by Sayaka Matsuoka
A warm breeze brushes past as a group sits at the top of a grassy hill off East 14th Street in east Winston-Salem. Clouds pass lazily, foreshadowing the summer months ahead, as Marva Reid recounts her life growing up just down the street from where the group has gathered.
“I remember when I was a little girl and we used to go to the store with our lunch money and get some cookies or an ice cream sundae for just a couple of nickels,” Reid laughs.
The store that she refers to still stands across the street from the spot where the group is meeting; 14th Street Discount, as it is now referred to, is one of the only places for people to buy groceries in the neighborhood besides the Food Lion in East Way Plaza a mile down the road. It is also the site where Reid hopes to start a revitalization of the neighborhood.
“I want to bring in more art,” Reid says. “I want to change people’s outlook on this community.”
The two-story, white, wooden building would be the first of a series in Reid’s proposed mural project in east Winston-Salem. The idea is to liven up the area through art and bring attention to the community.
“I want to include everyone in this project.” Reid continues. “I want them to know that they are important.”
Her passion for this neighborhood is effervescent, and at 64 years old, she has all the experience and enthusiasm to get this kind of project off the ground. Not only has she organized large events like this in the past, but East Winston is her stomping grounds.
Reid’s eyes twinkle with nostalgia as she tells of the neighborhood’s rich history like the Safe Bus company, the first and only black-owned-and-operated bus company in the nation that ran in Winston-Salem from 1926-1972.
“It was started as a way to get black workers to the tobacco plants in the city, and the owner lived in that house just down the street,” says Reid as she points out a building shaded by trees.
She tells other stories of people gathering at Ray’s Roadside drive-in to listen to the “Daddy-O on the Patio” radio show that aired as part of the WAAA radio station just off Liberty Street — the first in the state to cater to a black community.
The group that listens intently to Reid’s stories is small but promising.
Jared Correll, who is new to the area, heard about the project just days before the meeting. He recently moved from Pennsylvania to Kernersville and is eager to get involved in the arts community in the Triad. He shows his notebook full of colorful sketches to the group, much to the interest of Marianne DiNapoli-Mylet who sits to his left.
She envisions bringing Reid’s stories filled with the rich history of the neighborhood alive on the walls.
“I would love to paint that scene of everyone gathered at the drive-in and singing and dancing,” Napoli-Mylet says.
She has been a part of the endeavor since its inception years ago when she and Reid drew up plans to paint the Food Lion at East Way Plaza. The plan never took off.
While community members supported the project, they never received the approval to paint the store.
This time however, that won’t be a problem as Reid has already obtained written consent from the owner of the convenience store. He’s even promised to chip in for base paints.
Napoli-Mylet has been living in the Twin City since 1989, and painted her first mural six years later. She has been painting murals ever since. Her organization, !POWAR!, helps at-risk youth by providing them stipends to help paint murals throughout the city. She feels deeply connected to Reid’s vision and while the project is off to a slow start, it’s already caught the eye of local museums and organizations.
Gordon Peterson, who is the board chairman at SECCA, stands next to Napoli-Mylet in a baseball cap and shorts. He is excited about bringing public art to East Winston as well. As the meeting draws to a close, Peterson lets the group know of his commitment to Reid’s vision.
“If I can do anything, let me know,” he says as he makes his way back down the hill and to his car. “I’m interested.”
Though the first meeting was small, Reid isn’t worried. She applied for a small arts-foundation grant and plans to generate more interest.
“I’m not important, but this neighborhood that I grew up in is,” Reid says. “Anything to give this place some zip, zap, boom!”