When they were children, Samuel Battle and Tarrick Pittman played hide-and-go-seek at Unity Cemetery.
Today as grown-ups, Battle and Pittman want to transform the historically African-American but presently rundown-in-appearance burial ground off Grand Avenue in the eastern part of Rocky Mount.
And Battle and Pittman in the process want to bring people together.
Battle and Pittman are key leaders of a small group preparing to have a community cleanup day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Feb. 6 at the cemetery.
A preceding community prayer is set for 8:30 a.m. Food trucks will be in position so participants can eat.
The group intends for the community cleanup day to be a kickoff of cleanups to occur over an extended period of time.
Battle, Pittman and Steve Cederberg, who also is a key part of the group, showed the Telegram the cemetery in more detail the middle of last week.
One can immediately see quite a large location full of tall trees yet with quite a lot of the land overgrown with brush, tall grass and weeds. There are headstones that have become obscured or have collapsed and sunken gravesites that are full of water.
“Sadness goes through my mind because I’ve never seen nothing like this,” Battle said of the condition of the cemetery.
Pittman said that such a condition makes him and the rest of the group more determined to do something about the situation “because it tells a history of the city and the community, especially Ward 1 and especially the African-American community around here.”
“I mean, it’s shameful, actually,” Cederberg said of the condition of the cemetery. “It shouldn’t be this way. These people deserve more respect than this. We need to treat our dead better than we treat the living sometimes, I think.
“With all the veterans and Masons and reverends and just regular townspeople and carpenters, the history itself is worth preserving,” he added.
Unity Cemetery can be traced at least as far back as the 1830s.
As family members either died or moved away from the Rocky Mount area, the location began looking more like a forest than a burial ground, although there have been cleanup efforts in the more recent past.
Meanwhile, the group has had a landscaper clear the cemetery’s main walking trail, which has made access a bit easier.
Battle and Pittman are particularly inspired to clean up the cemetery because one of the bodies of those buried there is of Dred Wimberly (1849-1937), whose memory is enshrined in the Twin County Hall of Fame.
Wimberly was born into slavery in Edgecombe County. He eventually moved to Rocky Mount and worked as a carpenter.
During post-Civil War reconstruction, Wimberly served as a state representative and a short time later served as a state senator.
While serving in the state Senate, Wimberly voted for the bill to establish the land grant college that today is N.C. State University.
Battle and Pittman showed where Wimberly is buried. They said once the cemetery is clean, they want to do something more specific for Wimberly’s gravesite, including having flowers in place.
“He was a man of this city. He showed people that, ‘I ain’t going to let nothing hold me back. I’m going on,’” Battle said.
Pittman has a downtown-based computer repair service business, called CoolGeeks, and earlier last week, he and those in the group met in person or virtually to prepare for the cleanup day.
Among those participating in the discussion were Battle, who is a community activist and who frequently speaks at City Council meetings, and Cederberg, who is sales manager at the Rocky Mount-based Jay Group, which is in the wholesale shoe business worldwide.
Also participating in the discussion were Steve Pridgen and his wife, Tracy.
Steve Pridgen is a U.S. Air Force veteran who is in the tire sales and service business. Tracy Pridgen has long been active in putting together and helping coordinate events in the Rocky Mount area.
Pittman said there are two purposes in having the community cleanup on Feb. 6: “One is to create access to the graves; the other one is to beautify the property so people can come there and see the rich history that the cemetery holds.”
Cederberg, when asked why he decided to become involved, said Battle and Pittman are his friends.
“And their community and their neighborhood and their ward is hurting, man,” Cederberg said. “This cemetery is actually indicative of the struggle these guys are going through on a daily basis.
“My neighborhood doesn’t need any help,” he said. “They need help. And this place right here is just a microcosm of what’s going on in the community as a whole.”
He said he “absolutely” hopes cleaning up Unity Cemetery will maybe help inspire cleaning up dilapidated properties in Rocky Mount.
Steve Pridgen said of the upcoming community cleanup at the cemetery, “It’s not a white thing. It’s not a Black thing. It’s the right thing.”
Tracy Pridgen’s mother, Alma Oglesby, died on Jan. 3 at the age of 87. Tracy Pridgen noted that she and the rest of her family buried her mother the day before she by coincidence was supposed to go to take a look at Unity Cemetery, which she did.
“And it broke my heart,” she said of what she saw. “These are our ancestors.”
As for her role in the preparations leading to the community cleanup, she said, “I’m an organizer. I’m the working bee, so I’m following their lead. This is their vision.”
Mayor Sandy Roberson said he is elated about what is occurring and added, “I think that we need to acknowledge the grassroots organizers who have really put some time into this — and really have made this an initiative.
“This is not a small task to give one’s efforts and one’s time to such a cause and I really do appreciate the work — the hard work — they’re putting into it and the communication they’re doing for it,” Roberson said.
The Nash County Board of Education voted at a special called meeting last week to approve a waiver that will allow some students in the class of 2021 to graduate with 22 credits rather than the 28 credits normally required by the school district.
The state of North Carolina only requires 22 credits to graduate. However, Nash County Public Schools requires an additional six elective credits to graduate.
The waiver was proposed as a way to offset some of the effects of COVID-19 on this academic year.
“Students have faced many challenges related to COVID-19. This waiver will allow principals the opportunity to work with seniors in their schools to ensure that equitable outcomes are present for all subgroups,” Chad Thompson, executive director of secondary education and CTE, said in his presentation to the board. “This request is similar to the mandate given by the N.C. State Board of Education and NCDPI for the class of 2020 last spring. Students will be required to complete all core area courses and exams successfully that are mandated by North Carolina legislation and the Future Ready Core curriculum.”
Nash County Superintendent Steve Ellis requested approval of the waiver from the board due to COVID-19 challenges.
School board member Ricky Jenkins said he did not feel comfortable with approving the waiver.
“I understand that these kids have gone through a lot — so has everyone,” he said. “But we pretty much gave them from March 13 till the end of school last year. I just feel that if we reduce this, it is not motivating the kids who have continued to do everything they were supposed to do. I just can’t support this knowing that a lot of kids have gotten up and gone to school everyday and turned in their work and then we are going to reward people with something like a participation trophy.”
Thompson said the resolution was unanimously supported by the high school principals in the district and would allow them to have flexibility in working with seniors who may be behind on their credits and having trouble making them up because of current circumstances.
Students still would have to complete all core courses in subject areas including English, math, science, social studies and health, Thompson said. The six additional credits that are required locally usually include subjects like the arts, physical education and career and technical education courses, he said.
School board member Lank Dunton asked how this would affect the equity of the district. Thompson said he felt it would be an equitable solution.
“I believe this is being done in good faith to help the child,” Thompson said. “I don’t think principals are looking for a way to penalize anyone. In this case, it is more to help the child because of circumstances.”
School board Chairman Franklin Lamm said he sees the need for the waiver.
“I agree with what Nash County Public Schools has done in requiring 28 credits to graduate, but I would have hated to have been a student this year and have gone through what they have gone through,” Lamm said. “Some students may have gotten behind and not had the chance to go through the credit recovery process like they would normally do. If 22 credits is all that is required by the state, it would be interesting to see how many other school districts require more, but we don’t have time for that. We need to worry about our own.”
In answer to questions from school board members about whether this decision would prompt some students to quit this semester, Thompson said that he did not feel that was likely as most students in this situation still had core subjects to complete in order to meet state graduation requirements.
Ellis said the situation is only affecting a few seniors.
“Most students will be graduating with 28 credits or more because they have been following the plan all along. You are only talking about a handful of kids who will be getting a 22-credit diploma,” he said.
“These students are ones who can’t get enough credits. Maybe they didn’t have a good freshman year, and usually they would have time to make up those credits. But with second semester last and this year affected by COVID, it has been hard for them to be able to make the credits up the way we normally do because the students can’t go to the buildings for the sessions we normally have,” Ellis added.
Ellis said he estimates that this situation will only affect about 20 to 30 students in the district.
School board member Evelyn Bulluck said she feels that the local requirement for 28 credits is meant to be applied under normal circumstances.
“But we are not living under normal circumstances right now,” she said. “We are not talking about making this change permanent. We owe it to our students to do all we can do to make them successful.”
The measure passed by a vote of 9-2 with Dean Edwards and Jenkins opposing the motion.
The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in the Twin Counties has exceeded the 11,000 mark as the state Department of Health and Human Services just released a new county alert map Thursday that puts both Nash and Edgecombe counties in the critical COVID impact category.
The state’s county alert map assigns a color to each county based on its COVID metrics over the previous 14 days. According to the state DHHS website, the color of the state mostly is red now as almost all counties are in the red tier, which indicates critical impact.
There now are 86 red counties in the state, more than ever before. Another 13 counties are listed as orange counties, indicating substantial COVID impact. Only one county, Greene County, is listed in the yellow tier.
By comparison, the previous county alert from Jan. 6 showed 84 red counties, 12 orange counties and four yellow counties.
Edgecombe County is one of the counties that has turned red over the past two weeks. It has now moved back into the red tier as the 14-day positivity rate now is 10.5 percent. The COVID impact on hospitalizations in that county still is considered low. On the past two alerts, Edgecombe County was in the orange tier.
According to data from the state DHHS, the number of COVID cases in Edgecombe County has grown by 58 since Wednesday and as of Friday was at 3,825 cumulative cases of the coronavirus. The number of COVID-related Edgecombe County deaths stands at 88, though the county reported that total at 89 roughly two weeks ago before it stopped reporting COVID data.
Nash County remains in the red tier as it has been during the past two county alerts. The 14-day positivity rate in Nash County is listed as 12.2 percent. The COVID impact on hospitalizations in that county is considered moderate, according to that report.
Nash County Health Director Bill Hill Jr. said that COVID-related hospitalizations at Nash UNC Health Care had risen to the mid-50s over the past couple of weeks but have declined to the mid-40s since Wednesday. As of Friday, 45 patients were in the local hospital for COVID.
However, Hill said the number of patients in critical condition with COVID has not declined. Eight patients are in the COVID intensive care unit and five of those are on ventilators, Hill said Friday at a meeting of the Nash County COVID Response Team.
The number of cases of COVID still is rising significantly in Nash County, with 167 new cases reported since Wednesday. These additional cases bring the cumulative number of COVID cases as of Friday in Nash County to 7,359. The death toll in Nash County remains at 134.
The total number of COVID cases in the Twin Counties now is 11,184. Roughly 223 Twin County residents have died so far from COVID-related causes.
In the recent county alert report, state officials urged residents to get the COVID vaccine as soon as possible.
“All individuals should get the COVID-19 vaccine when it is their turn. Because vaccine supplies are still limited, you may have to wait your turn,” the state DHHS recommends.
Hill said Friday that the Nash County Health Department is all out of the first dose of the COVID vaccine.
“We administered about 100 vaccinations on Thursday and about another 240 today,” he said. “We have depleted our supply. However, we do have doses reserved for those who are due soon for their second dose of the vaccine.”
Hill said the county will be setting up at least two days of clinics later in the week to give out those second doses to the roughly 900 people who received the first dose early this month at a massive clinic held on the grounds of Nash Central High School.
Participants in that clinic will be informed this coming week by robocall of when those clinics will be held. Weather permitting, the vaccinations will be distributed at the same location as before.
Hill also said he is reaching out to Nash UNC Health Care officials to see if he can get access to more vaccine so that vaccinations can continue.
“According to the reports I have had from the state, the health department is not due to receive any more vaccine for first doses in this coming week,” he said.
Hill said the county already has a waiting list of more than 475 senior citizens who are eager to get the vaccine.
A local man is behind bars after police arrested him in connection with a recent report of shots fired in broad daylight into a residence along Braswell Street.
Brian Melendez, 25, is jailed under a $30,000 secured bond at the Nash County Detention Center on charges of feloniously discharging a weapon into an occupied dwelling and feloniously committing assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, authorities said and records show.
Melendez also is charged with committing misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon, records show.
Officers at 1:05 p.m. on Tuesday responded to the 300 block of Braswell, police Cpl. Ricky Jackson said.
The officers found out that Brandon Alcaraz had been sitting on the front porch when shots were fired from a dark sport utility vehicle and that projectiles had entered the residence, where two juveniles were located, Jackson said.
Alcaraz suffered a laceration as a result of broken glass, Jackson said.
The residence is in the immediate vicinity of the Falls Road Historic District.
Melendez was booked at 12:54 a.m. the day after the shooting, Nash County Chief Deputy Brandon Medina said.
Melendez had listed an address in the 100 block of Cane Drive, Medina said.
This is the second time in slightly more than two months that the Telegram has reported about shots having been fired at a residence in the 300 block of Braswell.
The newspaper on Nov. 17 reported that Detrell Mercer, 18, and Ronnie Shakeam Wallace, 24, were both charged with feloniously discharging a weapon into an occupied dwelling.
The newspaper reported that on the evening of Nov. 12, multiple rifle rounds were fired at that address and a woman, Cola Bradshaw, 28, was shot in one of her legs with an AR-15.
Mercer and Wallace also were charged with misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon and misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile.
Court records said Mercer and Wallace were charged with the latter offense because they allegedly encouraged, caused and aided the juvenile to commit assault with a deadly weapon.