and two brothers, he moved to GR as a seven-year-old from Canton Ohio and navigated the public-school system as a student at Henry School, Vandenberg School, and Central High School. In a wide-ranging interview with BPN staff members, Dr. Durham told many stories to illustrate the dual life he led in his youthful days. He described himself as a gangster and a good guy. He was a school safety who looked out for others, but he also ended up as a gang leader. He became a star football player in high school, but he also participated in questionable activities and protected others involved in criminal behavior.
With the help of Margaret Holmes, an English teacher at Central, Bishop Durham graduated in 1964. Ms. Holmes was able to get beneath his outward disinterest and identify his gifts of leadership and learning. This launched Dr. Durham into a variety of job experiences that included working with his grandma on Mackinac Island, being drafted into the army in 1967, spending time in Thailand as a communications specialist, playing semi-pro football, becoming a post office supervisor, serving as Director of a home for the handicapped, assisting in family businesses, working for the Board of Education, and eventually becoming a pastor and denominational leader. Along the way, Bishop Durham experienced marriage and divorce, the birth of five children, and the pain of broken sibling relationships.