Tim Cheadle, Chantilly resident, business owner and software engineer, describes his feeling after the 2016 police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte “as nervous, sad energy.” He wasn’t alone; many didn’t know what to do.
“Protesting didn’t seem like what I wanted to do,” Cheadle says, “but I want to do something positive.”
So, he did.
“Since Chantilly shares a border with Grier Heights and they have this community center, I thought, maybe I can reach out to someone over there. [I thought], ‘Let’s just have a BBQ together.’ No politics. I have a smoker in my backyard, let me just cook for some people.”
No 501c3. No board members. No meetings. “Word spread...and soon [on the day of the BBQ] we had about 80 people from Chantilly and Grier Heights, all neighbors eating and talking together, both neighborhoods being well represented,” he says.
“Our event was not based on trying to heal any wounds,” Cheadle adds. “That takes time. There's no reason we can't have conversations though. So, let's just talk. What's the most Southern way to do that? Have a barbecue. Everybody likes to get together over some pig.”
Gloria Green, Grier Heights Community Center director and lifelong neighborhood resident, was pleased to have the two communities come together at the center.
“When people come here for the first time, they say, ‘How are you hiding this jewel? ‘Why doesn't everyone know about this place?’” she says. “Our goal is to bring tools in the center to empower people to have a better way of life.”
The historic center was initially built as Rosenwald School for African Americans in the 1900s. The building was recently renovated and transformed into a community center in 2015.
After the BBQ, Cheadle also observed that Grier Heights is “a tightly knit neighborhood. However, because of Charlotte's segregation and history, people in my world don't seem to know about it. What they miss is a whole community of wonderful people that want good lives and safe spaces too.”
“It's easy to live a life where the people you see every day are people that look just like you and forget that others exist. I don't judge people for that, it is easy to think that way,” Cheadle notes. “That said, all it takes to get to know other people is reaching out and saying hi.”
Green reflects, “If you stay anytime in Grier Heights, you’ll see our community is unlike other neighborhoods. I mean here people care about people. We've had our bad times in life, but who hasn't? We are growing and changing but still want to be the community where people matter.”
Cheadle adds, “We don't have a non-profit, we don't have an organization. Look how easy this was. You don't have to start a non-profit or contribute lots of money. You don’t have to do some grand or expensive gesture, just talk to people. And you probably live right next to them.”