The co-organizer of the Peace and Hope community meeting in northwest Roanoke in late January says it was just the first in a series – and claims progress was made towards a “21st Century Action Plan,” that could be drafted by May. Shawn Hunter, founder of The Peacemakers citizen’s group that has patrolled the often-troubled quadrant of the city, says around 80 people showed up, many speaking out about development, education and job opportunities needed to lift residents up.
Hunter also says a series of conversations featuring barbers and hair stylists – where many of those northwest community conversations often take place – will debut soon. “I was very encouraged [by the Peace and Hope turnout],” says Hunter; “it shows in that we saw totally different faces. Normally when you go to meetings you see the same faces all the time. We saw young, old, white, black – a beautiful turnout.” Everyone was welcome – even “outsiders” like Djuna Osborne, the candidate for Roanoke City Council.
Hunter, who says he will run for City Council as an independent candidate, says he really didn’t know who Osborne was until she came to Peace and Hope –asking what those from outside the northwest community should do – and not do – to help make life better there. Hunter was hoping to resolve the misdemeanor charges against him related to a lewd photograph sent to a Roanoke Times reporter – he claims by accident – but that trial has now been postponed for a third time and won’t be heard until sometime in March he indicated.
Anyone can come in to northwest and help as long as they have a “sincere heart and don’t make promises – [before] they go back downtown and you don’t hear from them again.” That might be a reference to developer and City Council member John Garland, who once partnered with Hunter and The Peacemakers on a property Garland is redeveloping at 11th Street and Moorman Avenue NW – before they had a falling out.
People in northwest are tired “of the same promises,” and see themselves as being “victimized” instead of being helped. Hunter and Grover Price from the Hope Center on 11th Street – the other Peace and Hope meeting organizer and an announced independent candidate for City Council – want to see more northwest developers step forward themselves. Hunter talked about developing some sort of community-based authority that can pool together small donations, then use those local funds to purchase and redevelop properties for commercial and residential uses.
Being able to move forward, to get past the mindset that dwells on past injustices to the largely African-American and minority community in northwest is a major reason for the Peace and Hope meetings that may move forward on a monthly basis says Hunter. “There’s too much divisiveness [even within the community]. If we can come up with a common goal and put things behind us [we] can make progress. We are trying to move forward – we call it reconciliation. We are going through a healing process. It takes time.”
There’s a great deal of distrust in northwest towards City Council and the development going on downtown that takes needed resources away from other quadrants of Roanoke like northwest adds Hunter. “Our community is getting worse and worse and worse. That’s of great concern.”
That includes “more murders” in northwest. “We don’t need more police patrols. We need some redevelopment that’s going to help the community.” It’s apparent that the healing process and lowering that level of distrust among northwest Roanoke residents will take some time – and a good deal of dialogue.