Attitudes Threaten Southside Progress
By Gary West88 Published: April 19, 2009
For almost 20 years, I have spent a major portion of my life in the area of our city known as the Southside. I have seen days of celebration, days of despair and everything in between. I have been a part of meetings and marches, discussions and evaluations related to the betterment of that community. I have known both encouragement and criticism. Over the past few years some good things have happened. New housing has developed under the auspices of the Statesville Housing Authority. Old abandoned dwellings have been demolished. Efforts at cleaning up have been scheduled. Programs are in place to give guidance and support.
A new shelter facility now stands on Fifth Street. While I find these new realities to be most uplifting, there are still occasions that cause me frustration and anger. On Sunday, April 5, an incident occurred that fueled those emotions, especially the anger. My wife was leaving the shelter after carrying out an assignment. Our granddaughter was riding with her in the back seat of the car. As Patti drove down Fifth Street, she noticed a group of young men, numbering a dozen or so, standing in the middle of the street.
Over the years this has become a common feature, especially on weekends, in the evenings and during the warmer times of the year. Those who stand in the street, adult and youth alike, will make no haste to move. As one drives through, they will most likely be subjected to cursing and perhaps even the hitting of one's automobile.
On this particular day, however, the situation escalated. A young man jumped up on the front of the car. Others began to kick and hit the vehicle. A successful attempt was made to open the doors, and the doors were swung back and forth. Both my wife and granddaughter heard someone in the group call my wife by name. She was finally able to pass through the crowd and speed away.
In my more terribly cynical moments, when I think of the effort on the part of so many to revitalize Southside, I sometimes feel like asking, "Why add new sidewalks? A relatively fair number of folks do not walk on the sidewalks already there. They walk down the middle of the streets. Slowly. Defiantly."
My cynicism finally pushes me to say ENOUGH. There are a lot of folks, both on the Southside and throughout the city, who have labored hard to make a difference in that area, and they seem to be willing to continue.
But something else needs to happen. What is needed is not going to occur until some of the residents of that area take responsibility, stand up and speak out. It may mean telling the young people to get out of the streets and onto the sidewalks. It may mean rolling over on the drug deals and drug houses that are down the street or right next door.
The police do what they can, but they need the help of the neighborhood. It may mean taking a stand against increasing gang activity. It may mean that the neighborhoods take responsibility for clean-up instead of acquiescing to other groups coming in and doing the work for them. It may mean the elders, faith communities and any other willing souls must somehow find a way to teach that in order to be respected, an individual must show respect.
I realize that these words may be to the chagrin of some. I am quite willing to say that perhaps I need more understanding. I am willing to listen to anyone who could offer me the needed correction and edification. I only place one condition to such an encounter.
First, allow your spouse and child or grandchild to drive through a neighborhood and be attacked violently by a group standing in the middle of the street and be frightened beyond belief. Then come talk to me.
Gary West is executive director of Fifth Street Shelter.
This is what happens when you have 19 years experience and tick off a lot of people by throwing people out of a homeless shelter who feel they were wrongly thrown out. You develop enemies. He says he's willing to listen to anyone who wants to correct him or edify him, but to place such a condition on it is not right. Perhaps the scuttlebut on the street is correct and that if he changed one thing, he might not make so many enemies. That one thing is to stop basing your opinion on someone on the first "bad" thing you hear about that person. There are always 2 sides to a story, not just the one you hear first!