By now, the morning sun was just over the horizon and it came at me like a sidearm pitch between the houses of my old neighborhood. I shielded my eyes. This being early October, there were already piles of leaves pushed against the curb—more leaves than I remembered from my autumns here—and less open space in the sky. I think what you notice most when you haven’t been home in a while is how much the trees have grown around your memories. – Mitch Albom
A block of homes on Arlington Street in Ward #3 provides another look at the heart of Rocky Mount; its neighborhoods. Walking the block with my camera in hand, it was an ‘if only’ moment when I wished I had the money to invest in Rocky Mount’s neighborhoods. I treated myself to some leaf-kicking while sauntering along. I refrained, however, from picking up leaves here and there as I once did on the way to school.
There is always a favorite find on a block where the trees have grown around it as if protecting a secret jewel only the neighborhood is privileged to see. I must say the house seems mysterious viewed through overgrown “stuff.” (731 Arlington Street will soon be featured on the Main Street Facebook page. Hope you’re following.)
It turned out to be another “Honey, what you doin'” moment. I made a new friend, Keith Graham, who lives and is restoring his home at 727 Arlington St. Mr. Graham is a tight bundle of strength; his energy makes him appear bouncing on his toes as he showed the work he has already accomplished. Lucky for Rocky Mount, he owns some other rental properties that he is working on with the same enthusiasm. Mr. Graham showed me the small tree he has planted in the front yard for a nephew who has died. I listened to several other family stories that I felt privileged to hear. Image what an example this would be if this one block of homes on Arlington Street, a major artery, was restored. The revitalization of neighborhoods for our housing needs is a necessity and the answer to many of our problems.
One of the payoffs of revitalization in Rocky Mount is people being able to say, I am living as a person who is Somewhere and not just Anywhere. I encourage you to drive through downtown and through the Wards, to reconnect with Somewhere! I often say, “Wow, look at that…or with dismay, “Oh, my goodness, how can this be?” Neighborhood after neighborhood, there are homes like these on Arlington Street. With a plan, ingenuity, investment, neighbors helping neighbors to even rehang a shutter, things can change for the better. Community Buy-In is my newest bumper sticker. You have to Believe!
“Until you get the drugs out of here.” That’s what I was told Saturday afternoon standing on Gay Street while talking with two older women that were out for a short walk. I was taking photographs in the 800-900 block on Gay between Tillery, Vyne, and Pine. I parked my car and walked towards these old friends, one who’d lived in the neighborhood since the 70s. “It was nice back then, a good place until drugs came here.” She gestured with her hand towards several houses we were standing near to indicate their condition. Restored housing builds safe neighborhoods, fosters pride and homeownership, is an economic win, is vital for the community that is cultivating revitalization.
The little woman who did most of the talking told me she was paying $400.00 a month rent. “I’m not gonna pay that ‘sorry-ass’ man no more. I’m leaving.” The expression on her friend’s face told me this wasn’t the first time she’d heard this declaration.” I don’t use the ‘sorry ass’ expression myself but 15 minutes later I had taken quite a shine to it. If I wrote lyrics for songs instead of this blog, I would definitely use the phrase in a James Brown-like song, singing about these houses that have stood guard all these years over good people and are feeling the effects of old age and neglect, going down! going down!
When I asked who their councilman was, they didn’t know. You and I know these houses didn’t get like this since yesterday but over a long time of neglect. As far as I’m concerned, the blame is knocking on the Ward’s Councilman’s door who has influenced nada, nothing. How could they not have championed these people they supposedly care for and not be the driving force to use their position to stay the course with the police to clear the drug dealers out and keep them out! so investment will continue and these wonderful neighborhoods can be saved. Thank goodness for these angels in disguise that see the worth of these houses and are doing something about it. I was told that some of the residents on the street are working on their own homes. Look at these photographs with eyes to see how perfect they are for what we need. The women told me how nice some of the houses are inside. I imagine that’s in comparison to a less demanding standard than mine.
When we finished talking, the women told me, “You get on home before dark.” Several cautions to “Be careful!” I was leaving but they were staying. I drove away with, “Ain’t nothin’ gonna change until we get the drugs out of here,” ringing in my ears. I don’t know where the police station is that the Chief of Police resides. Having to stay at home, I can find a phone number, however, to plea my case after I figure out what to say. I’d rather walk through this area leading him by hand to see again with new eyes what it once was and has become and can be again. I learned a lot in those fifteen minutes. It upset me but still, I’m grateful. I blew them both a kiss and drove away. Though I’d said my name and that I write a blog, you know these two older ladies are still shaking their heads, “who in the hell was she?”