Audience: The Fayetteville Observer, special feature readership
Abstract: The author discusses the ups and downs of growing up in Fayetteville and how it informs one’s outlook on life.
Key Words: Fayetteville, Westover, Army, military, Fort Bragg, Ft.Bragg, Ft. Bragg, high school, UNC
You’re from Fayetteville, aren’t you?
I asked Renee Wooten during a recent business meeting with local school officials. Renee’s the recruiter from BlueCross BlueShield and is polished and appropriate. But she’d just said something hoodish, so the question came out.
“Actually, I am.”
“What school did you go to?”
“Westover. What about you?”
There must be something about Fayetteville-ians. Something that surfaces when they open their mouths. It’s apparent when you meet one. Or apparent to me. Like being a former smoker, you have to be one to recognize one. Renee and I laughed about our hometown-in-common, while the school staff waited for the sidebar to pass. But it got me wondering what it was about Renee’s personality that screamed “Fayetteville!”
Is there a collective outlook we share, those of us who call Fayetteville our hometown?
Let me first tell you a little about Fayetteville, population 175,000.
Fayetteville surrounds Fort Bragg, the largest Army installation in the world. Think of what Chapel Hill sans UNC would be, then blue collar it down, and you’ll understand the importance of Bragg to Fayetteville. The military is the economic engine in Fayetteville. Driving through town, you can used car lots, barbers in abundance, pawn shops galore and the requisite strip clubs.
Westover, the high school I attended, was closest to base. Most of the friends I grew up with were from military families and from all over the world. I’m from Fayetteville by way of Seoul, and there’s a huge Korean population in Fayetteville. But my classes also included students from Vietnam, the Philippines, China and—most exotic to us at the time—New York. Half of our student population was black and the rest of the student body was white and other. Or truer to say, most of our student body was some mixture of the above.
Fayetteville is above average as violent crimes go, and Westover is situated near high-poverty hoods. My freshman year, the police came to tell Ernest Blue they’d found his brother JB’s remains in the woods. Another day, the principal announced over the intercom we were not to leave class, as Tony Parker was high and chasing his girlfriend down the hall with a gun. We regularly heard about or saw fights before, during and after school.
None of this seemed particularly out of the ordinary at the time. No context.
Until I got to UNC.
In Dr. Kleinman’s sociology class freshman year, we were talking about affirmative action. One of my classmates from western NC talked about how unnecessary it was. If you were poor and worked hard, she offered, you could get a scholarship and make something of yourself (I thought she was the most ignorant person on the planet). Much heated discussion ensued. At the end, we conceded some to each other’s points of view. But it was the first time it occurred to me that where we grow up has a huge impact on how we view the world.
Dawn and I were in a student group together at UNC. She was a year older than me and grew up in an all-white town. As a black girl, she said it was very important for her to have black friends. Instead of hanging out with her white high school classmates, she’d drive across town to hang out with kids at the black high schools. This came up as we were talking with another group mate, also black, who said he hung out with classmates at his all-white high school. Dawn said she wasn’t content with that high school experience. At UNC, Dawn joined the AKA sorority, and I never saw her hang out with anyone who was not black.
Dawn would have been a totally different person had she grown up in Fayetteville.
And I would not be the person I am had I grown up in Dawn’s hometown or anywhere else. The difference is diversity. In Fayetteville, I grew up with people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, countries, even different parts of the country. Fayetteville actually is not a very Southern town. And this diversity has informed my life in ways I may not even understand.
So back to the question of what makes someone distinctly ‘Fayetteville?’
Here’s my opinion.
People from Fayetteville are rough-hewn.
My friends and I joke and use the word ‘ghetto.’ But a more descriptive word might be is genuine. We are also accepting. Growing up with people from different backgrounds has made us accepting or comfortable around others.
I think of my friends as open-minded. In all the superficial ways, like trying different foods, going to a different part of town, meeting new people..but also in more important ways, like being open to a different way of thinking or being tolerant of other cultures. This is definitely an outgrowth of having grown up with different people.
Most of all, I’d say growing up in Fayetteville has made me an optimist. In my hometown, I grew up with people from different backgrounds and who had far more or far less than my family. We all got along (mostly). This has instilled in me an appreciation for differences and a belief that everyone is capable of success in their lives, if given the opportunity. Collectively, people from Fayetteville root for the underdog.
Renee Wooten, by the way, is the Diversity Recruiter for BlueCross BlueShield. Part of her job is to conduct outreach to local high schools to show minority students the opportunities available to them if they graduate from high school.
Figures. She’s from Fayetteville.