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West Davis Park continues to pull together through challenges

Brandon Paykamian • Mar 11, 2019 at 9:26 AM

Since 1978, the West Davis Park Community Organization has worked to foster community cohesion in a neighborhood that residents said was once often plagued by drugs and crime. 

Today, nearly 20 residents throughout the neighborhood’s community have continued to live there for over 60 years, witnessing a lot of change as the years have gone by, according to Deborah Simmons-Grey, who has lived in the neighborhood herself for nearly 70 years.

Grey co-chairs the organization with Carla Forney to encourage community partnership in a neighborhood Grey said has “unique diversity.” She has also worked over the years as a secretary for the Langston Educational and Arts Development. 

“Our group reorganized July 27, 2015, and currently consists of 18 members. Even those who moved away still find a need or desire to be a part of this group. We focus on the enhancement of community interest and the continued sense of community pride and ownership,” Grey said. 

“Since reuniting, the organization has been utilizing Paul Chrisman Park (on North Boone Street) as a resource for creating unity within the neighborhood, with an emphasis on our youth and honoring our elderly.” 

But the neighborhood’s community cohesion has been disrupted in previous years, according to longtime resident Carleen Claybaker, who works in the neighborhood with the Weed and Seed Program, an organization founded in 2007 with the aim of encouraging communication with the Johnson City Police Department and the creation of more community-outreach programs.

“I moved in the neighborhood in 1985. I originally lived on the Tree Streets, and I realized it might be a good idea to buy a home. I did a lot of looking around at what I could afford and feel comfortable, safe and relaxed. Because of my price range, my opportunities and options were limited. I was taken by West Houston Avenue,” Claybaker said. 

“I was rather shocked to realize we had gang activity,” she continued. “Things progressed to where there was gunfire outside my house one morning.” 

But community cooperation with the police has helped maintain a sense of tranquility recently, Grey said. Now, Grey said most crime in the neighborhood seems to be “filtered in” or “imported” from elsewhere. 

“If you desire to live in our community, we want residents to know that we do care, but we are equally concerned and may even ask strangers as to their interest if seen walking our streets,” Grey said. 

These days, the West Davis Park Community Organization holds various events and continues to work on new initiatives to foster community pride. Events often include holiday decoration competitions, “best yard of the month” contests, childrens’ Easter egg hunts and more. 

“Several businesses and organizations provide donations for our efforts. This past year, we were honored to have (the) ETSU Women’s Basketball Team to come out and mentor our kids. August 2018 was also our very first ‘National Neighbors’ Night Out,’ ” Grey said. 

Some areas within West Davis have experienced what many would consider gentrification, and another main concern of residents is the lack of a large grocery store in the area.

However, when it comes to the lack of large grocery stores, Grey said there are some small shops in the neighborhood that have cultivated a unique culture and have encouraged residents to get involved in community gardening.

“Although we are currently without a neighborhood or major grocery store, we now have a few ethnic stores such as Asian, Mexican and African foods,” she said. 

While many in the neighborhood live on fixed incomes and would like to see access to more home improvements, Grey said she believes the community is as vibrant as ever. 

“This neighborhood was always noted by its cohesiveness and diversity. We mentor our youth, celebrate our elderly, we know each other and look out for one another,” Grey said.

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