MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - The Trinity Gardens community has evolved over the years from a small rural area in the county to an urban area in the 1960s and early 70s with thousands of new homes and families. Now, it's a neighborhood in transition thanks to the efforts of the Bay Area Women's Coalition.
The Coalition's Executive Director Leevones Fisher recently shared how a personal family tragedy motivated her to become a better neighbor and helped make Trinity Gardens a safer place.
"Snakes and anything you can think of that's in a swamp, it was in Trinity Gardens, any kind of varmint, like rattlesnakes. And, we had gators, alligators. People say ‘Alligators?' I said, ‘Yeah.' We also had mudbugs. We were Wragg Swamp, and when you said it, you've got to drag that name, Wragg Swamp," Fisher shared.
Fisher's love for "Wragg Swamp" or Trinity Gardens has been a catalyst for renewal in the Mobile County community. As Executive Director of the Bay Area Women's Coalition and a Mobile Area Water and Sewer System board member, Fisher is an energetic and committed leader. Her memories of the community go back many years.
"We were in the county. We were not it the city limits of Prichard or Mobile. There were fewer than 100 families in the neighborhood when I grew up. And we had livestock; we had hogs, chickens and cows. We were in the country," reflected Fisher.
Roughly 50-years ago, new economic opportunities in Mobile County forever changed the roughly 1,100 acre community fisher knew as a child.
"Brookley Field brought in a lot of jobs for people who were skilled and some unskilled. The majority of the homes that are in my neighborhood today were constructed by those men and women who were living in the neighborhood in the 1960s and 70s and worked at Brookley Field, or the chemical plants up Highway 43," said Fisher.
Trinity Gardens exploded. Several thousand new homes and families transformed it into an urban setting. Fisher's parents became officers in the community's civic club.
"My father and my mother always drug me along to community meetings. My parents had the most influence on my life, and they taught me it's important that you become involved in your community so things will change positively," stated Fisher.
It's something she never forgot. Fisher left the Gulf Coast to peruse a career as a master degreed chemistry and physics educator. Her return years later also brought Fisher back to Trinity Gardens. The community, however, had changed.
In December 1996, her brother was murdered in the front yard of their parents Trinity Gardens home.
"The police investigated, and they couldn't find any witnesses. And I said, ‘Somebody has seen this crime. Somebody knows who murdered my brother.' That was the motivator that got me more involved because then I opened my eyes. There were a lot of people hanging around on the corners, and I saw a lot of prostitutes at the end of my street. Drug deals were going on right in my face, and it was like I'm in another world and all of this is going on. I needed to become more involved," Fisher said.
Fisher got busy and went looking for others.
"We have 29 streets, and we have 41 churches on 29 streets. We have enough churches to preach the hell of out of everybody, but it was not happening. We needed to organize a group. I believed that it's got to be a lot of people in Trinity Gardens who are sick of the way things are happening," stated Fisher.
Five ladies joined her. They formed the Bay Area Women's Coalition.
"In August 97, I was tired of being the only person going to meetings, and so I said to "Sweet," she's our candy apple queen, I said,' Ms. Sweet, today is the last day we're going to sit. We need to get organized. We need to organize a group.' We took pictures, and we did a video of our neighborhood to show others what we had discovered about our neighborhood. We also had documentation, with addresses of where the drug activities were going on, the prostitution, and where the hit houses were. I was very naïve, and I asked the police chief to send 400 officers and make a circle around my neighborhood and flush out all of the criminal minds in one day," remembered Fisher.
Mobile Police, the FBI, and several politicians including U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, and then Congressman Sonny Callahan supported the Coalition's efforts.
"They organized a group called the Enhanced Neighborhood Policing Group. Let's say if my son is selling drugs, I don't want the police to arrest my son. They could see what the neighbor's child was doing but they couldn't see what their own children were doing. A lot of people were arrested. Some of them are still in prison serving 25 years to life. There were a lot of people who really were very angry with us. My father's house was burned down because they wanted me to stop doing what I was doing. Ninety-five percent of the people were very happy and very proud of what we were doing. That changed in my opinion the way our neighborhood thought about themselves
and the way I thought about the people who live in my neighborhood. I said, ‘Well, people do care about the neighborhood,'" shared Fisher.
Local housing officials Michael Pierce and Steve Kohrman, and HUD helped Fisher build new homes and senior citizen apartments in Trinity Gardens.
"The first project, which was a $2.5 million project, we did 21 homes. We had too many elderly people whose homes were collapsing in on them, and they did not want to leave the neighborhood, so that was the motivation," said Fisher.
"My teachers told me when I was in college, they said, ‘You're a great writer; you need to publish stuff.' I discovered that you have to write papers and you have to publish papers so gosh writing is important. So I stress that with my grandchildren and my son and my neighbors' children. You need to learn how to write. And, wouldn't you know it, too, only way I could get grants for Trinity Gardens I had to write. I said "Gosh, so I've gotten over $26 million in grants from my gift that the teachers gave me when I was in elementary, middle, high school and in college. And I'm grateful for that," reflected Fisher.
Her efforts, she said, are paying off.
"I'm not mad anymore because I can see the neighborhood is changing for the good. When you see something good is coming out of something that was tremendously a hurtful thing and very painful, that is what helped me to become a better person in my community," said Fisher.
Fisher said she and the Bay Area Women's Coalition were turned down by banks, contractors, developers and real estate companies, when they asked for help to build new houses in Trinity Gardens.
Now, through their own development company, they have built 60 new houses, and senior citizen apartments in the community. They have also renovated more than 150-homes several for little or no charge. Fisher's efforts have been recognized by more than 30 organizations.
Fisher is now tackling the health concerns of Trinity Gardens. The coalition has partnered with the Mobile County Health Department to provide physician services on site in the community several days a week.
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