Views

Vote Yes Fayetteville: An opportunity for repentance

03 vote verticalIn 2006/7, I led the opposition to an effort to restructure the Fayetteville City Council. I was wrong. Vote Yes Fayetteville is a current attempt to change the Council make-up from nine single member districts to five single and four at-large seats. This is an opportunity for correcting a serious past failing, and I am taking it. I will do all that I can to help achieve this restructuring.

In 2006, I attended a meeting where several speakers made the case that the proposed referendum to change the Council structure would dilute Black representation on the Council. In that meeting, I agreed to lead an effort opposing the referendum. I did so even though I had signed the petition calling for the referendum.

My mind was changed because I accepted the argument that Black citizens face some challenges that are best understood by other Blacks. In addition, when looking at voting patterns in the city, it was clear that white citizens primarily voted for white candidates. This voting pattern brought in the likelihood that there was a racism component at work. There was also the consideration that running at-large is more expensive than competing in a single district and that would be a hindrance for Black candidates.

In the end, on February 6, 2007, the referendum passed and the process of implementing the new structure started. However, the U.S. Justice Department had authority to reverse the decision of Fayetteville voters and did so. The Justice Department concluded that that the 6-3 plan could negatively affect minority voting. That is, make the election of minority candidates less likely.

Opposing passage of the restructuring resolution gave our group members far better insight into the issues affecting all Fayetteville citizens, but especially Black residents. More clearly, we saw the societal and political blind spots: areas that needed to be addressed, but with different approaches and attitudes from what was the norm. For this reason, what had been the referendum opposition organization, “NO 2,” became the Fayetteville Area Coalition for Equality (FAYCE). I was elected chairman of the new organization.

The focus of FAYCE was on the needs of Black residents while endeavoring to have local governments treat all residents fairly and equally. It is absolutely critical to understand that it was not our aim to have any group(s) of Fayetteville citizens given attention to the detriment of any other group(s). Even though our focus was on issues affecting Black citizens, the aim was fair and equal treatment for all.

FAYCE had a clearly defined approach for pursuing our overall aim. Gathering facts and examining those facts, before taking a position on any issue, was central to that approach. There was also commitment to detailed planning for any project or action.

Our commitment to these principles showed through in the structure of our meetings, in how we addressed difficult issues, in developing a candidates’ guide for the 2007 municipal election, and sponsoring candidates’ forums for that election. In line with our desire to get facts and thoughtful responses and to accurately and productively inform citizens, we provided forum questions to the candidates in advance. In line with our approach, these forums were not about tripping anybody up; they were about informing citizens and encouraging reasoning over emotion.

Into 2008, FAYCE was proving very effective in pursuing the organization’s goals. Then came the 2008 North Carolina presidential primary. Barack Obama received 9 out of 10 Black votes. Don Worthington, a reporter with The Fayetteville Observer, called and asked me what I thought about Blacks voting so overwhelmingly for Obama. He quoted me correctly as saying, “If nine out of 10 Blacks voted for Obama, they may be guilty of the same racism they accused whites of in the past.” The main argument in 2006, against restructuring the Council, was that since whites overwhelmingly voted for whites, that voting pattern indicated the presence of racism. Continuing that reasoning, why would Blacks voting overwhelmingly for a Black candidate not also raise the possibility of racism?

Although there were some individuals who publicly agreed with what I said, the outrage in opposition was deafening. WIDU, a local radio station with a sizeable Black audience, was inundated with calls from people who were totally disgusted with my comment.

The level of disgust was eye-opening for me. Then there was this statement written by someone on Ron Harrison’s blog: “…FAYCE flounders — and honestly, it was beginning to look like an organization that could positively influence the community … which befuddles me why Merritt opened his mouth in such a manner.” The clear message from the outrage and comments, such as the one quoted here, was that I should have been quiet regarding a condition I believed could prove dangerous and debilitating for this city and even the nation. That was not and is not my approach to leading or living. I resigned as chairman of FAYCE.

The experience that I have reviewed to this point caused a major revamping of the framework within which I do my thinking. For instance, there was a time when, if the government said something was true, I accepted it without question; I was inclined to, without detailed examination, accept claims of racism as true; I believed that the vast majority of politicians were committed to doing what was good for all Americans; did not give extensive attention to the political process, governmental policies, or fiscal considerations. Every one of these components, and more, of my framework for thinking has shifted 180 degrees.

Against this backdrop, here is how I now assess Vote Yes Fayetteville. The 5/4 restructuring is required because the current structure of nine single member districts is doing exactly what, in 2006, those of us who opposed that restructuring claimed would happen if it were instituted; except, in 2021, the racial impact is reversed. In 2006, there were more white residents than Black. That is no longer the case. Eight of the 10 members of Council are Black and, during elections, indications are that Black citizens overwhelmingly vote for viable Black Democratic candidates. Applying the racism argument made in 2006/7 by those of us who opposed restructuring, and by the U.S. Justice Department in overruling the will of Fayetteville voters, the current Council structure requires some effort to even the playing field for white citizens.

Another point of opposition being raised again is that it is more expensive to run at-large than in a district and this puts Black candidates at a disadvantage. One response to this claim is to point to Blacks who are currently serving in at-large positions, such as: sheriff, chairman of the County Commission, and Clerk of Court.
In terms of fairness and equal treatment of all, the impact on white citizens of this at-large cost argument demands attention. It says to white citizens who have financial means, “You are able to provide substantial financial support to candidates or to your personal campaign; consequently, we must maintain a system that prevents you from participating in the political process in a manner equal to all other citizens.” This is totally unfair and certainly smells like discrimination.

There also seems to be greater attention to issues championed by Black residents than to those affecting all citizens of the city. The first of these regards the Market House; despite its otherwise very positive historical significance, because slaves were sold there, Council is giving significant attention to what might be done to quell outrage from some Black citizens and an undetermined number of white citizens. Of equal high priority with Council is satisfying demands for a citizens police review board that would have access to records and information that are not now publically available.

While there is tremendous focus on these two issues, the weightier responsibilities of local government are getting far less attention than is necessary or reasonably expected by the general public. Among these are understaffing of the police department, rising crime rates, failure to protect property during a season of protesting/rioting/looting, not proactively promoting economic development, questionable handling of infrastructure needs, and, in general, conducting city affairs in a fashion that divides rather than unifies citizens.

The negative consequences of the picture painted here are many, but the loss of white residents is one deserving of serious consideration by those who might oppose Vote Yes Fayetteville. Since 2000, maybe before, the white population of Fayetteville has been in decline. If this restructuring and other fairness/equalizing actions are not taken, Fayetteville will experience the same terrifying quality of life decline as other cities that followed our current course. Consider Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles and so forth.

At the bottom line, I contend that if this effort to restructure the Fayetteville City Council fails, it will show us to be a city where white citizens are treated unfairly, the primary indicator of racism in voting only applies to whites, and we are willing to protect these conditions at the cost of a dramatic decline in our quality of life.

Support Vote Yes Fayetteville.

Selling PWC down the river

02 churchIt’s that most wonderful time of year again, when the current temporary members of the Fayetteville City Council are tempted to sell the rights to the Public Works Commission for thirty years. In return, the Council will get a mess of pottage in a secret financial story of Biblical proportions.

This time the would-be buyer is an investment outfit from Louisiana called Bernhard Capital Partners. Let’s call this firm Bernie to keep things simple. The Fayetteville City Council will play the role of Esau. Bernie will take the role of Jacob. PWC will inhabit the role of Birthright in this story.

Ponder the story of Jacob and Esau from the Bible to see how this fits the City Council’s current flirtation with selling PWC to some out of towners for some fast cash.

Jacob and Esau were the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. Esau was born first which gave him the Birthright. This was a big deal in Hebrew times as the first born got the best parts of the family inheritance. Jacob grabbed Esau’s ankle in an effort to be born first. However, Esau emerged first securing his claim to the Birthright.

Years later, Esau had been out in the fields. He came home hungry as a starving bear. Jacob, being a homebody, had cooked up a mess of red pottage which is what they used to call stew. Jacob, sensing an investment opportunity, refused to give Esau any of the pottage unless Esau swapped his Birthright for a bowl of pottage. Esau’s blood sugar was way down which caused him not to think clearly. Choosing immediate gratification over the delayed version, Jacob agreed to swap his Birthright for the mess of pottage.

The deal was done. No birthright for Esau. It was a sweet deal for Jacob who was just out a bowl of stew.

So how does this story fit our very own City Council and its interest in selling PWC as an indentured servant for 30 years to some strangers? Apparently, the City Council was working out a double secret deal like the Manhattan Project with Bernie to sell off PWC. The Raleigh News & Observer spilled the beans in a story on April 13 blowing the cover off the negotiations of the proposed 30 years of PWC wandering in the wilderness under the tender mercies of an out of state company.

Turns out there is a non-disclosure agreement between the City Council, PWC and Bernie so the full details aren’t available to the roughly 140,000 electric, water and sewer customers of PWC.

As the Church Lady used to say, “Well, isn’t that convenient?” At the time of the writing of this column, the NDA was still in place and the details were still double secret. The News & Observer report said Bernie had offered $750 million to the City for the PWC rights for the next 30 years.

If the opening offer was $750 million, you know that the rights are worth far more than that amount.

PWC has been around since 1905. It is owned by the city of Fayetteville which means the citizens of Fayetteville. It has received numerous awards for being well run and providing excellent service to our citizens.

In the interest of full disclosure, my father E.H. Dickey was an electrical engineer for PWC for many years. He was one of those guys who got up in the middle of the night during storms to get the power back on. There are a lot of those guys at PWC who get up in the middle of the night to keep things running. They are local. Having local guys who live here take care of things here is a good thing. No one in Louisiana currently decides when to do maintenance in Fayetteville.

Under Bernie, that could change. Deferring maintenance is way absentee owners make more money. Do you want to trust an absentee owner to decide whether to spend money to maintain PWC’s equipment? I don’t.

All this comes under the heading of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Bernie may be wonderful. I don’t know. I do know PWC ain’t broke. Why gamble?

The makeup of the City Council is temporary. Council members come and go. Fayetteville’s citizens outlast councils. PWC has been run by local citizens since 1905 unless the Council decides to sell it into indentured servitude. The temptation for the current Council to sell PWC is going to be great. The Council would have a slush fund of $750 million to spend on all sorts of favorite ideas. How long do you think it would be until they spent that pile of money on pet projects? The current Council will be out of office, the pile of money will be gone, and Bernie down on the bayou will be setting our rates, deciding on maintenance, and putting us on voice mail before you can say “Oops!”

It was not a good idea to kill the Golden Goose to get her golden eggs. Indenturing PWC for 30 years to get PWC’s Golden Eggs today will be a decision we will all regret later. PWC is Fayetteville’s Birthright.

It’s your hometown utility. Tell the City Council not to trade 30 years of PWC for a mess of pottage. Tell your City Council to tell Bernie thanks, but no thanks.

A tribute to mothers, sisters, friends

tribute 2I never truly understood the role of a mother until I lost my mother, Cora Jones, the night before Thanksgiving in 2007. I also lost the person who informed me of her death. My little sister, Chakita Jones, was murdered four days before her 26th birthday. My sister and mother were not perfect, but they did their best to give their kids the best. As a mother of seven, my sister gave her life to save her son’s life. When my sister was killed, she was shielding my nephew from bullets. During her last six months of life, my mother was more worried about me, Kita, and Josh than the fact that she was dying. Her biggest concern was making sure that I finished high school and enrolled in college. But, when Kita called me, my entire world changed. I had never experienced the death of a family member. When I lost my mother, I felt numb for months. When I lost my mom, I lost unconditional love. I lost my direction in life, motivation, and my will to continue with life. Yes, I had suicidal thoughts. While many will not admit it, this is a reality for many of us who have lost our mother. You will never get over it. Every year, I, like others, am reminded of the importance of a mother.

Mother’s Day is bittersweet for those who do not physically have a mother. We take the time to reflect on the beautiful memories she left us. However, we are constantly wishing that we can have one more conversation. Everyday, I wish that I can go back to 1360 Davis Street and sit on the steps under the tree with my mom while she has a cold beer after a long day of work at the cleaners.

 On Mother’s Day, me and Kita would visit her gravesite and reflect. Now, Kita is gone and I have to visit two gravesites. When my mom passed away, Kita was that last living piece of her that I had. Kita was four years younger than me, and no matter how much we would argue, I always knew she was going to be there. She provided that unconditional love that I needed at a trying time. We did not judge each other. When she had my niece, I watched her grow from a girl to a woman fast. Though she was young, she understood that she had to care for this life she was bringing forth. As we grew older, Kita had more kids and loved each one equally. At the time of her death, she was the mother of seven beautiful children. Realistically, I was in no position to take on the responsibility of seven more kids alone. So, I am forever thankful to my cousins Brittany, Courtney, and Iesha for being there. These women along with all the other females in my family stepped into a void that was created by a senseless act of violence. Before my mom passed, she met this woman that lived across the street from my aunt and they became friends. Over the years, Kia grew to be more like family and would become grandmother to all 10 of my mother’s grandchildren. She does her best to be present for every special occasion concerning the kids, just as my mother would.

 I will never forget the day I told Kita and Kia I was about to have my first child. They acted as if they were more excited than me. However, nothing will ever top the moment that my kid’s mother jokingly threw two positive pregnancy tests on me and said “congratulations, you a daddy now.” I jumped out of the bed and grabbed her instantly. She made me the happiest man on earth and gave me a reason to push forward. I was already confident in her mothering skills because she had a child prior to us meeting. I was the one who had to learn how to be a parent. She was the greatest teacher. When my son was born, I was constantly wondering if I was doing the right thing. I would always ask questions like “can I hold him,” “how am I supposed to do this,” or “are you sure I’m not hurting him.” She would always laugh while she helped me and reassured me that the baby is good. Like many mothers, G has made sacrifices to ensure that me and my boys can have peace ... and clean clothes. As a father, I must commend the mother of my children. She is a mother and business owner that loves to give back. Last summer, in the late stages of her pregnancy, she participated in marches and helped to serve the homeless at the Market House. Her maternal gifts allow me the opportunity to focus on providing for our family. There is no amount of gratitude that can be shown to express how I feel about her.

 She recently donated her time and hands to mothers that lost their sons in combat. Her company, Royal Stitches, provided handmade red, white and blue roses named American Flowers to veteran nonprofit Southern CC, Inc. as a part of their “Tribute to Gold Star Mothers.” CEO Tony Brown and his organization honored Gold Star Mothers with a day of pampering. Mothers received a makeover courtesy of Fusion Hair Salon. After receiving makeovers, the group of women were escorted to Pierro’s for dinner and Hummingbird to make candles. During dinner, the mothers were serenaded by Tony and a group of men. Before departing, each mother was given a gift bag that included American Flowers among other gifts donated by small businesses throughout the community.

 A mother is the most important person you have in your life. As men, we will never know what it is like to carry a child. Witnessing childbirth changed my life. I can only imagine how it feels to birth a child. But, women do it every day. So, salute to every mother. Happy Mother’s Day. Salute to every activist getting active. Peace.  

 

Pictured below: (left) Author Rakeem Jones and his sister Chakita.  (right) Cora Jones, the author's mother.

Photos courtesy of the author.

Keem and Kita

Keem Mom Cora Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fayetteville, Cumberland County residents need to know who cares

01 Crime Stoppers LogoWell, now that our Hometown Utility PWC has ceased negotiations with Bernhard Capital, Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin and his cabal may be back to the drawing board for an alternative plan to raid the coffers of one of the most caring, well-managed and efficient utility companies in the state.

On two fronts, the entire ordeal of the prospect of allowing an equity firm with no utility experience to take over the management or our local utility was the near-perfect example of how the lack of transparency in local government can impact a community.

One: lack of transparency allows unpopular and unsavory schemes to hatch.

Two: When there is openness in government, it enables local media to report news and provide detailed information to the general public, keeping them informed on issues and situations that affect taxpayers' livelihoods and quality of life.

Transparency encourages elected officials to justify their actions. Free speech and transparency in government are vitally important in maintaining a free democracy. Of course, it helps when local elected officials care more about their constituents than they do themselves. In our community, it's sadly becoming pretty apparent they do not.

Those who care about the Fayetteville and Cumberland County community and its residents get involved with the community. Two recent Fayetteville events demonstrated this type of caring.

The local Crime Stoppers organization cares about our law enforcement officers. Fayetteville Crime Stoppers recently launched a county-wide appreciation initiative where they began visiting law enforcement agencies in Fayetteville and Cumberland County to present officers a full dinner gift card from Chick-fil-A. It was made possible through the partnership and generosity of local businessman Tommy Arnold, owner of Chick-fil-A, and the dedication of the Crime Stoppers organization. The initiative was launched May 6 with a presentation to the Fayetteville City Police Department by Arnold, Fayetteville Crime Stoppers Chairman Dr. Eric See of Methodist University, and Duncan Hubbard of Holmes Electric. These Crime Stoppers supporters and volunteers are people, businesses and organizations that care, and the Fayetteville community is better and safer because of them.

The Care Clinic on Robeson Street is another perfect example of a local organization dedicated to caring for the health and welfare of residents who cannot afford health insurance for medical and dental services. For over a quarter century, this invaluable and charitable non-profit organization has depended on a countless number of caring volunteers from all walks of life, funded only by generous donations and a few well-planned community events.

One such event was also May 6, when they held their annual Wine Tasting and Silent Auction at the Cape Fear Botanical Gardens. It was heartwarming to see the outpouring of community support for an organization that provides medical and dental services to residents free of charge. The event was a virtual "who's who" of caring residents, including Mike Nagowski, CEO of Cape Fear Valley Health Systems, and State Representative John Szoka. Unfortunately, conspicuously absent were members of our city and county management team and our elected officials. This was highly disappointing.

You would think this would have been the perfect time to come and support the Care Clinic and the people that do so much work for our residents. Our local elected officials missed this opportunity while sending a message of apathy to their constituents. No doubt, if asked, everyone will have a grand excuse for not attending, but the fact remains — “actions will always speak louder than words.”

Another saying our leadership should become familiar with: "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care."

As a media source, we work with hundreds of people and dozens of great invaluable organizations covering all aspects of quality of life in Fayetteville — people and organizations that care. These people and organizations make our life better and our community pleasantly unique.

We need leadership that respects, encourages and endorses those values. There is no hiding from the truth. Again, "actions will always speak louder than words."

In the coming months, all residents must pay close attention to the actions of those who seek leadership positions in our community. Their track record will speak volumes on how much they care about the Fayetteville and Cumberland County community.

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

Celebrating motherhood is not just for Mother's Day

11 N2105P21004CIn 1914, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson officially recognized Mother's Day as a national holiday. More than a hundred years later, the holiday has become a global celebration to honor the mothers who made sacrifices to raise generations of children and support them through adulthood.

While flowers or chocolates are a perfectly suitable way to say thanks, it's the way you live your life, the special words you say to her, or even those you write in a card that mean the most.

Before I even turned 18, I left home to join the Army, and never returned except to visit. And while I can still hope that my life in some way is a tribute to the mother who raised and launched me into the world, so much of what I know about mothers and their adult children I've learned from a front row seat to an amazing mother and grandmother — my wife.

On a recent Saturday, she made plans for as many as wanted to join us to gather their Nerf® guns and follow us, or to see how many we could fit inside each vehicle for a drive-thru dinosaur hunt in a neighboring county. It was a day of silliness including a lunch-on-the-road and picking strawberries at a local farm.

Later that same day, our son knocked on the door with his children who were excited to give us some small gifts they picked out for us while on a Spring Break vacation. As if that weren't enough, the following day, our daughter invited mom and me over for fresh strawberry pie and some fun conversation.

This is some of what being a mom is about. Loving your children, giving them your time and attention, and watching them blossom into parents who do the same. It's not all dinosaur hunts, gifts and strawberry pie, but those things stem from a life well-lived, and children well-loved.

The Bible has much to say about the joys, challenges and rewards of motherhood. In Proverbs 31:26 it says "She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue." That's what I see when I look at the woman — the mother — I've spent more time with than any other. Wisdom and kindness. A mother who loves her children and theirs. A mother who wants the very best for every single one of them, and stops to call, video chat, and pray for each of them on a regular basis.

There's not enough I can't say enough about the importance of motherhood, so if you're a mom — thank you. If your mother is still living, I hope you'll take it from here. Call her. Write a letter. Fill a card with words that will honor her and place it in her hands.

As you celebrate all that motherhood is and means, let me point you again to the Bible. If you only have time to read one small chapter, read Proverbs 31 where you'll find this in the 28th verse – "Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.

Latest Articles

  • Fayetteville, Cumberland County residents need to know who cares
  • Vote Yes Fayetteville: An opportunity for repentance
  • Entrepreneur finds balance in work, health, fitness and family
  • Culture and Heritage Alliance hosts NC Wakanda Gala May 15
  • New exhibit showcases literary side of Fayetteville's history
  • Carolina Gloves Boxing Tournament promotes local boxers, draws fighters from across the country
Up & Coming Weekly Calendar
  

Advertise Your Event:

 

Login/Subscribe