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Seth Lartey's Ministry is Bringing Back the Neighborhood By Patrick O'Neill

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At first glance, the old Brown & Williamson (B&W) cigarette factory in downtown Winston-Salem seems an unlikely anchor for a redevelopment project to breathe life back into this once thriving, predominantly black community.

The Rev. Seth Lartey D'90 in his office at the former Brown & Williamson cigarette factory in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Photo By: Briana Brough

 The Rev. Seth Lartey D'90 in his office at the former Brown & Williamson cigarette factory in Winston-Salem, N.C.

That’s the vision, however, of the Rev. Seth O. Lartey D’90, pastor of Goler Memorial AME Zion Church.

Lartey, 47, a native of the West African nation of Liberia, has big plans for this neighborhood, whose decline has coincided in part with tobacco’s fall from grace. Backed by his congregation, Lartey formed the Goler Depot Street Renaissance Community Development Corporation (CDC), which serves as the driving force behind a multimillion dollar redevelopment plan to transform a 10-acre downtown tract into a walkable residential and commercial “campus.”

Lartey begins a walking tour of Goler Heights at the B&W building, which houses both the Goler CDC and Goler Memorial’s administrative offices and nine-member staff. The renovated first floor includes a large meeting room, which is regularly used by the city’s Black Chamber of Commerce and any other group that needs a place to gather.

“People must be able to meet together,” says Lartey, “in order to form community. In most black communities, you do not have facilities for people to congregate.”

Lartey’s group purchased the B&W building in 2001 for the bargain price of $645,000. The six-story brick structure with shiny wooden floors once hummed with the sound of cigarette-making machinery. Hanging on an office wall is an architect’s rendering of the master plan. Once it’s renovated, the B&W building will feature 80 residential units for artists, with studio space included.

In the surrounding blocks, Lartey has set aside several tracts for townhouses, some of which are already under construction. The plan begins with bringing people back to live in Goler Heights. Commercial interests, he believes, will follow.

A credit union, retail stores, gathering spots for youth and the elderly, and a health care facility are all part of the dream. Services for the homeless and AIDS patients, a daycare center, and affordable housing are also in the works.

Just a short walk from the B&W building is Goler Memorial AME Zion, where Lartey has been pastor since 1992. Before he arrived, the congregation had made plans to leave downtown and build a new church on the city’s east side. But it wasn’t long before Lartey realized the decision to leave Goler Heights, where the church had been since 1881, was not unanimous.

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DIVINITY Online Edition :: Winter 2004 Volume 3 Number 2 Duke Divinity School