Mount Airy Mayor David Rowe is making good on a promise to improve race relations locally in the wake of a recent Washington Post article containing controversial comments by him.
This includes Rowe’s announcement this week regarding his formation of a “Hope for the City” team representing the diverse cultures of Mount Airy. It contains 20 members of different ethnic backgrounds and walks of life who reflect a cross-section of local residents.
“The ‘Hope for the City of Mount Airy’ initiative was developed in response to the aftermath of an article that appeared in January 2017 in the Washington Post newspaper,” the mayor explained. “The article included racially insensitive comments from me and other people.”
Although the Post piece ostensibly was aimed at examining how small towns such as Mount Airy helped Donald Trump get elected president, it also delved into racial issues. Rowe is quoted as saying he believes African-Americans sometimes bring problems on themselves, and by way of example, that he wouldn’t hire a young black man wearing sagging pants to work at his construction company.
Those statements sparked a movement by some local residents to demand the mayor’s resignation, while others have been willing to forgive Rowe — who has apologized profusely for his remarks — and let those become a catalyst for opening up a community dialogue.
This latter sentiment has been manifested in the formation of the “Hope” group.
“As mayor of Mount Airy, I have convened a team of citizens who are very interested in getting to know each other, and to begin working on plans that will allow people of diverse cultures feel more informed and involved in the functioning of the city,” the mayor said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon.
On Thursday, Rowe released the names of the group’s members, who include Alicia Ramirez, an employee of Surrey Bank & Trust; Candi Gunter; Chad Tidd, owner/operator of Chick-fil-A; Cheryl Scott, a retired teacher; Cindy Coone, a homemaker formerly employed by Surry County Schools; Mount Airy Police Chief Dale Watson; Mayor Rowe; Dr. Evelyn Thompson, a retired teacher; Dr. Kim Morrison, superintendent of Mount Airy City Schools; E.J. Spencer of Spencer Funeral Home;
Also, Emma Jean Tucker, a retired teacher; Eric Leathers, a leader of the Young Life of the Foothills organization; Surry County NAACP President Faye Carter; Javier Herrera, president of Steel Buildings and Structures Inc.; Jon Cawley, a city commissioner who also is a coach at Mount Airy High School; Jonathan Willard, a Chamber of Commerce representative; Lizzie Morrison, downtown coordinator; the Rev. Daryl Beamer; Rodney Rosser of Hayward Industries, who also is a local NAACP official; and Ron Snow, a track coach at Mount Airy High.
“We have 20 people who said they would be willing to do this, so that’s the basis for it,” the mayor said Thursday of the group. It is meeting on a regular basis to study and recommend what he termed “both novel and proven approaches” to effectively improve race relations in this city and surrounding areas.
“We’ve already had three meetings,” the mayor said, which have been held at Jones Family Resource Center.
“Our very first strategy is open and honest dialogue about who we are by sharing some ‘good and bad’ experiences that have made us who we are,” Rowe continued.
“We have talked about things that have happened over the years and why we feel the way we do,” he said. “We are prepared to put forth the effort to address the concerns that have remained dormant over the years.”
Rowe said the intent of the meetings is to provide an atmosphere of acceptance and honesty which encourages everyone to share thoughts and ideas freely, thus producing a climate for developing the best-possible plans for Mount Airy.
The group’s meetings have not been open to the public, but the members are considering a method of reaching out to and receiving ideas from the general population, according to Mayor Rowe.
It also is working on a mission statement, he said Thursday.
Rowe addressed then the possibility of further inflaming the controversy arising from last month’s newspaper article versus letting it die a natural death.
“This group doesn’t feel like that,” he said of the Hope team. “This group is working on making changes.”
Although its mission statement is yet to be completed, the goals are clear.
“We are positioned to address the hurt, anger and controversy that have arisen among us,” Rowe summed up in his initial statement released Wednesday.
“By working together in good faith and commitment to create a hometown suited for its entire people, we will create an atmosphere which embraces the talents, skills, abilities and ideas found in a diverse society.”
The mayor lists “growth” in multiple areas as another goal of the Hope team.
“We will explore new opportunities for cultural, social and economic growth,” he pledged.
“Change does not come easy and it is often a struggle to come to a place of comfort for all people — this does not mean that we should not try.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.