Mitchell: Local 616 is a testament to how far we’ve come and 2020 shows we still have a ways to go

Dwayne Mitchell | Photo by Rūta Smith

Why I do it

My name is Dwayne Mitchell, owner and operator of Local 616. I’ve lived in downtown Charleston since I was 21 years old and started in the F&B industry when I was 23. I am 45 now, and I worked my way up from dishwasher to barback to bartender to bar manager to now owner and operator of Local 616 — a very, very proud accomplishment of mine. It’s been a wonderful experience that I am thankful for everyday.

Watching Charleston grow and develop the way it has over the years is something that’s really hard to put into words. I always remembered to never go past Spring Street back in the day, but now I own a bar on upper Meeting Street. Who knew that would be a thing? 

It’s ironic to think you’ve always been told that bars are the one thing that will always survive and thrive during any crisis, and we’ve been the ones hit the hardest. The unknown factor of what to do, how to do it, how to safely run your business, when you can open for business — just everything. 

“It’s ironic to think you’ve always been told that bars are the one thing that will always survive and thrive during any crisis, and we’ve been the ones hit the hardest.”

I expanded the deck at Local 616 to provide more outdoor seating and transformed our front windows into garage door windows to provide more air circulation throughout the bar. We receive compliments and appreciation regularly from patrons for all we have done. Hearing from some that it’s their first time out and they chose to come to Local 616 makes it all worth it for me, knowing the trust they have in us. 

I will never forget the day of the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death. As a 45-year-old Black man close in age to Floyd, seeing what happened at the hands of cops was a terrifying sight. “That could have been me,” is all I thought over and over again for days. It affected me in a way that I could never explain and only other Black people could understand. 

I cannot express the feeling that came over me seeing hundreds of individuals of every race, young and old, and every background marching together in Charleston, protesting for something so very important for every one of us and for a man wrongfully murdered. It was one of the proudest moments I have seen after living in Charleston for quite some time. 

Another impactful day was the removal of the John C. Calhoun statue. Having always seen that statue looking down on me and the rest of Charleston, you wonder why it’s been there for so long. People don’t realize the impact something that is honoring slave owners has on the psyche of Black people. That you will always be beneath or never be seen as equal. 

That day especially meant a lot to me when I think of myself as a Black man and business owner in Charleston who, like so many other Black people, have given their blood, sweat and tears to this city. Let’s have statues that honor those who have brought change for the greater good and brought people together to make this world a better place.

The biggest takeaway for me during this pandemic has been realizing the importance of family, friends, your moral compass and where you want to be in this life. Most of what I do has been for these reasons. I live to make this world a better place for my family, friends and others. 

I do it for my niece Sade, my nephew Avery, my friends’ children and for the world’s children. They deserve a better world than they’ve been given; they deserve the happiness and laughter that we’ve been granted. Most importantly, they deserve the chance we’ve always wanted without discrimination of any kind. Word.

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