Retiring my 2015 refrigerator calendar and replacing it with the Norfolk Historical 2016 Calendar–which you can pick one up for $10 btw–prompted me to think back upon the past year and living in Norfolk.
I moved into my apartment in Ghent at the tail end of December 2014 after spending five months in Costa Rica, and immediately prior to that had been working as a contractor in the United Arab Emirates for 18 months. I left Virginia on that adventure after living in the Bennett’s Creek area in the northern section of Suffolk for five years (2007-12) during my last years in the Army and the subsequent three years post retirement. Living there had advantages and disadvantages – I was close to work, having been assigned to Joint Forces Command in Suffolk, and was also close to where I enjoyed doing a lot of road cycling in the countryside around Windsor and the Western Branch Reservoir. However, I was not near my friends and the places where I typically enjoyed spending more of my leisure time, namely Ghent, downtown Norfolk, and occasionally the surf breaks in Virginia Beach.
I have been practicing yoga at Hot House Yoga on 22nd Street in Ghent since 2011, so was pretty much in the neighborhood everyday after work. After practice I often frequented different restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and local merchants, as well as taking in some really cool independent films at our beloved Naro Cinema.
The Birch established Ghent as a local beer destination, but it was a real game changer when O’Connor and Smartmouth breweries set up shop in Ghent. Now we have Coelacanth (pronounced SEE-luh-kanth), and a short drive out of Ghent is Bold Mariner Brewing Company. The bottom line for me is this neighborhood seemed to have such a community feeling to it, and I love the fact Ghent is such a walkable, bicycle friendly, and outdoor-patio-kind-of-place to call home. I grew up in a small town in California and during my time in the Army lived in more rural suburban areas with zero walkability to “city things,” so this is something I definitely wanted in a place I’d settle down in for a while.
So you’re probably asking yourselves “What is this article supposed to be about?” In a nutshell it’s about the community I’ve seen come together to help one another supporting worthy causes on several different occasions over the past year. Whether it has been raising money for murals in the NEON District, helping pay medical and dental bills, helping raise funds for individuals affected by a tragic apartment fire, preparing and distributing care packages to the homeless, or most recently feeding the homeless during the 2nd Annual Spaghetti Santa hosted by AlchemyNFK at Work Release, the people in Ghent have greatly impressed me by rallying support in times of need.
A little back story – while living in Abu Dhabi I wanted to keep ties on the pulse of the community, so besides reading AltDaily, the Virginian-Pilot, and making visits back every six months, I started following the Facebook pages Ghent Crushes and Ghent Confessions. They weren’t really “news” per se, but they had entertainment value and really did provide a snapshot of the feelings, attitudes, and personalities of the socially connected people in the area. Ghent Confessions has devolved into being virtually nonexistent over the past several months, but for a few years is was extremely popular. I quite believe it served its purpose in creating talk among local residents, and I am very grateful to have made several good friends through the page. On those pages there started to emerge numerous individuals who became popular commenters.
One of those individuals was a man named Joe Porfert (9/11/86 – 5/6/15). Anyone who regularly followed the pages would likely consider Joe’s responses as legendary. He was loved by many in the community, and you can see a taste of the outpouring of love that came in when his death was announced on Ghent Confessions. He was the kind of man who, implicitly and with unmatched verbal prowess, stood up for the underdogs and individuals of all genders, sexual preferences, races, religions, and he absolutely loved animals. I was also a frequent commenter on the pages, so Joe and I quickly established a friendly relationship with one another. We became “Facebook official friends” in May 2014, and during our friendship I learned he volunteered his time at local women’s shelters, he was an avid reader of history, amassing a wealth of knowledge on so many varied topics in his short 28 years it never ceased to amaze me. He was an an extremely talented writer and craft beer reviewer. Being a graduate of English Education at ODU, he often tutored students in his free time while I knew him. He worked as a server and bartender at several restaurants in Ghent, and I first had the opportunity to meet Joe in person in November 2014 while he was working as a server at Pasha Mezze.
The story of Joe’s death is tragic, and although I won’t delve into the details here, it can’t be emphasized enough the shock and overall sense of sadness it brought to the community of Ghent. I’ve never seen a community come together the way Ghent did in the days and weeks following May 6th 2015. Donations flowed in for flowers and the extra money raised went to his family to help offset expenses. 80/20 Burger Bar hosted a memorial get together for his family and friends, at which I’ll never forget Skye Zentz singing “Everglow” in his memory. The restaurant graciously offered shelf space for the establishment of a mini library in his honor. Joe, Nikee Harris (a dear friend of mine who also knew Joe) and I had discussed doing this just weeks before he died while chatting at the restaurant bar one evening, so to me it was essential it be there for his memorial. It’s still there, along with a framed photo of Joe. Look for it on the shelf with all the canned jars against the back left corner near the ladies’ restroom. Feel free to drop off a book and/or borrow one, but please bring it back because many of those books hold special meaning or serve as a tribute to Joe.
Ghent is more than the neighborhood spanning from Brambleton Avenue on the south to the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks behind 22nd Street on the north. It’s about the community I’ve seen come together to share in friendship, love, service, art, and good will. I’m beyond grateful to call this place home, and am eager for what 2016 has in store for us.
I welcome you to connect with GHENTNFK, a little Facebook group I started with the intention of helping connect the community through sharing local causes, happenings, events, and occasionally even such things as helping people find a roommate. Take care, stay warm, and love where you live!