Dorian Edwards said if you see a problem, you run from it, ignore it or try to fix it.
The 22-year-old has chosen to become a part of the solution.
The problem, according to many people Edwards’ age, is Kinston. It lacks the social scene, shopping, jobs and future they see in a bigger city — or even in neighboring towns like Greenville and Goldsboro. Its population, now about 22,000, is actually shrinking — down about 15 percent in the last 20 years.
Yet Edwards plans to return to Kinston when he graduates from Livingstone College in May to help resolve those issues.
“You can’t sit around and wait on something to happen,” he said about Kinstonian’s grumbles. “We should put the same effort into trying to get away from Kinston into trying to make Kinston a better place for every single person.”
That work is under way — and is bearing fruit. Community members are striving to bring more businesses and people into town. Some young people who grew up in the city are returning, bringing with them their outer-Kinston experiences.
“It’s home,” said Troyshika Shaw, a Kinston High School graduate who travels around the country in her fashion design career. “I don’t want to live here permanently for the rest of my life, but it’s a place I like to come back and visit.”
Shaw, 21, said Kinston isn’t ideal for a younger crowd since the lack of activities and events pushes them into other communities.
“If we had more programs to draw their attention, it would make them stay,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of activities to keep (youth) focused, busy and that will occupy them in a positive way.”
Her attitude about Kinston isn’t completely negative, though. She realizes the city is just like any other place — it has its good points.
Some residents, especially of the younger age demographic, seem to overlook those points and only see what’s missing from Kinston.
“People are a lot quicker to say they don’t like something than to say they like it,” said Greg Hannibal, who manages the LCC Small Business Center downtown. “Very few people are totally satisfied with their circumstances.”
He said communal issues begin with everyone’s individual problems coming together. The community has to work together to fix issues, including collectively finding ways to make Kinston larger.
“You have to attract more people,” he said. “Telling people you don’t like (Kinston) and you live here is not going to attract more people.”
Hannibal believes that before people decide to settle into Kinston, the lack of resources — such as public transportation and less-than-modern apartments — and social amenities have to be confronted.
Adrian King, executive director of Pride of Kinston, worries about downtown, which he sees as both an indicator and driver of Kinston’s growth.
The scheduled replacement of two bridges on South Queen, the main entrance into the business district, will take a toll on commercial activity for at least the two years of the project, to begin next year.
More long range bypasses and other highway construction plans could take travelers farther away from Kinston’s center
“If those bypasses materialize, it’s going to have a material effect on the customer base in downtown stores,” King said.
“We need to double our efforts to get people coming in town,” he added. “We’ve got a lot of things going. Slowly but surely, our town is evolving right before our very eyes.”
Pride is working with local businesses, entrepreneurs and community organizations to open more shops, restaurants and cultural sites downtown.
Recent business openings, such as Chef and the Farmer restaurant, Mother Earth Brewery, the Woodman Community Center and the new Red Room nightspot are just part of the beginning of Kinston’s growth.
However, many people in Kinston don’t know about major developmental plans.
“It’s not enough around here for young, successful or educated people,” said Miguel Starkey, a Kinston native and Woodmen Community Center employee who returned home after graduating from UNC-Pembrokein May. “I feel like they can do a lot on Queen Street as far as businesses and night life, possibly.”
He said that would keep a younger crowd around and attract visitors.
Changes are happening slowly as businesses bloom in the area.
“I’d say five or six years from now, it’s going to be a totally different town,” King predicted.
Keeping them here
A local organization, Young Professionals of Lenoir County, tries to make an impact with the city’s youth to influence those that want to leave to return to Kinston after they venture off to college or join the workforce.
“I think every high school kid wants to be a doctor, lawyer or teacher,” said former YPLC chair Justin Hill, who returned to Kinston after graduating from UNC Chapel Hill and teaching in South Korea for a year. “There are just a lot more specific things out there.”
The group is taking about 12 high school juniors to Lenoir Memorial Hospital this week and exposing them to different career choices.
“(It will) give them a reason to come back to Kinston,” said Hill, an LCC employee and former Free Press staff writer. “There are a lot of things going on that might not be apparent at first glance, but when you do a little bit of looking, there’s a lot of great stuff going on here.”
Annually, The Free Press honors 20 residents under 40 years old who have made an impact in the area. Last year, Ashley Manning was among those honored and part of the 75 percent in that group who was born here and chose to live here.
“I came back to be with family,” said Manning, a social worker for Lenoir County Department of Social Services. “There are a lot of family-owned businesses here. … I feel it’s important to local families to carry on traditions to continue to make Kinston a good place to live.”
Inaugural 20 Under 40 winner and Rochelle Middle School Principal Nicholas Harvey II said he wishes more people would come back to Kinston.
He grew up in the city, went away to North Carolina A&T and initially moved to Greensboro as an educator.
“When I started teaching in Greensboro and saw how effective teachers could be, I wanted to come back home and do what I was doing in Greensboro in my own community,” he said.
Harvey said while he understands the importance of natives coming back to Kinston, he knows it’s sometimes not the most attractive place for teenagers.
“I always try to push our students to be prepared academically so they can go to college,” Harvey said. “I think going to college, getting that college experience and bringing stuff back to Kinston, is the only way that we improve Kinston. That’s why I’m back here.”
Even if it’s not college, he thinks simply having an experience outside what Kinston has to offer will “continue to head us in the right direction.”
Patience is not only a virtue, it’s an imperative when the goal is to transform a town.
“As in any community, I think that the constituents really need to invest in their community,” Greg Hannibal said. “Nothing is a quick fix when you’re talking about community and how to solve problems.”
He said everyone — community, small and big businesses and the government — has put forth equal, collective efforts.
“Yes, we have problems, but they’re all solvable problems … and universal issues,” Hannibal said.
Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy said people in the city need to be more involved in their communities and with the youth.
“There is continuous, negative conversation without any constructive cause,” he said. “Engaging in our youth, engaging in the business enterprise in the community and engaging in the civic lives of our community is important to have a healthy and vital (one).”
Adrian King said entrepreneurs are talking to Pride about façade grants to improve buildings on Queen Street, even turning some into living spaces.
“We’ve got big business and small businesses in that area perking along together,” he said. “The economy is beginning to perk along again and people are beginning to invest more.
“People are having dreams again, and we do have a reason to believe that things will get better.”
Jessika Morgan can be reached at 252-559-1078 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JessikaMorgan.