A few months ago a man with a big smile walked into the bookstore with a copy of a coloring book he wanted us to carry. It was titled “Wilmington NC in Color: African-American Historical Buildings Coloring Book For the Community, By the Community.” Cedric Harrison is the executive director of Support the Port—a foundation that wants to cultivate community ownership and excellence for its residents via arts, philanthropy and scholarships. The more we talked, the more amazed I became with the list of projects he worked on and the impact he has on the world.
“Do you sleep?” I finally blurted.
He flashed his heart-melting smile and commented something about a few hours the night before. He was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to tell encore readers a little about Support the Port and its work.
encore (e): When did Support the Port start?
Cedric Harrison (CH): Support the Port was incorporated on October. 28, 2015.
e: Where did you first get the idea and what was the first step you took with it?
CH: I first got the idea to start Support the Port because I wanted to give back to Wilmington—where I grew up. I saw violence and other activities I wasn’t comfortable seeing. [With] all the love I have for my city, and those who poured [love] into me, I wanted to contribute as well.
Basically, I saw a need and wanted to fill it. From there my first attempt to give back was the 2012 “Stop The Violence” scholarship. I was raised in the YWCA and the Community Boys and Girls Club, so I know from personal experience how community programming can be beneficial. A lot of my inspiration came from the time I spent in Atlanta, doing community work there. However the main thing that pushed me to jump the cliff and start this movement was a Facebook post I saw, with some guys that were posting signs around Chicago, to help stop the violence. I saw it and immediately said, ‘I’m doing this for Wilmington.’ I called a bunch of printing shops around town, and found out the signs cost more than I thought they would. So I reached out to some businesses in the community for sponsorship and ended up having the funds to get the signs a week later. It went from “Stop the Violence” signs posted at memorials (of people who died due to violence), to signs being posted in business windows and residential front yards.
e: Tell us about the coloring book. Some drawings include the James Drawborn Sampson House, Williston High School, St. Stephen African Methodist Episcopal Church, and The Wilmington Daily Record (which was burned during the 1898 Wilmington Riots). Who chose the drawings and how did the book come to fruition?
CH: The coloring book came from my frustration when I found out about Wilmington’s rich African-American heritage at the age of 20-plus. I questioned why I didn’t learn about the information while growing up. So I thought long and hard on how could I get this information in the faces of the younger generation.
One day, at my job in DC, I found a coloring book about the history of the military; a light bulb went off in my head and I said, ‘That’s it—a coloring book about the African-American history of Wilmington is what I will do.”
e: Did you select the designs or did the students? How did you choose who to work with?
CH: After I picked the designs, I realized I didn’t know how to draw that well, so I reached out to an amazing artist, who also is a great friend and community partner of mine, Dr. Janna Siegel Robertson (professor at UNCW). I approached her with my situation, while she was at the “Mural of DREAMS,” which she created in the northside at DREAMS of Wilmington, on my side of town. While she was there, another friend and community partner was with her, Mrs. Felts (teacher at New Hanover High School). Basically, I asked Dr. Janna to help with the illustrations and she didn’t think that would be a good idea—her being a white lady and all. So Mrs. Felts suggested we could utilize [students] that she would be working with over the summer to make learning history a part of their curriculum. So we did just that, and the coloring book became a summer project for a group of 8th-grade kids who were preparing for high school.
e: What surprised you the most about the process?
CH: The biggest surprise was when they made it the curriculum for the summer program; that’s when I became a little more passionate to see where else it could go.
e: Tell us about “Queen for a Queen”—the program with Jaron Goodson, owner of The Good Sleep Mattress Co. You guys provide a queen-size bed for people moving out of the Domestic Violence Shelter and into a new home.
CH: I came up with Queen for a Queen after Mr. Goodson and I had a conversation about how he liked the work I was doing in Wilmington and [asked] if I could think of any way to get his mattress company involved. So, I thought for awhile about who had tough sleeping conditions; then I had a friend who was talking to me about some old domestic violence issues from their past and that was when it hit me.
e: How many beds have been donated thus far?
CH: Only three beds have been provided at this time. However, we are looking for resources to expand to provide 20 more.
e: Where do you want Support the Port to be in five years?
CH: In our own office location, with a full-time staff, creating and implementing projects and events throughout Wilmington.
Increase in merchandise sales: I want Support the Port to be one of the biggest nonprofit names/brands you see and hear about in Wilmington. I want us to be in a league of our own when it comes to the work we do and how we execute.
e: What do you wish people knew about the work you do?
CH: I started Support the Port with limited funds. It is a grassroots organization, and I’m still learning as I grow. I’m seeking to make it a full-time endeavor and need financial support.
I also wish people knew some of the testimonies and glory stories that we have heard and/or witnessed from individuals that have benefitted from the work.
For example, people were hired during our Fresh Chance Friday event [a career development program, which pairs prospective employers with prospective employees]. Also, businesses told me they found some of their best employees during the event.
e: What is coming up that the public can participate in (book drive, toy drive, etc.)?
CH: We have the following events and projects:
So Fresh and So Clean Saturday: Helping the Homeless—Sat., Nov. 18, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m., at Lake Forest Church (1626 Lake Branch Dr.) by Greenfield Lake. Support The Port Foundation, Inc will be helping Vigilant Hope feed, clean and clothe the homeless. We are asking for helping hands for a day of execution, and to donate items to the street store. At noon we will serve lunch and then after, we will provide a to-go bag filled with toiletry items.
We are also looking for barbers in the area to help us with cutting hair for the men. We hope to shine light on their issues and find solutions to their problems as this event takes place.
Soul Session Sundays—Held at 2nd Base Lounge, 255 N. Front St., will be Sun., Nov. 19, 6:30 p.m.- 10 p.m. Support the Port Foundation and Soul Society will hold a concert with community and student performances. Attendees will be able to network, enjoy live music, food, and drinks. Entry is $8.
Turkey Bowl Tuesday—Tues., Nov. 21, 11 a.m.-12 p.m., at Morning Glory Coffee House, 1415 Dawson St. Support the Port and On Da Edge Barbershop, along with others, will give away free turkeys to ILM families. (Only one turkey per household. If you would like to volunteer or donate turkeys please email HolidayHope@SupportThePort.com.)
We are collecting blankets, winter clothes and can goods for the less fortunate. You can drop them off at the following locations:
The Little Gym of Wilmington at 132 Racine Dr. #1.
Cape Fear Community College (Downtown location) in the Nixon Minority Male Leaders Center at Union Station building, room 152.
New Covenant Holiness Church at 1020 Dawson St.
We are looking for more locations and businesses to partner with this holiday season, too.