Written by Paul Wolf | Images provided
â€œWe all find a sense of place in where we consider home.â€
LeFleur East resident and RealtorÂ® John Dinkins says that was the impetus behind the 2012 founding of the LeFleur East Foundation, established to replicate and build upon the success of neighboring organizations such as Fondren Renaissance Foundation, the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation and Midtown Partners, among others. They, he says, were making a difference in Jackson.
Dinkins remembers, â€œ(Our first meeting was a) culmination of a large group who realized it was time for something to change.â€
The change he and those like-minded individuals (like Leland Speed, Buster Bailey, Bill Latham, Rob Stockett, to name a few) sought was for a community where neighbors knew neighbors, where quality of life harkened back to a simpler time.
â€œA friend told me the worst thing that happened was the invention of the garage door and air conditioner,â€ Dinkins says of the proclivity of people to come home and shut out the world behind them. â€œWeâ€™re returning to a sense of where you know your neighbors â€“ two doors down or ten. That’s how you create community.â€
Dinkins would serve as the foundationâ€™s first president and, to this day, an active voice for progress in Lefleur East (defined as Canton Mart Road to the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science and Interstate 55 to the Pearl River).
To accomplish this, more of the neighborhoodâ€™s residents and businesses would have to know each other.
â€œJackson is a small town and we can transfer information rapidly, but we weren’t organized,â€ Dinkins says of established associations who werenâ€™t yet connected as a super-neighborhood. â€œNo one had ever put it all together in one place. We had to be proactive to unify the whole group because we didn’t want little islands. A bigger swath of people benefitted the whole city, not just my neighborhood.â€
The organization has taken that early mantra to heart, a major player in the Exit 100 beatification project from 2013 that brought state, city and county entities to the table along with Fondren Renaissance and many corporate and individual players to the table. The landscaping project is still maintained by Hinds County.
A huge win for Lefleur East? â€œIt was a huge win for the entire city,â€ Dinkins reiterates. â€œ(Founding Executive Director) Kelly (Headley) would always say â€˜itâ€™s the gateway to our city and the grass is up to my waist!â€™ It was a big win for anyone traveling in our community.â€
Those continued wins come with projects long dreamed of that are just now coming to fruition. Dinkins says the persistence of past board member Martha Ross Thomas has paid off in the form of a multi-use path that will connect Eastover, LOHO and The District to the eventual Museum to Market Trail. â€œWouldn’t it be incredible to start at The District and get to the farmer’s market on your bike – or by walking or running?â€ he asked. Work began on the Eastover Drive trail in May.
In the northern part of LeFleur East, the foundation has developed relationships with city-run Parham Bridges Park that will result in a relocated entrance off Old Canton Road, more parking, additional tennis courts and improved upkeep. â€œIâ€™ve met with Parham Bridges, Jr.,â€ Dinkins says. â€œHe wants (the park) to be a legacy. Heâ€™s even offered a grant. That’s strong… that’s commitment.â€ Dinkins adds that the razing of the former JPD Precinct 4 building was a big first step in the right direction.
Executive Director Stacey Jordan, in office for just over a year, sees a fresh energy in Lefleur East these days. â€œDevelopers are taking pride and buying properties to make them feel top-notch and come back to life,â€ she notes. â€œWe’re picking up our mojo and energy and learning who can help us it get it going.â€
Jordan says the organization is finding a balance with the city and those relationships, and that it feels, for everyone involved, that their voices are being heard.
To that end, Dinkins points to Jackson United, an organization spearheaded by LeFleur East Foundation board member Sally Birdsall that brings neighborhood leaders together to address common concerns and successes.
â€œ(Jackson United) is open to anyone who wants to attend,â€ Birdsall says of their regular meetings. â€œThey are informative, productive meetings where we share ideas, brainstorm and troubleshoot. Itâ€™s a think tank, a collaborative effort to solve issues and be productive.â€
She adds that meetings have become so well-attended, they are â€œturning to standing room only meetings.â€
â€œItâ€™s so impressive to think we have gotten to the point we can come together for the greater good of the city of Jackson,â€ Dinkins observes of those efforts. â€œWe need to focus on taking care of each other throughout the whole city.â€
All of this happens, he believes, because of a spirit of cooperation.
â€œThe people are key to making it better,â€ he says. â€œAnd they have.â€