by Jordan Green
An adult degree program coordinated by Shaw University is among the overlooked assets that continues year round in southwest High Point between the twin peaks of the international furniture market.
As the international buyers melt away and the showrooms break down for the next six months after the biannual furniture market, another, quieter High Point persists.
It’s easy to miss the city’s southwest area, a triangle bounded by the South Main Street, the railroad and West Market Center Drive, part of an interior urban loop, although community leaders are championing a proposed six-mile greenway at an estimated cost of $4.1 million to revitalize and reconnect the area. The Durham-based consulting firm that completed the study will have an informational booth at the Furniture Arts and Accessories Trolley Tour at the Southern Railway Depot on Friday.
The breakdown after the market is like a balloon gradually losing air, considering the frenetic expenditure of energy from 75,000 visitors — about 10 percent of them international — inflating the year-round population of 104,371 and pumping $5.4 billion into the state economy.
Ward Avenue, an east-west thoroughfare that runs west from South Main Street to English Road, gives as good a snapshot as any of the section. It’s a largely poor, racially mixed area of legacy industry with a few bright spots of reinvestment, such as the Belgian-owned BuzziSpace furniture factory and a local showroom owned by the Los Angeles-based furniture company Cisco Brothers. Both companies have taken up residence in sprawling early 20th Century brick mills.
Ward Avenue rolls over the gentle hills nestling the headwaters of Richland Creek, a tributary to the Randleman Reservoir. It runs westward from South Main Street just a couple blocks from the High Point campus of GTCC and the 11-story Elm Towers, a public-housing community for elderly and disabled residents. Strung along the street are the low-income Ward Avenue Townhouses, the Red Dot convenience store, a Mexican luncheonette, a thrift store, the stately Ward Street United Methodist Church, the High Point Fire Department’s training center and not least the pink pastel campus of the now bankrupt North Carolina Shakespeare Festival.
Just to the west of the Shakespeare Festival facility, across a discontinued railroad spur and past the fire training center, Lincoln Drive makes an ambling jog to the southwest before connecting with Prospect Street. You have to be paying attention to notice the sign for Shaw University’s Continuing Alternative Programs in Education campus from Ward Avenue to know to turn onto Lincoln Drive.
First you’ll see Harvell Park on your left, a stretch of greenery with a couple basketball courts and a baseball diamond. The park came up during testimony in the 2011 Latin Kings federal racketeering trial as a site of a teenage street-gang rumble four years earlier, but on Monday afternoon it was a scene of placid springtime leisure. Young African-American men squared off on the basketball courts, and the Triad Homeschool Baseball Blue Jays warmed up for a game against Family Christian Academy on the diamond.
Down the street from the park, the Shaw University Center for Alternative Programs in Education, better known by its acronym of CAPE, is housed in a one-story administrative building constructed of light brick.
An American flag fluttered in the breeze, but the building has long since ceded the obsolescence of its front entrance, which is oriented towards a street without a sidewalk; a chain-link fence encircling the campus prevented access to the building. From a side street, a sliding gate allowed entry into a lot where only two cars were parked.
The High Point center is one of nine adult-degree programs operated by Shaw University, a venerable historically black institution founded in 1865 in Raleigh. Paul Wilson, the site coordinator and a professor of religion, said the High Point center was established 25 years ago by a High Point educator with close ties to the African-American community. The 15,000-square foot building includes 11 classrooms, a computer lab, a learning resource center, five offices and a student/faculty lounge. Wilson said enrollment has been as high as 100, but in the fall — the last time an official count was taken — there were 40 undergraduates and 25 graduate students. About 75 percent of instruction at the center takes place online.
Wilson said the adult students, who are all African-American, come from High Point, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Burlington and Lexington. The center offers majors in psychology, business management, sociology, criminal justice, and religion and philosophy, and offers courses for students interested in pursuing degrees in divinity.
The halls of the center were empty on Monday, but the walls bespoke an illustrious civil-rights legacy woven into the story of Shaw University, which hosted the founding conference of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in April 1960.
A framed biography of underappreciated civil rights hero Ella Baker describes how she helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference under the Rev. Martin Luther King while chafing at its centralized leadership, arguing that “strong people don’t need strong leaders.”
The text goes on to say that Baker left the Southern Christian Leadership Conference after the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins began in February 1960, and helped organize the conference of sit-in leaders months later in Raleigh at which the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was born.
Another framed text hanging on the wall quotes from the Shaw Journal in 1960: “For Christ and humanity, the students of Shaw University sat, walked, were jailed, were unified, discussed issues, they were physically hurt and they spoke to multitudes for the sake of justice. The North met with the South and the East with the West to tear down barriers and for all races to come together and confer in a spirit of unity and brotherly love.”