Jerry Anderson’s Economic Mobility Vision is Contagious
Jerry Anderson’s booming baritone fills a room. He talks of community, of gathering people together for a common purpose, that of lifting their neighbors out of poverty, of sticking with this hard work as long as it takes. “I’m not going anywhere,” Anderson said in a recent interview. “This work is not going to happen quickly.”
He believes in getting vital information to communities to put them in command for driving their own destinies, with the support of their anchor institutions, such as churches. “We’re talking about shared- value thinking, not benevolence from a one-time commitment,” he said.
Like many other African-Americans, he grew up of modest means in East Winston and still lives there, in the 27105 area code that takes in much of East Winston. He is a Carver High School graduate and an Army vet.
Like some, he wrestled with drugs and did time in prison. That was decades ago, and he has long been drug-free.
He made it out of poverty and prison, tearing down the personal barriers he faced. Now he wants to tear down the barriers his neighbors face. He is an activist, writer and the owner of IMPACT SOLUTIONS of the TRIAD, a local business renovation and landscaping company for homeowners and small businesses.
Anderson was at the vanguard of a wave starting to roll across Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, that of putting people in low-resource neighborhoods in the driver’s seat for reducing poverty, including generational poverty. Several local organizations have now embraced that crucial trend, including Winston-Salem State University’s new Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM). As Anderson says, “There is a groundswell.”
At CSEM’s April conference on social mobility, Anderson, a CSEM Community Scholar, was given the award for Economic Mobility Opportunity. True to form, he delivered a rousing luncheon lecture that marched far beyond the norm for such boilerplate speeches. He weaved his personal story in with that of the rest of East Winston: “Our Place, Our Space - #27105.”
He sees the systemic problems, such as transportation, including the lack of a good bus system. He talks of knocking down that barrier and others, including educational challenges, felony records and substance abuse problems.
Anderson pushes shared community values, including pushing back against crime because, as he says, “I don’t want them breaking into my house.” He emphasizes that “short-sighted philanthropic gestures” from outside of low-resource neighborhoods aren’t helping. The people in those neighborhoods have to lead the charge.
What’s needed, he says, is “a comprehensive, concerted” effort involving the arts, businesses and clergy. “Collaboration is the salve. That will heal what ails us,” he said. He pushes reform, including in education, bringing the best teachers to the most low-performing public schools. “Kids doing well don’t need great teachers,” he said. “But kids in 27105 do.”
He has faith in East Winston. “So many talented people. And millennials, they care about how well people are treated.”
Anderson has made it, and he wants his neighbors to make it as well. “Let us move forward with action,” he said.
He shares the commitment to economic mobility with CSEM. One of the center’s core realizations is that WSSU is succeeding, and it wants its surrounding neighborhoods, through careful research, to prosper as well.
After his speech, Anderson lingered, receiving congratulations from, among others, leaders of local nonprofit agencies. He welcomed their handshakes, but, true to form, he never stopped working, telling some of their leaders what more they need to be doing.
“The rest of my life, I’m committed to that ‘All hands on deck status,’” Anderson said.
John Railey is the executive director of The Partnership for Prosperity, a new initiative fighting poverty in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County. He is the former editorial page editor of the Winston-Salem Journal and writes articles on a contract basis for CSEM. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.