“It’s a signal of hope that possibilities can become realities,” Campbell said. “I have tears in my eyes that want to come out, but I’m holding them in.”
The fight they waged
The establishment of the community center was not an easy fight and after 40 years, not a short one, either.
The story of the Rogers Road community is one of discrimination and perseverance.
“In 1972 — I think I was a junior or senior in high school — the government came out and wanted to move the landfill out here,” Caldwell said.
“They made promises that if (the elders) would let them put the landfill on Eubanks Road, that once it was completed, they would give the community a recreation facility, streetlights, water, sewers and sidewalks.”
He said that once the landfill reached capacity in 1985, local government officials voted to expand the landfill rather than close it.
“The government at that time refused to honor the promises of those before them, saying they didn’t make those agreements and they couldn’t be held responsible for them,” Caldwell said. “That’s when the battle started.”
Slowly, they were able to mark things off their list, but the greatest accomplishment came in February 2012, when the county announced the landfill would close the next year.
“When they said they were going to close the landfill and not put any more out here, that was a great moment that just brought joy,” Campbell said. “We began to change the quality of life from then on.”
Given all the joy about the landfill decision, the August 2012 announcement that the neighborhood-founded community center would close was a huge disappointment.
But the Orange County Board of Commissioners stepped in two months later, promising to provide the funds to build a new community center.
After almost two years of budget negotiations, the site broke ground in May 2014.
Six months later
Now, six months later, Caldwell stands at the main entrance to the finished center, welcoming community members and politicians alike, saying as each pass, “Welcome to our home.”
In a morning filled with tears and relief, members of the Rogers Road community celebrated the successes that they patiently waited for years to experience.
“All of the victories that have come here in this neighborhood have come from the struggle of the people and have come with the government responding to those demands,” Commissioner Mark Dorosin said. “Frederick Douglass said, ‘Power yields nothing without a demand.’ And this community has been demanding, and this is one of the fruits of those demands.”
Dorosin, who is an attorney for the UNC Center for Civil Rights, represented the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association in its complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Dorosin said the center is just a building and the true spirit of the community lies with its residents.
“I am honored and privileged to get to represent and work with the residents of this community,” Dorosin said. “I am so proud of all that they have done, and I am also, candidly, a little ashamed and embarrassed and sad that it has taken so long.”
At 4,000 square feet, the new center features large windows for the community to not only look out onto the neighborhood they cherish, but also look in on the accomplishment they fought for.
Caldwell said the center will host a variety of events, such as English as a second language classes, food pantries, summer school programs and a back-to-school drive.
“The potential of that new building is immeasurable,” Caldwell said. “It’s going to do so many things to make the quality of life of people in the community so much better.”
After watching his granddaughter cut the ribbon to what could be the future for Rogers Road, the end of the 40-year struggle for equality is almost in sight for David Caldwell.
“Our list of things that was promised in 1972 is almost complete, and I think that will be my biggest satisfaction, and once that is done, I’ll feel like I can take a break.”