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With SERCESS, Two Raleigh Natives Show Southeast Raleigh How to Secure its Own Future

Images Courtesy of Carmen Cauthen and Johnny Blaylock
Carmen Wimberley Cauthen and Aaliyah Blaylock are the founders of Southeast Raleigh Community Engagement Strategy Sessions (SERCESS)

Carmen Wimberley Cauthen and Aaliyah Blaylock are native Southeast Raleigh residents with deep roots in the community.

Cauthen's father's family (The Wimberleys) migrated to Raleigh in the 1930s, where both her grandfather and father were pharmacists in Southeast Raleigh and her mother, Cliff Wimberley, was a community activist. She grew up all over Raleigh before marrying and settling in Oberlin Village. Cauthen graduated from NC State and then went on to work at the North Carolina General Assembly for over thirty years. The Blaylock’s have lived in the Southeast Raleigh Community as far back as four generations.

Johnny Blaylock, Aaliyah’s father, has been engaged in the community for many years, founding a community organization called Friends Committee in the late 1980s that advocated for people living and dying with HIV and AIDS. Aaliyah decided to follow in his footsteps as an advocate and created the Facebook platform Black Raleigh five years ago to keep the community updated with information centered around local politics and housing.

The discussions, and sometimes heated debates, that Cauthen observed on the Black Raleigh page moved her to take the discussion on Opportunity Zone Tax Credits offline after someone asked about it. Following that exchange, Cauthen and Blaylock decided to create the first Southeast Raleigh Community Engagement Strategy Sessions, or SERCESS in the summer of 2019.

SERCESS is all about community-driven change. In the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods within Southeast Raleigh, Cauthen and Blaylock knew that it was need for rallying residents and allies to safeguard their community and guide the type of growth that would benefit them all. The first meeting was put together in just three weeks and they expected around 30 participants. When over 70 showed up, they realized they had stumbled upon something special.

“The vision of the first meeting,” Blaylock shared during a phone conversation, “was to understand what Opportunity Zones meant for their community, especially those most vulnerable! I wanted to see people infused with information and a plan to make sure that Southeast Raleigh would not be left out or pushed out!” Cauthen saw beyond that and realized the potential to find out what other issues the community had on their minds.

Residents from all walks of life came together and shared their pride and concerns for Southeast Raleigh during the charrette. Some of the themes that Cauthen and Blaylock observed after analyzing the data was that people loved the diversity, history, and proximity to downtown, but were concerned about affordable housing and over-policing, coupled with a lack of job and business opportunities, intergenerational relationships, protecting places of historic significance, and the character of their neighborhoods.

In late October, SERCESS had its second meeting at the Vital Link School on East Lenoir Street. The first night offered an intergenerational leadership panel. Some of Black Raleigh’s most cherished members from the Greatest Generation to Generation Z shared their wisdom with a packed out room. What was supposed to be a meeting felt more like a family reunion as memories were recalled and heads nodded in the audience. The next day was full of panel discussions, breakout sessions, and roundtable talks that amplified the needs of the community to the ears that needed to hear them. Residents also spent time creating specific goals for the improvement of Southeast Raleigh according to topics of interest such as education, food and health, transportation, and history and the arts.

The third Strategy Session will take place from January 31st to February 1st at Southeast Raleigh Table Church on New Bern Avenue. The theme for the event will be financial literacy, asset building, and entrepreneurship. Carmen and Aaliyah were inspired by two major headlines in 2019 related to wealth. The first is that Millennials will become the richest generation in the history of the United States as they inherit $30 trillion in wealth from the Baby Boomers, but the amount their descendants will see is based on the quality of their estate plans - something Black families struggle with. This leads to the next headline, that Black Americans are projected to have a median wealth of zero by 2053. Much of this wealth inequality is created by the lack of assets held by Black families, the valuation of the assets we do have, and the difficulty of holding on to them long enough to pass down to the next generation. Cauthen and Blaylock have brought finance professionals and business owners together to educate attendees on everything from creating a household budget to how to purchase a home, to how to create and find funds for your very own business. There will also be information on creating a will and estate planning so that what you build today will be passed down to your children in the future.

What’s next for Southeast Raleigh?

“We have to set that path for ourselves,” answers Blaylock. “And after three strategy sessions, we should be able to make that determination.” Cauthen and Blaylock are indeed determined to equip those who have ears to hear to make a positive impact on Southeast Raleigh’s community. And, as Blaylock stated, the future lies in those who turn that information into action.

A Special Thank You to Ms. Carmen and Aaliyah for assisting in editing this piece! You are multi-talented and immensely appreciated!

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