As residents in a small section of Ballard Park are proving, unity in the community is a powerful force. Once besieged by drug dealers and addicts, prostitutes and thieves, the good people revolted. This small circle of friends, once strangers, now live without the fear that once kept everyone indoors for safety's sake.
Their inspirational story, portrayed in a moving narrative by the Herald's urban affairs reporter, Mark Young, on Feb. 28, resonated with the broader community.
The outpouring of support, depicted in another Young report today, reflects community admiration and respect for the residents of Parkside Apartments.
With courage and determination, this collection of poor people rose up to drive out the miscreants. They first joined forces over a potluck dinner on Thanksgiving, weary of the fear that permeated their meager existence. "We were going to take back our neighborhood," Kristina Gomez told Young.
"But we are taking it over," said Margie Malanda, then pointing out the reason for their success: "Alone, you can't do it. We trust each other, We couldn't do this if we didn't trust each other. Just because we are low income doesn't mean we are different."
Apartment management noticed the effort. A new superintendent contacted law enforcement, patrols increased and officers cracked down on the drug trade with help from residents witnessing the crimes.
Today, children play outside, neighbors socialize there and the monthly potluck dinners continue. They converted a building into a home by virtue of their love for one another, Malanda said.
"Money doesn't buy you decency," she continued. "Wealth comes from the heart."
Words like those sparked community action. Young's initial story mentioned the residents' goals, simple ones -- a swingset for the children, a basketball hoop and a picnic table, things you'd find in many backyards.
A local church donated two new picnic tables. Bill Meek bought a basketball hoop. Jean Green gave $200 toward a swingset.
A second-grade class at a Parrish school launched a fund-raiser to contribute to a swingset and buy books and toys.
Eight-year-old Regan Jones asked her parents for additional chores to earn money for the residents.
Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan took notice, too, planning to visit this week bearing surprises for the children.
This heartening display of support for the boldness of a band of people with few resources is inspiring, too. Grateful Parkside residents express astonishment at this surprising generosity. Manatee County residents regularly rise to the occasion and this is additional confirmation of our community's benevolence.
The city's new police chief applauded residents for their crime-fighting efforts in partnership with officers, calling it "community policing at its finest."
Parkside residents told their story with the hope other neighborhoods would be emboldened to follow their successful example.
People needn't live in urban jungles of crime and fear. We hope other neighborhoods are motivated to action.