By Barney Blakeney
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey presented a glowing picture of the city he’s led the past 20 years in his 2018 State of the City address delivered last week in a video recording. The polished production presented an outline of Summey’s accomplishments transforming the city from a motley crew of industrial companies and blighted neighborhoods to a modern example of diverse economic components and redeveloped communities.
Summey opened the 15-minute video saying, “Our city is a modern, diverse community with the quality of life increasing year after year … In the mid-90s, North Charleston lacked vision, character, and an identity. A holistic approach has led us to where we are today. We’ve added recreational and cultural amenities, increased our park system and greenspace, and have continued to attract high-quality jobs for individuals at every educational level.”
With inserts of personal stories from city employees highlighting his points, Summey noted greenspaces, parks, event and cultural centers have been developed which bring to the city large activities like the High Water Festival and attract national acts. He touted recreational resources providing activities, beyond athletics, after school and during the summer. The increased quality of life amenities go hand in hand with a robust economy, Summey said. Jobs continue to move into North Charleston providing opportunities for residents. While large employers are essential, it’s the small businesses that make the community great. Remaining inclusively business friendly, North Charleston is enabling the little guy to start businesses, provide for their family, and grow, he said.
Pointing to aging residential communities, he said revitalization successes breed new life into other areas of the city. Spruill Avenue where a new S.C. State Port Authority facility at the former naval base is slated to go online in two years has become a hotbed of economic activity. Lifestyle businesses that may not have the worldwide name recognition like Boeing are just as important, he said, and local entrepreneurs believing in the city, making new investments into once blighted areas breeds transformation. There’s no doubt that revitalization will continue moving south, down Spruill Avenue to Reynolds Avenue and further, he added.
At the start of the address Summey said, “We’ll leave the negative stuff to the naysayers; I’m here today to tell you the good news, the things that make our city great.” Tanang Williams, President of the Dorchester Waylyn Neighborhood Association responded to that perspective. One of the city’s oldest residential neighborhoods, the predominantly Black community experiences a different reality, she said. Summey’s presentation was accurate, but unbalanced. Dorchester Waylyn, like most of the city’s older predominantly Black communities haven’t gotten streetscaping, or even sidewalks, she said.
“The state of the city Summey presented doesn’t apply over here,” Williams said. “I see positive growth in some areas of the city, but not all. There is no economic balance. It was a struggle watching the state of the city address and living in ‘The Waylyn’ knowing all the negativity we suffer.” She added, “But then, is that the city’s fault, or is it up to the individual communities?”
North Charleston City Councilwoman Virginia Jamison was in agreement. Asked her perception of the state of the city in respect to Black residents she said, “Last year was a very unfortunate year. The unemployment rate was up but available jobs also were up. So, I would have to ask, are we ready for work. The one thing that hurts African Americans is the drug test. If the jobs are here, why are we not being hired?”
Commenting on the city’s unprecedented record homicide rate (35) in 2017 Jamison said, “We get the daily police reports, I cannot make excuses. These homicides are about drugs, money and guns. We must make young people understand that they are working all night long selling drugs and sleeping all day long – no annual leave, no retirement plan, and no educational future. We must reeducate them to the fact that (legitimate) work is honorable and that crime will lead either to death or jail. If we continue to do the same thing we will continue to get the same results. If we want change it must start with us. I don’t know if you wanted to hear that but………?”