I have traveled to Italy on a wonderful garden tour in Tuscany. To this day I revisit memories that I relish. I’ve researched and used both Lucca and Pienza, my two favorite cities, for locations in my second novel, Facing East. The tour did not include Venice, but I’ve spent hours there through the mystery series written by Donna Leon. Over time I have come to consider the intelligent and capable Police Commissioner, Guido Brunetti as one of my most interesting and likable friends who waits for me on the pages of Leon’s books. Brunetti and the ensemble of characters never fail to deliver a satisfying mystery. In each book, Leon explores Venice and its wide spectrum of issues. In finishing the latest Leon read, Through a Glass, Darkley, I found an interesting corollary to help me think about Councilmen, Knight, and Blackwell who persist in maintaining control over everything. If challenged, asked questions, their deflection is the predictable accusation of racism that motivates scrutiny. I continue to look for answers on how this is allowed to go on. Brunetti was helpful.
Brunetti is an erudite man. In this case, he is thinking about Dante’s Inferno. What category would Dante have assigned the villain? To the hoarders, who are condemned to push their heavy stone, for all eternity? Thinking about these categories, Brunetti remembers a report in a science column in La Repubblica on experiments done with people suffering from Alzheimer’s. Many of them lost the use of the brain mechanism that told them when they were hungry or full. If given food repeatedly, they would eat again and again, unconscious of the fact that they had just eaten and should no longer be hungry. Brunetti finds this applicable to people afflicted with the disease of greed: the concept of ‘enough’ had been eliminated from their minds.
Frustrated, amazed, and baffled, I keep waiting for justice, that does not come. Without shame, Council meeting after meeting, the ‘My Will Be Done’ agenda persists. Mr. Blackwell’s seat is available. His Ward may reelect him, but at a great cost to the city. After twenty-plus years, what started out as good intentions and energy to serve, has become skullduggery on steroids. It is never ‘enough.’ This is what happens when greed takes over. Case in point, The Unity Cemetery project by volunteers that represent the U N I T Y that is possible in Rocky Mount. That fact sent two councilmen into orbit. Scroll down to read any comments that may be left on each blog post.
SETTING THE STAGE FOR A STORY: First, you must put on your Norman Rockwell glasses to return to a time of innocence, of patriotism, where a boy and girl sit at the soda fountain drinking from two straws, a sleeping boy is nestled with his dog beside him, of the family gathered around the Thanksgiving table. The Post Magazine covers captured a time and a place through Rockwell’s artistry that seems long ago and far away. While looking at William Manley’s photographs of the restoration of Unity Cemetery, it took me back to a story I once listened to while sitting in the woods around the campfire, and shooting sparks disappeared into the darkness above us. The circle of faces around the campfire glowed in the light of the fire.
The YMCA played a big part in my life. The girl’s department and staff helped form who we became. After ditching a meeting I was to attend with the director of the Women and girl’s department, in favor of fries, a cherry coke, and friends, down at Cooley’s Cubbard, I was called on the carpet. It was explained that as one of the leaders in my class, things were expected. I was told, “to those much is given, much is expected.” I have never forgotten this admonition from a significant authority figure in my life that I loved and did not want to disappoint. I would be a different person were I growing up today. Correcting behavior and offering a moral compass to a young person isn’t allowed.
The Y had a two-week girls camp every August that I first attended after 4th grade. My last year at Camp Echo in Fremont, Michigan was the summer after I married. I was the Assistant camp director to Zenol Moore, who explained what was expected of me. I saw the Borealis for the first time at camp. Waking everyone, the camp girls brought out their sleeping bags and on our backs, we watched the flickering colors and movement. Another summer, a group of girls, flashlight in hand, made their way into the woods to the campfire site and listened to a story. Zenol was the storyteller. The younger girl’s eyes were becoming heavy after a full day. In the firelight, Zenol told about a village church where one by one the villagers came, lanterns swaying. The light from the individual lanterns began to fill the church. Even one missing light was noticeable. Do those girls remember the ‘moral of the story?’ How important each of us is, bringing light to the world. The girl that remains within me, remembers the shinny faces, the singing, the smell of the woods, the silhouette of the trees around us, and the story.
On February 6th, 2021, many volunteers came to Unity Cemetery, spreading out across the sections they worked on, I believe they also brought their light-filled hearts. UNITY is what they are about and their unity is the flame we can light our candles from.
This is written for the Unity Cemetery Volunteers with respect and admiration for the light they bring. (SFH)
I have spent some quiet time since the City Council meeting this past Monday wrestling with how to hold the eternal varieties of the discussion over Unity Cemetery. These adjective words describe the situation that night.
without beginning or end; lasting forever; always existing
perpetual; ceaseless; endless:
eternal quarreling; eternal chatter.
Photographer William Manley and others have provided powerful images of the Unity Cemetery restoration; a holy place where members of the community of saints rest. The response, the selflessness, the hearts that took this burial site from talking to action is the greatest example of preservation and restoration. Preserving the history and the story that each headstone represents is like an architectural dig: carefully peeling back the layers of leaves, brush, and fallen limbs that have blanketed the cemetery for a long time. I do not speak for this group of volunteers, but I know they will not be deterred by the perpetual, ceaseless, and endless rhetoric on display Monday night.
The deep and serious tone of concern in the voices of both Councilmen is predictable now that this carefully organized effort and large response have happened. Mr. Blackwell went so far as to infer that someone might deliberately destroy the black history at Unity. Never mind the years that have only become urgent now. Mr. Knight began with records of the Council in 2007 that are meant to prove their interference now. It was said, “We need to hire someone to do this right.” “Someone might get hurt.” It’s the City’s responsibility to see after this for the community.” I hope you remember the word, ‘blarney.’ I would like to add, ‘such blarney.’
These volunteers on Saturday are a dream come true. Volunteers that have come together IN UNITY are now a big problem! The reason is that these two Councilmen won’t allow anything to happen that isn’t under their control. This position is perpetual; ceaseless and endless. The fall election could free the community from one vote that has assumed the right to a lifetime position. There is no hope for me who continues to get mad and stomp around. The UNITY CEMETERY advocates know better. They have already risen above this eternal chatter. We cheer them on, which is ‘meet and right so to do.’
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” –Warren G. Bennis
When you read about the new agenda and the upgraded version of PRM, I hope you will pay a single membership of $20.00 and add your voice to the year’s agenda, announced this evening by the new president. The presence of PRM in the community, their leadership, and commitment to the Preservation of Rocky Mount’s story and architectural assets is essential. With renewed energy and purpose, it is the time to get involved with a significant piece of the revitalization of Rocky Mount. Below you will find the new talented board members and the five returning members. Main Street is delighted to highlight these creative, knowledgeable, professional, people with their hearts for Preservation.
Block One: Adrienne Copland, Whit Barnes, Lea Henry
Block Two: Tessa Wood-Woolard, John Jesso, Tierra Norwood
Block Three: Sarah Tripolli Johnson
Block Four: Jean Bailey, Whitney Shearin, Stepheny Houghtlin
Block Five: Wanda Alford, Renny Taylor
You already know that Howard Street is always on my radar screen. It suits my imagination to a tee because of its location, tucked away like your grandmother’s antique ring in a satin ring box. In the light it sparkles and greatly admired. Troy White is the wind under the sails of the two buildings being restored and repurposed; the rendering of the outcome in the lead photo. The alley-like passageway down Howard Street still lacks a continuity. Continuing the methaphor, as you walk the block, it is like costume jewelry thrown in a box, a little of this and that. When these two buildings are complete, the energy and inspiration they will reflect, becomes a template for success. Move to Howard Street, create a business, shine up what you have. As a Howard Street cheerleader, I say, give me a P, give me a R, give me a I, give me a D, give me a E. Thanks!
I hope by now you agree that preservation is art. I’m grateful when it presents itself. Here, the sun shines through the upper framing. I believe this light will remain within this building as a new life emerges for both buildings. I still haven’t met Troy White but when I do, I will hug him for all of us for this investment on Howard Street and his heart that believes in preservation, restoration and repurposing. I am thankful he is doing these things here.
PS: Two large containers filled with seasonal flowers at each end of the street, would be a nice invitation to stroll, perhaps meet a few of the lucky neighbors that live along this special street. I also think box containers filled with herbs placed here and there would contribute to this neighborhood’s charm. Flowers, outdoor seating where neighbors could enjoy being outside. Possibilities, that’s what this street is full of.
Street Art is Freedom and Diversity
Street Art is about freedom, creativity, and a way to ask and raise questions, to protest and beautify. It steps beyond convention. You don’t need to be a ‘legitimate’ artist with name recognition, or a large social media presence. People accept the creative and talented people involved in street art as artists. The photograph below are of the nicest young people creating street art in front of the Event Center. They are friendly, and willing to explain the process. Knee pads a must.
“In the last couple of years I have come to appreciate street art. I now go out of my way to see this art and take walking tours when offered. There are many reasons why people love street art and why it is becoming more popular. Street art is an important part of history and identity, and the ability to breathe life into communities.” -Janaline, World Journey Blog.
As a gardener, I agree that every garden should have a little whimsy in it. The revitalization of Rocky Mount would be bereft without art in many forms. Street art has whimsy, color and energy. I love that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. These young artists who are working on this project, spelling out – END RACISM, will leave a piece of themselves for the duration of this display. I hope they will come back in a few years and create something new that will continue to attract people downtown to see this changing art through the years. It was great fun to be with these young artists and absorb their enthusiasm and camaraderie.
We don’t all agree about when the accusation of racism is appropriate. When this name-calling is employed in City Council as a reaction to criticism, it is recognized for that. We all agree that in and of itself, ending racism is a must. I’m grateful that Rocky Mount’s new instillation is not angry or cause for further division. Let’s celebrate these artists and the positive effect it will have on bringing people downtown. If you want to see wonderful photos of this same work, check out – William Manley – photographer. He does this street art justice.
Those born or raised here, leave a comment below and tell us what you know.
“I have often wondered what it is an old building can do to you when you happen to know a little about things that went on long ago in that building”.
When you fall in love with an old building, look for the soul to that building, and the building will tell you how to save it.
(I edited a quote from Cameron Mackintosh to suit my purposes)