Kudos to the Winston-Salem Police Department, the City of Winston-Salem and the National Black Theatre Festival for expertly handling the large crowds that descended upon downtown during NBTF week.
On some nights, the scene downtown was surreal, as thousands of people tried to maneuver their way along sidewalks; parts of Fourth Street resembled Times Square.
Police officers – who were stationed at every corner in the heart of downtown – helped to usher the crowds safely across streets and stood-by ready to handle any trouble that may have arisen.
Thankfully, no major problems were reported, which has not always been the case in years’ past.
We are pleased that the drama remained on the stages during the NBTF and not on the streets. New police chief Barry Rountree and his officers deserve a big round of applause for a violence-free week. Although the long hours visibly took their toll on some of the officers, for the most part, they were friendly, courteous and pro-active in addressing potential troubles. We can’t begin to tell you about all the compliments we heard about our police force from out-of-towners. One woman was simply floored that a cop told her “hello” and to “have a good evening.” Such niceties from police officers are unheard of in the City of Brotherly Love, she said.
We assured her that our cops weren’t putting on a show for the NBTF’s national and international guests, and we hope we are not made out to be liars. We believe the NBTF simply gave local cops the opportunity to show that after much trial and error, they have learned that common courtesy goes a long way when dealing with communities of color. Something as simple as a greeting or a smile can help erase the negativity that many people of color have toward law enforcement. They are not cure-alls, but great first steps.
City Marketing chief Ed McNeal and his team and longtime NBTF teen coordinator Nastasha Johnson also deserve a round of applause. In an effort to free up sidewalks and congestion, the City and NBTF hosted several nights of musical events at Civic Plaza and Winston Square Park. The latter venue was geared for teens, with a dee-jay spinning popular hip hop tunes and a large dancing area that gave kids more than enough space to Harlem-shake and crip-walk. There was even free gumbo served up one night. Johnson said several thousand teens made their way to the park from Aug. 1–3 for peaceful, clean fun.
In the past, young people and the NBTF have not always mixed, but Larry Leon Hamlin, the late founder of the NBTF, was adamant that teens should be welcomed during Festival week and given creative avenues of their own. The City is heeding Hamlin’s desires and, we hope, nurturing a new generation of NBTF supporters in the process.
Several weeks ago, we excoriated the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce for releasing a centennial-themed annual report that was almost entirely devoid of the many contributions African Americans have made to the city over the past 100 years and before and beyond that span.
The Chamber has corrected the oversight by releasing an updated report with a timeline and images that more accurately reflect Winston-Salem’s diversity.
A link to the updated report was included in the Chambers July 31 e-newsletter.
“Forsyth County has become more racially and ethnically diverse,” Chamber President Gayle Anderson wrote in the newsletter. “We’ve updated our report to provide more insights into our economy’s history. That history is rich, diverse, complex and detailed. We hope this serves as a starting point for all of us to learn more about where we’ve come, and where we are headed.”
Anderson deserves credit for not only acknowledging the shortcomings of the original report, but for moving swiftly to right a wrong. Such actions are rare when dealing with issues of race and diversity. In such cases, it is difficult for folks to simply accept that there is a problem; getting them to actually take action to correct said problems is unheard of.
The Chamber has set a positive example for its members and others. Now, we hope they follow the Chamber’s lead.