FEATURE: A community shapes families in historic ward

Janice Brown is at UH almost every day, but not as a student.

She resides in Third Ward and knows the campus as well as any other student or faculty member. She needs water, shelter, food and compassion just as any human does.

Janice works at the C-Store in the Student Center South and has lived in Houston her entire life, spending most of her time in Pearland. After arriving in Third Ward, she started volunteering for the Self-Help for African People through Education community center. SHAPE’s main office has operated at the corner of Alabama and Live Oak streets for 47 years.

“There’s a lot of things that matter when it comes to lives,” Brown said.

Houston today is recognized for modern art, grassroots diversity and pop culture references from Drake and Travis Scott.

But on the east side of Houston, the historic Third Ward is an area that has been in transition. Third Ward’s population, which were previously and predominantly occupied by Jewish and white Americans, changed as suburbs and other settlements grew on Houston’s outskirts.

African-Americans then moved in, creating jobs, businesses and opportunities when in the past they were first denied on the basis of skin color.

According to Ezell Wilson’s article on the history of Third Ward, “One of the decisive actions against Jim Crow and segregation in Houston was a sit-in at the lunch counter in Weingarten’s”.

This is not a history lesson. The identity of Third Ward lives on through the people that reside there, an identity that mimics the students who sat-in at Weingarten’s, or the individuals who opened Riverside Hospital in response to poor treatment from general physicians.

“It provided a place for Black physicians and nurses to work and train,” Wilson said in his article. “Gentrification has made inroads in to some parts of the neighborhood, while other areas are poorly maintained.”

Wilson’s words made it seem as if the work put into the once segregated community is not fulfilled.

If Third Ward appears separated, the disconnection can be traced with Houston’s growing modernity. The community’s background, which is associated with historic movements and cultural appreciation throughout its existence, has not fleeted easily.

Although there is evidence of higher crime and poverty rates in Houston’s east side, statistics often lack the component of true engagement.

But the resilience of Third Ward is what stands out. In this era of information and fast-changing trends, the community is holding on to its history from the pull of modernity.

“(SHAPE) gives you a lot of experience and integrity. It makes you keep going, being around him and how humble he is.”

—Janice Brown, on Deloyd Parker and SHAPE

The population reflects this resilience through SHAPE community center, which has operated on a core principle of “strong family, strong nation.” Deloyd Parker, a co-founder of SHAPE, has been the executive director for all 47 years of SHAPE’s existence. Parker, who has molded the community center for almost a half century, is in accordance with his community and what SHAPE can offer.

“Change” is a word that is used in abundance in the United States. Change is promised almost on a daily basis — for better or worse. It promotes growth and gives people the opportunity to challenge their conditioned beliefs.

The upbringing and past experiences of all people serve as the foundation for advancing in life. While certain beliefs can remain constant throughout peoples’ lives, change can dictate and challenge contrasting perspectives to give meaning to the things we value in life.

The people of Third Ward carry with them subtle change through growth. People like Janice Brown and Deloyd Parker, who are not easily swayed in their beliefs, allow change through solidarity. They don’t matter because of their skin color or political beliefs, but because they are human.

They are our people.

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  • The only way to save the Third Ward … move out all the broken down properties … develop the neighborhood … and let the professionals who want to live near downtown … move in with nicely developed, modern properties.

  • A good start would be persistent law enforcement to force out the gangsters and bums so the people who want to live there can do so in peace. An attempt was made to keep out the vermin in the neighborhood near Cullen MS, but the so-called civil rights activists put an end to that. Makes one wonder which side they’re really on.

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