Weld’s “Neighborhood Voices” series features interviews with the presidents of each of Birmingham’s 99 neighborhood associations about the strengths and challenges facing their communities. If you are a neighborhood leader and would like your neighborhood to be included, you can reach out to us at email@example.com.
Just east of Crestwood North and southwest of Interstate 20 lies Oak Ridge Park. The neighborhood, which contains the Town Park Apartments and Henry J. Oliver Elementary School, hosts a population of 1,787 residents, according to the Birmingham Housing Study. The neighborhood, which is part of Birmingham’s Woodlawn community, is split between District 2 (represented by City Councilor Kim Rafferty) and District 5 (represented by City Council President Johnathan Austin).
Recently, Oak Ridge Park Neighborhood President Myeisha Hutchinson spoke to Weld about bridging generation gaps, addressing poverty, and the neighborhood’s philosophy of “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.”
Weld: Why did you decide to become your neighborhood’s president?
Myeisha Hutchinson: My reason to become neighborhood president was to create an intergenerational connection for neighbors in my neighborhood in which neighbors from all generations could make contributions to build our neighborhood into a healthy place for families.
The intergenerational disconnect among neighbors in Oak Ridge Park is representative of what is happening around the entire city, state, and nation and is not a new concept. Some of the ways we have tried to address this is having intentional conversations about issues in the neighborhood. This has brought us together towards many common goals, as we all have the same concerns. Building trust for one another over time has also helped with this issue.
I became neighborhood president in 2013, and I am serving in my last term as neighborhood president. Although there is no term limit on being a neighborhood officer, I realize that in order for new ideas and new leadership to flourish and grow, leaders of the past must serve in an advisory role rather [than] a leadership role at some point.
Weld: How would you characterize the community involvement within members of your neighborhood?
Hutchinson: Neighbors are truly passionate about Oak Ridge Park! We have new families and more established families that really get involved. We have a theme, “Neighbors Helping Neighbors,” that we really take to heart. Whenever someone is in need, we are quick to respond. We are working towards more and more neighbors being connected to each other and any resources they may need.
Weld: What are the biggest problems facing your neighborhood?
Hutchinson: As our neighborhood ages, it is important that we cultivate the next generation of leaders and voices for the neighborhood. It is also important that families do estate planning for properties so that if something does happen to the property owner, the property will be taken care of. A large majority of the abandoned houses or property in our neighborhood are abandoned because of neighbors who were no longer able to take care of their home because of illness — sudden onset or the natural aging process. With estate planning, these homes could have potentially been properly taken care of. We realize that this does not represent every abandoned house or property, but it does represent a large majority of them.
Poverty by far is one of the biggest problems facing our neighborhood, and we must continue efforts to empower families both economically and socially to thrive and create generational wealth. Poverty has manifested itself in many ways including families that are unable to make needed home repairs; some families have food insecurity, not knowing how they will be able to obtain food; parents not being able to purchase school clothes and supplies for their children; neighbors not having access to health care needs to include seeing a doctor and/or purchasing medications.
We, the neighborhood officers and residents, have worked hard to help these residents in need by connecting them to nonprofits and churches that assist in providing help to those in need. Some of those partners include the city of Birmingham’s Office of Citizen’s Assistance and Community Development, Woodlawn Foundation, Church of the Highlands, New Community Baptist Church, Woodlawn United Methodist Church, and YWCA, just to name a few.
Weld: What are some ways in which you would like to see your neighborhood improve?
Hutchinson: An area in which our neighborhood could improve in is neighborhood participation, and that looks like taking pride in the block you live on as well as holding others accountable. This comes through building relationships with one another, which is out of the control of neighborhood leadership, but will take individual efforts.
Improving neighborhood involvement is a constant focus. Our meetings usually average an attendance of 20 to 35 people. I think more people would get involved if they knew when the meeting was and felt like they would get information that was beneficial to them. Twice a year we do a walking campaign and touch as many neighbors as possible giving them a copy of the yearly meeting calendar, which has contact information for myself and how to connect to us via the neighborhood Facebook group page. We also put yard signs up around the neighborhood about two to three days before the monthly meeting date. More long-term solutions to increasing neighborhood association participation would be to do monthly/quarterly mail-out, create a website, and robo-calling — all of which are being explored as options.
Weld: In what ways do you think the Birmingham city government could help your neighborhood improve and flourish?
Hutchinson: City government could do a better job of continuing landscaping upkeep, etc. — not just one time initiatives such as “Green Wave.” I worry that the progress made with this very productive, holistic approach will end and not continue. I feel public works, code enforcement departments, etc. need to be expanded to keep up with the needs of the city.
One of the major landscaping needs in Oak Ridge Park is to improve the area surrounding the railroads. This would be adding grass, leveling off the lands surrounding it, etc. Some of the areas around the railroads have overgrown grass and weeds that need attention. The railroad tracks are the main entrances into our neighborhood. From the standpoint of what the public works department could do a better job of doing is making sure the lots owned by the city are cut in a timely manner by creating a schedule or using some type of organic treatment to keep them from overgrowing. Improving landscaping will take a “holistic” approach which will include the city of Birmingham, the railroad companies, and residents.
Weld: What do you want Birmingham citizens outside of your neighborhood to know about your neighborhood?
Hutchinson: Citizens beyond Oak Ridge Park Neighborhood should know that we have a neighborhood that has a inter-generational population that feeds off of one another; that we have and are working together to improve a neighborhood — our neighborhood — that is truly a community that loves and cares for one another.