In an effort to reach those in the neighborhood around it, Diggs Memorial United Holy Church helped stage the first ever Community Block Festival on Saturday.
The festival offered a variety of services, including health screenings and clothing giveaways, games for kids, vendors and live entertainment. The Faith-Based Community Coalition, an informal collaborative of city leaders working with Diggs Pastor Lamonte Williams to improve the neighborhood around the Graham Street church – hosted the event.
Williams, who has led the church for just under three years, said he founded the coalition last year as a means of reducing the crime rate and improving other challenges faced by residents of the community.
“There’s been a lot of unwanted behavior in this community, and part of what this coalition is saying is that we’re taking our streets back,” Williams declared. “…We’re not going to give up our streets.”
The intersection of First Street and Graham Avenue was chosen to host the Block Party because it has a reputation for being a hotbed of criminal activity, Williams said. Mayor Allen Joines, City Council Member Derwin Montgomery and Police Chief Scott Cunningham have all lent their support to Williams’ efforts to improve the community through the coalition, and things are improving, Williams said. He staged the festival to celebrate the successes of the coalition and offer some much needed assistance to the community at the same time.
“Today is almost like a day of celebration,” he stated. “It is to say that we we’re not going to give up our streets. It is to say that we do feel safe.”
Montgomery, who represents the city’s East Ward, said he believes churches like Diggs play a vital role in community revitalization.
“It’s really good that we as a community have good relationships with a lot of the faith based organizations because they can do a lot of things that city government can’t do,” said Montgomery, who also serves as senior pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church. “When there’s an active presence of the faith based communities in the neighborhood, positive things tend to happen. I’m looking forward to seeing more positive change in the area.”
Joines praised Williams for the impact that he and the coalition are having on the surrounding community.
“I’ve been so impressed with Diggs Church and Pastor Williams’ energy for reaching out to this neighborhood, offering services and showing how a church can be a part of a community rehabilitation,” he said. “I’m very grateful … for his leadership in solidifying the neighborhood.”
The event also addressed other issues that residents of East Winston face, such as health disparities. Winston-Salem State University’s Rams Know HOW (Healthcare on Wheels) offered free cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension screenings to festival-goers. Hypertension and diabetes are prevalent in the area, making the screenings even more vital, and the interaction between WSSU and the community can break down further barriers to healthcare, said Sophia Bamby, interim coordinator of Rams Know HOW.
“It establishes trust, and I think that’s a big thing, especially providing healthcare in a community where some people may have had a bad experience with a doctor or nurse,” said Bamby, who has led the clinic for the past two years. “This gives them a way to know us. It lets them know that, ‘Okay, they’re coming out here because they really do care.’”
Catherine Carter, who moved to the neighborhood to live with her son six months ago, said she was excited to have a fun activity within walking distance of her home on Barbara Jane Avenue.
“I just wanted to come out, get out of the house and be amongst the crowd,” said the 83 year-old. “It’s been fun – I’m really enjoying it.”
Mary Kay Consultant Tahita Williams was among the vendors who braved the beating sun to hawk their wares. Williams, who is also an evangelist, offered her own unique blend of spiritual and physical enhancements to customers at her booth. The grandmother of three said she heard about the festival at church and knew she had to get involved.
“I think it’s awesome to bring people in just to let them see that the communities can come together,” she said. “We can all get together and have a good time and rejoice in the Lord.”
City residents Brandon and Nina Johnson brought their two boys, Brandon Jr., 6, and Brayden, 2 out to enjoy the festivities. The family came to support Nina, a professional singer who was among the musical acts that graced the stage during the event, but Brandon Sr., a securities consultant, said they were enjoying all the festival had to offer as well.
“I think it’s great,” he said, surveying the crowd that milled up and down First Street. “It’s always good when you can give back to the community.”
See the full photo album on our Facebook:Taking Back the Block