As with many cities throughout the south, Winston-Salem has honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King with the naming of a boulevard in his name. Also, as is the case with other cities, this is where the legacy ends. The neighborhoods, businesses and economic development on or near this honored thoroughfare do not match the development in other parts of the city. This condition served as the catalyst for the creation of the Center for the Study of Economic Mobility.
Forsyth County and Winston-Salem in particular reflect the structural barriers associated with economic mobility. The city and county are bisected by a major thoroughfare, Route 52. The highway divides the city by both race and income-level. The east side is dominated by those from low income and ethnic minority groups. The west side is home to mostly high-income whites. The majority of the city’s health care facilities, supermarkets, retail business and manufacturing is on the west side. Little economic development has occurred on the east side of Winston-Salem.
The beautiful campus of WSSU is located on Martin Luther King Blvd and yet is surrounded by poverty, low-performing schools, high crime, dilapidated housing, poor health outcomes, hunger, and few economic opportunities.
Thus, the pressing question is the following: Why does an apparently prosperous area like Forsyth County and in particular, Winston-Salem, have a surprising lack of upward mobility, especially for those who are born poor? Moreover, are there lessons and insights that we can learn here in Forsyth County that can be transferred to other North Carolina counties as well as states across the country?
Using WSSU and the neighboring Enterprise Center (which houses CSEM), our hope is to shed light on questions regarding economic mobility. Our faculty and students are better aware of East Winston-Salem’s opportunities and challenges than any other university, and may at the same time provide valuable lessons for other areas of the country in a similar plight.