By Jameesha Harris

I serve as the Ward 2 Alderwoman for the City of New Bern’s Board of Aldermen. I am writing out of concern for my experience at the April 13, 2021 City of New Bern Board of Alderman meeting regarding the 4-3 decision to change the scope of work on the City Market/VOLT Center.

When the original planning meetings were conducted regarding the grants and funding needed to build and operate the City Market/VOLT Center on First Street, there were many community representatives at the table at the CCDRA in the O. Marks building. Some vital and trusted community reps included Corey Purdie (WashAway Unemployment/Catalyst Kitchen) and Lovay Wallace-Singleton (Veterans’ Organic Garden), were still at the table. I also remember that the original vision included entrepreneur education, growing food, partnering with local farmers, and a City Market to sell community products.

Craven Community College President Dr. Ray Staats’ presentation at Tuesday’s BOA meeting was the first time that I or the public had been notified that those plans had changed. The concept of the City Market was born from the 2-year Choice Neighborhood Planning Initiative that was funded with a $400,000 grant from HUD to revitalize the Greater Duffyfield community. Over 1,800 citizens were involved in that planning process, and the City Market was born from that effort. If you have not read the plan, I invite you to do so. The community truly created the plan for the betterment of all New Bernians. (link to plan: https://choicenewbern.com/)

Choice Neighborhood Initiative Planning. HUD launched the Choice Neighborhood Initiative (CN) program in 2010 to help local leaders transform struggling neighborhoods of concentrated poverty into sustainable, mixed-income communities of choice. New Bern is one of only 9 planning grant recipients nationwide for 2013!

choicenewbern.com

Understandably, here are my concerns as an elected official of residents close to this facility that stand to gain the most from its education, trades, and potential for economic advancement. While Craven Community College has continued to be a vital community partner in our city’s efforts to educate our citizens, properly prepare our workforce, and deliver specific entrepreneurial results, the original vision expressed to our city residents and promoted in the primarily minority and underserved neighborhoods closely located to the City market/VOLT Center was to incorporate horticulture (in a known food desert) and the communities’ need for additional entrepreneurial hospitality space (for food preparation and sale). If that plan changed, the community must be engaged in any change of direction or vision and should have been notified, just like Dr. Staats was engaged and able to prepare for Tuesday’s meeting.

It was expressed in the meeting by the City Manager that the kitchen aspect of this project had sat idle for 2 years, hence the City’s decision to receive a presentation from the college. However, the community was unaware of any attempt to change the original plan and vision of the City Market safely following the COVID pandemic while still reeling from the impacts of Hurricane Florence.

This secrecy extended to several Aldermen themselves representing the community served, as they were unaware of any proposed changes to the original vision of the City Market Program. Additionally, The City Manager would not disclose who’d given him the direction to have Dr. Staats present or who gave direction to call the EDA to request this major change in scope. These actions seem highly suspicious and disingenuous to a community that continually sees resources promised and never delivered (such as Stanley White). Additionally, the population demographic (low-income and lack of transportation) surrounding the City Market/ VOLT Center that were used to promote its funding and development are not participants in the Downtown Farmers Market which commonly suffers from limited space and diversity (according to testimonials from local minority entrepreneurs).

Why shouldn’t their voices be heard regarding these intended, last-minute changes? Although we hear the consistent argument of “why are two markets necessary for a small town like New Bern?”, two farmers’ markets are just as practical as two gyms, or two schools, or two gas stations in any town. There is more demand than supply for another outlet to provide live-action entrepreneur events that have the opportunity to create capital and jobs closer to marginalized communities prone to lack of opportunity and transportation issues. Creating programs that empower people to grow fresh food, from which healthy recipes can be crafted in a community (commercial) kitchen, in a clean facility which creates local jobs through maintenance and training in food prep, with an opportunity to sell in an open community market and stabilize income potentially lost through a global pandemic is empowering to a community that at times feels powerless to political influence and lack of access to power and resources.

The Small Business Center is a great partner for training and education, but the buck stops at capital creation, which is essential to budding entrepreneurs and incentivizes progress. And while some officials believe it is just practical to have the college (with its wealth of resources) take over this school-to-kitchen pipeline, practicality it is only beneficial for the business-driven individuals with an agenda for their bottom line; because empowering communities to be owners and creators and not just workers, takes the politics out of the community vision and promotes the greater good.

Additionally, it is not lost on this community that some elected officials who voted in favor of this move are in the hospitality industry and would benefit from the service workers created by this program. The vote to change the vision of the City Market that evening was clearly down racial lines. Why? Maybe because creating additional food industry entrepreneurs is considered competition or a threat to the New Bern establishment, and it is just another example of the systemic racism inherent in the majority’s decision.

We firmly believe now that the pandemic is becoming more manageable and people emerge from social isolation; we can meet the original community-centered vision of the City Market concept and create a thriving entrepreneurial market that will deliver on the promises made to this marginalized community identified in the CNI Plan.

I ask for a review of this decision related to the original vision for the Volt Center, and I respectfully ask that the EDA not change the original community-supported vision of the City Market project.

Jameesha “Jamee” Harris
Alderwoman 2nd Ward

5 Comments

  1. All,
    The community was involved in developing and creating the original vision of this area. Therefore the community should approve changes to that vision.

    The secretive and self serving changes without community notification or input and indeed avoidance is an example of the government dismissing the will of the people and responding to a few seeking their own enrichment.

    Can we start a petition to reverse and arrest this decision?

  2. This is further evidence that some aldermen–the white majority–do not have the best interests of the Duffyfield community as their priority in making decisions for that community..

    1. The aldermen of New Bern have a challenging job, make decisions for the benefit of all residents. If I understand correctly, the new Stanley White recreation center was designed to have a community kitchen, doesn’t this replace the community kitchen that never got off the ground at the Volt Center?

      Having Craven Community College develop a curriculum and utilize a commercial kitchen facility is great for New Bern residents. Here’s your opportunity to become the next Kardea Brown, Ashleigh Shanti or Bobby Flay.

      Reading the news about the shortage of skilled restaurant staff, the college culinary program will be a catalyst that may help our local restaurant owners/managers. This sounds like a win/win for the city of New Bern and Craven County.

      If readers/residents think they can make better decisions that aren’t polarized, then run for alderman in the next electron. It’s easy to be a keyboard cowboy, and criticize elected officials.

      New Bern needs to become “One New Bern”, we the people for the people. We’re all in this together, let’s unite and become a community together. Working together we as New Bern residents can accomplish great things. The City of New Bern and Craven Community College are bringing educational opportunities within walking distance to the underserved communities. It doesn’t get much easier. Here’s an opportunity to learn, grow and become the next Stanley White, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Frederick Douglass.

      Education is the most important tool you can receive, that can bring you most success in society today. Education lessens the challenges you will face in life. The more knowledge you gain the more opportunities will open up to allow individuals to achieve better possibilities in career and personal growth.

      1. It helps you gain personal control of your life
      2. It helps to make the world a better place
      3. It gives you the skills required for employment
      4. It gives you increased earning power
      5. Education allows you to turn your dreams into a reality
      6. It gives you confidence and staying power
      7. Education sharpens your financial intelligence
      8. Education helps you channel your energy

      Education is a mind-expanding gift that can broaden your horizons and enrich your life. But there are other pertinent reasons for getting an education too. It can really help you break into new industries, be taken seriously and boost your overall confidence. Long days in the library or studying at home on your laptop can be tough, but you will learn a lot of life-enhancing, transferable skills in between the assignments, that will be with you forever.

  3. The transition of City Market to the Volt Center in partnership with Craven Community College Workforce Development programs was a great idea whether all the aldermen agree or not.

    New Bern has a farmers market, why the need for a second? Bolster what New Bern already has, and reduce the ridiculous monthly rent. The current farmers market is no further from the underserved communities. Residents from these communities have no issue visiting the ABC Store down the street from the current farmers market.

    The Volt Center is offering low cost/no cost (through grants) skilled trade programs to bolster the area workforce. The location of this educational facility is within walking distance to underserved communities by design. The community college campus is out of reach for many without a vehicle.

    The Volt Center was built with the notion “build it and they will come.” Unfortunately not the case as the underserved communities account for a low percentage of registered students.

    Community outreach into the surrounding neighborhoods for education and training hasn’t been successful. Rather than have another shuttered facility, kudos to CCC for its creativity in bringing continuing education programs in addition to diesel mechanics, HVAC, electrical, masonry trade programs to this campus.

    What do the underserved residents of New Bern want? With the Volt Center they have the opportunity for training/education in a wide array of programs, the building blocks for gaining self confidence, and a sustainable future.

    “Give a man a fish and he eats today. Teach him to fish and he eats for life.” This is the mantra that our Alderman, and city/community leaders need to follow if New Bern is to be a self sustaining city today, next month, next year and onward.

  4. It is unclear what the plans were changed to since this is not stated. Is it ONLY to be a school satellite?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.