Welcome to Raleigh, Y’all

March 27, 2018

In my last days in Raleigh, I came across a sign. It said, “home is a feeling.” I gathered the words from that sign and held them close.

The first time I met Raleigh was in September of 2016. I remember feeling delight at the trees and the porches. The trees said, “hello yes, there is room to breathe here,” and the porches cried, “come spend time hanging with some good people.”

When 2018 rolled around, and I needed to move to a place more affordable and more easygoing than DC, I chose Raleigh. (I had pretty strong help making this decision through the immense persuasive and logistical powers of one Nicholas Sailer). And Raleigh welcomed me in.

My three months there were a constant flow of wonder. Raleigh isn’t charming like Asheville or Charleston and it’s not bursting with activity like New York or San Francisco, and it doesn’t have a big river, or ocean, or mountains like Boulder or Nashville. But Raleigh has its own magic, magic that draws twelve more people to move to the city each day.

Every person has their own truth about a place. The truth I discovered about Raleigh came through hundreds of small, significant interactions:

“I had the option to leave but I chose to stay in Raleigh because I can play a role in how this city grows. There’s nowhere else where I could be part of the social fabric the way I am here.”
“I came back to Raleigh because I was ready to put down roots in a place that wants me here.”
“Right now I’m in DC, exploring what there is, but I want to move back to Raleigh — the place has given a lot to me, and I want to give back.”
“My effort matters here. I can fight tooth and nail to succeed in the Bay Area, or I can choose to build my dream in a place that welcomes it.”
“Raleigh is about collaboration — we are lifting each other’s boats as the tide rises.”

The theme I heard, over and over, was Raleigh is a place where people feel welcome and valuable. Where it is easier to figure out how to belong and contribute. Where a dream is within reach.

This last piece, about dreams within reach, was visible across the city. I knew the dreamer behind almost every coffeeshop / bakery / restaurant / bookstore / art gallery / whatever I spent time in. On Monday I’d find out about the raw food joint founder’s plans to expand, and on Wednesday I’d hear that business was slow but looking to pick up from the pharmacy-café-concept’s owner and on Saturday I’d learn the founding vision of the guy behind a local media company. I felt connected to the city’s fabric.

I think more than anything, what struck me most was the sense from everyone that “we have time for you.” I got connected to lots of busy people, and each of them shared time with me with a sense of ease and generosity that felt foreign after the self-inflated hustle of DC. At the quotidian level, the people behind the counter made time for conversation and banter and relationships with me. The guys at Raleigh Raw and I mocked up the pilot episode of a philosophical podcast. The ladies at Videri gave me a crash course on the art of chocolate, and the guys at Videri made me laugh more times than I can count. The ladies at Escazu brainstormed business ideas with me and lent me a laptop in a tech emergency.

These micro-moments add up. They add up to the words, “home is a feeling.”

As I got into my second month in Raleigh, I started to feel a sense of existential concern for the city. I observed the cranes and new high-rises and the statistics of “62 new people a day in Wake county — 23 in Raleigh alone!” I wondered how Raleigh’s version of southern hospitality, which I had come to cherish, would fare under the pressures of growth. More people = more demand for resources = higher costs and less time, was the basic math running in my mind. What happens when there are 15 impatient customers in line and you don’t have time to banter with the chocolate guy? What happens when rent is so high that only chains can afford to open new storefronts downtown? What happens when thousands of new people move in each year and they don’t know that Raleigh is about making each other feel welcome?

These are big, complicated questions, and there is no clear answer. All you can do is recruit people to walk into the complexity together. But as I prepared to leave the city, I found reason for optimism. Local leaders from art organizations and businesses and communities were gathering to discuss how they might be intentional about Raleigh’s growth. About how they might signal to newcomers, “Hey! Welcome! This is what this city is about.”

Margaret Mead told us to have faith in the power of a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens. I have faith in Raleigh’s citizens because they have faith in Raleigh. And so, as Raleigh and I part ways, I leave knowing that the next version of “Welcome to Raleigh y’all” will not be the same as what I experienced. It will be even better.

I have an overwhelming amount of love for the humans in Raleigh, and want to attempt to express some of it here. So much 💛 to:

  • Nick, for being the best one-man-lobbying-show, connector, and friend I could have asked for
  • Sam, for daily improv moments and exploring what it means to live well
  • Lisbeth, for sharing sister-solidarity with business and life struggles
  • Sandie, Sarah, and Maegan, for opening up their home to me
  • Le-Keisha, for the great and wise commentary on all things
  • Lauren, for helping me make the real estate workshop happen with pizazz
  • Liz, for life advice and neighborly chocolate
  • Gino, for reminding us all what it means to appreciate this world
  • Shreye, for his sugar-daddy tendencies and white girl voice (and also general goodness)
  • Bethany, for her creativity, kindness, and thoughtfulness
  • Becky, for always hurling positive energy and sharing casual wisdom with me
  • Sean, for thinking radically and helping me laser-cut fun things
  • Eleanor, for asking me what I’m about and welcoming me to Raleigh
  • Aditya, for showing up for my random business ideas and for putting up with my HQ sass
  • Monica, for her joyful invitations and bright energy
  • Jeremy, for sabbatical solidarity and expansive conversation
  • Kate, for the best mochas and thoughtful conversations
  • Nick, for the countless smoothies and crack coffees and crazy stories
  • Garik, for the mind-bending thoughts
  • Erin, for the warmth and questions and appreciativeness of others
  • Dane, for the thoughtful inquiry and kindness
  • Gizem, for following her passions and inspiring others to do the same
  • Selina, for saying yes to the seeds of friendship
  • Jen, for sharing her circles and worldview
  • Jay, for sharing his wedding and worldview
  • Matt, for inspirational exchange about cities and community
  • Kat, Aditi, Kate, and the DC crew, for visiting and sharing in Raleigh with me
  • Jacob, Andriy, Neel, and Rachel for sharing their good humans with me
  • Kevin, for everything

Originally published at minamin.co in March 2018