The talents of today’s young people celebrated memories of the past during a Juneteenth celebration at Greenville Theatre Arts Center on Saturday.
The Center’s “Celebration of the Culture” featured music, dance and a sneak peak of the African-American Cultural Trail. It was one of four events that were part of a citywide celebration of Juneteenth, which marks the day in 1865 that enslaved people in Texas learned that slavery had ended two years earlier with the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the adoption of the 13th Amendment nearly six months earlier.
“The purpose of the day was to bring the community out and be able to give information about our culture and heritage in Greenville, N.C.,” said Terri Payton, executive director of the arts center, which now occupies a touchstone of the city’s black cultural history, The Roxy Theater.
Payton has been working with the trail committee to find creative ways to bring the information to the community. She was excited by the interest people showed in Saturday’s presentation by members of the cultural trail committee.
Events at GTAC, located at 629 Albemarle Ave. in the heart of what was once Greenville’s black business district known as The Block, started with a dance performance by Beyond Belief.
“I’m over here dying. Those girls were hot,” Danielle Boone cheered. “They did an awesome job.”
She enrolled her daughter D’Niah Hall, 13, in the troupe when D’Niah was 5 years old.
“I wanted her to have something today that she could grow in and be successful in as she gets older,” Boone said. “She knows how to speak in groups and she’s traveled to competitions. We’ve been to Virginia. We just went to Georgia and we’re going to Mississippi next month. Not quite the world but we are seeing a lot of it.”
The program ended with Jasulynn Rogers, 12, singing “Next in Line” with her mother Danisha Rogers.
Rogers said she was thrilled her daughter could be involved in the Juneteenth celebration. It gave her a chance to sing, which she loves, and to see Black history being recognized.
“Our history isn’t being omitted now. It was omitted for so long, but now they have the images downtown (at the Sycamore Hill Gateway Plaza) and they are making this trail. It’s our history,” Rogers said. “I’m glad they are doing this.”
GTAC’s programming is designed to let people know “we can do great things with this light if we push ourselves forward,” Payton said.
“I’m from Greenville originally. When I moved back to Greenville three years ago, there was absolutely nothing for me to do. I’m an artistic, creative person and there was nothing for me to get involved in,” she said. “Instead of sitting home crying about it, I decided let’s create it.”
That’s why it was important to include young people in Saturday’s program, Payton said.
“Our vision is all about bridging the gap. We need our young people to listen and we want to bring them up so they can change the new generation and the new era,” Payton said. “The only way you can do that is for them to listen and be a part of what the elders and the past have brought to us. They won’t know that until they hear the stories.”
Stop on The Block
The presentation on the African American Cultural Trail, which will formally launch in six to eight weeks, focused on The Block, one of six stops on the inaugural tour, said Andrew Schmidt, president and CEO of the Greenville-Pitt County Convention and Visitors Authority.
The Block was the place to be in the African-American community in the 1940s, ’50s,” Schmidt said.
One man, Millard Bell, once said The Block was “famous all over the world from all the soldiers in Europe. They’d hear you were from Greenville and want to know about The Block.”
Nearly 20 businesses, a credit union and York Memorial AME Zion Church were located in the area of Albemarle Avenue along with the Roxy Theater.
Pat Grimes Short, Vera Blackwell and Ella and Alton Harris all talked about their memories of “The Block” during Saturday’s event.
“I am kind of old, so I am familiar with most of the places on The Block,” Short said. She then told the story of the businesses there and the role each played in the lives of community members.
“We used to go to York Memorial Church for Bible school. At that time you went from church to church … so our parents took us to all the Bible schools in the summer,” Short said.
The beauty parlor was where you could get the day’s stylish hair, the curl. She remembers her parents depositing money at the credit union. The ST Restaurant is where you could get fried chicken and other meals.
There also was the Red Rose Social Club, where you had to be a member to attend. The club owner was a close family friend, Short said, so he would let her in to look around before sending her downstairs to the Palace Club, which is where kids her age would gather to dance.
Alton Harris grew up in the Shore Drive neighborhood, razed in the 1960s to create the Town Common, but he went by The Block daily on the way to school and to visit his future wife.
“All the teenagers came to the Roxy Theatre. When we came up, we could take a dollar and be out all night long,” he said. Every penny would be spent at the different businesses on The Block.
Ella Tyson Harris said her memories are mainly of York Memorial and the programming offered to young people.
The pastor nurtured the children of his congregation, she said, bringing them into his home.
“We could talk to him. He visited all around the town. There were a lot of things going on The Block but York Memorial was a pillar of strength for that community,” Tyson Harris said.
York Memorial is now on Tyson Street and continues its mission of nurturing people.
“The only experience I had on The Block was here, at the theater, at the Roxy,” Blackwell said. “We would come on Sunday evenings, we would go to church first, and this was our only form of entertainment.” She met her first boyfriend at the theater.
“It was a wonderful place in the day, everyone came here to socialize,” Blackwell said. “There were good times and bad times too but we loved it.”
Along with the community cultural celebration, events were held to shine a light on the city’s black business community.
A ribbon-cutting was held at a newly opened incubator space at 415 Evans St. The facility offers retail space. Eligible businesses may also qualify for assistance with tax preparation, payroll services and other services.
The ribbon-cutting was followed by a Black Business Pop-Up celebration that featured merchants, food trucks and music.
The city’s Minority, Women Business Enterprise program sponsored an open house at the Gold Post, 804 W. Fifth St., which is also the location of the program’s shared kitchen space and commissary.
“It’s an opportunity for our local food talent who is in need of a commercial kitchen space to come in and do their prep work, do their cooking and be able to go out and serve the community,” said Denisha Harris, financial services manager, who administers the MWBE program.
“Juneteenth is all about freedom and freedom comes in many forms,” Harris said. “Juneteenth specifically is about the physical freedom of formerly enslaved African-Americans but we also have economic freedom we are striving for in all our communities.”
Highlighting the incubator and shared kitchen space shows future entrepreneurs there are services that can help all people build economic freedom, Harris said, because building businesses builds generational wealth and brings about equitable economic development in the city.
When the county’s public schools students return to classes in August, only a fraction of them plan to be virtual students, the district reported on Monday.
As of June 21, 127 students in grades four through 12 have enrolled full-time in Pitt County Virtual Academy for the 2021-22 school year, Pitt County Schools Director of Virtual Learning Tim DeCresie told members of the Board of Education at a workshop meeting.
“The interest was not as strong as we had anticipated,” Steve Lassiter, assistant superintendent of educational programs and services, said. “Parents want their children in school, face to face with a teacher. That is certainly OK with us.”
Twenty-one students in grades four and five, 33 students in grades six through eight and 73 students in grades nine through 12 have registered as full-time students with PCVA. Nearly 500 high school students are expected to be part-time virtual learners.
At the elementary school level, 11 schools had no students enroll for virtual learning for the next school year. Among high schools, D.H. Conley had the largest number of students, 35, to enroll as full-time virtual learners.
The school district, which began the 2020-21 school year with about 50 percent of its students as full-time virtual learners, ended the year with about 7,000 (approximately 30 percent) of its students continuing as online-only learners.
This spring, Pitt County Virtual Academy has had more than 1,700 requests for online high school courses for the 2021-22 school year. That total, which reflects the number of courses rather than the number of individual students, exceeded what the district receives in a typical year.
DeCresie said he expects the PCVA’s enrollment to increase, especially among part-time virtual learners.
“These numbers certainly will change,” he said. “I do feel like these numbers will change when we get into August.”
Still, the smaller-than-expected enrollment has prompted the district to hire about half the number of instructors it originally planned to hire for PCVA.
“As the schools gave us the numbers, when we found the positions weren’t needed, we stopped the hiring process,” Lassiter said.
Three elementary, four middle and five high school teachers have been hired of the 24 that initially were planned.
Superintendent Ethan Lenker said CARES Act funding will pay for the additional virtual teaching positions for three years.
Launched seven years ago, PCVA was designed primarily to serve high school students. But the coronavirus pandemic forced Pitt County and school districts across the country to expand virtual offerings. For the 2020-21 academic year, North Carolina’s public schools were required to make virtual instruction available for families that wanted to keep their children at home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Unlike last school year’s virtual learning option, for the next school year PCVA requires students to meet certain criteria. Participants must have a minimum of a C average for the previous year’s courses and perform on grade level on end-of-grade testing and other required assessments. In addition, virtual students must have reliable internet, which does not include a cellphone data plan or school-provided hotspot.
Virtual Academy students will be allowed to participate in extra-curricular activities, including athletics, at their base school. A one-semester commitment is required, but students can be reassigned to attend classes on campus if they fail to fulfill their online responsibilities, which include participating in class and completing assignments.
Greenville City Council unanimously approved rezoning a smaller-than-requested portion of the Town Common but only after it rejected a member’s request to delay action so a new zoning classification could be created.
The zoning of 1.4 acres of property located on the eastern edge of the Town Common was changed to downtown commercial with the council’s vote. City staff had sought to rezone a total of 5.2 acres which included the Town Common, its parking lot, the Town Common Pedestrian Bridge and a portion of property on Baker Street.
Staff sought the rezoning so the city can partner with a private developer to build a restaurant/convention space near the Tar River. Staff said it’s one of several projects that were part of a master plan created for the Town Common in 2010 and updated in 2016.
The council rejected Councilman Rick Smiley’s motion that staff be directed to develop a parks commercial zone classification which would allow business development described in the master plan but exclude the other businesses allowed in downtown commercial zoning. Once the new zoning was approved, staff could bring back a request to rezone 1.46 acres of the Town Common, he said.
The motion was met by immediate opposition.
“The Town Common Master Plan is a plan that was approved by previous councils,” Councilman Will Litchfield said. He said he supported rezoning a smaller portion of land but saw no need for a new zoning classification.
“It seems there is a misconception about what is actually going to be on the property and I think it’s important to remember the city is going to continue to own this property. It’s going to continue to be for public use,” Litchfield said.
He claimed one or two individuals are providing misinformation that a “huge metropolis” was going to be developed on the Town Common and said it was frustrating.
Councilmen Brian Meyerhoeffer and Will Bell also spoke against the proposing new zoning classification.
“This is a request by city staff, city staff will be managing it. The city staff, in my opinion, did good job executing the Town Common Master Plan,” Meyherhoeffer said. “I don’t anticipate them handling this next step any differently. I am onboard with this next step.”
Commercial downtown zoning is a broad choice and permits businesses that the City Council doesn’t want to see on the Town Common. Smiley said.
“I don’t know why we would decline making our intentions more clear,” Smiley said. He asked what would it hurt to slow the process down to get the correct zoning. It would make clear the council doesn’t plan to build a large hotel or convention center on the park.
Bell made a substitution motion that sought to reduce the area rezoned to 1.4 acres and removed the language requesting a new zoning classification.
Bell, Litchfield, Meyerhoeffer and Councilwoman Rose Glover voted yes to Bell’s motion and Smiley and Councilwoman Monica Daniels voted against it.
The council then went on to vote on several other items. As the meeting drew to a close, City Attorney Emanuel McGirt said a second vote had to be taken on the Town Common rezoning.
McGirt said the first vote on Bell’s motion was a vote to establish it as the main motion over Smiley’s motion. McGirt said vote was needed to approve the rezoning of the 1.4 acres.
That vote was unanimous.
The council approved, with a 4-2 vote, a request to rezone 17.2 acres located along the eastern right-of-way of Port Terminal Road north of East 10th Street from residential medium density multi-family to residential high density multi-family.
Smiley initially made a motion, seconded by Daniels, to deny the request.
“I don’t want to go back into everything we talked about the last time. The applicant has acknowledged that it is a marginal piece of land with a lot of delicate environmental concerns. He’s previously acknowledged to this council that he can make money on the current zoning and now he is asking for a more intense zoning so he can make more money,” Smiley said. “I don’t know if we are obligated to support that, to give him a greater ability to damage the environment so he can enhance his own profits.”
Smiley’s motion was rejected 2-4. He and Daniels voted yes and Glover, Bell, Litchfield and Meyerhoeffer voted no.
Bell made a motion to approve the request and it passed 4-2 with Glover, Bell, Litchfield and Meyerhoeffer voting yes and Smiley and Daniels voting no.
The council unanimously approved adding two uses to the city’s planning rules and approved modifying the city code to meet North Carolina General Statutes regarding planning and zoning matters.
The council then held a public hearing on a request to annex 27.54 acres located at the end of Allen Ridge Road that will be Allen Ridge Section 3 phase one and two.
Chief Planner Chantae Gooby said it’s anticipated 76 duplex lots, a total of 152 units, will be built.
Attorney Lee Percise, representing the property owner, said it is a contiguous annexation of property bounded on three sides by existing city limits. He said it will give the city much-needed housing stock.
The council will reconvene at 6 p.m. on Wednesday to vote on the request.
The Pitt County Board of Commissioners on Monday discussed action on a proposed law enforcement center, a spending plan for $17.5 million from the federal American Rescue Plan and a pair of zoning requests. Visit reflector.com for a report or pick up a copy of Wednesday’s paper.
Contact Bobby Burns at firstname.lastname@example.org and 329.9572.