By New Times
By Connor Radnovich
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Ray Stern
By Keegan Hamilton
By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
Bishop Jimmerson walks around in the sun instructing a miniature work crew on the art of makeshift construction. It will create three bedrooms from two in the house sitting behind a square, dirt yard with no sidewalk.
The street here, near Broadway Road, is not paved. The city does not pave neighborhood streets here, unless they are in an improvement area, and unless residents can pay half. An improvement area is one of the few governmental designations that this part of South Phoenix hasn't been given.
Where the rough gravel stops, the house is encircled by a short, metal fence denoting a boundary for seven curious children. The lot next door would be vacant were it not for the old tires and an assortment of junk that leads to a dead school bus at the end of the street.
Jimmerson's house sits backward on its lot. When these old Army barracks were moved from west Phoenix after World War II, someone sat this one backward. That doesn't really bother Jimmerson. He'll make it nice now. That's his way.
Floyd "Bishop" Jimmerson has spent much more of his 73-year life planning what could be than fretting about the way things are. When he and his children finish working on their house, it will have new carpeting and a fresh coat of paint.
Jimmerson doesn't see a run-down, dilapidated old house here. He sees a new home. And he doesn't see boarded-up buildings and vacant lots along Broadway Road. He sees cafes and stores and offices where people work close to home. There are movie theatres and places to take children in Jimmerson's vision for South Phoenix.
"Show people your front yard before they come in the house," Jimmerson says, pointing a skinny, black finger in the air at nothing in particular. That's what he's teaching his children. He's spent nearly half of his adult life trying to make his neighbors and the parade of outsiders that comes through here see the same thing.
Jimmerson has been preaching in this community--frequently outdoors, with the help of a public-address system--for nearly 30 years.
A tall, thin man, he's prone to a formal style. Even sharing a dripping, red Popsicle with the children on a hot, summer afternoon, his slacks and shirt are pressed. The first names of people in Jimmerson's life are titles--Mr. Smith, Mrs. Grimes, Elder Larry--and if he's going to a meeting in the community, he's likely to wear a hat.
In the early 1980s, Jimmerson attached a speaker to the top of an old car and drove through the community inviting his neighbors to a meeting, telling them to clean up their yards and praise the Lord. It's a vision Jimmerson has been encouraging in this community for so very long.
But the promise of South Phoenix has never been realized.
Instead, the community has fallen victim to systematic discrimination, geographic isolation and political disorganization. The City of Phoenix has tried to do something in the south for years, but has never seemed to know what would work, or how to get it done.
In the absence of a real plan, the city spent more than $30 million trying to clean up, dress up or otherwise disguise the poverty surrounding Broadway Road--enough money, according to real estate types, to have built 500 new homes and a movie theatre surrounded by a retail center.
The money could have created Jimmerson's vision. Instead, it built mistrust and an ugly image.
The money was sporadically dispatched--in the traditional way when dealing with South Phoenix--over a period of about 15 years. And it was largely wasted. Most came from federal Community Development Block Grant funds, and went to a multitude of poorly coordinated programs administered by different public and private agencies.
"We're putting Band-Aids on the sore when there's an underlying disease," says the Reverend G. Benjamin Brooks, who has had a front-row seat from the pulpit of Southminster Presbyterian Church at 20th Street and Broadway for longer than anyone but he can remember.
Like Jimmerson, Brooks remembers a different South Phoenix.
@body:Across the Salt River from downtown, past the industrial dinosaurs that turn aggregate into asphalt, was a diamond in the rough. The area once belonged to ranchers with names like Bartlett and Heard. Fields of crops grew north from citrus groves that stood in the shadow of South Mountain. Jimmerson's neighborhood was once a field of cotton.
As time passed, landowners parceled off a few lots here and there and sold them to people looking for a place to build a house. Some of them worked on the ranches, some picked cotton, others were just looking for a place to settle.
An African-American community sprouted up around Broadway Road, north of the ranchers and the cowboys. Back then, neighbors ate in small cafes and shopped at the markets near 24th Street and Broadway. Families went to a barbecue joint named Uncle Ben's, and kids spent Saturday afternoons at the skating rink down the street. They had community, but not a lot else. Those were the days of Jim Crow laws, when African Americans were not welcome in many places in Phoenix. People built houses with what they could find. Some bought old homes in other parts of the Valley and moved them to their plots of land. Some raised animals, or started small businesses.