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Street of Dreams: “Year of Boulevard” Project Expands Horizons

By A. Scott Walton Executive Editor | 7/19/2013, 8:29 a.m.
The infamously impoverished Boulevard “corridor” – where the poorest households (per capita) in the Southeastern United States are corralled – ...
City Councilman Kwanza Hall

Hall said he’s worked hard at coaxing Wingate Management, the Boston-based firm that owns most of the Section 8 tenements on the roughest stretch of Boulevard, into investing in major infrastructure and security improvements. He said they’re coordinating on a plan to construct an assisted-living apartment complex for the corridor’s elderly, as well.

Currently, some 750 households dwell in the Bedford-Pine housing units on Boulevard and the median household income is $3,000. Approximately 650 kids are growing up there, and half of them live below the poverty line. Only 25 of the 750 households are headed by males.

Other advancements since Hall began his Boulevard initiatives include: the establishment of a mini-police precinct at the Atlanta Medical Center, which has contributed to a 14-percent decrease in neighborhood crime; a partnership with the Atlanta Hawks that led to $50,000 worth of improvement to area basketball courts; and volunteer clean-up events that help the corridor look and feel less menacing.

“I feel a change around here,” said Mychallyn Blackmon, a soon-to-be high school freshman who commutes, with her grandmother, from Stockbridge to attend the camp. “We’re learning about things we never thought we’d able to do and what we could grow up to be.”

Devontae Bryant, an entering freshman at Grady High said lessons on how to start a business kept him coming back to camp.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Bryant said. “It’s the little things, like looking somebody in the eye when you’re at a job interview.”

And Anton Cousins, a 12-year-old headed toward a sports-themed academy this fall, stepped up to say: “My plan has always been to make it to the NFL, but now I see I can be an entrepreneur too. So one thing leads to another.”

Community contact and involvement, Hall said, are the keys to revamping Boulevard for the long haul.

And Edwards, who operates Café Circa, Club Indigo, The Aurum Bar and the Kouture Lounge in and around the corridor, understands that it takes time to renew a run-down district.

“I was talking to a cop I know who showed me how, if you type in a kid who’s been arrested’s name, you might come up with a record for his father and his father’s father. That has to change,” said Edwards.

“A year is a short time to try and make a difference,” Edwards added. “You have generations of people doing the same negative things; the crime, the teen pregnancy. It’s not an overnight fix.”

The 7th-grader-to-be, Love Robinson, indicated that the corridor seems safer, more inviting to her now.

“When I first started coming to this camp in the fourth grade, I was shy, I was quiet, I didn’t try to expand my friendship level,” Robinson said. “But now I can talk to anybody.”

“Back then,” Robinson reflected, as only an optimistic youth can, “you knew you were on Boulevard, because of the behavior you saw. But I don’t think Boulevard’s such a bad place anymore.”

To learn more and to get involved, visit: http://www.yoboulevard.com/.