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Remodeled South Greenville Rec Center a 'beacon of light'

120416RecCenter

Greenville and Pitt County Schools representatives officially open the South Greenville Recreation Center on Saturday after renovations and an addition were completed at the facility.

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Kristin Zachary

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Joyce Langley moved into Kearney Park 49 years ago. She was 16, and her new home in Greenville’s first low-income housing development felt like a mansion.

“I could see the holes in the floor where I came from,” she said, so Kearney Park was a new beginning.

Over the years, Langley watched the area decline as it has been peppered with drug activity and shootings that have stirred a negative perception.

She said her 13-year-old daughter, Fargo, was shot to death on Perkins Street in 1992, when a man took aim at someone else and she was caught in the crossfire.

On Saturday, Langley sat in a white chair situated on the newly remodeled South Greenville Recreation Center’s shiny gymnasium floor, and she quietly wept.

She was experiencing another new beginning.

“It’s a historic day,” Greenville Recreation and Parks Director Gary Fenton told more than 150 people who gathered in the gym on Saturday morning for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The nearly $3 million renovation and rebuild of the center at 851 Howell St. took about 11 months but was years in the making, he said. The facility, built in 1957 and seeing no significant renovations since, had become dilapidated.

With a $600,000 contribution from the Pitt County Board of Education — South Greenville Elementary utilizes the gym — and $2.1 million from the Greenville City Council, a vision for a space that would nurture neighborhood children and make the city proud came to fruition.

It took a village, Fenton said, and he called up Koinonia Christian Center’s Bishop Rosie O’Neal to thank her for efforts by the faith community on behalf of South Greenville Rec Center.

O’Neal told the crowd she believes the center will be a place of peace, learning and refuge. It’s a “place where kids can play again and not worry about adult issues,” she said.

The church’s efforts funded and equipped a computer lab that 11-year-old Jy’Keif Blount plans to use as much as possible.

Blount, a fifth-grade student at South Greenville Elementary School, attended an after-school program at the center when he was younger. His grandmother, Esther Murphy, said that’s where he began thriving.

Murphy and Blount’s mother, Latonia Ellis, said they have high hopes for his success, and the center will provide him with opportunities.

Blount, with 4-year-old sister Traniyah Baker in tow, made his way to the computer lab, where he eagerly sat down before a new machine to try it out.

“I think it’s a very positive place and it’s going to do so much, not just for our family but for other families as well,” Murphy said.

Erica Williams agrees. She brought daughters Da’Naijha Best, 11, and Zy’Morria Williams, 8, to the ceremony.

Williams said she has been in the area just for a year, so she did not see inside the facility before, but she was surprised Saturday at its spaciousness and its immediate ability to offer hope.

“It makes them feel like they’re somebody,” she said of the children who walked and skipped down the halls. “It helps them realize all hope is not lost.”

Williams believes the center will bring families together, keep children active and lower the crime rate, which in turn could lessen that negative perception that sometimes envelops the South Greenville community.

“You just have to come see for yourself,” Bershaun Thompson said. Thompson, director of the South Greenville Recreation Center, grew up in an adjoining neighborhood.

“I remember the struggles,” he said. “I remember not seeing past tomorrow, not seeing past the day that you were in.

“Now, to look back as a director for the facility and see that I went and achieved my goals of playing college ball and getting a degree, traveling the world and working with all kinds of people, I see that those kids can have that same opportunity as well,” he said. “We have to help shine that light. I think we’re that beacon of light.”

But for the center to continuing shining, it must be appreciated and preserved, Fenton said.

Fenton, who worked in Columbus, Ohio, in the 1990s, said he remembers when one of its centers, in a state of dilapidation much like South Greenville Recreation Center was, underwent renovation in 1993.

The center was renamed the Douglas Community Center for Lula Pearl Douglas, a resident of the neighborhood and mother of boxing heavyweight champion James “Buster” Douglas.

Buster Douglas attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Fenton said, and “he encouraged the people in attendance to be grateful for and enjoy their new recreation center, but he also warned them that if they didn’t protect it and care for it, he would be back.”

It worked, and 23 years later, the center remains standing.

“South Greenville doesn’t have a Buster Douglas,” Fenton said, “but it does have the South Greenville neighborhood.”

It also has Langley, who might better be known as Ms. Joyce or Ms. Langley.

If a neighborhood child needs something to eat or a place to seek refuge, Langley said they turn to her.

“That’s the kind of person I am,” she said. “I’m a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother.”

She’s also not one to let misguided youth wreck the neighborhood.

“When I see kids doing something wrong, I stop them,” she said. “Kids today curse and talk junk. We need to put a little love in their heart. Instead of your children being in the streets, bring them over here.

“I know I’m going to be over here,” Langley, 65, said. “If I see kids in the streets, I’ll take them by the hand and say, ‘Want to play basketball in the gym? I can play some basketball.’”

Contact Kristin Zachary at kzachary@reflector.com or 252-329-9571. Follow her on Twitter @kristinzachary.

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