Martindale-Brightwood neighbors work to ensure their community thrives

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Those living, working and worshiping in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood east of Indianapolis are committed to lifting their community up and educating others about the ways they are accomplishing their goals.

"Every time we've experienced a label such as, 'Oh, that's the community where the juvenile justice center is,' we've had to bounce back and tell the story of how we overcome," Gina Lewis-Alexander said.

Lewis-Alexander is the Oasis Christian Community Development Corporation's executive director. She is also the first vice president of One Voice, the neighborhood umbrella association. She joins Gina Fears as those helping to carry the Martindale-Brightwood 7 (MB7) initiative forward. Fears is the assistant director of Recovery and Community Services at Pace Recovery Resource Center.

"The individuals that live here and the individuals that work here, worship and play here, want to see change and want to be a part of it," Fears said.

MB7 is made up of seven priorities for long-term change in the Martindale-Brightwood area. That community encompasses East 30th Street to Massachusetts Avenue and 21st Street to Sherman Drive.

Those seven priorities are the 25th Street Corridor Renaissance, the Martindale-Brightwood Food Resource Network, the Martindale-Brightwood Education Zone and Housing Village, Leadership & Legacy Campus, Community Solutions & Entrepreneurship Center, Community Voice News Network and Pace Recovery Resource Center.

Each of these pillars has a list of goals that neighbors are working to achieve. You can find out more about each priority by visiting ednamartincc.org.

"If there's some skin in the game, we seem to do a little bit more in making things happen," Fears said.

Some of the priorities are already seeing payoff from the neighbor's hard work. Currently, there is only one grocery store in the Martindale-Brightwood area. It is located at 25th Street and Sherman Drive, where a public library branch is under construction.

"We are planning on building a farm on the Leadership & Legacy Campus called the Henry Blair Farm, and Henry Blair was the first African American to have patent on agricultural equipment," said Lewis-Alexander.

The Leadership & Legacy Campus pillar is part of the 25th Street Corridor Renaissance Project. It is a 13-acre campus which houses the Edna Martin Christian Center's programming for children, teens and senior citizens and KIPP Indy Legacy High.

"There's so many areas in this neighborhood that needed beautification, and 25th Street, the main drag, is one of those," Fears said.

Fears also knows firsthand how important the Pace Recovery Resource Center is. As the assistant director, she is helping people combat substance abuse disorders that take a toll on the Martindale-Brightwood community.

"It suffers greatly in that area, once having been a place where drug traffic was the big deal," Fears explained. "But when I'm thinking about it and being honest about it, lots of seniors in this area that are prescribed opiates, and there is misuse going on, not because they mean to but because it's happened."

Fears' team also works to reduce the rate of people in the area that return to jail or prison by connecting them to recovery resources and mental health services.

"We know that 85% of those that recidivate have a substance use disorder," Fears explained. "It's just not been treated, and so here we are."

Unfortunately, Fears and Lewis-Alexander said in order to understand what is going on in this community, one needs to understand the pain of the past.

Back in the late 1800s, Lewis-Alexander said the railroad was the "economic hub." At that time, Martindale and Brightwood were two independent towns. On the east was Brightwood, and Lewis-Alexander and Fears explained that it attracted a different population than the Martindale neighborhood did back then.

"Even in the origin of Martindale-Brightwood, you have a divided community," Lewis-Alexander said.

Both Martindale and Brightwood were home to people who worked on the railroad. Martindale is where more African-Americans began to settle down, according to One Voice Martindale-Brightwood. Brightwood continued to attract more white residents. The women said the jobs held by the two groups of people were different.

"Their whole culture was different. One was of a major persuasion, and the other was of the African American persuasion," Lewis-Alexander said. "These two communities were forced together in the midst of blight and white flight."

Nearly 100 years after the railroad, I-65 and I-70 were built, and a portion ran through the Martindale-Brightwood area.

"That also lopped off part of this community," Lewis-Alexander said.

So, the community has worked through a lot in its history. But, neighbors are committed to healing the wounds of the past and helping their community to thrive.

"It's not because anybody's getting paid for it, it's because the neighborhood wants it, and they're going to do it for themselves," Fears said.

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