Book News

I’ve always intended to turn this blog into a book, and now I’m one step closer! I am now represented by Beth Marshea of Ladderbird Agency, and in the next few years she will be helping me sell Highland Rising to a publisher.

In the meantime, I’ve signed a contract with New Society Publishers to publish The Token: Common Sense Ideas for Increasing Diversity in Your Organization. Some of the work described in The Token is in my blog post here. The book will be coming out Fall 2020. Follow me on Facebook or Twitter to get a link for preordering.

In the meantime, support my work by coming a patron on Patreon.

Summer Update

A lot has been going on in the Highland community, but I’ve had to put my research on hold as I deal with chronic pain. Doctor visits have taken up a lot of my time and money! In short, here’s what’s going on in the community.

Municipal Elections. Walker Reid is renewing his bid for mayor, running on a record of improving relations with businesses and local governments. He is being challenged by Leonard Geter, a vocal black resident mentioned in my post about the Confederate monument, and Kim Price, a retired banker. Two Highland natives–Donyel Barber and Charles Odom–are running for city council (Donyel is running in Ward 6, outside of Highland). If they both win, the city would have more than one black councilmember for the first time in history.

Law and Order. On July 14, a Gaston County Sheriff’s deputy chased a drunk driver onto a small Highland street. One or the other struck two men standing in their front yards, killing one. The drunk driver was charged with the death, but witnesses and the wider community remain skeptical. Tensions were high at a community meeting that brought few answers. As I talked about in this post, Highland residents have always felt resentment toward local police, even though the Sheriff is a long-time Democrat. The state has taken over the investigation.

I will continue my series about How Highland Lost Its Land in the coming months.

Remember you can help support my work on Patreon. Thank you for your support!

How Highland Lost Its Land

The razing of Highland’s business district was part of a nationwide trend called urban renewal. Cities with a concentration of black people in one area took federal money to bulldoze those neighborhoods and create government buildings, highways, or business districts. Very few of the cities used to money to replace the housing that was lost.

Gastonia’s urban renewal plan took several decades. It started in earnest in the 70s when the federal government opened up new funding to cities for inner city revitalization. According to the Charlotte Observer, the city started buying lots in Highland that were blighted. The blight was due to the movement of Gastonia’s black citizens to other parts of the city, inflation during the 70s, and the owners’ lack of money to repair and maintain their buildings. Even as a landlord, the city did not invest in renovating the buildings. They were put on the list for demolition. The business owners were encouraged to set up shop in other parts of the city while the land was cleared for private developers.

The developers, probably for the same reasons listed above, did not invest. Perhaps they were waiting for the $10 million transportation and utility project (Interstate 85). Perhaps they bought into the belief that majority black neighborhoods meant crime, lower property values, and blight (which was true, but not because of the black people).

In 1990 and 1991, the county commissioners started talking about new facilities for the courthouse, jail, social services, and mental health services. There were different reasons for each building: The courthouse needed room for a new district court judge. The jail was facing overcrowding. The building that housed mental health services had been partially damaged in a fire. Site selection committees were formed and citizens gave their opinions. In July 1993, a site on Long Avenue was chosen based on cost, accessibility to downtown, and “voter choice.”

Reading the county commissioners meeting minutes, it’s clear that the county was overwhelmed with development potential. During this same time period, the county was proposing to develop property it owned near the hospital, it was taking bids for a new landfill and waste to energy plant, and it was looking into remodeling the old health department building. The property around the hospital is now settled by private, mostly medical industry, and the old health department is now the Highland Health Center. The waste to energy plant was never built.

So how did the commissioners decide? During the search for land, the city proposed a deal: trade the old courthouse property for a piece of land on Long Street. The land was close to downtown, near the highway, and would be cheaper to develop than the other proposed sites. This property? Highland’s economic center, the Square.

This is a 1950 Sanborn map of the area that would become the county jail.

 

A present day map of the same area.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

How Highland Lost Its Land: Preview

One of the neighborhood’s central stories is the rise and fall of the Square, Highland’s business district. The circumstances surrounding the construction of the county government complex were not clear to me; the land is occupied both city and county buildings. My review of county documents tells a pretty clear story that I’ll get into in the next few posts. For now, some aerial photos.

 

aerial1938

1938: The Highland community was well established north of Main Street. Highland the school is in the top left corner. Keep your eye on Walnut Avenue running west to east before and ending in a curve with Oakland Street on the right of the photograph.

aerial1951

1951: Infill takes up all available space as the community grows in number and wealth. Walnut St is where many influential citizens, including eventual Mayor T. Jeffries, lived.

aerial1968

1968: Middle class neighborhoods like Pinehurst and Green Acres are being built, pulling wealth away from the area as businesses and schools are integrating.

aerial1984

1984: Disinvestment has led to high crime and a large number of vacant lots, which the City of Gastonia purchases in a failed attempt at urban renewal.

aerial1997

1997: Construction on the courthouse is underway, with land cleared for the jail, a new Department of Social Services building. The City of Gastonia traded this land with the county for the old courthouse downtown.

aerial2010

2010: Remaining residential units sit abandoned and Walnut Street is lined by parking lots.

 

 

School Choice is Resegregation

When my daughter was three, I began the search for a “good school.” By the time I found a school for Courtney, I despised the idea of “school choice. Since the early nineties, public schools have been hobbled by the focus on standardized testing and pressured to use dwindling resources on ever growing student bodies. Magnet schools and charters, hailed as a revolution in education, have never lived up to the promise of erasing the achievement gap. Whether charter, magnet, or traditional public, the trends persist: schools with more wealthy and white students do well; schools with more minority and special needs students do poorly.

The idea of school choice has always been based on the market economy. If families can vote with their feet, policy wonks reasoned, they will leave poor performing schools for better opportunities. Ideally, the poor performing schools would invest more money and resources into improving so they can compete with the others. In reality, poor performing schools that continue to house a large number of minority children continue to do poorly. Some of them may receive additional funding for Title I and specialized programs, but many of them face yearly teacher cuts and other punitive measures for failing to improve their numbers.

I attended Woodhill Elementary, a majority-minority school where 99% of the children are eligible for free lunch. Woodhill has received a D or F for its last three years of school performance. The fifth grade reading test scores are charted below.

Proficiency at Woodhill largely follows district trends, which means changes at the school level do not have a large effect on performance. So why not charter schools?

Charter schools reroute funds from local public schools to corporate entities that set their own guidelines as far as teachers and facilities. Research shows that charter schools are either overwhelmingly white or overwhelmingly black. As far as performance, charter schools follow the same trend as traditional schools. Piedmont has received Bs and Cs on its most recent report cards, staying slightly above Gaston County School’s average (with far less minority students).

Source: Piedmont Charter School

As I’ve mentioned before, the school system has used busing to integrate the middle and high schools, so that now two of the city’s three traditional high schools have an equal proportion of black and white students. When the county goes from six to nineteen magnet schools next year, desegregation is all but over.

This map of Gastonia and surrounding areas shows all the public schools indicated. The magnet elementary and middle schools are marked with an orange star. You can see they are clustered in the southern part of the city. The highlighted blue circle is Woodhill, just north of the Highland community.

This map shows the relative percentage of African Americans by census tract (the darkest tracts are between 48-74% black). None of the schools in the darkest areas are being converted to magnet schools.

When choice is introduced to school systems, the parents who have the time, money, and resources to shop around do so. Parents end up deciding a school is good or bad based on how much the student body looks like their kids. White parents rarely use their choice to move to minority majority neighborhood schools. Students that depend on bus travel are less likely to attend transfer because they don’t have transportation. Instead of offering real choice, magnet schools perpetuate the divide between those who are privileged and those who are not.

The county could still do this right. Varying percentages of students will stay at their home school and participate in the same magnet programs that the transferred students will have. That means the students at Bessemer City Middle School will receive enough Technology and Industrial Engineering curriculum that they may consider enrolling in Highland School of Technology, the county’s first magnet school. Unfortunately, if past data is any indicator, the majority of 8th grade students would not qualify for the lottery.

Why is this important? We know that a child’s zip code determines their upward mobility. Children born in the Highland community are more likely to be born into households with single parents, poor parents, or parents with substance abuse issues. They are punished more often for behavior problems and miss more days of school due to behavior or illness. They are more likely to have an IEP and require support, which disqualifies them for advanced classes in high school. Most of them will not attend college if they even graduate high school. Are we really saying that these kids are getting the same opportunities as a child born in south Gastonia?

School choice only exacerbates inequality in Gaston County schools. Adding more choice will mean less opportunity for the kids who need it most.

Curious about what school I decided to send my daughter to? Click here.

Read more:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2019/02/04/black-history-month-february-schools-ap-racism-civil-rights/2748790002/

https://educationpost.org/are-magnet-schools-a-failed-integration-strategy-thoughts-on-nikole-hannah-jones-speech-to-magnet-schools-of-america/

https://www.brookings.edu/research/new-evidence-on-school-choice-and-racially-segregated-schools/amp/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/05/17/on-the-anniversary-of-brown-v-board-new-evidence-that-u-s-schools-are-resegregating/

https://www.propublica.org/article/segregation-now-full-text

http://www.nea.org/home/33177.htm

https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article10255961.html

Snow Days

It snowed in Gastonia this December. I only remember two big snows from my childhood, but my daughter has experienced two big snows in just one year. I was curious if North Carolina was getting more snow due to climate change. While temperature swings have been more drastic in the past thirty years, the amount of snowfall has not increased.

I was a kid during the snows of ’88 and ’99.

I was also curious about the impact of snow on the city, especially on residents of Highland who are usually lower income and minorities.

Schools/Daycares Closed

The snow started on a Saturday night, and Gaston County Schools closed school on Monday and Tuesday and delayed school on Wednesday and Thursday. Working parents would have needed to find childcare for the days off, especially since programs like the Boys and Girls Club and YMCA were also closed or delayed. Even two hour delays mean the parents might have to wait until schools opened to drop their children off and go in to work. Office workers usually have flexible schedules, but factories and restaurants don’t. Refusing to come in to work because of no childcare could mean a missed paycheck or even losing your job.

Government Offices Closed

Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services was closed on Monday. That means applications for food stamps, TANF, and childcare vouchers would have to wait a few more days to be received and processed. Fortunately many transactions can be completed online, but those who need money for food and living usually don’t have a lot of savings for days like these. Even if the offices were open, some people may not have been able to travel.

The City of Gastonia posted pictures of their plow trucks

Street Plowing

The city has several trucks that go into service plowing when needed. These trucks are run by the same staff that drive leaf, trash, and recycling trucks, and streets are plowed in order of priority. People close to a major road may have been able to drive on Monday. My cul de sac was not plowed until Thursday. Many long-term residents don’t have the skills to navigate wet and icy roads since they are so rare, which is why the city police recommended that people only travel if it was absolutely necessary. They reported 13 fender benders alone on Sunday.

No Public Transit

The city buses did not run at all on Monday and were on a delay Tuesday. That means people who depended on public transportation to get to work or to appointments needed alternate methods. ACCESS transportation for the disabled and elderly citizens was also not running or delayed. For some people, that means missing a doctor’s appointment or dialysis treatment.

Mail Service

USPS did not post their operating hours, but those waiting for a check or paying a bill by mail may have had to wait a few extra days. I love getting mail, and I use Informed Delivery to see what’s coming each day. I didn’t get any mail until Thursday, despite Informed Delivery’s messages. Fortunately, many service providers take online payments, and most banks have an app to cash checks. Unfortunately, low income people are least likely to have checking accounts, depending on check cashing services to get their money.

When residents of Gastonia run into lack of resources, we depend on our informal networks of friends and family for help. For me growing up, snow days meant staying with my aunts or grandmother, and my dad was always willing to drive his truck to bring by food. Highland residents are blessed to have strong community connections that bring people together in times of need.

It’s almost Christmas, and I invite you to give a gift to support my work documenting the history and lives of Highland residents. I’ve been blogging for a year now and I’ve barely cracked the surface of what it means to live in our community. You can support me by going to patreon.com/highlandrising. Thanks!

Banking Black

Gastonia’s black community has always centered around the Highland area. Starting in 1900, black families moved into town to work as domestic laborers and in construction, trucking, and lumber mills. The economic center of the community was called the Square, located between Walnut Ave and Page Ave at the end of North York Street. Since black entrepreneurs didn’t the same access to capital as white business owners, Nathaniel Barber, James Biggers, and Howard Glenn founded Excelsior Credit Union. The credit union was key to the growth of the Highland community, as an ad celebrating the fifth anniversary of its state charter shows. In 1947, the credit union had $118,000 in assets ($1.3 million in 2018 dollars).

Costner Funeral Home and Lightner Taxi are the only businesses that I’m aware of that still exist.

The credit union operated well into the 70s. By then, many middle class black families had started moving elsewhere in Gastonia. Highland was comprised of mostly rental housing and lower income families. By the 80s, the community was infamous for its high crime rate. In the early 90s, the county razed the area that was once the Square and built a complex for the courthouse and county jail.

A historically black-owned credit union returned to Highland in 2010. First Legacy Community Credit Union was founded in 1941 by the teachers of Second Ward High School in Charlotte. The Gastonia branch, built between York St and 321 near the site of Highland High School, struggles with profitability. In 2018, the long time CEO was charged with 13 counts of theft and embezzlement.

As a child of the 90s, it’s hard for me to imagine the busy center of commerce that Highland once was. All local banks (First Union, Wachovia, and BB&T) begin lending to entrepreneurs regardless of race in the 60s, but research shows that black business owners are still more likely to be discouraged from applying for small business loans. If Excelsior existed today, would Highland still be the center of black excellence in Gastonia?

Small Business Saturday is the weekend after Thanksgiving. There are over 1200 minority-owned small businesses in Gastonia. While I was unable to find a reliable list, there are a number of Facebook groups and pages supporting the local business community in Gastonia.

Update: In 2019, First Legacy Credit Union installed a virtual teller machine to replace the staff at the Gastonia branch. In 2020, the credit union merged with Self-Help Credit Union.

Salute to Veterans

Highland has produced veterans in all of the wars in the past century. Here are some of the heroes.

20170724_190451

Sam Page

20170724_190334

Willie Jackson

20170724_190204

Marshall “Mike” Cabiness

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Zilmon Hoffman (technically of Dallas)

20180807_135844

Gurt Reeves, Jr.

993568_10205772241577446_5263755437264816271_n

Earl Glenn

 

10520574_10152927517414744_2560689069844213405_n

Jayla Gordon

10696170_10202846760592504_2907327138872710794_n

Santoria Harris

I have others in my family and I haven’t uploaded their pictures yet:

James Henry Adams

Chuckie Adams II

Desmond June

Patrick June

Chris Williams, Sr.

Samuel Lewis Byrd

Thank you for your service!

 

 

So You Want Diversity in Your Community

I spoke at the Twin Oaks Communities Conference on Recruiting Diverse People to Intentional Communities. After my talk, I wrote down the key points and added references. 

Description: Despite our best efforts, the intentional community movement in America is overwhelmingly white. In this workshop, we will explore the historical factors behind housing segregation and how it impacts where people of color choose to live. We will experiment with implicit bias and learn how it distorts our view of who would fit into an intentional community. Finally, we will discuss the best ways to overcome those internal and external factors to build truly diverse communities.

So You Want to Recruit Diverse People
Why? Children who grow up in diverse communities are more successful. Creating diverse spaces is a form of social justice. Diverse communities are more fun.

Barrier 1: Historical Housing Segregation
In the 1930s, the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) rated neighborhoods based on desirability. These ratings were based on explicitly racist ideas, including the idea that neighborhoods die as more black people move in. The FHA codified these ratings in their Underwriting Manual, which described what types of homes were eligible for mortgage insurance. As a result, the federal government prevented black families from owning homes unless they were in an “approved” area of the city. White neighborhoods fought tooth and nail to prevent black families from moving in because of lower home values associated with black families. When a black family could not get a mortgage insured by the FHA, they were forced to rent or take on expensive installment plans often offered by the Realtors themselves. This is directly tied to the disparity in wealth for black families versus white families to this day.

Another piece of housing segregation was restrictive covenants. These started after 1917 Supreme Court case outlawed cities from zoning based on race. Instead, people wrote in their deeds that the homeowner agreed not to rent or sell the home to a person of a different race. These covenants were outlawed in 1948, but their descendants are called Home Owner’s Associations.

Starting in the 70s, the federal government gave cities and counties money to tear down blighted areas of town in a process called urban renewal. These blighted areas were a result of overcrowding and poor upkeep in the redlined areas. Overcrowding happened when the FHA refused to insure mortgages for black families in the suburbs like they were doing for white families. These families were stuck in the inner city paying higher mortgage or rental costs, and they could not afford to maintain their homes. Cities took the opportunity to raze whole blocks and build new highways, shopping centers, and government complexes. They did not focus on building affordable housing for the displaced families.

This happened across the country and with the approval of multiple levels of government. To view redline maps of various cities, go to https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/. Compare the divisions around the city to the dot map that places people of various races around the country: https://demographics.virginia.edu/DotMap/. Redlining has had a substantial impact on where people live today. You can not recruit people to community without understanding that minorities have never had and still don’t have the freedom to move where they want to.

A few years ago, Fannie Mae sent testers of different races to realtors and banks to understand discrimination in the housing process.

African Americans and Latinos were:
-Shown fewer homes and told about fewer listings
-Asked more questions about their qualifications
-Steered to other communities, to lower priced homes or to open houses
-Required to provide 24 to 48 hours notice before viewing houses
-Quoted higher loan rates and offered fewer discounts on closing costs

On the other hand:
-White testers presumed more qualified
-White testers given greater access to properties
-White testers given more information
-White testers given lower loan rates, better discounts
-White testers more likely to succeed in home buying

This website is a great overview of the history of housing segregation: http://www.bostonfairhousing.org/timeline/1934-1968-FHA-Redlining.html

Barrier 2: Implicit Bias
We all have ideas about specific ethnic groups living in community: Black people have loud music, Southeast Asians cook spicy food, etc. Implicit bias is the act of creating a judgment at the lowest levels of our brain, below conscious thought. We make these judgments in a split second because human brains are not made to handle more than 100 connections at a time. We have a need to categorize things, and we do it with race. Bias is not good or bad. It is just our initial thought about something. We have a responsibility to examine our bias and understand whether we are making a decision based on facts or based on stereotypes.

When it comes to recruiting, we must think about how we see a person’s “fit” within the community. Are we assuming the vegan woman will fit in because she cares about the environment? Do we assume the church goers will be too religious to feel comfortable? Do we assume that this black man already has a community that meets his needs? Instead of making assumptions, we should get the know the people in front of us and evaluate them as a person, not a stereotype. In fact, the only way to overcome implicit bias is by being part of diverse communities and personally knowing people. And no, your one black friend doesn’t count.

Privilege Walk
Privilege is what we have based on our identities. It doesn’t say anything about us personally. It is the external world’s valuation of our lives based on factors we can’t control. Privilege is not good or bad either, but it affects how we move through the world. The privilege walk is based on an exercise like this one: https://edge.psu.edu/workshops/mc/power/privilegewalk.shtml.

Privilege Walk: Housing Edition
-If I want to, I can be in the company of people like me most of the time.
-If I need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area that I can afford and that I want to live in.
-The place where I grew up is not called run down, a slum, a ghetto, or a bad neighborhood.
-I can go into a grocery store and find the staple foods that fit with my culture.
-I can wear clothes that I feel comfortable in without having people question my choices.
-I have never asked a friend to call a realtor or landlord because I’m afraid I’ll sound “ethnic.”
-When I buy hair care products in a store, my shampoos and conditioners are in the aisle and section labeled ‘hair care’ and not in a separate section for ‘ethnic products.’
-I have not been rejected for a home loan and wondered if it was related to how people perceive my background, style of dress, accent, or hair style.
-When I talk about holidays and family celebrations, the people listening have experienced similar events.
-Policy decisions about my child’s school will be made by people who share our racial background.

Many white people feel guilt when they think about their privilege. Guilt is not a productive emotion. We all must recognize our privilege and actually work to correct situations where privilege is a factor. Affordable housing has been a way to help marginalized groups become homeowners. This makes sense because minorities are more likely to be paid less and have to pay more for housing. The approach is flawed, however, because Realtors and landowners still discriminate based on race. Section 8 is a program that pays for low income families to rent anywhere in a city. Studies have shown that landowners will outright say they have no space or refuse to show homes to Section 8 families.

How to Fix It
When it comes to recruiting, think about your networks. You are more likely to reach out to people like you, which means white families that are progressive and probably not religious. Expand your efforts to include churches, neighborhood centers, and other communities. Spend time with people who are not like you.

Ask permission from a person of color to get their feedback about your community. Not all people of color are willing to do this. Always ask if it’s ok to discuss it first. Do not go to your black friend, because undoubtedly they are a lot of people’s black friend and have heard the questions before. Find a community group or consultant that does work in the anti-racism space and pay them to educate you.

Make your commitment to anti-racism public. Talk about bias in your community. Learn more as a community. Have the difficult conversations, but don’t expect congratulations for it. Do the hard work because it’s the right thing to do.

Take the Mask Off

When I was young, I read an autobiography called Nobody Nowhere. I was young and consuming books at a phenomenal rate, but this story stuck with me. Unfortunately, I misremembered it for twenty years. I thought the author had schizophrenia. Her experiences resonated with me, but I didn’t want to be crazy. In fact, in order to avoid being called crazy, I developed a mask.

Masking is what people do to pretend to be normal. With my mask, I made eye contact. I nodded at the appropriate times and always appeared to be listening. I pretended to care about the weather and how someone’s weekend went. I didn’t mention when I was cold or really bothered by the noise. I tried to convince my bosses that they were smarter than me and knew what they were doing. I did very well with a mask for a while.

My mask got its first big crack when I was fired four years ago. My firing was the beginning of a year that ended with me leaving my husband and moving into my dad’s house. I stopped doing small talk. I sought out relationships that met my needs. I dressed down and only showered when I cared to. I adapted my parenting style so my daughter didn’t have to mask either.

My family’s reaction was interesting. On the one hand, they had always known that my sister and I were different. A lot of people in our family were “special.” On the other hand, they worried about my success. Why did I have to be so rude and so messy? Couldn’t I go back to the overachieving woman who overloaded her credit hours and participated in multiple organizations? The truth is, I was tired.

As I mentioned before, I first went to a therapist when I diagnosed myself with social anxiety. My last year of college, I cried on a plane flight from Memphis to Charlotte. I spent a night driving through Columbia because my apartment was too loud. I went to the emergency room every time I had chest pain. I graduated with two degrees with honors, but, inside, I was a mess. I struggled with depression and anxiety for the next few years while I moved houses, worked several jobs, got married, and had a child. Masks help, but only so much.

The author of Nobody Nowhere had autism, but I did not remember that until I read it again last year. I had rediscovered autism when I was researching my daughter’s Sensory Processing Disorder. We had just finished a disastrous semester of pre-K, and I was finally realizing that her reactions to her environment were not normal. My research led me to believe that she had autism, though was another year before she was diagnosed. All of the symptoms felt familiar to me–in fact, they felt normal. So now I’ve become one of the self-diagnosed adults who is willing to say: I am autistic. And once I accepted that, the mask came off completely.

I still experience anxiety in certain situations. I’m still considered rude by some people, and my friends just accept that I like being blunt. But my movement through this world is a lot smoother now. I don’t consider myself a disability activist because I have other things to do. But I support everyone who wants to take the mask off. And I hope that telling my story will help others support those who do.

Update: in October 2018 I was officially diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.