Last night’s Winston-Salem City Council meeting was full to capacity. A couple dozen activists turned out to encourage the city council to consider becoming a sanctuary city. It’s unlikely that the city council will vote to make Winston a sanctuary city, doing so would allow the state to withhold badly needed funds from the city. But that doesn’t mean that local activists should fold up their tents and go home. It’s important for members of the community to stand with immigrants, especially given the bigoted language President Trump has used to describe immigrants.
Council member Dan Besse has proposed that Winston declare itself a “welcoming city.” Besse’s half-measure will probably adopted by the Winston-Salem City Council next month. His resolution is a good start, but it’s toothless. It won’t prohibit the Winston-Salem Police Department from cooperating fully with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It won’t do anything to protect undocumented immigrants in Winston from being rounded up like animals and separated from their families. While activists continue to push the city council in the right direction, we should consider some other demands that we can make to the city council and county commissioners.
There were many immigration activist who spoke out in support of Winston becoming a sanctuary city last night. But few of the activists who spoke were Hispanic. (But as a local pastor just told me, they didn’t come out because they are afraid) The voice of the city’s Hispanic community is largely silent in local government. There are no Hispanics on the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners or the W-S City Council. That means they’re charities and pet projects aren’t getting funded while projects aiding other constituents in the city and county are getting taxpayer funding.
For the last twenty years Winston’s Hispanic community has grown steadily. About 13 percent of Forsyth County residents identify as Hispanic or Latino. Twenty years ago the number of Hispanics in our community was minuscule. In the 1990s and 2000s Hispanic immigrants came into Winston in unprecedented numbers. Hispanics are a sizeable portion of our community, but there contributions to our city have gone largely unrecognized.
Winston’s Latino community is concentrated in the Waughtown area of the city’s southeast ward. The southeast ward is a historically African-American area that has struggled since the Western Electric plant on Old Lexington Road closed in the 1980s. Hispanic immigrants have helped fill the economic void left by de-industrialization. They’ve opened a variety of stores and restaurants that now define large parts of Waughtown and Sprague Streets. Hispanic immigrants have stabilized the Waughtown area and contributed to the city’s tax base.
At roughly the same time Downtown Winston was transformed, with private and public funding, Waughtown and Sprague Street went from mostly vacant storefronts into a Hispanic shopping district. But what has the City of Winston-Salem or Forsyth County done for them? A great deal of city, county, state and federal subsidies were required to repurpose our once dirty downtown into a downtown worthy of New York Times articles. Hispanics transformed Sprague and Waughtown on their own dime, it’s time that the city and county did something to show its appreciation.
I am proposing that the former Urban Street Baptist church property on the corner of Urban Street and Devonshire, adjacent to Sprague be razed and converted into a public park. The Waughtown area needs some public space to for kids to play, for cookouts and for public gathers. The members of Urban Street Baptist Church moved out of Urban Street in 1991. They built a new church in Walburg and named it, Vernon Forest Baptist Church. (I personally like to think of it as White-Flight Baptist Church)
The Urban Street property was used by another congregation for a while. But that was years ago, the property has been vacant for several years now. The city and county should raze the old Urban Street Baptist and construct a park that the community can enjoy. They could even hire members of the community to build the park. A new park at Urban Street would be a sanctuary for Hispanics (and people of every other description) from the sometimes loud and chaotic urban environment around them.
Even with a budget short-fall this is something that the City of Winston-Salem or the city and county jointly could do. Thus far the power-hungry politicians in the General Assembly haven’t passed any laws prohibiting local municipalities from constructing parks.