By Primus Mootry
For The Herald Bulletin
---- — A very dear friend of mine uses a method he calls “the eye test” to judge, among other things, the state of the predominantly African-American section of Anderson’s west side. It’s where he grew up. He is passionate about improving conditions for the total mix of people who live there — African American, white and Hispanic.
His “eye test” simply means “Look around you.” Is there a beautiful tree where there was once just an ugly stump? Has a vacant lot strewn with broken glass become a joyful community garden? Do you see in the face of the people happiness and hope, or the face of isolation, despair, and desperation?
Look. What is the visible, tangible, measurable evidence that these questions are being answered? If you see it, great. If you don’t, then ask why not. I join my friend and others in concern for the west side and its people.
Out of this concern, I recently did my own “eye test” drive through the area. It is an area roughly bordered by Brown-Delaware (E); Eighth Street (N); 25th Street (S); and Costello Drive (W). It’s an area small enough to make a tangible difference, yet large enough to invite investment from anyone or any group that cares.
One afternoon as I was coming from downtown Anderson, I drove west on Historic Eighth Street. In a couple of minutes or so, I saw wonderfully painted, stately old mansions and homes, with a smattering of law offices and other businesses tucked here and there. Easy on the eyes.
But in another minute, I was crossing newly paved Madison Avenue. Far less colorful. Far less well kept. Although it had its bright spots, the section of the beautiful Eighth Street I was on a minute ago was pockmarked with blight — vacant lots, houses in disrepair, inferior streets and sidewalks, and other “eye test” evidence of neglect. Troubling.
I turned south on Raible to Nichol Avenue, then west to Costello, turned around and came back east. Oh my. Except for a sprinkling of business bright spots, this essential east/west corridor needs a facelift and more. Hard on the eyes.
Before finishing my “eye test,” I had driven north, south, east and west on every street in the area. I always found those bright spots. But, in general, there were signs of neglect, abandonment, and hopelessness. Depressing. Puzzling.
Back at home, I took the “eye test” another step. I read an up-to-date statistical report on people living in the area — their poverty level, health status, crime data, unemployment rate, home ownership levels, educational achievement data and school dropout rates, out-of-wedlock births, teen pregnancy rates, and other “quality of life” information.
When I put what I had seen with what I read, I concluded that, if this community area were a human patient, call an ambulance. Put that patient in intensive care! Communities, you know, are not just bricks and mortar and businesses and sidewalks and so forth, communities are nothing more than the people who live in them. The transformation of any community requires an investment in its people.
The main conclusion I drew from my “eye test” experience is that the section of the west side I described did not pass. Why would we — all of us — let the Nichol Avenue corridor and the west side languish? Are we not one community, that is, a community of communities? In the spirit of community, I get it. We care. But caring is not enough.
I know there are organizations such as the NAACP, the Urban League, The Anderson Impact Center, the MLK Foundation, Black Expo, the Black Chamber of Commerce, Habitat for Humanity, as well as churches, neighborhood groups, and stalwart activists working hard to make a difference.
Not enough. Crudely put, the solution to the problem requires focused, coordinated action from all parties who care — local and state government, our great service organizations, the university community, the faith community, and so on.
Without being overly dramatic, for many citizens in the area, it is not just a matter of quality of life, it is a matter of life and, in too many cases, premature death due to readily treatable illnesses.
Go ahead. Take your own “eye test” if you must. After all, the use of the eyes implies vision. And, as it is written, “without vision, the people perish.”
Have a nice day.
Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.