Many of the longtime elderly members wanted to remain, while the younger people wanted to move. “We had to win those over who wanted to move,” he says, “and, afterwards, we had to win all of them over to realize that [redevelopment] was not going to happen overnight.”
A plan had to be crafted, funds had to be raised, land had to be acquired, and backers had to be found. When the B&W building suddenly became available for purchase, construction of a 15,000-square-foot enrichment center next door to the church—a key component of the master plan—had to be put on hold. “There’s been a lot of delayed gratification,” Lartey says with a chuckle.
The master plan includes construction of a new 1,000-seat church on an empty lot next to the current church building, which will be converted into a cultural heritage center. The pedestrian-friendly streetscape includes apartments built above businesses and shops, and a full range of services and commercial offerings, all on a city bus route.
This vision has won the backing of Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, one of many city officials who supports revitalizing what he describes as downtown Winston-Salem’s “northern gateway.” A city administrator for more than 30 years, Joines says the project is “a tremendous example” of Lartey’s leadership skills.
Joines also serves as president of the Winston-Salem Alliance, a nonprofit development corporation which has pumped $1.2 million into Lartey’s project “because of our strong belief in its importance to the city.”
Lartey is an optimist and a “very clear thinker—a strategic thinker—which has led him to be able to see a clear vision for this area, and more importantly to be able to communicate that vision to his congregation and the community,” says Joines.
Derwick Paige, Winston-Salem’s assistant city manager for community and economic development, agrees: “Basically what they’re trying to create is a mixed-use neighborhood to restore that community to its days of glory.”
Raised in a family of means, Lartey’s grandfather was Liberia’s postmaster general, and the first elected African bishop of the AME Zion Church. His grandfather’s interests led Lartey to “more involvement in organized religion.” His grandmother was a missionary and daughter of a Liberian vice president. Lartey has one brother and three sisters, but his family often took in other children to raise.
On Aug. 3, 1976, Lartey, who was 20, experienced what he calls “a transformative moment.” He and a friend had cut class, and while standing in the living room of another friend’s home, Lartey says he saw the Lord.
“That moment I saw myself as though standing before God on the day of judgment, and when I looked at my life, I was not ready,” Lartey said. “That was the transformative moment for me.”
Immediately, he cut ties to his partying friends, forgoing nights out in social clubs. “The inclination I had from that day on was more of telling people about God, showing people the way of God, teaching people how to live for God. That was all my desire. For me everything was, ‘How do you make people better by knowing God?’ ”
Eventually, Lartey received a scholarship to come to the United States to attend Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C. There, while serving as student body president, he met Jacqueline Williams, a North Carolina native who remembers her future husband as a hard worker and a gentleman.
“Friendship led to courtship. Courtship led to marriage,” Jacqueline
says. After graduating, Lartey earned
Today, the couple has three young children: Solomon, Alicia and Victoria.
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