It’s not enough just to have a dream – you must act on it, too

Published August 29, 2013

by Barry Saunders, News and Observer, August 29, 2013.

About 30 years, seven months and three weeks ago, when my first ex-fiancйe packed up and went back home to her mama – at least that’s who she claimed she was going back to – for the final time, I fell to both knees and vowed that I’d win her back.

She turned toward me with an icy look and said, “Stop dreaming.”

With that, she walked out, slammed the door, and we haven’t seen each other since.

Her final words – “Stop dreaming” – are what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would probably say to some of the people caught up in the orgy of worship over him the past week as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Not that he doesn’t deserve every accolade that has been bestowed upon him – he does – but I’m guessing he’d get tired of hearing precocious 8-year-olds reciting his speech every Jan. 15 with no real follow-up from the audience.

I am.

A fresh food dream

It’s hard to imagine that a century ago, black people would have been so loudly lamenting the departure of a grocery store from their neighborhood, decrying their lot, claiming they have been abandoned in a “food desert” where there were no fresh fruits and vegetables. Yet, that’s the unseemly spectacle we witnessed in Southeast Raleigh late last year when Kroger packed up its Beanie Weenies and Cap’n Crunch and shut down two stores in that section of town.

Did nobody have a dream that possibly they could build their own grocery store or at least have other stores bidding for the privilege of serving their community?

How about starting a food co-operative in which each neighbor would invest and own a portion of the store?

I’ll tell you what: It’s a good thing that the founders of the nation’s black banks, insurance companies and funeral homes didn’t sit around crying that “the man” wouldn’t give them loans, insure them, bury them.

Instead of whining, they adopted the philosophies of Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey, building and creating their own businesses and becoming self-sufficient. Ninety-eight years after Washington’s death, though, we heard people crying that Kroger’s was leaving them in a food desert.

There was, I swear, an element of panic in the lamentations of some people I heard and talked to.

Who is ‘they’?

I asked Bruce Lightner, owner of the 102-year-old Raleigh funeral home that bears his last name and was started by his grandfather, why don’t “they” – the residents of Southeast Raleigh – start their own grocery store?

“The question is, ‘Who is ‘they’?” he said. “?‘They’ don’t have any money.”

Maybe not individually, they don’t, but if “they” put their money together, they’d have a knot big enough to build their own grocery store and anything else they needed.

One has to think there are still entrepreneurs in that community such as John W. Winters Sr., who built homes and shopping centers and started a real estate management company, or entrepreneurs like Lightner’s grandfather. He began as a contractor and then started building coffins and burying people.

During the same time that my first ex-fiancйe was high-tailing it back to her mama or whomever, a buddy of mine and I recognized the dearth of food sources in our community and set out to start a food co-op. James Watkins and I contacted farmers willing to sell to us, and met with a distributor willing to provide us with canned goods.

What happened? Let’s just say 1983 Rockingham was not inhabited by the most progressive people, and there was insufficient enthusiasm among many who were used to depending upon others. There was also insufficient capital between a struggling newspaper publisher and a leather goods maker.

That idea went bust in 1983 Rockingham, but there is no reason to think it couldn’t work in Southeast Raleigh today.

That, at least, is what Isaiah Murray, his mother, Margaret Rose Murray, and others are counting on.

Murray told me this week that his community activist mother, he and others, through a nonprofit organization, are preparing to start a farmers market on Rock Quarry Road. It’ll start in September, he said, and run for four weeks.

“Next year, we hope to do a full season,” he said. “We’re partnering with small and minority farmers across the South to sell their goods and bring fresh produce” to residents.

“Our mission is to train people not just to feed themselves and their kids, but to provide information on how to eat,” he said. “You know my mother and father,” Isaiah Murray said. “Their motto has always been ‘do for self.’?” Murray said he was friends with Yolanda King, Dr. King’s daughter, who died in 2007, and he said she thought her father was about to direct his attention to economic issues instead of just social and political ones.

“She said that’s the unfulfilled part of his dream,” Murray said.

Who knows? Maybe when we’re celebrating the centennial of Dr. King’s speech in 50 years, that fledgling farmers market on Rock Quarry Road will have sprouted into a grocery store – or a chain of them.

Now, have a dream.