Column: Making the case for rural communities


It is unusual for me to publish anything in The Sumter Item. However, I believe this writing will benefit the rural community, which I am honored and pledged to serve.

But before I get to that, I think some background is important.

I am a fourth-generation product of Rembert, South Carolina, where my mother, Annie Geneva Dennis Washington (teacher), was born and raised. I was born at Tuomey Hospital. I live on family land in Rembert which has been owned for generations. My mother and father (Jesse Washington Sr., teacher, assistant principal, principal) both retired from Sumter School District with over 35 years of service. My uncle, the Rev. Otis Scott Sr. (county councilman, District 1) and my aunt, Mrs. Wilhemenia Scott, were also retired educators from Sumter School District. My aunt, Mrs. Elizabeth Miller, was yet another retired teacher from Sumter School District. My first cousins, Mr. and Mrs. Robert (Myrtle) Johnson, are additional retirees of Sumter School District. My brother the Rev. Jesse Washington Jr. taught at Bates Middle School before he was drafted to serve in Vietnam. My sister-in-law, Mrs. Mae Helen Washington, and first cousin Mrs. Linda Norwood also both taught in Sumter School District.

The point is, like my family, most rural citizens have a vested background and history in Sumter County. Unfortunately, they have been left out of conversations, plans, collaborations and yes, decisions that affect us all, yet they are expected to just go along.

Those times have passed.

Rural schools play a crucial role in meeting the unique needs of local communities. They are more than just centers for learning; they are important for promoting social cohesion and preserving community identity. Rural communities with schools have a larger percentage of households with self-employment income, higher property values and a stronger middle class. (Lynson)

I am particularly interested in making sure rural schools thrive. Rural schools are critical economic development stimulants for rural community development. Rural schools encourage young families to locate in rural areas, build/buy homes, and businesses subsequently follow. As a result, Sumter's economic footprint expands. I will not support anything that removes economic development opportunities from rural areas.

Rural citizens are the backbone of Sumter County. Their remarkable contribution is attributable to the fact that most rural residents are multigenerational land- and homeowners. Their contribution to the county's stability cannot be understated.

I was elected by District 1 to make sure the rural voice is heard and to ensure that we are at the table and not on the menu.

Now that background is established, I want rural citizens to know that I recently met with Greg Thompson at his request. He expressed that we are both active leaders in the Sumter community and should try to work together to move Sumter County forward. Obviously, that could be important to rural communities with all the conversations about closing schools, buying schools, new schools and charter schools.

Conversation is important, especially when all stakeholders are a part of the conversation. It is also important because boundaries and limitations can be established. With that in mind, there may also be opportunities.

We will see.

I plan to meet with all parties (Liberty STEAM Charter School, Wilson Hall and Sumter School District) over the next few weeks. Subsequent to those meetings, I will schedule rural community meetings to get input and guidance from leaders. If the opportunity for rural areas is apparent, we will process those opportunities appropriately. If opportunities are not there, we reserve the right to oppose anything that negatively affects rural communities.

One thing is for sure, rural communities are engaged and focused on directing their future and not having decisions made for them.

I also want to be clear about our Superintendent, Dr. William Wright Jr.

I support the work he is doing, and with the support of all stakeholders, we can be even more on track to do great things. That means supporting Sumter School District in all areas, including financially.

My association with the Sumter Branch NAACP has been mentioned by The Sumter Item on several occasions. To be accurate, not only am I a member of the Sumter Branch NAACP and its Executive Committee, but I am also a Life member of the NAACP. My parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, other family members and myself proudly preserve our membership with the NAACP, which continues to make a difference in our community. The historic and continued work of the NAACP allows many of us to navigate in spaces today that were traditionally blocked. While issues and circumstances may shift, organizations that seek transparency, equality and justice remain consistent and their value constant.

The points that I have laid out are nothing new for those who know me, but for those who do not, I hope my comments here help you to better understand me and the great people I represent.

In my core, I believe the one thing we all have in common is that we all want the best for our community.

Carlton Washington serves as a Sumter County councilman, representing District 1.