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Our PBS Documentaries

> Across The River

 

Across the River: The Rebirth of a Community
Transcript For Segment 4

BOY: "It's too many guns, violence, drugs, and cocaine. Some people get shot and all that...

B. JONES: "We really didn't have any activities for young people....That's why we started Parklands Community Center, to serve as a positive alternative for young people living in this community."

B.JONES: "What are some of the other things that you can do to stay safe in the..."

NARRATOR: BRENDA JONES RUNS A COMMUNITY CENTER FOR CHILDREN AND PARENTS...PART OF AN AMBITIOUS PROJECT TO REVIVE A ONCE SOLID MIDDLE CLASS COMMUNITY... RAVAGED BY DRUGS AND DRUG-DEALERS.

B. JONES: "You had all kinds of drug dealings going on - crime, it was unbelievable. It was a lawless area."NARRATOR: BRENDA'S LIFE MIRRORS THE UPS AND DOWNS OF HER NEIGHBORHOOD. SHE FOUGHT HER OWN PERSONAL BATTLE WITH DRUGS AND WON IT. BUT SHE SAW THE CRACK EPIDEMIC OF THE EIGHTIES DEVASTATE MANY FAMILIES AND DESTROY PARKLANDS, WHERE SHE GREW UP.

B.JONES: "We had lawyers living here, doctors living here. Our school teachers lived here in Parklands. It was the area for blacks to live. It started deteriorating I would say in the late '60s probably."STANDUP: WHAT THE URBAN RIOTS AND POOR PROPERTY MANAGEMENT STARTED IN THE SIXTIES AND SEVENTIES, THE DRUG TRAFFIC OF THE EIGHTIES QUICKLY ACCELERATED. NOT ONLY DID HUGE NEARBY PUBLIC HOUSING PROJECTS CRUMBLE, BUT EVEN ONCE PRESTIGIOUS PLACES LIKE PARKLANDS SKIDDED INTO DECLINE. MUCH OF ANACOSTIA'S MIDDLE CLASS BASE FLED TO THE SUBURBS.

B.JONES: "I didn't want to move. But because of the drugs, the crime, the deterioration of the pro- perty, you know you want a better place to live."

NARRATOR: BUT WHEN OTHERS CHOSE THE SUBURBS, BRENDA STAYED IN THE CITY...AND SOON CAME BACK TO HER OLD NEIGHBORHOOD, DETERMINED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

B. JONES: "I didn't think those drug dealers were worth it. I felt I was going to stay here. This is where I live and fight for it."

NARRATOR: HER DREAM WAS THE REBIRTH OF PARKLANDS.. AND SHE FOUND UNEXPECTED AND POWERFUL ALLIES.

R.DEVANEY: "I've really gotten involved in this community, and I see...the depths of caring and the history that this community has."

NARRATOR: RICH DEVANEY IS NOT YOUR TYPICAL BANKER, WORKING FOR A TYPICAL BANK. HIS GROUP AT NATION'S BANK, PICKING UP FROM ITS PREDECESSORS, INVESTS IN VENTURES ACROSS THE RIVER THAT OTHER BANKERS OFTEN SHY AWAY FROM - THE EAST RIVER SHOPPING CENTER... ...SKYLAND APARTMENTS...AND THE 17-MILLION-DOLLAR RENEWAL OF PARKLANDS BY THE WILLIAM C. SMITH COMPANY.

C. SMITH: "We got involved because Parklands is a big presence east of the river. When we took over, it was 50 percent vacant. So if it had become 100 percent vacant, it probably would remind us of the Bronx up in New York."

NARRATOR: IN REVIVING THE AREA, BOTH THE BANK AND THE SMITH COMPANY ADOPTED A HOLISTIC STRATEGY.

R.DEVANEY: "We understand the dynamics, and I think that Parklands is a great example of coordinating everything that's going on, soliciting the community's involvement in the development strategy."

B. JONES: "Very seldom do you see bankers, especially in this area, coming out supporting not only just building up a building or property, but building up a community. I think it's necessary."

C. SMITH: "We have to outreach into the community. We just cannot confine ourselves to our property. And because of that, we reached out and met with Dr. Peal from the Garfield School.

PEAL: "The school before they came in was almost falling apart. And as I spoke to the faculty, the students, the parents, they were all feeling very sad about what Garfield looks like. We met with Chris and Skip, we laid out a plan of renovation. They stuck to that plan."

MCMAHON: "The biggest thing that we did in terms of the school has been with the subcontractors that work with the Smith Company..."

NARRATOR: THE SUBCONTRACTORS VOLUNTEERED THEIR TIME AND MATERIALS, WORKING SIDE BY SIDE WITH PARENTS AND STUDENTS.

MCMAHON: "Because of the age of the school, electrical work needed to be done to update the school." (renovation shots)

NARRATOR: THE WHOLE SCHOOL HAD TO BE REPAINTED. THE ROOF LEAKED AND HAD TO BE REPAIRED. DONATED AIR CONDITIONING UNITS HAD TO BE INSTALLED.

C.SMITH: "It brought the students, the teachers, the Smith Company, a lot of the contractors and a lot of the community together.

PEAL: "The morale has just blossomed. Everybody wants to take part in helping renovate the school."

NARRATOR: NOT JUST MORALE, BUT TEST SCORES HAVE SHOT UP... TO NEAR OR ABOVE THE NATIONAL AVERAGE.

C. SMITH: "We are selling the entire community in order to attract good residents."

NARRATOR: THANKS TO AMENITIES LIKE BRENDA JONES'S COMMUNITY CENTER...A PLANNED WATER PARK AND A FREE SHUTTLE BUS TO THE METRO, THE MIDDLE CLASS IS COMING BACK. MORE THAN 400 FAMILIES HAVE MOVED INTO THE REJUVENATED PARKLANDS.

B.JONES: "The William C. Smith and Company has just undertaken the whole environment, in a sense."

NARRATOR: THEY HAVE ALSO HELPED PROMOTE SMALL BUSINESSES.

B.JONES: "We were able to open up the community marketplace...We were helping small business start their own businesses by renting stalls out."

ENTERPRENEUR: "This is a stepping stone. We can start here and branch out on our own."

B. JONES: "Young people feel proud being in the com- munity. They can see people who look like them, doing business in a legal fashion." R. DEVANEY: " You know, giving kids role models... Instead of seeing when they walk out of their houses in the morning you know drug dealers or problems they can see, you know, a neighbor going to work, putting on a fireman's hat or a policeman's hat."

R. DEVANEY: "Smith is coming in here and delivering recreation for the kids. And you give kids a playground to play on and they'll stay away from the corners.

NARRATOR: RICH DEVANEY AND NATIONS BANK KNOW THIS IS NOT SOME PIPE DREAM. WHERE OTHER BANKS ARE SUSPECTED OF RED-LINING, THEY HAVE INVESTED 125-MILLION DOLLARS IN PROJECTS ACROSS THE RIVER...BECAUSE CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEFÉ

DEVANEY: "We make money. You know, it's amazing. It's good business."

R. SMITH: "What does this mean to you personally, this kind of work?"

R. DEVANEY: "It's important to me. ...But for me personally, it's important to get involved in my community. These people take the scarce resources that they have and put them into something that's meaningful to make a change, to make peoples lives a lot better."

R. DEVANEY: "Brenda Jones is an amazing example of someone who's bright, intelligent, articulate, and she could have opportunities outside her community. But she chose to stay here, and I respect that."

NARRATOR: PARKLANDS IS ONLY HALF REHABILITATED, AND BRENDA HAS NO ILLUSIONS ABOUT HOW TOUGH IT IS TO FINISH THE JOB.

H. SMITH: "Do you have a sense of winning the battle, or holding even? How are you doing?"

B. JONES: "Well, I think we're holding even, and I wish we could have won this battle...so we're even, I would say."

NARRATOR: BUT BRENDA IS A BATTLER. GIVING UP IS NOT AN OPTION.

B. JONES: I feel very strong about Washington, DC as a whole and this particular community because I live here. And I feel very strong about my people that we truly need to turn this around about making ourselves better, enhancing our quality of life."

NARRATOR: AS SHE SEES THE PHYSICAL IMPROVEMENTS OF PARKLANDS' REBIRTH, SHE IS CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC...ESPECIALLY FOR THE CHILDREN.

LITTLE GIRL: "Look around and see, the well kept lawns, the neatly paved road, the neatly painted shutters on the buildings."

B. JONES: "...Cutting the grass, landscaping the area, coming into their apartments and putting new fixtures and fixing things..."

LITTLE GIRL: "This beauty brand new."NARRATOR: AND YET EVEN WITH PROGRESS, BRENDA JONES IS HAUNTED BY OLD MEMORIES OF HER CONSTANT STRUGGLE.

B. JONES: "One particular day I came to the center, coming to work and the dealers were right outside my door, outside the Parkland Community Center. And I said 'Oh no, we're not going to have this, you know. You have to go elsewhere' And immediately I got a board and some sticks and a couple of the young kids helped me, and I just made a sign that said no drug dealings here. And they respected that. And they did not come down to the center. They took their drug activity back up to the next block."

R. SMITH: "Weren't you afraid of doing that? I mean a lot people are worried about getting shot?"

B. JONES: "Well yeah, subconsciously I was, but I couldn't show it, you know. The kids were afraid, they said 'Oh Miss Jones, they gonna come out here and shoot you!' And um, I said no, myself again, I serve as a role model for these young people, I can not show I'm afraid - even though a whole bunch of adults were showing they were afraid by leaving the area, fleeing to the suburbs. But I wanted them to see there are some adults who are not afraid. And will stand up and this is what it takes in life, you have to stand for something."

H.SMITH: "Has it been worth it?"

B.JONES: "I think so. We have touched a lot of lives over the past 15 years...we really have touched a lot of lives. Even if we didn't...I used to always say... we didn't touch but one person's life, that's maybe one generation of people that we might could have saved.