Samuel Grier leaves Crystal Towers, a subsidized housing apartment complex on 6th Street, for a walk around downtown and nearby parks to keep his “cardiovascular system up to par.” Grier carries his smartphone (which has recently replaced his books) with him as a source of all things waiting to be read and learned about.
Once he reaches his destination, usually a park, Grier meditates and reads, inspired always by the phenomena in his environment and in his reading.
To walk downtown, Grier and his fellow tenants of Crystal Towers must cross 6th Street, a busy four-lane street. Grier recognizes that although he is in great health at 74, many of the other inhabitants are not so fortunate. Cars have been known to whip up and down 6th Street, making crossing for certain disabled tenants dangerous.
Grier is a practical reader, as well as a practical inhabitant of Crystal Towers. If he sees a problem, he will set out to fix it. In this case, he and Crystal Towers United, a group of activists at the subsidized housing unit, have been “on their [city government’s] case” to slow down traffic in front of the building, according to Grier.
Most recently, Grier and Crystal Towers United have been looking for answers about the future sale of the building. Grier and the other tenants are worried that they will soon be moved away from downtown if the sale of Crystal Towers is completed.
Grier’s sister, Patricia, said, “As a child, he was, I don’t know, I wouldn’t use the word ‘rebellious.’ I would use the word ‘inquisitive.’ He’s constantly questioning.” Grier continues to question the state of Crystal Towers.
Born in Winston-Salem, Grier grew up on 17th Street and Cleveland Avenue and has spent most of his 74 years in the city. He witnessed the transformation of downtown firsthand. The downtown area was once lined with tobacco factories and considered a hub of African-American culture. In fact, both of Grier’s grandmothers worked in tobacco factories.
Now, downtown is a center of upscale breweries, restaurants, clothing stores, and apartments with a much smaller African-American population. In addition to witnessing this cultural change downtown, Grier experienced the harsh Jim Crow Era when segregation and racism were rampant.
Part of this dark time included the separation of East Winston from downtown by U.S. 52. “There was a south side, east side, west side, north side, but the community was cohesive. But when they started building I-40 and U.S. 52, that was the beginning of it all,” Grier said. “It had a great impact on the stability of the community. It was split.”
In reference to the racial injustice he endured as a child, Grier said “I used to come home from school, keep to myself, and start crying.” Grier’s childhood experience continues to encourage him to fight for justice today.
Grier joined the Naval Reserves in his mid-teens, but was discharged in his later teenage years. Grier noted racial injustice there as well, saying, “I was picked upon often.”
Grier attended some high school, but never graduated. However, as his sister Patirica noted, he was studious and was always reading.
As Grier became older, he began working a wide variety of jobs such as wholesale market produce, piezometer work for the company Engineering Tectonics, and medical lab sanitation. Grier said, “I always had a knack for making a buck.” No matter what job he described, Grier had seemingly endless knowledge on the subject.
He attributes this knowledge to his continued love of reading. “I try to get as much knowledge as I can because it’s interesting to me, and it’s interesting to me because I’m doing it!” he said.
Grier has faced troublesome times throughout his life, even homelessness, but his family has always kept him grounded. Grier’s father, Robert Grier, recently turned 99 and currently lives in Winston-Salem. Robert is best known for his leadership in Winston’s famous Prestige 4 Fire Department, North Carolina’s first integrated firehouse.
His father serves as a role model, especially his commitment to holding his family together. Recently the siblings, Samuel, Patricia, and their brother, Kelly, got together to get their COVID-19 vaccinations. Their father has also received the vaccination.
Patricia said, “That’s the blessing: we’re all still together. We love each other, of course. We have never been estranged from one another by choice – it’s always been by circumstance, but we have managed to stay together.”According to Patricia, “Dad is a role model for all of us. He’s always been in service to others.” Grier aims to continue his father’s legacy in his own community.
“I was born here, and I like this old town,” he said. “I like the people. You know, the people are down to earth, those that have good sense.” With his father as an example, he aims to give the people of Crystal Towers a voice that may reach far and wide. “Winston, it’s had its problems. It still has its problems, but it’s my home,” said Grier.
Patricia Grier is not surprised by her brother’s work to improve life at Crystal Towers. “The things that shape us all are fragile, in my opinion. No matter what the adversity is, something good always comes out of it, and regardless of what Samuel has had to endure, he tries to make the best of the situation,” she said. “This is his way of helping others.”