Year of Boulevard: The Sequel

Notes from the 2013 kickoff meeting

“Year of Boulevard: The Sequel” premiered Thursday evening at Tabernacle Baptist. The sanctuary was crowded—people even took spots in the front pews. Everyone had jostled upstairs after chatting and snacking in the basement fellowship hall. It felt like a weeknight service, if, that is, your congregation included Harry the Hawk, folks who dress up in anime costumes (more on that later), a cluster of politicos, and the Zone 6 police commander.

Like any good church gathering, this started with a pastoral welcome—“No community can be what it could be if everybody doesn’t play a part,” exhorted Rev. Dennis Meredith—followed by a hymn, in this case rafter-shaking gospel, thanks to the Anointed Voices choir.

Then came a homily of sorts, in the opening remarks by city council member and YOB organizer Kwanza Hall. “The city just seems to ride by and forget the community,” he said of the Boulevard corridor. “We say we’re a city too busy to hate. But sometimes we’re too busy to love. We need to remember that people matter. They need loving. I can’t believe we’re too busy for that.”

This was followed by a Year of Boulevard 2012 highlight-reel video: the APD precinct ribbon cutting; community cleanups; a $50,000 donation from the Hawks to fix up basketball courts; summer camps; new trash cans; programs for seniors; and a block party—which, Hall noted, residents at first were reluctant to attend because “they didn’t know the city would do something for them.”
Hall presented proclamations to 2012 partners—the Atlanta Hawks Foundation, Unboundary, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, Action Ministries, the Atlanta Furniture Bank, and Sidewalk Radio. Donors, participants, volunteers, and politicians stood for applause.

After all the recognition, Hall outlined plans for 2013 and introduced new partners ranging from the Children’s Defense Fund and Children’s Museum to Living Walls and MomoCon, the anime and gaming convention (hence those costumes).

Amid the feel-good buzz and applause, Hall remained pragmatic. “What really matters is jobs and jobs training,” he said. “There are 700 families in Bedford Pines. What can we do to bring more jobs?”

On that note, some of the more significant partnership for 2013 include: Jamestown Properties, developer of Ponce City Market, which has committed to hiring from the community; the Greater Atlanta Workforce Alliance, which hires teens for summer jobs; Next Step Staffing, which helps ex-offenders enter the job market; and Year Up Atlanta, which offers job training and corporate internships to low-income young adults.

And, although the new precinct has contributed to a fourteen percent reduction in crime in the area, according to Zone 6 commander Keith Meadows, it was the chief complaint of Bedford Pines residents I talked with before the meeting. “Safety is my biggest concern,” said Angelina McCuthen, who moved to the area a few years ago, and says she hasn’t noticed a decline. Quonita Matthews said she hears gunshots regularly and doesn’t let her children go outside. “Why can’t we come out and sit on our own porch?” she asked.

Finally, long-awaited redevelopment plans for the Village of Bedford Pines still aren’t in place. Wingate, which owns and operates the properties, has submitted plans to HUD and is awaiting approval, regional vice president, T. Gene Lockard, told me. In his remarks, Hall assured the gathering, “Wingate will have a good announcement—soon.”

Helene Mills has lived in the Old Fourth Ward all of her eighty years. “It’s home, I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” she said. “I was here when the neighborhood went down, and I’ve worked to help it get back up. What’s happening now is great.”