SPARTANBURG, SC (WSPA) – Plans are underway to transform the Highland Neighborhood in Spartanburg.
“I moved to Highland when I was 10,” United Way of the Piedmont Highland Outreach Advocate Wilma Moore said. “My mom still lives in our family home up on Beacon Street.”
Almost 50 years later, Moore still calls the neighborhood home.
“We were welcomed by just about every house on the street, you know. There were no strangers. Everybody took you in. Everybody fed you. Everybody whooped you, you know. It was just so close knit,” she recalled. “You could walk down the street anytime of the day or night and had no fear because everybody knew you and you knew everybody. It’s a lot different now.”
Highland sits behind The Beacon Drive-In off John B White Sr. Boulevard between West Main Street, Crescent Avenue, and South Forest Street.
“They’ve adopted me,” said Bethlehem Center Executive Director Patrena Mims. “For me, what helped put things into perspective was the video village – hearing the former residents and older people talk about when they lived here and how they grew up, how things were. It just helped to put into perspective all the pride, history, and legacy that exists in Highland.”
The U.S. Census bureau reports the neighborhood is one of the most poverty-stricken areas of Spartanburg.
Two Spartanburg police officers are assigned to Highland because of the high crime rate.
“It breaks my heart especially after what I’ve been through,” said Moore.
In 2017, she lost her 19-year-old son Kiyounnie Jackson to gun violence in a different part of town.
“It breaks my heart to see the neighborhood having to go through this day in and day out,” Moore said.
They’re hoping revitalization, more than 10 years in the making, can change that.
“Pushing to have some resources available to the community but really for a Master planning process,” Mims said.
The audience applauded at Monday’s Spartanburg City Council meeting upon approval to hire consultants to prepare a transformation plan for Highland at a cost of $186,000.
Several residents were in attendance including Highland Neighborhood Association President Leroy Jeter, who Mims said has been one of the instrumental catalysts for this effort.
“It’s not a lot in walking distance -certainly not grocery stores or healthy food options,” said Mims. “We’re in a food desert.”
Add businesses, job training, education, and single family housing to their list too.
“I’d like to see the single family housing, families moving in with children, children playing in the streets with no fear,” Moore said. “It gives hope. The city investing and allowing you to have those resources right here then it lets you know that at least somebody cares about you.”
The funding for the master plan comes from a number of community partners in addition to the city, including the JM Smith Foundation, Mary Black Foundation, Spartanburg County Foundation, United Way of the Piedmont, Spartanburg Housing Authority, and Spartanburg School District 7.
City officials said the planning process will take 12 months.
“Part of the challenge is there’s a balance – the community taking responsibility for itself, taking ownership for what happens in this community, and what doesn’t happen,” Mims said. “Really have those things happen simultaneously – you have hope and you have a community understanding what it takes to have a healthy, vibrant community.”