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West Side story

"West Side story" Continued...

Issue: "Building a city," March 24, 2007

Johnny Daniels enthusiastically talks about two college graduates who participated in his West Side youth program and now volunteer to help with the youth group every Friday night. "I'll take two, man," says Pinkney.

On an afternoon drive through the West Side, Pinkney points out the public-housing complexes the ministry serves. Some dilapidated units are under renovation. Others are crumbling and will soon be demolished. One whole complex has been condemned, and the families forced out. "We have no idea where these people went," says Pinkney, driving down an empty, trash-strewn street.

Families remain in run-down units, and some homeless people live in condemned houses with boarded-up windows, no electricity, and no running water, according to Pinkney. Every Saturday morning, buses from Urban Restoration roll through the neighborhoods, picking up kids for a Christian-based program at the center.

Not all public housing is in disrepair. The city recently built a new set of mixed-income townhouses, where some families on public assistance live. Repaved roads with bike paths and widened lanes have also improved the neighborhood.

Across the street sits the well-maintained Arbor Glen Recreation Center, a community center built by the county's Parks and Recreation Department. The department maintains the building and grounds but leases the center for free to Urban Restoration in exchange for the ministry's community programs, which it runs at the facility year-round.

Pinkney applauds the local government's efforts at revitalization, including a new shopping center in an intersection that was formerly notorious for drug deals. He says an improved environment is good, but he still cautions: "If you don't change the demographic, how is it going to work?"

There's one demographic Pinkney is particularly concerned about: fathers. As he drives through public-housing complexes, he says they all have one thing in common: "You won't see many men around here."

Pinkney, a father of six, is president of the PTA at his son's West Side public elementary school. He recently started a program at the school to promote the role of fathers, and more than 100 dads now attend. The superintendent of Charlotte's public-school system has asked Pinkney to replicate the program in three more West Side schools.

Pinkney is the seventh of nine children who were abandoned by their father when Pinkney was 9 years old. His father's absence wreaked havoc on his household, and that motivates Pinkney to engage other dads. "We've complicated the role of fathers in some ways," he says, "but one of the most effective things you can do is to make sure you're there."

While he's encouraged about the impact that Urban Restoration's ministry and cooperation with local government could have on the West Side, Pinkney says he constantly reminds his staff that inner-city revitalization is a long-term investment: "It's never politically correct to say that this is going to take longer than you think-but it will."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD.

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