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The Parish House: The other side of the story

There’s a popular saying that no matter how thin the pancake, it always has two sides, which is a colorful variant of there are two sides to every story. This statement is so true regarding the article “The Parish House” by Elizabeth Blevins, owner of Hopemills.net. After careful review, I found at least 18 areas that are rift with misinformation purported to be fact-based information.

The article omits several public records and a factual, chronological history of event references that, for some unknown reason, Blevins failed to include and share with her readers. Some examples are:

05 parish house 2 The article completely omitted the town board regular meeting Feb. 4, 2019, regarding the discussion of the Parish House and its demolition (Budget Retreat Item 2018). A motion was made by Mayor Pro Tem Mike Mitchell to rescind the motion from March 3, 2018, to budget for the demolition of the Parish House and engineering fees for the design of a parking lot until the Board has received further information from the Historic Preservation Commission. Why? Because the HPC was never informed of the town board’s decision to demolish the building.

Blevins also claims the Parish House is not on the National Register of Historic Places — but it is! I researched her claim by calling Amber Stimpson, local preservation commission/certified local government coordinator at the State Historic Preservation Office, located at the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources in Raleigh, North Carolina. Stimpson informed me Hope Mills was last surveyed in 1985 and the Parish House, at a minimum, must be “significant” enough to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

In fact, this issue was referenced during a town board regular meeting on March 8, 2017, where Planning and Development Administrator Chancer McLaughlin presented an overview of the Hope Mills Historic Overlay District in concert with the work of the Historic Preservation Commission. McLaughlin presented a map with the current boundaries and noted the HOD is registered on the National Register of Historic Places.

Blevins also claims Pat Hall identified the HOD … but she did not. The HOD was identified as the Historic Mill Village in 1985 when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Properties by the North Carolina Department of History and Culture. In fact, the Historic Preservation Commission began reviewing the HOD with a $15,000 grant by the same State Division in 1995.

Further, the Parish House is 110 years old as of 2020 — not 89 years old. According to the Episcopal Church History in North Carolina by Rev. Norvin C. Duncan, the Parish House was built in 1910, not 1930. The church burned in 1916, at which time the Parish House was damaged. The Parish House was partially restored and a new brick church building was erected.

After reading the article, my best advice to Blevins is a quote from Catherine Rampell’s article, “Four suggested 2020 resolutions for the media.” Rampell states, “Make sure we’re in the information business, not the disinformation business. … Yes, it’s important to challenge misstatements or deliberate lies, especially consequential ones. But we need to lead with the facts, contest the falsehoods and swiftly return to the facts again. Instead of amplifying the lies, we must amplify the truths.”

In conclusion, I cannot predict what the future holds for the 110-year-old Parish House. However, what I do know is that every option must be discussed and explored, along with public input, before a final decision is made in the best interest of the town and the citizens of Hope Mills.

Respectfully,
Jessie Bellflowers

Black privilege is real in America

04 N1807P44009CI have read, and my wife has told me 1,000 times, “Do not read a newspaper or watch a TV newscast shortly before going to bed.” The warning is that doing so will interfere with my sleep.

I certainly wish that I had followed that sound advice on Dec. 6, 2019. Instead, I made the mistake of reading The Fayetteville Observer online edition for that day. It included an opinion piece by Debra Figgins, who is president of the Fayetteville Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. The title was “County schools must address racial disparities in discipline.” I do not doubt that Figgins, and those she represents, firmly believe all that was presented in that opinion piece. What I say here intends no disrespect or lack of appreciation for Figgins or her sorority. However, her presentation disrupted my sleep because it was more of the arguments for actions that I believe fail to appropriately address the matter at hand. Inordinately high rates of serious disciplinary actions toward black students in public schools.

Beyond not forthrightly determining and addressing the root causes of unacceptable conduct by black students, I see placing full blame and corrective responsibility on educators and other staff as unfair and doomed to failure. My observation is that this is by no means where the bulk of the blame and responsibility for correction should fall. This thinking did not just show up for me as a result of this opinion piece. Reading it was simply like gasoline on a smoldering fire.

Being black and proud of it makes it very difficult to be silent when I see what feels like excuse-making and passing the buck when it comes to dealing with the unacceptable conditions and actions of some black Americans. My level of sadness and outrage generated by this excuse-making and buck-passing is heightened by various observations and experiences. Among the observations and experiences that send my sadness and outrage meter spiraling are the examples of attention given to charges of “white privilege.” White people today are supposed to feel guilty because of whatever advantage they supposedly have in life because of being white. Further, they are required to somehow compensate black Americans for some immeasurable disadvantage our ancestors suffered.

The contention is that black Americans are still adversely impacted by slavery and all of the horrendous events that followed. I accept that position. I part ways with those who, under the “white privilege” umbrella, are comfortable seeking to solve problems plaguing black Americans by totally blaming white Americans and calling on them to fix our situation — while we accept no responsibility for causing or fixing our problems. All of this in a climate where, while not perfect, there are substantial opportunities for black Americans to succeed in life.

For me, thinking such as that put forth by Figgins aligns with the excuse-making, pass-the-buck approach justified by claims of white privilege. As I reflected on the opinion piece and how what is proposed there is happening across the country, my thought was that white privilege is alleged, but black privilege is real. I could not sleep.

Figgins opens by explaining: “The Social Action Committee of the Fayetteville Alumnae Chapter (FAC) wrote a resolution entitled, ‘Resolution to Eliminate Racial Disparities in School Suspensions and Stop the School to Prison Pipeline’ to address an issue that not only plagues Cumberland County Schools, but the state and nation as well.” She then presents statistics regarding this issue: “Unfortunately, this October Cumberland County Schools and North Carolina Department of Public Instruction reported in 2017-2018, black girls were suspended at 7 times the rate of white girls. Black boys were suspended at 5 times the rate of white boys. Black students were suspended at 5.5 times the rate of white students. Seventy percent of short-term suspensions in Cumberland County Schools were black students.

“Eighty-two percent of long-term suspensions were black students. It is time to identify more effective strategies to eliminate placing students of color on a path to prison.”

The resolution closes as follows: “Resolved, that the Fayetteville Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, on behalf of its members: 1. urges the Cumberland County Board of Education to develop policies that will significantly reduce racial disparities in suspensions; 2. requests that all Cumberland County School employees and Board of Education members be required to participate in cultural sensitivity to enhance their ability to work with racially and ethnically diverse populations; 3. requests that the leadership of Cumberland County Schools annually evaluate each school’s disciplinary policies using a racially equitable lens to determine if those polices disparately impact students of racial minorities; 4. advocates for greater diversity in the hiring of teachers and administrators within the Cumberland County School District; 5. recognizes that implementing systemic change to affect positive outcomes for students of color requires involvement by community stakeholders; 6. commits fully to bring about this needed change by supporting Cumberland County Schools through engagement with school officials, serving on system-wide committees, acting as mentors to students and supporting teachers, parents and student resource providers; and 7. believes that together we can significantly impact the quality of education for all students in Cumberland County Schools.”

As I read this opinion piece, my impression was that the school system, especially teachers and school staff, are being called on to do the fixing of this problem. I see nothing that puts the responsibility on anybody else. Maybe this resolution addresses school personnel and there is another one that speaks to students and their responsibilities/conduct. Maybe the same is the case with parents. If an equal level of scrutiny and pressure is being applied to Cumberland County students and parents, please show me.

If I have accurately assessed what is being called for here, it means special treatment of disruptive black students while disadvantaging educators and nondisruptive students. For educators, that disadvantaging comes by way of adding a multitude of new requirements to a workload that is very likely already overwhelming for most. Further, the additional requirements, without attention to parental and student responsibilities, are doomed to failure. Sadly, students, without regard to race, will be disadvantaged in that teachers will have even less time and energy for helping them in their education process.

The bottom line is that this is a call for special treatment of black students, while disadvantaging educators and other students, even those black students who want to learn and do not present disciplinary problems. This is “black privilege.”

What is being proposed by Figgins and her sorority is not new. Not only have the kinds of proposals put forth here been considered elsewhere, many have been implemented. This from a 2014 article by Kimberly Hefling titled, “Government issuing recommendations for classroom discipline.”

It states, “The Obama administration on Wednesday pressed the nation’s schools to abandon what it described as overly zealous discipline policies that send students to court instead of the principal’s office. Even before the announcement, school districts around the country have been taking action to adjust the policies that disproportionately affect minority students.”

The following statement from a Dec. 19, 2018, article by Jonathan Butcher titled, “Obama’s School Discipline Guidance Could Be Doomed. Here’s Why That’s Great News” gives a critical clarification the Obama guidance: “And a letter drafted by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and signed by state-based research institutes questioned the Dear Colleague letter’s use of ‘disparate impact.’ The federal guidance used this legal theory to threaten schools with investigations if schools disciplined students from certain races more often — even if the same students broke rules more frequently than their peers.”

Key on “… even if the same students broke rules more frequently than their peers.” I contend this piece of information is further support for the label of “black privilege.” This is special treatment of one group while disadvantaging others. Based on the Obama guidance, schools across this nation implemented the kinds of actions called for by Figgins.

Now comes the test of all that I have argued to this point. An article on Dec. 21, 2018, by Francisco Vara-Orta, titled, “It’s official: DeVos has axed Obama discipline guidelines meant to reduce suspensions of students of color” begins with this opening paragraph: “It’s official: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has rescinded the guidance issued by the Obama administration directing schools to reduce racial disparities in how they discipline students.” Although the guidelines have been rescinded, school systems are given the authority to determine disciplinary policies at the local level.

Despite the rescinding of the Obama guidelines, I expect that local school systems will still be pressured to take the kinds of actions called for by those guidelines. That is exactly what is happening in the resolution effort underway by Figgins and the Fayetteville Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Far more often than not, school systems will yield to these demands. Black privilege is real in America.
 

The facts about the Hope Mills Parish House

02 Parish HouseWell, 2020 marks Up & Coming Weekly’s 25th year as Fayetteville and Cumberland County’s weekly community newspaper. It’s been a great quarter-century, and we are thankful that we have been able to contribute to the growth and prosperity of the community. Yes, we are a unique publication, highly opinionated and focused on the good news and quality of life in Fayetteville, Fort Bragg, Hope Mills and Cumberland County. Our local newspaper is uniquely customized to serve our unique community. In the last two years, and in response to the needs and demands of our readers, we have modified our publication and operating procedures to meet the needs of our readers and better serve the community. During this time, we have added writers and reporters, created new sections, expanded distribution in Hope Mills and Spring Lake, brought on additional editors and expanded our online presence. We are proud of what we do and cherish the position we hold in the community.

Of course, nobody’s perfect, so we do have our share of distractors. Not all of our readers agree with our opinion or the positions we take on certain issues, and that’s OK. At least they are reading our publication — because these issues affect the people and communities that our newspaper serves. Every article and opinion piece we publish is a reflection of someone’s perception of this community. And everyone is welcome to contribute. However, our reporters and news correspondents like Earl Vaughan Jr., Jeff Thompson and Elizabeth Blevins are dedicated professionals charged with providing our readers with accurate and honest information about important community projects, local government initiatives and community events. Providing facts is their job. They take it seriously, and they do it extremely well. Below is such an example.

Here, Up & Coming Weekly’s Hope Mills correspondent Elizabeth Blevins clears the air around the swirling controversy over the future of the Hope Mills Parish House. Let us know what you think. On page 8, Hope Mills Commissioner Jessie Bellflowers also shares his opinion with us about the Parish House. I am often told that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts. We agree. However, you be the judge!

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.
    — Bill Bowman, publisher

On Dec. 16, the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners discussed the Parish House, one of several historic buildings owned by the municipality. While they didn’t vote, the board members did request estimates for demolishing the house. Days later, former members of the Hope Mills Historic Preservation Commission and its followers launched a social media campaign of misinformation designed to sway public opinion in favor of preserving the house. The HPC wants to preserve the building for use as a museum.

In July 2017, the Board of Commissioners met with members of the HPC to hear from local architect Gordon Johnson. Johnson noted the town’s inspection department had concerns about the deterioration of the building, specifically its sagging floors. His recommendation was the town look into other options before investing a large amount of money into restoration.

Pat Hall, then-chairman of the HPC, recommended the board do nothing with the Parish House while it was settling an ownership issue with the heirs of an adjoining property. That issue wasn’t settled until summer 2019.
Several months later, the HPC met with town staff, who confirmed the Parish House was no longer a viable option. They suggested the town might purchase a mill house on Trade Street as an alternative location for the museum.
During the November 2017 board meeting, it was announced the town had purchased the mill house and members of the HPC specifically requested the town manager inform the board they didn’t want to move forward with the Parish House. That evening, the HPC members posted their excitement on social media, and then explained the Parish House restoration would have been far too costly to continue.

In March of 2018, during the board’s budget retreat, a staff member officially informed the board the repairs for the Parish House were too expensive to move forward. Town manager Melissa Adams read a prepared statement from the HPC, indicating they didn’t have a problem with the municipality destroying the house but did not want them to sell the property. The board voted unanimously to demolish the Parish House during that meeting.

For nearly a year, the staff worked diligently on making modifications to the mill house, and there was no mention of the Parish House during official meetings by the Board of Commissioners. But in February 2019, the two groups met again, and Pat Hall declared the HPC was never notified of the board’s decision to demolish the house. Further, she insisted the HPC never advocated for its destruction but instead wanted it restored. Amazingly, the same board that voted to demolish it 11 months earlier, rescinded their votes and directed staff to begin restoration.

In 2017, the estimated restoration would have cost $220,000. A recent survey by an engineer indicated the cost has ballooned to more than $350,000. The building suffered damage from two hurricanes and was struck by a vehicle a year ago.

The historical integrity of the house has been hotly debated. The second floor was replaced after a fire in 1916, a kitchen and bathroom were added later, as well as siding and a front porch. Very little of the original historic structure remains.

Members of the HPC suggested they would raise the funds necessary for the reconstruction, but all but one has resigned. Now, the board is left to decide whether they should spend close to half a million dollars restoring the building or redirect that money to other more viable projects.
 

Words! Lovely words!

03 women talkingWords and language, specifically English, have been important to me all my life. My mother was a grammatical stickler, and the Precious Jewels stick me with that label as well. English, with all its peculiarities, is a rich language with about 170,000 words — more than any other language, though most of us use only 20,000 to 30,000 of them regularly. It is considered a difficult language for non-English speakers to learn.

Like most languages, English evolves. Chances are that if our most celebrated playwright and acknowledged master of English, William Shakespeare, appeared to speak to us today, we probably would not understand his English of four centuries ago — nor he our modern parlance. Shakespeare would almost certainly not get our most recent words, expressions or acronyms.

The dictionary company, Merriam-Webster, adds new words every year, and based on its additions since 2010, Caroline Bologna writing for Huff Post has listed 20 “words” that helped define the decade we just left, 2010-2019. Here are some of them. 

A decade ago, we might not have known what each other were saying but now we all know that “hashtag” refers to the pound symbol, #, used in connection with various social and political movements and the social medium, Twitter. We also know “FOMO” means fear of missing out, a form of anxiety in the age of social media. “Self-care” means not just taking care of one’s physical and mental health but pampering and indulging oneself as well. “Athleisure” references cozy and comfortable clothing, like yoga pants, worn outside the gym in all sorts of circumstances, something my mother could never have imagined and to which I plead “totally guilty.” “Bingeable” refers not to midnight snacks but to streamed television or other-screened programming watched for hours on end — of which your columnist is also totally guilty.  

I had to look up this one, but a “flexitarian” is a person eating a more plant-based diet by reducing animal protein without eliminating it altogether. To “Stan” was also a new term for me, and it refers to being an aggressive, even obsessive, fan of some celebrity or another and is short for “stalker fan.” It derives from an Eminem song dealing with that topic. I still grapple with the meaning of “meme” — is it an idea or a visual symbol or both? Maybe Merriam-Webster can set me straight.

Finally, I love the notion of “glamping”— glamorous camping — and look forward to trying it in our new decade. I am working on taking “selfies” but am not as interested in them as in glamping. And, truth be told, at my age, I have had just about as much “mansplaining” —male condescension in the workplace and personal relationships — as I can stand.

Merriam-Webster also documents the most searched word each year, and with a 313% uptick in searches, 2019’s most sought after word definition was for the humble pronoun “they.” Apparently, many of us are trying to figure out how to use that word when referring to people of undetermined, unknown, fluid or otherwise undescribed gender. Also in the highly searched category were “quid pro quo,” “impeach,” “egregious” and “crawdad” for obvious reasons — Donald Trump and a bestselling novel.

In 2120, English speakers may no longer know the meaning of FOMO or mansplaining, just as we no longer understand words Shakespeare used often — amain (at full speed), corse (corpse) or peradventure (chance). English was in Shakespeare’s day and remains today a language with great flexibility and resilience and one which finds a way to describe our world as it changes.

Welcome to the 2020s, whatever they may bring!

Thank you, Fayetteville

05 N1703P19003CBefore arriving at Fort Bragg two and a half years ago, I heard about the notorious nickname given to the city of Fayetteville. I naively believed that Fayetteville must be as bad as I had heard, and my husband and I chose to live 45 minutes away for the first year we were stationed here.

However, as I began to make friends who lived in the city, I became curious about why they chose to invest in this particular community. After all, if it has such a bad reputation, why would they? I was starting to notice that the negative things I had been warned about weren’t that accurate. 

The magnetism of Fayetteville began to draw me in slowly, and I started on an adventure to see if I could fall in love with the city and the community. It didn’t happen overnight or even very quickly. It was almost two years before I stopped saying, “I really want to love this city, but I don’t know what there is to love about it.”

The thing is, I was looking in all the wrong places. I was trying to make Fayetteville fit into my idea of what makes a city a “good” city. I wasn’t looking at the exceptional qualities that make Fayetteville the city that it is.

Fayetteville is a city of various cultures fused together in a way that highlights the exceptional qualities of each culture yet merges them into a heart-warming masterpiece. It’s a city of distinct local business owners who provide personal approaches to their customers’ experience because they understand the exceptional individuality of the community. It’s a city of noteworthy history that will always be a part of the very structure this community is built upon. And, it’s a city of spectacular individuals who radiate the spirit of distinction, acceptance, devotion, hope and so much more.

The city of Fayetteville isn’t just a place of buildings and roads; it’s a community first. It has a story that is unlike any other place and will continue to build on its story. This community makes up the narrative of its choosing with the distinct personalities that not only live here but flow through here. This community, in all its splendor and magnificence, is a place I have finally fallen in love with.

Thank you, Fayetteville, for being patient with me. I am forever grateful for all you are.

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