Meet Regina Hall, executive director of Boston-Thurmond Community Network and recent Trust grantee. We sat down with Regina for her perspective on what long-term change looks like for her community in Forsyth County.
What is the mission you’re working to accomplish in Forsyth County?
Our mission is to alleviate intergenerational poverty at the neighborhood level. We’re a member of Purpose Built Communities, a national community development association whose model focuses on alleviating intergenerational poverty through key investments in three areas—high-quality education, mixed-income housing, and community health.
We’re a place-based model that’s entirely focused in Boston-Thurmond, and we build on the assets that the neighborhood already has.
What motivates you to work for change?
I am a native daughter of Winston-Salem. I moved away for my education, then returned to work for local government and realized I enjoyed working with diverse populations.
When the opportunity opened up to serve as executive director of Boston-Thurmond Community Network, I was excited for the opportunity to work in a community that is rich in heritage, growing in diversity, and exploding with potential.
What motivates me is knowing that this is intergenerational work. We focus on one neighborhood—Boston-Thurmond—so we’re able to see the long-term effects of the work. The reality is the people who will benefit most from this work have not even been born yet. It makes me feel like I am literally contributing to the future.
How is racial equity and anti-racism critical to your work?
Boston-Thurmond is one of the oldest Black neighborhoods in Winston-Salem. It sits right between two financial powerhouses, Wake Forest University and Innovation Quarter in downtown, but Boston-Thurmond residents are not always benefiting from the economic restructuring that is part of the new “innovation economy” in the Triad. The neighborhood has its challenges, which also represent significant opportunities to empower Boston-Thurmond as a strong community with the ability to shape future growth.
While we can’t turn back the hands of time, we certainly can make key strides to move forward. And I think that’s what this work will allow to happen.
Racial equity is key to this work because it allows us to take a holistic approach when addressing inequities in areas of health, housing, and education. We are focused on closing gaps, including the wealth gap among Black and Brown residents, the student achievement gap among Black and Brown students, and the health disparities in Black and Brown communities, including access to quality health care. Our goal is to make key investments that promote educational equity, health equity, and economic mobility.
So, what’s happening in the neighborhood?
We work across three key areas—community health, mixed-income housing, and high-quality education—so there are several things happening at any one time.
One of the resident groups has worked with city officials to develop a pedestrian plan that is specific to the neighborhood, and recently helped get L.E.D. lighting installed throughout the neighborhood. H.O.P.E. of Winston-Salem is headquartered in Boston-Thurmond and started a weekly produce market last Fall. The produce market takes place on Tuesdays; the same day that Wake Forest Baptist Health’s Mobile Health Unit offers medical care to the youth and uninsured. The mobile health unit also offers a food prescription program for individuals who have limited access to healthy foods.
When we realized that COVID-19 was affecting Black and Brown communities at disproportionate rates throughout the country, we fought to have a community testing site in the neighborhood. We wanted to break down the barrier of “access,” so residents didn’t have to drive to Hanes Mall Boulevard to get tested. We were fortunate to work with Novant Health to get Boston-Thurmond an official community testing site from June through September 2020. It was one of the first community testing sites in the 27105 ZIP code area.
We’re continuing to address health equity and the pandemic with the vaccine, because we know that despite having higher infection and mortality rates, Black and Brown communities have been vaccinated at less than half the rate as white Americans. We worked with Novant Health to hold a COVID-19 vaccine event at a local school gymnasium, so community members wouldn’t have to leave the neighborhood to get a vaccine.
We’re working with residents to develop plans for a high-quality early learning center in the neighborhood to ensure that students are “kindergarten-ready” at one of the two neighborhood elementary schools. The education pipeline we envision includes a 95 to 100 percent high school graduation rate among high school seniors.
We worked out a deal with the housing authority and local cable provider last fall to provide internet access to residents in the neighborhood. We’re operating in phases to ensure that 50 to 75 percent of households with school age children have Internet access by the end of 2021. Eventually, we’d like to see other partners come together to establish a universal Wi-Fi policy throughout the city and county. Long-term, we hope that internet will be a basic right (like clean water), and can potentially be free or reduced for financially eligible households.
What will success look like when you achieve our mission?
It’s simple. People will have access to what they need within their own neighborhood.
Boston-Thurmond won’t be a food desert. There will be health services where folks can access whatever kind of care they need—primary care, mental health, prenatal, dental, and so on. There will be a 100 percent high school graduation rate, and neighborhood schools would no longer be low-performing. At least 95 percent of elementary and middle school students will pass their end-of-grade tests. And as a result of better education, the average household income will increase.
Learn more and get involved with Boston-Thurmond Community Network here.