It’s a Saturday afternoon at the Arthur Edington Center in Asheville’s Southside. Two teenage girls are interviewing a woman named Charlotte, recording her observations and experiences growing up in this neighborhood.
“What changes have you seen in your community?”
“Well, changes I have seen ... Greens is a lot different from when I was back as a kid, when Mr. Green was alive …”
Youth of color are collecting stories from adults of color from this neighborhood through a project called Southside Stories. The stories are taking the form of video, audio, photography and visual art. Once the teenagers have collected and edited the stories, they’ll present them at a public showcase 4:30pm June 15 at the Edington Center.
During the school year, about a dozen or so teens involved with the project spent two afternoons a week at the Edington Center learning how to produce photos, videos and other content for the bilingual online magazine Word on the Street. Southside Stories is a project of Word on the Street, with a small team of adults guiding the teens.
Sekou Coleman. an artist, cultural activist and one of the program’s adult leaders, said the impetus was twofold. One was receiving a grant to support innovative, arts-abased creative placemaking.
“The other is just the realization this southside community is really in need for its story, its history, heritage and culture to be preserved and amplified in ways it has not been,” Coleman said.
To hear longtime natives of Asheville’s Southside, the neighborhood’s transformation over the past four decades--much of it in the name of urban renewal -- stripped the Southside of its vibrancy and character.
They point to the Edington Center, which began life in the early 1950s as the Livingston Street School, closed in the 1970s with enforced integration and turned by the city into the W.C. Reed community center. In 2014, the housing authority bought the building and turned it the Arthur R. Edington Center for career training and education.
“I grew up in the Southside community and I’ve watched gentrification and poverty and red-lining. I am ready to be on the other side of that,” said Yashika Smith is a manager with the City of Asheville’s Office of Equity and Inclusion. “Teenagers play a vital role because they are the ones who potentially inherit whatever happens in this neighborhood. They should be able to be around the table when the decisions for what their future looks like are being made.”
At a table where collage and drawing is happening, 18-year-old Word on the Street member Gloria Estrada, a native Spanish-speaker, is helping Asheville native Libby Kyles tell her Southside story.
“The stories get lost with time because people tend to leave,” Estrada said through an interpreter. “It’s important to know the stories of the people who live here to know the culture and know the families that used to be here.”
“I really appreciate the desire they have to keep Southside stories alive,” Kyles said. “When I was a teenager, I could walk all over Asheville and I saw people who looked like me, I heard stories from people who look like me and felt a lot of love from people who look like me. And now, as I move about as an adult and I watch these youth growing up, they don’t get to see as many representations of themselves as I feel like they should. I just want to see us recognize all our citizens are important and we prepare the youth to make their mark in this city and the world.”
One challenge facing program leaders is illustrating what’s at stake to teens who may not appreciate how the neighborhood’s history affects them.
“It always requires patience when you’re working with teens,” Coleman said with a chuckle. “I like to remember how when I was a teenager, a lot of things I think are important now, I wasn’t interested in at all. They might not be showing you the kind of interest and engagement you would think (they should), but they’re getting it. They’re sponging and they’re soaking this stuff up and they’re consistently surprising us.”
NOTE: The audio version of this incorrectly states Libby Kyles' last name.