FORT MILL — Ken Dixon, who was raised in Fort Mill’s historic Paradise neighborhood, said Paradise, one of the oldest communities in the area, began when descendents of slaves built a community of their own in the early 1900s.
The story goes that the women of the community sang spirituals as they washed and hung their laundry together, and people who overheard them singing said their music was “heavenly.” Fittingly, the area came to be known as “Paradise.”
Unfortunately, Dixon said, since those early days, Paradise didn’t always live up to the name. With enforced segregation under Jim Crow laws, rampant gambling and abject poverty, Paradise had to overcome much adversity.
Today, there still exists a higher poverty rate compared to the rest of Fort Mill, which makes it difficult for students to afford an education after high school. Since the average household does not have readily available computer access, students can only use computers at school, said Dixon, a Tega Cay resident.
Dixon, who is working on a documentary about Paradise and has a website dedicated to the community, said some students are caught in the cycle of poverty. Once children or teens accept the idea that they can’t break the cycle and succeed, that ensures the cycle will continue.
Kids caught in the cycle think to themselves, “The most I can do is grow up and go to jail,” Dixon said.
However, Dixon has made it his priority to end the cycle by showing residents in Paradise that “there is something we can do.”
One of his goals is to provide the a neighborhood computer lab for residents who don’t have one at home.
His efforts to revitalize his old neighborhood began in the late 1990s when Dixon started collecting information about the history of Paradise. After returning from his service in the military, he was frustrated that he didn’t know the story behind where he grew up, so he researched his hometown extensively and documented it in an effort to preserve history for future generations. A documentary to be kept in the Fort Mill History Museum will allow future generations to have a gateway to learning about the past, he said.
Dixon didn’t stop there. Seven years ago, he started ParadiseWeb.org. The goal was to bring the whole community together and create a network that encouraged interest in cyberspace and digital technology. The website exploded into an online forum for people across the county to share ideas, opportunities, and information.
Finally, this fall, Dixon is planning to open the computer lab. Students will not only be able to use the computers to do homework, but they will engage in a curriculum in which they will build computers from scratch to take home with them, Dixon said.
Dixon’s daughter, Kendra Dixon, is the program administrator. She holds a degree in engineering and will be developing the lesson plans and implementing the activities. As opposed to lecturing the students, she plans to include a lot of opportunities for hands-on learning.
“Some things that are hard for adults, kids get in two seconds,” she said. “It will be nice for them to know the ins and outs of how they [computers] actually work.”
Kendra Dixon said she is confident students will quickly learn how to build computers and then help other students down the line. She believes the knowledge they gain will “interest them in getting a formal education.”
She says the program will have been worthwhile “even if one child is pushed in that way.”
Ken Dixon said he plans to raise capital for the project through a series of fundraisers. Maintaining the lab won’t be a cheap endeavor, Dixon said, but he feels it’s worth it because the project has the potential to affect real change in Paradise.
“There are gifts inside that you can bring out,” he said.