Non-profit association serving the Hispanic community in the Charleston area
Patricia Jimenez dreamed of working in the media.
Growing up in Mexico, she was inspired by her godfather, a radio host, who used her platform to discuss important community issues.
Family obligations prevented Jimenez from achieving his goal of working professionally in broadcast journalism. But she now volunteers for multicultural group Art Pot, a small nonprofit, on a weekly social media show. The program, aimed at the Hispanic population of the Lowcountry, focuses on education, mental health and other topics.
Jimenez believes that she has, in a way, achieved her long-awaited ambition.
“My dream was to have these kinds of conversations and talk with the community,” she said. “The program helped me make my dream come true.
Despite the setbacks caused by the pandemic, Art Pot continues to serve the growing Hispanic population in the three counties. The nonprofit, founded in 2015 to serve the region’s underserved and diverse Spanish-speaking community, envisions new goals in 2022, including 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 was unable to pay rent on its small North Charleston apartment building on Reynolds Avenue, which housed a theater, courtyards and art exhibit space.
The loss of space was devastating. The facility had been a hub for the Hispanic population. Here, local young people discovered the world through art. They took painting, dance and theater lessons. The building housed discussions between law enforcement and community members, seeking to allay the fear many Hispanics had of the police.
There aren’t many, if any, Latin-focused spaces in the Lowcountry where people can come together to discuss the needs of the community, said Lydia Cotton, Art Pot board chair. .
“It was definitely a big loss,” she said. “We really grew up there. It was a very important place.
Now, the organization is keen to purchase a larger space that could serve as an Art Pot art and culture house, where the group could hold 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 main ways Art Pot has sought to serve the Spanish speaking population throughout the pandemic has been through two weekly social media shows. The first, ‘De Frente,’ was originally launched by Art Pot’s executive director Maribel Acosta to offer information about 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 on Fridays at 8 p.m. on the Art Pot Facebook page.
The program has evolved over time and Acosta now uses the series as a platform to discuss important topics, such as mental health and education. She sometimes conducts one-on-one interviews with guests, including medical professionals.
The other show is similar to ‘De Frente’, but is more community oriented. Entitled “Community Talks,” the show allows residents to have an open dialogue about ways the Hispanic community can improve, Cotton said. This program is broadcast on Wednesdays at 9 p.m., also from the association’s Facebook platform.
“We talk about the things we do wrong,” Acosta said. “We tell it like it is.”
The Latino population of the Lowcountry is increasing. Charleston County’s percentage of Hispanic population increased 55% between 2010 and 2020, according to the most recent census figures. The population now represents 7% of the total county population. Greater growth was seen in Berkeley and Dorchester counties, where the population grew by about 80% for each county.
Acosta hopes that Art Pot can meet the growing demand.
“As the community grows, the needs will increase at the same time,” Acosta said. “We definitely need more resources. “
COLLABORATE WITH OTHERS
One area where Art Pot plans to improve in 2022 is collaboration with other minority groups. The association took a step in that direction by working with the African-American neighborhood group Women of Change and Character to pick up trash in Liberty Hill, a historic black community founded by freedmen shortly after the Civil War.
Volunteers from both organizations joined in maintenance projects for the elderly. They repaired railings, repaired porch steps, and painted houses.
“Little things like this make a difference in the community,” said Jose Carmen Castillo Cordova, Art Pot board member.
Acosta said it’s important for Hispanics and African Americans to work together to address community issues, as the two groups share the fight to fight against people’s stigma.
The two groups also had difficult conversations. At a community meeting in November in Midland Park, Cotton spoke to 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 protests by various black-led activist groups demanding changes to the criminal justice system and an end to the killings of unarmed blacks by police officers.
While these issues are important, community protests are vulnerable spaces for undocumented migrants, Cotton said. So, it’s important for Art Pot to find other ways to advocate for change, she said.
“I believe something needs to be done to fix the problems, but there is a better way,” Cotton said. “I cannot put people on the front lines when they are 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 relations between Spanish speaking parents and schools. Many parents don’t know how to search for their children’s grades online or how to check emails for school messages, Cotton said. Art Pot plans to hold a workshop next year that will train parents in the use of these digital resources.