Rogers Road: Paying it forward

Under a bracingly cold clear sky, Saturday morning unfolded beautifully in the Rogers Road-Eubanks neighborhood. A strong crowd was on hand to dedicate the Rogers Road Community Center, a project two years–or was it forty years–in the making.

After the old community center was forced to close because of safety code violations, the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association asked Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro to fund a new center. The government bodies stepped up. So did Habitat for Humanity of Orange County, with a contribution of land to lease. Construction began in May, and on Saturday the ribbon was cut. The joy on the faces of the children on hand was a certain sign of the Center’s bright future.

The backstory to the Rogers Road Community Center extends much further back–to 1972, when, after long and contentious debate, Chapel Hill, with Orange County’s cooperation, sited a landfill on 80 acres in this historically black neighborhood. The Rogers Road community has been suffering the consequences ever since. Though the landfill closed over a year ago, much work remains in order to restore justice.

Concurrently with the planning of the community center, a much larger project has been moving along: finding the resources and creating a plan to bring sewer service to the neighborhood. Securing this critical infrastructure will go a long way toward fulfilling promises made long ago.

There’s a way in which the Community Center, too, should be considered essential infrastructure for the neighborhood and the larger community: call it an “infrastructure of opportunity,” along the lines of those recommended in MDC’s State of the South report for 2014.

MDC, Inc., founded as Manpower Development Corp. in 1967 as a legacy of Gov. Terry Sanford’s North Carolina Fund, has been working for almost 50 years to “close the gaps between people and opportunity.” Its most recent report focuses on the 15- to 24-year-old generation of southerners, offering policy recommendations for helping them thrive in the face of a challenging future.

Particularly troubling is the data on intergenerational mobility: the ability of someone born at the bottom of the income ladder to climb up to the middle class as an adult. Youth mobility is weak across the Southeast, and ironically it is especially weak in “best for business” cities like Raleigh and Charlotte. These numbers are even worse for African Americans: “the South remains a region divided along the fault line of race.” An absence of vision combined with the presence of low expectations has resulted in “a failure to imagine a future for people and places beyond the current trajectory,” the report concludes.

Such news, of course, is not new. In 1963, Dr. King called the Declaration of Independence a promissory note, promising the essential rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to all Americans. Yet “America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned,” he said. “Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.'”

But just as Dr. King refused to believe that the “bank of justice” was “bankrupt”–as he “refuse[d] to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation”–so must we believe that we can make a difference. The Rogers Road Community Center rises again, thanks to the hard work and commitment of so many. It takes its place as an “infrastructure of opportunity” for the neighborhood and the larger community–as essential to preparing children for success as good schools and stable, affordable housing.

And as substantial an accomplishment as it is, the opening of the new Community Center represents only a down payment on what is fully owed to this community for the burdens it has endured. Next, we push forward with that more traditional infrastructure–extension of sewer service–an investment that that will be well worth the $5.8 million in projected cost. The Town of Chapel Hill joins the Town of Carrboro and Orange County in its wholehearted commitment to the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood: from generation to generation.

Photos: Donn Young for Orange County


Leave a Reply