WVU's Division of Diversity Steps in to Help Revive Charleston's West Side

Aug 4, 2014

Dr. Gabrielle St. Leger is an educational consultant and serves as the Chairman of the WVU Diversity Social Justice Visiting Committee.
Credit Roxy Todd

The West Side in Charleston is one of the largest urban neighborhoods in the state. Within sight of the Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School are vacant lots and abandoned buildings. This neighborhood is besieged with many problems like childhood poverty and high crime rates. It’s also a neighborhood that suffers from negative stereotyping—a place where good people and good projects are often overlooked.

Aiming to highlight these challenges and some possible solutions, a collaboration is launching between West Virginia University's Division of Diversity and the West Side Revive Project.

Reverend Matthew Watts, a pastor at Grace Bible Church, heads up the West Side Revive Project.

“And so we’re trying to help the broader community realize that this is a community of enormous potential. And actually the future growth of Charleston hinges on what we do,” Watts said at the presentation last Friday at the Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School. The Hope Community Development Corporation initiated the West Side Revive Project.

The meeting last week was also attended by David Fryson and a group of scholars from WVU’s Division of Diversity. Fryson was recently named the Division Vice President. At the meeting, Fryson said that he remembers the real Mary C. Snow and said her legacy should remind people to organize to make great things happen on the West Side. He said WVU is looking to assist the West Side Revive Project, chiefly by evaluating the research the group has done.

Credit Roxy Todd

Reverend Watts said it’s encouraging to see WVU begin to validate the work his project has been doing for years.

“[There's] a lot of energy, and a lot of interest in the project. And we have never been more excited for the potential for the West Side of Charleston to truly return to this healthy and wholesome residential community that it used to be,” said Watts.

Watts explained that back in the 1950's the West Side was a neighborhood where middle class black families could buy nice homes. The West Side's decline began as many of those families left West Virginia to find jobs.

Though the neighborhood does have many problems it is going to have to face head on, Watts believes that for the first time in years, there is reason to hope that things here can change.