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As City Expands, Black Leaders Missing Note
4/9/2014 3:21:42 PM

Councilman Michael Brown
By Barney Blakeney

As development occurs in virtually every area of the City of North Charleston traditional Black communities will be impacted. Whether that impact is positive depends on how those communities position themselves. Two North Charleston officials had somewhat different ideas about the subject.

Rahim Karriem is president of the Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities (LAMC), a collaborative of seven traditional Black communities that include Accabee, Chicora/Cherokee, Five Mile, Howard Heights, Liberty Hill, Union Heights and Windsor Hills. He said residents of the traditional Black communities in the city have not begun the discussion of how they will position themselves. North Charleston City Council Dist. 10 Councilman Michael Brown said some positioning is taking place, but the effort must continue with the next generation of Black residents.

Over the past two decades North Charleston has become the state’s third largest city with the state’s highest rate of retail sales. North Charleston also has the Lowcountry’s most concentrated population of Black residents. About 50 percent of the city’s total 90,000 population is Black.

The city is home to some of the region’s biggest development projects as well. The Boeing Aeronautics plant and the S.C. State Port Authority facility slated to come on line by 2018 are just two of those projects. Residential and commercial development represent investments worth billions of dollars, yet the LAMC communities are some of the city’s most economically challenged.

Karriem said the city’s Black communities must come up with a workable strategy to benefit from the development that is creating so much wealth in the city.

In 2006 the S.C. State Port Authority awarded $4 million to the LAMC communities as mitigation for the construction of a new port facility at the former Charleston Naval Base.

It was an unprecedented opportunity. Communities that traditionally had been exploited, ignored then displaced, were being given an economic shot in the arm to enable them to survive redevelopment.

But the opportunity wasn’t sustainable. Despite LAMC’s $250,000 expenditure for a revitalization master plan, last year the City of North Charleston, administrators of the funding, facilitated a partnership between LAMC’s leadership and an adhoc committee that will decide allocation of the funding.

The institutional pillars that uphold communities - religious, political and business - are missing in Black neighborhoods. Karriem said with LAMC’s marginalized role, Black elected officials in North Charleston should be leading the effort to bring Black communities to the table as development occurs. But he’s unsure if they have the political clout to make that happen. Still the Black community has to ask what it wants out of the development process, he said.

Brown said the city’s traditional Black communities are filled with older residents. The vision for benefiting from development in the city should not be focused on those communities, but on the future.

The next generation of Black residents in North Charleston won’t be concentrated in traditional Black communities, he said. Since the 1970s Blacks in the city have moved into formerly traditional white communities. They must take ownership of development benefits just as they took ownership of those newer communities, he said.

Brown said the opportunities are there and he feels everyone has access to them. Positioning itself to participate in the benefits of development will not be easy, but Black communities must face that challenge, Brown said.

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