The Roanoker - January/February 2020 - 28

The
People

28

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2020

Local Colors

The Diversity
From the Lebanese and Greek immigrants who arrived with Roanoke's
railroad tracks to the Vietnamese and Filipino communities who landed here
in the '70s, to the African and Middle Eastern refugee communities of today,
Roanoke has a history of embracing new arrivals from around the world.
With organizations like Local Colors, Roanoke not only allows immigrants
to plant roots here, they celebrate them. In 2019, Roanoke was one of 14
communities nationwide selected for a Gateways for Growth award, which
provided research and funding to help cities welcome newcomers.
"People are pleasantly surprised by that diversity," says Rasoul, the oldest
of four children whose parents immigrated from Palestine in the 1970s, and
the first Muslim state legislator elected in Virginia history.
"I, personally, have always felt accepted here," Rasoul says. Even today
with the issue of immigration more discordant than it has been in decades,
Rasoul says: "You don't tend to see some of the more divisive rhetoric here
in the Valley."
But if Roanoke has an Achilles heel, it is the ongoing effects of its segregated
past. Particularly painful is the legacy of urban renewal, where, in the 1960s
and '70s, the city destroyed African-American neighborhoods, communities,
histories. The loss - and loss of trust - still resonates today.
"We have to make sure that low-income areas and areas of need are
advocated for," says Xavier Duckett, a William Fleming High School
graduate who played football for and earned a Master's in Counseling from
Old Dominion University. He returned to Roanoke in 2016 and now runs
a nonprofit, The Humble Hustle Company, that provides opportunities for
African-American youth. "We need transportation, grocery stores and grants
to be more equally distributed."
That inequality is keeping Roanoke from becoming an even more vibrant
place to live, he says.
"Roanoke is still segregated. That makes it harder to feel the different
cultures. Everything is kind of split up in different quadrants," Duckett says.
"There's a lot to do but you have to be extremely open to finding things."
TheRoanoker.com

BONE AND SOL PHOTOGRAPHY

If the mountains are central to Roanoke's identity,
so are its people, the descendants of those first
traders and pioneers and entrepreneurs - and all
the newcomers who have chosen to settle here
since.
Roanokers have a reputation for being acrossthe-board friendly. This is how Mim Young, a
graphic designer and civic volunteer, puts it:
Roanokers "say hello, hold open doors and if you
lose your wallet, they will return it. Nine times out
of ten, your money will still be inside."
City Council member Michelle Davis agrees.
"We're less jaded," she says, than people who live
in colder climates or bigger cities. "Everybody
seems excited to share here. We feel like we all
have a stake in building this community."
But Davis, who grew up in Roanoke County
then lived in Ann Arbor, Mich., New York City
and Chicago before returning in her mid-20s,
says there's more to residents than a warm smile.
There's a key quality to what makes Roanokers
Roanokers - determination.
"People here have an attitude: We're just going
to keep working hard until it gets better," she says.
"It's that genuine desire to see things get better
that creates the impetus for continued hard work
despite not seeing results for years on end. [They
say]: we're going to do whatever it takes for as
long as it takes."
Sometimes it feels a little circular. Roanoke's
people are easy to know and committed to
improving their home because they feel a passionate
connection to it.
"When you love where you are, it makes a lot
of things great in your life," says Young.


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The Roanoker - January/February 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Roanoker - January/February 2020

The Roanoker - January/February 2020 - Intro
The Roanoker - January/February 2020 - Cover1
The Roanoker - January/February 2020 - Cover2
The Roanoker - January/February 2020 - 3
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