Even in the dreary rain, Selma draws me uptown. I cross the tracks after the morning CSX train passes, park and open the visitor center. The “Shop Small” welcome mat drip dries on the railing while I drag the “Selma Art Pop-Up” sandwich board to the sidewalk.
Inside the cold Jernigan building, I turn the sign to “open” in the front window, lift the sheet off Dina Flowers’ handmade quilts, arrange the other 12 artists’ wares, from Leslie Averill’s goat milk soap to Pam Guthrie’s beadwork, and push the radio button on for easy listening.
I check the restrooms, start a pot of coffee in the conference “brainstorming” room, and yell “hey!” to those arriving, hailing me from the hallway.
We are artists, writers and business owners, gathering on Wednesdays at 9 am to talk community. It’s not quite worth 1 Million Cups Kaufman Foundation application, but it’s a start. One participant, Barbara Clark, is opening art gallery and “slow fashion” clothing showroom in 2019. Another, Dorothy Finiello, is waiting the go-ahead to paint a mural on a building hit recently by graffiti. A third, Sherry Storrs, is working on an illustration for her second children’s book. In two weeks, I’ll be attending a launch party for the 2019 County Lines Literary Journal in Louisburg. Both T.C. Carter of Four Oaks and myself have won Honorable Mentions in the Carolina Prize for Writing, and our work is being published (my poem, “Miranda at the Rail”; his prose, “Dead on Tuesday”). Both of us represent the Johnston County Writers Group, which meets the second Thursday of every month at 6:30 pm the Selma Public Library, and we’re regulars at the Fourth Friday Open Mics (next one is Nov. 23 at 5:30 pm at the Selma Historical Museum, 104 W Anderson St – Eric Jackson will be “spinning yarns” — stories about the Ethel and Lizzie Mills).
So how do we help raise the town out of its “Selmalaise”? We don’t even have a coffee shop or restaurant to meet at on this rainy morning. So we’ve created these problem-solving and networking sessions in a government building. Even if we are just placeholders until the people arrive with the better ideas and money to invest in them, we are stoking the conversation like a vigil fire.
Two steps forward, one step back. In the weeks since the barbershop on the side of Vick Park closed, litter and graffiti have reproduced on the ground and walls. A town maintenance worker power washed it, with limited success. The mural is delayed because there wasn’t a quorum at the last historical commission meeting. Murals are a graffiti deterrent – and this one will tell a positive story about the town.
While we talk, a visitor from Franklin, Virginia, enters. He was walking around while his wife looked for antique stores that were open. Every year they come to Selma for the Christmas show at The Rudy Theatre. His question is, what is happening to Selma? Every time they come, there are more vacant buildings and more deterioration. We told him the work Elton Daniels, Selma’s Town Manager, is doing, and increased support from the local Chamber, and the agriculture grant funding the renovation of the Selma Civic Center. He suggested the town invest in the Main Street America program, and seek out citizens who would leave endowments to fund revitalization. Both solid ideas. Nearby Clayton is a Main Street America success story. The Selma Museum’s building was donated by Max G. Creech. It takes many people to make a difference.
I hope the sessions help. When the man from Franklin, Virginia, returns next November, I hope he can see positive changes in Selma. That’s why I put the coffee on. Join us, Wednesdays at 9 am at the Selma Visitor Center, 112 E Anderson Street in uptown Selma, NC. It’s a start.