Jan 23, 2024 - Education

Johnson C. Smith University's role in a changing West End

President Valerie Kinloch at Johnson C. Smith University.

Valerie Kinloch is Johnson C. Smith University's 15th president. Photo: Courtesy of Johnson C. Smith University

Charlotte was a different city when Valerie Kinloch arrived at Johnson C. Smith University as a student in 1992.

State of play: Kinloch returned to her alma mater last August not as a visiting alumna, but as the university's newly named president.

  • Now she's tasked with leading Charlotte's historically Black university, which is nearly 157 years old.

Why it matters: As change sweeps across West End, Johnson C. Smith must play a significant role in economic development in the neighborhood, Kinloch tells Axios.

Flashback: Highway construction, which began in the 1960s, cut off west Charlotte from Uptown. The stifling economic impact on many of Charlotte's Black neighborhoods is still felt today.

  • In recent years, areas near Uptown, including West End, have experienced rapid population growth, driving up property values and fueling concerns of gentrification.
  • The city has also made the West End area a focus for investment as part of its Corridors of Opportunity program in 2020.

The big picture: It's not a matter of wondering how the university fits into the changing neighborhood, but rather how can the university be of service to the community, says Kinloch, who previously served as the dean of the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh.

  • Much of that stems from working with community organizations, like Historic West End Partners (HWEP).
  • "West End has always desired investment and amenities and services that any healthy community would have," HWEP founder J'Tanya Adams, told Axios' Alexandria Sands.

By the numbers: Johnson C. Smith received $80 million in private money through the Mayor's Racial Equity Initiative in November 2021 to help propel the university to become a top 10 HBCU in the nation.

The bottom line: West End is changing. But Johnson C. Smith isn't going anywhere, Kinloch says.

  • "We have a responsibility to figure out how to support this community, because we are of the community," Kinloch says.
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