Sunday, February 13, 2011

Honoring Heritage • Sneed keeping connections open for Riverview community



Although he has not lived in Kingsport in nearly 40 years, Calvin Sneed, left and below, is the go-to guy for news about Riverview, such as the recent renovation and expansion of the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Center.)

(EDITOR'S NOTE:  This is one of the articles the Times-News did for this year's Black History Month commemoration.  Although there is a focus on and pictures of, your Website manager, the greater and more important focus should be on the progress that our community has made over the years, and why it is vital that we remember the spirit of Douglass High School, and celebrate its legacy with the heritage of the Riverview Neighborhood.. once... always was... still is... and will always be... a great place to be and live in Kingsport!).

KINGSPORT — Calvin Sneed has spent his entire career in radio and television, from reporting the news, to hosting a weekend sportscast, to consumer reporting. But the folks of the Riverview community know him as something more, someone who works hard to promote the neighborhood and its residents even though he has not lived in Kingsport in nearly 40 years.

Sneed, 56, lives in Chattanooga and works as the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. co-anchor for WTVC NewsChannel 9. Though he has lived in Chattanooga since 1992, and not in Kingsport since 1972, Sneed manages to maintain strong ties to the Riverview community, where he lived for more than a decade.

Roots in Riverview

Sneed’s family moved from Middle Tennessee to Kingsport in 1960, joining his father’s family that had lived in Riverview for decades; he attended Douglass High School — the city’s blacks-only high school — from 1961 to 1966 (the year the school closed). Douglass is now called the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Center and is home to a number of non-profit organizations.

“Most of the alumni in the neighborhood consider whenever you leave Douglass for the last time, you’re a graduate of that year. I’m technically a Douglass graduate of 1966,” Sneed said.

After the school closed and the schools were integrated, Sneed attended John Sevier Middle School and graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School in 1972 with an emphasis in radio and television broadcasting. While at D-B, Sneed worked at WKPT for two years and credits Dr. Verna Ruth Abbott for helping him get the job.

“Originally I wanted to be an actor because at the time we didn’t have very many African-Americans on television in the acting profession. I was planning on it and looking at Hollywood,” Sneed said. “I had done some readings, interpretations and acting in some plays at D-B. I was going down that road, but when Dr. Abbott helped me get a job at WKPT, I went in that direction.”

Over the next 15 years, Sneed continued working in the radio and television field, at WTVC in the early ’70s as a news reporter, news photographer and news producer, at WIBK radio and WATE Channel 6 in Knoxville and doing consumer reporting in Columbus, Ohio, during the ’80s.

Sneed said after his parents died within a year of each other in the late ’80s, he had an opportunity to return to WTVC in 1992 as a consumer reporter. For the past four years he has been the co-anchor of the evening newscasts.

Sneed has two cousins who live in Kingsport and he considers the folks in Riverview as his extended family. Although Sneed has not lived here for nearly 40 years, he said Riverview is what kept his connection to Kingsport. He adds he is considering moving back to Kingsport once he retires.

“I’m burning the phones up all the time and burning the roads up. I can probably drive from Chattanooga to Kingsport with my eyes closed,” he said. “I’m up there four or five times a month. There’s always something going on and I like coming back home. I like coming back and seeing people. I’ve got a list of people I see when come back.”

Sneed has also kept abreast of the major projects that have taken place in the Riverview community over the past five years, helping with the communication between the neighborhood and the city on projects such as the HOPE VI redevelopment project and the renovation and expansion of the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Center.

A Web of Connection

Four years ago, Sneed, along with Roberta Webb and Donald Hickman, began looking at ways for the Douglass alumni to stay in touch with each other and spread the news of the neighborhood and of Kingsport. Thus came the idea of an alumni Web site. But because Douglass was closed, Sneed said they had to broaden their scope.

“We couldn’t talk about what’s going on in the school or the upcoming football season, so I said let’s talk about the neighborhood, the education we had and keep the heritage of the school and the legacy of the community alive,” Sneed said.

The Web site launched in December 2006 — — and includes information about Douglass (as well as the school song), news from the community, hundreds of photographs and an obituary section. The main page of the Web site receives about 2,000 to 2,500 hits a week.

“For me it’s my second full-time job. It helps me stay in touch and I like the idea of helping our extended family of alumni stay together. There’s this wave of nostalgia going on right now where people see something they remember from their past and they want to hang on to that memory,” Sneed said. “But I can’t do it alone and there’s so many people in Riverview that help me with the Web site.”

Sneed said the Web site is very fulfilling for him, and he is proud that people from around the region and across world visit the site.

As for why he works so hard on the Web site and staying in touch with Riverview?

“I love where I come from. I’m proud of where I came from. Riverview has been through a lot from when I first moved there 50 years ago,” Sneed said. “Once you move in and people get to know you, they welcome you into the family. There’s just something about it.”

Kingsport resident Doug Releford, who grew up in the old Riverview Apartments (#83) and graduated from Douglass in 1963, said the Riverview community sees Sneed as the go-to guy for news and information about the neighborhood.

“By Calvin being involved in the news in Chattanooga, people feel like he can dig a little deeper than most people could. That’s why they really go to him with a lot of things,” Releford said. “And I think (the Web site) is received tremendously by the community and the people out of town.

“I get calls and e-mails all the time saying that’s the only way they keep up with what’s going on in Kingsport. If it wasn’t for (Calvin) and the Web site, people would just be lost. He really keeps the memory of Douglass alive.”