Off of 35th and Main lies the heart of Independence Heights, a historically black neighborhood that's getting screwed by the mayor's proposed budget. If all is passed according to plan, the community center and the pool will be closed just as summer is heating up.
Around 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon, half a dozen kids shoot hoops outside the center. Inside, LA Johnson, 22, sits in the administration office, elbows on knees. The rec assistant isn't sure where he'll go after the center closes, but hopes he'll be transferred to another center. He's been working at this center for the past four years. "When the pool is open after Memorial Day, that's what everyone really looks forward to," he said. "A lot of people register their kids for the summer program; we give out lunches."
Not this year. The community center is deserted. A Foosball table and some folding chairs are the only accents to the fluorescent-lit room. It wasn't much to begin with, but soon, it won't even be a safe space.
If the center and pool are closed, there's nothing to take its place. The closest thing, Johnson said, is the YMCA on 34th. It's nearly a 40-minute walk away.
Two 16-year-old boys, Darren Smith and Ray Anthony, step in from the court for a drink from the water fountain. They hadn't heard yet that the park is closing and seem deflated to hear that it probably will.
If the center closes, there's just one place left that Smith can imagine hanging out. "The dope house," Smith said. "That's the only place to meet up; if they take away the park, that's where we gonna be."
Smith and Anthony grew up in the community center. They stop in every day. "I used to hang out at the pool every day," Smith said. "That's the spot in the summer."
Angry residents will hold a protest tomorrow at noon at the community center. DON'T LET THE CITY CLOSE OUR COMMUNITY CENTER, a flier reads. FIGHT BACK.
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