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Julie Bennett  

Teammates celebrate with Appalachian State wide receiver Thomas Hennigan, left, after a touchdown against South Alabama during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Julie Bennett)

Supporters of mandatory African American history course talk next steps, school board members explain their votes

Advocates for a mandatory African American history course say they are already working on their next steps, despite Tuesday’s “no” vote by the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education.

Miranda Jones, speaking on behalf of Hate Out of Winston, said group members were to meet Friday to discuss how to further their efforts, including whether or not to take their push to the N.C. General Assembly.

“I’m going to be advocating for some community courses because the reality is we don’t need the school system in order to teach black children their history,” Jones said. “I’m going to be talking about how we can do this in recreation centers, churches, temples, mosques, wherever we can.”

A motion to pass a mandatory African American history course failed Tuesday in a 1-to-7 vote by the school board. Barbara Burke, the board’s vice chairwoman, was the sole supporter of the course.

Immediately after that vote, the board unanimously approved an infusion program, which includes African American studies, proposed by Superintendent Angela P. Hairston.

Hairston’s recommendations

Among her recommendations, Hairston calls for continuing the Cultural Infusion Project with an accountability measure.

The Cultural Infusion Project was started in the mid-1990s aimed at helping African American students see themselves within the K-12 curriculum.

Hairston also recommends looking for opportunities for the Freedom School program, which is a six-week summer literacy and cultural enrichment program focused on serving children in the community where some cultural programs may be limited.

She recommends monitoring the process of standards development through the Department of Public Instruction to ensure multicultural perspectives are present from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Through Hairston’s plan, an African American Studies advisory committee would be established. It would meet twice a year to review the status of standards, enrollment in elective courses and ensure continued communication.

African American Studies, Latin American Studies, American Indian Studies and Ethnic Literature courses would be offered as electives in every high school. Each course would be worth one full credit and have standard and honors course options.

Students in the school district are currently taking the African American Studies and Latin American Studies courses in six or seven schools, and the Ethnic Literature course is offered in just one school.

Next steps

Jones of Hate Out of Winston said that other local activists have reached out to her about having discussions on ways to actively campaign against members of the school board “who told us one thing and did another.”

“Just kind of organizing around getting people on the board who are going to do what we feel is right for children,” she said.

She said that the African American history community classes would be for children in middle and high school and would primarily be centered in the heart of black communities, but she wants to make sure that all children can access the information.

“It is our goal to invite those who want to learn about black people and their contributions to come and learn,” Jones said.

The Winston-Salem Local Organizing Committee plans to go into the community to make people aware of the board’s decision and start providing information to children and their parents that won’t be available in the school system, said Effrainguan Muhammad, the group’s facilitator.

“We will be conducting seminars and presentations concerning black history in the community with those existing structures within our community that will be willing to partner with us to get this very important history to both our children and the parents,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad said that Tuesday’s vote by the school board “demonstrates to us the reason why it’s so important for the black community to look to establish independent institutions to educate our children, because the way the current public school system is structured it’s not sufficient to address the needs of our children.”

He said that the LOC plans to continue to fight.

“Our tax dollars are there, and many of the individuals on the board are elected officials,” Muhammad said of the school system. “When I say fight, we will fight with our vote as well.”

After hearing Hairston’s infusion proposal, the Winston-Salem Chapter of the NAACP got behind the superintendent’s recommendations, said the Rev. Alvin Carlisle, the group’s president.

“This will be the first time that it will be in every high school and the first time it’s for full credit,” Carlisle said of all the ethnic credit courses in Hairston’s proposal.

He said the local NAACP members believe that Hairston’s recommendations are sound and a good step forward.

“They will give her a measuring stick, a chance to see how well students participated and their thoughts coming out of a full-credit course on black history and that kind of thing,” Carlisle said.

Board members’ comments

Malishai Woodbury, chairwoman of the school board, said she voted for Hairston’s recommendations for extending the infusion program, saying that Hairston revised the former infusion program to include a number of other elements.

She said that Hairston, who started her job as superintendent in early September, has been willing to make a decision on an issue that has predated her administration as well as the majority of the members on the current board.

“We are all trying to grow, learn and do what’s right for all children,” Woodbury said. “I understand that the community is a little frustrated and disappointed because they’ve been working toward something for an extensive amount of time, but patience is key when it’s a bureaucracy.”

She said she has been teaching African American history at N.C. A&T State University since she was about 23.

“My bias is African American history. I want it to be taught all day,” Woodbury said. “But as a governing agency for 55,000 children and over 7,000 employees and a superintendent that’s leading it, I have to think then more strategic about the success of all children and how can we get it done.”

She said her vote and probably the votes of the majority of board members’ supporting the superintendent’s recommendation was because “she (Hairston) clearly did not have the data to support mandatory anything.”

“So she (Hairston) said instead of just standing still, these are the things I can support with a budget and with the resources I have.”

When asked if she had concerns about advocates of a mandatory African American history course voting against her if she decides to run for the school board for another term, Woodbury said as a citizen she respects the democratic process.

“A vote for or against me is a good for the whole,” she said. “I appreciate everybody coming out to vote based on what they think is the best choice for the good of the whole.”

She said it is her hope that “over time the community can come to some consensus with the board to help us move forward.”

Burke said she voted for the mandatory African American history course because the board has heard so much support for such a course from the community, including a signed petition, comments from city and county government officials, and letters read to the school board from N.C. state House representatives.

“This was important to the community,” Burke said. “It just breaks my heart to think that they have been asking for this course, asking for the school board to consider it, going on four years now. For their begging, really, to just land and fall on deaf ears, I think that is so wrong. “

She added that members of the school board need to understand that they are elected by the people.

“I spent 30 years in this district as an educator, and, as an educator, I understand the importance of having a mandatory history course,” Burke said. “I understand why it is important for all of our kids. Not just for some of them, but for all of them to know the history of this country.”

Burke said she also supports Hairston’s recommendations and believes that both the infusion program recommendations and a mandatory African American history course can co-exist.

“Right now, I do believe that we need this course,” she said referring to the proposed mandatory course. “I’m going to be hopeful that going forward this will be revisited and that this community will have the opportunity for this course to exist as a mandatory course in our district.”

Elisabeth Motsinger, a member of the school board, said she voted for the superintendent’s proposal because Hairston was hired for her expertise.

She said that when she considers hiring a superintendent, she tries to determine if somebody can be trusted to move the district in the direction it needs to go.

She said she has looked over the years into a mandatory course.

“The concerns I had were that I think the core curriculum has to be inclusive of groups that have traditionally felt ignored, including African American, including Latin American, including Native American,” Motsinger said. “I think our core curriculum has to be robust and diverse and accurate. I think that the focus really has to be the core curriculum K-8 and what happens in our high school social studies courses.”

She said, based on her talks with high school principals and students, she found that it was difficult to mandate a course because there are few slots for elective courses such as art, music and foreign language.

“If you take away one of those slots for kids, you’re taking away one of their few elective slots,” Motsinger said. “For many of our children, it’s those electives that actually keep them in school and engaged.”

Mislaid plan? Different leaders take different approaches to East End plan

A plan to revitalize a section of the East Winston neighborhood has led to a Winston-Salem City Council member being at odds with her predecessor and other council members potentially facing a difficult decision.

At issue is whether the city should commit $3 million to a nonprofit corporation affiliated with Winston-Salem State University to start assembling tracts of land in a part of East Winston that has been dubbed East End.

East End, bounded by North Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to the north and east, and Business 40 to the south, includes about 160 acres immediately east of downtown’s Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.

So close, yet so far: Separating East End from the high-tech world of the Innovation Quarter is U.S. 52, the north-south freeway that has become a symbol of the city’s racial and economic divide.

The census tract where East End is located had a poverty rate of 62% in 2016, on the eve of the development of what is now called the East End Master Plan. African Americans made up 97% of the population and only 9% of adult residents held a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The East End Master Plan would try to tie the neighborhood to the emerging development in the Innovation Quarter, without losing its residents to gentrification or losing its character as a historic African American neighborhood.

The S.G. Atkins Community Development Corp., the nonprofit formed by WSSU, would play a lead role in carrying out parts of the plan.

Former Council Member Derwin Montgomery, who represented the East Ward, played such an important role in pushing through the East End plan that the introduction page prominently displays a quotation from him: “This plan is about what we are and what we want to become.”

Shepherding approval of the plan through the city council was one of the last official acts that Montgomery performed before resigning from the council in 2018 to take a seat in the N.C. House.

His successor, Council Member Annette Scippio, has talked of rescinding the agreement that Montgomery promoted, whereby the Atkins Community Development Corp., or CDC, would get $3 million to begin buying property in East End.

“I don’t want to be seen as the person stopping East End development because I am not,” Scippio said in an interview for this article. “I know we need to support all parts of the ward. We don’t need to put everything into one area that is getting attention. The other neighborhoods haven’t gotten attention over the past 50 years.”

Taking a map of her ward, Scippio drew a line around the parts of her ward that she believes should be eligible for some of the $3 million. It’s a much wider area than the limited scope of the East End plan.

Scippio has also been telling other council members that the money should be open to other nonprofits besides the Atkins CDC.

“When I have community meetings, they say to me, ‘When are we going to get something? Who’s looking out for us?’” she told council members in a recent meeting.

Montgomery might be spending a lot of time in Raleigh, but he came back to a meeting of the city council’s general government committee earlier this year to plea for the city to keep its agreement with Atkins CDC.

After Montgomery got the ball rolling on the plan, Atkins CDC led a two-year planning process that included workshops for residents and others with a stake in the community, focus-group discussions for various key players, and the involvement of outside consultants to steer the discussions and help develop the plan.

The resulting plan has wide-ranging goals covering everything from economic development to housing, health and education. It will take hundreds of millions of dollars over a number of years to bring it into full fruition.

The $3 million might seem like a drop in the bucket, but Montgomery and other plan advocates say it is one of the most important first steps: Assembling larger tracts of land from smaller pieces under various ownership.

Although the city council in 2018 agreed to forward Atkins CDC the $3 million, the city has not signed a contract with Atkins over the deal and the money has not changed hands.

“We felt that the first step was to do land acquisition,” said Carol Davis, the director of Atkins CDC. “That was the next step recommended by the plan. We fully envision that other developers will come to the table and bring resources for development. We would like to be a catalyst. If we have title to property, we can find a developer.”

Scippio has had multiple concerns with the arrangement. By spending the money to acquire land, she said, the land could be tied up a long time before it becomes developed. Under the terms of the proposed deal the city would get money back as the land sold, but the agreement could stretch out that repayment to 15 years.

Scippio said the tracts Atkins CDC wants to buy seem scattered and that’s there’s nothing definite planned for them. Still, she insists she is not opposed to the East End plan per se. Scippio sees the neighborhood as one that is already seeing an infusion of new capital and projects waiting in the wings.

They include a project arising from United Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church to eventually renovate apartments it leases in blocks to the east and south of the church. A local couple recently bought land from the city on North Martin Luther King Jr. Drive with plans for development.

And at the corner of MLK and East Fifth Street, the former Burger King restaurant is being renovated as a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen site.

Ironically, Atkins CDC had unsuccessfully sought to acquire the site for redevelopment.

“There is already development coming and being developed for East End,” Scippio said. “It is already generating interest and investments.”

Earlier this week, Scippio said she has been exchanging emails with Davis and asking more questions about the Atkins CDC plans.

“I’m trying to work out a win-win for everybody,” she said. “I’m not sure what that is going to look like yet.”

If Scippio sticks to her original plan to rescind the $3 million for Atkins, a tug of war could develop on the city council. In committee discussions so far, most of the other council members have more or less nodded to the deference they typically show to the council member from a ward.

D.D. Adams, the North Ward council member who chairs the general government committee that has been looking at Scippio’s request, says she remains committed to the Atkins plan and will vote to keep it in place.

“I try to believe that my word is my bond,” Adams said. “As city officials, we can’t vote on something and rescind it after we have made goodwill to carry it through. I believe the plan is a good plan. We worked a long time to try to get it.”

Adams said that while a ward representative is owed deference, she also represents the city as a whole.

“If we decided to rescind all the agreements we have acted on, we would get nothing done,” she said. “If there was something so grossly inept about the plan that we agreed on, if anyone would show me where we made a gross mistake, I would be glad to reconsider and look at it, but that is not the case for me.”

Montgomery has been talking to his former colleagues on the council in support of the Atkins plan.

“Everyone on the council except for Council Member Scippio voted to support the East End Master Plan and voted to put funding in to begin land banking in the area,” Montgomery said. “We told the public that we are going to do this. If there is going to be a change and it is rescinded, you have to have the same large conversation with the community to say you are going to change it — and that has not happened.”

Montgomery said the money given to Atkins CDC would give the city clout to prevent gentrification, should that trend threaten the neighborhood.

“To have a voice, you have to have some ownership,” Montgomery said. “The master plan was a process created to understand the pressures coming eastward and how the community needed to have a voice in how development was going to happen. If the CDC acquires property, the community has some leverage.”

Under the draft agreement, property acquired with city money would have restrictive covenants concerning development and job-creation provisions. For overseeing development and compliance with the restrictions, Atkins would receive a development fee.

Montgomery said Atkins CDC has played a role in the Union Station renovation (it’s the main leaseholder in the building) and has built new homes in the neighborhood.

Atkins CDC’s biggest project has been the Enterprise Center, a business incubator south of the East End, but one that Davis says could be replicated there if appropriate. The center has offices for rent, shared support services and conference rooms, and even a shared-use kitchen for food entrepreneurs. The center offers workshops, counseling and legal services.

The CDC carried out a study of the MLK corridor in 2008 that led in 2011 to the creation of a zoning overlay regulating future development of the strip.

Aaron King, the city-county planning director, said many of the goals of the MLK overlay and the East End plan overlap, with new development oriented to a streetscape environment that encourages walkability.

“Because they are connected to the university, they are well-positioned to ensure that the community as a whole is part of any redevelopment that happens,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery, Davis and Adams all say that while they realize other neighborhoods in East Ward need help, efforts need to be focused to make a difference. And East End provides a focus, they say.

“You can’t fix a problem if you bite off too much,” Adams said. “You go to work on the things that are a priority. You have to have a focused area that you can concentrate on and have a success story. That is how I see the East End plan: It is a focused plan that you will be able to emulate for other communities in any part of town.”

Arthur Spencer, who lives in East End and with other family members bought one of the Atkins CDC’s new houses earlier this year, said he has heard of the East End plan but wonders if it can be completed soon enough for him. He said he is dissatisfied with conditions in the neighborhood from the standpoint of crime and noise.

“It would be great, but it would be nice if it were sooner than later,” Spencer said. “It is not the place I would feel comfortable raising a family. If it does change to be like things downtown, I would feel comfortable, not so insecure.”

Council Member Dan Besse’s Southwest Ward may be far from East End, but Besse sits on the general government committee that will have a major say on whether Atkins CDC moves forward with its land-banking plan.

“I’m still hoping they can work out some middle-ground approach,” Besse said of the two sides. Montgomery and Scippio “are both good folks who are strongly invested in representing our community. They just have some contrasting ideas about the best ways to allocate funds to make that happen.”

If a middle ground can’t be found, Besse said, council members are “left with a tough judgment call.”

“I have always tried to defer to the judgment of the representative of the area,” he said. “In this case it is unusually difficult because we have conflicting recommendations coming from the present representative for the ward and the immediate past representative of the ward, who is also representing that area in the state legislature.”

On the one hand, Besse said, the plan is one that Montgomery backed quite recently as a council member. On the other hand, he said, “I want to respect the recommendations of the sitting council member.”

Besse did offer what could be seen as a caution to Scippio’s desire to spend the East End money elsewhere.

“That is not funding that was generally allocated to the East Ward to be moved at the discretion of the council member,” Besse said. “It was earmarked for a specific project. If we were to simply rescind the effort, the funding would go back into the general bond pool and we would have to take a renewed decision on allocation. Use it for the approved purpose or risk not having it available.”

Scippio may be setting her sights for money further than East End, though. She thinks it would be a good idea to have master plans for other neighborhoods in her ward.

“Once you have a plan that we can visualize, then we can figure out how to divvy up the money,” she said.

Is downtown Winston-Salem hosting too many events and festivals that can hurt local businesses?

Weekends — and weekday evenings for that matter — are busy times for the restaurants, bars and breweries that line North Trade Street.

And that’s exactly how the shakers, movers, investors and dreamers envisioned things would play out once Trade became a pivotal point for growth downtown.

At one time in the not-too-distant past, dining and entertainment options were rather limited compared to what’s available today.

Only a handful of destination draws existed. The lunch joints on Fourth Street that had survived off R.J. Reynolds workers were barely hanging on; adventurous urban explorers might choose between, say, Sixth and Vine, Sweet Potatoes or Finnigan’s Wake.

Wise old heads plotting and planning for the growth (and the cash money that comes with it) looked for different ways to attract wallets and the people attached to them. Special events — street festivals, concerts, bike races etc. — turned into standard draws.

But has the time come to reconsider old ways?

“We should at least have the conversation,” says Peyton Smith, the owner of Mission Pizza Napoletana. “We don’t need to court people to come downtown anymore.”

Need for exposure

Smith, for those that don’t know him, can be pretty meticulous.

Before opening Mission Pizza in 2014, he spent years researching his venture, crunching numbers and planning a menu.

Back then, he could see a need for the extra attractions. The new downtown arts and entertainment district needed all the exposure it could get.

A handful of locally owned enterprises were opening and creeping northward along Trade Street. Night owls noticed, and tippled accordingly.

But the bigger, steadier bucks — typically dropped by suburban types with more disposable income — were harder to come by. Innovation Quarter was still getting off the ground, and the unicorn young urban professional remained the elusive goal. Downtown living options were still limited.

Summer on Trade, Heavy Rebel weekender and other special events helped to boost the bottom line.

“We needed them to juice downtown. I was all for them,” Smith said.

That began to change over the summer, Smith said, when his customers could neither reach Mission Pizza nor find reasonable places to park due to a motorcycle festival that had obtained a special-use permit to block off parts of Trade.

“They moved barricades and took over my parking lot,” he said. “A woman pulled down her pants and (urinated) in my alley.”

A good problem

It was a coincidence, but during a meeting last week of the City Council, Jason Thiel, the president of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, presented the group’s annual report.

Councilman Bob Clark asked whether downtown stakeholders — business owners who pay a special tax to cover beautification, trash pickup and the like — were pleased with how things are going.

“I have not heard any complaints, although we argue about various things like what species of flower should go in flower baskets, how wide do we shovel snow off sidewalks and what species of tree goes in tree wells,” Thiel said. “It’s all very detailed, off in the weeds type stuff.”

Maybe. But Smith’s ideas at least merit a discussion.

In 2018, the city issued 98 special events permits that involved downtown street closures for festivals, concerts, races (bicycles and running), marches, parades and block parties. The number for 2019 through Sept. 30 is 91.

That’s a lot of events on closed streets.

While those things have — and continue to — attract wallets and prospective customers, Smith wonders if it’s reached a tipping point and actually keeps people away.

He says he has lost money during some festivals and incurred costs for such things as clean-up that he wouldn’t otherwise have.

“Closing the street or streets is a massive privilege,” he said. “But there should be some caveats. Make the organizers put some skin in the game. Make them provide bathrooms and security.”

Smith wants to maintain a steady flow of regular customers who seek his restaurant out as a destination and believes other business owners feel similarly.

Perhaps it’s time, he said, to consider limits on the number of special events or to push them farther north across Martin Luther King Jr. Drive into evolving areas that could benefit from the influx and exposure.

Music festivals and concerts have moved before from Fourth to Trade to Liberty.

The number of restaurants downtown has doubled from 33 to nearly 80 over the last 20 years.

“This isn’t 2005 or even 2010. People may not agree, but maybe we should at least talk about changing the methodology,” he said. “We’re alienating the people we’ve asked to come downtown if they can’t get here.”