By Damion Smalls
Latonya Gamble, Eastside Community Development Corporation President, was born and raised in the Eastside area on the Charleston peninsula. A predominantly Black and now steadily gentrified area, the Eastside has a determined and native advocate that is doing her part to help its residents live their best lives by keeping them astutely abreast of the ever-changing landscape that permeates downtown Charleston. “People are getting displaced daily because of the high cost of housing and it’s unfortunate,” Gamble laments. “It’s good for the city, but bad for the local residents.”
The Eastside Community Development Corporation is a neighborhood group conceived in 2003 that strives to inject pride, prosperity, safety, and knowledge into the area. “Our initiatives are to prepare people that are underserved to take a step up,” she proclaims. It regularly holds introductory business workshops, hosts heirs property classes, and gives out free food to the community twice a week.
Two Eastside students were recently awarded as the first recipients of Cigar Factory Friends of the Eastside Community Scholarship and will attend Trident Technical College this fall. While tremendously proud and excited for the students, Gamble pivots to the successful GED program at Trident Tech that she hopes more Eastside residents take advantage of in the future. “We need to be proactive instead of always being reactive,” Gamble notes.
The annual event, Stop The Violence: Unity Day, was precipitated by Charleston’s bullet-riddled summer of 2018. “Unfortunately this year, we’ve had an increase in violence. So every time that we think that it’ll be our last year, something happens for us to say that we need to continue,” she says.
“Everybody is welcome to come,” Gamble offers. “We’re going to have a panel discussion to really talk about things, and we really need our church leaders to come out and share how they can partner and collaborate on how we can make our community better and share information, as well as uplifting people more.”
Unity Day will kick off Saturday, September 29 with an run/walk/ride starting at Phillip Simmons Park (64 Columbus Street) at 8 AM. Registration is $25 for the race (no charge for kids) and is a way for the community to come together for a healthy initiative, according to Gamble. At 11 AM, the free portion of Unity Day commences at the same park, complete with a 3 on 3 basketball tournament, jump castles, face painting, live performances, food and prize giveaways. The family-friendly event will also feature local leaders as guest speakers, a voter registration drive and community networking opportunities.
A positive push towards the Eastside’s future is the prevailing theme of Unity Day, even though Gamble admits that people cannot be afraid to have the tough and serious conversations. “I feel that an S.O.S. needs to be sent out to our youth,” she declares. “For them to know that they matter and that they’re needed in the community because when we think about our youth, we think about our future. So if they’re dying in record numbers and not making it to 25, where’s our future?”
The Eastside Community Development Corporation’s Facebook page is an resplendent source of local news, employment opportunities, event announcements and dedicated community involvement. “Our job is to connect people with resources and to be the voice between the city and the Eastside. And to make sure that we get a safe, clean community,” says Gamble. For even more information, visit ecdcorp.org or call 843-345-3572.
Additionally, the Eastside CDC is hosting an adults-only ‘Paint & Sip’ event September 15 from 7:00pm to 9:00pm at its office at 60 America Street that will raise funds for Stop The Violence: Unity Day. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.