by Joseph A. Wilkerson III
Who am I? Nobody special — or at least that’s what I have been led to believe. I’m just another black American male always in danger of being swallowed up by one predator or another. I navigate the minefield of white privilege; unpack the madness of jealousy, competitiveness and in-fighting; and in my own community, our unwillingness to support one another. Now a breakup with my daughter’s mother has brought me down another few notches. How dare I, of all people, still have delusions of grandeur?
They say about 10 percent of healthy people experience grandiose thoughts, but I beg to differ. Take for example the North Carolina Education Powerball Lottery where the odds of winning the twice-weekly jackpot is 1 in 175,223,510. Of course I’ve played, and whenever I do I exercise the necessary delusion of grandeur common to everyone who lays down their $2.
What if I win? Which turns very quickly into: What will I buy?
A house, big enough to house my entire extended family for weeklong stays. A four-car garage filled with foreign exotics, with a Bentley coupe for the daily drive. A proverbial man-cave, massive his-and-her walk-in closets for the spoils of shopping trips to come. A killer view of the city, or maybe the snow-capped mountains or a lake.
It’s not just me.
My people have been getting sold this version of the American Dream for generations: Success is measured by money and the things it can buy. These days it’s reality television programs like “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” “Million Dollar Listing” and the Tyler Perry primetime soap opera “The Haves and the Have Nots.”
I grew up watching the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” “Hart to Hart” and “Fantasy Island,” where the enigmatic Mr. Roarke answered wishes somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean, albeit for a price.
I remember growing up in the 1980s and playing a game with my little sister, where we would try to claim a nice car or house before each other. Fast-forward to when I came to Greensboro to attended college at NC A&T University: I was still a child, more or less, and I proudly displayed my Lamborghini and Vanity posters. Vanity, the super erotic, very sexy “nasty girl,” and lead singer of the female trio Vanity 6, was the quintessential object of my sexual fantasies, another kind of delusion. To this day, the Lamborghini still remains as one of my favorite sports cars of all time, but from a grown-up’s perspective, I have a better than 1 of 175,223,510 chance of obtaining it through hard work, sacrifice and dedication.
Is that delusional?
I don’t think so. If trusting in yourself and possessing an over-inflated belief in your abilities makes you a little self-delusional, then I suppose I am.
I’ve established a number of business ventures — a film festival, a magazine and an iPhone app, and wrote and published a novella, among other projects — all of which I believe could have been highly successful. Currently I operate Uptown Artworks, a working artist studio and gallery in an area of Greensboro just down the street from A&T. Sometimes referred to as Northeast Greensboro, East Market Street, East Bessemer, Summit Avenue, or “the black side of town,” I’ve branded this patch of land as “Uptown Greensboro,” because I felt it lacked a singular and positive identity. It’s not known for its chic lounges, designer boutiques, high-end restaurants and gentrified neighborhoods — with the exception of the Charles Aycock Historical district. When I told the owner of the building I wanted to put an art studio and gallery here, I’m sure he thought I had delusions of grandeur.
He didn’t stand in my way, and almost three years later, I’m still here, still grinding and, from time to time, I look upon this “success” and remind myself there’s still so much more to do.
I truly believe that this area can be just as vibrant as any other in Greensboro, but it’s been missing leadership that will promote revitalization and a sense of community. We have the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market, adjacent to the underutilized War Memorial Stadium. But where is the park, the live-work spaces, the national hotel chains, Trader Joe’s or Starbucks? Where are the things our TV shows have promised us?
To get it done takes more delusions of grandeur.
Uptown Greensboro needs a cleaner, safer and more appealing business district that will attract long-term retail and other forms of economic development. We need to address parking, security, sanitation and landscaping. I believe in my typical delusional mindset that an effort to revitalize this area through a range of supplemental services in coordination with municipal services already provided by the city of Greensboro is the best way to go.
Joseph A. Wilkerson III is proprietor of Uptown Artworks in Uptown Greensboro.