A month after the shooting death of a downtown sous chef on Charleston's East Side, a diverse group of neighbors gathered Monday night to listen to each other and discuss their hopes for the neighborhood's future.

The nearly two-hour table-talk started quietly with a layer of tension but ended with laughing and an air of optimism.

The approximately 60 East Side residents and business leaders described their ideal community as a beehive, one with a small-town feel, where people know everyone on their block, where people have equal access to opportunities.

They want mom-and-pop shops, clean parks where children can play and a neighborhood group that feels inviting. They said they want to dispel the idea that the Eastside Community Development Corp. is for black residents only, and they want the city's help to deal with the influx of college students in their neighborhood, drug dealing and homelessness. 

Debra Meyers, whose family has lived on Hanover Street since 1977, said she heard a lot of great ideas and is interested in what the follow-up looks like.

"There's a rumble, but a good rumble in a sense," Meyers said. "So many people want to do so much. This gives us a place to start."

Cathedra Miller, a lifelong Nassau Street resident and a member of the ECDC, described those who attended as a good and diverse crowd. Miller said the neighborhood needed something to make it feel more cohesive, but "it's unfortunate what sparked it."

She was referring to the Aug. 8 fatal shooting of Timothy Haman, a 41-year-old sous chef, outside his East Side apartment.

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Charleston's Director of Diversity, Racial Reconciliation and Tolerance  Amber Johnson speaks with the Rev. Kylon Middleton, pastor of Mount Zion AME Church, before a meeting with residents of Charleston's East Side to address tension in the neighborhood. The meeting at Second Presbyterian Church on Monday Sept. 9, 2019, in Charleston was viewed as a positive beginning that could lead to greater unity and cooperation. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

Monday night's meeting included the first public project from the city's first director of Diversity, Racial Reconciliation and Tolerance. Amber Johnson, who leads the new office, said she felt optimistic. The meeting came about through a discussion with the Rev. Kylon Middleton, pastor of Mount Zion AME Church, Chief Luther Reynolds of the Charleston Police Department and Mayor John Tecklenburg.

Johnson said the group wanted to find ways to "come together and find solutions for the community after the last meeting at Trident." 

At that meeting, ECDC president LaTonya Gamble did not mince words when criticizing the city and Police Department's presence. Some neighborhood residents said her words caused further division and tension there. On Monday night, Gamble apologized. She said she did not mean to offend anyone.

"What I mainly wanted to say is just what we're doing here now: We can work together and get things done," Gamble said. "That's what we need to do."

After the meeting, Gamble said she thought the discussion went well.

"It was good to hear the people's thoughts. I thought we shared some of the common goals: Everyone wants a safe neighborhood," she said. "We want our streets clean. ... I just think we can always work together and that's what I hope for this neighborhood — that we all just come together and be one neighborhood, one love for the East Side."

The meeting came together through the the city, Police Department and local religious leaders' Illumination Project. The Illumination Project started after the 2015 Emanuel AME Church massacre that left nine African American churchgoers dead at the hands of a white shooter.

Since that time, local leaders like Middleton have held similar sessions in other parts of the city grappling with crime, such as Ashley Oaks after the murders of 15- and 17-year-old boys last summer; in the Shadowmoss section of West Ashley during a rash of car break-ins; and on James Island after the murder of a 22-year-old man. 

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Reach Mikaela Porter at 843-937-5906. Follow her on Twitter @mikaelaporterPC. 

Mikaela Porter joined The Post and Courier in April 2019 and writes about the city of Charleston. Previously, Mikaela reported on breaking news, local government, school issues and community happenings for The Hartford Courant in Hartford, Conn.

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