Since I was a little girl, I could navigate the area around Raleigh’s downtown Amtrak station with my eyes closed. Mine is a family of train travelers, likely because it was Granddaddy’s life’s work.
But last week, as I turned left on South Street just past the car detail shop once owned by my neighbors – now by a developer – and an adjacent barrier for new condos, I nearly crashed into a new streetscape median.
It reminded me what happens when a community of traditional disinvestment, like the Southeast Raleigh I grew up in, attracts investment. When gentrification changes the landscape and population so much it overshadows the history and culture of a place to the point of no return.
And it highlighted two questions flooding my social media these days: Have we forgotten about Southeast Raleigh, and how much of it still matters?
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“It’s fading away,” said Diana Powell, a grassroots community activist who founded Justice Served North Carolina and who helps spearhead Bring Back the Village, a community forum created to unite and empower residents and youth. “In two years, who’s it going to matter to?”
A community answer is coming July 1: the SE Raleigh Still Matters Festival, a daylong gathering to celebrate Southeast Raleigh’s history, enjoy the area as it is today and explore visions of tomorrow, Powell said.
It’s a couple months away, so everything’s not set in stone. While social media queries seek community ideas and suggestions on everything from local entertainment to local business and vendor support, Powell is trying to secure permits to block off a few streets around the Lenoir Street corridor.
Every Monday night, community nonprofits and advocacy groups settle in at the State Street Community Life Center to brainstorm, seal plans, compare notes and share resources.
“Southeast Raleigh hasn’t lost hope,” said Shelia Alamin-Khashoggi, founder of the J.T. Locke Resource Center which helps families, youth and community organizations navigate social, educational and economic issues. “There is a lot of richness in Southeast Raleigh we should not lose.
“You can’t just throw us out and push us away. We have a lot of value, and we still care about people, our land, our culture and our housing. Southeast Raleigh does matter and it matters to us.”
That’s the important part, that we zero in on how to maintain and take back what we can before it’s all gone. We need to focus on preserving Southeast Raleigh’s cultural identity, and increase our demand for economic diversity and affordable housing – all while ensuring there’s enough balance for us all to benefit and have access to improvements in schools, neighborhoods, parks, transportation, shopping and dining.
I hope it’s not too late, but my gut – and my eyes – say it’s most certainly past high time. It’s been happening in our own backyard, right under our noses, for over a decade.
Skepticism kept my eyes peeled, especially since February 2016 when Raleigh joined cities nationwide noted for the shooting death of a young black man by a white cop.
At least some of the talk talked then is moving. Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown chatted in a church basement with residents, gang members made a truce and shared what led them to the streets, and a legal clinic deemed 287 people qualified to get their criminal records expunged.
I’m not the only one paying attention.
“I look at the city as a plant. If a plant is not growing it dies,” said Raleigh City Councilman Corey Branch, who represents Southeast Raleigh, where he and I were raised. “As a city, we have to figure out how we can grow together, and this is one way for us to come together and grow together.”