COLUMBIA — After a 15-year break, the Douglass Park Association has been revived.
Douglass Park residents, police officers and representatives from the Office of Neighborhood Services met last month at Douglass High School to re-energize the association.
The first official meeting will be Nov. 8 at Centro Latino, with an agenda that includes engaging the community in a conversation about healing the Douglass Park area.
The revival was inspired by community activist Tyree Byndom, who said he saw a need for reorganization.
"I know this community, and I know the issues," he said.
The Douglass Park area has a deep, colorful past, as well as a somewhat troubled present.
The neighborhood is home to the Columbia Housing Authority, Douglass High School and the historical J.W. "Blind" Boone Community Center.
These historical properties can sometimes be overshadowed by the criminal activity and considerable amount of distrust that Byndom said exists between residents and authorities.
On Oct. 16, the night before the association reconvened, gunshots were fired in Douglass Park. Not much discussion was given to the shooting at the meeting, though.
Despite their dissatisfaction with the persistence of such events, attendees at the meeting chose to communicate their optimism for a better neighborhood.
"A lot of news comes out of this area," Byndom said. "But they never really get the reality of it."
The issues are similar to those faced by members of the original association when it was founded in 1976, he said. After a handful of members died, the association was abandoned.
Now, Byndom is picking up the baton and hopes to bring change to the community.
"I look at this neighborhood, and it is the toughest one," said Byndom, who considers Douglass Park among the most critical areas in Columbia.
He wants to use the association as a tool to proactively push new ideas, but not without winning the trust of residents in the area first.
Before the association reconvened, Byndom said he spoke with elders in the community to gain their approval, which he said was not quickly given.
Experiences within the community have caused them to close their doors to authority figures who continue to disappoint, he said.
Almeta Crayton has lived in the Douglass Park area since 1990. As a former First Ward councilwoman, Crayton said she has seen the community flourish but believes there's much room for growth.
Crayton wants the association to focus on the rights of residents, many of whom aren't aware of the resources available to them.
“Until the people are up to speed on what their rights are, it’s not going to get better,” Crayton said. “They would need more town hall meetings, neighborhood meetings and get people in here talking to tell the truth.”
At the initial meeting, Byndom appointed Crayton as an adviser to the association. He said her wisdom and history of work within the community would be beneficial and supportive of his goals. She was also appointed as block chair of her street.
Attendees later elected Byndom chairman. He said his overall goal is to empower and support the community. If he doesn't do this, he said, the community will continue to have the same issues.
Everything that deals with blacks in Columbia is associated with Douglass Park, he said.
"It's the heart."