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We have a lot in common

Frustrated citizens gather to take action. They’ve lost confidence that elected officials care about their concerns. They want to go in a different direction. And they gather opinions to start drawing up a new strategy or agenda.
Sound familiar? Obviously that describes last week’s community meeting at Miller Recreation Center about gangs and violence. People tired of gunfire and living in fear don’t believe city leaders are really listening. So they started a grassroots movement.
The scenario above also describes the “Building Successful Communities” forum held in March at the Trolley Barn. People frustrated with a lack of economic progress in Rowan County got together to start mapping out a new vision.
The two gatherings had some overlap in attendees. And in both cases, the meeting was permeated by a sense that we have lost something — a sense of security, be it in the streets or in the economy. And that scares us.
Yet in one sense this is the best of times. Salisbury-Rowan has reached a unique moment of opportunity. People across the economic spectrum are engaged and advocating for community improvement. County leadership is about to change with the November election. The schools are headed by a new superintendent. Salisbury’s city manager has exited the scene and City Council is keenly aware of citizen unrest. We have a greater chance of building unity now than we’ve had in a long time.
Stories about the anti-violence movement always mention the West End Community Organization, West End Pride and The Chamber — not to be confused with the Chamber of Commerce. But maybe the Chamber of Commerce should be involved in the movement, or at least support it. And the effort to draw more jobs and business opportunity to Salisbury-Rowan is certainly worthy of support from the anti-violence crowd.
Both movements really want the same things — better economic opportunities. Better education for our young people and better job prospects for them after they graduate. Their concerns are intertwined.
Clee Atkinson gave an apt example during his talk here last week. A law enforcement officer in Rocky Mount, he responded to a report of gang gunfire at a mall. When he got there, the first person he saw run out was his niece. It scared him to death to think she might have been caught in the crossfire. Officers broke up the shooting and things settled down again. But guess what happened to the mall? No one wanted to shop there anymore.
Consider that an allegory, a story of what could happen to an entire community. Threats to personal safety also threaten our economic security, and vice versa. We are all at risk. So let’s work together to make this a safer place to live.

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