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‘It’s way bigger than a school’: Why a group of passionate E.E. Smith alumni are fighting to ‘save our Smith’


The golden bull on LaVar Wright’s E.E. Smith High School baseball cap seemed to be watching on as a dozen people gathered Thursday night to discuss his alma mater’s fate.

E.E. Smith, a historically Black high school located at 1800 Seabrook Road in the Murchison Road area of Fayetteville, has been at the center of a heated debate in recent weeks as Cumberland County and the school board tackle the school’s future. Cumberland County Schools officials have said the high school is outdated and must be relocated to a larger plot of land to better serve students’ needs. Many alumni and community members argue the school is the heart of the Seabrook and Broadell neighborhoods and question why the school can’t remain in the area it has served since 1954. 

Tensions came to a head last month during a Jan. 11 school board meeting, with the board ultimately voting 5-3 to present a proposed site at Stryker Golf Course on Fort Liberty to the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners. Board members Carrie Sutton and Judy Musgrave spoke in strong opposition to the site, voicing concerns about the school being on federal property and leaving its beloved neighborhood. 

Associate Superintendent of Auxiliary Services Kevin Coleman told CityView that out of eight sites considered by school officials, engineers found Stryker Golf Course to be the only viable site. He said the boundaries for Fort Liberty would be changed so the site would not be on federal property to mitigate access concerns for families with potential criminal histories. 

County commissioners have yet to discuss the Stryker site, though community members expect they’ll do so during one of their two scheduled March meetings. That’s why Wright, a 1995 graduate and member of the board of the National Association of E.E. Smith Alumni and Friends, decided this week to take action, creating a Facebook event to invite people to meet to talk about their feelings on the potential relocation and create an action plan. 

Though the room Thursday wasn’t full of people, it was full of passion as Smith supporters met at the Murchison Road headquarters of The Group Theory Inc., a local nonprofit focusing on education and community violence prevention. 

“Terry Sanford [High School] is just as old, but it’s not rundown, because they kept it up. We have not had administrators that cared about keeping the building up,” said Sharon McDonald Evans, a 1984 graduate of Smith who is also a member of the national board. “They’re getting what they want, and that’s a dismantling of E.E. Smith High School. E.E. Smith is one of the few high schools remaining in the state of North Carolina that was historically Black, still historically Black, and some people have a problem with that.” 

Alumni questioned why a new facility could not be built at the Seabrook Road site. Coleman told CityView last month the 27-acre plot is too small, which he said negatively affects Smith’s ability to host athletic events and extracurricular offerings.

“So what I’m hearing is a ‘Save our Smith’ campaign,” said Kevin Brooks, founder of The Group Theory Inc.

Brooks is not a Smith alum but said he has seen the school’s strong community ties and the impact of its legacy. 

“The school itself is the heartbeat, the pulse,” Wright said. “It’s exactly why this area has been so successful for so long. You pull that school out of that neighborhood, it’s already suffering, underwater. That neighborhood goes away. So what happens when that neighborhood dies?” 

Wright said he isn’t fighting to preserve the building itself — his focus is E.E. Smith’s location. 

“It’s way bigger than a school,” he said.

He plans to encourage alumni and other concerned community members to attend upcoming county board of commissioners’ meetings and speak out. 

“I was sneaking into reunions when I was 10, going to football games when you couldn’t even see over the fence,” said Wright, who noted his mother and uncle each attended Smith. “This is bigger … It’s about all the history that all of us in this room have experienced. It’s about all the greats that have come down those hallways.” 

And though Wright and his fellow alumni are prepared to do battle with the county and the school board, they know the fight started long before them, he said. 

“This community has been thriving. It has been mistreated for longer than all of us have been alive. And this is just another way to step on our necks,” he said. “Once they move it — I understand it’s gonna probably happen. And I’m OK with that. But once they move it, they will know they had to fight tooth and nail to get it.”

Reporter Lexi Solomon can be reached at lsolomon@cityviewnc.com or 910-423-6500.

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Cumberland County schools, E.E. Smith High School, local government, Fayetteville