Examining the Passion and Progress of Black Men on Charlotte's Historic West Side
Damian Johnson Darryl Gaston Justin Harlow Diane Bowles
Johnson C. Smith University
OverviewTen Men is a literary antidote to the sobering statistics plaguing Charlotte's black males, an insightful and candid oral history that features ten of the city's most dynamic change agents working to strengthen one of Charlotte's oldest African-American communities. Set squarely on Charlotte's West Side, Ten Men blends glimpses into the community's storied history with discussions of a present being dramatically reshaped by gentrifying neighborhoods, an imminent Gold Line streetcar, and new business and commercial construction. Through unfiltered words and rare archival photographs, Ten Men invites readers into the minds and hearts of some of the city's most exceptional leaders as they leverage the power of community groups, book clubs, churches, athletic teams, and even barbershops to build a Charlotte where all its citizens have a voice and a prosperous future.
Author BioDamian Johnson is one of Charlotte's most admired entrepreneurs. Since graduating from Johnson C. Smith University in 1997, Damian, along with his twin brother Jermaine and business partner Charlie Petty, has built No Grease Inc., a barbering chain and school, into one of Charlotte's most recognizable and respected brands. From its clean, comfortable environs to its spiffy bow-tied barbers, No Grease embodies its “It's Not What We Do. It's How We Do It.” mantra. Damian's impassioned message of economic empowerment and community pride has meanwhile served as a catalyst behind No Grease's talented workforce—mostly African-American men from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds—in North Carolina and Georgia.
Darryl Gaston, a Charlotte native, is a passionate and results-oriented advocate behind the turnaround of the historic Druid Hills Neighborhood, his birth home to which he returned years ago with a dream to restore the area's long-forgotten pride and luster. By acquiring homes and creating affordable housing for needy residents, as well as organizing police watch and beautification committees, Darryl, pastor of Smallwood Presbyterian Church, has brought a whirlwind of positive change to a neighborhood once characterized by its decline. As president of the neighborhood association, Gaston has initiated numerous public-private partnerships that have resulted in the community becoming safer, cleaner, and more attractive for investment. In 2009, largely due to the work spearheaded by Gaston, Druid Hills was named Charlotte's Neighborhood of the Year.
The face of Charlotte's Historic West End is changing fast as young professionals— white and black, old and young alike—migrate to the area to enjoy its stately architecture and close proximity to Uptown. Among the area's most dynamic, visible new leaders is Justin Harlow, a young dentist from Atlanta, who along with his attorney wife Kiara, purchased a home in the historic Biddleville community in 2014. A graduate of Emory University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Dentistry, as well as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Harlow has been a tireless force in reinvigorating Biddleville, serving as president of the neighborhood's association and steeping himself in the area through volunteerism, mentoring, and community advocacy.
Diane Bowles, Ph.D., is the Vice President for Government Sponsored Programs and Applied Research (GSPAR). Bowles also serves as the Director of the Smith Institute for Applied Research and is the University's Title III Administrator. Prior to joining JCSU, Bowles was the Associate Director for Outreach for the Office of Technology Policy at the Georgia Centers for Advanced Telecommunications Technology (GCATT), located on the campus of the Georgia Institute for Technology. She was formerly employed by Clark Atlanta University as the Director of Distance Learning and Director of the Army funded Videoconferencing Training, Research, and Education Center (ViTREC).
Dr. Ronald L. Carter began his work as the 13th president of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C. on July 1, 2008. Since taking the helm, Carter has expanded the mission of JCSU in seven key areas: increased mutually beneficial partnerships with local and national businesses and organizations; enhanced financial footing; used metrics and measurements to drive performance; recruited a stronger faculty and staff; implemented a more thoughtful approach to technology; elevated student performance, retention and achievements; and improved the athletic program. Building on JCSU's 150 years of undeniable progress, Carter and his team of leaders have transformed the institution into an independent new urban university with intellectually rigorous programs that support new generations of change agents. Besides academics, a JCSU education now includes a global perspective, heightened social activism and a vibrant culture of community that extends beyond campus gates.Charles Jones is a Charlotte icon, a Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights Movement, and a longtime champion for residents and communities on the city's long-neglected West Side. A graduate of Johnson C. Smith University and Howard University Law School, Jones led several local protects in the 1960s, was involved in sit-in attempts across the South, and organized the SNCC at Shaw University in 1960. An attorney, Jones served as chair of the SNCC’s direct action committee. He was one of the Rock Hill, South Carolina, Four. As a Freedom Rider, traveling on a Greyhound bus in May 1961 from Atlanta to Birmingham, he was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama. His work with such activists as Charles Sherrod, Cordell Reagon, and the Albany Movement landed him in jail on two occasions with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..
For nearly three decades, Darrel Williams, Sr., FAIA, has proven to be a major force in Charlotte, an architect with vision and heart. A founding partner of Neighboring Concepts, Williams's stock-in-trade is bridging the gap between the physical and social challenges facing urban communities. Among Williams's strengths is his insight into Charlotte's challenges as a growing city, gleaned during four consecutive terms on the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, and extending into work in civic and community organizations, from the Charlotte- Mecklenburg Library Board of Trustees to the boards of Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and various others. A native of Baton Rouge, Williams has been a key voice and visionary behind the overall revitalization of the Northwest Corridor, recently relocating his own firm to West Trade Street near Johnson C. Smith University.
Colin Pinkney is one of Charlotte's most inspirational leaders. He has forged deep connections in the community not only by sharing his personal story of emotional pain and poverty, but by offering our youth a powerful blueprint for change, hope, and progress. In 2008, he founded the groundbreaking “We Are World Class” book club for male high school students, helping legions of urban teens graduate from high school on time. His transparent, no-holds-barred approach to problem solving, coupled with his intuitive ability to forge an array of grassroots partnerships, has garnered distinguished recognition from former Mayor of Charlotte Anthony Foxx, former Governor of North Carolina Beverly Perdue, and NBA legend and Charlotte Hornets’ CEO Michael Jordan. Since 2013, Pinkney has served as Executive Director of The Harvest Center of Charlotte, a faith-based organization focused on helping the homeless, poor, and unemployed in our city.
Among the most exciting developments at West Charlotte High School in recent years was the hiring of Titus Ivory as its athletic director. Ivory is a former basketball and football star at rival North Mecklenburg, but his family boasts a rich legacy of achievement at West Charlotte—which Ivory intends to restore to its former glory. His late father, Titus Sr., was a legendary athlete at West Charlotte. Ivory brings lot of experience to his new role. After playing basketball for Penn State, he spent more than a decade as a pro overseas in Italy, Germany, Belgium, Israel, the Philippines, and Lithuania, where he won two European League national championships and a German Cup title.
To African-American male students seeking mentorship at Johnson C. Smith University, few scholars are more popular or revered than Dr. Melvin Herring, director of the university's Master of Social Work program. A highly sought-after speaker on cultural competence and training from the South Carolina National Association of Workers Conference to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Dr. Herring earned a bachelor's degree from North Carolina A&T State University, a master's degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Along with recruiting and teaching at JCSU, Dr. Herring also shepherds master's level research and fosters ties with other universities, community organizations, programs, and external funding sources.
A proud native of Charlotte's West Side, Jerry McJunkins has been a fixture of the North Carolina arts scene for more than four decades. McJunkins, who specializes in pastel, oil paint, and charcoal portraits, has received acclaim in the studio as well as the courtroom, where he has covered such high-profile cases as Jim Bakker, Susan Smith, Henry Louis Wallace, and Josh Griffin. Diagnosed late in life with dyslexia, McJunkins has overcome many hurdles en route to success. He began drawing as a young child and honed his skills through Central Piedmont Community College, but his most valuable experiences were gained as a portrait sketch artist at Carowinds amusement park, which solidly prepared him for courtroom sketch art. Jerry, who works primarily as a portrait artist at Dillard's SouthPark, also teaches group seminars and maintains an active studio in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood where he teaches drawing to students.
Award-winning journalist Ron Stodghill has worked for The New York Times, Time, Business Week, and Savoy, for which he was editor in chief. An assistant professor in Interdisciplinary Studies at JCSU, Stodghill is the author of Where Everybody Looks Like Me: At the Crossroads of America’s Black Colleges and Culture (HarperCollins/Amistad). Stodghill also edited JCSU's anthology Let There Be Light: Exploring How Charlotte’s Historic West End is Shaping a New South.
Long before Alvin “Al” Austin was elected in 2013 to serve District 2 on Charlotte's City Council, he was highly regarded throughout the community as a dedicated public servant. A native Charlottean and graduate of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Austin is known as among the city's most thoughtful and steady advocates for the Northwest Corridor. Among his key efforts is growing the area’s tax base by identifying and repurposing buildings in older neighborhoods to attract new businesses and job opportunities for residents, pushing for a Northwest Corridor streetcar economic development, and for improved infrastructure such as streets and sidewalks, better code enforcement, and attracting grocery retailers to eradicate food deserts in the community. Along with Charlotte City Council, Austin, a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, also serves as the Major Gift Officer for Johnson C. Smith University.