Thankful for a diverse Greensboro

Another column about being thankful is certainly not what you need right about now, but I’m going to attempt a different angle, a new recipe if you will, to describe some things that I’ve grown to appreciate.

I try often not to write about race. I want to join in discussions some African-American friends of mine have on social media from time to time, but I’m often hesitant, preferring instead to observe and absorb their perspectives on being black in America. It’s a tactic that’s served me well in recent years, as my hair begins to gray and I drift away from those days when I was much more set in my ways.

Because of that, I’ve learned to appreciate a variety of points of view.

I’m often accused of “being a liberal” or “lacking conviction” when I engage with more conservative friends and attempt to explain how others might hold a differing opinion. It’s part of the examined life, I tell them, to at least attempt and understand another’s perspective.

I’ve learned a great deal from the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, who often pens some of the most thoughtful and challenging articles about current affairs. His articles appear in one of my favorite magazines, The Atlantic, and often on the magazine’s website, where they garner scores of comments.

I’m thankful to have learned so much about the views my African- American countrymen have about political issues, current affairs and the direction of the country. It’s helped me to grow as a person and to understand the world at a deeper level.

That’s really been important to my work since I began covering the City of Greensboro for YES! Weekly earlier this year. Coming into this city I’ve known only at a surface level and trying to provide insightful articles about municipal policy has been quite the challenge. There’s much to digest, much to learn, and an at times overwhelming number of stakeholders ready to push their preferred narrative into my reportage.

Early on I knew the issue of preferences for minority and women owned contracting firms was an important one. As the economy continues to struggle to produce good paying jobs for older and less skilled Americans, the idea of promoting organic economic development and expanding the capacity of locally-owned small businesses seemed like common sense to me.

Covering city council meetings, I really get the sense that Council members Sharon Hightower, Jamal Fox and Yvonne Johnson are dug in on this issue and expect to see progress in the number of MWBE firms doing business with the city. Mayor Nancy Vaughan and a majority of council members support the policy, which is refreshing for a council veteran like Johnson, who went so far as to thank city staff at a recent meeting for finally taking the idea seriously.

Greensboro, on a surface level, seems eternally plagued by racial division. One need only look at the most recent headlines, and what passes these days for community conversation online, to get a sense of the lingering mistrust and division it is so easy to fall prey to.

At the International Civil Rights Center and Museum a siege mentality exists, with the founders of the museum dug in to a segregation-era view of the city’s power elite that prevents them from overcoming their financial uncertainty by building local donor rolls. On the other side, average white commenters spew derision and racially tinged one-liners at the museum’s plight.

It gives Greensboro a bad image in the larger national press to have such Civil Rights-era divisions dominate the community narrative. It also is an injustice to the countless people of both races who work and live together everyday in the Gate City.

Then there is the recent downtown violence, unfortunate as it was, but random nonetheless, that’s opened the door for more innuendo about “thugs” and worse besmirching the forward momentum of downtown development.

It’s too bad that Greensboro seems ready again to shoot itself in the foot by overreacting to random violence caused by people from out of town who enjoyed a little too much of the city’s nightlife. I spend a good deal of time downtown, enjoying just a little bit of that nightlife, as I did last week when I left the Idiot Box and stopped into the Dance From Above party at The Crown at Carolina Theater.

People of all races told jokes and laughed at the comedy club’s open mic night. People of all types enjoyed pulsating electronic dance music and swirling lights and images in the third floor of the theater.

That’s the Greensboro I’m thankful for. That’s the Greensboro I enjoy observing and reporting on. I think that’s the Greensboro we should focus on more often in the days to come. !