Community work is enjoyable to me. I love the people that I get to meet, the things that I learn, the multitude of things that I get involved in. That’s a fraction of a larger response I could give. Like many of you, there are lots of other things that I could do with my time and energy, but there is something special about work that inspires me. In contrast, there are times when we perform tasks and we are kind of on auto pilot: Not really giving it all of our attention and heart. Just getting it done.
Victor Foster shared an anecdote that brings some of this to life. Over at the Mary C. Jenkins Community Center site, from his house Vic could see one of the workers laying rock. At times, the man was walking around the rock work, going back and forth, seemingly deliberating what to do. When Vic went over to ask what he was doing, the rock worker shared that he had made trips over to the old Rosenwald school to examine the rock work over there. Vic, “He was trying to make it look identical to Rosenwald. He wanted to make sure that it had the right feel to it. Speaking to some of the other workers, too, there was the sense that they really wanted it to represent the Rosenwald community. They were taking an extra step, getting it right. They really seemed to care. They could just lay down rock, but they were putting more into it than that and you could feel it.”
I drove by the Mary C. Jenkins Community Center last Sunday. If you haven’t done so recently, please do. The progress is amazing. Doors and windows are in, wall boards up, wiring in place with heating and plumbing systems in.
On to good news and celebrating, particularly with this being Women’s History Month.
Congratulations to Danicia Davis and her three sisters on their accomplishments. Danicia lives in Transylvania County: “I am in human resources at a camp for troubled youth in Lake Toxaway. Last year, I got my master’s in HR from Western Carolina University.”
Danicia’s youngest sister, Jamia Davis, grew up in Brevard. She was born and raised here and now lives in Asheville. She got her BA degree in social work from Mars Hill and an accelerated Master’s degree in clinical social work from WCU. She runs her own private practice called “Righteous Minds” and is the clinical director at a company that helps adults with substance abuse and other disorders.
Her oldest sister, Eshaenee Davis, works at a hospital in Charlotte. She just got her BA in nursing from Mars Hill University. She grew up here during her elementary and middle school years, moving at age 12 to California to be with her grandma. She came back to North Carolina 10 years ago to raise her son.
Danicia offered her last family good news: “My twin sister, Franicia Davis, is getting her Master’s in Nursing. She is in an accelerated Master’s programme at the University of South Carolina. She worked at the hospital in Transylvania County for six years before deciding to get her MA degree.” Well done ladies! You are an asset to your community and to your family.
In other good news on the local front with women making history, I spoke to Phratasia Macon and her daughter Ursula Wynn about Papa L.E.W’s one-year anniversary mark. I spoke first to Ursula who reported, “Overall, it’s been a great experience. Some pushbacks in the beginning. We’ve gotten good feedback. People seem happy.”
What did it mean to her to be located downtown?
“A black, openly gay woman on Main Street speaks volumes to me that we’re making progress, breaking down racial barriers and walls,” she said. “It has been hard in the past for people of color and minorities to get in, but we are doing it, integrating into the city of Brevard. It has been a long time coming.”
Have they felt supported by the African American community and by downtown?
“Honestly, 90 to 95%, if not more, of my customers are white and from outside of my community,” she said. “There has been huge support from downtown. I am still struggling to get more support from my people and my community. It has been slow progress, and I am not going to give up. A few have come in from the black community saying, ‘I don’t see why we aren’t in here all the time,’ but they don’t come back after the first time.”
I asked why she thought that was?
“It’s a crab in the bucket mentality,” she said. “The community won’t be surprised for you to write this. I’ve said this before and I’ve been saying it for the last year: t’s fear of someone doing better than you. You see one of your own at the top who you could help push up, as they could in turn reach down to help pull you up. It’s the crab in the bucket mentality that stops them. So, they may not frequent my place and it has nothing to do with money, because I see them in other white establishments. They don’t offer support but will sit back and not show up. I will say what others are afraid to say. Don’t be a person to complain if you’re not actively trying to make a change or bring a solution.”
What has been surprising?
“I’m surprised that I am still here,” she said. “In this restaurant business, 85 to 95% don’t make it to see their first year. Of the remaining 5 to 15%, 70 to 75% don’t make it to their third year. It’s been a blessing to still be here as it hasn’t been easy from day one. Our first day, we came in to find that our prep cooker had gone out overnight. We lost everything. It all spoiled. Now, on our first day, we were already in the hole for thousands. Later, our cooker went out. That was $10,000. Still, within that first four months, our freezer and beer cooler also went out costing hundreds of dollars. We lost over $15,000, and we hadn’t made any money yet. Some days, we couldn’t open because our staff was limited. Nine months later, we had a building fire. We were closed for a whole week dealing with smoke and flood damage. My grandfather passed a week right after, and the stress level was high. It was one thing after another. A few times, especially after his death, I felt emotionally, physically and mentally drained. It was a lot. I had made a promise to him to do everything in my power to succeed, so I pulled up my big girl britches and with extreme support from family, friends and staff we made it.”
What has been inspiring?
“In March 2020, I just lost my job,” she said. “I came home to Brevard to clear my head. I got inspired to cook some food. At first, it was selling plates from a small apartment kitchen. I thought of my dream and proceeded to do what I had to do.”
Ursula referenced much of the local black history that she has been educating and reminding herself of.
“All of those businesses that are on the walking tour – we had just about everything back then except our own hospital and bank,” she said. “We have the ability and talent to do this again, to rebuild what once was black wall street in this community.”
I spoke with Phratasia afterwards. She added, “I have to say, it has been a long and hard journey. COVID came. My father passed away. People not wanting to work. But, Ursula stuck it out. She promised my dad that she’d make a go of it in his honor, and in spite of all the problems in the world, here in Transylvania County and on social media, she stuck it out. I am a proud Mama. She made it on her own without handouts. She dreamed of this, and she put her dream to work. Seeing her work hard and seeing her do what she wanted to do makes me proud. A black female owning a business is tough. Add being on Main Street in Transylvania County and that’s history. The news people came from WLOS on March 16, our one-year anniversary. People on social media started giving her some negativity. They didn’t mention good things that she has done and the giving back taught by her grandfather and myself. Her giving hundreds of gifts at Thanksgiving and Christmas time, adopting families, cash prizes at the basketball games. Continuously giving back. For the future, my prayer is that one day we will get our own space, our own building, and we won’t have to answer to anyone. God is good. It will happen.”
Before I close out for this week, I do want to say that the MCJCC 2nd annual Poetry Contest does have winners to announce. In the adult category, first place went to Judith Davis with “A Tribute to James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Honorable mention went to Eloise Shepard with “If You Took My Hand in the Dark.” Special Mention went to “Rosenwald” by Carla Wilson Avery. In the High School category, first was Amya Humphries with “The Experience” and honorable mention to Miguelina Jimenez Tate with “The African American Experience.” Our Middle School first place recipient was Ava Kate Snipes with “Black History Month Poem” and honorable mention to Roma Steiner and “I, Annabelle.” Our Elementary school category saw “Brown Girl Curls” by Ava Lytle as our first place winner and “Stand” by Charlotte Coan receiving an honorable mention. Well done to these and to all of our submitting poets. It was a pleasure and an honor to read what you felt led to put down in words. More to follow in the near future about an awards ceremony for the community to celebrate and hear our winning poets.
Newsworthy items for submission for Rosenwald Community News are welcomed from community members, churches, clubs and groups. If you have an idea for a story or interview for me to capture, please let me know at email@example.com or call (828) 421-8615.