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Neighborhood Connector: Vincent Derek Smith

The diverse neighborhoods of the City of Lancaster are unifying and organizing to improve the quality of life for their communities. They are forming committees, hosting block parties, cleaning up streets, planning public art initiatives, and communicating with neighbors to work together towards common goals. Each of these neighborhood groups have individuals who serve as connectors in their communities. Lancaster City Alliance is proud to shine a spotlight on them here.

Name: Vincent Derek Smith
Neighborhood Group: Crispus Attucks Community Center

Your work as one of the leaders in your Neighborhood Group is important because:

I serve as liaison between the people and families of Southeast to connect them with community resources. I also  work with youth to help them identify and navigate barriers that may be holding them back to taking the next step in life.

As a neighborhood committee member, I discuss the needs of our community. This past holiday season, residents of Southeast Lancaster came together to celebrate their city, their neighborhoods, and their community. With the help of Crispus Attucks Community Center and the Community Action Partnership, Southeast Lancaster hosted the first annual Light Up Southeast. This event featured a large SOUTHEAST sign covered in lights, and a Southeast-wide house decorating contest, all culminating in the first-annual Southeast tree lighting ceremony that took place Saturday, December 16 at 6:00pm in the MLK plaza on the corner of Duke and North.

We have held community meetings at Crispus Attucks Community Center and had residents attend and discuss their concerns. I want residents to feel welcome at our meetings and talk about their concerns. I will continue to advocate for them, but my goal is to have more resident participation in all of the committees.

Challenges that you are facing in your neighborhood right now:

Redevelopment:  The neighborhood understands that change is coming but they fear that change will happen without the input of the community it will affect.

Trust: The Southeast was a place where neighbors chatted over porch railings, sang in church choirs and patronized each other’s businesses, including corner groceries, barber shops, pharmacies, a dentist, a general practitioner, a soda fountain and Haddie’s sub shop.

Neighborhood pride was never greater than when bands and drill teams strutted down South Duke Street during the Conestoga Elks parade. Hundreds lined the sidewalks, many in their Sunday best.

It was a hard-working community that wanted better jobs and greater opportunity. Instead it got change it hadn’t sought: Demolition crews in the 1960s razed whole blocks of the Southeast — places where people with a range of incomes lived — to make way for public housing for thousands of Lancaster’s poorest residents.

The government called the initiatives of the 1960s “urban renewal.” But the Southeast experienced nothing of the sort. Instead, poverty only deepened, and neighborhood cohesiveness collapsed. The impact reverberates today.

“I felt like we lost a community,” said Betty Hurdle, 74, of Lampeter, who grew up in a Locust Street row home knocked down during urban renewal. “I feel like we were just erased.”

What are some of the rewards from being a neighborhood connector in your Group:

  • We have successfully held a Peace on The Street Block party for the past 4 years which is an event to provide the community with resources to prevent violence and increase peace. We team up with amazing organizations and dedicated community activists for our Peace on the Streets Block Party and to help make our local neighborhoods safer.
  • Halloween in the City: Halloween in the City is a fun, family event featuring bounce house , special entertainment, tasty treats, and the Trick-or-Treat Games: a safe, interactive trick-or-treating experience!
  • Coordinating food and holiday toy giveaway to resident across not just the Southeast but the county.

Can you give a specific example of how your neighborhood has worked together?

Our neighbors are engaging in many community events that we do, from helping run games at the block party, passing out food at a community event.

What is your secret to meeting new neighbors and welcoming them into the community?

The secret to meeting new neighbors is talking to them at the corner store, while they sit on the porch or even when they are dropping off and picking up their kids from school.

Favorite way to spend a day with family, or friends in Lancaster City:

 I enjoy visiting the special event and activities that are going on in the neighborhoods and downtown, the atmosphere at each event is dynamitic to the neighborhood it is in.

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