Letter: Diversity made Kent’s South End business savvy

Nearly a dozen Kent residents and Mayor Jerry Fiala gathered in front of Plum Creek Park on July 3 to commemorate the marking of Kent’s South End as a historic district. The author is on the right. Carter Eugene Adams/The Portager

Ben, as publisher of The Portager I am sure you remember an article Historian Emeritus Roger Di Paolo wrote: Why Kent’s South End is first in diversity?

Well here is the reason he and I and other descendants of those pioneers mentioned in the article are proud of the neighborhood’s diversity. Our great grandparents overcame stereotype, marginalization and economic adversity and made all of these conditions work for our community.

This is my thought as I reflect on Black History Month coming up, and I would like to share in The Portager.

We are proud of Kent’s Historic South End’s diversity, its unique racial and ethnic cultures that struggled for individual acceptance and viability but still could come together to develop businesses with few, if any, financial options. This neighborhood contributions over decades have benefited the overall city of Kent, in spite of the individuals and businesses who could have invested in it but didn’t or wouldn’t, in part due to prejudiced perceptions toward the South End, often referred to with a derogatory spin as the “flats.”

Recently, I saw a plaque created apparently by several of the Baby Boomer generation residents who formed a committee years ago. It displayed the names of several older neighborhood businesses. Whatever the reason for its design, it spoke volumes about much of the diversity of our old businesses. In just a five-block radius starting on Franklin Avenue, on each corner you could run into either a German-owned meat butcher, an Irish-owned grocery store, an Italian-owned wine market, an African American-owned dry cleaners, and a Polish-owned gas station, just to mention a few of the neighborhood businesses all serving, existing and operating together at various chapters in the 150-plus-year history of this multi-cultural neighborhood!

We continue to encourage business development in this vibrant community.

In 2023, we are still a diverse neighborhood with current businesses. There are African-American, Chinese and authentic Mexican restaurants on Cherry Street, along with several fast food chains and miscellaneous machine shops, etc. We have proven that this 186-year-old neighborhood documented on county records is sustainable.

And, sadly, yes, the struggle to overcome racial and ethnic prejudice continues.

Doria Daniels, Chairwoman
Historic South End Association

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