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.
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Milwaukee Brewers
TicketsFri., Jun. 9, 6:40pm
Phoenix Mercury vs. Los Angeles Sparks
TicketsSat., Jun. 10, 7:00pm
All You Can Eat Value Pack - Mercury v Sparks
TicketsSat., Jun. 10, 7:00pm
Phoenix Rising Football Club vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
TicketsSat., Jun. 10, 7:30pm
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.
In the 1950s, affordable housing came to South Phoenix in the form of "minihomes"--600- to 800-square-foot, cheaply constructed buildings that sat two to a lot. Army barracks, like the one which would later become Jimmerson's home, were condemned in west Phoenix, then moved south.
This was not Phoenix, not yet, anyway. It was just a part of the county.
A group of community activists, which included most of the ranchers, tried unsuccessfully to make the area its own city. But others wanted it to become a part of Phoenix.
It wasn't so much that Phoenix particularly wanted its southern neighbor. Phoenix didn't want anyone else to have it. Smaller municipalities were beginning to spring up all over the Valley. Without the south, Phoenix would have been landlocked close to its downtown.
The proannexation movement in the south joined with that of Maryvale in the west, and both areas were added to the city in one sweep. In 1959, Phoenix grew by leaps and bounds overnight.
But there was an essential difference in the two areas annexed. Maryvale was a planned community, the creation of developer John F. Long. South Phoenix had just kind of sprouted up on its own. The city was ill-equipped to handle the needs that came with this new southern part of Phoenix. So the government chose to ignore it. The city put in water and sewer lines, but little else.
In the absence of zoning, there were junkyards next to homes, and animals in the middle of a block. All of this was there when the south became South Phoenix. It stayed, because the city "grandfathered" existing conditions, preventing regulation that was standard practice in other parts of the city.
The city's new southern border offered a wonderful location close to downtown, with open land and the best panoramic views in the Valley. It was and is the eclectic home of at least five different cultures, decorated with citrus orchards and flower gardens and little spots of history like the old Del Monte store on Dobbins Road, which served the original ranches of the south side.
The area south of the Salt was poised to take off. But it never did. What kept it from developing then is keeping it in poverty now.
@body:Even in its early years as part of the city, South Phoenix seemed, to the rest of the Valley, used--tainted, somehow.
The city's developers, obsessed with all things new, could see a community where there was nothing but desert. But they couldn't see one where there was a hodgepodge of homes and farms.
And certainly not where there were poor people and minorities.
Banks redlined. Insurance companies refused to insure.
Travis Williams and John Jones built homes in spite of them.
Williams and Jones Construction, as they were known, created a neighborhood of nice homes near 24th Street and Roeser Road, just south of Broadway, in the early 1960s. In those days, it was about the only place an African American could buy land. Williams and Jones made a practice of policing home loans, so the banks would have fewer excuses not to lend.
They sold to African Americans coming out of the military with Veterans Administration financing, and to others who had migrated from the Old South. The neighborhood, still one of the nicest in the area, was home to jazz musician Louis Jordan, to Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam, and to renowned scientist Percy Julian. Over the years, it would become home to politicians, power brokers and a few professional athletes.
But downtown started to stretch north up Central Avenue. Shopping centers--Metrocenter, Christown, Westridge and, later, Paradise Valley and Fashion Square malls--drew people away from the south side of town.
The cafes and the markets and the other mom-and-pop businesses that had survived on a shoestring for so many years began to shut down or sell out. Industrial businesses, shunned by residential neighborhoods springing up across the Valley, found a home along the Salt River. Cheap land attracted speculators looking to make a quick buck.
Throughout the 1970s, the speculators put up apartment complexes where rent was guaranteed by the government and bought dilapidated buildings that were leased to anyone with a steady cash flow. Most of the owners didn't live anywhere near this community and didn't care what happened there, at least in the long term.
Success came to mean getting out of the neighborhood. The doctors and the professionals who had struggled to attain position and some measure of wealth moved to new homes and never looked back.
John Hart left once, too. Hart, the son of longtime community activist Goldye Hart, is related to the Jones side of Williams and Jones. He was graduated from Arizona State University in the 1970s, and took off for a corporate job in San Francisco.
"I loved San Francisco," Hart says. "But it was, should I stay here and make the mad money or come back to Phoenix and run a company that people have worked so hard for for so many years?"
In 1984, he returned to run the family business, Mutual Investments, at 19th Street and Broadway.
"A lot of the young people I grew up with had moved out to north Phoenix and Chandler and other parts of the Valley," says Hart. "The joke is that they move to Paradise Valley or someplace like that, and then they don't want to come to South Phoenix, either."
South Phoenix had begun to acquire a label that would never be removed: dangerous.
@body:The civil rights movement came to Phoenix through the south end, largely because there were few minorities anywhere else. There were sit-ins and marches and rallies, and Broadway Road served as the unofficial headquarters for most of them.
South Mountain High School in the late 1960s was, because it served every kid who lived anywhere south of the Salt River, a desegregationist's dream.
About 3,500 teenagers of all shapes, sizes and colors listened to the Beatles and James Brown and cheered for the South Mountain Rebels.
A war raged on in Vietnam, black fists were raised up across the country and hippies made a fad of being arrested.
"It was peace, love, drugs and power to the people," remembers Hart, who was student-body president then. "We kind of got caught up in the times."
One day, an entire school of pubescent rebels with too many causes burst out of class with the notion of taking something back. They ran to the cafeteria. They threw food. They knocked out windows. They bounced on cars.
And then they started throwing fists.
"It got pretty crazy," Hart remembers. "And then the cops came, and the cameras came."
The event garnered official riot status, with about 150 police officers on the scene. And South Mountain was engraved in the history of Phoenix as a turbulent school. "We were so doggone young, we didn't know what we were doing," Hart says, laughing.
They were doing what young people were doing across America. But the image of rioting would never leave South Phoenix.
In the absence of most everything else, the neighborhood around Broadway began to fill with drugs and the crime that follows. The Keys family used to own a market near 24th Street and Broadway, and they lived in the back. As business waned, they sold out, and the market made a gradual descent into the gutter.
By the time it was closed by the city in 1989, Keys Market was home to the highest drug traffic in the Valley. People were killed there. Closing Keys sent a substantial amount of drug traffic into the neighborhood around it. Then people were killed there, too.
And so was South Phoenix.
@body:Despite a population of about 130,000 people from all walks of life, the largest municipal park in the world (South Mountain), acres of green fields, upscale homes and a country club, South Phoenix has been repeatedly indicted for the sins of a few of its residents.
The community as a whole is no more dangerous than a lot of the rest of Phoenix, many residents feel. Its worst neighborhoods are no worse than bad neighborhoods in other parts of the Valley.
In fact, residents contend that the area's drug trade does not originate south of the Salt, but flows into South Phoenix from its sisters to the north--Phoenix, Glendale, Peoria.
"There's not an African American in South Phoenix who has enough money to bring in that kind of crack," says one community leader. More than half of the cars that cruise Central Avenue on weekend nights--nights that too often end in violence--belong to people who live somewhere else, says the south's city councilmember, Cody Williams.
Technically, South Phoenix takes in part of downtown, including Phoenix's crown jewel, America West Arena. It also includes the Salt River, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, miles of very average neighborhoods, South Mountain and beyond.
But Valley media have for years casually referred to criminal wrongdoing anywhere south of the middle of downtown as "South Phoenix." The boundaries have always been fluid when it comes to bashing South Phoenix.
@body:Geography seems to work against South Phoenix.
When Presley Company Southwest built its megacommunity on the south side of the mountain, it was named Ahwatukee, never to be known as South Phoenix.
The "real" South Phoenix--physically separated from the Valley by the Salt River to the north, South Mountain to the south and 48th Street to the east--has remained out of sight and out of the minds of other Valley residents.
Low-income and heavily industrial neighborhoods along the Salt River stand between South Phoenix and the rest of the world.
The government has repeatedly attempted to penetrate that isolation. But there are those who think South Phoenix would be better off if it had been left alone completely.
After being systematically ignored as a potential site for any real economic development, South Phoenix sold its soul to pay for assistance. The community has played host, for nearly three decades, to an annual poverty derby in which public and private social-service agencies compete for grant money.
Every year, the federal government gives a pot of Community Development Block Grant money to the city. In turn, a committee of appointed citizens decides which of the oodles of proposals from public and private agencies get funded, and for how much.
Big public relations points go to those who serve the low-income, the elderly, kids and minorities.
Consequently, city departments, neighborhood organizations, churches, unions, housing advocates and a multitude of social-service agencies have written volumes on how horrible South Phoenix is, all in the hope of being funded to help alleviate the dire conditions they have described.
In 1980, the three-square-mile area between Seventh Avenue and 24th Street, from Southern Avenue to Roeser Road, was labeled Target Area B by the city. The designation has brought $20 million in government spending since then. The same general area has been named an enterprise zone, a redevelopment area, a drug-free zone (which came complete with signs announcing the "zone" at major intersections), a Neighborhood Fight Back area and, most recently, an Empowerment Zone.
Besides direct government funding, more than $10 million has passed through private agencies to build new homes, fix old homes, clean up junk, paint over graffiti, find jobs and give kids something to do. But, somehow, there's never enough money, and things don't seem to get finished. And another year brings another new program to fix things.
Phoenix spent $2.7 million building and improving three parks, a recreation room and a community center. Another $7.6 million upgraded water and sewer lines and fixed some major streets. The city spent $7.3 million trying to repair and remodel a few of the dilapidated houses that should never have been built in the first place.
Included in the programs was money for Tanner Gardens, a HUD complex of town houses near 18th Place and Broadway that became a hot spot for drugs and an array of other crimes.
Spread thinly across a three-square-mile area over 14 years, the money did little but bring false hope to the people who live there and keep an army of administrators in office supplies.
"Some of these neighborhoods are in such bad shape, and resources are limited," explains Patrick Hendrick, a project manager for the city's Neighborhood Services Department and a former South Phoenix resident. "The [target] area was too big. [Even] if you had a smaller amount of money, you could have made a bigger difference somewhere."
In 1990, the city's first Neighborhood Fight Back program on 24th Street and Broadway became a private, nonprofit agency. It was called the Community Excellence Project. It was expected to mark a change in direction.
The community would now be running this business on its own, keeping the anticrime, pro-cleanup momentum going without the government.
There was a small problem, though. The city didn't trust the community to do it.
At least half of the board of directors for Community Excellence was comprised of people from outside the neighborhood.
Corporate movers and shakers who apparently did not have time for careful management--including John Salgado of First Interstate Bank; Bill Shover, director of public affairs for Phoenix Newspapers, Inc.; Mike D'Muro, head of Mechtronics in South Phoenix; and Don Logan, a Scottsdale administrator--were placed on the board to guide the less-experienced neighborhood representatives.
By 1993, the organization had run through more than $250,000 in grant money, lost its nonprofit status, been slapped with more than $8,000 in tax liens, acquired $30,000 in debt and faced a claim for $20,000 in back pay by its former director.
While creating this financial nightmare, CEP organized repeated neighborhood cleanups, registered voters and hosted youth recreation programs. The board's current president, Gareth Lewis, and executive director, Gail Knight, refused to comment on what CEP has accomplished since then.
In 1990, most of South Phoenix north of Southern Avenue was labeled an enterprise zone, which allowed businesses in the neighborhood to receive tax credits for residents they employed.
But neither the state nor the city, which administers the program, ever bothered to find out if it worked.
"It's impossible to know who has come down there," reports Steve Prokopek, the city's project manager. "We don't even know who's been taking the [tax] credit. No one kept track."
The Fiesta Bowl Float Pavilion moved in on Broadway Road and then closed after it lost a contract to build floats. Mechtronics moved in at 16th Street and Broadway. It stayed, but Phoenix filled up Sky Harbor Center with industries employing people who live in other parts of the Valley.
When all else failed, the city bought what it couldn't fix and tore down what was in the way. It is now the proud owner of 20 acres of vacant land in South Phoenix, waiting to be developed.
After nearly 15 years and more than $30 million in assistance, South Phoenix has the highest tax rates in the Valley, almost half of the city's low-income housing, the largest percentage of industrial business in Phoenix--and none of the types of development its residents so desperately want.
And the grant derby is still running.
For its next southern venture, Phoenix has applied for a $100 million federal Empowerment Zone grant, which would fund programs from Southern Avenue to McDowell Road.
The feds, through HUD, plan to award six grants nationwide, and Phoenix has done its political best to grab one of them. A part of the project is patterned after development efforts in San Antonio, Texas, home to HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros.
Heading the project for Phoenix is deputy city manager Jacques Avent, husband of Loretta Avent, an aide to President Clinton.
The application also mentions the city's 1993 Best Run City in the World designation, and outlines how hundreds of citizens were involved in the proposal's design.
Jimmerson doesn't buy it. And neither does a significant segment of South Phoenix, which has begun to remove the welcome mat for city "assistance."
"People come in and work in this community, and don't care any more about this community than a freight train cares about its caboose," Jimmerson says. "You can tell a person what to do in your house, because you live there. You can't tell somebody what to do if you don't know them."
@body:After years of governmental plans and do-good programs, South Phoenix is plagued by a collective self-esteem problem that keeps a good portion of its residents socially dormant.
The parts of the community that are politically active have been united on very little.
More than five established neighborhood organizations work from different agendas. And that number doesn't include the South Mountain Chamber of Commerce, the South Mountain Village Planning Committee or private organizations like the Community Excellence Project and Keys Community Center.
Housing advocates vie for affordable housing while community leaders court upper-end homebuilders. The business crowd chases development while others fight to preserve open space. All the things that make South Phoenix a culturally, economically and politically diverse melting pot also work against its consolidation.
"You've got all these different people going in all these different directions," says Hart. "And divided you can't stand."
Nearly everyone in the ten-square-block area surrounding Broadway Road is, in some way, connected to one of the 22 churches there.
Some, like Southminster, are full-time, full-service operations. Others are one-room sanctuaries open for worship services a few hours a week. "Most of the preachers in this community don't even live here," Jimmerson says. "They come in and preach and then go home."
A concentration of low-income housing brought immigrants to this community in droves; many don't speak English, and are wary of government.
Meanwhile, years of exporting its best talent has left the community with an undereducated and increasingly elderly population.
"We have fractured leadership," the Reverend Brooks says. "No one uptown would dare suggest that those who have the least training be elected to leadership."
Phoenix's African-American population was barely coming into its own, in political terms, when the Hispanic population here began to boom in the early 1970s.
Young Hispanics like Alfredo Gutierrez and Ed Pastor left the mining towns of Globe and Miami for Arizona State University and newfound activism. They formed organizations like Chicanos por la Causa. They began to gain political power.
This didn't sit well with African Americans. They'd waged war for civil rights, and felt as if they'd held the door while Hispanics came through. The two groups battled over minority political seats at every level. As the Valley grew in different directions, reapportionment threw together a burgeoning Hispanic population in what was once central Phoenix with the African-American neighborhoods of South Phoenix.
Two communities of people with great needs were made to share the same piece of the pie.
Nowhere has the tension between these two groups been more public than on the Roosevelt Elementary School Board. Roosevelt serves about 10,000 children in an area that encompasses nearly all of South Phoenix. Twenty years ago, the district was 35 percent Anglo, 34 percent African American and 30 percent Hispanic. Today, Hispanic students make up 66 percent of the school district, compared to a 25 percent African-American population. Anglo students have fallen to only 9 percent.
Roosevelt has been, for decades, the largest employer in an area with an unemployment rate double the national average. The district's low property values and vast amounts of vacant land sent taxes higher than any of its counterparts in the Valley. In July, the Arizona Supreme Court finally ruled this funding discrepancy unconstitutional after years of debate.
The stakes here are high, the resources low. And school-board seats bring power. Until the mid-1980s, the Roosevelt board was divided into two Hispanic seats, two African-American seats--one of them held by Brooks, who has been on the board for more than 20 years--and one Anglo position.
Things changed in the late 1980s. An election brought a three-member Hispanic majority to the school board, which, in turn, brought a Hispanic superintendent.
African Americans resented what they say was a power machine in control of jobs and their children's education. The power equation switched in another election in 1990, which brought an African-American majority into power. The Hispanic superintendent was ousted, and the turbulence continued.
In one particularly infamous meeting, the Reverend Bernard Black, a longtime board member, took a swing at fellow board member Carlos Avelar following ethnic slurs from both sides.
All five board members were embroiled in a recall election that divided the district. A new superintendent was hired.
Despite the dramatics, Roosevelt had by no means cornered the market on political turbulence. It's just that, while other school-district leaders were cutting deals and maneuvering agendas behind the scenes, Roosevelt's leadership fought in public.
But private business, including, especially, developers, saw the public discord as one more reason to avoid the south.
@body:Despite its proximity to the city center, its fairly well-developed infrastructure, its cheap land, its beautiful landscape and its obvious economic potential, the south side has been seen by Valley business and developers as a leper colony.
The only major grocery stores between the Salt River and South Mountain are along Baseline Road and South Central Avenue.
"You can't buy one football ticket down here," Hart says. There is no movie theatre, no bowling alley, no shopping mall and relatively few restaurants, banks and gas stations. The only car washes are self-serve.
Everyone seems to have an idea for attracting the type of business common to the rest of the Valley.
Some say it's an image problem.
"The bottom line is perception," says Ken Quartermain, deputy director of the Home Builders Association. "Every press report that you read says that there was this gun battle or this drive-by shooting in South Phoenix."
Greg Brownell, broker for an H.C. Elliott Homes development in South Phoenix, remembers the couple who rescinded their new home purchase after hearing the reaction from family and friends to their new South Phoenix address.
Hart remembers the city inspector who insisted on meeting him in the early afternoon to look at a piece of property, saying, "You know, those people down there are very volatile."
Some call for infrastructure.
The 1987 Rio Salado Project--a proposed $2.5 billion river-front development--would have put lakes, parks and commercial development in South Phoenix's front yard. But the countywide initiative was voted down because it didn't affect enough people in the rest of the Valley.
Downtown got Arizona Center, an arena and a new city hall.
North Phoenix got a sea of red-tiled roofs divided into housing developments with scenic names. The state sold 5,700 acres north of the Central Arizona Project to a group of investors for a megaproject known as Desert Ridge.
South Phoenix got more industrial development and low-income housing. And some say success will breed success.
All it will take is one big economic hit, say the planners, and everyone else will rush to South Phoenix like rampaging sheep.
"It needs to be master-planned," Quartermain says. "You need to have a big hit, like a Mountain Park Ranch or a Foothills."
But those kinds of promises have an all-too-familiar ring in South Phoenix.
Members of the Valley's business sector wanted a college. Maricopa Community College District built South Mountain Community College on Baseline Road.
They worried about flooding. The city built bridges that didn't wash out.
They wanted transportation. A major transportation corridor is planned along 51st Avenue.
They wanted a better entrance. The city set about "beautifying" South Central Avenue, in an attempt to make it look more like Greenway Parkway or Cave Creek Road or Scottsdale Road.
Somehow, South Phoenix never seems to be good enough. It has never looked like the rest of the Valley. It has always had more diversity, more divergent aspirations, more conflict--when all is said and done, more character.
And maybe that's been the problem all along.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.