building authentic connections through creative vision and leadership
01_TheMatriarch_HeleneMills_byNedaAbghari.jpg

EDITORIAL III

"Building Boulevard"

For decades we’ve heard talk of the need to “do something” about Boulevard, the blighted thoroughfare that runs through the Old Fourth Ward and the King historic district. So when city council member Kwanza Hall declared 2012 “Year of Boulevard” and announced an ambitious plan to revitalize a street known for 24/7 drug deals, kudzu-choked vacant lots, dilapidated storefronts, and the Southeast’s largest Section 8 housing complex, the response was, understandably, skepticism. Turned out there was something behind Hall’s sloganeering. Things got done.

With photographs by Neda Abghari and words and interviews by Rebecca Burns, this photo essay documents a few of the individuals living, working, and striving to build a better neighborhood in the Old Fourth Ward of Atlanta GA.

The Matriarch

The Matriarch

Helene S. Mills has lived in the Old Fourth Ward all of her eighty-five years—seventy of them in her childhood home on Lampkin Street. When she was younger, she was an advocate for senior citizens. “I didn’t want to see old people sit at home, with nowhere to go, dying earlier than they needed to,” she says. Her volunteer efforts with groups such as the Council on Aging helped create safe places for older Atlantans to gather; today one facility—at Boulevard and John Wesley Dobbs—hosts activities, an exercise room, and an adult daycare program. It’s named the Helene S. Mills Multipurpose Senior Center in her honor.

The Father Figure

The Father Figure

Marcel Benoit Jr. moved into Bedford Pine in 1994. He was enrolled in a dual-degree program at Morehouse and Georgia Tech, and when he learned about units available to students, he pounced. In 1995 resident manager Edna Moffett asked Benoit and other student tenants to help children with homework. That evolved into Operation P.E.A.C.E.—Positive Education Always Creates Elevation—now a year-round after-school program and summer camp serving the children of the Old Fourth Ward

The Cop

The Cop

Lieutenant Douglas E. Little is an omnipresent fixture, there at every cleanup, block party, and neighborhood meeting. Little has recruited cops who share his zeal for community policing. As important as making arrests, he says, is walking around, talking, handing out candy to kids, and reminding people “not every contact with a police officer is negative.

 

The Landlord

The Landlord

As regional vice president for Wingate, T. Gene Lockard is the face of Bedford Pine management, the guy under fire when local media—or some of his tenants—slam Wingate as an absentee slumlord raking in tax dollars and ignoring crime and decay. Even Lockard acknowledges some past blame “may have been fair—particularly of upkeep.” But most criticism is misplaced; just as little of Boulevard crime is committed by Bedford Pine residents, neither does a single one of its seventy buildings have a boarded window."

The Mother

The Mother

“I hate—I really hate—when I hear people talking about ‘living in poverty’ as though it’s just a way of being,” says Rena Walker, thirty-two, who’s lived in Bedford Pine for the past twelve years. “It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with what you’ve got. We do the best we can for our kids, like everyone else.” Walker, a single mom with three daughters aged nine to fourteen, says she knows she represents, statistically, Bedford Pine—where the average annual income is $3,000 and two-thirds of households are headed by single mothers aged eighteen to thirty-five. But she says she and her neighbors shouldn’t be treated as a monolithic bloc; there are statistics, but the stories behind them are all different."

Read the full essay in Atlanta Magazine.