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Charlotte Community Leader And Pastor Darryl Gaston Dies

Darryl Gaston, a well-known community leader and pastor, died Saturday. He's seen here in a 2020 file photo.

Community leader and pastor Darryl Gaston has died. The Charlotte native and longtime head of the Druid Hills Neighborhood Association died unexpectedly Saturday night, according to his wife, Melissa Gaston. He was 59.

Gaston helped found the North End Community Coalition in 2014. In recent years, he was an advocate of revitalizing the area north of uptown while at the same time preserving its character. He worked to educate neighbors and fend off gentrification. But Gaston also believed that change is inevitable, and he advocated for redevelopment to benefit all kinds of people.

"I think that we have to consider our seasoned citizens," he said on WFAE's Charlotte Talks in 2017. "I think we have to consider those young professionals. I think we have to consider entrepreneurs. I think that we have to consider all individuals that come from a variety of backgrounds, all walks of life."

Gaston also was the pastor of Smallwood Presbyterian Church. He served on numerous boards and committees and spoke often about the need to treat all people with dignity. "We all matter" was a regular phrase out of his mouth.

"Dignity is something that all human beings desire to have and to possess," he said during a 2018 appearance at Creative Mornings, a monthly breakfast for the city's creative professionals. "Dignity is paramount for each human being. Because at the end of the day, I matter. You matter. We all matter."

Gaston grew up in the Druid Hills neighborhood, went to Independence High School and the Hairstyling Institute of Charlotte. He worked as a barber and taught at the institute for many years.

In recent years, his biggest contributions came as an advocate for revitalizing the North End area equitably. As the coronavirus pandemic hit the community hard, he helped make sure people in the neighborhoods had computers and internet connectivity. Another project of the coalition was a mobile food market that brought fresh produce to the area.

In everything he joined, Gaston advocated for people and challenged leaders to do the right thing, as he called it.

"We have to be intentional about our relationships, and how we deal with people and be fair with people. We have to recognize that all people are visible, vital and valuable," he said, in that 2018 Creative Mornings talk.

"We can live under the sun, we can live under the sky, we can live under this moon together. But it takes courage to do right by people," Gaston said.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.