As we get closer to embarking on the New Year, I wish many things for the residents of our great city. Gastonia is a wonderful city filled with historic significance, culture, diversity and opportunity. It is also a paradox where many struggle to escape poverty, oppression, addiction and fear. As a member of your City Council, I see the striking differences of a tail of two cities as some have noted.
We must be careful to understand that Gastonia is in a state of flux and good things are happening all around us, while also understanding that many are concerned that they are being left behind. Our economy is changing and the very landscape is being renewed. Our downtown has a renewed interest and many new constituents are calling our neighborhoods home. We must also acknowledge the lingering challenges that stem from historic systems that exploited the divisions within. While we cannot change the past, we can shape the future and I propose if we as a collective community do the following, it will assist us in rebuilding, rebranding and renewing our soul as a city.
1. Dare to rebuild. Gastonia is poised to grow, but only if we dare to rebuild. Our downtown has seen several historic buildings sold to developers who want to help change our center city into a vibrant and bustling destination once again. In addition the city’s investment in the western portion of our city continues with FUSE. FUSE is much more than a ballpark or an entertainment venue. It is a catalyst for job creation and economic development poised to cause an avalanche of investment in a portion of our city that desperately needs private investors to take a second look. We must resist the urge to say no, when saying yes to open doors will be the only way to begin to change some of the imbalance and injustice we so often reference. It is exciting to see advances in our economy, infrastructure and communities, but to see more investment we need to provide a foundation that can sustain it. FUSE does that and offers a way to make us a destination not just a dot on the map.
2. Dare to connect. In this divisive and often times malicious political climate, Gastonia needs to take the lead in rising above partisan politics by embracing all its people and appreciating all who call her home. We must also collaborate on the tough issues that we face in spite of our differences. Diversity is a good thing and if we can embrace one another we can become stronger as a city and become even more attractive to outside investment and economic development. Building bridges must take place whether it is nonprofits, our faith community, governing bodies or personal relationships. Simply put, we must reconnect our communities and promote a sense of wholeness. For far too long Gastonia has been divided by ideology, barriers, even railroad tracks. We must transcend those divisions and tear those walls down.
3. Dare to dream. This is perhaps one of the most important pieces of the success puzzle. Our city has a long history of mourning. We have lamented the loss of the textile industry, bemoaned the fleecing of our resources and grieved the economic malaise that has contributed to a sense of hopelessness within our ranks. It is time we stop weeping and start working. It is time to take off the ashes and sackcloth and put on a renewed purpose and sense of self-worth. We deserve better than what we have gotten and although we have had many successes, we have not shared in the same opportunities that many of our neighboring municipalities and counties have. At times we are our own worst enemy. We believe the bad news, while failing to promote the good. We share the degrading and belittling youtube clips of our city while standing on the sidelines when invited to help right the wrongs. It is true that many have been working hard for change, but collectively, we have a ways to go until we all believe that we deserve more than the crumbs that fall off Charlotte’s table. We do and it is time to rebuild, rebrand and reshape our city to demonstrate that.
As we say goodbye to 2017 and hello to 2018, there are many things to be proud of and many challenges yet to be tackled. We are a strong and resilient people and our city has great promise. We have a mayor and City Council that is eager to work hard to move forward, but to be successful we need your help. Together we need to dare to rebuild, dare to connect and dare to dream again. If we can do this as a city there will be no stopping us. So long 2017 and bring it on 2018. Gastonia is ready for the future and you are a needed and vital part of the renaissance. Happy New Year Gastonia. Let’s get it done!
Note: This column appeared in the gazette on Dec. 26th as a My Turn opinion piece.