By Robert Bush
I think Charlotte-Mecklenburg is the perfect example of a cultural jambalaya. Some residents came to work in the thriving financial sector, while others came as the result of other corporate ventures. When blended with lifelong Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents, these distinctive groups create a tremendous amount of social diversity. It’s what makes Charlotte such a unique place to live, work and play.
Just like any good jambalaya, the ingredients in our community’s pot (with so many different social perspectives and backgrounds) inherently need a unifying base. A stock, of sort, to bring everything together harmoniously, so every resident enhances the community and complements other residents, while still retaining their individuality.
The stock needed to build a unified community is often challenging to find in a region as diverse as Charlotte-Mecklenburg. A perfect example of that difficulty was in the Matthews community of Crestdale. As one of the nation’s oldest historically African-American communities (established by former slaves after the Civil War), Crestdale has deep ties to its rich historical legacy. However, like many aging communities, economic challenges caused many of the last few generations to leave seeking better opportunities, and they never returned.
Time had eroded the community’s residential base to just a small core of its original families. Then, in what some lifelong residents originally viewed as an intrusion, the federal government began to send them new residents. Montagnard families from Vietnam were relocated to the community due to their assistance to U.S. troops during the ‘60s and ‘70s. During same time as the relocation, Habitat for Humanity began to build homes in Crestdale, which brought another influx of residents.
Many would assume the new life in the neighborhood was all it needed to revive itself to its former glory, but without any ties to one another, the established and new residents found little reason to interact, let alone thrive as a cohesive community. That’s where the Arts & Science Council (ASC) found its window of opportunity.
ASC has always focused on connecting people to the arts, sciences, history and heritage that surround them, so it is a natural fit for ASC to build the bonds of community whenever possible by supporting culturally related projects, and Crestdale was the perfect place to do it. The individual histories, music and visual artistry that Crestdale’s multitude of ethnic backgrounds brought to the community would ultimately be the stock that bound them together with the help of ASC and The Light Factory.
A complex project that incorporated visual art, quilting and oral histories gave residents the platform and the freedom to share their stories, heritages and individual personalities in a way that was not obstructed by ethnic, language or social barriers. The end product was displayed at The Light Factory in an exhibit that most would say was as beautiful in its creative process as it was in its final result. Thanks to the connective power of culture, Crestdale now has the social bonds needed to find its new sense of identity.
We are all in this pot together. We must retain and support the cultural programs, organizations and institutions that strengthen the bonds of our community. ASC is adding a dash of creativity and a pinch of innovation to the stock. With your support stirring the mixture, we have the perfect recipe to keep our cultural jambalaya rich and diverse for years to come. ASC is You & Me.
Tank Town: An Oral History of Crestdale