How I Really Feel About Lynchburg

This is gonna be fun.

I've been wanting to write something like this for a while. Maybe I was nervous about the tone that it'd be received in, because I already know that there will probably be a group of native Lynchburgers that may disagree with some of my opinions. 

Here, I'll say that again. OPINIONS.

I split this into three phrases. Here's hoping that it makes sense.

Phase One: The Tale of Two Cities

When I first heard of Lynchburg, it was because of Liberty University. If Liberty University was in a differently named town, that’d be one thing. Alas, it was in Lynchburg. As in “lynch”. As in a very awkward name for a town to a young black high school graduate from Newark, NJ. I learned that the town gets its name from John Lynch, who established a ferry service on the James River, but pardon me if the first thing I thought of was scenes from “A Time to Kill” and “Mississippi Burning”. Ignorant, I know.

My first few years in Lynchburg were strictly limited by the boundaries of Candler’s Mountain Road and Wards Road. That was all I knew because that was all I had access to, as a kid without a car. Back in those days, the main area of attraction was the local dollar movie theater and Wal-Mart, all of which was in walking distance. I spent a lot of time within the “Liberty Bubble”, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I was surrounded by really nice people and a lot of ultimate Frisbee. There were a lot of guitars and people walking around, holding hands and whatnot. The air was wonderfully clear, the skies were blue, and the mountains constantly sang Third Day songs. I didn’t know enough to search for anything else; all I knew was what was in front of me. At that point, Liberty University = Lynchburg.

Once I graduated and got an apartment off-campus, I found that there was a lot more to Lynchburg than I originally thought. There were actual people here, people who lived independent of Liberty’s presence. There was a culture and a history that existed in this town. There were mountains and creeks and streets and record stores. There were musicians and dancers. Interestingly enough, to me, there were those who loved and supported the mission and the vision of Jerry Falwell’s university, and there were those who did not.

And that’s putting it nicely.

Phase Two: Being Stuck

It was one thing to become aware of the people and culture in this town. But after spending my entire life in a metropolitan city like Newark, NJ, Lynchburg was miles away, metaphorically, literally and socially. Granted, I didn’t know a lot about Lynchburg upon discovering it. I was pleasantly surprised at the things that I learned about this small town. Yet, no matter how many little coffee houses or photogenic scenes I encountered, it was not home.

When looking at it that way, compared to Newark, putting it bluntly, LYNCHBURG SUCKED.

There was no conceivable night life. To my knowledge, there wasn’t any type of attractive culture to explore or take part in. The Latino community was considerably under-represented.  I found even less of a West Indian presence, which is my cultural background. Back home, there were too many people and always something happening. There was always something going on, whether it be street musicians on Broad and Market, free jazz concerts at NJPAC, or any of the dozens of open mics and slam poetry nights during any given week. And if you still wanted more, let us not forget that New York City was a mere 30 minute subway ride.

Lynchburg was nothing like this.

It made me thirst for something different. I remember actively planning to leave, maybe move to DC after completing my undergraduate internship. I had to get out of here and find something more exciting. I wanted to be in a place that was already popping, that already had an identifiable identity.

It was here that I joined the throes of individuals singing the chorus of “There’s Nothing To Do In Lynchburg”.

It was particularly easy to sing this song, especially after growing up in a place where excitement, entertainment and multiculturalism was so commonplace. All of these things were easy to find back home, because it made itself present. I didn’t have to do any work to find it or be exposed to it. For better or worse, back home, it was always there. Not in Lynchburg, though. Who knew what these people did for fun? What ideas were specifically Lynchburgean? (Lynchburger-ish? Lynchburger-esque?) Why would anyone stay here? THIS PLACE SUCKED, and there was nothing anyone could do to change it.

I was getting stuck.

Phase 3: Climbing Out a.k.a. The Lynchburg Redemption

Before getting married, both my wife and I had the plan of leaving Lynchburg once we felt led by God.

All the semantics and personal grudges aside, moving wasn’t the kind of thing that we felt we could just get up and do. We needed to be ready. In my eyes, when we started to have kids, I wanted to raise them in a place where they could interact with different kinds of people, where they could experience a menagerie of cultures and sounds and histories.

As long as that place wasn’t Lynchburg, I was good.

However, personally speaking, I have a history of getting restless. I’m always looking for some trouble to get into. I remember, while working on-campus, I become entranced with the idea of freestyle cyphers. Thus began “Underground 2.0”, which quite simply was comprised of a couple of hip-hop heads who got together every other week or so to enjoy some beats to freestyle to. For a few semesters, I worked really hard at getting the word out and attracting like-minded individuals, while finding new converts along the way. I made some new friends, and learned a bit about the under-current culture of Liberty and how Lynchburg interacts with it.

Not too long after that, my employer on-campus gave me the opportunity to plan and execute an event that paid homage to the decade of the Harlem Renaissance of the early 20th century. This was an exciting venture, as it gave me an excuse to search for amazing artists with a respect for the culture and history of African-American creatives. It also gave me a reason to dig into Lynchburg’s history, which was when I learned of Anne Spencer, Lynchburg’s own Harlem Renaissance poet.

This lit a fire under me. I wanted to keep doing, keep learning. I found that there was a lot of history in this area, and enough fertile ground to create newer relationships. I wanted to find people who felt the same way, people who wanted to change things.

It’s not easy operating when you feel as if you are by yourself. I began to slip into feeling stuck again, even outside of the Liberty bubble. I thought for a while that moves couldn’t be made if I didn’t belong to a certain cultural format (“the hipster crowd”) or political affiliation. It was too exclusive, I thought. My attempts were not always fruitful, which was discouraging…

…Until things became clearer to me. I don’t remember working this hard for something that I wasn’t being graded on or paid for. It was weird, but I liked the idea of creating something, based solely on it being a pursuit of the heart. I loved the thought of engaging people to thinking differently, bringing people together who wouldn’t typically get together under normal circumstances. Who said I needed permission, or some unspoken group membership? Why not just make a move?

More than anything else, I feel a conflicting sense of anxious contentment towards Lynchburg. My wife and I have a little girl now, and for all intents and purposes, she doesn’t seem to mind being here. Where I used to itch – literally itch – with the idea of potentially leaving and bidding this place adieu, I now have the mindset that you make the world you want to live in. This utopia that is supposed to be the American dream was both destroyed and rebuilt during my time in Lynchburg, and I have a lot more to learn about this town as a continue this journey. It is quite the tangible dream, if I decide that it’s worth it to pursue it.

My dream? To play a major role in illuminating the world of creative and performing arts to young people.

If that happens to be in Lynchburg, then so be it.