By Wallace Bridges
I’m from New Orleans, living there until I was 18. Growing up in New Orleans was an interesting experience. Our neighborhood had varied levels of income. My father was a cook, but my best friend’s mom was a principal. Much of this was because of segregated communities.
Even though that neighborhood had its challenges, I still could look to see strong positive male role models. I never had to look very far to find professional, strong men within my community.
Unfortunately, the crack epidemic hit our community hard and strong just like many other cities across this country. You could visibly see the changes.
As I became older, I had the opportunity to explore and live in other parts of the country from Atlanta, Georgia, to different parts of Florida. However, none of these cities gave me a feeling of community or a sense of belonging. They felt like large urban cities but somehow didn’t feel quite like home.
In 1992, I came to visit Fort Worth. From the moment I arrived in the city, it resonated with me, and I felt a huge connection. I made the most impulsive decision of my life and, in the blink of an eye, I packed my family up and moved to Fort Worth.
My early beginnings in Fort Worth were living in the southwest side of town. I applied for a job working as a community organizer in southeast Fort Worth. Truth be told, I had never visited that side of town before.
What I found is that the Historic Southside was no different from any other major city in the country. Drugs and gang violence were raging in a once vital and strong community. I was fortunate enough to be hired as the community organizer at Historic Southside. This was the beginning of my love affair with this community.
Historic Southside census breakdown
Census Tract 1231
Total population: 3,314
Male: 1,503 (45.4%)
Female: 1,811 (54.7%)
Hispanic: 1,650 (49.8%)
Black: 1,325 (40%)
White: 235 (7.1%)
Under 18: 1,178 (35.6%)
18 – 64: 1,799 (54.3%)
65+: 337: (10.2%)
No degree: 572 (30.5%)
High School: 649 (34.6%)
Some college: 462 (24.7%)
Bachelor’s: 169 (9%)
Post-grad: 22 (1.2%)
Median Income: $28,484
I’m old enough to remember some of the iconic people who once lived in the Historic Southside. Many of these former important and historic residents have buildings, schools, and libraries named after them. They were the great trees of our community, and their legacy is still felt today. I even got the opportunity to sit at the feet of some of these great people and learn from their own journeys in the Historic Southside.
I was so amazed by the number of Black professionals who could have moved out of this neighborhood 10 times over, but they chose to stay. I’m talking about names like Hazel Harvey Peace, Frank Staton, Shirley Lewis and Marvinette Gray who devoted much of her life to Habitat for Humanity. I could list the number of professionals who lived in this community, and I would guess most of us would be surprised. I’m talking about probation officers, retired principals, engineers and Fort Worth ISD school administrators.
They all had one thing in common: a love for this community and a belief it can return to the vital thriving community it once was. The feelings they had about this community became contagious. Before I knew it, I had gotten the bug as well.
Once upon a time, there were gang members on every corner, along with crack houses. Part of my job as a community adviser was to give strategies and tools to young people on how to be safe. One day, as I was talking to a 16-year-old teenager, he gave me the biggest challenge I had in years. He said, ‘That’s easy for you, Mr. Wallace, because at 6, you’re gone, and we have to continue to survive.’
I thought about what he said and, unfortunately, it was one of the few moments in my life that I was speechless. At this time I was divorced and remarried, raising two boys. Immediately after I got home, I told my wife we are looking to buy a house in Historic Southside.
Twenty-four years later, I’ve had the opportunity to mentor hundreds of young people and watch a neighborhood in transformation. We are still a work in progress. I live on a block where I know everyone’s name, and everyone knows me.
Some people may think that does not matter, but when the snowstorm came earlier this year that sense of being neighbors and one community allowed us to join together and overcome any challenges. Because as neighbors, we all have to depend on each other to make our community strong.
Many of my friends who live in outlying suburban areas have told me they don’t know the neighbor next to them by name, even after having lived in the neighborhood for 25 years.
Compare that to the spirit of the Historic Southside. I like to describe this through one of my greatest sources of pride: my son, Leon Bridges, who is a two-time Grammy-nominated recording artist. He grew up here. When he found success, he could have chosen to record his music videos anywhere in the country; however, he has chosen to film three of those videos right here in Historic Southside. When I asked him why, he shared, “Because it is home.”
Wallace Bridges is a retired community organizer. Originally from New Orleans, Bridges raised his family in Fort Worth and wants people to remember all the notable residents of the Southside who came before him. He recently ran for FWISD School Board District 4. To tell the story of where you live, please send your essay to firstname.lastname@example.org and Managing Editor Thomas Martinez at email@example.com.