A positive step for city

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 24, 2014

Close your eyes.

Close your eyes and imagine your neighborhood and community a generation from now. Imagine it as you would like it to be.

Describe what that would look like.

Now — here’s the hard part — what will people say you accomplished to help make that happen?

So went the closing question presented to 100-plus people gathered Wednesday evening for a community meeting at Miller Recreation Center. The thought-provoking query said a lot about the people who organized the session and their purpose. They weren’t there to bash city officials for not doing enough to fight crime. They didn’t whine about the culture of drugs, guns, gangs and violence that has people living in fear in their own neighborhoods. They were there to build community and help make Salisbury a better place.

The West End Community Organization, West End Pride and The Chamber (not to be confused with the Rowan Chamber of Commerce) called the meeting in reaction to violence that has plagued the West End. But they declared it open to everyone because crime and poverty are communitywide concerns. And Salisbury is fortunate enough — blessed enough — to have grassroots organizations that want to bring about positive change.

They set the tone Wednesday night with two powerful presentations. One speaker, in law enforcement, talked passionately about saving young people from gangs. Another shared how his bad decisions about dealing drugs in the 1990s right here in Salisbury led him to lose 18 years of his life to prison.

It was a two-hour meeting, and that didn’t leave a lot of time for people to voice their concerns. But it may have been enough. People shared their reactions to three thoughtful questions — questions that helped keep the meeting from becoming a gripe session. And they had people fill out surveys that dealt with the nitty gritty. What are the top three safety issues in your community? Do they impact your quality of life and how? Is there adequate law enforcement presence? Do you think city leaders truly care? How could the community be more physically attractive?

They ended it there, but the questions could go on and on: How does this effort go beyond preaching to the choir? How can messages reach the young people who are at the heart of the matter? And so on.

The grassroots groups will compile the information and develop a community plan, something residents and city officials should look forward to eagerly.

This does not happen in a vacuum. Police also are trying to address citizens’ concerns about crime in the West End, adding a community relations officer and opening a substation a few hours each week. Those measures may seem inadequate to frustrated residents, but they are a start — something to build on.

Some people are all talk and no action, but not the men and women who organized Wednesday’s meeting. The session was a promising, intelligent step forward — the first, let’s hope, of many to come.