Midtown: Community

Southeast Raleigh shares ideas

A community that plans together can grow and change together.

Voices into Action: The Families, Food and Health Project invited Southeast Raleigh residents and community and organization leaders to meet for two days last weekend at Martin Street Baptist Church. Their mission: a search for strategies to improve access to healthy, affordable food and places to be active in Southeast Raleigh.

It was the third workshop held by Voices into Action in as many North Carolina counties, each defined as a food desert, an area lacking access to healthy food and places to be active. Funded by a USDA grant, Voices into Action is a project of N.C. State and N.C. A&T State universities, and the N.C. Cooperative Extension Agency. The project will award mini-grants to support initiatives that promote access to healthy food and physical activity.

A follow-up session to the Southeast Raleigh workshop will be held from 3:30 to 5 p.m. March 19 at Chavis Park Community Center.

“The goal of these workshops was not for us to just have the information, but for the community to have this information – and this wisdom,” Annie Hardison-Moody said. “We want to be sure we share what we learned on Saturday with everyone, with hope that we can move forward, in partnership, and promote access to healthy food and places to be active.”

Invited back are about 30 community, agency and nonprofit representatives who attended Day 1 of the workshop, and about 20 community members who shared information, strategies and action plans on Day 2. Also invited are 40 Wake County mothers who were interviewed by Voices into Action, said Sarah Bowen, project director.

We can go, too.

It’s important that ideas about how to improve access to healthy, affordable food and places to be active come from the folks who need it most, Bowen said.

“It’s about getting the perspective of the community members themselves instead of N.C. State or N.C. A&T State saying, ‘This is what we think,’ ” said Bowen, an assistant professor of sociology at N.C. State. “We don’t want to impose something, or assume anything.”

Four common themes emerged in the Southeast Raleigh workshop, Hardison-Moody said. Moving forward, strategy will center on communication, organizing, community gardens, and education and knowledge, she said.

Talk about Southeast Raleigh’s food desert status gained grassroots momentum in December when community advocate Corey Branch organized a community meeting at Martin Street Baptist. Then, many residents were focused on the disenfranchisement of Kroger’s decision to close two Southeast Raleigh stores.

What surprised Bowen is the consistency with which workshop attendees saw the closings, although devastating, as a second chance to get it right.

“It is obviously a challenge, but it is an opportunity to do something about it, and to do something that the community wants,” Bowen said. “There is some momentum. They want to act on this.”

Workshop attendee Meshel Williams wants better access to information about community services and goings-on.

“A lot of times, I just happen to hear about things, word of mouth,” said Williams, 44. “People have no means of knowing. Let’s raise awareness.”

Alongside Williams was Bonita Brown. Her husband, the Rev. Charles Brown, leads Wesleyan First Church of Deliverance, located off New Bern Avenue in an area notorious for drugs, prostitution and other crime.

“We want to discover the needs of this community, and how to make it safer and healthier,” said Brown, a retired probation officer assigned cases in Southeast Raleigh. “We want to change it, not run away from it.

“We live here. We worship here. This is our home.”