My goal today was to engage some of the residents in the area I visited a couple days ago. I changed at work out of uniform into some shorts and a plain black t-shirt. I didn't want to approach folks houses in slacks and a polo, b/c I know I automatically think it's the JHs coming to introduce me to Jesus.
I began my journey and remembered that I didn't write down any questions as I had prepared to do before. Oh well, guess I'm gonna have to "wing it".
I got down to the Dignowity Hills area and started out by looking at some houses I had been looking into buying. This area is supposed to be building up in the next few years due to the expansion of the downtown area. The city is throwing a lot of money into the urban district and it's all going to expand east towards our new sports arena, the SBC Center, which is smack-dab in the middle of the Eastside. Anyways, yes I am looking to buy a piece of property because the value of it will be good later on, but I am also looking to buy a home in this area, b/c what would it look like if I fought for the Eastside and lived elsewhere?
After I looked at the homes I drove around a bit before stopping to speak to a guy who is renovating one of the houses. I asked him if he was the owner, he told me no and that he was just doing the cleaning out of the property. I spoke to him about the area and about how much it would cost to renovate the house he was working on, to which I received a vague price range. "Thousands". Thanks. We kept talking and he told me the story behind the house. Apparently a young lady was tortured, raped and burned inside the house. He said that the new owner was a burn victim (not by that same situation) and just wanted to rebuild the entire house and start new. He did notify me that the owner was going to rent the house out, not actually stay in it himself.
After my short convo with the young man I moved on down the street. I stopped at a house where I saw two older folks sitting outside on the their porch. As I got out of my car and approached their gate I noticed a look of surprise and confusion on their faces. I asked if I could come up and speak with them, to which they gave a hesitant approval. I introduced myself and let them know I was looking to move into the neighborhood. They began to speak about the houses and that they had been hearing that the city was going to be expanding downtown in their direction. I asked them about the neighborhood itself and that's when their positives went negative. They told me about the rampant prostitution and drugs that ran the street day in and day out. They mentioned nothing about it being a violent or unsafe neighborhood though. The lady told me that she takes walks around the neighborhood quite often and nothing has ever happened to her. They didn't seem to be afraid of the neighborhood or it's residents, just disgusted by the condition. They then recommended I speak with the lady next door to them, who may have more info for me.
The home next door was beautiful. Modern, spacious and luxurious. This wasn't our typical cookie-cutter home and it wasn't a renovated home like the others. I rang the door bell and was greeted in Spanish by a middle-aged Mexican woman. I asked if she spoke English and she said, "Not much." I then thanked her and politely said nevermind and proceeded to leave. She yelled and stopped me and told me that she would get her son. I was surprised that she was so adamant to speak to me. When her son came down I told him who I was and that I used to live on the Eastside and that I was thinking about moving back. I asked him what the neighbor hood was like. He relayed the message to his mother who began to say that the neighborhood was fine. Of course, there is the prostitution and drugs, but no violence or anything. They notified me that they had only lived there for a year and had no problems so far. I asked the young man where he went to school, he told me Highlands. Nice kid, great attitude. I thanked them and was on my way again.
My third stop was at the Carver Academy. It's a private school on the Eastside that consists of 120 students, K-6. $10K/year tuition...yeah. I was driving by when I saw a security guard walking out to have a smoke. So, I flipped a U-turn and parked. As I walked over I could see confusion in his eyes. lol I introduced myself and began to ask him about the school. He knew hardly anything about the school, except that it is a private school. He said that the school had 24/7 security, wow! Even in the summer-time when school is out, he said security is on post 24/7. I asked him about the neighborhood and he told me that he didn't live on the Eastside, he lived on the Westside. I began to talk to him about what I was seeing and hearing about and he agreed that it looks really bad. He began to tell me that when he is patrolling at night on the campus he sees the prostitutes walking up and down the street and hopping in cars, but nothing more than victimless crimes such as that and drug addicts. These kind of occurrences, he began to tell me, were none of his business. Which was true. He talked most of the time and I just nodded my head and listened. He told me about his growing up on the Westside and how things used to be. He told me about how there used to be ONE gang on a side of town and they would protect and take care of their neighborhood. "Now there are several gangs that fight amongst each other in the same neighborhood.", he said. "You can have one guy in a gang that lives at 113 Pine and a different gang's member at 111 Pine, so how does that work? It doesn't!" He spoe about his kids and numerous other topics that I won't mention for length-sake. The main thing I took from everything he said is, "No one is going to do anything unless someone else has their back. You'll never get the people in this neighborhood or any neighborhood to do anything, b/c they all feel threatened if they do it alone." I had already mentioned the SAITSU program to him, so he knew that my main focus was Community Organization. He agreed that a community is what would be needed to make any kind of difference. I spoke with him for about 30 mins before it began to rain (yeah finally).
As I drove to what I thought would be home, I ended up stopping at a house with two gentleman sitting outside on the porch. There was an Expedition parked out front so I figured they must've owned the place and were remodeling. The door was wide open and there was garbage piled in boxes across the front of the property. I walked up and introduced myself and received another confused look that non-verbally said, "WTF do you want?". I told them I was looking to buy a house in the area and they pretty much laughed in my face. The older gentleman informed me that I was in the heart of "Crackville". He discouraged my thought of moving to the neighborhood and said I was better off living in some suburb. I told him that I was from the area and that I was looking to do community work, therefore I wanted to live IN the community. He nodded his head and seemed to give me a more respectful tone after I explained my reasoning. Him and his counterpart both spoke to me about the things that were known around the area. They pointed out the new condos that have been built about a half-mile away. They told me that they were selling at high prices and it was only a matter of time before they made their way over in his area and took over. I mentioned "gentrification", but I don't think he knew what the word meant. He told me about the cops putting cameras up around the neighborhood to monitor any drug dealing. He said that he has warned "them dudes" that those cameras were watching, but they never stopped. He also mentioned that they were never caught either. While he was talking I took numerous glances into the house and realized that it other than a few old dusty chairs a couch and an old coffee table, the house was barren. We spoke for about 45 mins about the neighborhood and how it had become run down completely since '69 when he moved here form Cali. He went into the military and was a Vietnam Veteran, yet now he is strung out on crack. He told me about the Eastside and knew it like the back of his hand. I guess I would too if I had nothing to do except walk around it all day. He then began to tell me about his own downfalls. He told me that he was a crackhead and that he deals it time to time. He then corrected himself and said that he doesn't like the term "crackhead", and prefers "crack addict". This showed me that regardless of the blank stares that I receive from the addicts, they still have feelings and sensitivities. He began to tell me that he chose the wrong path and that he has learned to accept it. I could almost sense tears about to come to his eyes, until he laughed it off and said, "But I'm good now, you know? I just say fu** it. hahaha" I forced a laugh, but inside it hurt.
As me and the gentleman continued to speak about my ambitions for commuity action, he told me that I needed to start off in a different place, b/c there was no hope for that neighborhood. He said that everyone has given up and it is a lost cause. He then informed me that I better not come up there in my AND1 tennis shoes ($30) anymore or I might get jacked. He also mentioned that if I want to keep coming up there, that I better buy a hoopty and not drive my new car around there anymore. I then thougth back to what everyone else said about the lack of violence. Was that b/c there was nothing to be violent about? How do poor people steal from other poor people? Or maybe this guy was just trying to scare me off. I stood and talked to him for about five more mins before we were interrupted by his friend. As she walked up he stood up and extended his hand and I shook and asked his name. I told him I was Brian and that I would be back to talk more with him. As I walked away the young lady said, "Ooh, he got pretty eyes." to which I replied, "Thank you ma'am.". I wonder what she thought about me calling her ma'am. They shut the door quickly and I imagined them both huddled over a pipe taking their evening trip out of "Crackville".