Kenny Hardin, Salisbury City Councilman
♦ A small group of strong Men came together early Saturday morning, braving cold temperatures to bring a show of warmth and genuine concern to the West End. Alex Clark and Kenneth Foxx Muhmmad El organized the Boots on the Ground initiative Saturday. This was the third time this contingent showed its presence in a community. The purpose of the men taking to the streets was to engage young people and families in a demonstration of concern, love, and outreach to simply ask what they need, what their perception is of the current climate of their community, share knowledge of available resources and work In collaboration with the residents to find resolutions that will help reduce the level of hopelessness, violence, and crime so prevalent in our City.
Instead of waiting for those outside of the community to come up with strategies and solutions to address the issues within, strong Men were called to join the effort and take the lead to reach out to young men, families and anyone encountered who need assistance. Another goal was to offer reassurance that there are strong men who care about them and their community. It was made clear at the outset that this was not a formal organization, there were no titles, leaders nor anyone seeking publicity or personal gain. There was no discussion of professional associations or religious affiliations. It was simply men coming together and forgoing egos to reach a bigger goal of dispelling the misperception that Black men are absent and unconcerned about the direction of their community.
The men present Saturday morning, who I was honored to walk alongside, included Alex Clark and Muhammad El, Jeff Watkins, Ed Brown, Bryant Davis, Derrick Foxx, Andrew Davis, Jr., Shawn Henderson, Glenwood Oats, and Joel David. We assembled early in the lower parking lot of Salisbury High School where we huddled together to discuss our walking strategy and a consistent message we would all deliver to those encountered. We began our circuitous walking route headed north on Caldwell street and making a hard left onto Thomas Street.
With Muhammad El taking the lead, we stopped at each home knocking on the door and engaging whomever answered. We were met with initial caution and slight skepticism, but once we made our intention clear, people warmed up quickly to our group and showered us with praise, compliments, appreciation and words of encouragement and support. We maneuvered our way down Old Plank Road continuing to engage people we randomly encountered in their driveways and walking down the street. It was great to see men embracing each other showing respect as well as senior residents offering appreciative hugs.
Our group turned right onto Partee Street where we knocked on every door of the government assisted housing apartments. Some people talked to us through closed doors, young mothers spoke through cracked partially opened doors and others stepped out to engage us fully. We talked to each about the continuous gun violence, whether they were getting proper assistance from their local government and we shared available programs encouraging them to take advantage.
As we moved up to Monroe street, the group stopped in to talk with a business that has been a staple of the West End for decades-McLaughlin’s Grocery. The owners, John and Shirley McLaughlin, were supportive of our efforts and supplied the group with beverages. We continued our journey stopping at a residences on Monroe Street before turning onto Partee Street engaging more residents. As we walked, the group engaged in great strategic conversations about how to continue to impact the young men and create economic development opportunities for them. Those familiar with the West End shared the historic significance of many of the buildings and discussed the people who made it such a dynamic area. Everyone agreed they would remain committed to helping restore the shine and muster of the community.
The contingent turned onto Horah Street continuing to knock on doors and demonstrate our concern and presence. We traveled east on Horah before making a left onto Lloyd Street. It was quickly noted that a large amount of trash and debris was neatly stacked in front of a home. Residents we spoke with said while they were happy the occupants had moved, they were dismayed the trash had been allowed to remain on the curb for over a week. A resident also pointed out that another empty house was being used by vagrants entering though windows. They added that they had reached out to Code Enforcement, but the illegal behavior had not abated.
Long time Lloyd Street resident, Mrs. Almeader Holt, spoke openly about her concerns and shared improvement needs and expectations she had. She shared that since occupants of several homes had vacated, the atmosphere of the street had improved significantly. We approached a couple of young people leaving their homes and getting into their vehicles. They were gracious and heeded our requests for conversation. They echoed Mrs. Holt’s sentiments about noted positive change, but also expressed concerns about people coming in and out of the vacant house.
We retraced our route moving back south on Lloyd and again turned onto Horah street heading east. There were several residents out in their yards and on the sidewalk, so we took the time to stop and engage them. People were again extremely pleased with our unselfish effort and showered us with appreciatory comments along with concern for the gun violence and strategies of how to address the continual crime and gun violence. We stopped in at the local barbershop and talked with the barbers and a good cross section of customers broken out by gender and varying ages. Muhammad El, Glenwood Oats, and I spoke to a young high school student who made a very profound and eye opening statement, “These kids need more people out here to look up to. A lot of these people out here are not the right people they need to be talking to.” As we left the barbershop heading up Horah and turning South on Institute street, the group discussed the young man’s comment. We agreed that not everyone out here is offering relief to the community nor are they in it it for the right reason. We noted the absence of a lot of people who should’ve been out with us and attributed it to the lack of press coverage and the opportunity to pad a resume.
We turned left onto Monroe Street and trekked our way east continuing our engagement efforts. We arrived at the home of highly revered and respected West End resident, Raemi Evans. We were greeted warmly on the porch by her daughter, Janine Evans, and the entire group was invited inside. We were treated to doughnuts and beverages and provided brief rest. We all listened intently as Mrs. Evans offered wise words, shared her concerns about the crime and violence, her strategies and suggestions and repeated words of appreciation for our efforts. Before leaving, each person stood in line to offer a respectful embrace to her before leaving f the comfort of her den. She made it clear to the group that her door was always open for return visits.
We began the last leg of our journey by heading south down Craige Street back towards our original starting point at the high school. Once we completed our mission, we assembled and debriefed. We all agreed we had clearly met our goal and made tentative plans to reassemble and show our presence in other challenged communities. The group dispersed and recovered at the Firewater restaurant where they provided us a full complimentary breakfast. Other concerned men and women, who weren’t able to join our walking and listening tour, filled up the dining room to discuss issues and offer suggestions. I enjoyed being a part of this diverse group of strong minds engaging in a collaborative discussion on how to solve issues impacting our entire City.
I’m looking forward to the next time we put our Boots on the Ground!
Photo Gallery of Saturday’s Boots on the Ground Outreach: