Rewriting Their Story: Meet the Residents of West Sugar Creek

Categories: General News

by Mae Israel

On a recent van tour of the Sugar Creek area and her Hidden Valley neighborhood, Marjorie Parker eagerly offered commentary about the community where she has lived for more than 47 years.

First, the van rolled through a longtime problem area off Sugar Creek Road and Reagan Drive near Interstate 85, passing a group of people loitering alongside the street. “I just wish the county would do something with mental health and substance abuse services.” 

As the van rumbled along streets in Hidden Valley, which has more than 5,000 houses, Parker noted the manicured lawns and neat homes. She pointed out a house she imagined might one day be her dream home. She talked of efforts to convince the news media to accurately describe where crime happens in the Sugar Creek area instead of generally naming Hidden Valley when crimes often occur outside the neighborhood.

Across from her home she pointed to a house that has been abandoned for two decades. She grumbled about several cluttered front yards nearby. “We are fighting, trying to get code enforcement to clean this up.”

“We’re into rebranding and yes, we have a long way to go,” Parker told the others in the van, participants in the Sugar Creek/I-85 Community Innovation Incubator initiative. “I remember what this neighborhood used to be.”

Parker, a retired records manager for the Charlotte Area Transit System, has been working for years to help strengthen and beautify Hidden Valley, a neighborhood that has been shaped by transitions.

It was initially an all-white neighborhood and transformed into a predominantly Black neighborhood after most white families left when Black families started buying houses there. Over the past decade, an increasing number of Latino families began moving into the neighborhood.

She is hopeful, Parker said, that the incubator initiative will lead to a physical space that “everybody can take advantage of.”

Since her election as president of the neighborhood association in 2022, membership has increased significantly and partnerships with the city and other organizations have resulted in renovations to a neighborhood park and other improvements. The neighborhood association is working with area developers to offer comments on planned projects.

Parker, the mother of three children, believes in the future of Hidden Valley. So does Merritt McCully, who has lived there a little over four years.

“A good variety of ages live here,” said McCully, director of the Mayfield Memorial Community Development Corporation (CDC). “Everyone is outside a lot. I like the location. It is close to the light rail. It is an older neighborhood with brick houses and big trees. There are cultural food options. There is an entrepreneurial spirit in the neighborhood.”

As he was starting graduate school in 2019, McCully found an apartment in Hidden Valley because it was convenient to UNC Charlotte and the light rail. A student fellowship led him to a position with Mayfield Memorial CDC, and by the time he received his master’s degree in public administration in 2022, he was named director of the church-sponsored organization.

Last year, the organization opened an affordable housing complex called Sugaree Place on Sugar Creek Road, adjacent to the church. It also operates Hola Neighbor, a program that employs four neighborhood residents as ambassadors to help Hidden Valley residents find needed services such as health care, food and housing assistance.

As a member of the Sugar Creek/I-85 incubator, McCully said he is hopeful communication improves between homeowners and residents who live in apartments. Last year, McCully bought a house in Hidden Valley. He didn’t look anywhere else.

Elena Peguero dreams of buying one there too.

Peguero, born in the Dominican Republic, arrived in Charlotte five years ago from France to live with a sister who had an apartment in Hidden Valley. Her sister later moved out of the neighborhood; she and her two-children remained.

Peguero worked as a trucking dispatcher and in other jobs until she was hired as an ambassador for the Hola Neighbor program operated by the Mayfield Memorial CDC.

“I feel like I am the bridge between the different cultures,” she said. “I can get information from one side and send information to the other side. I can try to bring everybody together, like a family.”

She added,” Everybody wants the same thing. We want a safe neighborhood. We are human beings from different cultures, born in different places.”

Odell Witherspoon, a retired finance manager who has lived in Hidden Valley for 50 years, agrees that the language barrier and misunderstandings are challenging for the neighborhood.

He spends much of his time as a community volunteer. He serves as the chairman of the Hidden Valley Community Development Corporation and as community services chairperson of the Hidden Valley Optimist Club.

“I think the whole incubator concept is a significant plus for the neighborhood,” he said. “I am optimistic.”