Friday, May 16, 2014
The County Council took no action, but indicated it would take the citizens’ concerns under consideration.
After holding several informational meetings at the AME Church on Highmarket Street, a concerned group of about 80 citizens crowded into the County Council chambers Tuesday evening to have their outrage at the Howard Center Gym demolition voiced by four prepared and passionate spokespersons.
Painting a picture of a neighborhood rich in culture and strong in community bonds, Brendon Brown encouraged the County Council to look upon him as a positive product of the Howard Gym.
Growing up on Emanuel Street in the West End, Brown described his childhood as one filled with riding bikes and playing football on the same streets that were riddled with drugs and crime.
Referring to Councilwoman Lillie Johnson’s recent visit to an AME Church meeting, Brown said, “Ms. Johnson pointed out that there had been several ‘incidents’ at the gym, but that is not the fault of the children that were not involved.”
Brown informed the board about the effects of displacing Team D.E.F.F. (Determined, Educational, Fundamental, and Fun) basketball team as a result of the closing of the Howard Gym.
“What started as a summer basketball program has turned into a year-long program with over 60 youth participants who are West End youth,” said Brown.
He told the board that during weekend tournaments, over 150 youths were using the Howard Gym with absolutely no incidents reported.
Included in the 80 citizens that gathered for the meeting were 30 youths.
Determined to reclaim the space they affectionately refer to as “our gym,” the youths participated by holding up signs as the speakers generated applause during their speeches.
“The other kids play basketball, but I played volleyball, and I can’t walk to Beck,” said 7-year-old Noziroh German. “I don’t have anywhere safe to play now.”
Hoping the County Council can provide them with some assistance, others such as 17-year-old Jerome Smith were clearly upset about the demolition of the gym. “We don’t get to play ‘free ball’ anymore,” expressed Smith. “When Howard was open, we could go there straight from school and play as much basketball as we wanted. Now, at Beck, you have to be 18 to do that, and we just sit around and do nothing.”
Kids not being able to have something to do in their neighborhood was precisely the concern of Everett Carolina as he addressed the council.
“The Mayor and the City Council need to get on board with this, because without a recreation outlet for the kids in this area, it will become a city problem when juvenile crime and gang activities increase within the city.”
Everett went on to inform the board that the building permit issued by the city listed the work to be done was for the remodeling of the gym and classrooms, and not the elimination of either two.
Carolina urged the council to “come together and let’s all do the right things for the children of this community and restore Howard Gymnasium.”
Local businesswoman Rhonda Green echoed Carolina’s thoughts by telling the council, “Change is constant and is often a sign of growth … The individuals here are not against change, but are against decisions made behind closed doors that take away vital resources from our youth.”
Waiting for the sounds of the applause from the gallery to subside, Green further pointed out, “The closing of the gym will negatively impact Georgetown.”
Looking the council members straight in their eyes, Green reminded them that one day the 700 children impacted by the gym’s closing will be old enough to vote. She also conveyed to the council that the children in the West End had not only lost a gym, but they also had lost coaches who were vital role models and mentors in their lives.
She concluded by urging the council to review the Waccamaw Regional Recreation Center in Pawleys Island, a $4.4 million dollar facility. “Don’t the West End Children deserve a facility with basketball hoops, climbing walls, walking track, cardio, and meeting rooms?” Green asked.
Demanding that the council seek the input of the community, Travis Parker was the last to address the council on behalf of the citizens gathered in the gallery of the council chambers.
After listening to the other speakers, Parker, who said his speech was not prepared and probably not politically correct, began by asking the council a series of questions. “Who made this decision? Who put together the advisory board? Where were the members of the West End community? Did you advertise or solicit input through social media?” Parker voiced concern that the decision was made behind closed doors and said that essentially “you stole Howard Gym from us.”
He repeatedly encouraged the council to reconsider the decision to close the Howard Gym. Parker reminded the council of who elected them, and what was expected of them.
“We elected you to represent us, and we don’t expect you to come to us on every little matter,” he said. “But when there is a major change in our community, we demand that you come to us and inform us of the possible change.”
Speaking on behalf of the group after the meeting, Everett Carolina said, “I am an eternal optimist, the last nail has not been hammered at Howard, and I fully believe that this council will do the right thing for the children, and restore the gym at Howard.”