Latonya Gamble and the East Side Community Development Corporation (ECDC) are Charleston Peninsula Black History in the making. Gamble, born and raised on the East Side, is president of the ECDC and advocates for her community and neighbors through their programs.
Ace: Are you from the Charleston Peninsula? If so, which part(s).
Latonya: I am from the East Side of Charleston, and I’m off The Projects. The Housing Authority as we affectionately call it.
Ace: Have you lived on the East Side your whole life?
Latonya: I like to think that I’ve lived on the East Side the vast majority of my life. I did go away for school, got married, stayed away for about 10-15 years and came back. I guess I’m a diehard East Sider.
Ace: What are some things that happened on the East Side that some residents may not know about?
Latonya: Septima Clark taught at the Archer Building. Philip Simmons Museum is a wonderful addition to our community, and I wish we had funds to fix the front building, and to add plaque in front of all the places to let them know our rich history.
Ace: How has the East Side changed since you were growing up?
Latonya: It has changed a lot. There was more crime, more empty buildings, and buildings in ill-repair. Our parks were taken over by the criminals. Right now, what I’m proud of is that our homeowners stayed through it. It’s unfortunate when the neighborhood is starting to improve, most of the homeowners will either have to sell or probably lose their property–because of the events of COVID. But I do know that we’re a very resilient community.
Ace: Who do you consider to be East Side legends, and why?
Latonya: Ms. Alice Flowers – “Ms. Eastside” She has documented all of the East Side school’s history through pictures and words. She’s a long-time member of the community– 78 years in the same location, and she is a retired teacher. Ms. Flowers is the founder of the ECDC summer enrichment program. Joseph Watson has the oldest Sweet Shop called Miss Mary’s Sweet Shop. People come from all over the world to visit. In 2019, the Amherst Mini Park was named after his mother Ms. Mary. Joseph has a documentary based on his life called America Street. He is our local historian, and is passionate about the East Side community. Mr. Lonnie Singleton — I enjoy how he remembers the neighborhood. Lela Belle Davis is 93 years-old, and worked in the Cigar Factory. I love hearing her tell the story. She also helps cook for our seniors. Mr. Oscar Rivers Sr. will be 103 this year, and has been a mentor to countless young men in the community as one of the Original Parlor Boys. He taught men how to be men. The Parlor is located on Aiken Street. Ms. Victoria Milligan is 89-years-old, and has lived in the same location since she was 4. She has helped ECDC with several programs.
Ace: Tell me more about ECDC and your current programs.
Latonya: The Eastside Community Development Corporation is a small non-profit and neighborhood association. Right now our focus is getting the resources or bridging the gap within the digital divide. We noticed the children are stressed out and looking at so many computers with the Zoom meetings. We realize they’ve fallen behind, and the parents are stressed out as well. We thought the Black History Month Art Project would be something we could do safely and socially distanced, to release some of the stress–as well as an opportunity to learn about their history.
Ace: How are ECDC’s programs inspiring the Black community?
Latonya: While we want to help, we want to empower our community to do the things that they need for themselves. We feel that this is our new normal. Computers are here to stay. We’re going to need to have access to Wi-Fi, which is why we feel our Internet Café is the way to go for right now until things improve. We’re glad to see others following suit and offering the same things. As we’re a small organization, we can’t do it all for everybody–but we will do the best we can for as long as we can.
Ace: What advice would you give Black youth looking to pursue a career in community development and/or get involved in the community?
Latonya: Honestly…education, education, education! When I say education, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to go to college. Whatever your passion is, whether it be a mechanic, hair-dresser, I.T–or maybe it is your aspiration to go to college; but make sure you’re the best at what you do. Always invest in whatever you say you want to do. Knowledge is power. I know right now as we’re in a pandemic, and children are falling far behind–it seems like a big feat to try and overcome. Stay focused. Write down your goals. Nobody cares how long it takes you to get there, they just want to know that you got there.