BLOG POST
June 14, 2019

Sparring for Change on the Transportation Committee

Written by: AnAkha Anet

INTRODUCTION

This summer, the Foundation will provide grants for Creative solutions for local transportation challenges, a funding priority in our focus area of Building an Inclusive Economy. Over the past six months, the Foundation gathered a Community Committee consisting of individuals who have faced transportation challenges as well as those who work locally in the transportation field.

In April, the committee met to discuss the local transportation landscape and what they wanted to include in the grant application. The committee strategized their funding priorities, wrote application questions, and mapped out the applicant interview process.

Committee member AnAkha Anet shares her thoughts below.

SPARRING FOR CHANGE

As I strolled into our next-to-last transportation committee meeting, I suddenly realized how much anticipation I harnessed since our last meeting in March. The last meeting was very intense and misunderstandings led to unsolved questions. Fortunately, the amount of passion that consumed the room erupted into many great ideas that stemmed from uncomfortable dialogue.

Observing through my experience, people tend to avoid communication to avoid conflict. The reality is that poor transportation is a rising epidemic and avoiding dialogue about the diabolical, root issues only adds insult to injury.

Socioeconomic disparities, lifestyle choices, cultural insensitivity, systemic racism and poverty act as “valves” that often result in the blockages of its impediments. Luckily, as a community resident in an area where transportation affects a wide population, this transportation committee gave me, as well as others, another way to enact change.

BEHIND THE SCENES

The mornings of our committee meetings always start with introductions of highlights from our lives. I love this method of “icebreaking” because it affirms positivity for the day and determines the energy of the atmosphere.

Our brunch and side conversations settled as plates were thrown into the trash like dominos. Reality began to take place. One of our facilitators from Leading to Change announced a five-minute grace period to wrap everything up. I was very fond of the different strategic communication approaches from our facilitators. Immediately, I canvassed the room for visuals. There it was!!! Three posters lined up side-by-side revealing change before our very eyes. My mind raced and my thoughts streamed like reflections from a movie clip.

I noticed my fellow committee members’ eyes fixating on the “posters of change”. The room fell silent and still as we carefully peeled away the moment of truth. The energy quickly shifted from anxiety to the various emotions of submission, euphoria, and relief. Some committee members seemed to still be inquisitive about the unanimous decision we made but I quickly dislodged any personal feelings.

I realized the more important issue at hand was being a witness to and participant of history.  

The first poster of change revealed the priorities, morals, values, and principles of the grant application to better suit change for marginalized black and brown communities. Collectively, I feel as though we, the committee, made good decisions based off the needs of people that have historically been excluded.

Several questions are still in my head, such as: What organizations think they fit the criteria for the approval of this grant? Is it fair for big organizations, known for massive assets, to still control the narrative of what “help” really is? Shouldn’t grassroots be more accepted these days for better engagement with community leaders on how to properly begin fixing root issues?

THE MORE YOU KNOW

Dating back to 1926, the Safe Bus Company, the precursor to the Winston-Salem Transit Authority (WSTA), was the first black-owned bus company to provide mass transportation to black sections of the city. Because of segregation, most of the bus routes were in East Winston, which were called the “slums” during those times.  

A dining chair on Fifth Street serves as the only landmark for those waiting for the bus.

East Winston has always been a part of my roots and now, it happens to be a part of my advocacy. This history is significant because it shows how innovative seeds still managed to sprout in the midst of systemic poverty – very inspiring if you ask me! Unfortunately, what I don’t find so inspiring is that in 2015, the bus routes became less convenient to the same area it was once known to serve.

Ironically, the bus routes changed but systemic poverty remained.These changes are very hard to adapt to. Most bus stops do not have any sign present which makes it confusing to navigate. The closing of Business 40 made Fifth Street a main access road, which is not pedestrian-friendly. I find it very unsafe to walk across streets with my child without almost getting hit from both ways.  

The new traffic patterns discourage many residents and makes the thought of public transportation an agonizing experience. Fortunately, there are still residents that speak loudly enough to stay relevant and continue to speak up through the misunderstandings of systemic issues.

WHAT’S NEXT

Affirming seats at tables is necessary to give real insight on what is really needed in marginalized black and brown communities because obviously this cycle of prioritization concerning those same communities is redundant. After all, who else knows better than the residents who actually live through the daily, uphill struggles of systemic poverty? Who is willing to really listen and follow the leadership of those residents?

I am grateful for this opportunity to have a “seat at the table” with The Winston-Salem Foundation and my fellow committee members.

AnAkha Anet is native of Winston-Salem where she lives with her daughter. She has a passion for spoken word, poetry, and community organizing.

LEARN MORE AT WSFOUNDATION.ORG/TRANSPORTATION