Patricia Jimenez dreamed of working in media.
Growing up in Mexico, she was inspired by her godfather, a radio broadcaster, who used his platform to discuss important community issues.
Family obligations prevented Jimenez from reaching her goal of working professionally in broadcast journalism. But she now volunteers with the Art Pot Multicultural Group, a small nonprofit, on a weekly social media broadcast. The program, geared toward the Lowcountry’s Hispanic population, focuses on education, mental health and other topics.
Jimenez feels she has, in a way, achieved her long-awaited ambition.
“My dream was to have those types of conversations and talk with the community,” she said. “The program helped to achieve my dream.”
Despite the setbacks brought on by the pandemic, Art Pot continues to serve the tri-county’s growing Hispanic population. The nonprofit, founded in 2015 to serve the area’s underserved and diverse Spanish-speaking community, is eyeing new goals in 2022 that include building better relationships with African American organizations to improve local neighborhoods and bridging the gap between Hispanic parents and local schools.
Like many nonprofits, Art Pot struggled financially during the pandemic. The organization couldn’t keep up with rent payments for its small North Charleston building off Reynolds Avenue, which housed a theater, classes and an art exhibit space.
Losing the space was devastating. The facility had been a hub for the Hispanic population. Here, local youth learned about the world through art. They took classes on painting, dance and theater. The building housed discussions between law enforcement and community members, seeking to dispel the fear that many Hispanics had toward police officers.
There aren’t many, if any at all, Latin-focused spaces in the Lowcountry where people can come together to discuss community needs, Art Pot board Chairwoman Lydia Cotton said.
“That definitely was a big loss,” she said. “We really were growing there. It was a very important place.”
Now, the organization wants to purchase a larger space that could serve as the Art Pot Art and Culture Home, where the group could host neighborhood conversations and workshops.
“At this point, our dream is to have our own space again,” she said. “But, we want to own it.”
REACHING THE COMMUNITY
One of the primary ways Art Pot has sought to serve the Spanish-speaking population throughout the pandemic has been through two weekly social media broadcasts. The first, “De Frente,” was initially started by Art Pot Executive Director Maribel Acosta to offer information on COVID-19, such as where viewers could get tested. Acosta records the program with an iPhone from her North Charleston home, at her kitchen table. The show airs at 8 p.m. Fridays on Art Pot’s Facebook page.
The program evolved over time and now Acosta uses the series as a platform for discussing important topics, such as mental health and education. She sometimes conducts one-on-one interviews with guests, including health care professionals.
The other broadcast is similar to “De Frente,” but is more community-oriented. Entitled “Community Talks,” the show allows residents to have open dialogue about ways the Hispanic community can improve, Cotton said. That program airs at 9 p.m. Wednesdays, also from the nonprofit’s Facebook platform.
“We talk about the things we’re doing wrong,” Acosta said. “We tell it like it is.”
The Lowcountry’s Latino population is growing. The percentage of Charleston County’s Hispanic population grew by 55% between 2010 and 2020, according to the most recent census numbers. The population now makes up 7% of the county’s total population. Larger growth was seen in Berkeley and Dorchester counties, where the population grew by some 80% for each county.
Acosta is hoping Art Pot can keep up with rising demand.
“As the community grows, the needs are going to grow at the same time,” Acosta said. “We definitely need more resources.”
COLLABORATING WITH OTHERS
One area where Art Pot plans to improve in 2022 is in collaborating with other minority groups. The nonprofit has taken a step in that direction by collaborating with African American neighborhood group Women of Change and Character to pick up litter in Liberty Hill, a historic Black community founded by freedmen shortly after the Civil War.
Volunteers from both organizations have partnered on maintenance projects for seniors. They’ve fixed handrails, repaired porch steps and painted homes.
“Small stuff like that makes a difference in the community,” said Jose Carmen Castillo Cordova, an Art Pot board member.
Acosta said it’s important for Hispanics and African Americans to work together in addressing community issues because both groups share the struggle of dealing with people’s prejudices.
The two groups have also had some difficult conversations. At a November community meeting in Midland Park, Cotton spoke with Women of Change and Character about the challenges that prevent Hispanics from participating alongside African Americans in protests against police brutality.
Last year, the Lowcountry saw a handful of demonstrations organized by various Black-led activist groups demanding changes to the criminal justice system and an end to killings of unarmed Black people by police officers.
Though these issues are important, community protests are vulnerable spaces for undocumented immigrants, Cotton said. Thus, it’s important for Art Pot to find other ways to advocate for change, she said.
“I believe in doing something about the issues, but there’s a better way,” Cotton said. “I can’t put people on the front lines when they’re not even citizens.”
Candy Dozier Johnson said the collaboration between Art Pot and Women of Change and Character is an example of God’s unconditional love, which transcends race, she said.
Art Pot also wants to improve relationships between Spanish-speaking parents and schools. Many parents don’t know how to look up their children’s grades online or how to check emails for messages from the schools, Cotton said. Art Pot plans to have a workshop next year that will train parents on how to use these digital resources.
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