Suffolk through different eyes

Published 9:15 pm Monday, March 24, 2014

By Joseph L. Bass

I used to take people on a tour of Suffolk called “Seeing Suffolk through Different Eyes.” It was a way to help people understand our social improvement concepts through viewing the realities of several Suffolk villages.

Although Suffolk today is legally a city, it is actually a collection of villages. These include Chuckatuck, Pughsville, Belleville, Cypress, Holy Neck, Sleepy Hole, Whaleyville, Crittenden, Eclipse, Hobson, Driver, Holland and others. Many of these villages were part of Nansemond County before the creation of the legal city of Suffolk in 1974. It also includes several villages that made up the old, original city of Suffolk.


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A major goal of the tour was to allow participants to see the differences between villages that have continued to be effective in terms of producing successful, responsible, self-reliant adults and villages that commonly produce failing, irresponsible adults.

One of the highly successful areas actually includes three villages mentioned above. The villages predate the Civil War, but a number of the main families are from the north, at least one as far north as the Boston area. These families migrated from north to south following the development of the American waterman industry (harvesting oysters, crabs and various types of fish).

The social area grew from one village into three but always functioned as a social unit. They continue to do so today. No city services are provided for social or recreational activities. This is a “bottom-up” community in which members provide for themselves through churches and organizations such as the Ruritan Club and the Rotary Club.

Except for a pocket of people who distance themselves from the others, there is little crime in the area. This is a desirable location where commercial builders purchase land and build homes in an area where newcomers want to live.

All of this results not from government actions, but from actions carried out informally by the local citizens. No area in the city is perfect but this is an area that produces many successful, responsible, self-reliant adults.

In contrast, the tour visits a Suffolk village that is no longer a cohesive, functioning place. The area is a hot-bed of violent crime, drug sales, school dropouts and teen pregnancy. As in South Central Los Angeles, where I used to live, there are many good people living there. They can go about their business during the day but stay inside during the night, which is controlled by gang members committing violent crimes and drug sales.

Ironically, like South Central, many of the good people have bars on the doors and windows. They live behind bars while the criminals live free in the streets at night.

While no city money is spent on social and recreational activities in the three successful villages mentioned earlier, during the last 50 years, many War on Poverty dollars have been spent on the crime-ridden area. All of this is done based on the “top-down” approach involving city, state and federal funds providing a wide variety of social, recreational services and educational services. If you went on the “Seeing Suffolk through Different Eyes” tour, you could see the painful failures of these efforts.

We need to transition from failed War on Poverty efforts and initiate positive, citizen-based activities to rebuild Suffolk’s high-crime areas into successful villages. Only then will the many good people be able to control their own destinies and make their lives better than they are today.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at