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Community ready for forward action

It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will.

By Ken Hardin
Special to the Salisbury Post
Those lyrics from the 1963 song by Sam Cooke have been the unofficial anthem and rallying cry for The Chamber in the months leading up to our successful partnership with the West End Community and West End Pride Organizations. As a result, we had strong participation in the July 23 Community Wide Meeting held at the Miller Rec Center.
In the interim, we’ve received tremendous positive feedback but have also received some criticism because we “weren’t hard enough on the city leaders and the Salisbury PD.” Those who felt the latter missed the point of the meeting and the intent of what we were trying to accomplish. The focus was not to look backwards and spotlight perceived failings by the city. That is backward thinking and The Chamber is about forward thinking and forward action. Neither The Chamber nor anyone on the West End is looking for an adversarial or antagonistic relationship with the City. Residents simply want to be heard and involved in the decisions that impact their lives.
In 1995, I assisted the City and led a West End revitalization initiative that focused on crime, violence and improving the aesthetics of that community. In 2014, I’m back at Miller Rec leading an initiative that’s focusing on the same things. In 2004, my home on West Fisher Street was nearly hit by gunfire while my small kids were playing in the back yard. In early 2014, my parents’ home, two blocks away from that address, was hit by gunfire. So, pointing out past failures, regardless of who is at fault, is a bit disingenuous and counterproductive to progress at this point. With that in mind, has there really been any progress in the 10 or nearly 20 years?
Our goal that night and moving forward is to move the community from a victimization mentality as they’ve been unfairly labeled at times, defuse anger and move the community from emotion to logic to encourage everyone to become stakeholders and owners in the process. We felt it was time to stop waiting on City leaders and the Police Department to come up with the solutions and interventions that impact OUR communities. So we wanted to use evidence-based information to identify exactly where the issues were, and then allow the people who are impacted to come up with their own solutions and interventions.
Another goal was to start building a process of trust and initiate a positive dialogue between the community and city/county leaders. I’ve always had a great relationship with Sheriff Kevin Auten, and he is well respected in the black community. Since the meeting, I’ve had great extended conversations with Chief Rory Collins and we’re working to extend that to the greater community. I participated in a great meeting at the Miller Rec Center last Wednesday attended by Mayor Paul Woodson, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell and other City leaders. I was pleased with the level of open and honest dialogue that resulted. Progress.
Finally, we wanted to create a more cohesive relationship between all the communities, where people were no longer thinking and talking about “those people over there” or identifying other communities as too elitist or downtrodden to interact with. I think we accomplished all our goals.
Data from the July 23 meeting may reveal nothing new, earth-shattering or uniquely different. When you couple the comments with the data, what you will find is that people are scared, hurting and have an intense unsafe feeling. Additionally, people don’t feel the city leaders or the police culturally understand them or are emotionally invested enough in their communities and lives. Lastly, people want a cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing environment where they live, with abandoned homes being torn down, overgrown yards maintained and litter picked up.
Some good, strong people worked hard on putting this process together and I would like to ensure they’re recognized and their thoughts are included. Dr. Yolanda Meade-Byrd created the survey and formatted the questions. Others who played integral roles and were critical to this success were Chris Sharpe, Brenda Peoples and Nicolas Means in addition to Chris Sifford, Anthony Smith, Shirley McLaughlin and Dee Dee Wright. This small group of committed individuals put egos and agendas aside to ensure a change is gonna come to all of Salisbury. I hope many more will come prepared to do the same Monday night.

Kenneth L. Hardin of Salisbury is a member of The Chamber.

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