Kenneth L. Hardin: A field trip to a sad reality

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 7, 2023

I went on a journey last week, but I didn’t leave the city limits. It wasn’t a particularly fun trip either because it filled me with emotions I typically try to push down into the deepest recesses of my being. These are the kind of emotions that could make a man speak in tongues using language wholesome women and proper gentlemen don’t typically engage in. But last week, I allowed that freak flag of coarse language to blow in the wind as I meandered down several streets of this marginal slice of heaven where my mail is delivered.

I drove to the land time forgot, the West End, as I do on many occasions each week. I do so because I have folks I care about there, who are being held hostage by gun violence, dilapidated housing and lack of resources. They live in oblivion to those who claim to care equally about every neighborhood in this city. So, I ride by and do a safety check, mostly on seniors and women living alone. On this day, I took a different route and happened upon a disturbing scene parked eerily in the heart of this once vibrant, thriving and progressive community.

As it came fully into my view, I pumped the brakes, coming to a full stop in the middle of the street directly in front of this structure that no longer qualified as a home. I’m not sure why music always comes to mind when I feel strong emotions, but as I was looking at this run down, dilapidated home devoid of any life, love, or concern, I heard Luther Vandross sing, “A room is still a room, oh, even when there’s nothin’ there but gloom. But a room is not a house, and a house is not a home.”

This was no longer a house nor was it a home and I wondered why it was allowed to exist in this condition for so long with no owner or city intervention.

I rode down the remainder of the quiet cul-de-sac to see what condition the other homes were in. The other yards were well maintained with no overgrowth, and it looked as if people actually cared about and lived in them. I decided to take a closer inspection of this Addams Family-like residence.

The first thing I noticed was it was a sturdy brick structure with a color that the elements had turned it into something that doesn’t exist in the crayon box. Wooden boards covered everywhere glass used to be as if this was somehow an effective deterrent against illegal entry.

The front door was missing altogether so it rendered other security measures moot and pointless. In speaking with a close by neighbor, the house is commonly used as a hangout for drug abusers and those who can’t afford a nice motel for illegal extracurricular physical activities. The trees in the front yard looked tired and haggard from having to stand shamefully in front of this run-down spectacle for so long.

The overgrown grass and other foliage surrounding the house stood tall and on guard, warning anyone who dared to approach. I stood there shaking my head from side to side allowing those words not spoken in sophisticated circles to escape from deep within. I said to myself, “It’s a shame these neighbors in the Black community have to suffer with this, but I bet that downtown park is kept up.” Thus, my field trip continued.

I parked my vehicle outside the multimillion-dollar park and stood on the sidewalk. I have no desire or intention to ever step a foot inside as I view that as a betrayal to all those who suffer disproportionately economically. It’s interesting how the city can find money for the hundreds of thousands of dollars for the upkeep of a park and do major renovations to the City Lake Park, but always seem to cry poor mouth and broke when it comes to having money for marginalized neighborhoods. We can demolish two whole city blocks downtown, cut down trees and build a walkway pier, but always stand behind excuses of why there are houses on the West End that have been boarded up for decades and we’re unable to touch them.

The residents of the West End don’t need any more community meetings with the city. We can stop with the flip charts, sticky notes analyzing the problems and free Chick-fil-A meals. What is needed is the cessation of stalling and excuses, an infusion of resources and definitive action so the residents can believe you do stand behind the words coming out of your mouths every two years.

I can’t believe anything you say because for the last 30 years, I’ve seen how little you do.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin) is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.