By, Terrance Roberts
Executive Director, Prodigal Son Initiative
Last week when I pulled up to my office, one of my young friends from the neighborhood was sitting on his bike waiting for me on the street corner. “Doesn’t it feel good to look over there every day and see your words come to life?” he asked, nodding to Holly Square. I get asked that question all of the time, in various forms, but to have this particular kid ask me made me feel that much better about all we have accomplished. I looked across the street at the Holly Square Peace Courts and the construction of the Nancy P. Anschutz Center – as I do literally 30 times a day – and I shook my head up and down. I simply told him, “Yes it does”, and let him know that any time he wanted to get a good basketball or futsal soccer game going that I was more than willing to accept the challenge.
It does feel good to see the construction of a brand new youth center and job training site, and those brand new courts and playgrounds have done wonders for the landscape and quality of life in the Holly Square area. Less crime, community beautification, and community assets to assist the schools – what community would not be proud of these accomplishments?
After the arson in 2008 that left the Holly Square a burned and battered war zone, many good-hearted, professional community warriors’ stepped up to the call of duty and helped the people of Northeast Park Hill climb from the ashes. The ‘forgotten community’ is now poised to show thousands of other communities the power of collaboration, willpower, resource sharing, and good neighboring principles! These groups were: the Urban Land Conservancy, the Holly Area Redevelopment Project, the Hope Center, Pauline Robinson Library, Hiawatha Davis Recreation Center, the U.S. Post Office, Nancy P. Anschutz Center, Jack A. Vickers Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver, Mi Casa Resource Center, G.R.I.D., State Senator Michael Johnston’s office, Mayor Michael B. Hancock’s office, Governor John Hickenlooper’s office, the Denver Foundation, the Prodigal Son Initiative, and all the locally owned businesses still located in the area.
Our community is on its way to speaking in the past-tense about the pain of urban decay, violence, unemployment and education gaps – we have risen so high above the ashes. Our youth have the opportunity to be safe and comfortable until 9 p.m. every day, engaged in programming from the Boys and Girls Club, the Hiawatha Davis Rec Center or the Prodigal Son Initiative, Inc., while they learn new skills and work side-by-side to heal their own community. The youth of our community will soon be the young men and women leading others into a positive and productive future.
Growing up in Northeast Park Hill, I quickly learned to work hard. Having a grandmother who still owns and operates a soul food restaurant (A & A Fish) seven days a week at 29th and Fairfax, I learned that those who work are the ones who set the tone for the block, not the ones loitering in the street standing in the various parking lots. The life that was on the block was coming from the many shops where the people of the community came to visit. This is a life lesson I took with me into the Holly Square Redevelopment Process, as did many of the other community leaders who put so much effort into a process that I still can’t believe we were actually able to implement so effectively.
Recently, we at the Prodigal Son Initiative, Inc., had to make a hard, but realistic, decision to scale back our afterschool programming due to the lack of adequate funding to run it properly for the youth. But this decision has become another blessing in disguise, as was the case with the turmoil in Holly Square. We have been able to garner support from a few sources who share our vision of Urban Beautification for the youth, and with the youth of the community. We at PSI, Inc., have now narrowed our focus to work with youth in various blighted communities. Along with our Northeast Denver Youth Leadership Committee team, we are poised to help resurrect other communities suffering from some of the issues we suffered at Dahlia Square, before the demolition, and most recently at our beloved Holly Square Shopping Center.
The term that has now been coined from our work with the Holly Square Peace Courts is ‘Interim Use Development’. These small community beautification projects create positive gathering spaces as a direct message against the many ills that come from urban decay issues. Having the youth beautify their own community gives them ownership that no street gang or anger from broken opportunities could ever give them.
I am the kid who was on the honor roll for many years in school, and I am also the kid who joined the neighborhood street gang for many years. From getting gunned down in Northeast Park Hill in the ‘Summer of Violence’, to being incarcerated and being called a ‘Public Nuisance’ at a time in Park Hill, to be able to become a man who could even work on a process to help heal the Holly Square, and the rest of our community in Park Hill, this is more than a dream, or vision come true! I’m honored beyond belief to be able to serve my community to where for decades to come we will have proper development and service for our humble but active Tribe.
Park Hill is rightfully where it should be, in my opinion, helping other communities heal their trauma by leading the way into the future for our youth and community members. We all appreciate the support and love shown to the Holly Square Redevelopment Process, which could not have happened without the support of our community members. Congratulations to you, Park Hill, for being the best community in the nation! Please stop by Holly Square to see the progress, and while you’re there, say hello – we are always happy to see our neighbors.
To contact Terrance or learn more about the Prodigal Son Initiative, visit prodigalsoninc.org.