Kenneth L. Hardin: Missing my old stomping grounds

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 20, 2022

I live in a predominantly white neighborhood. Oh no, don’t applaud because I’m not bragging. I was simply stating a fact. Back in 2014, we moved from the majority Black West End neighborhood, where I was born and raised, and where my three kids were as well.  We had to for their safety due to escalating gang and gun violence that has not lessened despite the myriad of different cute names of failed cease fire programs that exist. I’ve never felt comfortable living here. Imagine taking in a deep breath of air and holding it in for nearly two decades. I’m looking to escape the city limits soon, so I can finally let out that air.

I miss the West End of my childhood. My newer-old hood let me down before we moved.  I don’t miss the helicopters that hovered over the housing projects a few blocks from us.  I don’t miss the continual nightly gunfire that permeated the silence. I don’t miss the constant police and fire truck sirens that alternated with gunshots in competition to steal more of the silence. I don’t miss seeing police cars setting land speed records flying up and down the neighborhood roads. I don’t miss constantly having to confront drug addicts trying to rifle through my garage. I hate that I have the memory burned into my mind of bullets from a drive-by shootout nearly striking my small kids playing basketball in our backyard. That was the final straw.

My heart breaks every time I drive through now and have to dodge poorly paved narrow streets while gazing at a maze of abandoned and dilapidated structures and empty lots once home to a thriving and bustling community. When I walked the streets as a young man, it was a welcoming and inviting community.  I talk about the area glowingly now because I have more years behind me than in front, and I don’t know if that cognitive memory bank will always be open for withdrawals. One of my biggest regrets is not making recordings of all the front porch conversations my grandmother and I had rocking in her big chairs for hours every day.  I enjoyed sitting with her listening to stories of her childhood growing up in Clover, SC through her days migrating north to Salisbury, where she laid her head down on the West End for the final time. I’m happy my oldest son, now 30, was able to sit in one of those rocking chairs and enjoy her stories as a child.   

There’s a lot I don’t miss about my hood, but there’s so much more I do. I miss living near the railroad tracks and hearing the train whistle blow at 11 p.m. and 2:30 a.m.  Funny thing is it never woke me up.  I miss catching lightning bugs and putting them in a glass jar.  I miss walking through the creek behind our house and catching crayfish. I miss being chased by the same stray dogs and either jumping on top of a car or climbing a tree. I miss playing football in the street and having to constantly move for cars. I miss skateboarding from the top of the big hill down the street from my house. I miss walking around the neighborhood picking green apples, pears, plums and blackberries, and putting them in that paper grocery bag.  No one went to Food Town, Winn-Dixie, or the A&P.  We worked in the garden digging up potatoes, snapping green beans and pulling corn off the stalks for my grandmother to later can.

Until I got a 10-speed bicycle or a driver’s license, I never left my hood.  On the weekends and during the summer, all we did was walk around eating slices of pizza from the authentic NY shop and drinking warm beer an older kid bought for us. No one was thinking about shooting, robbing or engaging in any illegal activities. One of the best memories I have is how on sweltering summer nights, the whole street at my grandparents would be alive until way past midnight. The kids would be laughing and playing while the grownups were sitting on my grandparents’ porch drinking iced tea and lemonade.

I have two nice decorative benches on my front porch today, but sadly I’ve never sat in them to entertain anyone or drink a beverage.  On my back patio, I have the same metal furniture from my grandparents’ back porch that I sat on in the 1960s and ’70s.  Over the years, I’ve taken great care of the pieces and they look showroom new. It’s nourished my spirit and soul to know my children have been able to enjoy a connection to my hood and share in at least one of my childhood memories.


Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a former City Councilman and is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.