A commentary on THE EXCLUSION REPORT Lenoir County
By Ronn Kool Shedrick
Not being a public servant I only wonder why anyone is shocked? I have lived back in the home town I grew up in for almost ten years and it has been apparent to me since my first launching of NV/NV in 1993. I was among the citizens that came out to hear the UNC-Law school give its report at St. James AME this year. The one overwhelmingly statement made in this report to me is this one:
“One impediment to inclusion is an individualistic legal framework where civil rights are perceived as individual rights and racial discrimination as a personal experience. The opposite is true. Housing segregation operates at a neighborhood level. When a neighborhood is overwhelmingly one race, all of the residents face impacts of that segregation, regardless of their own race or circumstances. Individuals face other forms of racial discrimination individually, for example in employment or access to higher education, but even these types of discrimination are reinforced and perpetuated by segregated communities.”
This statement to me says very loud and clear that all of us in the neighborhood of Kinston are in the same boat. Whether that boat came from Africa or Ireland or your people were invaded from your point of view. If you live in Kinston then you suffer because of our subjectivity to racial discrimination. While the report concerns itself with government issues such as public services, infrastructure, housing and education for which there are better sources of opinions or solutions than my skill sets could serve and I can only imagine that with the higher educated folks we have in this community they would better serve us in our answers. I have two areas that I feel I am familiar with enough to offer some type of relevant answers. First, is the City Council should act to help ensure our community is safer, better maintained (cleaner) and has employment opportunities. Inroads to accomplishing this could be with a new ordinance that requires landlords to maintain their property. A new ordinance could provide for a local neighborhood resident to bid on the property and maintain it at the owner’s expense thus making a cleaner community and employing the local resident.
The next matter that I would like to comment is related to education. I just have a passion for performing arts as in theatre including dance. My personal involvement within the local arts community began in 1993, when I founded NV/NV. We launch a successful youth summer theatre camp of 19 young people that produced Purlie Victorious at Rochelle Middle School! Followed by Kinston High School theatre teacher Gerald McCray’s directing of A Raisin in the Sun, and my directing of Five on the Black Hand Side. Long time Kinston resident Charles Hannibal was instrumental as was Ms. Celestine Davis and Geraldine McCray. They became the backbone for We Need Love as well. We were so successful in our efforts that we earned an Artistic of Merit Award from the NC General Assembly via the National Endowment of the Arts .
NV/NV received the, “Organization of Color” program grant which was a multi-year (3) grant of 5 – 7K with funding allocated to programming done in its first two years of existence with myself, Charles Hannibal, a small make shift crew of local residents including family and friends. In the last year of the grant program, it was decided that we should forfeit the funding. My issue or problem was that in order for us to survive we needed more assistance from the state and local arts organizations in the community which I feel speaks to the heart of exclusion here in Kinston, Lenoir County North Carolina. There were many ways that I felt that the City, local Arts organizations could have stepped in and played a role in our growth that would have benefitted our community youth and adults. Asking if I could bring in my own crew to train and learn lights and sound we were faced with, “you have to use our people.” So the $45 an hour or so I pay does not go to training someone in the NV/NV community to assist us in the future and pay them. The extra shot in the arm that should go with Arts Council and Grainger-Hill Performing Arts Center was minimum from a marketing perspective, and if you don’t let people know, you don’t have as large of a box office which means in theatre jargon, “There is No Theatre Without the Box Office!. This leads me to give mention to two old friends and allies Attorney Harvey Beech and Mr. Felix Harvey who offered their financial support as well as moral encouragement. They both were UNC-Chapel Hill graduates and exemplified that we are in this thing together!
It also appears to me that the Arts Council has gone into competition with NV/NV, so it seems to be some conflict there and while competition is a good thing. I am not sure how healthy it is for an organization to be trying to bring up programs of the same nature through its competitor. Arts Center Theatre (ACT) an effort by the Local Arts Center (and I believe the City) to produce Theatre was the talk after asking me to join the board of directors. After descending from the board feeling unwanted, unneeded and downright neglected both as an artist and person it led me to want to take a break and go into hiatus. What did they want me on the board for? To accomplish, what? ACT produced a summer theatre camp with a theatre company from Missoula, Montana last season. In 1989 or so I was hired by Grand Street Theatre, 325 North Park Helena, Montana a sister company of the Missoula company, out of New York to be an instructor and performer for my first stage work as an actor in Driving Miss Daisy. It was a six week theatre camp for area youth at $250 and we had over 275 kids. What a wonderful experience. It was my first instructing/directing position with young people and a major success for the area. When talks between the City’s Park and Recreational Department and the Arts Center went on I don’t think I was ever considered with NV/NV to be a resource. Was the Arts Council board request just a ploy to have someone in the minority community on the board? EXCLUSION
On this board was Stephen Hill now board member of the NC Arts Council in Raleigh, NC. Between the awards and support via letters only, with an appearance at City Hall. I’m sure that the City of Kinston and Mr. Hill are aware of NV/NV and our mission. Now Mr. Hill is a big advocate of the arts for downtown and the West Kinston community he is building. I applaud the vision he sees for Kinston and how the City has worked alongside of him and the local arts community. I just have to ask myself as they promote themselves via the internet (livability.com/kinston/nc ) where it places the median income around $573/week and since Kinston is majority Black is that what Black Kinston is making? If you are working for minimum wage it’s not happening. Why isn’t there some love for the Eastside of Kinston? Hill, the Chamber and Arts Council are not the first ones to advocate that arts can improve our community on a whole. I understand that they are aware of how arts, dance and entertainment are rooted in our community. Our communities are not for sale and we do think we should all get equal assistance in building our community. I want to make it clear that this is not about any personal issue or a dislike for anyone that I have come in contact within the Kinston community at all. With most people I have been blessed to be associated with, I believe have good hearts. I recently read an article about race:
My impression of the article is that the white population has gotten so indoctrinated in their community of working only with themselves unless you are working for them that they do not concern themselves with anyone else in their planning and support. It’s like this caricature. You know in the article it spoke of how in such a small community as ours when you have a large segment of one race doing so poorly how it has a ripple effect for the whole community. Exclusion
Solution #1: New Voices/New Visions is poised to work along with all interested partners in showing our art & culture to the world!
Solution #2 The Black community should come together as in the past with the same determination as when we were fighting dogs and fire hoses. To facilitate this needed energy the organizations that are currently fighting to improve our community should speak with one voice. If you take a look at what we are all trying to do it’s the same, it is to improve the quality of life for our citizens. We need to claim our destiny within the performing arts as well as becoming a mecca for the local business community; as well with our own festival!
In closing I would like to reiterate that we want to work along with everyone and get on board the love train!