It had stopped snowing in Dixwell by 5 p.m., but according to the man digging out his car out on Admiral St., the plows wouldn’t get there until 2 in the morning. The delay wasn’t caused by snow so deep that it would take nine hours to clear streets in other parts of the city, or a shortage of trucks. It’s just that Dixwell is one of the last places to get plowed out in a storm, and in the morning, some streets will still be covered with a layer of packed, slick snow that makes it hard to drive.
There’s no reason that Dixwell should be so low on the list for plowing. The residents of Monterrey Place have to drive to work in the morning just like everyone else, and though Dixwell reaches all the way to North Haven, this particular neighborhood is less than a mile and a half from City Hall. But Dixwell’s streets don’t only get neglected when it snows; community members are still trying to get school zone signs up around Wexler/Grant Community School, and the neighborhood has been plagued by a rash of speeding that included a car crashing through the fence that marks the separation between the two halves of Ashmun Street. There are times when it seems like Dixwell’s problems are nobody’s priorities, that the neighborhood has been judged intractable, labeled “Handle With Care,” by those who live outside it.
But Dixwell itself seems to disagree. On the same block of Admiral Street, neighbors asked how they could get involved in newly-revived block watches, an older woman told us how the man shoveling out his car keeps her steps free of ice. The desire to revitalize Dixwell extends beyond day-to-day interactions between neighbors. Monterrey Place, with its rows of new houses and homeowners association is touted as a model for other New Haven communities. This fall, Ward 22 elected Reverend Drew King to the Board of Alderman, replacing two-term Alderwoman Mae Ola Riddick. His central themes of renewal and community-building in the reconstituted ward, and his long record of service signaled a turn away from ugly and divisive campaigns past. Similarly, the Dixwell Management Team has new, energetic leadership in Zephaniah Ben-Elohim. Dedicated community advocates like Alderman King, and Ben-Elohim are taking on the challenges that closed the Dixwell Community House, and have vowed to lift one of America’s oldest black community centers out of a sink of corruption and mismanagement.
It seems appropriate, then, that the Rev. W. David Lee’s sermon the Sunday after the snowstorm focused on Second Corinthians and the Apostle Paul’s struggle to overcome what seemed like insurmountable troubles. In front of the congregation at Varick Memorial A.M.E. Zion, one of the oldest black churches in New Haven and prominent among the churches along Dixwell Avenue, Lee eschewed his customary metaphors and sweeping rhetoric to focus on hope and determination. It was a lesson that, like Varick’s call to worship, is meant to reach out the church doors and into Dixwell’s streets; Varick keeps voter registration cards in the church lobby, and Reverend Lee’s sermon reflected on his frustration at Bush’s State of the Union Address. Church is, in many ways, the least important part of Varick’s ministry, and it saves far more than souls; if Reverend Lee is successful, his parishioners will return to their homes, both in Dixwell and the suburbs dedicated to creating what he, borrowing a phrase from Martin Luther King Jr., refers to as “beloved communities.”
Whether they go to services at Varick or not, many people who live in Dixwell have or are moving or toward the same idea of neighborhood. At a meeting late last year about the Dixwell Community House’s problems, long-term Dixwell and Newhallville residents talked passionately about the ways in which the center’s teachers and mentors had instilled them with a common sense of values and traditions. But even if the Dixwell Community House’s doors re-open, and the lights and heat are turned back on, residents should not consider their investment in Dixwell complete. City Hall should match their investment and commitment to make sure that Q House is an alternative to, instead of a refuge from Dixwell’s streets.